Bob Clearmountain has been powering the vintage SSL G-Series console at Mix This! with an Atomic Instrument switch mode power supply. PACIFIC PALISADES, CA—Renowned for producing, engineering and mixing a who’s who of music clients, Bob Clearmountain is perhaps less well-known for his advocacy of environmental sustainability. Having already added solar panels to the house that he shares with his wife, Betty Bennett, co-founder and CEO of Apogee Electronics, Clearmountain has been able to further reduce his impact on the environment—and lower his electricity bills—with the discovery of the Atomic Instrument switch mode power supply for his SSL mixing console.
An SSL console is something of a power hog, says Clearmountain, who has a 20-year-old, 72-input G Series with Ultimation in his home facility, Mix This! Happily, he says, “Roger Charlesworth, who sold me the console when he worked for SSL, found this company, Atomic Instrument.”
The company is the brainchild of Grammy-winning mixer, engineer and producer F. Reid Shippen, who has his own SSL-equipped facility, Robot Lemon, in Nashville, and Norman Druce, a Detroit-based technician who designs, modifies and maintains vintage audio gear. “Atomic started because I got tired of fixing my old SSL supplies,” says Shippen, who met Druce through another Detroit native, Black Keys’ engineer, Collin Dupuis.
“Norman had been developing a theory that we could run the SSL better off a modern power supply if we did it smart,” Shippen continues. “He and I started to work together, testing and revising his designs. He came up with some genius filtering and power protection circuits that really upped the game. Two years later, we had something special—a supply that fixed all the problems and shortcomings of the old supplies, used a lot less power, and sounded better. The ‘sounding better’ part was a nice surprise; we were aiming at reliability and protection, but we’ll take better sound too!”
He adds, “Now we have a supply that runs the desk rails in a highly stable fashion, with power to spare, uses 40 percent less electricity, generates way less heat, provides extensive power protection, soft-starts the console so you can turn it on and off at will, and basically takes all the headache out of the power system for the desk.”
The company custom manufactures three units suitable for different SSL console models and frame sizes. There is work underway to add models for API, Neve, Harrison and other desks, which is music to Clearmountain’s ears: “I also have an old Neve 8068 at the other studio, in the Apogee building.”
He can attest to the new Atomic supply having an additional benefit—improving the sound of the console. After sending some recently recalled mixes to Don Was, he says, the producer commented on the differences when checking them against previous mixes. “He said there was slightly more dimension and it was warmer sounding,” confirming Clearmountain’s own observations. “I thought it might just be me and wishful thinking, but Don wasn’t aware of the new power supply.”
Replacing the console’s two main supplies with Atomic’s unit has also reduced air-conditioning requirements, he confirms. “I’ve redirected the air to hit the control room harder than the machine room because I just don’t need the machine room that cold.”
Plus, he says, “You can turn it off at night because it brings the voltage up slowly, so it doesn’t blow out your capacitors. That saves an incredible amount of power.”
The house was outfitted with 72 solar panels 11 years ago to take advantage of the Southern California sun. Panel technology has subsequently advanced so much that Clearmountain is currently replacing them with newer, more efficient units. Previously, the rated peak wattage was 7.5 kW, although typically a lot less, he reports. With the new panels, rated at just over twice the output of the old panels, it will be 13 kW. The system will also include battery backup.
“The meter runs backward with the entire system blazing,” he says. “That’s all the outboard, the console, Apogee converters and two full Pro Tools rigs.”
The panel installation was performed by Solar Forward, a company owned by Mark Smith, a former veteran CBS TV news producer. Smith’s company also installed a 152-panel system, generating 32 kW, also with battery backup, at Apogee’s headquarters in Santa Monica, CA.
“It’s tough, because it’s expensive, and I know not everybody can do all this,” admits Clearmountain. “In the short run, it’s costing us more money than we’re saving. But I’m making a statement: This is important. We’ve got to start thinking differently. The technology is there now. And I drive an electric car, so it’s basically solar-powered.”
Some solar energy proponents believe that local utility companies should pay consumers who generate more electricity than they use. Clearmountain disagrees: “You’re using the grid for storage. It’s a huge infrastructure to maintain. So I think they have every right to not pay you. Otherwise, they couldn’t maintain the grid and we’d all be in trouble.”
Clearmountain purchased the very first Atomic Instrument model S2 supply, which has now led to an order for an Atomic supply for Clearmountain’s Neve 8068; understandably, Shippen is thrilled: “What can you say? Nicest guy, baddest mixer on earth, and he thinks the Atomic sounds better. It’s a dream come true; I can die now!”