One of the five Vincent van Haaff-designed studios at Sonic Ranch features an 80-channel Neve 8078 with 31105 mic pre/EQ modules and GML automation.EL PASO, TX—Over the past five years, Sonic Ranch, located near the tiny desert town of Tornillo, TX, 30 miles east of El Paso, has grown from two to five studios and expanded to also encompass five houses on a property covering more than 2,000 acres, giving the complex rightful claim to the title of world’s largest residential facility. In addition to its vintage consoles, the complex also boasts a world-class collection of microphones, backline equipment and instruments, amassed by studio owner Tony Rancich to ensure that visiting musicians have everything they need to be fully creative.
“You get here and you have all the tools that you need,” says Rancich. In addition, cooks prepare meals throughout the day, while housekeepers bustle around making the beds and doing the laundry, allowing artists to focus on the creative task at hand.
“You don’t lose people for an hour or two when they go out for breakfast, or lunch or dinner, so bands are typically more productive here,” he continues. “That being said, you can go to town; on nights off, there are all the amenities of a big city.”
Located on a working pecan orchard— Rancich is also the CEO of that operation— the studio grew around a traditional 1930s hacienda, beginning in 1989. Over the last several years, the pecan company has acquired adjacent properties, including associated ranch houses and other buildings, some of which have been converted into additional studios and accommodation.
The original A Studio immediately adjacent to the hacienda houses a 40-channel SSL E/G console, and has served diverse bands from Ministry to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. That studio has since been joined by the nearby Big Tracking Room, which features an 80-channel Neve 8078 with 31105 mic pre/EQ modules and GML automation. Half of the desk was originally in Motown’s West Coast facility before being purchased by Madonna. It was later acquired and combined with another Neve by Yoshiki Hayashi for his Extasy studio in Los Angeles.
Within the U-shaped hacienda, one room has become the dedicated Mix Room, housing a 64-input SSL G/G+. In another room, Rancich has built a mastering studio centered on the Rupert Nevedesigned Masterpiece.
To those four rooms has been added the Adobe Studio, less than a mile away on an adjacent property. Like the previous four studios, this 100-year-old adobe building was designed and acoustically treated by Vincent van Haaff. The control room features a 40-channel Neve 8088 with 31102 mic pre/EQ modules and Flying Faders.
Rancich is always on the lookout for equipment. “We’ve been fortunate that synchronicity has brought us into unique situations,” he shares, including the two Neve desks. “We’ve been able to substantially increase our microphone collection, so now we have three ELAM 251s, a pair and a third of the U47 long-body chrome tops, matching pairs of 67s, 69s, 250s, 249s, C12s, 54s, 53s.” The core of the vintage guitar amp inventory was acquired from an avid collector who spent eight years gathering the best available models, cost no object. Rancich’s 20-year relationship with a friend who is also a vintage guitar dealer has resulted in an impressive assortment of 6-strings and basses.
“We’ve got four fulltime engineers/Pro Tools operators with tons of experience who can be the engineer or the assistant,” continues Rancich. “We have a world-class tech who works on the Neves and the SSLs, and is also an engineer. We have a world-class drum tech.”
Pro Tools is not the only recording medium; there are two Studer A827 2-inch machines at Sonic Ranch. Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes) recently completed a project tracked to 2-inch and mixed to 1/2-inch, Rancich reports.
Add the ambiance at the compound into the mix—the fine art lithographs and native fabric treatments on the walls; the Old West vibe (Pancho Villa and Billy the Kid were once locals); the proximity to Mexico, which the orchards border—and it becomes apparent why artists, engineers and producers fly in from as far away as Argentina, Italy and the U.K. as well as Mexico to work at Sonic Ranch.
“The combination of all the equipment and the great rooms, the atmosphere, all of the things that are taken care of for the artists, and our people, who give 100-plus percent, makes us unique,” states Rancich. “We’re not in New York or Los Angeles with the very high real estate prices, so we can offer the whole thing and be more than competitive on the pricing, and clients are walking away with more.”
As a result, Sonic Ranch has been enjoying a busy schedule, he confides: “Even in this environment, where there is less recording going on, these last five months we’ve been booked with no less than two or three projects at once and a good deal of the time with four or five.”