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80 Hertz expands Manchester media scene at Sharp Project

Most of the focus on media facilities in the UK this year has centred on the northwest of England – and Salford in particular. But city neighbour Manchester is having its own audio, film and TV studio expansion through The Sharp Project. A central part of this is post-production and music facility 80 Hertz. Kevin Hilton paid a visit.

Building a new audio post-production house in today’s uncertain economic times takes a lot of belief. Building a new music recording studio with a big orchestral room could be an even bigger leap of faith. 80 Hertz studios has both – and is out of London into the bargain. But it is in Greater Manchester, which already has a healthy TV, radio and music scene and is now seeing massive growth in these sectors that could seriously challenge the English capital.

Much of this is due to MediaCityUK (MCUK), the broadcast and film development at Salford Quays that is now home to the BBC, among others. But in Manchester itself The Sharp Project has created another centre for media creation and production.

80 Hertz was the first business to negotiate a lease and move into The Sharp Project. The music and post studio was set up by engineer and producer George Atkins (pictured), a graduate of Manchester University with a BA (honours) in music, business and IT. After graduating Atkins spent a year looking for a job but eventually he decided that working for himself rather than for someone else on “a pittance” was a better prospect.

He set up 80 Hertz and worked with indie band Keith and then Lilly Allen. This brought in more work but in 2008 the new owners of the building where he was based decided to redevelop it into offices, leaving him, he says, “with a load of gear and some clientele but no studio”.

While freelancing at Blueprint Studios Atkins heard about The Sharp Project, which was conceived by Manchester City Council as a “digital content production complex” and is based to the northeast of the city centre in the former UK logistical warehouse for consumer electronics manufacturer Sharp.

Lower frequencies

Building work on the new 80 Hertz began in August 2010 and was finished by late April this year, with final touches like patch bay termination and system testing after that. “We’ve built it have everything, we hope, that we could want now and possibly five years in the future,” Atkins says. “The ethos was to build a recording studio with the best live room in Manchester and also have a post-production arm to take advantage of what’s coming up to MediaCity, because we want to get some synergy with them.”

The 5.1 dubbing theatre is based round an Avid (Digidesign) C24 desk working with Pro Tools 10 HD, which is the main digital recording format, although the facility is what Atkins describes as “cross-compatible”, with Nuendo 5.5 and Logic Studio 9 also available. Monitoring of 5.1 is on Rogers LS5/8s, with an ADAM rig also available. Pictures for audio-to-video work are from a digital HD projector.

ADR can also be carried in both the voice booth behind the re-recording suite and the voice-over area off the recording studio. On the other side of the music control room is the centrepiece of 80 Hertz, a huge 1,000 square feet (93 square metres) live room, which Atkins says can accommodate between 30 and 40 players.

This also houses a drum room and an amp cabinet, while the control room is big enough for musicians to play in, with space for old-fashioned synths as well as guitars. The mixing console is a custom 24-fader Neve Genesys, which Atkins describes as “very multi-purpose”. This is reflected in it being able to accept FireWire inputs, so a client can bring in a laptop and use the desk as an interface. A counterpoint to this high-tech capability is a Studer A810 reel-to-reel tape machine. The main loudspeaker monitors are Westlake BBSM 12s, plus Yamaha LS10s and ADAM A7xs for near field monitoring.

A major feature of 80 Hertz is the connectivity and communication. Networking is over CAT6A circuits; a key part of it is the headphone network, which not only allows people in different studios/control rooms and voice booths to hear what is going on but they also have control over eight-channels of monitoring feeds through independent, personal mixers.

While attention might be more towards the shinning, if dull, buildings down at MediaCityUK and the facilities inside, George Atkins feels it will reach capacity and is confident that 80 Hertz – and The Sharp Project as a whole – will not only pick up the slack but attract business in its own right. A tale of two cities indeed.