Cooking Up Good Acoustics

Like countless other music school grads, Jimy Soprano—a jazz drummer from the University of Hartford—moved to Southern California two days after receiving his degree with hopes of a promising career in the music industry.

SOUTH WINDSOR, CT—Like countless other music school grads, Jimy Soprano—a jazz drummer from the University of Hartford—moved to Southern California two days after receiving his degree with hopes of a promising career in the music industry. However, California simply wasn’t in the cards for Soprano. “I soon found myself moving outside of LA, then slowly but surely, a little bit further east, then a little bit further east,” Soprano recalls. “I realized I would end up back on the east coast.”

After returning to Connecticut, Soprano began a two-year run as studio manager at Trod Nossel Recording Studios in Wallingford, a well-equipped, half-century old regional production facility with an emphasis on analog recording and classic outboard gear. Then, in 2006, Soprano met John Lewis, future partner in Hell’s Kitchen Studio—an occurrence that reinvigorated the drummer’s musical life. “I left the studio to work for his company and fell in love with not working in the music business anymore,” he earnestly explains. “Music became my passion again. It became exciting; it became fun.”

Soprano soon played drums on Lewis’ production of a project with guitarist Mike Woods of Damone, a successful local act, planting the seed for the studio the duo would launch nearly a decade later, in 2015. After working together in a lackluster rehearsal studio or two, Lewis proposed the ultimate studio spot: a former commercial kitchen that his sister owned.

“He took me there and asked, ‘What do you think about turning this into a recording studio?’” recalls Soprano. “I thought it would be cool just as a rehearsal space, but no—he wanted to shell the building, build out what we wanted and make it a really nice place—comfortable, like a living room.” Four months later, Hell’s Kitchen Studio of Connecticut was born.

While its acoustics were important to Soprano, he felt confident in building out the room as he and Lewis wanted to use it, and then treating it acoustically using a locally-made product he discovered years ago. “I met Ethan [Winer], the founder of RealTraps, in 2005,” tells Soprano. “Their main factory is in Wallingford and he visited me to demonstrate how [his products] work. I then realized that if I ever had the opportunity to build a studio, I would use Real-Traps. The beauty of them is that, while constructing Hell’s Kitchen, I didn’t have to consider acoustics in the build-out; we considered aesthetics, layout and size. There was low-end frequency build-up in corners and the room was just the right size to get reflections in the wrong places. But we let RealTraps to do the work, and they did. Their products worked perfectly, just as they were supposed to. I didn’t want acoustics guys to come in, evaluate the space and ruin it aesthetically. RealTraps are really good-looking, but I also think you can really overdo a room with treatment.”

The room’s sound, untreated, was admittedly bad, explains Soprano: “Really harsh,” he emphasizes. “We set up our instruments as soon as it was carpeted and painted. I immediately put in earplugs because it sounded so bad. The next day, I moved our batch of RealTraps out of the trailer and just sat them in the room, no real placement at all. Instantly some helpful absorption was already happening. We ended up hanging about half the RealTraps the first day. As we did, the low-end tightened up and high frequencies came under control. By day four, after hanging a blend of high-frequency and low-frequency RealTraps on the ceiling, I could play and simultaneously have a conversation with someone next to me, which wasn’t possible before. That, and the room started to develop a pleasing acoustic character.”

With one more acoustic treatment update—adding RealTraps to various doors in the facility—the room was done. “We still noticed there was a little too much high-end punctuation around the room,” tells Soprano. “So we ordered RealTraps for the doors. As soon as we mounted those, the room was finished. It’s such a high-quality product that creates a balanced sound while it works. And, if you have to move, it’s not like tearing down standard foam products mounted on the walls, ruining both the walls and the foam.”

Located in an industrial complex among various tenants, the RealTraps install also helped with noise abatement. “There have been absolutely no complaints from the neighbors, which surprised me,” tells Soprano. “They can hear a little bit of kick drum now and then, but nothing of concern.”

The most important aspect of Hell’s Kitchen is its ease-of-use, stresses Soprano. “We wanted everything to be in place and ready to go. Its design and concept is more of a private rehearsal studio than anything, with full recording capabilities; I wanted to be able to pull my car into the driveway, open the garage door, take off my shoes, walk in and make music. I wanted to be able to do that in the same capacity, every time I was there. We don’t break down the drums, the guitar rig, and so on; they are miked up and ready all the time. The patching of the studio never changes. Until [we built Hell’s Kitchen], I had never done a half-hour rehearsal before, since I had to set everything up each time. I work that way now, all the time.”

Shelving a desire to buy lots of rack-mounted outboard gear, Lewis and Soprano opted for a most streamlined array of recording gear. “We built the studio around the Behringer X32 system with Genelec 8030B powered monitors,” tells Soprano. “Being somewhat of an audiophile, I thought it would be amazing to have GML, API or Neve frontends for recording. So, when it came to the Behringer, I was leery of it, to be honest. Even so, it was really the best thing to fit our ease-of-use model. We can save all settings and effects are built-in. So we wired the studio for Ethernet to use UltraNet [Behringer’s proprietary AoIP protocol]. And once I started using the X32, I got it and understood it quickly.”

For Soprano, though a traditional-leaning recordist, pulling Ethernet cable was a comfortable relief over his first inclination of installing traditional copper wiring throughout the facility. “It too played into our theme of ease-of-use,” Soprano explains. “We put Ethernet ports all along the walls, about five in different locations with listening stations all along the way, with in-ears running from aux sends for monitoring. If we have a bass player come in, he can plug right into our Ampeg and the mix immediately.”

Hell’s Kitchen has a local connection for its impressive microphone collection, too, nearly exclusively using Telefunken Elektroakustik products. “Their offices are literally a oneminute walk from the studio,” tells Soprano. “We have a great relationship with them and outfitted the entire studio with Telefunken’s high-end drum mics, condenser models, and more. The abundance of Telefunken tone really ‘warms up’ our all-digital system, too.”

Real Traps