Venice, CA (March 23, 2020)—”When we got into this, we didn’t know what we were getting into or what we needed, so we went one step at a time and figured it out,” says Karma Auger of Studio 1 LA, a recently completed immersive mix room behind his home. Initially conceived as a surround mix room, Auger switched gears after longtime collaborator Erich Gobel suggested building it out specifically for Dolby Atmos work.
“I would never have attempted it without Erich. We met in 2007 and we’ve been friends and collaborators ever since,” he says. As an immersive mix team, the pair are now open for business, mixing music and video post projects in Dolby Atmos.
“Erich and I are both musicians—I’ve been touring for 30 years, and Erich’s a fantastic guitar player, a Berklee graduate—so we come to this not just as engineers but first and foremost as creatives.”
Gobel, who has worked at every major studio in Los Angeles on a variety of projects over the years, also has his own facility, West Triad, just three blocks away from Studio 1 LA. “It’s a sister studio to this,” says Auger. “We’re this weird breed of studios and owners that exist west of Lincoln Blvd. in this cool art community. His place is a recording studio; he has a Neve desk and a ton of incredible outboard gear and a mic locker full of epic microphones. It has a great live room and a killer booth.”
Playing a track mixed in the new room, Gobel says, “That’s an example of what we’re doing here as far as creating new effects, using the 3D space to enhance dynamics and have things grow and have impact. There are so many creative rabbit holes to go down with the effects. And we’re not afraid to go down them.”
“Our only rule is that it has to serve the project,” says Auger.
Despite having a desk at his own place, Gobel has no problem with the lack of a control surface in the Atmos mix room. “I love working in-the-box. I love the touchscreen and the motion sensor for panning, and we have a fader if we need to ride something. So I don’t miss it at all.”
Yet there is a learning curve when jumping into Dolby Atmos mixing, says Auger. “There’s no stereo busing or any of those tools that everybody has used forever. It’s literally like starting over and learning everything from scratch, so there’s a huge learning curve.”
The inability to use bus compression when mixing in Dolby Atmos is a big issue for some, he continues. “If you’ve gotten known for your sound and your chain, now take all that away and who are you? What’s your sound? That’s a huge ask. That’s a jump that I think a lot of people don’t want to make.”
That said, getting to this point has been a fun process, he says: “I’ve enjoyed the process as much as I enjoy the mixing.”
Part of that process was reading up on acoustic treatment, which Auger designed and built himself. The pair also consulted at great length with Dolby and with Maurice Patist and Ruairi O’Flaherty at PMC. “They were so supportive,” he says. “I’d mixed in a ton of studios and I was never really happy with the sound. I thought, what are the best rooms I’ve ever been in? It was always the mastering guys. So I said, I need to build a mastering room to mix in.”
The finished walls hide the technology behind them, says Auger. “All the reflective points are baffled and everything else has a semi-permeable membrane that kicks all the high frequencies above 160 Hz back into the room, so it’s not a dead room. The refractors take away the room reverb, so it’s an incredibly clear workspace. Forget that we work here; I just come in here to put records on.”
A lot of the gear was acquired through Don Polus, sales account executive at RSPE. “We knew we wanted to get a few things,” says Auger, “but what we did was jump into our first project and then we said, ‘When we get to a point where we feel like we need something, let’s go buy it.’ So we built our toolbox as we went, according to what the projects have needed.
“As we built our toolkit, we discovered things that we love. For example, we’re monitoring directly out of the Apogee Symphony; there’s no control surface. And we’re clocking it with a Mutec MC-3+ clock. There’s something magic about the Mutec clocking the Apogee. It just widens the field a bit more.”
Monitoring is via 11 Mackie HR824 speakers plus a sub. “We’ve mixed a million records on these speakers and know them really well. We said, ‘Let’s not go in a completely different direction that we don’t know.’ Stereo is cool, but 12 speakers is way cooler—six times cooler!” Auger laughs.
Creative tools for mixing music in Dolby Atmos are still relatively scarce. “We invented a lot of the effects that we’re using,” says Gobel. “There are combinations of things with different delay and reverb times, and creating larger or smaller spaces, or zones. And we’ve created all different configurations of effects in our templates. The spatial effects that you can achieve with Atmos are really unlike anything that came before.”
There can also be happy accidents when folding down through the Dolby renderer from Atmos, says Gobel. “This record started in Atmos, then we downmixed to 2.0. Some amazing things happen when you do that. There are spatial things and effects that happen in the 2.0 mix that you couldn’t imagine doing if you started in 2.0.
“Everything we like, we leave. Everything we’re surprised by, we’re grateful for. And everything that’s not quite working, we adjust. So there’s a tweaking process, but generally the scalability is very good. That’s very exciting.”
“Erich and I are such big fans of Atmos,” says Auger. “You have to make it available for the consumer, and that’s where Dolby is now. We feel this could be that next great evolution, like when mono went to stereo. In so many ways, I feel like this could bring value back to music in such a great way.”
“It just sounds incredible,” Gobel agrees, “and it’s so fun to mix and to hear.”
Studio 1 LA • www.studio1la.com