HOLLYWOOD, CA—In 1958, having relocated from Chicago to Los Angeles, Universal Audio’s Bill Putnam Sr. opened a studio complex at 6050 Sunset Boulevard that included several mastering rooms in addition to a number of recording rooms. Almost six decades later, United Recording, now owned by Hudson Pacific Properties, has launched a new mastering division in October that once again enables the facility to offer the service.
“Mastering has always been a key aspect of Bill’s predominance in the recording studio world,” comments studio manager Robin Goodchild. “We are simply bringing it back as a convenience to our clients, but also as a reimagined service operating in today’s internet world market.”
The news comes on the heels of the announcement by Goodchild in September of a new archiving division at United headed by Dan Johnson, who has spent the past five years as a dedicated audio preservation engineer. “I started my engineering career at United almost 20 years ago,” reports Johnson, formerly a recording engineer at Capitol Studios as well as Ocean Way (since renamed United).
United’s mastering suite is staffed by engineers Warren Sokol and Erick Labson, both previously with Universal Mastering, who designed the room together with Steven Miller, the facility’s executive consultant. The custom-designed space, which was once home to JVC’s mastering suite, has been acoustically treated by Hanson Hsu and his team at Delta H Design using the firm’s ZR Acoustics ZR Micro Twin, SR24+ and SR12+ panels in a layout tailored to the room.
The console houses a variety of components from Dave Hill, Manley Labs, Pendulum, Sontect, SPL and Weiss. Labson, who favors an analog signal path, reports, “Our search for an accurate D-to-A was time consuming. We ended up going with Crane Song and Forsell Technologies. They are super accurate but have enough of a difference in flavor that, between the two, we can do what we need to.”
A pair of Lipinski L700A monitors are paired with JL Audio subwoofers. Digital playback and recording is handled via Prism Sound’s latest SADiE 6.1 software. Joe Harley, SVP at AudioQuest, provided high-performance cabling for the new room.
Deep in the heart of United Recording’s mastering division are (l-r): studio manager Robin Goodchild; executive consultant Steven Miller; and engineers Warren Sokol and Erick Labson.
Labson and Sokol were given a budget, made a wish list, and then honed it down to their optimum complement of gear. “So every piece is something that we really like as a tool that does what it needs to do and imparts a certain flavor, style or sound that we’re looking for,” says Labson.
The budget went beyond the gear to also include an anteroom with furniture, décor and art that might best be described as early Madmen, referencing the studio’s late-’50s inception. “They gave us a nice lounge; it’s a comfortable place to hang out,” says Sokol.
Johnson, too, has been thrilled by the support of the owners. “They asked me, ‘What do you need to have a proper archiving room?’ I said, antistatic floor, my own tech power; I gave them a list. And they said, ‘OK, cool,’” he reports.
The archiving room features a treasure trove of vintage machines and formats, many of them from Johnson’s personal collection, sourced from eBay, Craigslist and elsewhere. “It’s taken me about five years to get all the machines together. The hardest part was finding machines in working condition,” he says.
“We have our own baking closet with an exhaust fan. We use a standard fruit dehydrator,” continues Johnson. “We do it at 125 degrees for 12 hours, low and slow, then let it rest for 12 hours, so the tape has time to cure and reset.”
Johnson, whose credits include archiving assets by Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Eagles, Prince, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Ramones, Van Halen, Rod Stewart and Otis Redding, already has a variety of archiving projects at United under his belt. “We did one for Universal Music Canada, Tom Cochrane’s Mad Mad World album for its 25th anniversary. Apparently they couldn’t find anyone in Canada with a Mitsubishi X80 machine. We have one and we’re having a second shipped in from Houston. They heard that we had one and shipped 12 X80 tapes from Canada. The tapes are in great condition. It was a fun project,” he says, adding, “I’ve been getting a lot of [Sony PCM] 3348 work recently, too.”
While there is an expectation that projects will move back and forth between the two new rooms and the recording studios, the mastering suite is so new that the engineers have not yet had an opportunity to work on any outside projects. Their resumes are extensive, however, and include music mastering for nine seasons of The Voice. “Plus lot of independent projects from around the world,” adds Sokol. “Last year, I did a re-master of Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation… That was the first rap record I got into, around the eighth or ninth grade!”
United Recording Studios