SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH: Mix engineer Mike Roskelley, noted for his work with house music artist/DJ Kaskade, recently opened his own Salt Lake City studio, featuring a 5.1 monitoring system with ATC (Acoustic Technology Company) SCM 110A active three-way studio monitors and dual ATC Sub1/15 15-inch subwoofers for the LFE channel.
For several years, Roskelley provided mix and mastering services by request for numerous area studios, as well as for individuals working in music composition and arranging. In addition, he offered „educator-consultant“ services, assisting others in properly setting up their studios, in particular advising about acoustics and recording techniques.
Eventually he saw the need to establish his own studio, with the first iteration carved out of a room in his home to keep overhead under control. Later came the process of developing a „purpose-built“ studio of his own design, located in a separate, new building constructed on his home property.
„After spending a lot of years compensating for difficult situations, particularly in terms of acoustics and limitations of monitors, I wanted both a room and monitors that would eliminate all of the guesswork in what I was hearing,“ Roskelley explains. As a result, his new studio is expressly designed with a critical eye on both factors. And in addition, he doesn’t work with a mixing console, preferring to eliminate surfaces with unpredictable acoustic reflections. This keeps the direct sound waves from speakers to listener as pristine as possible, as well as taking advantage of his fluency with alternatives like Digidesign ProTools.
Just before construction of the new studio commenced in October of last year, Roskelley began evaluating monitoring systems, and subsequently had several potential candidates shipped to him for critical listening and comparison. His preferred choice proved to be ATC SM 20A compact two-way monitors, but he was concerned about not hearing the extra lower octave of the bass and kick that is so prevalent in the house/dance tracks he mixes.
„The reproduction of high and mid-range frequencies of the SM 20A is among the best I’ve ever heard, and the imaging is stunning,“ he notes. Attention then turned to the three-way SCM 110A, which offers identical mid and high performance, in addition to a 314mm bass driver in a larger enclosure.
Tight on time, he didn’t have the opportunity to travel to New York City for the AES Convention where the SCM 110A was making its debut, but based upon his experience with the SM 20A, he decided to take the plunge, ordering the show demo units. With the studio being built around these monitors, he admits to being a bit nervous.
„After all of the personal time and money that went into this studio, I was a little concerned with specifying monitors that I hadn’t heard,“ Roskelley says. „But when we set them up and threw the switch, the sound was breathtaking, simply amazing. I might be biased when I say this is the best listening environment I’ve ever been in, but this has also proven to be the consensus among all the colleagues who have come by to listen.“
Specifically, what Roskelley seeks most in an acoustic environment is accuracy. In addition to the obvious, (the bass modes that are inherent in even the best rooms), he was equally concerned about the high-mid and low-mid frequency ranges, and finds that these are often the first victims of smearing characteristics produced by improper acoustic design and poor loudspeaker reproduction.
Utilizing three acoustical software packages to assist in the math for the design of his room, combined with his own extensive experience, he worked in particular to avoid surfaces like glass that add and magnify reflections. And, the room was designed specifically around the ATC loudspeakers in a standard 5.1 configuration, with three mains equidistant at the front, two mains equidistant at the back, and the dual subwoofers (for added bass presence when desired) on the floor left and right.
„I attribute the quality of this listening environment to the monitors working with the room design,“ he says. „There are three specific aspects of the ATC monitors that I really like. First, the center image is rock solid. While listening to a vocal panned center in a stereo track, I have had clients actually think the center speaker was on. Toggling back and forth between stereo and mono, the center image remains completely in tact, absolutely no phasing. Second, the clarity of reverb is amazing, from trigger point all the way through the very end of decay. And third, the mid-range is so detailed, revealing so many subtleties. For example, I can hear a half-dB of attenuation or boosting in the mid-range while equalizing or compressing because of the clarity of three-inch mid-dome in the 110.“
Roskelley has been involved with an interesting project of late, collaborating with fellow Salt Lake City resident Donny Osmond on remixing the audio tracks in 5.1 surround for an upcoming DVD release of highlights of „Donny & Marie,“ the popular 1970s television show. Working between their two studios, Osmond and Roskelley found that the quality of the original recordings – most of them 16-track and 24-track – varied dramatically.
„Another challenge is that many of the original multi-tracks could not be found leaving us with only a mono source for a good portion of the cues,“ Roskelley adds. „Our concern was that seamlessly combining the new surround mixes with these mono cues would be very tough to do without possibly inducing ‚whiplash‘ on the listeners.“
He and Osmond hunted for potential solutions, landing on the Z Systems z-K6 multi-channel processor. „Donny went ahead and acquired a z-K6 and sent it up to me for evaluation,“ Roskelley says. „I put in a call to Bob Katz, who designed the processor’s algorithms, to get a feel for it. After about ten minutes of clear instruction from Bob, I had a pretty good understanding of how to get around in the box and started experimenting on the mono tracks. It was quickly obvious that this box was going to work for us, and in some cases, the fold-outs from mono to surround were quite remarkable.“
Roskelley has been handling the mix of the music tracks, with Osmond doing the rest, including the overall final mix. The first of the planned three DVDs has been finished and sent to mastering, with the other two following shortly.
„One of the great things about working in a market like Salt Lake City is that you get to do a wide variety of projects and musical styles, as evidenced by this project,“ Roskelley concludes, highlighting his point by noting that he will soon be returning to his new studio to begin work with Kaskade on a new release. „You don’t get typecast into one particular genre, which keeps it fresh and challenging.“