Optimal Mix & Master
Drilling Down: Why Mix & Master Work Perfectly Together at BB4
Last month, we explored the motivations of BB4 designer and in-house engineer Christos Tsantilis in conceptualizing this unique studio.
Now we’re digging deeper, getting his insights into what defines an optimal mix facility, and an optimal mastering suite. When all his strict criteria combine in one place, you get BB4: a studio that sounds better and moves faster than any professional audio environment you’ve experienced before.
What makes the BB4 facility unique?
We believe this room is the first of its kind – a mixing and mastering facility in one room, built from the ground up.
There are other facilities that are a mix suite where you can master the record, but in my years of experience I haven’t seen a room specifically designed to allow you to do both with equal precision. There may be another studio like this, somewhere in the world, but I haven’t seen it yet.
What are the essential qualities of a mix room, in your opinion?
The qualities necessary to be a really good mix room start with the flatness of the sweet spot. For RT60 levels, which is the reverb time for each frequency, the standard is .3 for critical listening, for both mixing and mastering. This room meets that standard, which you will often find in mastering facilities, but only very rarely in great mix rooms.
Also, in your typical mix room, the engineer will use small format speakers, and they mix accordingly with the nearfields. But the speakers are often placed on the console in that scenario, and it’s proven that there’s way too much reflection coming off the console, which changes the sound quality of the speakers.
Getting the speakers off of the console, as we’ve done here at BB4, is something that more engineers are doing for flatter frequency response. They’re all going in that direction — this is just a step above that, where you don’t really need the nearfields. Nearfields are there for your low-mids and highs, but they usually have marked deficiencies in the low-end. That’s why engineers will usually switch to the big mains, to ensure that they have the low-end correct. But in the scenario that we’ve got at BB4, where our PMC monitors are mounted independently on stands behind the desk, you don’t need different sets of monitors, so you don’t have to switch.
Meanwhile, in most mastering sessions, a mastering engineer usually has one set of speakers that is well-placed, and they know every decision is the proper decision.
So when you’re a mixing and mastering room, you know that the room is better qualified to make sure nothing is lost in translation.
We just talked about the ideal mix room. What makes an ideal mastering room?
Let me relate my past experiences as a mix engineer to answer that question. Often I would finish my mix in the studio using nearfields and mains. Then after that in mastering, I frequently had the feeling that the mix wasn’t well represented – the vocals in particular. I’d walk into the mastering room and hear all these extra details that weren’t audible when I was mixing. It really changed my viewpoint on the mix.
It got to the point that I would bring $300,000 worth of rack gear into mastering so I could make changes. You could really hear how just a half dB makes a difference in the mix.
This setup at BB4 makes things a lot easier in that regard. Now when someone sends a mix in here for me to master, and I have to manipulate it to the point where I’ve changed things by several dB – that’s when you know the mix could have been tighter. But when you’ve got a really good mix and all you’re doing is slight adjustments of colorization and feel, that’s when you know the mix is tight, and you’re just adding the cherry on top.
That’s what mastering should be about: You’re using less gear, so there’s less colorization and you get a leaner, warmer, bigger sound.
So what are the special things that can happen when you combine a mixing and mastering room like this?
First and foremost, the engineer will no longer be surprised by what they get back from mastering. Often, after working in other facilities a mix engineer will submit a mix to get mastered, and then when they get the mastered product back it throws them for a loop. It’s been mixed so meticulously to meet their criteria for record, then it comes back and it’s been changed significantly. It can create a huge conflict between the mix engineer and the mastering engineer.
This unified scenario at BB4 takes that disconnect out of the loop. When you have the same vision between the mix and the mastering process, there are no more surprises. That’s the wonderful thing about it.
What it comes down to is the faster workflow of mixing, mastering or both in the room. If you’re mixing here at BB4, and it’s going somewhere else for mastering, that’s where the advantages comes in: The mix engineer will be pleasantly surprised, because they’ll get their material back from Sterling Sound or wherever and say, “This is what I want the record to feel like.” That’s a win for everybody.
The artist won’t have many surprises either. That’s good, because what I’ve seen happen at other facilities is the artist says, “We approved the rough, but this master doesn’t sound like it. Now we want it mastered again.” The BB4 workflow puts that kind of thing in the past – fewer surprises saves time and money.
What response have you been getting from people who hear about the combined mix and mastering room design at BB4?
Music professionals will say that it’s better to have someone else master the record. I agree that’s true, but there’s no reason that it can’t be done in the same room where it was mixed.
A mix engineer works through the night, then the mastering engineer walks in, sits at the same console, get the track up, and also has the mix available from a multitrack level. There are no more recalls that have to be done – you don’t have to do a recall, get a new print, and get that product back to mastering. That can eat up a week or two of time that is very precious.
Whereas in the BB4 scenario, we can save all that time, not stress about it, and meet our deadlines. This is a one-stop shop.
Studio design doesn’t take a leap very often – what’s it like working with a whole new paradigm of audio facility at BB4?
This is exciting because it changes the workflow. It changes the way a record can be done, and in a great way: This room provides better quality, with less time spent, and better asset management. Everything is in one place – it’s really simple.