Smarter Sound

Smarter Sound: Saving Time & Money with BB4’s Unique Mixing & Mastering Studio

Two essential studio applications, mixing and mastering, have converged into one room at BB4 in Brooklyn.

If you’re thinking that sounds highly unusual, you’re correct. It’s a distinct approach to audio in a world where many studios share tracking and mixing functions, but not mixing and mastering.

As it turns out, the thinking behind BB4’s approach is as logical as it is new and different. In this interview, the studio’s designer and in-house engineer, Christos Tsantilis, explains how these two complementary processes came together.

It’s all part of a pursuit of superior sound that saves time and money for artist, labels, and audio pros.

Why was this an opportunity to do a different kind of studio?

Since I was building a studio from the ground up, I was able to hone in on issues that usually arose while I was in session at other facilities that I’ve worked in.

I definitely got excited when I was called to design BB4, and build from scratch the kind of room I had always envisioned – it was a wide-open space that we were able to manipulate the way we wanted, as far as room ratios and placement of each room are concerned. We knew we had a great opportunity to do something worthwhile.

What were the specifications that you discussed with the studio’s founder, Rafael Planten, going in?

We started out with the basics, which were, “How good of a room can we build in the space that we have?” We did our due diligence creating diagrams, and writing up plans that we thought made sense – it’s easy enough to switch gear in and out, but it’s the room ratios that are most important.

Once we had that in order, we were able to turn our attention to the next issues we had to focus on: the soundproofing, acoustics and, prior to getting any of the gear, it was the wiring.

Originally, this was supposed to be a tracking and mixing facility. But as we honed in on room dimensions and acoustics, we realized that we had the opportunity to do something more – a combined mixing and mastering room.

You’re experience as a longtime mixer and mastering engineer informed the plan for BB4. How did that lead to you making the room that you’d always wanted as a freelancer?

Going from room to room throughout the years, I came to a few conclusions.

Number one, you have to acclimate to every room you walk into. The fewer anomalies there are, the easier it is for mixing, tracking, or editing engineers to make decisions. If you can trust what you hear, the better it translates to the outside world, and the decisions that you can make.

Having a flat room was important to us, because it changes the game. I’ve been through so many rooms that weren’t up to spec – gear-wise they were amazing, with a beautiful look and vibe. But at the end of the day it’s about the product you can create in there.

So with BB4, it was about making a room that really worked for mixing and mastering. That’s as opposed to one that looks great, but when you get back and play your mix on your home system it sounds off.

There are a lot of inconveniences that come with mixing or mastering in the facility whose acoustics you aren’t familiar with, correct?

Many engineers will bring their own speakers, because it’s a psychological thing as well as acoustic. Many engineers want to feel as comfortable as possible, so if they walk into a facility that they haven’t been in before, they bring their own gear so they can feel comfortable as well as consistent. Consistency is important, so mixers can hone into a sound that’s their sound – that’s how they make their money.

You can have five rooms with Yamaha NS10’s, and they’ll all sound different. They may all have the same gear, but the wiring may be different – even the length of the wires changes the sound.

Are you saying that a mixing or mastering engineer doesn’t have to feel compelled to bring their own speakers into BB4?

That’s correct. Obviously you can bring your own gear, like if you have compressors that we don’t have in-house. But at BB4 there’s no reason to worry about the room and what it’s going to do.

Once you realize that there’s no peaks, no dips, and that the space is tight – you realize you don’t have to change your mentality to know what the room is doing. You don’t have to ask, for example, “If it sounds like this in the room, is the bass actually too loud?” There’s no more guessing games.

How long have you been a studio designer, in addition to being a mixing and mastering engineer?

I’ve built several other studios as well, and I’ve been interested in studio design ever since I started in engineering. For the last 30 years, I’ve been around as a lot of rooms went up, and I’ve always been straddling the worlds between audio engineering, digital asset management, and room design.

It’s great to be able to have a lot of experience in the studio and to understand it as much as possible, before you go ahead and say, “I’ll be a studio designer.” You can be good at getting all the specs together, but it’s still important to understand the workflow from an engineering perspective. So I bring something different to the table as far as that’s concerned.

What does the work that you put into the room at BB4 boiled down to, in terms of real-world benefits for mixing and mastering?

Definitely the accuracy and the translation. Translation is key, and that’s really where I think BB4 wins. There are very few rooms where I sit in the sweet spot and say, “I don’t think I need another pair of speakers.” At BB4 I don’t need to switch over to a set of Auratones, or another set of speakers that I’m comfortable with to make a decision.

How is that appeal going to translate to BB4’s many clients? In other words, how does this approach make it not just a good room for you, but for them?

Once again, the bottom line would be the end result. When a client walks out and they check their mix at home or in their car, the essence of what they hear will be the same.

There will be differences, naturally, because most other environments won’t be as true. But the leveling will prove the translation – if you hear a level a certain way here, that’s how you’re going to hear it level-wise elsewhere. That means you can trust what you’re hearing in BB4.

And the same holds true for mastering?

Of course. There’ve been countless times in my career where I’ve been thrilled with the mix, but then I would take it to mastering, my jaw would drop, and I’d say, “Is this the same mix?”

It’s because I was basing my mix on room tones and the specific EQ of the monitoring. It made all the difference in the world. In this type of environment, you’re one step closer to a truer product.

Who is this innovative approach to a studio going to appeal to?

I think people that are professionals in the industry are going to get it right away. They’ll understand where we’re coming from: “It’s a flat room, we can trust it. It makes life easier.” That’s as opposed to walking into a facility and saying, “I’ll learn it as I’m tracking and mixing.” That slows the process down

So BB4 is really a timesaver, and we know what that means: It’s a money saver.

Why is now a good time for a room like this to be available to clients like that?

I think any time would have been a great time to have a room of this nature! I wish I had had a room like this in the beginning of my career, it would have made my life a lot easier.

— BB4

Kiara Mudd