We recently sat down with Christer Krogh, mixing & mastering engineer and producer at Velvet recording. We had a chat on the topic of the Sigberg Audio Manta wideband cardioid monitors, and how they have changed and improved the way he works.
Velvet recording has a a setup of Sigberg Audio Manta Wideband cardioid monitors with dual Sigberg Audio 10D subwoofers in their recording studio, as well as Sigberg Audio SBS.1 with dual Sigberg Audio Inkognito 10 subwoofers in their mixing&mastering studio.
Can you share a bit about your background and experience?
My name is Christer Krogh, and I'm the head engineer here at Velvet recording. I've been into music since I was five, and have been playing the guitar and singing my whole life. I have a talented brother who is a guitar player and musician that made me want to start with music as well. I've been in a band for as long as I can remember, and been doing studio work since the early 2000s. Here at Velvet recording I'm the head engineer and I'm involved in some capacity in everything we do. Depending on the project I do recording, mixing and mastering as well as producing.
I suspect those in our audience who are non-professionals may be unsure about what the differences are between these roles. Can you explain briefly what is done in the different phases? And what is a producer, anyway?
The producer is like the the director of the track or album. The producer may be involved in arranging the tracks, discussing artistic intention, and even assist with writing. In short, the producer is artistically involved and has a direct impact on the way a track turns out.
After the raw tracks from the recording studio have been recorded, the mixing engineer combines all the tracks into a coherent whole. This includes adjusting levels, EQ and even adding compression and adjusting tonality. Back in the day this was a simple process of adjusting levels of the the four or five tracks you had available. On a modern recording there can literally be a hundred tracks. The result from the mixing gives a clear indication of how the end result will be.
The mastering engineer receives a mixed down stereo track, and this is very the final touches are applied. We ensure the mix translates to everything from cheap air plugs via car radios and home stereos. If it's an album we also ensure that all tracks have a similar sound and the same volume. The loudness is also adjusted to work well for publishing to the streaming services and different media.
Can you share a bit about Velvet recording?
The studio was built in 1989, and known as Studio Nova until 2004. It was then rented out for a period of time, until it changed to Velvet Recording in 2010. I own the studio together with my partner Eldar Von Essen. We record everything from new and unsigned bands to the most well known artists in Norway. Genres span from country to black metal.
We have an awesome recording studio with great atmosphere. And while we sometimes record track by track, we love recording with the entire band playing. We are lucky to have many talented artists and musicians making that possible! Besides the large recording studio, we also have a mixing & mastering studio.
Sigberg Audio Manta
I have to start by telling about a member of Norwegian band Hellbillies and a frequent visitor of our studio, who popped by to listen last week. After the listening session he was blown away! He especially loved the dynamic range, since he often wants to really blast it to get that live / PA feeling. He couldn't believe how powerful and true to life his guitar tracks sounded! Sharing the experience of the Mantas with our customers in ways like that has been a lot of fun.
But where to start - the Mantas are awesome in so many ways! The first and weirdest experience was how Manta sounded unlike any monitor I've heard, but at the same time instantly familiar. You always have to spend quite a while to get to know and understand a new monitor, but with the Manta it was different. I got this instant reaction, thinking that they not only sounded great, but they sound exactly right!
The Mantas are set up in our recording studio, so the real instruments and singers are literally next door. It's scary how realistic and natural they sound. I had a late night session where I recorded various instruments myself. I sat at the piano recording a track, and then went back to listen. Hearing every small detail as I've just heard them in real life, down to the creaking of the floor as I shifted my position on the chair was an uncanny experience.
Why do you think the Manta sounds so lifelike?
The resolution and level of detail is incredible. It has actually made me approach recording in a completely different way. I make choices I've never done in the past, we even changed how we set up the microphones in the room. It's hard to explain, but with Manta it feels like I have a much wider palette of options. I can also position instruments and sounds in the mixes in a more surgical way much earlier in the process. I can start doing the final balancing of frequencies really early, during actual recording.
Another surprising but awesome thing is how it's easier to find room for the different instruments. I turn frequencies and tracks down to a lesser degree than before. Instead there's suddenly room to turn things up and push it towards the front. That goes for all the different instruments and frequencies, and thanks to the the full range, high definition bass of the dual 10D subwoofers, I'm especially able to be more bold in the low end.
One may think that with plenty of bass available, I may create mixes that are too thin. But the sound is perfectly balanced. What happens is that you get more transparency and information about what is really going on. I sometimes have people over who bring mixes they've done on other monitors. After listening here they realize their mix is actually too thin. There's more room in the bass frequencies than they thought. Other times you hear mixes that sound just fine for instance on the NS10, but when you listen to the Mantas you realize there's muddiness in the bass that wasn't reproduced at all on the NS10s, and that drowns out the midrange.
This transparency and increased definition makes it easier to navigate the entire frequency range. I give drums and bass tracks more room than I've done before, without any individual part drowning out anything else. Traditionally when a band comes into the control room to listen to the recording, there's always someone asking me to increase the volume on their part of the track, so they're able to hear their contribution better. Not so with the Mantas. It's a very interesting effect.
I know you've also been impressed by the headroom. Could it be that the dynamic range of the Mantas contributes to the large, lifelike sound?
That's a good point! It's easy to hear how they are different in this respect when you listen to a raw recording as opposed to a track where compression has been applied. On most monitors, the difference actually isn't that big. Manta reproduces the full dynamic range of a raw recording in a completely different way. We have large in-wall main monitors that we use for those bands who want to play back their recordings really loud, for that live sensation. But with the Mantas we can play as loud as we want, and they sound better too! We simply don't need the old main monitors anymore.
It's awesome that your mixes sounds so good through the Mantas, but how does it translate? What happens if you switch to your trusted old Yamaha NS10s for instance?
That's the interesting part, they translate great! Somehow the room to push everything forward was there all along, it was just more difficult to find. There was always an element of searching and guessing what would work. With the Mantas the entire process is much more effective, and the end result is better.
Black Metal is an interesting genre, and a good example. The drums especially are often intense and very fast, and hard to get right in the mix. I try to get it to sound like we recorded it back in the 1990s, but with better sound.
Many modern Black metal recordings have the entire drum track replaced by samples because there's a trend to have every attack of equal loudness. I don't like that programmed sound, as it becomes too clean and "nice" sounding. There's no dynamic range. I don't feel anything when I listen to it. I'm lucky enough to often work with talented drummers. Then I always try to get a real, live recording and to get that source material recorded as well as possible. Blending something like that into a mix is much easier with the Mantas.
The B3 Organ is another example of an instrument that is difficult to find space for in the mix. With the Mantas I work with different frequencies than I usually do, and it's easier to find a place for it.
Talking about the NS10s, some say they sound so bad that if your mix sound good on those, it will sound good on anything. You have several different monitors in the recording studio, including those trusted old NS10s. What is important in a studio monitor, and has the answer to that changed after you got the Mantas?
Haha! Yes, and there may still be some truth to that, but now I hardly use the NS10s anymore. I sometimes switch to them to see how it sounds, and it always translates well. The Mantas sound like they have a million more pixels. As I mentioned it feels like I have more options, and it's easier to experiment and find good choices. It's weird, because in many ways the Mantas is the complete opposite of the NS10.
One of the important things with the NS10 is that it's easy to hear if the midrange is off. You can hear if the snare drum is 0.5dB too loud. With Manta, everything including the midrange is excellent. I used to think having "flat" or thin sounding monitors like the NS10 or the Auratones was important to be able to hear that critical midrange. Every other monitor sounded colored somehow, and clouded that important midrange. Not the Manta.
With Manta and the dual subwoofers we now have a very even frequency response, and full range bass. The cardioid dispersion means we have little coloration from the room. Both Manta and the subs also have built-in DSP that allow you to correct for the room should that be necessary. Ultimately, we don't have to worry about making mistakes due to the room coloring the sound we hear. It sounds natural and right. It's well known that as an engineer, not only do you have to get used to new monitors, you also have to get used to the room. With Manta, this is no longer true to the same extent.
Another controversy is what the correct in-room response is for a studio. The Manta setup has an even, but sloping in-room response and true full range bass down to 20hz. The rise from 10khz to 50hz is ~6dB in-room in the recording studio. How do you perceive the tonality of this setup? How does it sound compared to what is going on live in the recording studio?
As I mentioned earlier, it's scary how natural and realistic it sounds. To me the tonality is spot on. All the artists who have been here to record and listen to the Mantas are awestruck by how real and good they sound! It's a big plus to be able to present the music to the artists in such a great way. It's also fascinating how even the sound is in the entire room. With a wide mixing console you typically have to move back to a small sweetspot to hear the effect of precision EQ. I no longer have to do that.
Also, the band is typically lounging all over the place when they want to listen to the result, and now the frequency balance and perceived volume is the same everywhere! We used to have bass muddiness towards the back of the room where we often have people listening. With our new setup there's no frequency build-up regardless of where you are.
Thank you for sharing in great detail about your experience with the Sigberg Audio system! Do you have any final thoughts to add?
I find most modern monitors that people rave about to sound "processed" somehow, and fatiguing to listen to. So I was very curious about that when we first set them up, but the Manta doesn't sound like that at all.
Another important point is that working with the Mantas is less draining, and more fun! I'm normally toast after a ten hour session, but with the Mantas I can do twelve hours straight and still feel fine! Also towards the end of a session I normally come back the next day to replay my work, and I instantly hear that I messed up due to being too tired or ear fatigued towards the end. With the Mantas, the EQ choices I made in the middle of last night still sounds great the next day.
At the end of the day (pun intended), it's just a better tool!
Read more about Velvet Recording: www.velvetrecording.com