Suppose you were the best-known recording studio in the world. Every day, aspiring young people contact you – or even turn up at the door – hoping to find a position to train as a recording engineer. But of course, such jobs in a major studio come up only once in a blue moon.
The Gramophone Company, predecessor to EMI, founded Abbey Road Studios over 80 years ago, in 1931. It has been the venue for some of the world's best-known recordings from Elgar to the Beatles to Pink Floyd and beyond. In 2015 the studios decided on a novel approach to the challenge of training the next generation of recording engineers, by opening the Abbey Road Institute. Currently based in six locations around the world – London, Berlin, Frankfurt, Melbourne, Paris and Amsterdam – the Abbey Road Institute offers part-time courses plus a full-time 12-month course leading to an Advanced Diploma in Music Production and Sound Engineering, aimed at students aged 18 and over. The curriculum offers a unique mix of theoretical and practical modules in engineering, music and business, created by education specialists in co-operation with the studios. It also relies heavily on years of experience training the studios' assistant engineers, many of whom have gone on to become well-respected recording engineers and producers.
Needless to say, Abbey Road Institute's six facilities are equipped with the very latest in studio gear, and a central part of their setup is Focusrite's RedNet range of audio interfaces, based on the Dante audio-over-IP networking system. We talked to Ulrich Schiller, manager of the Frankfurt school, about the part RedNet plays in their operation. He planned not only the Frankfurt facility, but also those in Berlin, determining the number and type of rooms in the facility and their complement of equipment, and working with acoustic designer Jochen Veith of JV-acoustics in Munich.
Abbey Road Institute in Frankfurt has four live rooms and four control rooms. All the computers run the same set of DAW software and plug-ins, focusing on Pro Tools but also including Logic and Ableton Live. The smallest control room is Studio 4, a production suite, with a Macintosh computer, monitors and keyboards. Studio 3 contains a 32-channel Avid S6 configured for both stereo and surround operation, plus B&W and PMC monitors. Studio Two features a 32-channel API 1608 console, while Studio One is based around a vintage 64-channel 1989 SSL 4064 G+.
The decision to incorporate RedNet into Abbey Road Institute's system was taken early on by CTO Silvan Jongerius who saw the benefits of being able to connect audio interfaces to a standard Ethernet network running round the building. “The co-operation between ARI and Focusrite was also due in part to the involvement of Focusrite's Executive Chairman, Phil Dudderidge," Ulrich adds, “who has been deeply involved in audio education for decades."
“Abbey Road Institute chose Focusrite Rednet in order to give their students access to high quality products and to provide extensive flexibility to create their music productions," Schiller goes on. “Additionally, it allows them to gain a greater understanding of working in decentralised workspaces along with the system's revolutionary networking capabilities, which will prepare them even better for the future."
Studio 1 was the first to be installed. When it came to equipping the studios with Pro Tools, Schiller found the Avid units rather expensive and wanted to try a different way. “I wanted to see if it was possible to solve these multitrack problems with Focusrite: I tried it and it's proved to be extremely effective," he says. “We have one RedNet 2 (16-in/16-out) and two RedNet 1 (8-in/8-out) units for 32 tracks to and from tape, working with the SSL," he went on. “We have only 3ms latency and it works very well. The system sounds excellent: the decision to use the Focusrite systems was clear." In addition to the control room installation, the live room for Studio 1 includes a pair of RedNet 4 units offering a total of 16 remote-controlled mic/line inputs to the SSL.
Studio 3, with its Avid S6 system, has the other major RedNet installation, with one RedNet 4 (eight remote-controlled mic/line inputs), a RedNet 1 (8-in/8-out) and a RedNet 5 Bridge to get RedNet audio in and out of the Avid system.
Each of the studios has its own RedNet installation, and while they are all on the same physical network, they are actually operated as self-contained studio/control room systems, separated by means of managed switches and VLANs. However, there is a large performance area and it would be entirely possible for a band in that room to be recorded simultaneously in all three of the main control rooms, simply by reconfiguring the network topology. Schiller's ultimate aim is to be able to clock the entire system from a central, highly stable word clock feeding the RedNet 5, although he notes that there will be times where different parts of the network will need to operate at different sample rates, which can be handled by using the VLAN system to separate off individual parts of the network.
It's also possible for a whole class to work on the same material by accessing performances over the network. “We are equipping every classroom with 24 Apple computers," says Schiller, “each with the Dante Virtual Sound Card, so if there is a drummer playing in the live room, for example, everyone can record the drum set simultaneously."
RedNet has also been useful in surround-sound applications. “In Studio 3, With the Avid S6 system, we have 5.1 mixing and monitoring. We installed a Red 1 to handle the surround outputs, and it 's perfect for the application."
The RedNet systems were originally installed in March 2016, with the present configuration adopted in August, and Schiller is very pleased with the results. “They work really, really well," he says. “They sound very, very good – it's the Focusrite style. And I think the converters are very, very good, with no artefacts." As far as the networked audio aspect of the system is concerned, Schiller believes that the future is clear, citing Dante's flexibility. “I think Dante will be an industry standard over the coming years," he says.
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