Where Pro Audio Becomes High-End: Part One

Where Pro Audio Becomes High-End: Part One

A few weeks ago I spent an afternoon with engineers Bill Schnee and Doug Sax at The Mastering Lab, Sax's 5.1-channel facility in Ojai, California.  I was there ostensibly to listen and to offer feedback regarding Schnee's live-to-DVD-ROM, 24-bit/192kHz recordings that were made with the new  JCF Audio (Josh Florian) analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog converters. 

As I made the drive to Ojai (roughly 70 miles from LA) I wondered if I would be able to tell how good the discs were since I'd be in a studio setting where, if prior experience prevailed, the sonics were likely to be dynamic and hyper-detailed but not especially musical or transparent or dimensional in the high-end sense. I've kicked around many-a-studio in my time and mostly regretted what I subjected my ears to.

What greeted me at The Mastering Lab was a state-of-the-art custom room, acoustically optimized for critically listening. All the electronics and board were custom-built by Sax's brother. The five-channel array of speakers were ATC SCM150ASLPro-300 Watt tri-amplified active monitors—big three-ways with 15-inch woofers, one-inch soft dome tweeters, and the famously transparent and dynamic 3-inch dome mid-range for which ATCs are so highly regarded. The demo I received was only in two-channel but the sonic qualities of the recordings through this playback system were of such phenomenal resolution that I could easily have been convinced the entire array was operating. I even asked Messrs. Sax and Schnee if the center channel was operational. They laughed and answered, "Nope, just the right and left speakers." I'll have more to add about the listening experience next week but suffice it to say this was unlike anything I've heard in a studio setting or high-end installation before.