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Mix Magazine Article with Colin Leonard

  Mastering Engineer Colin Leonard Gets Dangerous in his Highly Customized Analog Studio ‘SING Mastering’ Paul de Benedictis October 28th, 2014AboutPic Atlanta-based ‘SING Mastering’ uses Dangerous Master, Monitor and BAX EQ at the core of a unique mastering setup Mastering engineer Colin Leonard works a lot with major record labels on singles, albums and custom masters for the very latest music videos – as well as hit Indie artist projects. At his Atlanta, GA, ‘SING Mastering‘ studio he’s built a unique and highly customized analog setup based around a core of Dangerous Music’s Master transfer console and Dangerous Monitor combination, and the Dangerous BAX EQ – among many other pieces of choice equipment and speakers. As Leonard says “It’s a no compromise mastering facility.” Some of Leonard’s recent mastering credits include Echosmith, Kimbra, Icona Pop, Leona Lewis, Justin Bieber, Mastodon and Mystery Skulls, working with record labels such as Warner Bros., Sony Music, Atlantic Records, Republic Records and Universal Records. “I am currently using a Dangerous Master, a Dangerous Monitor and a Dangerous BAX EQ,” states Leonard. “I’ve never mastered a song without a Dangerous Master! And I can’t imagine it (laughs). The Master is one of those pieces that is just the ‘heart’ of the system. When I came into mastering, that was the very first mastering console that I used. The Master is an awesome piece for me.” Although he has lots of gear, and most of it quite unique, he still goes for less-is-more, “I’m kind of a simplicity guy, all of the processing on my masters is analog. I don’t usually use plug-ins, and I try to keep cables real short between each piece of equipment, we make our own cables and use quality materials,” he says. SING_MasteringInside the Master Leonard has compared “Mid-Side” systems and finds the implementation of the “S&M” feature built into the Dangerous Master far superior, “With the S&M feature on the Master, you can really fix some problems in mixes, and address balance issues. I have a couple EQs that I can use with that circuit to adjust stuff in the side, or if I need to bring a vocal out in the middle I can do that. It’s a really great sounding circuit. Comparing it to Mid-Side processors in the digital realm I just think it’s a ‘Day and Night’ difference. I don’t really know why technically the Mid-Side available on plug-ins sound so weird to me, but it does. The biggest thing is, you can kind of get away with cutting dBs in a plug-in, but as soon as you try to boost the Mid or the Side it sounds terrible to me; With analog, there is a lot more headroom. To me, the Dangerous Master’s Mid-Side circuit sounds a lot better.” Describing how his outboard connects to the Dangerous Master, Leonard says, “I can either run into the input of the Master or I can run into the input of some other gear to have a different sound. I can bypass the input stage on the Master if I want to and run into the inserts. The inserts are set up really simply using my six different EQs and a couple of compressors. I don’t do a lot of compression, I am more of an EQ person, especially these days when mixes are usually compressed already! (laughs) But I have a lot of EQ flavors.” And finally, he relates, “Another thing that’s really cool about the Dangerous Monitor in combination with the Dangerous Master is the ‘input monitor offset’. That way I can take an unprocessed mix and turn it up as loud as my master in the analog domain with an offset, and I can compare the original mix to the master at exactly the same volume. That’s really important. Without the offset you’re comparing the mix that might be 6dB quieter with a master that’s loud. It’s kind of impossible to compare the two sonically. Other than just saying, ‘Wow! That one’s a lot louder!’ When you use both the Dangerous Master and Monitor to do that, it’s seamless, Dangerous Music thought it out really well.” BAX And All That Although on SING Mastering’s website Leonard alludes to some ‘secret boxes’ that he uses to get his sound, he quickly relates, “The Dangerous BAX, honestly, is one of my favorite EQs for real small adjustments and it has some really unique EQ curve shapes obviously. I think it can be really great in combination with other EQs. I actually use the BAX differently than other people I’ve talked to, I use it at the beginning of my chain and use it as a really broad stroke and then fine tune afterwards with other pieces of gear.” Monitoring The Dangerous Way On his history with the Dangerous Monitor, Leonard recalls, “Actually when I started mastering I was just lucky to have access to a Chris Muth 2040 monitoring setup. After a few years I changed to the Dangerous Monitor, and at first it was a little weird because it has a stepped volume control, and the Muth 2040 that I had used had originally been ordered with the ‘Alps big blue’ control which was a continuous pot, so it took me a little while to get used to the Monitor’s stepped volume control. But then the accuracy and repeatability of the stepped control on the Monitor was awesome.” Adding a bit more background, he adds, “The Muth 2040 didn’t have a DAC built in, so you had to use a ‘room’ DAC, which was normally a less sophisticated DAC in those days because when you were switching back and forth between digital sources, an old high-end DAC usually had some delay while switching and re-clocking so the thing to use was a DAC that was fast. The DAC that’s built into the Dangerous Monitor is really good and it’s fast. I really fell in love the with Dangerous Monitor. For me it’s an improvement over the 2040, having used both of them. The DAC in the Monitor is my only monitor path DAC.” Leonard has a last point on controlling his listening, first, “I love the Dangerous Monitor for its transparency and accuracy with tracking with the stepped volume control. As a mastering engineer it’s really a necessity to have instantaneous digital switching with a common converter – and that’s what the Monitor supplies! I can get real world comparisons between different sources at the same time instantaneously with the same converter.” Customized Is The Deal Customizing practically all his equipment puts Leonard is a unique position of knowing his own gear better than anyone could, but it isn’t that unusual in a mastering studio he relates, “I am really picky about equipment and I think that incremental improvements add up at the end of the day. I try to make the quality of my gear as good as possible, and with mastering kind of everything is custom anyway it seems.” He reveals some of his top outboard pieces beyond his ‘Dangerous BAX starting-point’, “I have a couple custom Neumann W495B units, a set of modified Neumann OE DUO EQs, some old Motown style inductor EQs that are customized Electrodyne circuits, a Fred Forsell Millennia NSEQ-2, and an SPL PQ. My speakers are custom too,” adds Leonard. “They are the last pair of the Tyler Acoustics D1′s, they were made by Ty Lashbrook, with two Pass Labs amps drive them and custom crossovers with cabinet modifications. Then I have a couple custom subwoofers, the sub cabinets are designed by Ty with the servo drivers designed by Danny Richie.” SING MasteringAs in any great studio, gear is often only half the equation, “The SING Mastering room is a very cool design, it uses a ratio by acoustician M.M. Louden, he’s kind of the king of rectangular room ratios,” states Leonard. “My room is really an optimized Louden ratio. It’s over 30 feet long and really wide and has tall ceilings, it’s a big, open natural space. It’s a ‘dead end’ in the front and a ‘live end’ in the back, which is pretty common for mastering rooms.” Check out SING Mastering and more about engineer Colin Leonard at: http://www.singmastering.com  

Sonicscoop Magazine Article with Colin Leonard

Master Plan: SING Mastering - Atlanta

In the Wiki for Atlanta, you see it is considered an “alpha-” or “world city”, ranking 15th among world cities and sixth in the nation with a gross domestic product of $270 billion. Colin Leonard heads up SING Mastering in ATL. These are impressive statistics, and it’s logical that the entertainment and media industries are part of that. For Atlanta-connected names that know music and video, include Turner Broadcasting, CNN, Cox Enterprises, and the Weather Channel. Artists? On the rock and pop side, think Indigo Girls, the Black Crowes, Sevendust, Mastodon, Justin Bieber, Deer Hunter, Man or Astro man. And hip hop – it’s a world beacon, starring the likes of Usher, Ludacris, Outkast, T.I. Soulstresses Tony Braxton and India Arie call it home, along with a whole stadium full of stars far too lengthy to list. In this lush SouthEast cultural ecosystem, it’s no surprise that you’ll find some elite mastering houses. In our first “Master Plan” we pay a visit to SING Mastering, where owner and mastering engineer Colin Leonard has built up a megastar credit list and proprietary all-analog processes for his craft. What drives this audio pro to make his masters one better? Read on to find out. Master Plan Facility Name: SING Mastering Website http://www.singmastering.com Location Atlanta, GA Clients/Credits Echosmith, Kimbra, Icona Pop, Leona Lewis, Justin Bieber, Mastodon and Mystery Skulls to name a few, working with record labels such as Warner Bros., Sony Music, Atlantic Records, Republic Records and Universal Records. When it All Began We built the new facility in 2012 but I’ve been mastering professionally for about 10 years. Room for the music to SING out. Atlanta Angle It was kind of an accident. I moved to Atlanta after college with a couple of guys that I played in a Fusion Jazz band with. I was trying to make some extra money, so I bought a Pro Tools rig in 1998 and started producing and mixing. Mastering had always interested me and an opportunity kind of fell in my lap. It was a “right place at the right time” situation. We have a no-compromise commercial facility and encourage clients to attend the mastering session if they can. A lot of projects these days are from national and international clientele. Master Mind When I started making my own recordings back in 1996 or so I would always try some mastering myself. I would also do some mastering for artists that I produced back in the late 90’s. Sometimes I would spend more time on the mastering than the mixing. That’s when I really knew it was something that was a great fit for me. I really like focusing on “the big picture.” I focus on the feel and vibe of a song as a whole and how small changes can make a big difference in how a song emotes. How I Hear It When starting on a song I listen to the whole song all the way through at least once. I try not to think about technical things, but more from a musical perspective. I’m more of a simplicity guy and less-is-more a lot of times in mastering. I have six different analog EQs and a couple of analog compressors. I don’t do a lot of compression, I am more of an EQ person, especially these days when mixes are usually compressed already! (laughs) But I have a lot of EQ flavors. I almost always do all of my processing in the analog domain, I just prefer the sound. I actually have some proprietary analog processes so that I don’t have to use digital limiters for loudness. To me it sounds more natural, and the transient energy from the mix stays intact. I think one of the hardest parts of mastering is anticipating where a song/album needs to be. I always encourage input from the client but often they just say “do your thing!” We work on a lot of different genres so staying on top of what production styles are popular and studying different genres is important to me. That way I can better anticipate where the song or album needs to be. Customer service is also very important to me so we do everything we can to make sure the customer has the best quality product and any format they may need for distribution. Top Gear The heart of the system is a Dangerous Master insert console and Dangerous Monitor. These pieces were designed by Chris Muth and are extremely reliable and transparent. A few mods and some unbalancing have been done but nothing major. I have a couple of custom Neumann W495B units that have a really nice linear power supply, and they actually have transformers too, plus they have been modified for half dB steps. Those are from the old Neumann vinyl record cutting consoles. I also have a set of modified Neumann OE-Duo EQs, which are transformer-less, so they are a little bit more transparent. Those are really cool, the midrange is some of the best that I’ve heard. I have some old Motown-style inductor EQs that are customized Electrodyne circuits with original Reichenbach transformers that are heavily modded with switches. I have some really transparent stuff too, like a Fred Forssell Millennia NSEQ-2, and an SPL “PQ” which is the big mastering version, and normal stuff like Manley, Pendulum and Prism. My speakers are custom too. They are the last pair of the Tyler Acoustics D1′s, they were made by Ty Lashbrook and all of the drivers and crossovers were designed for the speakers by Danny Richie. I have two Pass Labs amps that drive them and custom-built crossovers and internal wiring with cabinet modifications by Danny Richie. Then I have a couple custom stereo subwoofers, the sub cabinets are built by Ty with the servo drivers designed by Danny Richie. In control at the console. Vinyl Kind I started cutting lacquers back in 2007 on a Neumann VMS 70. The first day cutting vinyl was eight sides, I think, for DTP records. Talk about getting thrown into the fire! It was a great way to start though. Cutting lacquers definitely teaches you a lot about mastering and its limitations. Plus, there is just something so cool about the physical medium. I have a completely refurbished Neumann lathe coming within the next year, so I’m excited about that. Unforgettable Kimbra’s Vows album was a really amazing project to work on. The mixes were done by Phil Tan and were just ridiculously good. I also mastered a new single for Kimbra recently called “Miracle” that is really good. Also, I worked on an album by Mystery Skulls called Forever that just got released. Nile Rodgers is playing guitar on some of the songs. It’s a really great album and is #1 on the iTunes electronic chart right now. What I Wish Everyone Understood About Mastering That we don’t use reverb. Ever. (laughs) Listen Better Go with your gut and make sure the tracks and mixes feel good. Keep your monitoring in check so you know what you’re hearing.  – Colin Leonard, SING Mastering - See more at: Sonicscoop  

Audiofanzine Interview with Colin Leonard

Colin Leonard takes the analog path to mastering success

It's About the Vibe

Colin Leonard, owner and engineer of SING Mastering in Atlanta, has to be ready to handle any musical style that comes his way. “I could go from Gaelic Christmas music to hardcore hip-hop to pop to heavy metal in the same day,” he says. “it's totally different all the time.” Leonard’s credits range from Justin Bieber to Mastadon to newer groups like Echosmith and Kimbra to bands from the bustling Atlanta indie rock scene. Many of his projects are for major record labels like Sony Music, Warner Brothers, and Universal Records, among others.

Leonard’s spacious mastering studio is focused around analog processing, featuring a range of high-end EQs, often modded to his specifications, including a pair of customized Neumann EQs that were originally designed for vinyl mastering, a custom Motown-style Electrodyne inductor EQ, a Fred Forssell Millennia NSEQ-2, an SPL PQ, and a Dangerous Music BAX and other pieces from Manley, Pendulum and Prism. The hub of his studio is a Dangerous Music Master mastering insert console. Audiofanzine recently had a chance to speak with Leonard about his gear, his techniques, mastering for iTunes, and more. Because you deal with so much stylistic variety, do you ever have to do research to prepare for sessions? A big part of the job is staying on top of what the trends are for the different genres. And I do that constantly. I actually buy a lot of CDs and study them. One thing that I learned in mastering — and in music in general — that kind of took me a long time to realize, is that there are these kind of slow-moving trends that happen, and you've got to stay on top of them. And they're very small in mastering. Like you'll go through a year of a “mid-range push” trend. Or there's a hi-fi push, or a distortion craze, which I think we're still in the tail end of right now, where everything's distorted a little bit with harmonic distortion. And now I think it's kind of moving out of that and going to more of a clean, hi-fi sound. So it's interesting kind of following that.
 
Leonard's mastering credits cover a wide range of musical genres
How do these trends start? I think it moves really similarly to clothing fashion. It takes a while to follow but I basically just try to stay up on it. My mastering is more about the vibe of the music than technically being perfect. I think it's so much more important. I started off as a musician, too, and I still try to have that mindset, even though it's technical at the same time. The “loudness war” has been heavily covered in the music media over the last few years. I gather that the iTunes standards are making it so you don't have to push the masters as loud. Is that true? What's your feeling on that whole issue? I think it's kind of in a state of flux. There's been a lot of press about it, and people like to read about it, and people get emotional about it, but it's something that's been going on since the beginning of recorded music. This isn't a new thing with digital. It's been going on forever. Back in the vinyl days, a record label would send out a single to three different vinyl-mastering cutters, and they'd get the test pressings back and they'd pick the loudest one. So it was, who can get it louder on the lacquer? Back to iTunes for a second, my understanding is that the Sound Check feature levels everything off everything anyway, so it kind of takes the incentive away from trying to make everything as loud as possible. Is that a fair reading of it? Yeah, if you use Sound Check on your library, it will kind of average everything out. I think it makes it more pleasurable for the listener when stuff isn't jumping around. It's like when you watch a movie and you have to ride the volume the whole time. What delivery medium do you master for the most? I just master it to make it sound as good as possible. You don't have to compensate depending on if it's going to MP3 or some other format? I'll think about that. I'll make a separate master for iTunes that will be sent as a 24-bit file — better dynamic range and a little more headroom. How does the iTunes master differ? It's turned down a little bit, and it's a higher resolution file. So when it's converted to AAC at 256 kHz, it won't create overing with the compression algorithm. Because if you give it to them at 0 dB peak -and the same thing will happen with an MP3 encoder — it will create overs from the [data] compression. What is the peak level you like to master for iTunes or MP3? For iTunes, it kind of varies depending on the song. Maybe it's turned down a dB or so. It’s not much, it's just enough to compensate for the encoder. Because you'll notice if you take a WAV file that's not overing and convert it to an MP3 file, it will start overing immediately. So all one needs is a tiny bit of headroom in order to avoid overs during encoding? Yes, but it depends on how loud the master is, so you should check the particular song. I assume you do get a lot of projects that at least partially, or totally were recorded in home studios? Yes. Do you notice a big difference these days, with current gear and software, with those and music done in commercial studios? And if so, what are the biggest problems you find on the home-recorded projects, typically? You know it's interesting for me, when the home stuff really started taking hold, around maybe 2008, there was a definite dip in quality. But now, I think some of the home guys are getting better with their home gear. And I've noticed that it can be really good, or not. It's really a skill set that people have developed. And now more artists have developed a skill set to be able to record themselves well. And then a lot of times they'll send it to a good professional mixing engineer. I guess I was thinking more about the difference in acoustics and the ability to have a great selection of quality mics, as opposed to a home person who probably only has a few. They're not going to be able to have a U47 and a C12. So has that impacted things, because what's going in on the front end isn't as clean? I think some of the quality has fallen off a bit on certain things, but there's so much music coming out now, that some of it is still really good. So what's hard is that there's a bigger variance now — you know, different levels of quality. Whereas when I first started, I was seeing more of a consistent level of quality. And I'll check people's mixes, and if they ask me to give my opinion on what I think, I will, if they're trying to improve their skills. And that's part of what's cool about a professional mastering studio is that people can come in, and they can sit and listen to their music in a controlled environment and talk about what they can do on the next project to make it better. Let's talk about your studio. What do you use for monitoring? I have a pair of custom Tyler Acoustics D1 speakers. The drivers are custom designed for the speakers. The guy that designed the drivers built custom crossovers for me, with really high-quality parts and high-quality wire. And the room is also really natural and flat. And then there are two custom Tyler Acoustics subs, those are servo drive, and they're designed by Danny Richie, who designed the drivers in the speakers. And then two Pass Labs [Pass Laboratories] amplifiers. So you've gotten to the point where you hear something in your studio and you know that you're hearing what it really sounds like. Yeah, definitely. It's very flat and you can really hear everything that's going on. The room is very natural. It's got an insulated, dead front end. There's acoustic material all the way around the front, and acoustic clouds. It's over 30 feet long and the ceiling is very tall, and I'm quite a ways from the speakers. It's a live back end of the room with a lot of diffusion. You have a number of pieces of hardware from Dangerous Music? Yes, I’ve been using Dangerous Master from the beginning and within about the last five years or so I added a Dangerous Monitor and a Dangerous BAX EQ. Talk about Dangerous Master It's a fantastic stereo mastering insert console. It's basically a really fancy channel strip from a recording console that's stereo, with separate left and right controls, a lot of headroom and a very high-quality signal path. So this is the mastering console in my opinion, it's super transparent. It controls the insert sends and returns from whatever analog gear I want to send to. It also has a mid-side circuit built in, so I can control the level of the side-to-mid mix so I can control the stereo field separately. I have a couple of different versions of these. They are very reliable and transparent.
 
Leonard in session 
What are some of the EQs you use? I have a couple of Neumann cutting-console EQs that are totally customized. These are from an old Neumann cutting lathe console. They originally have [knobs with] 2dB steps, and they're modded for 1/2 dB. They're very cool and the midrange is awesome. They have transformers and they also have a really cool custom linear power supply. I have another set of a similar EQ that looks the same, and that's called an OE Duo, that's a stereo EQ. It's also another cutting EQ. This one is also modded with the 1/2-dB steps and the linear power supply. So it's is a little more transparent, and sounds amazing. I have an SPL PQ which is a monster 120-volt rail, discrete Class A equalizer. It sounds really good. One of the things that amazes me about mastering is that you're dealing,with a stereo master but sometimes you have to make adjustments that target individual elements within that mix. I guess MS processing would be one of the tools. Can you talk about some of the ways you go about that? I never really do the same thing. It really depends on what's going on in the mix, so it's hard to answer that. Do you use multi-band processing a lot? No, and that's the thing about MS, too. It's kind of the fancy stuff, the bells and whistles. People are always focusing on multi-band and MS, those are kind of extreme tools for really re-working a mix. I think focusing on EQ basics, and using good stuff is so much more important. Do you have different signal paths you can use, depending on what you're trying to do: An analog one, a digital one? I do everything analog, for the most part. Of course, you have digital software for handling and playing the files. I'm using Cube-Tec systems. But the processing, as far as altering signal, is analog. My digital stuff is to kind of keep everything as pristine as possible. So, maybe with MS, once in a while, say a vocal is too quiet, or maybe it doesn't have the presence that it should have. Then I can use an analog EQ with my analog MS circuit and add a little 4K or something to the vocal. And you'd only be working on the center part? Yeah, I'd only be working on the center. Sometimes maybe the cymbals are just blaring in the stereo field, but the vocal is really dark, so maybe we can cut a little bit of the high frequency on the sides for the cymbals. Do you ever tell a client that they need to remix a song, if it’s got a lot of sonic issues? Sometimes when something is really off I’ll ask the client. Or if a client specifically asks me to check a mix I have no problem doing that. A lot of times though, people really don't want to hear it, surprisingly. So a big part of my job is just shutting my mouth and doing my job. I don't want to be the douche-y mastering engineer. Everyone pictures us as bitchy little guys that sit in rooms and bitch about the quality of music and the loudness war. [laughs] I just try to make the music feel as good as possible and I spend a lot of time doing that, I work really hard at it. Music is supposed to be enjoyable and fun, right? I want the client to be happy, and I want to be happy at the end of the day. That being said, if there's something in a mix that's really hard to work with, and you don't want to tell them to remix it, what do you do then, just do the best you can? Yeah, and sometimes remixing it isn't an option. A lot of times maybe the tracks have been lost. I actually hear that more than you would think. The original multitrack has been lost. "This is what it is," "Do what you can," "It's already a hit on the radio, so make it as good as possible." So yeah, that's when it's kind of frustrating, and you just do what you can. And sometimes the battles with a loudness situation, where I kind of go to the line of where I think it’s starting to lose quality, and maybe a client will come back and say, "I want it to be louder than 'blah blah blah,'" and the song sounds totally different than 'blah blah blah.' I actually have some proprietary analog processes so that I don’t have to use digital limiters for loudness.
 
The SING Mastering studio
What do you tell clients in terms of what they should bring to you, and do you ever ask for stems? I prefer to work on a final mix. I think sometimes you just have to make the decisions in the mix process. I will work with stems, but I would prefer it to be just the mix. Do you tell them not to use any master bus limiting? That's kind of changed over the years. It used to be that they would have a really good mix, and then they'd put a hardware [Waves] L2 on it and do a few dB of reduction to make it louder. In those days, I would say, "Okay, please give me the non L2 version” because I could make it better. But now, so much of the processing is part of the sound of these records, especially pop records, that you can really shoot yourself in the foot asking for something without [master] bus processing on it. Maybe you can give me the version you've been listening to, and then give me a quieter version if you want to back off on a little of the processing making it loud... So you have a little room to work with. Yeah, and it depends on what the individual case is with a particular song. It also depends on how good the rough mix or the final mix “loud version” is. There are a lot of different factors. Sometimes, if it's just slammed, then it can be a problem. But honestly, I don't see that much anymore, I feel like people are a little more educated now than they were five years ago. And some of the mixers are so good at making loud versions of their songs now — the good mixers have been doing this for years — so it's hard to beat it sometimes. Those are the fun projects for me, when it's a challenge. To find out more about SING Mastering, go to www.singmastering.com

City Studios, Cyprus, Compares Mastering Houses!

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CityStudiosOur client Andreas Georgallis from City Studios in Cyprus talks about his experience using SING Mastering on his latest project! "My name is Andreas Georgallis, and I'm the owner of City Studios in Cyprus (Eastern Europe).  In the process of producing a new single, "An Me Thimase" for artist Despina Olympiou for Cyprus's entry in the Eurovision Song Contest, I decided to try 3 different Mastering houses to Master the song so that we could get the best quality possible. For many years I used a well known mastering house in the UK.  I had them master the song, and I also had a popular mastering house in Australia master it.  SING Mastering was the third, and an outsider to be honest.  After receiving all 3 mastered versions I set them up in my Control Room and was ready to do the A/B (and C in this case) comparison.DespinaOlympiou  The UK and Australian versions were so close that I couldn't even tell the difference between the two!  But then I played the SING Mastering version and I was completely blown away at the HUGE Difference.  Not just in volume but in clarity and overall transient response and dynamics.  The vocal was so warm and transparent it stunned me.  Colin not only respected my mix, he added more to my mix then I could have ever imagined. Colin and SING Mastering were invaluable in their input and suggestions as well as helping us finish the other versions of the song on our deadline.  Thank you Colin and SING mastering for everything, and being part of our Eurovision Song Contest team!  From now on you are the City Studios Solution for Mastering!"   We would like to thank you Andreas and City Studios, for being such a great client and awesome mixing engineer!   Colin Leonard SING Mastering

Verastarr Grand Illusion Review by SING Mastering

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Verastarr Grand Illusion 1Today we'll be reviewing the Verastarr Grand Illusion power cable.  Yes you read that right...a power cable!  As a pro-audio guy I have never put much merit in changing out cables.  I always make sure I use top of the line pro-audio cables, usually Mogami, and I make every cable myself so I know they're right. I also make sure I use good quality IEC power cables but I don't get out of control with it. When Mike from Verastarr asked me to try out these new Grand Illusion power cables I was skeptical and said "sure, we'll do an apples to apples test and record the results while using the cable on my mastering console, then adding another to my ADC (analog/digital Converter).  I was thought to myself  "this is not going to make a bit of difference".  I was wrong. I used a good sounding mix and setup a master.  First I recorded the master with my old IEC power cables on my AD converter, then switched it out with the Grand Illusion cable and recorded that.  Now we had files we could listen to with exactly the same equipment and the only difference being the power cable on the AD converter.  I setup the results so that I had instant monitoring switching through the same DA converter to my speakers.  This way everything is exactly the same and we can switch instantly between the two files.  To my surprise, the file with the Grand Illusion on my AD converter was better, and quite a bit better!  The stereo image was clearer and the recording in general was more open.  I then did the same test with a second Grand Illusion power cable on my analog transfer console, with the same results.  This time it was even clearer and more open than with the one Grand Illusion cable on the AD converter.  I think at one point I had 4 or 5 of the Grand Illusion cables hooked up to different pieces of analog gear and AD/DA converters!  The AD/DA converters and pre-amps seemed to have the greatest benefit from the Grand Illusions. Verastarr Grand Illusion 2When Mike was explaining to me how this works it made a little more sense.  Without getting too scientific, these cables are made from copper foil instead of wire (he also has silver foil, and combinations of silver and copper) and electrons naturally flow on the surface of a round wire.  So with a foil cable there is a lot more surface area for the electrons to flow more efficiently thus taking stress off the power supply in the piece of equipment.  I tried the Grand Illusion cables in a few different mastering rooms.  In my old room the power wasn't very good.  In my new facility we spent a lot of time and effort on power delivery and it's very clean and abundant.  It seems in my own tests that if your power isn't great (like most home setups and a lot of studios) the Grand Illusion cables will help even more.  They don't help eliminate noise, but help deliver power more efficiently. The theory makes sense, but you can really hear the difference.  Really you can!  Any bit of clarity I can get without having to use EQ is very important to me and the Grand Illusion cables open things up noticeably.   Mike is going to have to pry these demo cables from my cold, dead hands! Colin Leonard SING Mastering  

SING Mastering Testing the New Verastarr Amplifier Prototype

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I've been working with my good friend Mike Powell for years now.  Mike is a high fidelity guru and a true visionary in the hifi audio market.  His company Verastarr  and its products are top notch, so when he called and asked me to take a listen to a new amp he's been working on I said "Hell yes, bring it over"! For my normal mastering setup I use Pass Labs amps and Tyler Acoustic D1 speakers along with a couple of custom stereo servo drive subs that Tyler built for me.  It sounds phenomenal, and is very analytical, which is nice for mastering.  I can easily hear the tiniest bit of distortion or noise.  I especially love the mid range in the system.  The dynamics response in the mids with the Pass Labs and the Tyler D1's is nothing short of incredible, so this was a good test for the new Verastarr amp. The Amp Mike is working on is very interesting.  It is a hybrid of a tube front end with class D ICE amps for power.  It is also a true monoblock in one chassis design, meaning that each channel has it's own power supply and power cord and even its own power switch.  The channels are then shielded from each other in the chassis.  Really a nice and clean design.  And it was a great idea to use the tube front end in front of the ICE amp power module. We put on some familiar music with the Pass Labs and took a listen.  Disconnected it and hooked up the Verastarr.  It was nice but something wasn't quite right so we changed tubes and everything came together!!  What a great sounding amp!  Very well balanced, pleasing, warm, clear, great dynamics and solid low end.  We switched back and forth between the Verastarr prototype and the Pass multiple times and the conclusion was that the Pass Labs was a bit more analytical.  The Verastarr had just a touch of tube warmth and harmonic content that was very pleasing.  There is no question that this hybrid design is a VERY good idea and I think the audiophile community is going to be very excited about this.  If I was going to pick an amplifier for recreational listening at home this new Verastarr would be perfect! Colin Leonard SING Mastering  

Dave Brubeck, it was an honor to perform with you.

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The San Fransisco Chronicle wrote a great article today on Dave Brubeck (below).  It was interesting to me that they wrote about Dave Brubeck's experience at University of the Pacific in California.  Dave wasn't very happy, as he was a jazz musician in a classical conservatory of music and that was much like my experience at the same university.  I started my collegiate studies at the University of the Pacific in the Conservatory of Music, and I was lucky enough to have met Dave Brubeck and perform with him one magical night (for me, but was probably pretty ordinary for him) at Davies Symphony Hall in San Fransisco in front of a packed house.  Myself and a group of musicians from UOP accompanied Mr. Brubeck's piano and sang a performance of Beethoven Symphony No. 9.  Looking back, it was a very special time in my life.  I will always remember it and feel honored to have had the opportunity to perform with Mr. Dave Brubeck. Colin Leonard SING Mastering   From SF Chronicle:

Dave Brubeck, a giant of American music who was largely responsible for turning modern jazz into pop music, died Wednesday a day short of his 92nd birthday. He was an ever-adventurous composer, educator, pianist, bandleader and world-traveling ambassador for jazz who continued performing until only a few months ago. The famed, bespectacled pianist died of heart failure while on his way to a regular doctor's appointment near his longtime home of Wilton, Conn., according to Russell Gloyd, his longtime manager. Mr. Brubeck was born in Concord and raised on a ranch in the Sierra foothills. He became a San Francisco bandleader and pianist credited with one of the major innovations in popular music: Working with San Francisco saxophonist Paul Desmond, Mr. Brubeck was the first pianist to break 4/4 time in jazz, by adding a fifth beat to the measure, according to jazz historian Ted Gioia. "Take Five," written by Desmond and released in 1959 on the album "Time Out" by the Dave Brubeck Quartet, popularized this 5/4 time signature and became a pop hit, a rarity for a jazz instrumental. In 1961, "Time Out" reached No. 2 among popular albums on the Billboard chart, and "Take Five" topped out at No. 5 on the adult contemporary chart. "That meter later showed up in everything from the theme to 'Mission Impossible' to the Jethro Tull song 'Living in the Past,' " said Gioia. "Dave was an innovator who started out as a leading light of San Francisco jazz but soon brought his artistry to the whole world." Mr. Brubeck recorded more than 100 albums for large orchestras, choruses and even wrote two ballets, but his main forum was the Dave Brubeck Quartet, which he formed in 1951 in San Francisco. Introduced at the Geary Cellar, underneath the Geary Theater, the Quartet was the house band for six years at the now-defunct Blackhawk jazz club in the Tenderloin. During that time, modern jazz became dominant over the traditional, Dixieland sound. "He was not totally accepted by the jazz community early on. People thought his piano playing didn't swing," said Dick Conte, a pianist and Bay Area jazz disc jockey who interviewed Mr. Brubeck many times over the years. "Gradually, he was able to win people over because he was of great substance. Over the years, people gravitated toward him - even the ones who had put him down."

Cover of Time

On Nov. 8, 1954, while still playing at the Blackhawk, Mr. Brubeck became the first contemporary jazz musician to make the cover of Time magazine. In 1958, the quartet embarked on a world tour sponsored by the U.S. State Department, bringing jazz to Poland, Turkey, India, East and West Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq. "Eisenhower wanted to take the best of America and do a peripheral tour of the Soviet Union," said Gloyd, the manager. Mr. Brubeck's plan was to take jazz out of the smoky clubs and "make jazz accessible to the general market, for people who just loved music." "By then, Brubeck transcended jazz," Gloyd said. "There is no way Dave could have been as popular as he was in just the jazz market."

Son of a cowboy

David Warren Brubeck was born Dec. 6, 1920. His father, Pete, was a cowboy and rancher who ended up running a 45,000-acre spread in Ione in California's Sierra foothills, where Mr. Brubeck grew up the youngest of three brothers. His mother, Elizabeth Ivey, was a classically trained pianist who had studied in London. "When Dave was 4 or 5, he would position himself under the piano while she was playing Chopin," Gloyd said. Because of poor eyesight, Mr. Brubeck had trouble reading (music), and "his mother gave up on trying to teach him." Mr. Brubeck learned by listening, and by the time he was a teenager, he was playing with adults in a local dance band. He'd also run cattle with his father.

Change of course

In 1938, Mr. Brubeck entered the College of the Pacific (now the University of the Pacific) in Stockton to study veterinary medicine at the insistence of his father. At the end of the first year, he was banished to the music conservatory, where he managed to sneak through three years without letting on that he was not very good at reading sheet music. His graduation hinged on a handshake agreement. "There were two conditions," Gloyd said. "One, he promised to never teach music, and two, he promised never to return to College of the Pacific. "He's been back a couple of times. Once was to pick up his honorary doctorate. The other was when the university established the Brubeck Institute." While at Pacific, Mr. Brubeck met Iola Whitlock, and they married soon after his graduation. Mr. Brubeck had already enlisted in the Army and was sent to Europe as an infantry soldier in World War II. Mr. Brubeck was one day from being sent to the front when a Red Cross troupe came through camp and asked if anyone played piano. "Dave was sitting on his helmet and raised his hand," said Gloyd. "They decided to give him a try, and the base commander heard him play, and that was the end of him going to the front." Mr. Brubeck was reassigned to form a band, which he did, calling it the Wolfpack Band. Allowed to recruit his own sidemen, Mr. Brubeck formed a band of 18 pieces - with black and white musicians playing together. "That is how Dave Brubeck integrated the United States Army, because he brought in black players," Gloyd said.

Guiding influence

At the end of the war, the Wolfpack disbanded and Mr. Brubeck came home to pursue his master's degree in music at Mills College, under the GI Bill. He didn't last, but was there long enough to come under the influence of French-born composer and faculty member Darius Milhaud. "Milhaud encouraged Brubeck to go on the path that he had started, which was to express the musical language of jazz," said David Bernstein, professor of music at Mills. It was in Milhaud's composition class that Mr. Brubeck met the musicians who would later form the Dave Brubeck Octet, his first band. Two of the players were recruited from San Francisco State: Desmond on sax and Cal Tjader on drums. Unable to support that many members, the Octet downsized to a trio, minus Desmond, who had gone to New York. There had been bad blood between them, and when he returned, he came to the Brubeck home in San Francisco, hat in hand. As Mr. Brubeck later told it: "I was out in the back, hanging up diapers on a clothesline and I turned around and there was Paul Desmond. My first inclination was to throttle him, and then the good things about Paul came back and he said how much he wanted to be with the quartet and he'd babysit, he'd wash the car, he'd run errands, he'd do anything I asked him to do if he could only be in the group." Mr. Brubeck relented, and it was their chemistry that made the quartet, which from 1958 to '67 also included Joe Morello on drums and Eugene Wright on bass.

Personal counterpoint

"It was the immediacy and the improvisational quality of it, and the counterpoint between Brubeck and Paul Desmond that was so interesting," said Conte, who first saw the quartet during a college tour in 1955, when it played the University of Connecticut, where Conte was a freshman. Eventually there would be five Brubeck sons and one daughter for Desmond to babysit, with the oldest named Darius after his father's mentor. Mr. Brubeck built a big home in the Oakland hills, where the family lived until decamping for Connecticut in the 1960s. Throughout his touring career, Mr. Brubeck worked with black musicians, as he'd done in the Army. "He fought for civil rights," said Gioia, author of "West Coast Jazz." "At the peak of his fame he had an integrated band. If concert promoters pushed back on it, he threatened to cancel the concert." In 1973, Mr. Brubeck came home from Connecticut to play a farewell concert at the Berkeley Community Theater. But it wasn't his farewell. He played concerts for another 40 years. "He was a class act in every sense of the word," Gioia said. "He had a marriage that lasted 70 years. I don't think any celebrity has had a marriage that lasted 70 years." Mr. Brubeck's last performance was in Montreal in July. His closing number was "Take Five." Survivors include his wife, Iola; sons Darius, Chris, Dan, Matthew and Michael; and a daughter, Catherine Yaghsizian. Services are pending.
 

Masters Of Mastering

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Music Connection Magazine:  Masters of Mastering

“Mastering is still about 95 percent ear and 5 percent equipment.”   -Colin Leonard Mastering Engineer: Colin Leonard
Company: SING Mastering Clientele: Kimbra, Wale, Justin Bieber Contact: SING Mastering, 404-827-8503 www.singmastering.com Though Leonard studied classical guitar in college, he recognized limitations in that career choice so he began to work with an en-gineer friend. Moving to Atlanta, GA, he started to mix when another friend asked if he was interested in mastering. Today, Leonard maintains that in a mastering studio the rectangular ratio is the most important thing—his new studio at SING Mastering is more than 30 feet long. Recently he mastered Wale’s “Bag of Money,” which is doing well on the R&B and rap charts. The busy Leonard’s latest project is mastering Leona Lewis’ new album Glassheart. What are the best ways to prep a mix for mastering? Not too loud, obviously. Having a little room to work with is a good thing. The best masters are ones that you don’t have to mess with the balance very much. A heavy-handed approach in mastering is the wrong approach. Doing as little as possible is the best way to go. Which mix problems can be addressed in the mastering stage? Which can’t? If it’s a little too bassy or a little too bright––it needs some clarity in the midrange––that I can fix. If it’s an MP3 or distorted, I can’t fix it. Do artists ever send you MP3s? I try to stay away from the compressed formats. I ask for WAV files. I don’t master an MP3 unless that’s all a client has. Have the do-it-yourself mastering tools improved to the point that musicians can achieve a better-than-passable master at home? Some of the plug-ins are getting better but it’s still about 95 percent ear and 5 percent equipment. When you master at home, the problem is one of experience. Knowing what
you’re listening to and having an accurate environment is what’s missing. What’s the ideal format for mastering-ready mixes? 24-bit or higher and whatever sample rate the project was recorded in––no sample rate conversion. Either WAV or AIFF files. What’s your take on the Mastered For iTunes initiative? It’s a step in the right direction. I look forward to the day when you can buy a full resolution, 16 bit/44k file or higher on iTunes. They do sound better than the old iTunes format, but it’s not quite far enough. It’s merely a matter of time until we get even higher quality. What’s the biggest mastering challenge you’ve ever faced? There aren’t that many professional studios and people don’t often have the money for a pro engineer. So they end up with five plug-ins on every instrument. The biggest problem that’s not reversible is the stereo expander plug-ins. They screw with the phase and I can’t do much to help that. What’s the biggest technical challenge/ problem you’ve ever gotten out of? I had mastered a project and it had a lot of bass. It was as loud as it was going to get without sounding bad. I was asked to make it louder. That’s when I started using this new analog-based process for which I have a patent pending.  It allows me to avoid using a digital limiter and get things as loud as commercial releases without distortion and saturation at the low end.
What does the future of mastering hold? Mastering has become more important because of home production and mixing. It’s nice to have a last step from a guy with a lot of experience and a good listening environment. Some of the indie guys are eager to improve their mixing skills so it’s fun to be able to talk through those things. What do you say to people starting out as mastering engineers? It takes a lot of listening, a lot of practice and trying not to do too much to a mix. I still do new stuff on different mixes all the time. Figuring out what [a mix] doesn’t need is more important than what it needs.  

New Leona Lewis Album 'Glassheart' Mastered at SING Mastering

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Leona Lewis - Glassheart will be released in the US in 2013!  The complete album was mastered here at SING Mastering.