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THE SWEET SPOT

Soundcorp: a sound for everyone

Words by Baz Bardoe
Photography by Kim Lajoie

Elliott Mann from Soundcorp is passionate about sound and was kind enough to share some insights and thoughts on the evolution of the making, processing and recording of music in recent years. He also provided a viewpoint on the opportunities created by the internet revolution. But first, a little background on the business…

“Soundcorp was founded in 1989. We noticed an emerging market for the supply of professional audio and AV equipment outside of the corporate market. Utilising our background in the corporate AV industry we built a solid platform from which to develop the business.

“Ten years ago we moved into our current retail location in South Melbourne. We designed and built what we believe is a first class retail environment. My personal favourite feature is “The Sweetspot”, our purpose built speaker listening room. It is completely acoustically treated, making it the perfect space to pick out the most important piece of studio equipment — your monitors.”

When digital first popped up everyone enthusiastically embraced it. Now many people pine for classic analogue sounds and manufacturers have been quick to provide suitable products. I wondered how he felt about this? Is there really such a discernable difference in terms of how an ordinary listener perceives sound?

“Personally I am a huge advocate for the advancement of digital technology in recording,” Mann states.
“There is a lot of different ways to look at it — imagine a world where all recordings were still made using giant analogue tape machines. How many emerging artists would be able to get their music out there?

“Digital DAW’s like Pro Tools and Cubase have transformed the way we record and produce music. They speed up the whole process and I believe, allow for the creative process to take centre stage, rather than the technical process of literally cutting and gluing tape. Have you ever tried it? Trust me, it’s a time consuming task — a lot of people defiantly take the ease of digital audio manipulation for granted. It could therefore be argued that the great music of the past was created in spite of the technology, and not because of it. I’m not saying that’s true, but it’s an interesting view point.

“Basically for me, analogue warmth – as we all like to say in the industry – is really the noise inherent to the technology. Exactly like the analogue noise of a vinyl, the little imperfections which over time we have associated with the medium and grown to enjoy. In contrast, a digital WAV file has none of this noise — its clean and clinical, so some of us perceive this as a lack of character, which I guess it is, but in reality it’s the removal of the imperfections we have grown to appreciate.

“Interestingly, kids of today who have been exposed to only MP3 quality iPod audio have been conditioned to like the sound of an MP3. They actually prefer it to the sound of a vinyl or a high quality WAV file. In contract, most audio engineers would tell you that they sound compressed and lack dynamics”.

This would certainly be my view. I hate the typical MP3 type mix. The different instruments sound all melded and compressed together. The ‘space’ of classic recordings by artists like The Police or Pink Floyd is completely missing in today’s recordings. It’s hard to define but there’s a kind of ‘dumbing down’ of sound in my view.

“Getting back to the products…there are hundreds of analogue preamps, compressors, EQ’s etc on the market,” continues Mann.

“This is great and really gives the consumer lots of options to create their signature sound. There are also hundreds of great plug-ins which offer their own advantages. The aim of a digital effect emulator is obviously to emulate the hardware its modelled after.

“As consumers of music we are clearly still attracted to the “analogue sound”, but with the rise of great software emulation I believe it is becoming more affordable for smaller/home studios to achieve professional sounding results without taking out a bank loan!”

Going back a few years it looked like software would prevail, but now it seems that hardware is making a real comeback as well. Brian Eno once said that we overlook the tactile aspects of making music at our peril. I asked Mann to what extent this might be a factor or did he think that other things may be at play?

“I would have to agree — the use of a keyboard and mouse as your sole connection with the music is very disconnected,” he says.

“It doesn’t give you the depth of control that a nice piece of hardware does — I find it very one dimensional and restrictive. We have got the point now that hardware cannot exist without software, 99% of the time — everything is recorded onto a computer based recording system like Pro Tools. Analogue hardware definitely has its place in recording but as software progresses and improves I think the use of analogue hardware will slowly become more niche.

“This leaves an opening for the world of control surfaces, which offer the user the best of both worlds — the tactile control you get from hardware, mixed with the flexibility and freedom of software. You still have the physical connection to the music but its improved by the recallable functions of software. For me it’s hard to beat a good control surface and plug-in suite for the ultimate practical and creative control over your project.”

I asked Elliott if there was any particular product line that was especially popular at the moment.
“Digital mixing consoles have been incredibly popular lately — a lot of brands have released consoles which are now affordable for smaller bands or freelance sound engineers. This is an area where – in my opinion – digital highly outweighs analogue. The features crammed into these consoles give you the same mixing options as racks full of hardware gear. They really have changed live sound mixing for the better.

“Almost all of these mixers allow you to mix wirelessly – via your iPad – from anywhere in the venue. This is very handy when you want to set up a fold-back mix from the stage or ring out the monitors for feedback. You can also stay in control of the mix when you have to leave the console for some reason.”

It appears that the enjoyment of sound is a very personal thing and at the end of the day our preferences will be informed by many things.

Start experimenting here: www.soundcorp.com.au

Soundcorp is located at 2/570 City Road, South Melbourne.

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