In the late 1980’s Matt Knobel started out working in several in New York studios including Media Sound and Platinum Island learning the ropes, then continuing with jingles on hundreds of recording and mixing sessions from American Express to Yellow Pages at JSM Music in NYC.
“It was a great experience. I got to work with some great engineers, world class musicians and to work in a lot of amazing studios,” says Knobel. “I then started working a lot with [bassist] Will Lee.” That work eventually led to meeting Lenny Kravitz and starting the Setai Recording Studio in Florida’s exclusive South Beach area in 2008 where he has install the Focal SM11 monitors.
Along the way Knobel has done mixing and/or recording for Sheryl Crow, Ricky Martin, Lauryn Hill, Outkast, Mary J. Blige and Mick Jagger, just to name a select few artists.
In 1997 Knobel started working with Lenny Kravitz. “He called me in for a few days to help him with his (Avid/Digidesign) Pro Tools system. He had never used one before. I went over for a few days, then he asked me to work the next week and then he asked me to do the record. It turned out to be the record ‘5′ with ‘Fly Away’ and ‘American Woman.’
“It was a great experience; we got to do a lot of recording, a lot of traveling. It was just a lot of fun to work with an artist like that on a record, as diverse as Lenny is,” recalled Knobel.
“I’ve been working with him pretty steadily since,” he adds. “In 2004 we were working on another artist’s album and he asked me if I wanted to partner up with him on a recording studio. We designed it together and built it together and now I operate the facility.” Knobel is also, of course, chief engineer at Setai Recording: “Mainly my focus is mixing.”
“Reuven, [a local Focal sales rep] arranged to have me demo the Focal Professional SM11 monitors at Setai Recording. Simon Cote from Focal delivered the monitors, set them for me and I just started working on them. I really became attached to them, ” says Knobel. “I liked them immediately, but after using them, I really started to understand them and now I love them.”
Describing his process when checking out new monitor speakers, Knobel says, “When I get a new speaker, no matter what kind of speaker it is—- big or small—- I don’t really try and think about the speaker. I just work. Depending how the speaker translates to the car, or to other systems. That’s how I gauge a speaker. So if at the end of the day I go to my car and my concerns about a mix are the same as I had in the studio then the speaker’s done its job.
“If I didn’t expect the low-end to sound like that or, the mid-range sounds a little too harsh, then the speaker is not doing the job the way I need it to do it, I just move to another speaker. I’m not one of these people that’s like ‘this speaker’s known to be bright’—- I don’t care what the speaker’s known to be, I want to know what the speaker’s going to deliver. I’m not going to fight the speaker, I want the speaker to get out of the way.”
Knobel sums up the importance of mixes done in the studio translating to the outside world: “It’s the most critical thing to me.”
After working on several projects over the last few months, Knobel is now a big fan of the Focal monitors, “The thing I noticed about the SM11s is they were very pleasing to listen to. I really enjoy listening to music on them. They are very big and powerful speakers. They just sound really good!”
Although sub-woofers have not fit into his studio setups before, Knobel changed his mind with the Focal SM 11 sub, “I’ve never liked sub-woofers. I’ve never used them. I’ve avoided them. They always sounded like ‘Oh, you have the sub on.’ But with the Focal subwoofer you don’t really notice that.
“What you notice is that your speaker just has an extended low-end and it’s just perfectly matched. You can’t really pinpoint where that transition is. It’s like this invisible ‘seam’ where your speakers just go down, and they go down really low. So you just get this really incredible low-end from the speakers. When you shut the sub-woofer off they still have a big powerful low-end, but with the sub-woofer on it’s just: ‘Whoa!’”
“Most of the time when I’m mixing the focus is on an overall sound to fit all the speakers. I have mains in the wall, and Auratones and a bookshelf speaker, and I reference on all of them. But I spend 90-percent of the time on the Focals. Because they are so pleasing to work on and I get really good results,” explains Knobel.
Recent projects that he has worked on with the Focal SM11s at Setai Studios include Outkast & Mary J Blige. “We were doing a vocal session with Big Boi and Mary,” he says, noting that he’s also remixed some of Lenny Karvitz’s music for the video game “Rock Band.”
“When people come over they really take a notice of the speakers, beyond the sound aspect, they have quite a visual presence, they make a real statement,” Knobel says. “I’ve had tons of people ask me about these speakers, it’s one of the pieces of gear that gets the most comments. They’re very captivating.”
Another aspect of the Focal SM11 monitors is the built-in software for controlling crossover points and equalization, Knobel points out, “The SM11 speakers have really intricate software for crossover curves. Most speakers have a couple switches in the back for high frequencies and low frequencies; you can kind of just bend it a little bit.
“With the Focal speaker software you can actually tune the speakers to the room. I brought in my acoustician and we rang the speakers out like my mains.
“This Focal software lets me tune the speakers and then save the presets. I had a client come in who wanted the speakers flat but wanted a high point for the sub crossover. I just loaded up 75hz crossover and flat mains; where my particular setting has a 60 Hz crossover for the sub, and a five-point EQ curve.
“A few minor adjustments based on the room. I was really pleased with that control. It just isn’t about the speaker, its about your environment and Focal understands that.”