Portia Street Studios in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles recently upgraded its main control room with 11 Neumann KH series monitors installed at the multi-room facility in response to immersive music’s growing listenership and are being used in the mixing of back-catalog material as well as new projects in the Dolby Atmos and Sony 360 Reality Audio formats.
The new 7.1.4 immersive setup comprises seven KH 310 tri-amped nearfield monitors for the front, side and rear zones with four KH 120 bi-amped nearfield loudspeakers delivering height information. The new loudspeakers have been integrated with two existing 18-inch subwoofers in the room.
According to producer and mixer Dylan Ely, who founded Portia Street Studios in 2017 with Don Andes, “Once we got the Neumann system dialed in it was amazing — I couldn’t stop listening. Everything we listened to, even in stereo, not just immersive, translated really well from stuff I had mixed on other speakers.”
A veteran of nearly 25 years in the music industry, Ely previously worked for extended periods on staff at major studios in Chicago and New York with a list of artists that includes Linkin Park, Jennifer Lopez, Ministry and Ludacris. “Overall, I’m really happy with the speakers,” he says. “I think they’re in between a nice, transparent speaker and something that has a little edge to it, which I like. I like to have something that I can dig into a little bit, and the Neumanns work really well for that.”
The seven KH 310 loudspeakers in the horizontal plane work well with the four overhead KH 120 models, he says: “It’s a seamless transition between the 310s and the height speakers. I don’t feel like there’s a disconnect between the two models of speaker and their frequency responses.”
Despite having so many loudspeakers aimed at the listening position, Ely adds, “Another thing that stands out to me is that you can listen for a long time on them. I’m not cranking them up super-loud, but I don’t feel fatigued after listening to them, especially considering there are 11 of them blasting at my head.”
While a monitor system for immersive music formats requires low frequency extension support, the KH 310s are capable of generating plenty of low end on their own, Ely reports. “I’ve listened to the 310s without subs and they have an unexpected low-frequency response for their size and appearance.” While the dimensions of his control room dictated the integration of subwoofers into the immersive monitor system, he says, “In smaller spaces you wouldn’t have to supplement them as much.”
The impetus to upgrade Portia Street Studios for immersive mixing work came from engineer and mixer Abel Garibaldi, Ely says. “We’ve known each other in different capacities over the years and he’d just relocated to Los Angeles and was really into this immersive stuff. I’ve done quite a bit of mixing in 5.1 surround over the years and I liked the format but immersive in general was intriguing,” he says.
When Apple Music announced its new Spatial Audio streaming service earlier this year, which delivers Dolby Atmos music to listeners in binaural. “Abel lit the fire under my butt and said, ‘We should jump on this.’ I had a space that could accommodate it, so we decided to go for it,” says Ely. Portia Street’s Studio A has a 700-square-foot control room outfitted with a vintage Sound Workshop analog mixing console, several tape machines and a collection of analog and digital outboard gear, as well as a collection of instruments and amplification.
“So far, from what I’ve seen, the labels and other engineers that I know that have immersive systems are staying busy. I don’t think it’s going away anytime soon.
IIn just the first few months since the loudspeakers were installed, Ely reports, he and Garibaldi have used the system to produce immersive mixes for a new Chainsmokers release, tracks for Chicago house music artist Vince Lawrence and material from the Nettwerk label. In an ongoing project, they are also working through the back catalog of War, the veteran multi-genre Southern California band, to create new immersive mixes.
Ely concludes about the new monitors, “It was a combination of seeing them in use, being on my radar and hearing really good things about them from people that I respect that were using them. I have a larger control room, so we wanted something that could fill the room quite easily but didn’t have a massive footprint. The Neumann speakers fit all the specs for what we wanted, and they’ve been great.”