Audio Post’s Unsung Heroes

This article was taken from www.postmagazine.com.

 

While audio post talent is most important, we cannot deny the role of tools that help that talent reach its full potential. It is easy to forget how much we rely on people who are bold enough to create new products and start their own companies. Some have even redefined how we work.

DANGEROUS MUSIC

When Bob Muller, owner/founder of Edmeston, NY’s Dangerous Music (www.dangerousmusic.com), opened a recording studio in 1992 in New York’s East Village, he had no plans to become an equipment manufacturer.

 
Muller, a musician and recording engineer, teamed up with chief electronics designer Chris Muth to build and improve the equipment in their own studio. As a result, they developed a whole new category of audio products. Products like the 2-Bus, the Monitor and the MQ reflected the needs of digital audio workstations long before many other companies understood this market. Muller explains how his company started: “I had met Chris Muth on a session when he was brought in to engineer something I was playing on. He is an amazing bass player and innovative electronics designer who knows his way around recording studios. We became friends and partners, and spent our time and spare cash improving Dangerous Music,  the recording studio.”

Like most recording studios during the mid-‘90s, Dangerous Music experienced the transition from analog tape and a traditional console to smaller, more powerful DAWs. As studio owners, they could see the recording studio business change into a new industry that required new tools. “That time period was when the paradigm shift from the 2-inch tape with analog console set-up to this new thing called a digital audio workstation was beginning to take place,” describes Muller. “We were experiencing this revolution, from the position of being engineers and studio owners, and were seeing first hand the technical issues that were arising. For example, someone would come into Dangerous and cut tracks in the live room, through the Neve and record into our Pro Tools rig. Then, for budgetary reasons, they would wind up having to mix the record in someone’s apartment in Pro Tools. They would say to me, ‘I know this stuff sounded great at the studio, but I am not getting that same sound to come through in the context of my mix. Can you build something that can help us out?’ So we started looking at the system architecture of DAWs and how software mixing worked. We knew most everyone with a DAW had a multichannel interface already, so we put together these prototype black boxes to help our clients mix. The Dangerous 2-Bus evolved from that, and the gear company was born at Dangerous Music. It seemed appropriate to give it the studio name.”

He and Muth looked at what else was going on with DAWs, which were being marketed as recording studios in a box. “They are really software editors, software mixers, DSP and hard disk recorders in a box, not a complete studio,” explains Muller. “So, when someone [took] their mixing console and tossed it out because they bought a DAW, Chris and I asked ourselves, ‘What functions are they losing and how is that absence going to interfere with the creative and technical process of recording? Where is your volume control, your speaker selector, your input selector, your talkback, your cue path, your dim level and your metering?’ All of those things were not really part of any DAW. As soon as we knew the 2-Bus was something that the audio community wanted, we started thinking about these other areas DAWs didn’t cover, and the whole modular console idea was right in front of us.”

Muller credits their success to understanding the issues from “both sides of the glass” in the studio. That eventually led to the popular ST-SR stereo and surround monitor control system. “It took us longer to do the R&D on the ST-SR than anything else because we wanted this seamless upgrade path, especially since we knew that surround sound would become more prominent,” he says. “Some people would need surround, but not all the time, and everybody still needs stereo, so you can buy just the stereo controller and then you can add the expansion module to it and get into surround without having to sell the stereo unit to buy the surround one. It’s basically a system that you can expand and add functionality to as needed, with no obsolesce.”

Today, the amount of products for DAWs has increased sizably. “We get copied often and these less expensive alternatives come out, but I know that’s part of the business,” says Muller. “But, we refuse to engage in what I call ‘the race to the bottom,’ which is when new things get progressively cheaper, but none of them sound as good as the original. We cater to people who care about sound, the reliability of the equipment and consistency. We try to design gear that is going to work for those folks, and we don’t want to compete in the race to make a smaller, less expensive, inferior piece of equipment designed to sell a million units, despite the obvious financial appeal. Chris and I joke with each other and say that no matter how hard we try, we just can’t seem to design a cheap piece of shit.”

Muller offers an important observation about the current role of analog in a digital world. “The potential quality of analog equipment has never been higher than today. It is a mature technology compared to digital, which is relatively new. Analog component design has been consistently improving, and in some ways we have digital to thank for it. For example, look at something like noise floor. Everyone was initially wowed by digital’s low noise floor compared to analog. Well, that pushed developers to make higher quality and better performing components, and designers like us are aware of this market force and keep up with what is coming out. And if you are not afraid to use the more expensive parts, you can make higher quality analog equipment than ever before. So, analog has never been better, if you want it to be.”

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