Over ten years ago dance mix engineer Klaus “Heavyweight” Hill made a pilgrimage from his home in the UK to Australia to work on some music. A few years after deciding to stay in the Land Down Under, he finally put together his ultimate portable mixing rig featuring the Dangerous Music D-Box analog summing and monitor controller as its centerpiece, and later added the Dangerous BAX EQ. Over the years, he’s mixed thousands of dance tracks for top artists including Felix Da Housecat, SCNDL, The Potbelleez, and Tom Piper, along with record labels Ministry Of Sound, Spinnin’ Records, Dirty Bird and more. Hill mixed the vocal and mastered the track, “Swing,” by Joel Fletcher featuring Savage, which won the Best Dance Music Record of the Year award from Australia’s prestigious APRA organization just this week.
“The center of my workstation is the D-Box,” states Hill, “and I also use the BAX EQ, which is just a phenomenal piece of gear. I’ve been using the D-Box for about four or five years now, it’s the center of my work. It’s a mobile system and everything’s in a rack case, so I’ve got all my gear and I take it around to every studio that I work in.”
D-Box Analog Summing
“I came to Australia from the UK, where I worked on an SSL desk, it was all about hardware,” he recalls. “When I came here I was only supposed to be here 6 months, so I switched to mixing completely in-the-box, and when I didn’t go back to the UK, I just became used to in-the-box mixing.”
But Hill began to feel the sound of his mixes were missing something from his days mixing on an analog console and then learned about ‘analog summing’ through reading online forums where discussions and ‘shootouts’ of different options were explored. He thought analog summing might make the difference. Next, Hill spent plenty of time and money mixing with other summing systems, but the D-Box ultimately gave him the sound and control he was looking for.
“The D-Box is about my fifth or sixth summing mixer, I went through them all. I first got an Inner Tube Audio summing box, then I went through Neve and Shadow Hills, but they really didn’t do anything for me. I didn’t notice any major difference in the sound. That definitely was not the case when I auditioned the D-Box. What I get with the D-Box analog summing is separation. All the other summing mixers were about character, or supposedly character; that might be great for rock stuff, guitars, live instruments, but with dance music it’s all about being ‘fat’ — the separation in the D-Box is just phenomenal, with the stereo imaging I can really hear the separation in my eight stems.”
“When I got the D-Box, even before listening, the first thing I liked was the layout of it—the way it worked: Everything’s in there, I don’t know how they do it for the price. I’ve paid three times that amount for a summing mixer that didn’t come close to the features they fit into the D-Box. The way the D-Box works makes it perfect for my setup: being able to flick across two buttons and hear the mix pre-and-post my buss processing chain, switching between two pairs of monitors, and the integrated input switching is really nice as well.”
The Dance Mix & The King of Air
Hill describes how he organizes his mixing stems for analog summing in the D-Box: “The way that I break it down is a stereo channel for drums, a channel on its own for bass — if it’s like a sub-bass or a layered bass, I keep them running through that same channel — synths running through another stereo channel and vocals through another one, then everything else. The separation is phenomenal for what I do, I just couldn’t believe the sound that Dangerous Music gets out of this box!”
Revealing how he gets his sound, Hill says, “Coming out of Pro Tools into the D-Box I can just slam the life out of the level, I don’t worry about the reds on the interface output. About 6 months into using the D-Box I stopped looking at how hard I was driving the unit, if it sounds good I keep it at that level. It’s like using an old analog-mixing desk. I don’t know what Dangerous Music has done to get a unit to sound so good.”
“I had never even heard of the BAX EQ until I saw it on the Dangerous website. One of the secrets of mixing is ‘air’—especially with dance music—it’s all about opening up that top end. And if you can get it, that 16kHz air down to 12k, it just makes things breath and it doesn’t add any harshness, you don’t get any extra sibilance. The BAX EQ really opens the top end; it’s just the ‘King of Air’ basically! It gives it a shine, a polish at the top end. I use it in the mixing stage too, but it’s mainly for mastering. In the mix I use it on the stereo out of the D-Box set at just 2 or 3dB, before the compressors. It may not be the way other people have the BAX set up, but it works for me. It gets the sound I want, and I feel my work speaks for itself with the amount of number one hit dance tracks that we have.”
Digging down into what he typically does for a dance mix Hill reveals more secrets to his hit-making process, “The settings stay the same when I am mixing, the A-Design EQ always has two and a half dB, it’s a wide Q that’s sweep-able, the BAX is always sitting on the top end, then that runs into the compression, the Rolls 775—I’ll slam that hard. I run my mix through there from the very beginning. That gives me the sound and character to my mixes, and the BAX is a big part of that. The BAX does certain things to the sound when you add it to the stereo mix. When I mix I tend to get the track sounding how I want it so that the mastering is really all about level.” To create the mix file, Hill records the stereo output back into his DAW, and then imports the file to a new session for his mastering.
Listening and Mastering
Hill uses the DAC on the D-Box as his listening standard, “You’re not only getting a good summing mixer, you’re getting a good DAC. I’ve used numerous stand-alone D/A converters at various studios, but when the D-Box came along I didn’t really feel the need for anything else, it works, and it sounds great.”
Headphones are super important for checking dance music mixes and Hill uses top of the line Audeze, “The headphone outs of the D-Box are just quality sound, I know what I’m listening to is what’s coming out, that’s the main thing for me. There’s more expensive stuff out there, but I’ve not found anything that can really make a substantial difference to what I am doing. It’s the same thing on the whole D-Box unit, what it does, it does very, very well.”
Usually mixing and mastering are very separate for many reasons, including a second pair of ears, or studio acoustics and speakers, or the types of processing gear available. In only a way that seems to make sense for dance music, Hill has become a mastering engineer for his clients too, “I moved into mastering in the last five years, I did an internship with a mastering engineer because all my clients were asking for it – kind of a one-stop shop. Now I master for all the clients that I do the mixing for. The D-Box is the center of my mastering setup as well, and the Dangerous BAX is in my mastering chain—that’s what it was originally bought for.”
Hill explains, “When you are working with an artist and you finish a mix, they say ‘Lets do a quick master so I can play it out on the weekend’ – dance music is very quick, the music is very disposable. No one sits in the studio for 12 months like a Metallica or a Pearl Jam; it’s new tunes going up on Beatport every 2 weeks! Everything has to be done very quickly.”
“I do all the mixing and mastering for the Ministry of Sound record label in Australia, the biggest dance label in Australia, and one of the biggest in the world. They sell 80,000 to 100,000 physical CDs of their ‘Annual’ release just in Australia. It’s one of the biggest selling dance albums in the world.” Hill recently mixed and mastered Will Sparks, ‘Ah Yeah’ featuring Wily and Elen Levon (a SCNDL Remix), Paces’ track ‘Nothing’s Forever’ featuring Kucka, and ‘Mistakes I’ve Made’ from Eelke Kleijn (the Acaddamy Remix).
History of Dance
In 1992, pirate radio on London’s airwaves was alive and all the rage, and clubs were filled with a new dance music sound, what later became ‘Jungle’. It was at this moment in time and this environment that a young Klaus Hill decided electronic dance music would be his life. As a DJ he toured the world and played some of the biggest festivals, and was a resident DJ at legendary UK dance club The End. As a producer, Hill has released music on some of the world’s most renowned dance music labels. In Australia, he now works with top labels and clients such as Ministry Of Sound, Spinnin’ Records, SCNDL, Peking Duk, John Dahlback, Uberjack’d, Will Sparks, Reece Low, Felix Da Housecat, One Love, Sony, Soul:r, Yolander Be Cool, Sweat It Out!, The Potbelleez, Dirty Bird, Tom Piper, Dub Phizix, Pedestrian, and Hook N Sling to name a few.
Visit Klaus Hill’s dance music mixing, mastering and production “Heavyweight Bass” Blog where Hill and other music professionals offer advice and tips at: http://www.heavyweightbass.net/