Masterchord Studio based in North London was the idea of Italian musician and owner Michele Catri. It was designed by his friend, architect and acoustic designer Alessandro Pasini, to provide a unique and high-quality recording environment with great acoustic recording spaces. I caught up with them both for a chat.
KMR : Michele, what was your initial reason and thoughts behind setting up your own studio?
Michele : Well I'm a musician, guitar player and I always had the ambition to record my own stuff, my bands, having my own sound, and if you think 20-25 years ago - a long time ago, you needed a big space, big machines, that’s where my passion comes from. I had the opportunity to buy and have my own place, and I was thinking with one of my best friends Alessandro, who is an acoustic architect to create this place, this studio, to keep my ambition alive. So we started to think we want to have a great studio.
KMR : How is the recording space at Masterchord divided up?
Michele : Well Masterchord has six rooms in total, and when we were sure about the control room we then created all the other rooms around it. Of course, the other most important room is the Live room, and we have 4 different booths with different dimensions, different acoustic criteria to satisfy all the musician's needs whilst they play.
KMR : How did you start deciding on the equipment, desk and monitoring?
Michele : Once we’d got the space and design, the first thing we concentrated on was the monitoring, after we made the choice, which we think are the best speakers in the world which are ATC ( Masterchord has 3 x SCM110ASL and 2 x SCM25A's ) we started to focus on the other equipment, starting from the desk and then outboard. Having a pure analog desk and then the modern digital concept.
Making a final choice on the outboard was not really easy, to be honest with you. My idea was to have as much outboard as possible, with the final goal to satisfy the musicians needs.
KMR : I know KMR Audio worked closely with you with all aspects of the equipment choice and specifications, how did this relationship come about ?
Michele : In the beginning when I started to look, and I was doing my research on Google about the particular outboard equipment, say about API, Neve the outboard etc, there was always a common name that kept appearing: KMR Audio. Online, I want to find something about Neve, first dealer KMR Audio, first dealer in Europe, London, and everybody then chatting to me about KMR.
Then talking to a great sound engineer in Italy, and he said " Michele there is a place in London called KMR which is one of the best in Europe", and I said "yeah I’d heard about them, but I’m sure they’re on the other side of the City " So I went on the website then had a look and it’s literally 5 minutes away from where I live! - So I thought great, it’s the place to go and meet people face and face, and discuss - that was the first time KMR came into my life.
KMR has been a very important part of this project because from a technical and human point of view, they were able to give me all the answers I needed, so thanks to KMR I could have a technical answer to any particular aspect of the equipment.
KMR : What was the overall goal for your Masterchord Studios - what was your plan?
Michele : The final goal is to understand what the musician wants to achieve because my job is to bear in mind all the time that we are here to respect an artist. So it is not rigid. It does depend on some musicians wanting to work in a particular way - some another, so I don’t want to push a musician in my own direction because I’m here to make them happy.
It's important to have the right approach because we learn with every session with great musicians, so the interaction is very important so I think the future of my studio is a very positive, humble attitude to the job with the final goal to achieve the best quality.
KMR : What was your involvement from the initial discussion with Michele, and what did you set out to achieve?
Alessandro : From the beginning, I focused on getting the control room as neutral and accurate as possible, and I’m proud to say we achieve that goal, according to all the engineers who have worked here from the start. You can work in here for several hours easily without fatigue.
KMR : Did the designs change quite a lot or expand from the original plans and discussions?
Alessandro : Masterchord Studio was born as an ambitious project a few years ago: to build a space where the most demanding musician can achieve their sound. We started designing the studio in a different layout to what you see here today. Originally it started out as a 50sq metre project studio, compared to what you see today which is a 200sq metre Recording facility with control room and live rooms.
With the size of the studio getting bigger I found myself with more challenges trying to find the right solution both acoustically and structurally. Every room has their own acoustic footprint, and each room has it's own independent floor and ceiling, so each room is disconnected from each other. This is due to the needs of multi-track instrument sessions, we needed to reduce the leakage between the rooms to the minimum and also specified very high isolation between the rooms and achieved that with flexibility.
Alessandro : Yes all the rooms all face the main live room, if you want to do the recording with leakage between mics - like an all in one room, then you can leave ether doors open and the sound spreads and leaks between them all. Which can create those amazing ensemble ambiences, even with the bands in their different booths.
KMR : What did you do to help make the Control Room and Live Rooms sound so good?
Alessandro : During the construction of the studio, Michele decide to put this amazing Steinway Model D as the centre piece, so I modified the design of the room to allow this to sound the best. The Live room is a 55q metre room, with 3.2-metre height ceiling, and designed to allow for close mic techniques whilst letting the ambience pick up the sound of the room.
In order to achieve this, we put some different material in the rooms, like these green panels and wood frames, whilst still putting more than needed insulation material behind the fabric. This really helped to create a unique sound for this room, which is characterised by a short reverberation time, but still, has the feeling and sound of a bigger room.
KMR : I know you had some unique design approaches to the Control Room, what did you do that was different?
Alessandro : I designed something unconventional and with a different approach than standard manual techniques. I avoided all heavy mass, like heavy concrete walls, instead, I put flexible and thin material, in order to achieve some kind of low-frequency absorption like they did in 19th Century in Opera Houses, in order to reduce that resonance of the room.
We decided not to use traditional material like Rockwool or GrassWool, instead, we worked with an Eco-Friendly fibre material made with recycled water bottles, which has really nice acoustic features and also has some sort of membrane resonance function helping really to control down to the very very low down spectrum of the audio. I think that this room sounds even better than expected and I’m really proud of it.
KMR : Thank you both for the interview!