Dolby Atmos Studio Profile – Gatwick Production Studio

In professional audio, there is little doubt that the Dolby Atmos immersive audio format is here to stay, and with that in mind, Business partners Brandon Knights, Allan Sayers and TD Simon Ryder, with help and support from the team at HHB have built a new recording, mixing, mastering and Dolby Atmos certified facility close to Gatwick Airport, conveniently situated between London and Brighton. The first room at the new Gatwick Production Studios called Treehouse not only meets the very strict Dolby Atmos specifications but surpasses them. In part, thanks to its acoustic design philosophies but also thanks to its amazing sounding and stunning looking Genelec 9.1.4 speaker array in its custom white finish. “Obviously, there are many monitor speakers out there,” says Technical Director Simon, “but as we were not just retrofitting a space for Atmos, we were building our new immersive studio from the ground up, we looked at the ideal room dimensions to fit the very strict Dolby specs, and we had to hit both the Dolby SPL and frequency response targets. A personal target for us was for there to be no bass management used to stop any low-frequency phase anomalies below 80Hz, and the only speakers that fit these requirements without being physically enormous were Genelec.”

The specific speakers used at Treehouse are Genelec 8351 for the front five speakers and 8350’s are used for sides, rears and height speakers. There is an amazing 3×12 inch 7382 subwoofer, which was custom painted by Genelec to match the rest of the speakers and makes it the first white subwoofer of this type in a professional installation. There are also two W371A SAM woofer stands which are used to provide a full-range monitoring system for stereo mixing and mastering.

Treehouse is based around a rack-mounted Apple Mac Pro running Avid Pro Tools Ultimate with an HDX2. Audio I/O and routing is taken care of by an Avid MTRX, which is in turn controlled by a DAD MOM desktop controller. The MTRX features Dante connectivity, which not only allows for easy and inexpensive routing of audio to other rooms within the new facility, but also allows for massive expandability for future studio requirements, such as a newly planned recording space with the ability to record orchestras or other large ensembles.

The system is controlled by three Avid S1 eight fader controllers, and an Avid Dock. All have touch control from the latest Apple iPads.

“The team at HHB recommended the Avid S1,” says Brandon, Managing Director of Gatwick Production Studios, “We needed some kind of control surface that was scalable, had a smaller form factor but would be instantly recognisable and useable for any outside engineers visiting the studio and the S1 and Avid Dock have the operational links to the bigger S4 and S6 control surfaces. Also, when all is said and done, the S1 just works and integrates perfectly with Pro Tools alongside the Dock.

Dolby Atmos duties are taken care of by a Dante-equipped Dolby RMU, in this case, based around an Apple Mac Mini in a Sonnet chassis with a Focusrite Rednet Dante card interfacing it with the Avid MTRX.

Simon and Brandon took a very real-life approach to their studio design and functionality as Gatwick Production Studios included the ability not only to monitor content in stereo or Dolby Atmos but also in more conventional consumer formats via a JBL SDP-55 AV processor & Apple TV as they realise that this is how much of the studio’s output will be consumed. They also have a space with a Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar for Atmos reference monitoring. “It’s important to be able to check your work away from the studio,” says Brandon, “so we have the Apple TV and Soundbar set up so you can grab a coffee, relax and check your mix in a more real space.”

The team from HHB were not only on hand to advise on, supply and install the studio equipment but they also consulted with both Simon and Brandon about the best ways to future-proof and optimise the gear they eventually chose for the new facility.

HHB’s John Johnson, who oversaw the project said, “It was a pleasure to work on such a fun project and on a site with so much potential – effectively a blank canvas. Brandon’s vision for the studios, combined with Simon’s technical expertise, allowed us to design the room to fit Dolby’s optimum speaker positions and specify the Genelec SAM speakers to deliver a really impressive mix environment. It’s incredible how well-controlled the room is, with custom acoustic panels which also look phenomenal thanks to Brandon’s artistic graft. The whole studio complex is underpinned by a network infrastructure which relies on Dante for most of the audio routing, allowing for so many options of sharing audio across the facility.”

Dolby StudioTraining was an all-important part of the studio creation experience, and while neither Simon nor Brandon, with around 50 years of professional mixing experience between them, needed any help with the fundamentals of audio mixing, HHB were able to supply both Avid’s Dolby Atmos training as well as HHB’s own Dolby Atmos training designed specifically to the cater for the need of Gatwick Production Studios and their new rig.

Simon – “Myself and two of our in-house engineers took the Avid Dolby Atmos training, and I believe we are now numbers 7, 8 and 9 on the Avid certification list of Atmos engineers in the UK. The HHB team were also able to help create routings when it came to monitoring consumer formats such as Apple’s Spatial Audio format, offering a more efficient workflow than just copying the files to a phone or iPad for great mix checking.”

Brandon, Allan and Simon have some amazing plans for the studios, and unlike many with grand plans, they also have the space in their current building to expand and build a creative and technical hub with the amazing transport and communication links of Gatwick Airport that is brilliantly designed and kitted out as well as being physically well connected both nationally and internationally.

Welcome to issue 7 of Audio Media International