Studio Profile: The Limehouse

Jake Young takes a look at Rupert Pfaff’s recently upgraded studio, part of an east London creative community.

Starting its life as a dog biscuit factory, the Spratt’s Complex on London’s Limehouse Cut canal has been transformed into a live-work development for artists. It now houses singer-songwriter Newton Faulkner as well as Rupert Pfaff who manages The Limehouse recording studio.

The Limehouse offers tracking, production, mixing, and mastering services as well as online mixing, which has enabled it to work with a number of international clients. The studio has two senior engineers, Neil Williams and James Aparicio, along with a house engineer, Joel Davies.

Pfaff has filled out an eclectic musical CV so far. He ran London’s Turnkey music store before it was taken over by Sound Control and now heads up the UK office of German online musical equipment retailer Thomann. Having occupied small studios on and off for years, Pfaff bought the Spratt’s Complex space in 2006 after spending a year looking for a suitable building to house a studio.

“I knew from previous experience that if I didn’t live very close to it I’d never go in it,” laughs Pfaff, referring to his three-bedroom apartment one floor up from the studio. The space had live-work planning permission so that problem was straight out of the way, and while the idea of living above a fully functioning commercial studio may seem slightly less than desirable, Pfaff notes that the space was built with 2ft-thick brick walls and a 40cm-thick concrete ceiling between the two floors – a good starting point for soundproofing. For the final touches, studio designers Recording Architecture were brought in to design the control room and live room.

“Recording Architecture were great with very detailed instructions of how everything should fit together and what happens at the junctions, and came down to have a look a few times just to make sure we were doing it all right,” says Pfaff. “If we’ve got a really loud band in the live room you can only just hear it upstairs.”

It took a year to do the building work and get everything wired, working, and tested to the point where Pfaff thought The Limehouse was ready to open commercially. “It’s a relatively small space but we wanted something that was very high quality acoustically from the start. I felt that whatever’s happening with people doing stuff at home there’s always going to be some requirement for a decent acoustic space, which is very expensive to achieve and that’s the one thing that people really don’t have at home.”

Through careful planning and space management a booth and amp chamber were squeezed into the 300sqft live room. “It’s not huge but at the same time it’s comfortable to record a five-piece band in,” says Pfaff.

Being a classically trained percussionist Pfaff always wanted his studio to be a good place to record drums. “I find with recording drums either you’ve got to have a big great-sounding room and you record the sound of the room or you need something that’s much more compact yet properly treated so that you can add whatever reverb you want afterwards without the recording having gathered too much of a small room sound.”

Hybrid production

The Limehouse started off at the time when the idea of mixing in the box was beginning to gather some serious momentum. The studio originally had a Digidesign C24 controller but valve outboard gear soon stacked up and a Solid State Logic Matrix console was bought in summer 2013. “The SSL Matrix is a really great bit of kit from a sound quality point of view,” says Pfaff. “The summing on it is superb, we could choose our own mic pres, and the Matrix facility enables us to patch in outboard at the click of a mouse.”

The Limehouse tends to use most of its outboard on the way in rather than at mix down “just because people these days always want recalls”. The mix is generally in the box with 16 channels going through the SSL for summing and possibly one of the compressors like the Rupert Neve Designs Portico II Master Buss Processor.

While the technical gear is a selling point, according to Pfaff a lot of the studio’s bookings are thanks to its instrument selection. “If people book us we’ve got a DW Collector’s Series drum kit with tons of different types of heads and if they tell me what they want before they come then I’ll tune the kit up for them. We’ve become quite adept at getting decent drums sounds and a variety of different sounds as well with four toms, seven snares, and over 20 cymbals.”

The Limehouse also features a Yamaha C3 grand piano, which comes in handy when recording classical and jazz music, along with a Fender Rhodes Mk V, Hammond SK1, Moog Minimoog Voyager, guitars from Gibson, Fender, and Martin, and a number of hand-wired bass and guitar amps from brands like Vox, Mesa Boogie, Ampeg, and Fender.

Some of the studio’s notable projects include all the sitar and Indian percussion parts for Anoushka Shankar’s 2011 Grammy nominated Traveller album. “That was a nice feather in the cap for the studio and the engineer Neil,” says Pfaff.

“Anoushka was pregnant so spent most of the time lying on the sofa and had quite extensive requirements for cushions, which was quite understandable in the circumstances!”

Recently Williams has written, recorded, and mixed a lot of Brazilian percussion for music library Audio Network.