Studio Profile: Top 10 most innovative recording studios in the world

Though they might no longer be the sole destination for every musician, following the advent of home recording, gear-packed recording studios still hum with a certain magic. Whether it’s those legendary studios overflowing with classic desks, outboard and mics, to those that sport meticulously designed acoustics, to savvy, future-aimed spaces that keep a keen eye on latest trends, there remains a big allure to the idea of laying down your track in a killer studio.

How you feel when writing and recording in a studio space can be as vital as what tools it can provide to help you reach your musical aims. While some studios specialise in vintage-gear signal chains and traditional approaches, the world’s most innovative studios incorporate new technology, modern standards and enchanting aesthetics to make you feel right at home.

In this roundup, we’ve compiled our pick of the ten most innovative studios right across the world. While ‘innovation’ might reflect on how the studios in question have adapted new tech, we also want to highlight those that have clearly had a lot of personalised considerations which make them stand out from the norm. Some are commercial operations, others are the property of the globe’s most accomplished sonic adventurers. So, without further ado, let’s take a world tour of the recording studios at the forefront of tomorrow…

10. Elfo Recording Studio, Tavernago, Italy

Deep within Milan’s surrounding tranquil countryside, lay the sharp, disruptive features of the angular Elfo Recording Studio. This triple-studio complex can house a twenty-piece orchestra and fifty-person choir in its large main room, while the immaculate acoustics of studio two is perfect for tracking, presided over by an API 1608 console, in tandem with DAWs. The elliptical shape of Studio 3 is down to the Elfo team applying a meticulous study of sound refractions, and its LAN and A/V cabling provides the ability to use all the studio’s spaces from one, state-of-the-art central hub. The commercial studio offers production and arrangement services, and their rates cover the use of any and all its thronging equipment arsenal. Eccezionale!

9. Ocean Sound Recording Studio, Giske, Norway

With a breathtaking view of the Atlantic Ocean, as well as the surrounding Norwegian countryside, the purpose-built Ocean Sound was designed by American sound expert Ric Vaughan to be one of the very best acoustically treated spaces in which to record music. With a large live room, twin ISO rooms and large control room, the studio makes for a tranquil haven in which to submerge oneself in the music production process. Its ISO Booths have perfect attenuation of all sound from the main live room, and acoustics can further be manually controlled in the main control room. Custom built gobos are on hand to fine-tune the room’s acoustics to each particular project. A spellbinding space, providing an inspiring ocean-spectacle from its windows, the studio has reeled in the likes of Arcade Fire, Milky Chance, Swedish House Mafia and Ane Brun.

8. Steve Aoki’s Neon Future Cave, Las Vegas, USA

Not just a studio, but the world-dominating EDM producer’s play-centre, Steve Aoki’s Las Vegas complex isn’t just filled with high end tech, but also incorporates skate ramps, foam pits and impressive lighting. “I call it the Neon Future Cave because it’s in the bunker of my house and I wanted to enter into this room where I was transporting myself into the future,” Aoki told us a few years ago. Built around the Slate Raven Z3C digital mix rack, Focal SM9 monitors and a range of Universal Audio kit, Aoki’s HQ is a space that many of us can only dream of, yet for Steve, the true magic of his personalised space is the mindset in which it puts him; “You set your studio up in the way that you want your environment to be, and you know the way you think creatively is going to be part of the process. It’s not just about what plugins you’re using or how high-tech your gear is.”

7. Studios 301, Sydney, Australia

One of Australia’s most acclaimed studios, Studios 301’s legacy has been forged over nearly a century of use. Though the studio stresses its heritage as the longest-running recording studio in the Southern Hemisphere, it has also warmly embraced the next generation. The 301 Academy offers new engineers and producers the experience of working within a professional recording studio environment. Studios 301 also offers a robust online mixing service and has been at the forefront of pioneering audio formats in Australia. Another objective of the studio is to preserve aural history, offering archival and cultural institutions, record labels and more the means to digitise their analogue archives, cleaning up yesterday’s gems for tomorrow’s ears. The large complex is naturally ram-packed with ultra-modern tech, as well as a staff made up of top-tier industry pros.

6. Deadmau5’s ‘mau5 House’, Toronto, Canada

The nerve centre of the rodent-headed magician’s progressive house wonders, Joel Zimmerman’s studio is also a mind-blowing kingdom of kit replete with the EDM megastar’s mouth-watering collection of synths, including his custom Modcan Series A. The Dolby Atmos-certified studio, decked out with nine ATC speakers, is one of the largest Atmos-approved mixing spaces in the world. The super-sized analog Neve console at the studio’s heart is balanced by two walls jam-packed with modular synths, as well as a trove of keyboard synths. It’s, in a word, jaw-dropping. Zimmerman’s dedication to making his studio the ultimate man-cave goes beyond music technology. Downstairs is Zimmerman’s computer suite, with five custom built PCs, a 2 gigabit internet connection and a near-limitless quantity of hard drive storage space – enough to make any nerd weak at the knees. While Joel’s studio is his private production and play palace, it’s a space that many hold up as the ideal to work towards…

5. Blackbird Studios, Nashville, USA

In the heart of music capital Nashville, sits the hallowed Blackbird Studios, a multi-studio complex that is able to cater to any genre or purpose. With an extraordinary array of technology (and some particularly visually impressive room treatment) Blackbird has welcomed such luminaries as Beck, Kesha, Taylor Swift and Kings of Leon amongst others into its aesthetically amazing recording spaces, which have been described as resembling ‘The Four Seasons meets Moulin Rouge’. Its studios simply exude character, from Studio A’s Abbey Road-aping retro-vibe, to the awe-inspiring diffused walls of the Atmos-ready Studio C, Blackbird sports some notably impressive gear, including the largest API Legacy Plus desk ever built, and a specially modded Neve 8070. As with many other studios, Blackbird encourages education, with its own Blackbird Academy enabling the next generation to get in-depth courses in modern production on-site.

4. Metropolis Studios, London, UK

Metropolis’s status as one of Britain’s top tier studio hubs is well-founded, playing host to the likes of Queen, Ed Sheeran, Madonna, Michael Jackson, The Rolling Stones and many more over the last thirty-three years. In addition to its array of tracking and mixing studios, Metropolis offers some of the world’s very finest mastering suites, as well as a series of writing and production rooms. Built within a converted power station, the huge sound complex has close relationships with the world of music academia, and regularly invites students to use its mixing and mastering sessions. Speaking of which, it’s Metropolis’s innovative approach to mastering that has garnered it global acclaim. Founded in 1993 by Ian Cooper, Tony Cousins and Tim Young, Metropolis Mastering’s aim was to go beyond then-standards in mastering. Their frontier-pushing ambitions continue to this day, with 5 mastering rooms, ready for any and all needs.

3. Real World Studios, Box, UK

Stepping into Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios’ main control room, there’s the unavoidable feeling that you’re boarding a discreetly parked spacecraft, nestled among the bucolic fields, lakes and trees of rural Somerset. A stone’s throw from music technology publishing heartland of Bath, Real World invites artists to let go of their everyday lives, and focus entirely on the creative process, with the residential studio offering dedicated services to facilitate writing, mixing, mastering, post-production, rehearsal and much more. Built in 1986 on Gabriel’s personal – and innovative – take on what a studio should be, the open studios of Real World actively encourage collaboration and networking. Its Big Room, drenched in natural light, is the hub of all, with its 72-channel Solid State Logic 9000K console resembling the helm of said starship. Real World’s unique charm makes it one of our very favourite studios.

2. Hans Zimmer’s Studio, California, USA

Part studio, part top-tier gentleman’s lounge, replete with esoteric decor, gothic skulls and other miscellany. Hans’s home-base is decked out with luxurious sofas, Persian rugs and warm lighting, reflecting its foundational principle of the studio being both a place where the world’s greatest composer will work and chill. While the walls are dominated by a colossal modular patch-bay synth, interspersed with vintage outboard gear, the studio is also cutting edge on many fronts. Zimmer’s aim to make the studio as comfortable as possible goes as far as the 3M multi-touch screen workflow which he uses, with custom-made software designed to help him navigate his go-to DAW, Cubase. High-tech his desktop workflow may be, but the true heart of Zimmer’s studio remains his black Bösendorfer piano, which is often the foundation of some of Hans’s most epic scores.

1. Abbey Road Studios, London, UK

The crown jewel of the studio world, Abbey Road has been the HQ of popular music’s most groundbreaking bands. While its legacy is still a big facet of the studio’s prestige, Abbey Road has embraced modernity and innovation like few others. Launching numerous new studios over the last decade, cementing itself as the premiere destination for modern film soundtracking and, via incubator Abbey Road Red, investing and mentoring those pushing the boundaries of what music technology can be, the St John’s Wood powerhouse remains at the summit of the recording studio industry. Currently, the studio is delving further into the realm of AI in music, VR/AR/ MR, source separation and spatial audio, and has broken new ground in the field of de-mixing. Abbey Road stands today at the intersection between tradition and innovation, a place it has arguably always been. In a previous life (when it was known as the EMI Recording Studios), Abbey Road was the Beatles’ base, and provided them the means to widen the scope of what pop music could be and now Abbey Road’s ongoing quest to expand the music technology playing field continues.