Producer, engineer and Superfreq co-founder Noël Jackson shows us around his LA studio, giving us an insight into the build process along the way.
My Studio – Noël Jackson
My favourite piece of gear is my studio itself. Your sacred music space – your ‘room’ – is everything. The creation of my studio was a very detailed project that I collaborated on with Herman Virgen, an amazing acoustic engineer in Los Angeles who’s worked with people like Trey Songz, MixedByAli and Sham Joseph. We worked hard to manage compromises, and created a studio that specs out better than a large majority of ‘professional’ mixing rooms.
Taking acoustics and aesthetics into consideration, a 12 x 18 x 11 room was transformed into a beautiful space for creating music. Through detailed calculations, dozens of trips to Home Depot, some out of the box thinking, a concussion, and a few bandaids, my music and my mind was transformed. Creating something with your own bare hands is liberating. My arms are sore and my mind is still a little numb from reading Philip Newell books.
Side note: I’ve been asked many times about panels after people look at photos of my room. My studio doesn’t utilise panels – rather, the entire room is treated in a way that finds a perfect balance of aesthetics and sonics. There is a different approach to everything – exploring the options really opened my eyes.
Acoustic treatment is the most important part of my studio. It leads to more precise and relaxed hearing, which leads to better production and mixing, while at the same time making your workflow more efficient. Untreated rooms are an excuse for ignoring acoustics, which is akin to ignoring physics (which is sound, which is music). Acoustics is everything and it will change your life – disagree at your peril!
Though I use a lot of different types and densities of insulation in my room, the most used is 24-inch Roxul Safe’n’Sound. It has a perfect density for large bass trapping as well as for treating most high frequency reflections. In building my studio I utilised 15 bundles of Roxul as well as a bundle of their 1-inch 8pcf material.
JL Fathom Sub
A lot of people ask how I get my bass and kicks sounding so good (they aren’t too shabby). The first trick is to be able to hear your kicks and bass really well. There are very few pieces of equipment that don’t have (much) room for improvement. The JL Fathom Sub is one of them.
Though using a sub can be tricky, if you take the time to learn how they work and find the correct placement in your room, you gain access to a realm of control that you otherwise would not have with a off the shelf three-way speaker. If your room has some acoustic modes you can’t seem to understand, moving your sub (lows) and your near fields (mids/highs) independently can help you easily get rid of some seemingly big problems.
The JL Fathom Sub has an insane transient response that makes all of your bass very articulate. It is a massive beast and requires two people to lift. Even though this is considered a ‘hi-fi’ sub, it isn’t, and its controls are absolutely unseen in most ‘studio’ subs. The crossover, phase, volume and calibration controls are incredible. If they had notched knobs it would be a nice touch, but the included calibration mic ends up making that an obsolete notion.
I originally borrowed this sub from Vintage King, loathingly, while my third set of three-way nearfields were being repaired. Coupled with NS-10s, I’ve never had the ability to produce on such a precise and articulate system. If you are sick of your bass being a guessing game, get amazing near fields and this sub.
UA Audio Apollo 16 + Satelite
The Universal Audio converters are amazing. They are very clean, the clock is extremely precise and they are Thunderbolt-powered. For converters, I’d pick these as my second, next to the Burl Mothership, which costs six times as much, and isn’t justifiable for non-tracking work. My studio is equipped with two Apollo 16 converters plus another Apollo Satellite Octo box which gives me 16 DSP chips and 32 channels of audio in and out. This allows me to sum 32 channels of audio and mix in what we’re calling a ‘hybrid’ approach. Taking the best of in-the-box tech and physical, analogue realm headroom and combining them.
The DSP chips are where the magic lays. UAD has created some of the most precisely modelled plugins out there, that all run off of external processors, which means you aren’t clogging your CPU up every time you add a plugin to a channel. The API Vision Channel Strip, Neve 1073 and SSL G Comp are some of my go-to plugins. Especially for bass, like on ‘Behold A Pale Horse’ off my Behold EP, you can hear the API Vision Channel Strip working hard to keep those kicks and bass toms low and tight as can be.
DMG Audio EQuilibrium
It’s not a piece of hardware, but the EQuilibrium EQ by DMG Audio is used on every project I touch. The transparent sound and control of this EQ is impressive and extremely useful. It can be configured as a master buss EQ, a mix EQ, and allows easy access to mid/side EQ and volume. This is an essential. Listen to the stereo separation on my latest EP and you’ll find this is part of the magic.
Make Noise René
When it comes to modular synth gear, Make Noise has been throwing some major game over the past few years. Though it looks like a simple sequencer, the René is highly unconventional. The sequencing pattern options, quantisation of CV signals, touch button interface and octave controlling knobs make this one mean beast. Throw it at some pads, some badass toms, or a rumbling bassline. You can hear my use of it on all the basslines I wrote on my latest EP, as well as on my release on Satsang. I also use it to sequence 303 acid lines like on my track ‘Alternate Dimension.’
Fender Stratocaster Plus Deluxe
When I was 10 my parents let me put an American Fender Stratocaster Plus Deluxe in Creme colour with Lace Sensor pickups and a Floyd Rose bridge in layaway. I’d go to the store every Saturday and put some more money down on the guitar and jam out to it, shredding on a Crate amp. It took me four years of washing dishes, but one fateful day in 1997 I had enough cash to take the baby home. I still use it on a regular basis even for techno and house tunes – combined with some plugins and a few synth modules it creates some incredible sounds. It’s the piece in my studio that reminds me on a daily basis what dedication means. Almost all of my EPs contain a little bit of it, especially my Acid Test EP that has lots of feedback during the breaks.
Foam Roller & Exercise Ball
You have to stay in healthy mental and physical shape. Musicians have turned into computer geeks and computer geeks have turned into musicians, which means that everyone has back pain and incredibly bad posture. The foam roller helps you keep your back straight, your muscles loose and gives you a good excuse to take a quick break during long sessions. The exercise ball chair is goofy looking but pretty amazing for long sessions and playing awkward games of basketball.