Amphion Article - "I Ditched the Desk"

I recently had a chat with Annsi and Julian from Amphion Loudspeakers to talk about the recent changes I've been making in my mix room. Below is the full nerd-tastic conversation, or click here for the concise version that Amphion published.

You’ve been on journey of sonic discovery with your new mixing room; How did you land on the One18 as your monitor of choice?

Over the past year, I’ve been venturing further down the rabbit hole of compulsive sonic-experimentation, and it lead me down a path of seemingly-endless cable, amp, monitor, and room-configuration shootouts. Ultimately, the trajectory of these tests lead me to the resulting desk-less mix room that features the Amphion One18’s as the centerpiece.

Over the past few years, I’ve developed a preference for having an extreme level of flexibility in the monitoring chain in order to fine-tune its every aspect, so naturally, I was unhappy with most active speakers and their fixed components like amplification, circuit, DSP-integration, and build techniques; I’ve found massive audible differences just by changing something as small as the type of solder used in a circuit (Cardas Solder is the only way to go!). It may just be psychological, but I found that several of the poorly-designed active monitors presented the sonic information with less urgency, slower transient speed, and an inherently-inside-out, scooped, pseudo-wide, phasey kind of feeling.

After years of suffering from Gear-Acquisition-Syndrome and growing ever-frustrated with my monitoring setup, I found out about Amphion’s passive studio monitor line and was immediately intrigued by their careful selection of components, liquid-tight crossover section, and the design of their sealed-enclosures. I demoed the Two18’s and the One18’s, and was excited to hear all of the information happening. In my particular room, I found that the One18’s presented the sonic information more accurately than the Two18’s. The information in the top and bottom end was more balanced against the midrange, and the depth of field within the ghost center felt “forward” to me in a way that I am very comfortable with (this enabled the ease of certain tasks like placing vocals in the mix, snare levels, front to back depth, etc).

So what’s with the No-Desk??

Earlier this year, I discovered a major hinderance in my setup; the desk! I attribute this realization to the wealth of knowledge given to me by two individuals: Ralph Skelton, my favorite tech/acoustician, and Alex Oana, a Jedi Master of both life and audio matters. I consulted both of them to lend their thoughts as to how I could alleviate the frustrating anomalies in my room; they both insisted that if I were to ditch the desk, I would get the urgency and immediacy of my transients back, and the harsh upper midrange would be instantly-rectified. …They were right! The desk reflections were making a complete mess in the upper midrange of my mixes, and this was making translation much more difficult. I got rid of the desk and immediately felt more directness in the transients, greatly-improved depth-of-field, and a gorgeous response in the upper midrange.

While my room was torn apart, I also took the opportunity to run a line of clean isolated power to the studio. Once I was hearing the rig on clean power for the first time, it brought the speakers to life and made the shootouts that would follow, much more useful and informative; my ability to measure subtle changes in the monitoring path were now very noticeable, and I could finally hear the most-subtle differences when comparing different components. At that point, I spent several days measuring the comparative performance of different power amps, power distribution scenarios, monitoring configurations, and cables.

I used the Amphions and a well-treated room as the starting point and general foundation for my rig, and then leaned on the amp and cables to give me that last 5% of seasoning, almost to tune the speakers based on their resulting effects on the frequency spectrum (the various amps and cables varied tremendously in the balance of frequency distribution: some were fast and dark, while others were open and bright, etc). After shooting out 6 different sets of cables and a pile of different amps, the winning setup was perfectly-suited to counter some of the deficiencies I was hearing in my room (the winning setup is an amazing custom amp from Pacific Innovative Electronics, Cardas quadlink interconnects, and Cardas hexlink speaker cabling). I’m also currently loving this tiny little D/A called the Pro-Ject Audio S2, but am looking forward to deep-diving into the world of the latest greatest D/A converters next. I also can’t wait to try the new Amp700 and Base systems!

I’m always toying with the idea of tuning the room with hardware EQ’s or DSP software, but It’s already very very close, and I’m hesitant to change a winning formula that is helping me to produce amicable results for happy clients.

Have your clients noticed a difference ?

Yes, they mention their admiration for both the vibe of the space, and for the quality of how their songs sound, not only in my room, but also in the car on the way home (translation for the win!). I love the experience of sitting in the room with an artist, working together in front of these speakers; it feels like we’re just hanging out listening to music together in a Hifi room!

What are you using for a mouse and keyboard now that your desk is out of the picture?

I’m using a very discrete, low-profile lap desk product called the “eXpress” from a company called BulletTrain! It’s essentially like someone ripped the screen off of a laptop and set the keyboard/trackpad section right into your lap. Ditching the trackball took some getting used to, but I’m faster than ever now thanks to the ability to create custom macros and touch commands. I also attached my D/A wireless remote to the keyboard and that is how I am controlling playback volume and source-selection from across the room.

As you know, sonic discovery is a lifelong journey, and the work is never finished; What is next?

The next step is to eliminate my display monitor (and its problematic reflections and imaging smear) altogether and replace it with a pair of low-profile VR glasses or goggles that will give me a directly-mirrored display of Pro Tools. This has proven to be a tall order, and most-likely won’t happen until Apple releases their own proprietary VR display product. Most of the current glasses/goggle-helmet offerings have a short battery life and tend to introduce an unusable amount of latency. The eventual goal will be to put on the goggles and be instantly transported to a dream studio of my choice, in which every knob, fader, button, speaker, and instrument within that room is fully-interactive. Can you imagine how inspiring this would be for creators to write or mix at Capital Studio A or Paisley Park whenever they want to? Perhaps an AI simulation of Jimi Hendrix or Dr. Dre could be present in this VR space for the user to bounce ideas off of!?

What were your initial reactions to hearing Amphions?

Honestly, I heard them on the NAMM room floor and was not initially impressed; (I obviously took this feeling with a grain of salt, as the showroom floor is not an appropriate environment to judge the sound of any piece of gear). Then, I demoed a set in my studio in Pasadena and I was, honestly, again, not completely blown away by the sound, but that’s exactly what I was hoping for: a flat-sounding set of speakers that provided a ton of information, that would, in turn, translate my mixing decisions to other speaker sources! They just felt really balanced and really fast, and I continue to measure their amazing value by their ability to help me fulfill the requests of artists and complete jobs on a daily basis.

What do you look for in a pair of mixing monitors?

I’m very particular about the midrange being forward; I have difficulty producing reliable work on speakers that sound too scooped or exaggerated. I came up on NS10’s, and it was such a love-hate relationship, because I loved the transient-speed and the information that was revealed in the lower midrange, but I despised the fatigue that came with their inherently-smeared upper midrange. I dreamed of a reality where that harsh noise was gone, leaving me with a perfect speaker; years ago, I even experimented with several high-end EQ’s to tune/tame that area on the way to the amp, all to my own detriment. The Amphion stuff really nails what I was searching for, and they really feel like a modern hifi bookshelf speaker; very very clean yet mid-forward and fast; the transient information is extremely reliable when dialing in the flex of compression and percussive elements. I’ve since unplugged my other speakers and they sit off to the side in my room!