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19 Feb 2018

Interview: building beautiful studios with Jim Keller from Sondhus

other/interviews Interview: building beautiful studios with Jim Keller from Sondhus

My name is Jim Keller. I started Sondhus after years of recording and mixing records at Avatar Studios (now Power Station) in NYC. I helped design and build Studio G in that facility as an intern and ended up working in that room almost exclusively for two years with producer/mixer Rich Costey. I've also worked as a technician for Apogee Electronics and as a designer/fabricator for multimedia installations at the Guggenheim museum in NYC. I've also dug ditches. Literally.

The expertise of Sondhus

My expertise is definitely in designing and building custom studios that inspire creativity and enhance workflow. It is a given that the acoustics of a room have to be right, but what really makes a studio great is the feeling of the space and the ease with which ideas can be executed. To me, this means getting the materials and aesthetic right for each client. It also means listening for the little details clients describe their workflow or things that get in the way of their workflow.

How did you get into building professional studios?

After my time as a staff engineer at Avatar Studios, I went freelance and built my own studio. After that, I built a couple studios for friends. Word of my work spread quickly and before long the design/build requests really started pouring in.

What is the work that you’re most proud of?

There are two things that really get me chuffed about projects I've done. The first is when I can sit down in a finished room and put on some music and hear a balanced response and great imaging. The second is when I come up with a solution that either gets rid of something that is a hinder to a client or enhances their productivity.

As far as whole builds I'm proud of, I'd say the room I designed for Paul Waaktaar-Savoy. The room just feels, looks and sounds great. We did every aspect, down to the custom furniture and wiring. The rear wall houses a combination of six layers of varying acoustic systems including tuned membrane absorbers. The desk/rack we built is about 18 feet wide and has flush mounted control surfaces, 96U of rack space and an oil tanned hide bolster.

Is there any advice you can give to people that are just starting out with improving their studio?

It all depends on what needs improving. It could be acoustics, aesthetic or workflow. Those are the three main things I pay attention to. My one bit of advice to people is to set the room up so that it allows you to very easily do what you do 95% of the time. I meet with a lot of people who want to be able to do everything in one space. That's just not realistic. It would be amazing if you had space to always be able to keep seven microphones setup just to record kazoo, but the reality is that a room becomes less productive for your main work once you start making it multipurpose.

Acoustically, the area most rooms (especially home setups) need help is at the low end. That's the hardest part to get right. A lot depends on the size of the room and the ratio of its dimensions. Unless you have a lot of time and money to devote to fixing the low end, work on learning how the room translates. For a quick critical check of low end balance, have a pair of quality headphones that you know really well. Put those on for a minute (turn down the room monitors) and you'll instantly take the room out of the equation.

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