Driving demand for Atmos: inside Soundville Media Studios

Soundville Media Studios is one of Switzerland’s top multi-purpose recording and mixing facilities, servicing everything from film and TV productions to pure audio meditation products. Headliner caught up with founder and sound specialist Rene Zingg to discuss the past, present, and future of the studio, as well as its reliance on fellow Swiss brand Merging Technologies, and the future for Atmos…

The old adage ‘if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life’ rings truer for Soundville founder Rene Zingg than perhaps anyone else. From the moment we join him via Zoom to talk all things Soundville, he is effusive in his love of audio and the business he has cultivated over the past 40-plus years. His passion is almost uncontainable. “I’ve spent the past 43 years doing this for 80-100 hours a week – not working, doing my hobbies!” he beams less than five minutes into our conversation.

His enthusiasm is instantly infectious and is rooted in a lifetime surrounded by sound.

“It started with my father,” he tells us about his introduction to audio. “He was always recording and filming, so I was raised with this kind of equipment. Then I learned several instruments, so in my first band I was the guy who did all the recordings. So, before I started Soundville I was a home recorder, although that term didn’t really exist back then.

“I then had to do military service, and the plan afterwards was to study electronic engineering, but I just kept doing my hobbies, building a studio, and in 1979 I built Soundville. And in 1980 I started recording doing jobs for clients. After five years we rented the new premises, which is where we are today.”

Crucial in laying the groundwork for Soundville’s future was Zingg’s relationship with legendary studio designer and audio engineer Tom Hidley and personal friend and architect Thomas Rast. During one of Zing’s encounters with Hidley, he decided to show him the plans for what would become Soundville.

“He started scribbling all over my plans,” Zingg laughs, describing the meeting. “I flew back to Switzerland and met my friend and architect Thomas Rust who did all the drawings, and we cancelled all our plans and started from scratch! I paid one year for the whole lease here without building anything because we redesigned everything.

“We then went to visit Tom in Montreux with these blueprints that were not rough sketches but Swiss quality plans from my Thomas,” he continues. “And from this moment on, Thomas Rast did all the architectural work for Tom Hidley all over the world. And I feel like Tom adopted me as his audio son! I would go and check out all these acoustic details with him all over the world.”

Having established the studio with the guidance of Hidley, the next piece of the jigsaw was the acquisition of numerous products from fellow Swiss brand Merging Technologies – products which would serve as the cornerstone of Soundville’s high-end offering.

With Merging, from the first day, everything was of the highest possible quality. Rene Zingg, founder, Soundville Media Studios

“I would go to every AES, and around 1995 everyone was launching their own DAWs,” he says, explaining his introduction to Merging products. “At every other booth there was a new company launching a new DAW. There was Sound Tools by Digidesign, which was upgraded to Pro Tools, and there was Merging coming up at the same time. So, I went through all these different manufacturers and compared them, and at the end of the day it boiled down to Merging and Digidesign. The dealer for Digidesign in Switzerland was on the same plane as me and we discussed this, and in the end I decided to make my decision on the people rather than just the DAW. With Digidesign, if I had a problem, I would have a nine-hour delay, whereas with Merging I would have zero hours delay and they are a two-hour drive away. It was easy. And with Merging, from the first day, everything was of the highest possible quality. So, there were technical reasons, logistical reasons, and it was simply the best. It was obvious.

To this day, Merging products reside at the heart of Soundville’s setup.

“We have one Horus, four Hapis, three Anubis, three Pyramix,” Zingg says. “The Dolby Atmos team were so impressed, they said they have never heard such precise low-end.

“The Anubis is unbelievably flexible. You can select as many sources as you wish. And we have the Pyramix output. Within Pyramix you can do Atmos mixing even without using the renderer because you can address everything up to 22.2. Then we have the return from the Dell renderer in Atmos – 7.1, 5.1, stereo, and the binauralisation, which is routed directly to a headphone output of one of the Hapis.

On the subject of Atmos, Zing believes that despite the subject’s domination of the industry’s headlines of late, its widespread adoption is going to something that develops over time, trickling rather than flooding into the mainstream. Indeed, such is Zingg’s faith in the format that he is in the process of completing a period of construction work that will see Soundville offer four Atmos rooms.

“We have the Dolby Atmos Music plate and Dolby Atmos Home Entertainment plate,” he concludes. “We heavily passed all the criteria they ask for. The thing is Swiss people are very resistant. There is no actual demand for Atmos, so having said that, for the first time in 43 years I have had to do some marketing!

“We post on social media, we invite clients, and everyone who hears it wants it. Now, 90% of all the productions here are done in Atmos. Back in the old days when we had mono, we found that we suddenly had stereo, but a lot of people didn’t know what to do with it, so you had people putting one voice in one speaker and another voice in the other – people were spending a lot of time working out how to properly use stereo. But now everything with stereo is fixed and you can’t do anything new with it. Now we have Atmos, and it’s so beautiful. You can experiment, do new things, try out whatever you wish. And now clients are freaking out as soon as they get to hear it. The demand will come.”