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The Audio Producers’ owner Paul Novotny on bringing immersive audio to tiny studios

Paul Novotny, owner of audio production services company The Audio Producers, speaks to Headliner about bringing immersive capabilities to small studio spaces, as well as the transformative impact Merging Technologies has had on his career.

With a career spanning over 40 years, Novotny’s career has spanned virtually the full audio spectrum, from his early years as a gigging bassist and studio musician, through to composing music for all manner of visual media, as well as working in a variety of studio engineering and post-production capacities. He has also built no fewer than six studios, the most recent of which being the leaping off point for his Tiny Studio concept.

Having found that his most recent build didn’t meet guidelines for an Atmos studio listing with Dolby on account of its compact footprint, he immediately set about creating an optimal environment in which he could work in immersive formats.

Joining Headliner from his Tiny Studio in Toronto, here he explains the challenges he had to overcome to create the best sounding room he’s ever had, and how Swiss pro audio specialist Merging Technologies helped him in that endeavor.

“I started as a bass player and I quickly realized after being on the road that I didn’t like touring that much,” he explains. “And I really wanted to write music for TV and screen media, so about 40 years ago I came off the road and resumed my professional bass playing career as a studio musician and jazz artist here in Toronto. I also started the company The Audio Producers and over that time I built about six different studios in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). Essentially, I have always viewed the Audio Producers as being a full-service audio production company, being able to write music, do sound design, work in immersive audio and do audio post for TV. Along the way I have been a post engineer, mixing and delivering music for over 1,000 episodes of TV shows in the studios I’ve built. And Tiny Studio is the last studio I’m building!”

So, what prompted the Tiny Studio concept?

“I knew I wanted to work in Atmos, and when I looked at the Dolby guideline to move to Atmos I realized there was no designation for a room smaller than 50 cubic meters, and my room is not 50 cubic meters. Their designation deals with Far-Field, Mid-Field, and Near-Field which is what most music Atmos rooms are. So, I thought there has to be a way to make an effective room for an independent music creator that is efficient, accurate, and affordable in a small space, especially with the constraints of high priced real estate around the world.

“I realized there was no convention for this size and the Dolby guideline even discourages it, so I knew I’d have to look beyond the Dolby guideline for bespoke solutions. I came up with the term Tiny Studio because, like the global Tiny Home movement, I realized there was incredible demand for large scope, small scale, efficient operations in a small space that is economically sensitive to the realities of today’s music business. I call this my Hyper Near-Field Atmos Tiny Studio, which is approximately 50% smaller than Dolby's smallest Near-Field designation, and Tiny Studio is there to say the independent creator can now start to look at their own unique ways to build efficiencies and large scope in a very small scale.”

In creating his very own Tiny Studio, Novotny had to overcome a number of logistical challenges when it came to equipment and studio technologies.

“In a small room we don’t have room for a mixing board,” he asserts. “I’m quite limited that way, so I had to make choices about my equipment that would give me the kind of workflow and power for a lot of inputs, so I had to figure out how to do that in such a small footprint. Also, from an acoustical point of view, any small room has a huge challenge to overcome with regards to standing waves.

“The other thing that is essential is the sound pressure level. In order to create an Atmos room you have to meet Dolby’s guidelines for being able to operate at 79 dB SPL, 82 dB SPL, or 85 dB SPL. I realized that when you put speakers very close to you all of a sudden you have the ability to overcome this SPL challenge more economically. That is a real cornerstone of why Tiny Studio is a great solution for Atmos.

“Another thing that’s really important is the noise criteria, which is the noise floor of the room. Dolby specifies they want an NC25, and this room meets that. It’s quiet, it’s in the basement, so I’m taking advantage of that. Also essential is your room reverb time. Dolby says it should be at about 0.5-0.8 of a second in terms of reverb time. There is no way this room has that level of bounce. I’m at about one tenth of a second, which is short and tight.

“I realized halfway through this that the concept of the Tiny Studio has an important role to play in the world of Dolby Atmos because Atmos is headed for the automobile, and that is a very small, non-reverberant space. So, I argue that the Tiny Studio is a tremendous place to test a mix for a car in terms of the amount of reverberance you have.

Merging has given me the capability to expand the system for the future in ways I have not yet found. Paul Novotny

“Then there are the economics. Where do you spend your money when you are going to transition from stereo to 3D sound? That’s where Merging Technologies created solutions to all of my problems.”

For Novotny, the Merging systems he has kitted out his studio with have benefited him not purely in terms of audio quality, but also in the versatility they have brought to the space.

“Anybody who is going to build an Atmos room has to think about what interface and speaker controller they are going to use,” he explains. “I looked at everything in the marketplace and when I saw Anubis I thought, ‘this is a gamechanger’. The fact I could have a multichannel console, which is pretty much as wide as any AoiP will afford me, with the physical inputs when you combine it with the Hapi MK II, I realized it was a system I had to consider. I quickly found out it was going to do everything I needed and a lot more as the studio and my needs grow.

“I have bought hardware from most manufacturers over the last 40 years, and the single biggest determinant of whether you have a satisfying experience is obviously if something works, and Merging works insanely well. But customer service is key. I had the confidence when I jumped into Anubis with Hapi Mk II that I was going to get the answers I needed from my team here in Toronto and also the team in Switzerland and elsewhere. So, the reasons I went with Merging are because they sound great, workflows are amazing, and you can customize your I/O like you wouldn’t believe. It’s a great big digital audio patch bay. The speaker controller in Anubis is out of this world. I’m now using the multichannel Sonarworks Sound ID Reference - Sound Calibration Software within Anubis to tune the room and that blew me away.

“Because it’s a tiny room, using my tape measure I was able to correlate the speaker distances for timing very, very accurately, so there is a strong foundation for the Sound ID Reference software to build on because it is physically well correlated. Now when I listen through my Merging Technologies systems with SoundID it’s the best sounding room I’ve ever had. I've worked in a lot of big rooms and Tiny Studio sounds as good or better than most of the professionally tuned big rooms I've worked in the past 40 years. I couldn't do it without Anubis, Hapi MKII, and Sonarworks Sound ID Reference.”

Novotny also notes that for the uninitiated, there is something of a learning curve that requires navigating when first getting to grips with the world of the Anubis.

“You become a traffic cop for routing, and when you realize that in the Merging system you can multicast any input to numerous outputs, all of a sudden, the world changes. Merging has given me the capability to expand the system for the future in ways I have not yet perhaps found.

As for how he came to be introduced to Merging Technologies, Novotny recalls a meeting with a colleague in which he outlined his vision for the Tiny Studio concept.

“When I started to conceive the design of the Tiny Studio, the Anubis had literally just come out and I remember someone sharing it with me, and I was immediately impressed just by how it felt in my hand,” he smiles. “I started going through the menus and I realized I can design any input I want just by creating it; I can create any monitoring system I want. Then I started looking at the specs and the preamps. And the power consumption rating of all the Merging stuff was a complete fit for the Tiny Studio concept . To see a manufacturer thinking environmentally was a really big win. From the sound to the workflow to the functionality, the expandability, and the economics, I realized it was the best out there. And it would be the last hardware I would buy in my lifetime. It will go the distance with me. It’s the heartbeat of efficiency and workflow for the whole studio.”

It may be the last piece of hardware he acquires, but for Novotny’s Tiny Studio concept, it’s only the beginning.