Mauricio Gargel on working in Dolby Atmos, mastering and Merging Technologies

Headliner hears from Brazil-based mastering engineer Mauricio Gargel about his career to date, working in Dolby Atmos and the Merging Technologies kit that forms the cornerstone of his studio…

While Dolby Atmos may be the buzz term of the pro audio and music industries today,

Brazilian mastering engineer Mauricio Gargel was studying for a master’s degree in object-based mixing for music as early as 2010. Already actively involved in the audio world prior to moving to Nashville in 2011 to attend the Middle Tennessee State University for three years of study and a year of placement, he returned to Brazil in 2014 to set up an analog mastering room that was configured for stereo and 5.1.

In addition to music mastering, there was some documentary work that helped build up the reputation of the studio, but the real catalyst for change was the onset of the Covid pandemic in early 2020. Lockdown restrictions meant more working from home, which could not be done with the existing analog gear, prompting Gargel to consider working ‘in the box’.

It was at this time that he discovered Merging’s Anubis. Several questions were raised at the same time: would he regret selling all the analog gear; would Anubis do what it should; would it be stable; would his clients accept it?

The initial learning curve was quite steep, especially due to the fact he had to have a new network set up at the same time as getting used to the new workflow. This provided an opportunity to expand to an immersive system that would be capable of mastering Dolby Atmos for music and other formats that might be requested. The addition of a Merging Hapi allowed for the additional channels to feed the 14 speakers, with Anubis controlling everything. With the system complete, it was just a matter of arriving at the studio, switching on and getting to work.

The majority of clients had traditionally been independent artists who saw the opportunities of working in Dolby Atmos but found the budget a challenge. That changed in September 2021, when Universal Music and Apple contacted Gargel asking for projects to be formatted and mastered for Atmos. At the same time, video and film clients started to contact him for repurposing 5.1 projects.

It doesn't make sense to reference to stereo. Mauricio Gargel

What became clear very quickly was that this was rather more than just mastering. Depending on what was delivered, from stems to individual tracks, an element of mixing was required. Sounds needed to be positioned at the right level and the objects required careful placement. This process was not straightforward and certainly opened up creative possibilities for the independent clients who were keen to experiment but could probably only afford to do one track.

At the same time as experimenting musically, having a reference listening space with the ability to easily do comparisons allowed for testing of new software and plugins.

“One of the issues here is there is no additional budget available for new productions and there is no premium at the consumer end,” says Gargel. “If you stream in stereo or Atmos, it generally costs the same, whereas for me it is a lot of extra work. Repurposing old material for a label is a project that can be invoiced but I think there needs to be a rethink on the charging structure for new productions. Perhaps if we become more efficient and they pay more, we can meet in the middle.”

According to Gargel, there are other aspects to working in immersive, as there may be requirements for MPEG-H or Sony 360 that share similarities but are not so well defined, and there is a difference in binaural encoding between Apple and others. This means many studios are hanging back and choosing to wait until the situation becomes more stable before investing in new gear.

As a mastering facility, Gargel notes, you must be able to handle material coming in on different DAW files. Pro Tools is ubiquitous for video and film projects, but Reaper is also very popular in Brazil. Some CD titles still come in on SADiE. “I am looking at Pyramix now because I like the idea of being able to do everything in one place,” Gargel adds. “I can do mixing, sample rate conversion and export the final ADM with the metadata. I love Reaper’s flexibility with routing, but I can’t do the metadata. I don’t love Pro Tools even though I used to teach it, but it is so much used in Brazil, I can’t avoid it. I am learning Pyramix now as I only recently had time to investigate.”

One difficulty he sees moving forward is quality control. On the client side, he believes there could be confusion around the differences between stereo, binaural and multichannel. Also, loudness has become chaotic with a misunderstanding that immersive does not need to have the dynamics crushed, as has become the norm in stereo. Consequently, some Atmos tracks were very loud and not authentic to the music.

“It doesn’t make sense to reference to stereo, which is the format of yesterday,” Gargel concludes. “In the future our children and grandchildren might only listen to a multi-speaker system and will be disappointed if the results have been compromised by too much compression or unadventurous mixing.”