What next for immersive sound?: Inside Medley Studios

Frank Grønbæk, studio and live sound engineer, and product specialist for distributor Nordic Pro Audio, talks to Headliner about his recent move into the world of immersive mixing, his predictions for the format, and why Merging Technologies products are the “most precious gem” in his setup at Denmark’s Medley Studios…

Frank Grønbæk is a man who wears many hats. For over seven years he has served as FOH engineer for pop sensation Lukas Graham; worked as a product specialist with distribution company Nordic Pro Audio, specialising in Merging Technologies, Meyer Sound, Dolby, and SSL; and has his own Atmos mixing space at Denmark’s legendary Medley Studios. More often than not, he can be found juggling any number of roles at once. His foray into the world of immersive mixing, however, is the most recent of his sonic adventures.

“I’m the live FOH engineer for Lukas Graham, but during Covid there was obviously nothing happening in the live world, so I thought I should figure out something else,” he tells Headliner from his room at Medley Studios via Zoom. “I’m also engaged with selling audio equipment as part of my job at Nordic Pro Audio, so I help people get the right kit and advise people on gear, and that’s mainly in the broadcast and film industry. But my entrance into the studio work was through Atmos music. I built this little cave in Medley with a 7.1.4 system built around a Meyer Sound speaker setup and Merging Technologies kit, and set about figuring out if anyone was interested in this format. I was actually the first person to release anything in Atmos in Denmark – a record by Danish DJ and artist Rune Rask - and when Medley heard about the work I was doing they said come along and this will add to the facility.”

According to Grønbæk, the uptake for Atmos and immersive mixes is growing slowly but surely.

“The format is slowly rising in Denmark,” he says. “It’s getting there but it is slow. I just handed in the master for Aqua’s first album Aquarium, which is being released in Atmos. There is a DJ and artist called Rune Rask who I’m working with right now. Then there are some Lukas Graham live things and some home recorded music with him as well. There have been a few other projects happening too. It’s super fun to work in this format. That’s what I do here. I don’t do any recordings, just Atmos mixing.”

While slow and steady growth is something he predicts for the format, there is one factor that could prompt a speedy and significant spike.

“I can see there are more and more albums coming out in Atmos, so there is a tendency towards releasing more in the format,” he notes. “What we are all waiting for is Spotify to launch its Atmos service. I’m pretty sure it’ll happen. Spotify needs to do it because of the demand, especially when the cars start arriving with Atmos included and you can’t access the format via Spotify. Otherwise people will start to look for something different.”

One of Grønbæk’s studio essentials is his Merging Technologies setup, featuring both the company’s Anubis and Hapi products.

“I first came across Merging via Nordic Pro Audio, as it came in through a colleague of mine,” he says, explaining how he first got to know the brand and its products. “Immediately it spoke to me in terms of audio quality. Their products are exceptional. And when I was introduced to the Anubis I couldn’t resist it. I use it every day and it is probably my most precious gem in here. It does everything, it’s really a remarkable piece of equipment.

“There are so many great things in that box, and it’s super easy to use,” he continues. “In the multi-channel formats there is a display onboard, and you can swap things around easily. You can have 128 inputs, you can have eight different speaker setups/headphone setups, and you can choose to build them up exactly how you want. All eight could be Atmos setups if you want, or you can have a combination. I only have one set of speakers, but I have multiple setups to choose from, so I can use the same speakers for 2.0, 2.1, 5.1, 7.1, and 7.1.4. And it’s all different in the way that it can fold down the mixes internally, and it does it really well. That’s really cool. It has good converters in it. It’s the best monitor controller out there.”

We're all waiting for Spotify to launch its Atmos service. Frank Grønbæk

Such is the extensive range and nature of the Anubis’s capabilities that some users find there is a learning curve of sorts to be navigated in order to fully comprehend and harness its full functionality. Was this something that Grønbæk encountered?

“I got to know the whole Merging Technologies platform before it was released,” he recalls. “I knew the infrastructure, the AES67, Ravenna and the network setup, so I had a feel for how it all worked, and so it was somewhat easy to get started. And the more you get into the workflow the easier it gets. In the beginning it took a little while before I grasped just how much it can actually do. And everything in the box just works so seamlessly. Over time I discovered more and more things that it can do. I also have two Hapis as well, just to get enough I/O for the system, and it’s all running on their VAD.”

Also crucial to his setup is a speaker system from US loudspeaker manufacturer Meyer Sound. Despite being synonymous with the live music market, the company is also active in the broadcast and studio sectors. Indeed, it was through his work on the road as Graham’s FOH engineer that he became familiar with Meyer Sound products, and as such, opted to bring them into his mix room.

“My work with Meyer Sound products on the road is where this connection came from,” he concludes. “I’ve been to Meyer Sound a few times in the US and was so impressed. These Amie speakers are great, I really like them. They show me what I need to see, and I don’t feel like I need other speakers to AB. They translate super well to other systems. It’s a great reference speaker, and I even use them as a reference in my PA setup. It translates to PA very well. That’s why I went in this direction."