Studio name: Mayfield Mastering
Location: Nashville, Tennessee
Key players: John Mayfield, Justin Bonnema
Latest projects: Katie Armiger, Steve Green, Naturally 7, John Rutter (Handel’s Messiah), CeCe Winans
DAW: PC-based Merging Technologies Pyramix MassCore and Pyramix Virtual Studio 6.1.8
Plug-ins: Cedar Retouch, Celemony Melodyne, Flux, iZotope Ozone, PSP Audioware, Serato, Sonnex Oxford, Univeral Audio UAD
Console: Custom-built Crookwood Mastering Console
EQ: Avalon Design AD2077 analog EQ with custom mods, Weiss EQ1-MK2 LP digital EQ
Compressors: Alan Smart C2, Manley Variable Mu with mastering and m/s mods, Prism Maselec MLA-2, Weiss DS1-MK3 digital compressor
Effects: Sony DPS-V77
Room treatment: Custom-built diffusion, Whisper Wall absorption, Hidley-style bass trapping
Power Conditioning: Equi=Tech Balanced Power
Monitors: Mains: PMC IB1 speakers and XB2 subwoofer, biamp, Bryston powered; Smalls: Blue Sky EXO
Why did you open your mastering studio in 1996?
Shortly after moving to Nashville in 1993, I bought a Sonic Solutions DAW to properly prepare my final mixes for mastering. After turning down repeated requests to master my own mixes (something you should never do!), I decided that it might be smart to at least consider the change. I had played music professionally for seven years, recorded and mixed for 23 years. The transition to mastering was a no-brainer because I liked the idea of having more control of my own hours. However, running a highend mastering facility with a staff of five is not cheap or easy. But it’s a great work environment where everyone gets along. And clients especially love our catering service and open kitchen.
You expanded the studio in 2002. What was involved in the project, and what additional gear was needed?
The expansion was primarily based on simple physics. To reproduce the frequency ranges required in mastering, you need lots of cubic footage. Client comfort is a nice by-product of that large space requirement.
Throughout my career, I had never considered a recording studio a good financial investment. The stock market provided a much better return without the headaches of property management. Besides, there were always plenty of good rooms available to rent for recording and mixing. A mastering control room, on the other hand, is a completely different situation. These rooms are truly custom built and set up for the specific engineer that will be using it. So when the decision was made to dedicate all of my time to mastering, I started planning for the big build. It took six years of financial “focus” and planning, but we broke ground in mid 2002 and finished in early 2003.
Regarding gear, the only thing we needed to address was the speaker layout, so we looked to PMC and installed two IB1s, each paired with an XB2 sub via the Bryston 10B-Sub Crossover. Amplification is provided by four Bryston 7B SST mono blocks.
What gear couldn’t you live without?
My personal mandate is the implementation of a good quality master clock and great converters. I cannot emphasize this point enough. Though there are many good ones available, I use the Apogee Big Ben and Rosetta Converters.
And I would not be able to start a mastering session without the monitors I have become so accustomed to. As a recording/mix engineer, I traveled with my own speakers and amplification. Before I moved a fader though, I would always sit down and listen to some known sources to hear what my speakers sounded like in that particular control room. Now, if I sat down at my console one morning and saw a different set of speakers in my room, I’d stop the session immediately, tell everyone to go home, and start a lengthy educational listening process. (After which, I’d launch a full-scale investigation into who switched out my blankin’ speaks!)
I also would not be able to start my day without Merging Technologies’ Pyramix Virtual Studio, which might very well be the best audio production tool on the planet! Lastly, our in-house FTP server allows us to stay connected with our worldwide client base.
What is one “Aha! moment” you’ve had in your career?
I spent all of my recording/mix career in the analog domain. When I switched to mastering in 1996 and started receiving mixes from great engineers who had switched to all digital, it was more of an uh-oh moment. The convenience of digital recording was just too hard to ignore for most. Unfortunately, the quality level just wasn’t there. Even today, gargantuan efforts persist to “emulate” the sounds of old. Thankfully though, in the last couple of years, designers have started figuring things out, and digital is finally starting to sound acceptable. But that’s not quite an “Aha! moment”; it was more of a “Finally! What took you guys so long?!” moment.