Interview with Seb Juviler, SNK-StudiosADAM Users
We had the pleasure to sit down and talk with Seb Juviler, co-founder and Head of Studios at SNK Studios in Central London, about their facility, the new Dolby Atmos suite Studio 7 with ADAM S3X-V and S2X monitors, its build process and more.
Seb, could you tell us a little bit about SNK Studios?
Seb: Yes, sure! SNK Studios is an Audio Post house established in 2003. It was founded by myself and my business partner Kayvan. We are both from a sound engineering background. Back in 2014-2015, we merged with creative agency, Red Apple Creative. They specialize in creative concepts for online music platforms and radio. So, SNK Studios act as an in-house production department for Red Apple, as well as having our own client base. In total there are 41 members of staff.
We occupy six floors on Tottenham Court Road in Central London, we mix audio for TV, cinema and radio as well as create sound design and bespoke music compositions for our clients, too. Top to bottom the facility is dedicated to audio.
In 2016 the whole building went through a huge refurb process and created the Dolby Atmos suite, Studio 7 and a lovely big new reception space. We now have seven studios including a track-lay suite, which has another three Pro Tools systems in it. There are six in-house engineers and three audio producers who help with the bookings and we look forward to a very exciting year!
What kind of projects do you do and who have you worked with?
Seb: Because of the many TV projects we have worked with quite a lot of big name actors and actresses. We have had Kate Winslet in the studio, Stephen Fry, Ian McKellen was in recently; we do a lot of work with Alistair McGowan as he’s the voice of “Paddy Power”, who we provide all the Audio Post for. We do a lot of sound for children’s TV animations, CBBC Series and things like that so there’s always talented little kids coming and going! We are lucky to enjoy a great variety of work here for long and short form. There are quite a lot of musicians coming in as well because all our studios have Source Connect and ISDN systems. Often, we dial in to do interviews with radio stations or connect up to other studios around the world for remote recording sessions. If a director can’t get in to town or an actor can’t make it, we can connect up that way. We had Ed Sheeran in for two days last week promoting his new single which has just gone to number one in the UK, which was pretty exciting!
What would you say is special about the people working at SNK Studios?
Seb: Apart from a solid sound engineering background music is really important to us. I am a classically trained violinist and my partner is a singer-songwriter. In fact, everyone in the company, including the bookings guys, the producers, everyone has a musical background. And I think that makes us quite special. Nothing beats a musical ear! When talking about a project with a client, everyone is coming at it primarily from an audio understanding, and that’s the most important thing for us.
Is there a special vibe in your building, too?
Seb: Absolutely yes, particularly now that we have done all the new work in the building, including renovating all the communal areas. It’s an old, really nice London building, probably Georgian, with lots of little rooms, nooks and crannies. It’s got a boutique feel to it, very relaxed.
We need actors to feel really comfortable, so it has a bit of a “home away from home” feel. There is a lot of natural light, which is quite unusual, and most of our rooms have lovely views across London. You don’t often get that in recording studios! They’re often buried underground in a basement somewhere! But ultimately, it’s the staff that makes it what it is. Everyone is from a similar background and really excited to be building quite a special company here.
It is an independent business and we really enjoy working together to push ourselves to that next level. Studio 7 is a part of that – Dolby Atmos is at the cutting edge of audio technology, we are also doing a lot of research into Virtual Reality sound delivery. We already do a lot of work in binaural, 3D audio work, too, so I think there is a real sense of everyone enjoying where the business and the industry generally is going over the next year or two.
Speaking of Studio 7: What were your main reasons to build that studio and how did it go?
Seb: It was a very different experience to building our other studios. We had to keep lots of people happy! Now, we have a room that is as well suited to ADR recording as it is to cinema mixing and also stereo work. In order to keep the same vibe that we have in the rest of the building we needed it to be comfortable and we had to conform to Dolby specs in order for them to certify it.
The inclusion of Dolby Atmos makes the technical requirements of the room much more complicated than they have been if you are just building a normal stereo or 5.1 room. Over the last year we worked together with Jigsaw24, who were the equipment supplier for the main gear, the ProTools HDX system and the Dante rig. Miloco Build and their acousticians constructed the space and they supplied the ADAM speakers as well. And then of course there’s Dolby. I mean, the amount of detail that they go into to achieve the acoustic qualities that the room needed to deliver is amazing.
Imagine there are 19 ADAM speakers in this one studio. They have to do full top-down designs (bird’s eye view), they have to do side elevations for the heights of all the speakers, then take into account the angles of all the speaker placements to make sure everything ends up hitting the sweet-spot for the engineering position just perfectly. Of course, there’s quite a bit of math involved, too, calculating the SPLs, volumes and the dynamic range. So, there was a lot of work between Dolby, Miloco and ADAM Audio to make sure that the speakers we were choosing worked perfectly and delivered those levels required.
At one point, we did have to modify some of the S2Xs that are in the ceiling. We went with the passive speakers so that we could cut some of the backs off to make them thinner so that they wouldn’t stick out too far. By using the passives, we were only modifying the space where the amps would have gone anyway in the actives. That was a bit of a terrifying moment though, when the builders were taking a hacksaw to our speakers!
But otherwise, amazingly the build process went very, very smoothly, it stayed on schedule throughout. And that’s really a huge credit to Miloco Build. It was really the planning we did together in the early stages – the first half of 2016, that made all the difference. The design of the room didn’t change once it was signed off.
The structure of the building did make things quite complicated because of the sheer weight of the room. Studio 7 is on second floor and since it’s an old building, we had to do certain amount of structural reinforcement to make sure that the studio didn’t end up in the reception below! Miloco had to come up with some interesting solutions to make sure we weren’t losing too much ceiling height – because with Atmos you need a lot of height in the ceiling to be able to have those top speakers – and not end up with a room that only hobbits are able to work in!
Seb: For one thing, of course the transparency, to ensure they are not coloring the sound too much. And we need to work with speakers we can move from one room to the other and still recognize our mixes, so consistency is important. Also, reliability, they need to be rock-solid, because we have clients in all day long and they expect to be able to work without any technical problems.
We have had other speaker manufacturers’ products in the past, from some big names, but we had problems with overheating or speakers turning off mid-mix! Things like that we just can’t afford to risk. The ADAMs have always been super reliable and they are loud! Which is fun, but something people often forget about is that for TV work particularly you need to be able to mix at quite low levels and still hear the nuances and the details of the sound. Because as opposed to mixing big music tracks and things like that, when people are watching TV or listening to the radio, it tends to be at a fairly low volume. To have speakers that respond at those lower levels, that pick out detail and are clear when they’re quite quiet, is really important for us. The ADAMs have always been able to do that full range.
The response that we have been getting to Studio 7 is just fantastic! Everyone is blown away by how beautiful it sounds. When you play something that is moving around the room 360 degrees – it’s amazing. We have got two of the Sub15s at the front, so the bass management is phenomenal. It is a real experience! When you play something back at cinema level people’s jaws drop – it’s fun to watch! I have worked in a lot of other Dolby suites around London and Studio 7 is as good, if not better than any of the other studios in Central London, for sure.
Have the monitors influenced your creative work in any way?
Seb: I think having the depth of sound particularly when it comes to sound design, is everything. When creating soundtracks from scratch – we do lots of work with a big fashion house for instance, which always requires layers and layers of really rich creative sound design – the speakers for that sort of work matter a great deal. You can get it wrong very easily! You need to be careful not to overfill a frequency range too much, you need to balance and evenly fill the full spectrum, so the speakers are the most important part of that process. We might decide we can add more to a soundscape when there’s some space in a certain frequency range, but you need absolute confidence in what you’re hearing back. Even more so when you go to the cinema environment, as cinema will so accurately replicate every detail. So, without great speakers, we wouldn’t be able to do our job, it’s that simple!