The Outlier Inn is a world-class recording studio located on a working 12-acre farm in New York’s southern Catskill Mountains, 90 miles from the big city. The land the studio sits on presents a peaceful and inspiring backdrop for recording and mixing, and also serves as a retreat center, an event/workshop space and a sustainable fiber and organic vegetable farm.
Josh Druckman has been the house engineer and producer at Outlier Inn for 15 years and has worked with artists like Luke Temple, Blonde Redhead, Guerrilla Toss and The Dig. We recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Josh and talking to him about the studio's unique location,taking the stress out of recording and the Neve VR72 console and UnderTone Audio UnFairchild he picked up from Vintage King's Chris Karn.
The Outlier Inn offers a very distinctive recording experience. What’s it like working in a studio that doubles as a retreat center and working farm?
It’s great! We do a lot of health and wellness retreats, a lot of meditation. When bands are in the studio, it’s like a cocoon. Even though there’s other stuff going on outside, they can just be in their own world if they want to. But usually, they’re totally psyched that there are activities going on outside and they end up participating. A lot of times during yoga retreats, the band will ask if they can join and the retreats are always stoked because most of the time someone is familiar with the band. It creates this really nice yin and yang situation.
What’s the “corporate culture” like there?
Corporate culture [Laughs]? There’s no corporate culture to speak of. We don’t use that word here. We’re more of a farm culture. When you’re in the studio you’re looking out into the forest and the fields. Sitting at the piano in the iso-booth you can look up and see two alpacas grazing. It’s a really chill, peaceful, inspiring place to make a record. There’s a lot of natural light in the studio.
We’re also on a working farm, so you could be in the middle of a take and see that a goat has escaped its pen and is staring at you from outside the iso-booth. I may have to have my assistant keep rolling while I wrestle the goat back into the pen. It’s a really fun environment. Plus, whenever bands take a break they can step out of the studio and hang out with the animals or take a dip in the pond. It’s not corporate at all but there’s a lot of farm-home fun.
What made you decide to purchase the Neve VR72 console from Vintage King for Studio A?
These days it’s debatable if a console is even necessary for a recording studio, especially one of this size. For me, it’s a workflow thing and a sonic choice. I love working on a console, so there was never any doubt I was going to get one. I’ve always been a Neve guy. I just love the dark, warm sound of those consoles. And as a commercial studio, having a Neve console attracts a lot of business. But, the reason I got this particular console is that it offers a lot of bang for the buck.
Hey, can you hold on a sec?
Josh disappeared for a moment, presumably to wrestle a goat back into the pen.
Sorry about that. Anyway, the VR consoles were within my budget so it was a no-brainer to get 72 channels of Neve preamps, EQs and dynamics with full flying faders for the same price as you would get a 16-channel API console. There really wasn’t much of a question. The only question I had was "Why?" Why is this console that cost almost half a million dollars when it was new so affordable now? Especially compared to other consoles. It was there I learned the downfall of the VR consoles, which is the heat issue.
The VR consoles were not properly ventilated from the factory. The engineers thought there was enough ventilation from the faceplate, but they were wrong. VR consoles from the factory can get up to an operating temperature of about 118 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s so hot working over those consoles you just start dripping sweat. You can literally warm up your sandwich on the desk.
You have to crank the AC in the control room to keep the console from overheating, which can be expensive, but more importantly, the electronics inside the console are designed to operate around 72 to 74 degrees. So over time, these consoles basically cook themselves, the capacitors start leaking, the plastic switches melt. Every VR owner is faced with having to re-cap the entire console every 10 years or so, which is a huge endeavor and costs about $20,000. While the price of entry for a VR console is low, the cost of maintaining one is very high, which deters people from getting them.
But before I bought mine from Vintage King, I went deep into the VR world and found Bobby Summerfield in LA who does custom mods and repairs on Neve VR consoles. He developed this exhaust system for the console. My studio is actually the second studio after Bobby’s to employ his VR cooling mod. I have a separate cooling system with ducts coming out of the back of my console. I had to go in and route vent ducts for each channel. I’ve got my desk down to 80 degrees, which should buy me one or two re-caps.
It’s a badass console and I’m totally in love with the way it sounds and the routing capabilities. Bands are psyched about it too. The very first session I did actually affirmed my decision to get a large format console. Instead of having the band on the couch, checking their phones while the engineer is at the only computer, the band was at the console, engaged in the process. They put their hands on the faders and got more involved in the music. I always encourage the bands to come up and have fun and experiment while we’re making records.
Outlier Inn also features Otari and Studer tape machines. Do you find a lot of artists are cutting to tape these days?
Yeah, more and more! I’m pushing tape more and more too. Any session that I feel makes sense to track to tape, I’m going to track to tape. Not only for the sound, that part is less important. For me, it’s the process. When I don’t have to look at the computer screen, it’s a whole different ballgame. I feel so much more engaged in the music and less distracted by the computer. It just feels right.
Of course, you have to be really good about documenting tapes and be careful with track arming, but aside from that, it’s a way chiller headspace. You’re listening more and listening better. You’re listening to takes, performances, nuances, arrangement —everything. Because tape is limited, you have to make a decision after every take. You end up with fewer takes, which helps efficiency in the long run. If you’re tracking to the computer you keep everything you end up with 15 takes, but with tape you have to be way more critical, so you only end up with three or four takes.
Aside from the Neve VR72 console, what are some of your favorite pieces of gear that you’ve purchased from Vintage King over the years?
Aside from the console, I also got the Undertone Audio UnFairchild 670M II, which I am so in love with. It sounds incredible. All the new functionality that Eric added is really amazing and powerful. It sounds great and it’s easy to make bands sound good. I use it when tracking vocals, bass and on my mix bus. I’m just in love with it.
What are some of your favorite mics in the mic locker?
I’ve got a lot of old RCA ribbon mics that I love using. I’ve got three Lucas mics designed by Oliver Archut and loosely based on Telefunken U47 and C12 mics. I’ve got one CS-4 and two CS-1 large diaphragm condenser multi-pattern tube condensers. Unfortunately, they don’t make them anymore so they’re pretty rare. I’ve also got some fun old mics like my Altec Coke Bottle. Oh, and I’ve got a pair of Schoeps CMC6 with the MK-21 Capsule that I like a lot.
You also have a killer list of outboard gear. What EQs do you find yourself reaching for most often?
Well, I love the EQs on my VR console of course, but in my rack, I’ve got a Manley Massive Passive which lives on my mix bus. I really can’t live without that. The last time I was at Vintage King in LA I was on a Pultec search so I tried every unit they had there and I ended up with the Mercury EQ-P2, which I like a lot. And for extreme, aggressive EQ, I love my Moog parametric EQ, which is very dirty and gnarly sounding.
What about compressors?
Well, there’s the UnFairchild, of course, but all of my fellow VR console owner friends are super-jealous of me because during a particularly late night of browsing, I found a guy selling a Neve 33609, which was made for the center section of an 88R. Unfortunately, they never made them for the VR consoles, but after a little metal-working, I now have a 33609 that lives in the center section of my VR console.
What’s the quirkiest piece of gear you frequently use?
I think the quirkiest piece of gear is my reverb chamber. I’ve got a 30-foot geodesic dome, which is used as a yoga and mediation space during retreats, but when it’s empty, it’s my studio reverb chamber. There is 750 feet of direct-variable Cat6 cables with a Focusrite RedNet X2P Dante interface on either side. On the studio side, one of them is wired into my patch bay, so I can patch in a send from my console and send it to the dome and bring it back in on two channels. It sounds completely wild, totally bizarre. It’s a really unique reverb. It’s kind of the defining sound of the studio.
We did background vocals in the dome for one of the Big Thief songs on their last record, Capacity. It took some experimentation to get it right because it’s such a long run. I only recently got the Focusrite interfaces, before that we were just sending audio over Cat6 and it was a bit noisy.
I also do a recording residency in the dome where I invite people to come up and record. Stephen Recker from People Get Ready and Nick Forté have both come out. Everyone just freaks out about the sound in the dome, it’s really bizarre. There’s a pretty strong fluttery pre-delay and then a longer, modulating decay, but every time you move the sound completely changes.
What’s one thing that makes The Outlier Inn unique?
I would say the setting. Being on the farm in the middle of the woods in an area that’s imbued with musical history and energy is really inspiring. There’s a lot of natural light in the studio. You can just sit and watch the animals outside. It all comes together and softens what is by nature a stressful and difficult process. I always say making a record is hard enough. Why do it in a pressure cooker environment? Why do it in a windowless box inside of another box inside a giant metropolitan city? Why not put yourself in the most relaxed, chilled out setting possible?
If you're interested in learning more about purchasing consoles, outboard gear and any other studio necessities for your recording or mix facility, please contact our team of Audio Consultants via email or by phone at 888.653.1184. If you'd like to speak directly to Chris Karn, you can reach him via email or by phone at 213.984.4000 x133.