When Grant Thomas began plotting out SŌL Studios in Fort Smith, Arkansas, he imagined a creative hub that specialized in both audio and video production. After years of renovating the building formerly known as Omega Sound, Grant's vision has been realized with the opening of his new studio.
"We believe your environment directly affects your ability to create, so we designed an eclectic space that provides a unique experience," Grant says. "The studio is outfitted with a vast mix of the latest digital technology and classic analog staples; equipped to serve artists and businesses across the map."
For gear selection at SŌL Studios, Grant and Head Engineer Anton Rasmussen worked with Vintage King Audio Consultant Jeff Leibovich to outfit the space. Continue on below to read an interview with Grant and learn more about the studio's new API 1608 console, Avid HDX System, and so much more.
Take me back to the beginning. What was it like creating the original plans for SŌL Studios?
We quickly realized the design was going to play a huge role in attracting artists to our secluded location, but it was also critical to ensure the acoustics and engineering matched the quality of the striking interior. We worked alongside a group of award-winning interior designers to create a unique, inviting, and comfortable environment for artists. We sourced hand-made tapestries and furnishings from places like India and Morocco, and we imported acoustic treatment from Portugal.
We teamed up with Dave Malekpour and his Professional Audio Design team for the re-design of our control room and the acoustic planning throughout the facility. We expanded our control room in order to make more space for seating and create a home for the Augspurger monitoring system. We also expanded a portion of our live room and one of our ISO booths to maximize versatility and gain more space for acoustic treatment.
The initial planning consisted of many hurdles that came with the historic building. Our intentions of moving structural walls throughout the facility introduced problems we couldn’t anticipate due to the previous studio infrastructure. Each week lead to strategic problem solving once a new structural layer was uncovered. One can find complex woodwork and craftsmanship throughout the facility – everything was intentional and well-thought-out.
The installation process was lengthy, yet very rewarding. Having waited nearly 1.5 years to get through renovation, we were very eager to move forward with the installation of the console, monitoring and outboard gear. Prior to and during the renovation phase, Anton and myself facilitated the entire planning and execution of all things pertaining to audio, network, and video. This consisted of countless hours spent fabricating custom wiring, terminations, and a couple miles worth of running cables. Anton’s prior position as a studio tech at Berklee College of Music was a significant factor to the integration and design of SŌL Studios.
In short, API consoles have always stood out for their remarkable sound and craftsmanship. From past experiences working on API consoles, there’s nothing quite like pushing the 1608 to achieve that warm, satisfying analog punch.
The artists we work with seek multi-tracking via a large format console, and we feel the API harnesses the versatility we require for the range of genres we’ll be working with. We value having a highly reliable American company backing an investment like this, and that’s why the 1608 is the heartbeat of our studio.
After touring the Augspurger facility and experiencing the significant difference in sonic quality, it was no question these were the best monitors in the world for our facility. Other qualities that drew us to the Augspurger system include:
- Beryllium drivers with incredible dispersion via the wooden horn
- Dynamic performance of the amps at extremely high SPL while maintaining accurate low-level mixing capabilities
- Active DSP providing crossover, limiting, driver alignment and system tuning
- Unlimited Custom Colorway
These were all qualities that were taken into consideration having a smaller sized and uniquely shaped control room. Aesthetics played a huge role in the design of our studio, so having the option to custom paint our mains (and NS-10’s to match) was a great perk from the company. We are happy to house the only Augspurgers in the state of Arkansas!
Before the renovation started, acoustical measurements were taken throughout the facility to better understand the application needed, and to compare results upon completion of the project. Rather than spending thousands of dollars on fabricated acoustic products, we designed complex, Moroccan influenced wooden acoustic treatment – a combination of skyline/QRD diffusion. Most of the wooden structures were built with repurposed wood from the original studio. Everything was constructed on-sight with many variables taken into consideration - depth, length, width, spacing, bevel, etc. Approximately 4,000 custom cuts of wood are housed in our 1,100 sq ft facility.
In addition to re-designing our control room, Dave Malekpour also helped in the design of a custom bass trap living in our live room where three wall structures meet. The bass trap consists of hanging, treated wooden structures acting as wind sails to capture frequencies that resonate in that area. Dave supported our vision for aesthetically appealing treatment, so we sourced many Jocavi acoustic products. Most are framed and hidden behind our tapestry-laden walls, and some were applied externally (framed with customizable Philips Hue lights accentuating the edges).
You also have two dedicated ISO booths. How have the Avid HDX and Focusrite RedNet systems helped you utilize those spaces?
The largest benefit of the Avid HDX system with Dante is an additional 16 channels of I/O to complement our 32-channel 1608. It offers the ability to track larger sessions without sacrificing I/O for personal monitors, utilize additional outboard mic pres/effects, while also offering a comprehensive hybrid mix solution. Given our selection of one Focusrite Red 16Line and two Focusrite RedNets, Dante was the obvious route to feed the second bucket of the 1608 while providing those additional 16 lines of conversion.
Alongside the renovation/expansion of our ISO booths, having Avid HDX and all of the routing options it offers allowed us to maximized versatility by:
- Doubling the number of tie lines from the previous studio
- Installing a pass-through to isolate the leslie from the live room
- Installing speaker-level pass-throughs for ease of tracking cabinets separate from their heads
Some other cool facts about the integration of Avid HDX with Dante in our facility:
- Future plans of integrating an external reverb chamber via Dante over IP
- Dante and Avid Sync work together (because of our HDX card) allowing us to integrate all of our hard-wired video inputs throughout the facility
- With future plans of housing a tape machine, this combo will also allow us to sync via LTC
Binson Echorec, BAE 1028, Tube-Tech PE-1C, 1176 Silverface Rev H, Thermionic Culture Vulture, Roland Space Echo, API 550B, Kush Clariphonic.
Tell me about your custom patchbay solution.
With our custom patchbay solution we doubled the amount of tie lines in the previous studio, we integrated a vast selection of outboard gear and additional mic pres, and we expanded the I/O utilizing Dante to route our monitoring system and extend our mixing capabilities in the box.
The support and patience from Cedric (Yee), Vintage King’s Technical Service Manager, resulted in an efficient design, maximizing versatility for every situation or engineer that utilizes our facility. We believe that a neat patchbay is necessary, so we carefully went through numerous revisions. The attention-to-detail that was given resulted in a digestible layout at first glance. Our patchbay also incorporates external spaces like a reverb chamber and a video production suite, allowing us to send high-quality audio for live streaming.
What was it like working with Vintage King throughout the process?
It was an absolute pleasure to work with our sales rep, Jeff Leibovich, for over a year. Cedric and the tech department have also been a huge help to us in various ways, from servicing vintage equipment to answering our many questions along the way. All of the VK team members have made us a priority and gave us the resources needed to open this facility successfully.
What’s in store for the future of SŌL Studios?
The future of SŌL Studios will bring many opportunities for community involvement. We are in the process of creating a partnership with a local university in offering curriculum-based classes at the studio. We also plan to host writing camps and educational workshops in our facility. We have a great connection with Ableton and are in the process of arranging events with them. We intend to further our reach outside the Fort Smith area via live stream when hosting these gatherings. Creating content is one of our strong suits. We produced an in-studio video series titled “Saturday Night SŌL” that will soon be re-introduced, and also plan to start a studio podcast featuring artists that work with us.
We have made preparations to add a tape machine to our arsenal. The fabrication of four EDAC 90 connectors that are integrated within our patchbay will provide a seamless transition into offering tape services. Also in store, we are outfitting a three-story reverb chamber adjacent to the studio. The chamber consists of exposed brick and wooden walls with a wooden/steel stairwell acting as a diffuser. The RT60 of the chamber is nearly three seconds long.