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Gordon Bahary is a multi-platinum producer, engineer, composer and artist, best known for his work with Herbie Hancock, Raven Symone, Ramsey Lewis, Twilight 22 and the incomparable Stevie Wonder. Earlier this year, Gordon opened Electric Kingdom, a studio he built from the ground up with the help of Vintage King Audio Consultant Navon Weisberg.
Recently, we had the pleasure of chatting with Gordon about his new studio, including his Rupert Neve Designs 5088 console, what outboard gear he’s been using, and what it’s like working in the studio of his dreams. Continue on below for our full conversation.
Tell me a little bit about your studio, Electric Kingdom. Electric Kingdom started out in 1991 in Manhattan. It went through a few iterations and locations. Here in Hartsdale, New York, it evolved from my original mix room until I decided to build it out in 2020. These days, a lot of studios are shrinking in size, but I wanted a place where we could have two different isolated rooms. First, we floated the floors in the control room for improved acoustics and isolation. We have two live rooms; a floating 15' x 12' space and then a 23' x 18' space. We've got digital 16-channel Hearback systems in all of the rooms so we can record live bands with separate mixes.
The centerpiece of the control room is our new Rupert Neve Designs 5088 32-channel console. It's one of less than a dozen consoles in the world with a 32-channel SwiftMix motorized fader system. The incredible 5052 EQ/mic preamps are my favorite ever, with the classic Neve sound we all love and more. You can dial-in the harmonics and textures of the 1960s and 70s. The 5051 EQ/compressors are more of the same. The console runs on 96 volt rails, which is high voltage, allowing for incredible dynamics and low distortion.
The great Mr. Rupert Neve made this console a "greatest hits" of his life’s work. It’s all about tone and beauty. The final result is the rich musicality that comes out of the older equipment designs, but with new components. We’re bringing back the old, but with today’s clarity and dependability. It’s the purest reproduction of audio available hands down today, but with the harmonics and soul intact.
Combined with an MCI (Mara) 24-track to-inch tape machine, top-tier Lavry and Antelope Audio converters, ATC 45A studio reference monitors, a massive collection of highly sought-after FET and tube microphones, and more than 50 of the best outboard equalizers and compressors available, Electric Kingdom is a dream studio for any artist, producer or engineer.
What makes Electric Kingdom different from other facilities in the area? The facility offers an unbeatable combination of the finest modern analog equipment along with a cozy, welcoming atmosphere. We’ve made Electric Kingdom homey; Persian rugs, pianos, and warm, earthy colors. We've cultivated a really cozy atmosphere with a remote, secluded area to record just 30 minutes from Manhattan. Musicians have said, “I can’t believe I can park in the driveway and put my guitar on my back and walk in and record.” They see a hundred acres of adjoining woods. That’s the vibe.
Yesterday, I had an artist take a break from recording and go for a walk on more than an acre of property. They saw a deer and 100 acres of preserve. The peace found here definitely helps the creative process. When I was in Manhattan, we would go out to eat in Times Square, and while it can be invigorating, it's always intense and can be distracting. Many good restaurants will deliver here in 10 or 15 minutes, which is another convenience.
We’re able to capture a very classic sound here at Electric Kingdom. Recently, we recorded a jazz octet who played with Frank Sinatra and others. They're first-call musicians from the 1950s and 60s who are coming here to do this thing live. So the Rupert Neve Designs console, live rooms, the little bit of bleed between the rooms — which we're going to intentionally keep — and the equipment that Vintage King furnished me with are all going to enhance that sound.
We're using some classic ribbon mics into the Neve 5088 with the original 5052 preamps. Those are going through some great outboard pieces from Tube-Tech to Pultec and so on, and then into the 32-channel BURL Mothership and into Pro Tools. For monitoring, the signal plays back on the BURL and through the console. Everything is Class-A discrete so there's no crossover distortion.
At Electric Kingdom, we're able to capture an unmistakably human sound. Harmonics can make music more emotional and like a hyper reality. When a band plays in front of you, there are frequencies up to 100 kHz, and while you may not be able to hear them, you can feel them. Even when you bounce it down to an MP3, you can still hear the sonic signature. There's something very special about the imprint of the harmonics, and how Mr. Neve designed and wound the transformers, built the amplifiers, and created his own signal chain. It’s about the music, and at the end of the day, this console in my opinion is the most musical console in the world. It keeps the humanity in it. And it's not some esoteric thing, even the average person can feel it.
Was the new Rupert Neve Designs 5088 console part of the original install or an upgrade? The studio was originally built for my personal use as a composer, producer and mixer. Then I began to look for a console as an alternative to summing mixers and solely using outboard gear. I was impressed with the design of the Rupert Neve Designs 5088.
The installation process was painless and easy. I actually installed much of it myself. Wiring the console was straightforward since it's modular. Vintage King provided a nice desk with a sidecar for seamless integration with the console and patch bays. Everything was beautifully laid out on the back panel. It was very easy to work with.
What drew you to the 5088 console? I had already owned the 5059 and 5060, which was a good introduction to the 5088. The sound is distinctly different from all other summing mixers and the headroom was remarkable. Since the 5088 is a similar design, but with even more headroom and sonic integrity at a higher voltage, it was an inevitable choice. Ergonomically, the console is simple and intelligent. RND has focused their resources on sound quality, which is what matters the most to me.
The 5088 has transformers on the input and output of every insert. At first, I was worried that it might alter the sound but it just adds more sweetness. The transformer is just a balanced way of coupling things. It has a characteristic to it, but it's more about the linearity and the integrity of the sound, not color. You only hear them if you want to, you don't hear the compounding of amplification.
I got thrown off at first when I heard it had hundreds of transformers in it, but actually, that was Rupert's way of keeping the linearity and accuracy of the sound throughout the whole signal chain in the console. I think the transformers are a huge part of the sound. They're really clean at low levels but you can push them a little harder and glue your mix together without it falling apart.
Electric Kingdom also has an impressive outboard gear collection. What are some of your favorite pieces that you’ve acquired over the years? The API and Chandler EQs are unique. The Pultec tube and solid state EQs are indispensable. The solid-state version has a punchy low end and the op amps are from the API design, which gives them an interesting signature. The Tree Audio optical compressors are smooth and the transformers are immediately recognizable in a mix. The Rupert Neve Designs 5254 dual diode bridge compressor is one of the most powerful outboard compressors I own.
The modular Rupert Neve Designs EQs, compressors and mic pres in the 5088 are all matched perfectly to the console. I have so many mic pres and EQs here, but this console has been my go-to since it was installed. At first, I felt the fixed frequencies on the EQ were limiting, but after using them, I discovered that the bands overlap, so you can create almost any EQ shape with those things, from the classic 1073 sound to a Pultec and everything in between. Using those three bands, I can shape anything I want, even with the limited frequency options. It's crazy, there’s no other gear that I can shape things like that with — nothing.
What are some of your favorite mics to use while recording? The FLEA 47 is the most used microphone here for vocals. I also use the 49 at times. Vintage King set me up with a classic Shure SM-7B for the kick and hi-hat, along with some clip-on tom mics that are working great. I've got some Royer ribbon mics, which we're going to use for that old brass recording we're going to do.
The Soyuz mics are great on piano, drum and vocals as well, we have five of those here. The 017 tube mic is great for vocals, but we also have a pair of matched tube mics with smaller capsules for overheads. We have the FETs as well as the tubes, so there's a little bit of choice of palletes there.
What’s a typical session like at Electric Kingdom? I do a variety of things including tracking, synth work, producing and mixing, depending on the client. I usually find myself taking something that has been partially developed, adding overdubs, and mixing it here. Even those with less-trained ears have noticed a big difference with the final product versus mixing in the box.
What was it like working with Vintage King while building out the studio? Vintage King, specifically Navon Weisberg, was key in the development of my studio. Over a three-month period, I developed a strong sense of trust and respect in Navon's suggestions. Most of the items were in stock, there were no logistical issues whatsoever, and the support was always there. Even when there was a question outside the realm of what Navon handles, he directed me to the right person immediately. So this project was inseparable from VK. Frankly, I consider VK to be more like a partner in the formation of this important studio. I don't do anything without consulting VK first.
What’s in store for the future of Electric Kingdom? Electric Kingdom was first my private studio, so I only had what gear I needed and wanted, not what somebody might ask for. Everything was cherry picked by me personally for how I like to mix and produce. Ironically, all of the clients that have come here have said, "This is what I want anyway." I wanted to build my dream studio. It started as a personal endeavor, and I think that's what's making it take off right now.
My goal is to make this a creative haven. It's a homey atmosphere and artists have commented regularly that they're comfortable here. When I need to reach for a certain "brush" or color to complete the sonic sound, it's there. My goal is to convey that wide breadth of possibilities to producers, artists and musicians, to make great music.