In this week’s 30 Years / 30 Studios, we’re going to Europe! Picture a world-class studio with an enviable collection of classic analog gear and top-notch digital tools, nestled against the serene and picturesque backdrop of the Alps – that’s what Prime Studio in Austria has to offer. 

Co-founder Gerhard Buchbauer fondly recalls his first interaction with Vintage King back in 2008, when they were setting up Prime Studio. Gerhard and his team got in touch with Vintage King to help acquire and refurbish a Neve 8016 console that had a rich history, having been previously housed at the famed Caribou Ranch Recording Studio.

Read on to find out more as Gerhard tells us what makes Prime Studio stand out from other recording spaces, how they have adapted to the changing music industry, and what has kept the transatlantic relationship between VK and Prime Studio going strong for so many years. 

Take us back to when you set up Prime Studio – what was your goal for the studio?

The main goal was to build a place where musicians and artists can really get away from the stress and the hectic pace of life, and fully concentrate on being creative and performing the best they can. So we built the studio a bit far away from the nearest city; it's in the middle of the Alps, in a very nice landscape, and it’s really beautiful here. You also have a lot of possibilities to let your mind relax – you could go skiing or hiking, depending on the time of the year, and you can really get away from it all, so to speak. 

We wanted to build a place where not only was the technology perfect, but most importantly, there were great acoustics. All our rooms are purpose-built here – it's not a building that was adapted to be a studio, it was built from scratch as a studio, so we have great acoustics and everything is very well thought out. We are set up for musical recordings, mastering, and post-production at the facility.

What sets your studio apart from other recording spaces?

The music business in Austria is very small, but we are a big part of the European music business and also growing internationally. The thing that sets us apart is, on the one hand, the building, the acoustics, and the very fine equipment we have here, but also, importantly, it is the experience of the engineers at the studio. 

As you know, technology evolves very quickly these days, but what is also important is that you have a place that people feel comfortable and creative in, and are confident about working in. 

How did you first become aware of Vintage King and what was your first experience working with us?

A little background – when we opened our doors in 2008, a lot of things were changing; for example, Napster was massive and the industry totally changed after that. A lot of studios had to struggle because of the move from analog to digital equipment. We were kind of in-between, going a step further to have all the digital equipment and new gear that was necessary for good productions, but we always wanted to keep the heart of the studio analog. It is still a thing that a lot of producers and artists ask for.

So back then, we wanted to acquire an analog desk and that's how we first got to know about Vintage King. On the VK website, there was a Neve 8016 desk on offer that was from the Caribou Ranch studio and has a tremendous history. I can clearly remember a very nice phone call with Mike Nehra back then; we were new to this at the time, and it was really, really great to talk to him because we immediately went into the details, and had lots of discussions about what we could do with the console, whether it needed to be specially refurbished, or if we could keep it as original as possible, and so on and so forth. I very clearly remember the first experience we had with Vintage King and it was very nice.

When it comes to vintage gear and rare equipment, the business itself is small, and there are only a few companies in the world that are able to support you and get you to your goal. 

What are some of your favorite pieces of gear that you have purchased from Vintage King?

One of the most famous pieces of gear we have here is one of the EMI TG Series Mark Q desks that was formerly at Abbey Road studios; it has been residing in Studio C since 2013. Another desk is, of course, the Neve 8016 – the Caribou Ranch desk. 

We’ve also acquired a lot of outboard gear and other very nice equipment from you, like some Helios compressors, GML Nova Research modules, Pultec equalizers, and a lot of Neve modules like some 32264a compressor limiters for our consoles. 

Recently, we acquired a very special Neve 8078 desk, which is going to reside in our newly built control room that we hope to open by the end of the year. The desk is currently being refurbished by Vintage King and we're very much looking forward to using it.

Getting the desks over to you in Austria from the US must be quite an undertaking!

It really is a very special thing to do! As you can imagine, it’s heavy stuff! It needs to be treated very well, it needs to be insured, all the documentation needs to be in place, etc. Whenever we work with Vintage King, it is a really smooth operation, right from the beginning: from acquiring equipment, through the whole refurbishment process, to the crating and the documentation, and, of course, the transportation and shipment. It is all really perfect and this gives us a lot of confidence. For us, as customers, it's always a great experience to work together with Vintage King.

What are your criteria for buying gear?

It is important to keep up with developments, especially with digital equipment these days. We have a lot of analog gear still in use as well, but of course, it depends on your client base and what you are working on. So when some clients book a session, they want a specific piece of gear; normally sessions are booked a few months in advance so there is enough time to acquire the gear if something is not available. That is one side of the coin; the other is to always check what the latest technology is and what are good tools that can benefit your workflow, like plug-ins and virtual instruments, for example.

One of the best ways of learning about new things, and classic gear as well, is to visit an event like NAMM, for example, which is absolutely great. We’ve been there with our own booth as well since we are also developers of audio plug-ins. You need to take a close look at what's happening, so networking and talking to a lot of people in the business, to see what they are using and what they feel is worth having a look at, is how we go about it.

How has Vintage King helped you with gear selection, purchasing, and servicing in the past?

Vintage King has helped a lot. We have acquired a lot of gear from you and mostly it was in good shape, but to bring it up to spec and have it be gear that you can work with on a daily basis, you need to refurbish it and the technicians at Vintage King are really super nice and good at tech support.

For example, we had a lot of conversations, both online and on the phone, to talk through everything that needed to be done, on the EMI TG Series desk. The refurbishment was very specific because we wanted to keep it as original as possible, because of its history and we had a lot of discussions about what we would do to keep that level of originality. And it turned out absolutely great; it's in use daily and we're really, really happy that we could work with Vintage King to get this beautiful desk to the studio and have it refurbished in this really delicate way. It's absolutely perfect! 

What sets Vintage King apart from other pro audio gear companies?

First of all, everything they do is very professional. You give Vintage King a call and they immediately know what you're talking about; they're so service-oriented and it's a really great experience. Whether it's a small piece of gear, a huge console, or whatever you are looking for, you will get the best results working with VK. So we're really very happy to be working together for a lot of years now, and it’s absolutely perfect; we've always been very satisfied, working with Vintage King.

Tell us about some of the most memorable artists you’ve worked with over the years.

We’ve had great artists here, like Mick Rogers, the guitar player in Manfred Mann’s Earth Band; Gregg Bissonette, who is a really great studio drummer, and Matt Bissonette, his brother, on bass; Matt Rollings, who is a tremendously good pianist and keyboard player, and the list goes on. 

Recently, we’ve worked with Kirk Andrés Wilson, who is a great pianist from the LA area, and we also did some online sessions with Gregg and Matt Bissonette. We have a growing international client base now, so we do a lot of online sessions and this is something we are very excited about – being a local studio and moving more and more towards being an international studio.

Are there any particular differences in the sound that US clients look for versus what European clients look for?

Yeah, this is a challenge for us as engineers sometimes because different cultures do have different views and different ideas of what they want to achieve in a production. For example, when we do online sessions and get material that has already been recorded and mixed and we do the mastering, it is most important to understand what the producer or the artist wants to achieve and which market they want to release their material in. 

We also do a lot of work with Asian clients, for example in Japan, and there are totally different cultural aspects to working on material that comes out of there, as opposed to when we're working on a country session, or hip-hop, or pop music from Los Angeles. But that is also the beauty of our job – every piece is totally different and it's always great for us to learn and evolve with our experiences.

Your slogan is ‘We Add Sparkle To Your Music’ – tell us more about that.

Sparkle is all about emotions and feelings. When you are recording, or when you do creative work, it is important that you can fully concentrate on your work and on your feelings and emotions, so that it can be transmitted to the audience. And we engineers are, of course, in the background and we just have to hit Record and be as quiet as possible. [Laughs] The artist needs to sparkle and Prime Studio is a place where artists can perform in a way that brings out the best possible result.

How has the industry changed since you first opened your doors and how has your studio adapted to those changes?

We’ve already discussed some things, like Napster, which happened in the early 2000s; because of the evolution of digital, things can be done now on computers that weren't possible back in the ‘80s or the ‘90s. When we first opened, we started as a digital recording facility and had a digital console at the time. The hardest thing was to keep up with the developments; lots of things kept changing and, of course, there was a lot of cost involved with that. We had an AMS Neve 88D desk at the time, and we said “Okay, it's capable of doing a lot of things but it's restricting us in some sort of way”, so we got rid of the digital console, acquired a controller and began fully working in the box with Pro Tools, which gave us a lot more possibilities.

Even then, we were totally convinced about still having analog gear at the studio because it was more reliable. That has changed as well – digital equipment of today is becoming much more reliable in daily work, which is very important because if you have a client at the studio and your computer system crashes, that is just the worst nightmare! [Laughs] We still base a lot of things in the signal flow on analog technology, and you have the A/D converters and the DAW being on the digital side, and a few effects, but that's it. 

The most important thing for us was to adapt in a way that we could keep up with the speed that the business is working at nowadays. As you know, time is money, and you can do a lot of things in a much shorter time period than was possible 20 years ago. Getting the workflow adapted to the speed of production was one of the biggest challenges we faced, but I think we had a good opportunity to work on that and now we do a lot of online productions and recordings as well.

When we started, a lot of studios really struggled with the conversion between analog and digital domains, and a lot of them closed. We were able to adapt to the situation and we still do, as the systems evolve, like, for example, Dolby Atmos which is a big thing now. There are a lot of other technical things out there that we still need to focus on and adapt to, in order to be future-proof. 

Speaking of future-proof – tell us about the Prime Studio plug-ins that you launched a few years ago.

With the EMI desk, it was sometimes hard to get parts to keep it working well, and at the time we were thinking “Would there be any way of getting a digital print of it so we could preserve it?” [Laughs] Of course, it is not possible to have a piece of analog gear sounding 100% the same in the digital domain but it's getting very close. 

In 2014, we met with the guys from Acustica Audio in Italy who are developing great plug-ins by measuring real gear. It's very different from using modeled plug-ins which do sound very good, but what they do with the sample process and the measurement process is a completely different technology that's working in the background. It is a step forward, it sounds really very close to the original, and that's when we started to say, “Okay, let's give it a try, let's measure some equipment and see how far we can go.” That's how Prime Studio plug-ins began. 

When we launched, we wanted to raise awareness so we did a few freebies that were very successful. People loved the Charly, for example, which is a summing plug-in based on a tube device that we modified here at the studio, which we still use. It's a summing device that adds overtones, punch, and airiness to the sound, which people really love. Together with Acustica Audio, we are developing some very nice pieces of gear and hope to release a few new products by the start of 2024; there are a few things coming up that we are really excited about.

You’ve also expanded into the field of virtual instruments – tell us about that.

In a joint venture with Ravenscroft Pianos, we have been working on two remarkable virtual instrument products for the Native Instruments Kontakt platform, to make the precision craftsmanship and incomparable sound of the Ravenscroft 220 Acoustic Piano available in the digital domain. These virtual instruments are based on the Swarovski-Edition Ravenscroft 220 Grand Piano which is proudly available for recordings at Prime Studio A. It is the first-ever Ravenscroft Grand Piano available outside of the USA, here in Austria.

Looking back, what are you most proud of or excited about in terms of your studio’s history?

The most exciting thing for us has been to build a real community with our customers. We have a lot of returning customers from Europe, Australia, and even from other places around the world, now that we’re doing online sessions. This is exciting because if you have a lot of returning customers, you must have done something right! [Laughs] 

We're really lucky that we can still compete with a lot of other studios out there. Our main goal is to satisfy our customers, give them a perfect environment for their productions, offer them the highest possible quality, and build a bigger customer community.

What are your plans for the future of your studio?

We are lucky to be able to expand our premises – we are building two new rooms for the studio, one being a control room featuring a 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos system with ATC monitoring, which we are really looking forward to working with.

We will also focus a lot more on post-production in the future. This area is becoming a lot bigger in Europe. When we first started, post-production in Europe was more concentrated in the northern areas of Germany and in the UK, but these days, Austria is increasingly becoming an interesting place for orchestral recordings and film production, and we definitely want to be a part of that. That's the thing that we are focusing on for the future – being prepared and ready for Dolby Atmos production and surround production for film and post-production.

Jacob SchneiderIf you’re interested in purchasing gear for your studio, contact a Vintage King Audio Consultant via email or by phone at 866.644.0160.