null Immersive Talk with Synthesis Sound

Immersive Talk with Synthesis Sound

Genelec recently caught up with Producer come Mixing and Mastering Engineer Justin Gray at his Toronto studio, which houses his two businesses, Synthesis Sound and Immersive Mastering. There, Justin shared valuable insights about his setup, past audio experiences and latest adventures with immersive.

Can you tell our readers a little about yourself?

I've always been obsessed with music and technology, and I'm grateful for the daily opportunities I get to collaborate with fellow members of the music community. Throughout my career, I've enjoyed being completely immersed in the projects I work on, and so I commonly take on multiple roles within them.

My musical journey started as I was growing up. I was exposed to a wide collection of music, including classic rock like the Beatles, Pink Floyd and Zeppelin, folk such as Joni, Dylan, The Band, and world music like Bela Fleck and Ravi Shankar. I started playing bass when I was 12, and since that time, I've had the honour of performing with, recording and producing for artists from around the world, in a diverse range of musical styles.

Can you outline your studio space for us?

As you know, my studio is situated in Toronto, Canada. I built the whole thing from the ground up on my property about six years ago. The floorspace is roughly 30 by 16 feet and the height to the finished ceilings is 10 feet. I built the studio specifically to accommodate my work as a stereo and immersive mixing and mastering engineer, and I carefully designed it as a hybrid analogue and digital environment.

Can you tell us about your key equipment?

At the heart of my studio I have a custom Crookwood Mastering Console, which manages my stereo mastering chain using 21 analogue insert paths, multiple mastering converters (Weiss, Crane Song, DAD), a Studer A810 and a powerful stereo monitoring section.

Also, central to the studio, is a fully loaded Avid MTRX, which is the main DAC for my stereo, Dolby Atmos and Sony 360 Reality Audio playback systems. The MTRX is connected to an HDX-3 system with 4 Avid HD I/O converters, allowing me to seamlessly integrate my hardware into a hybrid mixing workflow. I work primarily in Pro Tools Ultimate, although I use Logic and Ableton for production purposes as well.

What type of work do you do in your studio?

My main work these days is in the field of immersive audio. I was one of the first engineers in Canada to work exclusively on music in Dolby Atmos, as opposed to doing film sound as well. I was also among the first wave of engineers in the world to adopt Atmos technology. Similarly, I've been mixing and mastering in Sony 360 Reality Audio since its inception. My studio is currently the only approved Sony 360 Reality Audio studio in Canada.

Right now, I'm doing a lot of what I refer to as 'spatial re-mixing'. This is where a song or album has already been mixed and mastered in stereo and I use the stems and/or multitrack to remix & remaster the music in immersive.

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How and when did you become interested in immersive audio?

Throughout my musical career, I've kept an interest in immersive and multi-channel formats. I've been a dedicated immersive audio listener for many years, and have a decent SACD, DVD-A & Blu-Ray collection of various multi-channel music and film productions from the past two decades. Before working in Atmos and 360, I also worked in 5.1, occasionally pre-mixing film and television music for a set of Toronto-based composers.

What made you finally equip your studio for immersive?

As soon as I became aware that Dolby Atmos was considering focusing on music production, I went all-in, investing in Dolby Atmos and Sony 360 Reality Audio setups. My confidence to move forward with the expansion was based on two things: my passion for creating music in immersive and my belief that object-based technologies would make immersive a reality for listeners in a meaningful way.

Over the past five years, my studio has expanded from having 10 monitors to having over 30. This expansion did not all happen at once. I'm an independent engineer, so all the decisions and financial risks here are my own. As such I had to calculate each move as I expanded the studio and simultaneously worked in it.

Can you describe how you approach immersive work?

Stereo and immersive audio production share the same core value, which is to facilitate an inspiring musical listening experience. Therefore, whether I'm working in Dolby Atmos, Sony 360 or stereo, my goal is simply to make the best musical experience I can. Of course, each of these formats have their own specific technical skills, knowledge base and aesthetic qualities, which should be learned well to facilitate your freedom of expression.

For 'spatial re-mixing', my philosophy is directly adjacent to my stereo mastering philosophy, which is to honour the original artistic vision while creating the best possible sonic experience. I also work on projects that start out in Dolby Atmos and/or Sony 360. In this case, many unique decisions can be made to maximize the potential of the immersive space. I don’t believe that either approach is superior – they both encourage different creative decisions.

Can you describe your Genelec monitoring system?

My Genelec monitor array is configured as a 13.1 Sony 360 Reality Audio setup. It consists of 13 8330 monitors and a 7360 subwoofer. The monitors are oriented to Sony’s precise spec and are all fed via AES from my Avid MTRX. What's incredible and unique about the Sony array is the three lower azimuth channels and the height channel in the centre front.

I am consistently blown away by the clarity and power of my Genelecs. They allow me to dial in my mixes and masters with precision and help me make confident decisions all day long. I had support from Sony's team when I built the setup, and it was on their recommendation that I went for these specific monitors and subwoofer. In my experience, Genelec Loudspeaker Manager (GLM) works unbelievably well for room optimisation; incredibly well designed and produces extremely precise results.

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What immersive projects have you worked on lately?

I feel fortunate to have mixed and mastered immersive content for a number of major artists, including Snoop Dogg, Brandy, Nicky Youre, Carlos Santana, Arkells, Valley, Forest Blakk, Blackbear, Cannons, Orville Peck, Mother Mother and The Sheepdogs. I've had incredible opportunities to work in both Dolby Atmos and Sony 360RA. It's been a life-changing experience to work with such incredible music, and I cannot express fully how grateful I am to everyone that's trusted my work.

For me, immersive has turned out to be an excellent commercial decision, yet I think it's essential to discuss this topic very frankly. My transition to immersive didn't happen overnight and it was a leap of faith that could also have put me in some serious hot water! I took the risk because I'm deeply passionate about producing music in immersive – I didn't make my decisions because of a trend, or to “keep up” with anyone else.

How do you see the future of immersive audio over the next few years?

To me, the sky is the limit for immersive audio, and I believe that adaptive playback – a key advantage of object-based immersive audio – will make it a continued success in our musical ecosystem. And as more and more affordable high-quality tech becomes available for consumers, I feel more listeners will get engaged and committed to the experience.

I'm also hoping that more artists will compose and produce music that's specifically conceived in immersive. Music is the central pillar of the experience, so I think the future of immersive will be largely dictated by the coming wave of inspiring musical content.

To find out more about the Synthesis Sound, click here.

Do you want to be featured in our ‘Immersive Talk’ series? If so, just post some pictures of your setup on Instagram using the #GenelecImmersive hashtag. We’ll be keeping a look out for the most interesting setups, so who knows? We may be in touch with you!

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