Music Sandbox
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Reseda, CA—Mastering engineer Maor Appelbaum’s client list may feature a preponderance of artists working at the heavier end of the rock category, but, like most professionals in his field, he has experience with pretty much every niche genre, from alternative to zydeco. Whatever the project, he focuses on tone and enhancing the emotional connection with the listener.

“I’m not the guy who tries to fix everything; I’m more the guy who tries to see what the vibe is,” explains Appelbaum, who draws on his background as a musician, music journalist, radio broadcaster and club DJ to initially listen to any project with objective ears. “When I listen to something, I try to experience it as a listener. Then I play with the knobs for control of the sounds. It’s not just the listening experience; it’s to engage the music with the listener, make them connect more.”

Appelbaum, an Israeli now residing in the L.A. area, where he has constructed several mastering facilities over the years, has an extensive collection of processing equipment at his disposal. His desk and outboard racks house units from API, Crane Song, Dangerous Music, Dave Hill Designs, Kush Audio, Manley Labs, Millennia, Rupert Neve Designs, SPL, Waves Audio and Weiss. Monitoring options include PMC IB1S mains driven by a Bryston 4B SST2 amp, Hafler TRM6 nearfields and a pair of Reftones, all controlled by a Crane Song Avocet.

Appelbaum’s current facility, which he built out about two years ago, is relatively compact. “I figured that I needed a small room. If it’s a big room, it needs a different design. At the same time, it has to feel comfortable for a long duration. That means I can’t have it too bright.”

Focusing as he does on metal and heavy rock—clients include Sepultura, Rob Halford, Yngwie Malmsteen, Dokken and Armored Saint—while also mastering bass-heavy EDM, hip-hop and other projects, the room needs to dissipate low frequencies quickly. When he first listened to the room, he says, “I noticed that bass was developing too much with certain albums. For the first five seconds, it sounded good; after five seconds, it felt like the whole room didn’t have high end anymore.”

Appelbaum called on Jonathan Shaeffer, who was studying for a Ph.D in acoustics at the University of Salford in England. “I flew him in from Israel, and for 10 days, we were shooting the room and sending the results to Salford, so he could use their computers.”

The acoustic design called for a variety of wall-mounted and corner broadband bass traps and diffusors, as well as a cloud, applied both as a corrective and to taste. After retailers quoted a two-month lead time for the materials, he was happy to discover that the manufacturer was able to expedite delivery: “Primacoustic sent the stuff in two days. They were so cool, helping out by sending all of this on time.” As luck would also have it, Appelbaum’s father-in-law, a carpenter, was visiting and was able to help install the treatment.

He deliberately positioned the sweet spot over the console, not at his chair. “Most people don’t listen in the sweet spot, so I need to know how it sounds outside. So I prefer to be out of it, knowing I’m out, and if I want to go in, I can—I go in, I tweak, I go out.”

On any project, he says, “The way I like working is to try different things and see what connects immediately. It still might need some tweaking, but I’ll insert different things in the chain. I might think everything’s great, then take it all out and say, you know, it’s better without.” Every recording offers clues to its tonal direction, he continues. “You feel where they’re trying to go; you hear the influences.”

How it was recorded also influences Appelbaum’s approach. “If it’s very bright and I know they were going for a darker sound, I’ll try to darken it. If it’s very dull and they were looking for some snappiness, then I go there. I’m very into different tones. Every piece of gear here has something that I use and I like. Sometimes I won’t work with a piece of gear for a long time, then comes a project where it’s a life-saver. That’s why I don’t get rid of gear!”

The Rupert Neve Designs Portico II Master Buss Processor is an example: “I just did a prog rock thing and it was the first project where I used the stereo field editor. I usually don’t like to mess with the M/S thing, but this sounded really good.”

The classic British tone of the Portico’s compressor proved valuable on a recent project by an English new wave band. “The producer asked me to make it sound like a cassette,” but his initial pass was a little too realistic, he laughs. “He wanted something very closed, like a cassette, very warm and thick, but to let it breathe just a bit. With this compressor, I can make that tone. He and the band were super happy.”

Ultimately, good communication with the client is key, he says. “I might do something that I think is right, but they don’t think so. That’s why we talk. There’s no ego involved; in the end, we both want to have the best results.”

ORIGINAL SOURCE: HERE

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