I had the awesome opportunity to check out Escarpment Sound Studio and talk with Brian Hewson about what they do. Tucked away in the scenic landscape of rural Ontario, the studio is a creative oasis for the recording artists of all stripes who come from miles around to record their latest sounds. A musician at heart and an audio engineer by expertise, Brian built the studio into a wonderfully welcoming and productive musical space that is situated in a very scenic area in Garafraxa, Ontario. Here’s a quick virtual tour of Escarpment Sound Studio. As you can see, the recording space has a lot working in its favor, from its location, to its unique structure, to the people who work there and, of course, all that great gear they have at one’s disposal, which you can check out on their equipment page.
About Escarpment Sound Studio
After being in business for decades and having worked at a variety of studios, Brian Hewson has had time to thoroughly refine his process and also amass an impressive collection of audio gear. We got to talking about his process, which starts with a large acoustically treated room where the recording happens. The studio features insulated side rooms for recording drums and an open main floor where music groups and ensembles of all kinds perform their parts. This all gets fed to his control room into the studio’s D&R Avalon console. It’s quite a beastly-sized analog mixer with 50 available inputs for recording. Check out our interview with Brian Hewson of Escarpment Sound Studios below to hear our full conversation about the studio, the gear, recording, and much more!
Analog Recording – Why It Is Better
Needless to say, going with analog gear in a recording situation allows the user an impressive amount of control over details in each single audio stream coming through. However, a huge part of the quality of the sound comes from the analog recording capabilities of the studio’s tape machines – namely, the TASCAM ATR-80 and the STUDER A80 MKII. While it is a lot more involved, and certainly more of an expense, analog recording holds an advantage over digital in terms of headroom as well as fidelity of the recording. In terms of timbre, there are also differences, however the use of one over the other can also be an aesthetic choice. Analog is regarded as much ‘warmer’ sounding than digital where the recording tends to feel “harsher”.
Differences Between Analog And Digital Recording
This all stems from the inherent physical differences between an analog and a digital recordings. The analog is an imprint of the sound wave in it’s full and continuous form, whereas the digital rendition is more like a collection of very fine slices or snapshots of the sound wave. Here’s a video to help illustrate what we mean…
So, because analog is able to take in the waveform in its full detail, the end result is naturally a more detailed and better sounding recording. However, digital excels in its versatility. While chopping up the sound wave into jagged instances of its former self sounds a bit brutal, it actually opens up a whole new world of production possibilities. By loading up the recording onto a computer interface, you can use software to manipulate the audio instead of physical electronic equipment. This is the reason that Brian Hewson of Escarpment Sound Studios uses both types of recording, to get the most gains from each and apply them to the music in a way that benefits the music the most. The important thing to note about the digital process is that it is virtual. This means that it’s not a matter of handling physical, mechanical components, but rather it’s all about using a calculator to change the mathematical composition of a sound wave. This can be advantageous because you can use math to easily change the sound in any way your imagination desires with little limitation to it. Simply plug in the right formula. Over the years, this has made digital equipment and accompanying software increasingly cheaper, far surpassing the prices of any of the analog stuff out there. It then becomes a trade off between the versatility of digital and the quality of the analog process. It’s a tortoise and the hare kind of thing where one option is accessible and fast, but the slower more invested route yields the highest quality results. In addition to fidelity, a crucial note about hardware is that it is generally more stable than digital interfaces. Simply put, the analog recorder is a physical mechanism which relies on the strength and quality of its parts to do what it’s supposed to do. The digital process is somewhat ethereal in the sense that it relies on a processor to calculate and understand what the desired sound wave should be. This means that digital recording fails if the processor is unable to calculate the right values (like in the event of a computer crash), whereas analog fails only if there is an actual malfunction in its physical components. Therefore, dedicated hardware is historically more reliable than digital interfaces. As we all know, however, that comes at a price. Brian showed us a small part of his extensive and quite pricey collection of recording hardware, each with its own specialized purpose. Each rack component is one process or effect, such as compression, reverb, eq, and so on. Bit by bit, they all come together to power the studio and assist with taming and perfecting the sound. At the end of the day, there is continuous debate over which one is better and for which occasion. People can go on and on. However, one thing is clear. A true pro like Brian Hewson is familiar with the advantages brought on by each and know how to leverage them just right for the best musical creation.