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If you are a recording artist from in or around Toronto, Ontario, you probably have heard of a studio called Lacquer Channel Mastering, which is a 40-year-old world class audio mastering facility located in North York.
Today one of Fauxtown’s own recording artists, Young Coconut, got a chance to talk to one of Lacquer Channel’s senior mastering engineers – Noah Mintz. If the name Noah Mintz sounds familiar in the world of Canadian music, that’s because Noah was once in a popular touring alt-rock band in the 1990’s called hHead. Here’s a throwback to one of their music videos that saw rotation on MuchMusic back in the day.
Since the late ’90’s, Noah has been refining his skills as an sound engineer and has delved into the world of audio mastering, having now worked at Lacquer Channel Mastering for 20 years as of 2017. He is now one of their senior engineers, and has worked on a ton of cool projects.
So, we wanted to chat with Noah about some of the sweet analog gear that Lacquer Channel Mastering has in use on the projects that he himself has personally overseen at the studio over the years.
Without further delay, here is our chat with Noah Mintz. If you’re a audio gear geek, we think you’ll dig this interview.
YC: I’ve got Noah Mintz of Toronto’s famous Lacquer Channel Mastering on the horn here. Noah, how you doing today?
NM: Super awesome!
YC: Wow, good to hear! Doing any mastering today at the studio? What’s going on?
NM: I can’t really talk about projects I’m currently working on because they might not be annouced. I can’t be the guy to do that as the artists wouldn’t be so happy. It’s just not my art so I can’t announce it to the world. That said, I’m working pretty much everyday. I can, however, talk about work that has been released.
YC: Yeah, gotta keep projects in progress hush hush. I get it! But suffice it to say there’s work on the go. I see there’s a crazy long list of things that have passed through the Lacquer Channel with various projects and such – albums, EP’s, stuff coming out on vinyl.
NM: Yes, we work on about 300-400 different projects a year.
YC: Busy times! Sounds like about one project a day pretty much between you and the crew.
NM: Well, there are a lot of us mastering engineers here.
YC: How many do you work on personally?
NM: I do about 4 days a week, so generally that means about 4 projects a week, give or take. Some days are 12 hours long.
YC: Gotcha. It sounds like your ears are working overtime as it must involve lots of listening and fine tuning.
NM: Lots of listening. That’s what I mostly do, and also why it can take so long because I take lots of breaks to rest my ears. Plus there’s all the admin work, which I’m doing now.
YC: Interesting work if you can get it, though! Mind if i grill you on some of the studio’s gear for a bit?
NM: Sure, I love gear! Most engineers do.
YC: It’s the tools of your trade as well. Plus, I’m sure you’re fairly well versed in it by now.
NM: For sure. My gear is my best friend at this point when it comes to my job.
YC: I was digging around, looking at the gear you have. First off, I wanted to ask you about the Muth BAX EQ. What can you tell me about that unit? Best friend material right there?
NM: It’s the protoype to the Dangerous BAX EQ, but it’s less flexible. It’s good – very wide, but I like wide.
YC: So I’m guessing the main draw of this machine it’s the “curves” it provides?
NM: Yes, BAX is like a home stereo EQ – just top and bottom, with no mid.
YC: No mid, eh? Interesting. Just treble and bass.
NM: Yep, just like a 70’s hi fi stereo.
YC: How long have you guys been using the Muth BAX EQ?
NM: About a decade. Our unit built it for us specifically, and then he (Muth) built the Dangerous one.
YC: Do you have both? Or even need both?
NM: Phil (the other engineer) has both. I just have the Muth.
YC: Ah. Would you say it’s your go to, this Muth BAX EQ?
NM: Not really. I think of it more as a finishing EQ. for when I need a little more or less bass. The Sontec Mes 430-B Mastering EQ is more the go-to EQ.
YC: Could you explain why a bit?
NM: It’s just a golden EQ. That’s why every ME want’s one, and they are $15,000 on eBay. It just sounds so good and the ergonomics are awesome. Big knobs.
YC: Nice. So yours has been customized?
NM: Yes. The original op-amps have been swapped out for John Hall Amps. That’s pretty common.
YC: So it’s basically optimized then.
NM: I still have the original HS-1000’s, but these sounds better. Just tighter and more focused.
YC: How many EQ’s would you say you would put to use during a particular project? Your list of EQ’s is extensive.
NM: It’s not about EQ, but rather bands. I might use 3-4 bands, but over 2-3 EQ’s. Each EQ sounds different.
YC: Newb question. What’s a band?
NM: Frequency Amplitude. So for example 1db at 4k on the Neve, -1db 250hz on the Sontec, 60hz shelf on the SPL.
YC: That makes sense.
NM: Each EQ generally has around 3-4 bands.
YC: Are all the EQ’s analog or do you employ any that are digital?
NM: Not hardware digital but lots of plug-ins. I have a HW digital compressor. The Weiss, for instance.
YC: Right, so you use a combination of things. This is all running through Protools?
NM: No, mastering engineers don’t generally use Protools. Well, maybe for playback, but never for editing. I use Magix Sequoia which is used in probably 70% of all the mastering studios.
YC: Ok, yeah I’m not up to speed on all this. Good to know! I just thought that I saw that you guys use Protools in there somewhere.
NM: Yeah, we have it just in case a project is brought in with PT files.
YC: Right, that’s logical. So, you guys have some pretty impressive compressors there as well, such as the Chandler Limited LTD-2.
NM: No longer. We need to update that on our site.
YC: It’s gone?
NM: Although it is an amazing unit, it’s just not flexible enough for modern mastering. It’s too much of a one trick pony for me.
YC: So what do you turn to now? I’m guessing the Manley Tube Vari-Mu?
NM: The Manely Vari-mu, the Dave Hill Titan, or the Weiss DS-1. That’s pretty much it.
YC: Here’s a newb question for you. How many compressors do you use for a single session? Do you just pick one, or can you use more than one?
NM: Usually 0, but 1 if it needs it.
YC: Oh really?
NM: You can use more than 1 if you want the sound of the tubes from the Manley
but most mixes are already compressed these days.
YC: Does anyone ever walk into The Lacquer Channel and actually say that they want a Manley tube sound?
NM: No, but they do mention wanting the sound of tubes and warmth.
YC: I wouldn’t assume that most artists who come in would necessarily know a lot about this gear. Maybe I’m wrong, though.
NM: Artists generally don’t. Engineers do. Artists tend to know about guitars and pedals unless they record too.
YC: So do many / any of the artists stick around with you while you’re mastering things?
NM: I’d say about 30% stick around.
YC: I see. Why would they do that, just to listen?
NM: Yeah to be a part of the process. They are more than welcome.
YC: You guys don’t mind?
NM: We love it.
YC: Can you explain to me briefly what the difference between mixing and mastering is?
NM: With mastering, I can’t control the levels of the instrumentation or vocals.
YC: Right, so you’re not dealing with stems? You just get one file.
NM: Yeah, usually just stereo .wav files which are pre-mixed and ready to go.
YC: Is it fair to say that a mastering job on a song or album can make or break it?
NM: For sure. It’s mostly overall volume and that’s important how it’s done.
YC: That’s where albums get ruined.
NM: You got it.
YC: Can you think of any albums that you like musically that were mastered horribly? I mean famous ones.
NM: Just the obvious ones from the 2000s. RHCP, Metallica, John Mayer. All mastered too loud.
YC: Yeah I was gonna say Californication was supposedly was poorly mastered.
NM: It’s distorted
YC: And yet i think it’s on wax.
NM: I’m sure.
YC: I find all that kinda interesting but I digress. Change of topic – how do you like the Maselec MPL-2 Peak & High Frequency Limiter?
NM: It’s really just a tool. Not a creative device. I could do without it but when I need it, nothing else works.
YC: It’s for de-essing?
NM: Yes and taming the overal high-end.
YC: I would guess sometimes you get a project that really needs it.
NM: Yeah, something that’s too bright and EQ isn’t working.
YC: What speakers are you using now?
NM: Kranis, custom made. A company in Toronto made them.
YC: So the point of speakers being that they’re honest. I would assume that’s kind of the point of a good set of speakers for mastering.
NM: I would say so. I think mine are.
YC: Any other pieces of gear you can mention that you’re into these days? You guys have a lot of stuff – none of which I can ever probably hope to own.
NM: I have this new piece. Sonic Farm Creamliner III from Vancouver. It’s a tube line-amp that just puts the signal through tube.
YC: I like the name.
NM: You can own anything. You just have to sacrifice other parts of your life. I drive a 16 year old car.
YC: I have friends that make such sacrifices! So wrapping up here Noah, do you have any gear that is on the horizon for the studio or for you personally?
NM: Not really. I just bought a Townsend LS22 Sphere Microphone but that’s just for personal use. I bought that instead of groceries for a month. Food is over rated.
YC: If you insist! Thanks for the chat Noah, it was informative!
NM: No problem.
Here are some musical recommendations straight from Noah that you should check out if you get the chance.