Recently Federal Audio had the pleasure of visiting Richard Belkner's Free Energy Device Studios in Sydney.
He’d taken delivery of a Zahl AM1 desk from Germany and we wanted to see (and hear) it in action.
Entering Free Energy Device is like walking into Aladdin’s cave - packed with the right mix of vintage and cutting edge boutique studio gear, nestled behind Newtown’s bustling King Street.
A long hallway takes us past both tracking rooms to the control room.
A floor-to-ceiling glass panel in the ‘live’ room and a large window behind the desk enable a clear view all the way through the studio from the mixing position - nice.
The first room has rotating wooden panels that allow adjustments to the reflective audio character of the space. Coupled with salvaged railway sleepers, trimmed log walls and 160-year-old wooden floorboards, this gives the room a deep warmth and is home to most of the drum tracking, horns and strings.
The second room has a similar size but a more controlled sound. There’s a grand piano in one corner and a 1950’s Hammond B3 in another. Check out The Morrison’s latest release for how this room sounds - the 7-piece bluegrass arrangements recorded live in the room sound pristine!
The AM1 was a special order 7-month custom build and replaces Richard’s old Neve 8068 desk. As a previous user of Zahl’s 500 series EQ, Richard was keen to get that signature sound and transparency across all his channels. Coupled with the AM1’s insane routing, mid-side options & filters, the desk is a mixing tour-de-force - a full clean and spacious sound, helped no doubt by the monitor selection …The console allows Richard to hear even more of the luscious vintage vibe and tones of his outboard collection.
Hearing is believing …
The Monitor setup comprises a pair of Amphion One18s in the near field, a big pair of classic Duntechs for the main speakers and Grover Notting CR-1’s as mini’s.
In conjunction with the control room’s great acoustics (by Michael Fronzek) the Amphions deliver a punchy, crystal clear image from all angles. Hearing the reverb decays from Free Energy’s Bricasti and Plate reverbs is just magic. The bottom end is astounding from such a small speaker, and a testament to the Finnish company’s design genius.
Aladdin’s Cave Outboard
Richard has accumulated a swathe of great outboard in the ten years he’s been running Free Energy Devices. A vintage Roland Space Echo sits alongside a Fulltone Tube Tape echo, an ancient Pye valve preamp/comp and rows of Ureis are racked next to a Chandler Zena and Buzzaudio SOC. Maag EQs make an appearance, as does a nice line of API preamps.
You can get the full rundown of the studio’s equipment here.
But that desk ….
All this outboard fits seamlessly with the Zahl’s superior routing matrix and their zero-click switching. The AM1 lends itself readily to musical manipulation with its send and return matrixes.
“You can’t make it click” Richard says of the routing - dubbing out drum, horn and vocal tracks with Free Energy’s three tape echoes.
Other notable features include the two band parametric EQs on the master return channels which is useful when you want to manipulate the returned reverb, for example. Zahl’s EQ is amazing too - as anyone who has used their 500 series will vouch for. More than just adjusting levels it's like another instrument.
The afore-mentioned Zero-Cross Switching (which minimises clicks), Insert ratio (which enables you to do parallel manipulation on every track) and mid-side processing make AM1 console playable like a musical instrument.
And because its not always about the gear ….
Richie B(elkner) has been operating Free Energy Device for ten years after training under the legendary Billy Field at Paradise Studios.
His clients include Tangents, Ngaiire, Ian Moss, PVT, Sophie Lowe, Venus II, Heartpeople, Sally Seltmann, Sarah Blasko, Jack Colwell, Thirsty Merc, Marcia Hines, Jack Ladder, Bertie Blackman, Flowertruck, Neil Finn and the ACO, Matt Keegan, Mike Nock, Julien Wilson and Eugene Ball to name a few.