The World's First

September 1, 2008


The Cleveland Institute of Music (CIM) is one of the world's leading music conservatories. Located in the heart of University Circle in Cleveland, this institution resides among a number of other leading educational, medical, artistic and performance organizations including the Cleveland Orchestra, from which CIM draws many of its faculty. In the fall of 2007, CIM completed a $40 million campus expansion. As part of this development, CIM added the Fred A. Lennon Education Building and the newly expanded Robinson Music Library. One of the greatest additions undertaken for the project, Mixon Hall, is a marvel of technology, acoustics and architectural artistry. Designed by architect Charles T. Young of New York along with acoustician Paul Scarbrough of Akustiks, this 250-seat recital hall is wrapped in specially made glass, lustrous wood accents and architectural concrete. Utilizing new technologies in HVAC, this classic shoebox-fashioned hall is also one of the most quiet performance spaces in the world. With reverb times that can adjust from just more than a second to 1.6 seconds using special drapery, complemented by advanced lighting, audio and video systems, Mixon Hall blends sight and sound into an experience that is truly delightful for musicians and concertgoers alike.

A needed room

As the vision of Mixon Hall was being realized, CIM recognized the necessity of having a recording, production and broadcast studio, utilizing state-of-the-art technology, to match Mixon Hall and its many gifted performers. Thus began the design and development of the Robert and Jean Conrad Control Room, which became the first THX-Certified recording studio in a music conservatory worldwide.

To achieve this endeavor, several challenges needed to be overcome. Long before equipment choices were ever made, the room size and location were predetermined as part of the expansion project's overall design. The interior volume of the space designated to the control room was only about 2,650 cubic feet, located backstage to Mixon Hall and directly adjacent to an elevator. Consequently, multiple concerns existed. Thankfully, the combined efforts of Young and the acousticians of Akustiks and RPG ensured that the room's size and location were dually considered while design specifics were being debated.

CIM Mixon Hall exterior

CIM Mixon Hall exterior

The control room was designed in such a way that it sits on its own concrete slab, segregated from the rest of the structure. A raised floor rests on this concrete slab, insulating it from any acoustic vibrations traveling to and from the control room. Upon this raised floor rest the walls of the control room, which were installed with sway bracing so the interior walls are isolated from the exterior framing and studs. Furthermore, the ceiling is isolated from the walls, and everything hanging from it (lights, acoustic panels, etc.) contains special sound isolators, which reduce vibrations being transmitted from one part of the structure to another. The studio was designed as a room within a room, and each structural component is acoustically dampened from every other, including the HVAC duct work. Similar measures were taken when fabricating the exterior of the room, and it was this kind of careful attention that successfully ensured that the control room would not be hampered by exterior sounds or vibrations (and vice versa).



Meeting needs

With the basic structural design decided, the next phase was to imagine a control room that would serve both the current and future needs of the Recording Services department at CIM. This department produces 500-700 recordings of performances, rehearsals, sessions and broadcasts each year. With three full-time staff and more than 20 college students (2/3 instrumentalists, 1/3 audio majors), ease of operation — without detracting from production excellence — is crucial. In the past, the department dealt primarily with audio and stereo recording. However, driven by the new demands (coming from students, the school, broadcasters, distance learning and all the production values highly esteemed by these end users), surround sound production, advanced connectivity and quality video production were added to the department's repertoire. Careful forethought on how to select and implement these technologies became essential.

Although CIM's Recording Services staff was familiar with the many audio and video components available, they chose to collaborate with THX when making their selection. Adding THX's expertise guaranteed the production abilities of the control room would be exceptional and meet the exacting industry standards satisfied by all the other prestigious recording studios in the world. The THX team immediately went beyond measure with zealous energy, checking acoustic details and ensuring that only high-quality components, that would effectively perform tasks, were chosen.

The Robert and Jean Conrad Control Room

The Robert and Jean Conrad Control Room
Photo by Daniel Milner

One relatively simple decision was the selection of the audio console and core audio equipment. In keeping with CIM's pre-existing control room, which uses a Yamaha DM1000, a Yamaha DM2000VCM digital console was chosen as the new studio's focal point. The THX-approved DM2000 allows primary functions to be programmed reliably and securely for instant recall by student employees as well as provides the power and accuracy needed for complex productions. To capture and play back stereo content, a standard suite of components including a Tascam DVRA1000 high resolution recorder and Tascam CD Recorders was selected, which integrate perfectly with the DM2000's digital I/O options. Magix's Sequoia digital audio workstation, running on a custom Sonica Systems XP Pro computer with Lynx I/O cards, was chosen to handle surround recording/production and multi-track content. Rounding out the audio components are 16 channels of precision Mytek Digital 8X192 high-definition analog-to-digital/digital-to-analog converters.

CIM's choice of video components was a bit more unusual. A mixture of consumer and professional equipment was selected to allow simple operations to be carried out while at the same time ensuring professional-grade (including HD) video production was possible. Sony consumer-grade DVD recorders were chosen to handle production of quick-reference DVDs, primarily because they are one of the few models able to defeat the auto-chapter feature upon recording. For professional video capture and production, the latest Apple Mac Pro (with two Quad Intel Xeon processors), equipped with an Aja Kona Card, was adopted to run the Final Cut Pro workstation along with various supplemental software and hardware. Rounding out the ensemble, to synchronize all the equipment and the various sync standards covered by the multitude of audio and video components, is a Rosendahl Nanosync HD.



Furniture needs

Before room design could truly go under way, audio and video monitoring and studio furniture had to be chosen for the Conrad Control room. Both became challenging aspects in design of the control room primarily because of its physical size. As with any studio, finding solidly constructed studio furniture that allows for optimal ease of use of the control room is crucial. Sound Construction and Supply, who produce solid and elegantly designed studio furniture, had a pre-existing design for the DM2000 that could be easily modified for the Conrad Control Room. However, monitoring took more finesse. In other control rooms, CIM utilizes precision-grade monitoring from ATC. However, the physical size of those monitors makes them difficult to use given the dimensions of the control room (approximately 16'7" L × 13'8" W × 11'8" H without acoustic treatment). Thus began the quest to find accurate and transparent mastering quality surround monitoring that could physically fit in the control. After listening to a wide variety of monitors, Lipinski Sound monitors and matching amplifiers were chosen. However, Lipinski's monitors had not been tested by THX, a process required to ensure studio performance and precision and provide their performance characteristics so to accurately plot how their acoustic properties would interact inside the room. This led to another fantastic collaboration where all components from Lipinski Sound, including the L-707 monitors, L-150 subwoofers and monoblock amplifiers were tested and THX approved. For video monitoring, professional JVC monitors were used as well as THX approved Sharp LC46D62U HDTV.

Kirstin Fosdick, multimedia production engineer, in the control room.

Kirstin Fosdick, multimedia production engineer, in the control room.

With the primary furniture and components chosen, it was time to finalize the interior room design. Steven Martz and Andrew Poulain of THX went to work outlining where the components should reside for optimum use. Every aspect was examined by the THX team, who primarily focused on room design and acoustics, equipment performance, integration and speaker placement. Eventually, studio plans were drafted, finalized and approved for installation.

The interior acoustics utilize RPG Modex Broadband plate absorbers, Abflector acoustic panels and an array of their diffusion products. The products transformed the room into an exceptionally comfortable studio space. With acoustic treatment complete, the studio furniture and monitoring was installed appropriately. The Yamaha DM2000VCM and other key components were connected to what CIM production employees have affectionately nicknamed “the brain”. A narrow and confined room, it is a machine room designed in tandem with the Conrad Control Room and Mixon Hall, but that is not all. The machine room is also the central point through which all the audio and video interconnectivity throughout CIM passes including the pre-existing control room for CIM's Kulas Hall, Pogue Lobby and the student lounge. The room is also connected to CIM's Kulas Center for International Education and Patrick Audio Recording Center, which provide distance learning and audio instruction respectively. The brain also houses the majority of audio and video systems including wireless microphones and amplification systems for Mixon Hall. Wiring consists of thousands of single pairs of Belden or Gepco digital audio cable, high-definition coax cable along with CAT 5E and CAT 6 (all terminated through digital-grade ADC patch panels). Non-terminated (dark) fiber has also been installed throughout to ensure that as new technologies become available, they could be easily integrated.



Testing

Once the studio was complete, Andrew Poulain of THX performed real-world testing of the studio, using both proprietary and commonly found acoustic testing software and hardware. Monitors and furniture were maneuvered into their ideal performance locations. After two complete days of testing and extensive listening, the Conrad Control Room received the honor of becoming the first THX-Certified PM3 (professional music) control room to exist in a music conservatory in the world. Like other esteemed studios in the world that have received this coveted certification, the THX certification ensures that the room acoustics, speaker positions, equipment performance and systems are calibrated to provide an ideal production environment for aspiring musicians and engineers.

The THX Certification and interconnectivity allow for a variety of unique abilities both to the Conrad Control Room and beyond. Various locations throughout the building are able to control functions such as the stage director's control station located just off of Mixon Hall's stage. The connectivity continues to allow CIM's Recording Services the ability to further advance productions including more than a dozen live broadcasts each year, as well as other broadcast events. Complete with audio, video and appropriate sound treatment, one of Mixon Hall's dressing rooms easily converts into an announce booth. Live broadcasts can be transmitted via audio over IP, Internet and legacy ISDN codecs. To ensure a variety of productions are possible, many features of Mixon Hall can be controlled directly from the Conrad Control Room including two Millennia Media HV-3R eight-channel remote control microphone pre-amplifiers, an array of remote control status/security cameras, a Panasonic professional video camera, as well as the hall's acoustic draperies, video projection system and more.

The stage manager's control station and equipment racks in the machine room

The stage manager's control station (left) and equipment racks in the machine room (right).

The THX certification successfully enables the Conrad Control room to record and produce surround content accurately, including that from Mixon Hall via some Schoeps microphones. This unique ability presented one last challenge: How would surround content be delivered to students, the majority of who receive their recordings on CD (or stereo-only DVD) and radio listeners. To resolve this issue, the proven system of Neural-THX Surround was implemented.

The Neural-THX Surround professional digital audio production products allow real-time encoding of surround content while preserving the rich envelopment and image detail of surround sound into a format 100 percent compatible with stereo. This allows for the surround content to be used in CDs, radios, portable digital music players and digital music downloads — all formats CIM Recording Services produces.

CIM's investment to achieve THX certification, utilize Neural-THX Surround and build a studio with a high caliber of audio, video and production equipment allows the Conrad Control Room to offer students, faculty and staff the ability to produce recordings with the greatest attention to quality and detail while using cutting edge technologies, all while keeping ease of operation while maintaining production excellence a reality.


Kosiorek is director of recording services at the Cleveland Institute of Music.


Equipment List

ADC digital/analog patchbay
AJA Kona LHe
Aphex 320A Compellor
Apple MacPro, Final Cut Pro
Audio Arts Engineering 8400
Auto Patch Optima Series
Belden wire and cable
Burst Electronics BG-5CB
Cisco Systems Catalyst 3560G
Coleman Audio A-B 5.1
Dorrough 40A
Furman PL Plus Series 2
Gepco wire and cable
Henry Engineering Digimatch 2X6
Lipinski Sound L-707, L-301V, L-150, L-300
Lynx Studio Lynx Two, LS-AES cards
Magix Sequoia
Millennia Media HV-3R
Mytek Digital 8X192 ADDA
Neural Audio Downmix, Upmix
Neutrik connectors
Panasonic DMP-BD10A
Rosendahl NanosyncHD
RPG Acoustics Acoustic Treatment
Sharp LC46D62U
Sonica Systems PC Computer
Sony PCM-R500, RDR-GX355
Sound Construction and Supply Custom Studio Furniture
Tascam DVRA1000, CD-RW750, LA-80
Yamaha DM2000 with I/O Cards




Additional Views of CIM

Design plan of the Conrad studio.


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