Antelope Audio Zen Studio Interface Inspires 'Next Generation' Recording Engineer to take his Show on the Road

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Recent Sound Arts Graduate Travels Europe with a Zen Studio, Tracking 13 Bands in a Two-Month Recording Tour

Recording engineer Jochem Smaal is traveling Europe with his own portable studio setup featuring the Antelope Audio Zen Studio.

The Zen Studio represents the core of Smaal's mobile rig, handling all aspects of input and output, including monitor outs, and also serving as the master clock.

When Jochem Smaal graduated from the Art of Sound Program at the Royal Conservatoire of the Hague in the Netherlands this past September, he wasted no time setting up recording sessions in a variety of local studios and manning live sound at nearby venues. Soon enough, he was struck with an idea: what if he could take his recording work on the road, and still achieve studio quality results?

Antelope Audio Zen Studio was the answer: a sleek and portable interface that would give him the 20 channels of simultaneous input he needed, in addition to 12 commercial, studio-grade preamplifiers along with built in clocking and conversion that Antelope is known for.

Smaal began planning and researching local bands in several of the cities on his intended route, simply listening to material and reaching out to artists that were of interest. “I already had an idea of some of the cities that I wanted to stop in, so I just looked up local venues in each location and who played there and contacted a lot of bands.” Those who agreed to record with him were asked to provide room and board, along with a space in which to conduct the sessions: a rehearsal studio, house, or other makeshift venue.

His itinerary includes 13 bands in cities ranging from Strasbourg and Lyon in France, Basel in Switzerland to Leuven, Belgium and Milan in Italy. Smaal spends one to five days with each band laying down tracks — while leaving aside time for sightseeing wherever possible — before collecting his backpack and making his way to the next stop.

Zen and the Art of Backpacking
Setting up and 'changing scenes' is fast and efficient: “Setting up the Zen Studio is the easiest part," he says. In addition to the Zen Studio, other components of his mobile rig consist of a pair of Neumann KH 120 monitors and several microphones — including some high-end tube microphones he was able to borrow from a friend in Holland.

The Zen Studio represents the core of Smaal's mobile rig, handling all aspects of input and output, including monitor outs, and also serving as the master clock. During complex tracking sessions, he often expands the Zen Studio’s 20 channels of input via its two built in ADAT in/out ports for up to 36 channels of input, synching outboard preamplifiers with the Zen Studio’s built in clock. The connection back to his MacBook Pro couldn't be easier, running through Zen Studio's onboard USB interface which delivers high quality and reliable data transfer.

Despite the relatively short time he's been on his 'recording tour', Smaal has encountered a diverse range of musical material. The Zen Studio has helped him adjust and be nimble to whatever each session may call for: “The first band was stoner metal (Wheel of Smoke), then I did a brass band (Kabochar), then another band with more of a hipster vibe (Delorian Cloud Fire), so they were all pretty different,” he recalls. Each space is also different, requiring Smaal to vary his micing approach to suit the nuances of each recording space. Nonetheless, Smaal has a singular goal with each artist: to capture the artists' unique sound and energy, playing in a familiar environment.

Zen Studio's input flexibility has allowed Smaal to set up microphones to record an entire band at once, including vocals. “The recordings are very free and I don’t try to polish too much,” he says. “It is very exciting to have bands in their own habitat playing at once, all together.” After initial tracking sessions, Smaal will then supplement the core tracks with overdubs.

Working with Enlightened Audio Quality and Conversion
Smaal says that the Zen Studio has a noticeable effect on the audio quality of his recordings. “Whenever I hook it up I find myself using those nerdy audio terms like ‘air’ and ‘openness’ and ‘space,’” he jokes. “It’s really a step up for me.” The unit also routinely impresses his clients — both with the audio quality he is achieving, as well as its aesthetics. “It is reassuring that I can show up with a device that is so purpose built for what I do,” Smaal says. “Plus I've got access to a ton of built-in effects and monitoring capabilities, which helps me create crystal-clear monitor mixes. These kinds of touches make my clients feel like they are tracking in a world class studio environment.”

For Smaal, it is a bonus not having to worry about sonic transparency or audio integrity while he is recording. “I feel so confident knowing that this stuff is taken care of and that I’m getting really clean, quality audio,” he says. “Your starting point is higher.”

“So far I’m really proud of what I’ve done.” But Smaal is quick to point out that the recording tour is about a lot more than just creating quality recordings. “It’s also about having the will to do something really cool, meet new people, and be adventurous,” he says. “With Zen Studio in my backpack, I am always ready for the next adventure.”

Jochem’s Recording Tour continues through April 30th. To learn more visit his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/jochemsrecordingtour/info.

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Jeff Touzeau
Hummingbird Media
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