Starting out at ICC Studios in Eastbourne, Sussex in 1993 before switching to freelance from 2001, Michael has worked with artists such as Snow Patrol, 2-time Grammy Winner Matt Redman, Delirious and Iain Archer; along with such major industry firms as Polydor, Disney and Universal Music Group to name only a few.
In early 2022 SCV were delighted to assist Michael on a mission to add Dolby Atmos capabilities - powered by Focal studio monitors - to his personal mixing facility, aptly named 'The Shack’ at the bottom of his garden in Eastbourne, East Sussex.
TM: "Around June last year I had a client call asking what I knew about mixing in Dolby Atmos for music. I was aware of the format and had done a little research, but that call started a long rabbit trail of getting my head around it and what it meant for the future of music, so I began watching tutorials and webinars on the subject. I downloaded a demo of Dolby Atmos Renderer and started experimenting with mixes using headphones. I really enjoyed the process and the results I was getting, but the bottom line was that none of my clients at the minute wanted to spend extra time and money on another format that hadn’t been proven yet. For me I was hesitant to spend a lot of money on something that might not take off.
"In December last year I decided the time had come to make the move to Atmos and started pricing up the system. I had to do it as cheaply as possible. I still had no clients asking me for Atmos mixes. I decided to put in a 7.1.4 system: 7 speakers around me, 1 LFE channel and 4 speakers in the ceiling. That’s a lot of speakers and can get expensive, so I started looking at lower-end monitors. The trouble was, I didn’t want to compromise on quality and wanted to make sure what I installed met recommended Dolby specs.
I’d used the Solo, Twin and Trio models in various studios over the years and the SM9s I absolutely love, so I was familiar with a lot of the Focal range.
"There were a few options, but the Focal Alpha EVO range won out in the end. They’re the lower-end of the Focal range and suited my budget but I figured Focal are a well-known pro audio brand which is important when people come and visit the studio. I’d used the Solo, Twin and Trio models in various studios over the years and the SM9s I absolutely love, so I was familiar with a lot of the Focal range.
"Dolby recommend all the speakers in the Atmos rig ideally be the same model but at least the same make. This helped me realise Focal was the way forward – if I went for a more budget low-end monitor, I’d eventually end up upgrading to Focals anyway. This way I could start off with the Alpha range but upgrade over time to Shapes or Twins bit by bit, rather than having to change all 12 speakers in the room in one hit. My room is quite small at 3m x 4m so I also had to take that into consideration.
"In the end I went with 7 Alpha EVO 65s around me (3 at the front, 2 at the side and 2 rears), and in the ceiling I have 4 Alpha EVO 50s. For the LFE channel I went with 2 Presonus Sub8s. Focal have just launched the new Sub One (about a month too late for me) which would be the perfect match for these Alpha EVOs so I’ll probably swap out the Presonus subs later this year.
"The other plus about the Alpha EVO range is the fact that they have inserts built-in for wall-mounting. That’s not something I’ve ever thought about when buying studio monitors, but when you’re hanging 4 speakers from your ceiling it’s a huge plus point.
"I’m using an Avid MTRX Studio interface as the Atmos controller, so all the monitors are hooked up and controlled from that. I spent most of January rewiring the studio and re-configuring the patch bay etc. Up unto this year I’ve been mixing mainly through an analogue desk and monitoring from there but getting into Atmos I’m having to come up with a few new workflows to make it quick and easy so when I finish my stereo mix, I can quickly get into my Atmos mix set up without having to print a whole bunch of analogue stems through the desk.
I thought the Alpha EVO range was going to be ok and a good way to get into Atmos within my budget, but I can’t believe how good they sound.
"Myles and Richard from Dolby came down to the studio in February – they’ve been amazing in helping and advising me in all things Atmos. They tuned the room and got everything totally time aligned. It sounds amazing. I’ll be totally honest. I thought the Alpha EVO range was going to be ok and a good way to get into Atmos within my budget, but I can’t believe how good they sound.
"The last couple of weeks I’ve been back mixing in stereo for a Dutch band called ‘Lev’ and I’ve found myself using the Focals just as much as my regular stereo monitors that I’ve been using for 20 years. The hi-mids are incredibly detailed and the top-end really smooth. One thing I hadn’t really thought about or considered was that when working in Atmos I’m monitoring a lot louder than I normally would in stereo, so the smooth top-end is a huge bonus in terms of not having to deal with ear fatigue.
"The Focal Alpha EVO range is the perfect way to get set up and going on a budget without compromising on audio quality or the recommended Dolby specs
"I’m absolutely loving mixing in Dolby Atmos. There are so many more creative possibilities now and the Focal Alpha EVO range in my opinion is the perfect way to get set up and going on a decent budget without compromising on audio quality or the recommended Dolby specs."
For more information on Focal studio monitors and configuring Focal for Atmos, contact SCV's professional audio squad for further details and our authorised UK dealers.