(905) 545-1188   

Mixing board used to produce Springsteen, Kanye finds a home in Hamilton

Posted: December 4, 2017

Halo recording studio owner had to pick between mixing board and a classic Ferrari

Roman Marcone, owner of Halo Studio, traded in his Ferrari so he could travel to Georgia to purchase the mixing board that had served Doppler Studios for 30 years. During that time Doppler recorded acts like Bruce Springsteen, Aretha Franklin, Mariah Carey, Areosmith, Whitney Houston and Outkast. – Scott Gardner,The Hamilton Spectator

For Roman Marcone, it came down to a choice between his classic 1991 red Ferrari and a vintage mixing console that had recorded some of music’s biggest stars including Bruce Springsteen, Aretha Franklin, Stone Temple Pilots, Kanye West, Stevie Wonder and Akon.

The music won out. Marcone now drives a Mini Cooper, but his Halo recording studio in downtown Hamilton is the proud new owner of an SSL-4064G console that had served as the primary sound board in Atlanta’s Doppler Studios from 1985 to 2016.

“It tormented me for weeks while I made the decision,” says Marcone, 37. “My main passion is music. My second is cars.”

Marcone opened Halo, located above This Ain’t Hollywood on James Street North, two years ago with a perfectly adequate 24-channel Auditronics 310, he had purchased used from a studio in Pittsburgh. Marcone, however, is always on the lookout for that perfect upgrade.

He found it in a warehouse in Opelika, Alabama, a 90-minute drive across the state line from Atlanta, Georgia. The SSL (Solid State Logic) 4000 series is considered the Cadillac of consoles.

The one Marcone found had retailed for $385,000 US when it was built in England and delivered to Atlanta in 1986. It went into storage after the Doppler studio closed in 2016. Marcone learned he could own it for $40,000 US. It was a bargain. Most used SSLs, he says, go for more than $100,000.

“The owner of the studio retired,” Marcone explains. “He just wanted somebody to take (the board) over and keep using it.”

Marcone consulted with his friend Nick Blagona, a veteran sound engineer now living in Caledonia who had worked on many classic albums dating back to the early ’70s, including ones by Deep Purple, The Police, the BeeGees and April Wine. The SSL 4000 series was Blagona’s favourite. Buy it, he said.

“This is the Ferrari,” Blagona says during a recent visit to Halo studio where the SSL now resides. Blagona is patting the board affectionately. “It’s made in Britain, handcrafted, beautifully done. I know this thing by heart.”

After receiving Blagona’s advice, Marcone made his decision. The four-wheeled Ferrari went to a collector in Dundas, allowing Marcone enough cash to purchase the console, transport it to Hamilton and outfit it for the studio.

Last month, Marcone brought the board back from Alabama with a stop in Atlanta. It filled a U-Haul trailer.

Once across the border, the challenge was getting the console into the upstairs studio. The stairs off James Street are very old and narrow. He had to find another way.

The original board was built with 48 tracks, although it was upgraded to 64 in 1996, stretching it to 15 feet in length. Marcone scaled the board down to its original length of just under 12 feet and found a way to hoist it through a rear second-storey portal.

“The frame is 450 pounds unloaded,” he said. “We strapped it to a rig, got it over the fence onto the roof and through the backdoor. Then I rebuilt it; it took about three days.”

Originally from Burlington, Marcone started in the business as a touring musician, working in the United Kingdom from 2004 to 2006 before returning to Hamilton to work at Catherine North Studio with producer Dan Achen and at Porcelain Records with producer Steve Bigas.

He learned to love the old-school sound of analogue recording — as opposed to digital or computer recording. Before the SSL purchase, he had also scored a Swiss-made Studer 24-track two-inch tape recorder, which had originally been housed in Prince’s Toronto studio.

Marcone can now hook it up to the SSL and record completely in analogue, with the option of transferring from tape to digital.

Just as large numbers of audiophiles are switching to vinyl records over CDs or MP3s, Marcone believes the market is growing for analogue recording.

“It’s because of the sound,” says Marcone, picking up a box of two-inch tape from a shelf.

Adds Blagona: “The difference is really extraordinary, particularly with percussive instruments like drums … It really is a warm sound. It’s the same thing with vinyl. Digital is always a substitute, it’s never the real thing.”

grockingham@thespec.com