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Feature: Best of both worlds

Feature: Best of both worlds
API's Dan Zimbelman at the controls of the 1608-II

Feature: Best of both worlds

NHK Technologies’ new Tokyo postproduction facility features an API analogue console alongside its digital setup. Caroline Moss looks at what inspired the unorthodox choice

Japan’s national broadcaster, NHK, is known not only for its investment in high-quality audio solutions, but also for setting its own standards when it comes to broadcast sound. Much R&D has gone into the 22.2 surround format in which the forthcoming Tokyo Summer Olympics will be broadcast, alongside its dazzling Super Hi-Vision 8K output. NHK engineers liaise closely with pro audio manufacturers, remaining up to the minute with industry innovations and developments. So it comes as little surprise to learn that the broadcaster has installed a third API analogue console into one of its Tokyo studios – an upgrade to NHK Technologies sound division’s postproduction facility in Shibuya.

The decision was partly based on familiarity: two 64-channel API Vision consoles have been operational for several years at NHK’s main headquarters a few blocks away in the control rooms of the large scoring stage, Studio 506, and the spacious, flexible Studio 509. All three were supplied by API’s long-time Japanese distributor Mix Wave, headed by Hirokazu Saika, who has forged a close alliance with NHK. Nevertheless, for postproduction, the choice is an unusual one, as is the configuration. A 16-channel 1608-II analogue console and a 16-channel expander have been installed either side of an Avid S6 control surface, in furniture that has been specially constructed by acoustic design and soundproofing specialist Sona, which also constructed the new studio.

Main monitoring is provided by Ocean Way HR3.5s and a Genelec SAM 5.1 system is also installed
Main monitoring is provided by Ocean Way HR3.5s and a Genelec SAM 5.1 system is also installed

 The postproduction unit is based in a 10-year-old building run by NHK Technologies. This division of the national broadcasting company was incorporated in April 2019 through a merger of two existing NHK group companies as a comprehensive engineering division to support NHK’s public media services. The new postproduction facility, which went online at around the same time, is headed up by Kazumasa Kuronuma, assistant manager of the business development division at the media engineering department, who has worked at NHK since 1991. Kazumasa is tasked with project management and scheduling duties at the facility. He explains that this is the third time in 10 years the studio has been upgraded, to keep pace with the fast-changing requirements in broadcast audio. ‘Before this most recent upgrade, it was a 7.1 THX-certified PM3 studio, and the one before that was a stereo mix studio,’ he says. ‘But, this time, we decided to go for a 5.1 setup because we were finding there wasn’t much demand for 7.1.’

During the past five years, NHK’s postproduction facility has been increasingly used for audio sweetening and mixdown sessions. More flexibility was required in order to deal with the growing amount of work coming through the studio. The API 1608-II provides a front end for recording original sources as well as a summing platform for mixing the high-quality content that NHK is famous for.

The API 1608-II, which is equipped with the manufacturer’s cross-platform Final Touch automation system offering traditional analogue motorised faders, also features DAW control of the faders as well as mutes and insert points, a 5.1 central monitoring section and mic pres and EQ on each channel. It interfaces with the Avid work surface, providing both digital and analogue control. The console is now in high demand for NHK’s music postproduction work, and the studio is working seven days a week to accommodate the sessions coming through.

L–R NHK's Masayuki Aoyama; Mixwave's Shiro Ooki; NHK's Kazumasa Kuronuma and Akifumi Yamaguchi; and API's Dan Zimbelman
L–R NHK's Masayuki Aoyama; Mixwave's Shiro Ooki; NHK's Kazumasa Kuronuma and Akifumi Yamaguchi; and API's Dan Zimbelman

Kazumasa estimates that the new facility is used by around 90 in-house and freelance engineers for their NHK projects. ‘The new setup has really speeded up our workflow,’ he says. ‘It’s quite an unusual room because not only is it a postproduction studio, it also has the mixdown facility, so it’s quite unique, and everybody wants to put their projects in here.

‘We’ve become very accustomed to the API sound and how to operate the consoles,’ he continues. ‘In this context, we are using the API as a summing mixer, to add warmth and depth. We are mainly working on classical music for TV programmes recorded in the NHK Hall, where the NHK Symphony Orchestra often performs, and for TV programmes shot in NHK 101 Studio, the biggest sound stage we have. Most of the recordings are done in Pro Tools, and they are brought in here and mixed on the API 1608-II to add warmth and richness.’

The studio also has a narration booth that is occasionally used to record dialogue and instrumental music for the programmes being worked on.

The API console is primarily operated by Masayuki Aoyama, assistant manager of the media engineering department’s sound division, who has also been with the broadcaster for more than a quarter of a century. ‘The desk is absolutely fantastic; it’s very fast to work on with great audio clarity, and I really like the EQ,’ he says. ‘Although API has a reputation for rock and pop music, it’s also really good for the mainly classical repertoire that we work with here.’

An API 1608-II analogue console with 16-channel expander have been installed either side of an Avid S6 control surface
An API 1608-II analogue console with 16-channel expander have been installed either side of an Avid S6 control surface

The Avid S6 is used for simpler and smaller projects, and Akifumi Yamaguchi, a mix engineer at the sound division, uses it for much of his work on documentaries and other content. To handle the digital and analogue signal flows across the postproduction setup, an Avid Pro Tools MTRX system has been installed to provide A/D and D/A conversion to and from the 1608-II, as well as providing MADI and DigiLink connectivity.

Another bold move informed the studio’s choice of main monitors: an Ocean Way HR3.5 system. ‘We tested so many speakers,’ recalls Masayuki. We heard the Ocean Way HR4 hybrid horn system, and had a very good impression of that, but, in our opinion, the HR3.5s have got an even better lower end.’ Again, sonic quality is at a premium here, with the monitors accepting digital and analogue inputs and 24-bit/192kHz data streams. The HR3.5’s wide stereo image of 100° x 40° horizontal and vertical dispersion also provides a large sweet spot in front of the combined API and Avid control surfaces.

The studio’s monitoring setup is provided by a system of five Genelec 8351A SAM monitors with two 7360 subwoofers. ‘Every studio at NHK has a Genelec system, as do our three OB trucks,’ explains Masayuki. ‘They are our standard reference monitors.’

Genelec Loudspeaker Manager (GLM) control software was used for room equalisation and correction, fine-tuning the space once the installation was complete. ‘All rooms have acoustical characteristics no matter how well designed, and this gave us that little bit of extra control,’ says Masayuki.

Although NHK’s newly refurbished postproduction facility had only been operational for just over six months when Pro AVL Asia visited, it’s clear that the studio has quickly become an essential component in the national broadcaster’s output. Another milestone, then, for the ever-increasing broadcast quality going out to the Japanese nation.

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