Alchemix Studios | Amphions as their creative magic

Alchemix studio has a long and colourful history in Brisbane’s West End after relocating from the Gold Coast hinterland in 2004. At times an art gallery and performance venue, Alchemix has always been an immersive recording space, and now in its third incarnation harnesses purpose-built recording areas and a great mix of old and new technology. The first thing you notice upon entry is the high ceiling in the tracking room – at six metres high it gives you an enormous sense of space. A collection of vintage gear exudes a creative vibe – hugging the walls of the expansive recording area are an upright & baby grand piano, and a valve amp collection walled by over-sized old school baffles in warm earthy tones. Alchemix is the longtime creative enterprise of Marly Luske. Mixing, Recording & mastering engineer, Composer & musician, Marly has guided the studio through Brisbane’s music scene for over twenty years. Now in its third incarnation, the room is home to an extensive collection of vintage backline, customised outboard and Amphion One18 monitors atop a modded 70s analog Yamaha PM2000 console. Did we mention Alchemix’s large collection of 60s Russian microphones? Federal Audio recently caught up with Marly at Alchemix to talk studios, recording and his decision to update his monitor system to Amphion late last year.

What was it that led you to choose Amphion monitors over other premium models?
A fresh take on a NS10’s, with fantastic translation characteristics, as hyped by others, then proven by myself, was what led me to purchase the One 18’s for Alchemix. I needed something near field with really accurate high end and a mid frequency bump to help shape that frequency range in mixes. I wasn’t too concerned about having the full frequency spectrum, as I have my trusted JLM BAM1 Monitors for the low end.

You replaced your trusted NS10s on the monitor bridge with One18s – what was the immediate difference, and what have you noticed over time?
I had them both up there for the first 2 weeks. They were remarkably similar, except you could easily notice how much smoother the Amphions were. They are very fast, so the stereo field is improved, and you have that extra bit of bottom end, which is probably the only part I’m still getting used to.

You’ve said that your mix is 60% done on NS10s – has this stayed true with the Amphions?
For some projects, I’m on the Amphions 90% of the time, as they really suit a lot of modern production aesthetics. With different projects, I’d say 50% on the Amphions, only because I feel like I’m lacking a bit of the low mid depth on the Amphions occasionally, which the BAM’s have plenty of. So, JLM BAM-1’s for 30% of the time, a pair of Audeze LCD-X’s 10% of the time, and a pair of Reftones, which I only just got. I’m probably going to start using the Reftones more often too.

Do you find you finish a mix quicker with Amphions?
Yes, like a lot of producers have mentioned, speed is up, mainly because I’m more confident with my choices. You can hear everything so clearly.

You undertake a wide range of audio projects at Alchemix – recording mixing & mastering, but also podcasting & voiceover work (including Railway announcements!) – have the Amphions improved the workflow in any of these undertakings?
Sure, they come in handy when tracking voice overs because you can hear finer adjustments to microphone choice and distance. Noticing problems is a tad quicker now too. Find them quite useful for mastering too, when working out whether to widen a mix or not.

We’ve heard from engineers that since moving to an Amphion setup they monitor at a quieter level now without losing detail & impact -would you agree?
I love using the Amphions really quietly, I don’t notice a difference with their tone, thanks to that, no port design. Monitoring at low volume, trusting your frequency response, and enjoying the sound stage means I can have confidence with my more abstract experiments, especially when dealing with distortion and verb/delay choices. The Amphions translate so well, a great piece of kit indeed.

There’s such a treasure-trove of great backline at Alchemix – are there any personal favourites?
Loving the upright piano we have, it records beautifully with a pair of M160’s or Coles 4038’s on there. The Fender Rhodes is in great shape too, after being rebuilt by Garry Lynch last year. Also currently loving the Sontronics Apollo 2 Stereo Ribbon Microphone I purchased last year, it’s been amazing on choirs, drum kits, piano and soft nylon string guitar.

There’s plenty of really nice gear in the control room too – much of it modded. Do you have any go to favourite hardware/software signal-paths for recording?
Some of the old Roland gear like the TR-909 and MC-202 are super fun to play with in the control room, running them through our modified PM2000 with a bit of crunch and sustain. I like to clip the JLM TG pre’s a bit, then clip again on the desk, and then smash it through the 1176 on all buttons in. I’ll then spit out the sequences with and without the dirt added, and then edit the distorted versions into various off beat measures, until I’ve got a groove that is truely unique. If I go overboard with any of these harsher hardware effects, I’ll just chuck on the oeksound Soothe plugin.

What are some stand out experiences in the studio for you? Any lightning-in-the-bottle moments?
When people bring in dodgy looking gear, and it sounds amazing, with a microphone a few meters away, not properly setup yet. When you notice something unique happening, it’s all a matter of not touching anything! Even if it all seems wrong. Just capture the part, or use the un-explained signal path to your advantage, and chuck down some improvisation. Just go with it. Same goes with a musician who is keen to lay down something straight away, try and capture all the practice takes, fix the signal path after the next pass. Other cool moments mainly include re-amping and blending layers, instead of just using plugins for fidelity shifts. I’ve recorded the control room speakers through cassette decks and blended that back into the mix with gates and subtle filters many times.

Alchemix is a one-stop shop for audio – pre-production, recording, mixing, mastering. Is the workload fairly evenly split between these disciplines?
Pretty much, it’s so random. One month it might all be corporate work like voice overs and sound design, the next month I’m only mastering DIY home studio recordings and recording wedding bands. The next month it’s all mixing duties, and then you have a band that rocks up for a few weeks for an album project. I wish I could narrow my disciplines down, but then I wouldn’t survive in this industry.

Alchemix has always had a broad clientele, a diversified portfolio – It’s kinda fun this way too. You’ve had such a wide range of artists through the studio over the years – are there any stand-out experiences?
The stand out experiences are working with passionate song writers and involving myself more and more as the project matures. Capturing the artist during their early days, and then again when they’ve started to really flesh out their talent in the studio. I’ve become really good friends with some of my clients, as we’ve worked so well together on creative ideas.

The music industry has changed so much over the last 15 years – what do you see as the future for artists beyond streaming and syncing?
Augmented reality and Virtual Reality seem to be fit for innovation currently, maybe music can continue to branch out in that new scene. That said, a band of your liking, playing a live show ain’t getting old, so I think for those artists looking to earn money and fund their creative journey, they need to play live and tour extensively, involving themselves in lots of different communities, and finding a unique expression to share with audiences or even collaborate with. Cool merchandise helps a lot too.

Live performance & Workshops have been a part of Alchemix since the early days – is this an important part of the studio’s DNA?
For sure, putting on all access live events without a cover charge is really important for giving everyone a chance to enjoy artists doing their thing, and perhaps, giving themselves the confidence to pursue their own creativity. We don’t run many though, one every 6 to 8 weeks, so it’s a community thing really, we all share in the things that we are passionate about, in a relaxed setting without concerns on overhead costs and targets to meet. It’s fine to keep certain things simple.

Alchemix Studio Website:
Check out this in-studio live performance at Alchemix by Tiana Khasi on YouTube:
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