Bernie Kirsh Continues a Tradition of Excellence with Amphion
Studio veteran trusted by Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock outfits home studio with One18’s and Amp700 to deliver world-class results
Clearwater, Florida – For recording and mix engineer Bernie Kirsh, the driving force of his long career has always been his passion for music. Whether working with long-time collaborator Chick Corea or other well-known luminaries like Herbie Hancock, Quincy Jones, and Patti Smith, he finds himself getting invested in the creative process. “I get inspired by great art and great music,” he says. This inspiration drives a holistic approach to the recording process. “My interest is always in how I can help the communication between artist and listener. That’s the job, and it’s an important place to be.” After starting his career at Electric Lady Studios in New York in the ‘70s, Kirsh decamped to the West Coast to be closer to Corea, who became a frequent collaborator in studio and on the road. In Los Angeles in 1981, he and Corea would open Mad Hatter Studios, which would serve as Kirsh’s base of operations for two decades until he followed Corea to Florida. There, Kirsh put together a minimalist home studio for mixing. “I’ve got my own little setup, which is very simple,” he says. “A converter, a laptop, and a couple little speakers from a company called Amphion.”
A new chapter
Though Kirsh had retained a pair of trusted speakers from his West Coast studio after his move, relocating to a new workspace made him realize something was missing. “I began to feel like I didn’t have the certainty I needed,” he says. “I was mixing with what I thought I should be hearing rather than what I was actually hearing. A friend suggested I try out Amphion.” Kirsh finally demoed a pair of One18 speakers with a Amp700 power amplifier in his space. Delving into his mixes, he found the results promising. “Right away they gave me the clarity to do what I needed to do,” he says. “I wasn’t guessing anymore.” In addition to examining works in progress, Kirsh also revisited favorite recordings from other artists and engineers. “With material that I’d heard many times before, recorded and mixed by engineers that I respect, I found that the Amphions were providing me with a wealth of information,” he says. “It really allowed me to hear what the engineer was doing.”
The One18s’ solid frequency reproduction–+/-3 dB from 45 Hz to 20 kHz–gives Kirsh critical information in every part of the spectrum, which helps him make precise mix choices. “The ability to hear things clearly makes me secure in any changes I make,” he says. “I can quickly discern when something is too bright or too dark in the top end,” he says. “And there’s also plenty of clarity in the midrange.” The low end performance surprised Kirsh the most. “Despite their size they deliver plenty of low end for my needs,” he notes. “It’s amazing that the design of the speaker can produce those frequencies so accurately despite the smaller diaphragm. The bass is well-defined without being hyped, so I never end up light on bass in my mixes. ”
Information is power
The clarity of his system helps Kirsh navigate even the most challenging and unconventional mixes that come his way. “We did a record with Chick Corea and Mokoto Ozone with two pianos that were recorded at several different concert halls in Japan,” he recalls. “It was my job to shape them into a unified sound so it would feel like a cohesive record.” The level of detail he heard from his system allowed him to execute the task naturalistically, without damaging the integrity of the recordings and performances. “The even spectrum of sound gives me a great deal of assurance even when I’m working with sensitive material like that,” he says.
He also recalls his work with marimbist Mika Stoltzman and her husband, clarinetist Richard Stoltzman, as presenting unique challenges during mixing. He tracked the record at the Power Station in New York before taking the tracks back to Florida. “The Stoltzmans were joined in the studio by Steve Gadd on drums, Eddie Gomez and John Patitucci on bass, and Geoffrey Keezer on keys,” he recalls. “I really wanted to capture all these great players and their relationship with the marimba, which is more commonly heard in a classical context and miced very differently in a studio than how it might be in a concert hall.” Bringing the sessions back to his mix room, he was able to capture the interplay in a way that helped the recording feel alive. “I could articulate each instrument with confidence,” he adds.
For Kirsh, great tools are no substitute for experience and a passion for music, but they do help him realize an artist’s creative vision more fully. “The philosophy and technique going into a mix is the same no matter what speaker you’re using,” he says, “but the certainty I have in what I’m hearing is the big difference in the final product.” As revealing as Kirsh finds the One18s to be, he also finds them enjoyable to listen to. “They’re both pleasing and accurate, which is a great combination,” he says. “When I hear a piano, it sounds like a piano, and likewise a cymbal or any other instrument,” he says. He respects the care and thought in which Amphion designs and supports their products. “It’s not some conglomerate company,” he says. “They really care about what they do. And they’re always looking to improve going forward.”
Kirsh expresses deep gratitude for the caliber of artists he has had the opportunity to work with and the continued joy and sense of adventure he finds in the recording and mixing process. “When you’re working with Chick Corea or Herbie Hancock or other artists like these, everything you’re doing is incredibly satisfying,” he says. “I never lose interest because I’m enjoying the process from a creative point of view, not a technical one, and creativity doesn’t have an expiration date. As long as you’re interested in the music, your work will stay vibrant.”