Bollywood, Hollywood, with Amphion would prove to be a great mix

Sreejesh Nair talks about his career and what made him chose Argon0 for his home setup

Sreejesh Nair is a Film & TV mixing engineer with more than 250 Bollywood and Hollywood titles in his portfolio. His experience and deep technical and acoustical understanding placed him to be involved in the design and building of the first Dolby Atmos studio in Mumbai – FutureWorks – in 2012. In addition to his mixing work, Sreejesh works as a Pro Audio Solution Specialist with Avid, which puts him at the forefront of contemporary audio technologies. Amphion Loudspeakers has been talking to Sreejesh to learn more about his work, and to share what factors made an experienced professional choose Amphion’s Argon0 desktop loudspeakers for his home setup.

Please share with us how and why you chose the field of music production?

I completed my Mechanical Engineering studies, but mentally I wasn’t convinced that was my career path. At the same time, that’s when I heard of a studio called “Chetana” in Kerala, India that offered a Sound Engineering course. And what was quite unique about their intake was only five students per year, and the classes were structured to suit that size group.

What drew you to Film & TV sound in particular?

To be honest, it wasn’t by choice. It was my first job placement – in a film mixing studio. But I consider that to be quite a lucky break, as I was exposed to very complex works, and was introduced to the aesthetics of Music, Dialog, and Effects. This was a very formative experience for me. It pushed forward my knowledge of audio, both in the artistic, as well as the technical, domains. That meant an exposure to listen to and also appreciate what goes into the music and the sound. It shaped the way I hear and appreciate music and sound.

What is your main work-focus?

My primary mix format is for cinema. I create film-mixes that involve music, dialog and effects. This is quite a bit different from solely music-mixing as one has to have both a sensibility towards realism and also artistic expression. Real life has no background score! So blending that into a story on the screen and for emotional punctuation is what I do.

In simple terms, what is your process and system for mixing?

I am pretty much the last in the audio chain. I receive the dialogue, music, and sound effects, and then it’s my task to ensure cohesiveness, emotion, and believability. I work almost exclusively in a Surround Sound environment. So, it’s a challenging thing for me to work and listen in stereo, not because I don’t want to, but purely because my formative years were in surround sound. It opened up an entirely new dimension of depth-perception and immersiveness that initially I used to miss in stereo.

What are some of your most successful or favourite projects?

Well, I have worked on many movies – more than 250 to be honest – it’s quite difficult to nominate a favourite. But I really liked a movie called “Gangs of Wasseypur”, “NNOI”, “Kaminey” and “Agneepath”. I have also been involved in a lot of version-mixes for major Hollywood productions for Warner, Fox, Disney, Paramount, and Sony.

You are involved with AVID as a Pro Audio Solution Specialist. Tell us more.

I look after the customer-end of anything related to Pro Tools and our Avid S6 console. These are used today on almost all major blockbusters in cinema, and in tracking and mixing most of today’s Grammy-winning songs. So, anything technical or artistic, or even in terms of running a workshop or talking to professionals or students, it’s all part of my job. The good thing is being able to meet so many talented people and learn from exchanging ideas. That makes a huge difference in the everyday life of an “audio guy”.

As a sound-professional, do you watch/listen to movies in a different way than the average person?

To be fair, when I started my job as an assistant sound mix engineer, it was extremely hard for me to go to a movie and enjoy it. I would immediately start looking at sync, listening to location noise, assessing how the music was balanced, what was done in sound design, where and how did the reverbs for the sound happen, what new ideas were tried etc. It really frustrated me when I wasn’t able to get into the movie and enjoy it as my friends or the audience did. Over the years, with experience, I started enjoying and coming back to what it was to be an audience member. This was, in fact, quite crucial for my mix. The reason is that once I was able to achieve this perspective, I didn’t need to have a surgically precise mix anymore. It’s all about the little imperfections that make sound absolutely believable. And the most critical thing to achieving that is making sure that the sound isn’t noticed. If someone comes to me and says that the mix was fantastic, I would think that it actually wasn’t a good mix by me because it wasn’t invisible enough! The viewer has to enjoy the movie and experience it – and not notice the details. This is what drives me in my mix.

What is important for you (sound wise) in your studio and in your home setup?

It is very important that I’m not conscious of the speakers. I am a workaholic, and an audio guy being a workaholic means listening for long hours. So for me, the speakers have to be invisible. I have to be able to perceive the story that is being told to me by the musician or the artist. If I hear, for example, ‘Piano Man’ by Billie Joel, I have to be taken to the place, the time, and the story. I have to be the one talking to the piano man and seeing Paul, John and the waitress in the bar. This is the connection that I strive to hear and experience. Once that connection is made, it is a memory for life, as a song will bring back a lot of memories not just about the song, but also about where it was played, what I experienced at the time, and above all, the feeling of being connected. It truly will be able to bring you into the song and the performers.

How did you hear of Amphion and when/where did you first test them?

I first heard about the brand during the PALM 2017 show in India when Ansata exhibited them at their booth. Knowing Ansata, they are very careful in what product-lines they choose to distribute, and that means that they must have done a fair amount of study before they decided to go with Amphion. Now, a trade show isn’t really the best place to judge speakers. But even in that environment, I really liked what I heard. Over some time, I asked Leslie Lean (Ansata’s founder and Managing Director) to arrange a demo for me. And certainly, the next time I landed in their office, they played them back for me. I knew then that there was no turning back.

What specific elements made you choose Amphion? What attracted you?

I am very emotionally-driven when it comes to what I hear. One of the reasons it became very tough for me to buy speakers is because I always wanted the speakers to be invisible to sound. I did not want them to be saying “hey listen to us !” Rather, I wanted the song and the music to come through. I do know that there are a lot of factors that contribute to the sound – from which DAC, to what medium, cables etc. But these components can be adjusted. You can’t adjust a speaker. You can change your room, yes, but not the speaker. So, I guess, as a mix engineer for movies, I go by emotion. This drove Amphion home. I could leave all the technical juggling behind.

Why did you choose this particular model?

Personally, this was the first pair of speakers I have had in 17 years. It was a tough decision to make. But I had a few thoughts. I went for the Amphion Argon0 because I felt the tops and the mids were cleaner. They weren’t trying to impress and were just playing back without a care in the world – but making it sound as it was intended. As a mix engineer, we make thousands of decisions every day. Most of them in our heads and executed by feel. Not all of them have a distinct path, but all have a reason. And at the end of the day, these decisions have to be as organic and invisible as possible. That is what I felt with these speakers. I could just hear the music and connect to that – not bothering if the highs were bold if the bass was less if the mids were more, … nothing. The space it created was such that I could ignore they were speakers and just experience them.

Tell me more about your room (home) – dimensions, acoustics, signal chain etc.

My room is a regular hall – not too wide nor too long. But what’s more critical is where I place the speakers and where I sit. They are placed at ear-level as I don’t want a lot of sounds to be reflected. There are no parallels between me and the speakers nor on the sides. But there are some physical properties of the room that I am unable to avoid as it’s a rental place. Yet, it’s all about the experience.

How can you describe the sound quality in your room before and after?

That’s a tough one to answer as I didn’t have a pair at home. So, for me, it was just something I wanted to experience all along, and finally, I can lay to rest the search for speakers that I have been doing for almost my entire career!

How are your Amphion speakers contributing? Any specifics of the speakers.

I did have to pair a Subwoofer to the speakers for some of the extended lows, as the Argon0 doesn’t have that extension. And being a film-mix guy, I was used to hearing full range pretty much all the time! But I think all of my sonic requirements were satisfied. My only worry was if the HF would be a tad low for my room, but it seems to work really well.

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