Alex Kopp, Keyboardist/Producer, Third Eye Blind and Lee Kopp, Sound Engineer, Kopperhead Compositions
Alex Kopp is keyboardist and producer for the band Third Eye Blind and his dad Lee is the owner of Kopperhead Compositions, the premier audio recording and production company located in our home state of Ohio. When it came time for them to bring in a 2.1 speaker and subwoofer package to use for critical listening in the mixing and mastering of tracks at the studio, all research led them to SVS for the potent combination of accuracy, output and smoothness.
Now, the Ultra Bookshelf speakers and SB-2000 subwoofer have a permanent place among an All Star cast of high end pro studio equipment, and they’re helping Alex and Lee work more efficiently and produce better sounding albums.
Questions And Answers:
What was your first impression after hearing the SVS Ultra Bookshelf speakers?
Lee: The SVS speakers were packaged very well and one’s first impression is how flawless their finish is. Gorgeous! Great connectors/posts and the easiest set up. We let them play for 24 hours at a moderate level before making any assessments. We tried various musical genres at various playback levels for a few hours at a time over the next two days. Then turned them up and “exercised” them without stressing them. Next, we pulled out our Earthworks QT-30 microphone (an amazingly flat & detailed omni) and ran noise and a broad section of Synclavier tones, samples, and synth patches thru Pro Tools. There we used an RTA and compared the direct signal with the QTC-30’s output of the SVS speakers.
The Ultras are a joy to work with and believe me, sound design is just as critical a listening requirement as mixing is in our master control room. As Bookshelf Speakers, they have amazing range and give good detail and placement, very accurate sound yet with power and punch, regardless of the levels. And boy are they SMOOTH! There are no resonant frequencies jumping out at you and there is simply no ear fatigue when working through long hours. We love them and highly recommend them, even though they are not technically a “monitor” by name.
Why is a subwoofer important to music and how has the SB-2000 enhanced your experience?
Lee: Bass is the foundation of most genres of music. It’s where the energy and drive exist - from the snap and thump of a great rock kick drum, to a tightly performed Minimoog trying to move everything in the room. Conversely, there is nothing worse than muddy, non-articulating bass. Today’s combination of smooth but snappy tweeters with very tight small woofers, give us great smaller-sized speakers that were unimaginable even ten years ago.
The SB-2000 subwoofer is up on a shelf back to the right side of the studio and firing towards the center behind the Pro Tools HDMI monitor. It delivers the perfect amount of accurate, low end output so we can be as precise as possible in the mastering process. It’s such an important tool because the subwoofer is the “enabler” for those small speaker cabinets, as it does all the “heavy lifting” for them in the extreme lows. I was surprised by how musical it was, but the low frequency depth and clarity is far superior to any other subwoofer we’ve had in the studio before!
Alex: Every time you go to a show in a club, arena, even in a small coffee, shop they always have subwoofers. So having a sub in the studio for me is a no brainer. If people are listening to live music as consumers with a sub, you want to reference in the studio with one as well. Bass in music can move you, literally and figuratively. At a show there’s nothing better than a kick drum through a subwoofer shaking the people and the room. There simply can’t be a rock band without a bass player and bass drum. They are THE foundation of rock. Bass is the power frequency range, and it’s also one of the harder ones to master. Manipulating and modulating bass can also really move an audience, such as with how DJ's use bass drops. From my experiences listening, the SB-2000 subwoofer captures every bit of the foundational and more visceral level of sound that draws people into music. It just adds a whole new realm of impact to everything you listen to.
Why is sound quality, and having great audio gear important to your craft, and to you personally?
Lee: Well, it’s all about the music isn’t it? The better the sound reproduction and listening environment, the better decisions we can make, and that is mandatory for making the best music we can. Pitch correction can be as intensive a task in audio that there is, but with speakers that really let us hear the very fine details, we can determine what to correct and what to leave alone. It’s a great marriage between the digital technology and the analog world that we live in. The language of music can exist in the digital or analog domains, but we humans are analog - and we require great analog reproduction of sound for professional results.
Alex: You really want to have an accurate representation of the things you are working with. If you are a great singer, you want to capture that performance on a microphone that really suits your voice AND captures the unique qualities to your specific voice. With speakers you want to be able to accurately represent your product and hear how layers of frequencies are fitting together or not. But I also think that great gear doesn't have to be the "best" gear - if that makes sense. I love to reference tracks on $15 to $20 headphones a lot because that’s what lots of people listen to the most. Having options is huge to me as everyone has different playback options. So having a lot of ways to check how your music sounds is key.
How have the Ultra Bookshelf Speakers and SB-200 Subwoofer been used in the audio engineering process?
Lee: We are currently using the SVS “trio” in our Synclavier Suite. We’re using an Orion Thunderbolt + (32 in/32 out interface) for inputting all of our Synclavier outputs, Roli Rise touch keyboard, Minimoog, MIDI modules, and outboard reverbs into Pro Tools. Processing (including the Synclavier”3”) is handled by a Retina 5k iMac with all audio into and out of Pro Tools 12. We create sweetening tracks, complete sequences, and make preliminary to moderate mixes of these projects. For final mixing and/or mastering, we take the projects down to our Master Control Room. Since adding the Ultra Bookshelf speakers and SB-2000 subwoofer we’ve been able to get much closer to master quality tracks during this important step in the process. It makes our lives easier and helps us create better sounding music.
How has the progression of audio technology changed the way music is made?
Lee: The changes in audio technology in my lifetime have been simply astounding. I began taking piano in kindergarten and my father bought a “seeing eye" Webcor 1/4” mono tape recorder when I was in first grade. That’s when I began recording. I got a stereo 1/4” Sony of my own around 7th grade and my older brother started building Heathkit stereo amps. The Beatles came to America my freshman year of high school, and it’s been quite a ride musically ever since. For me, I progressed to a four track recorder, then to one of the first imported Tascam 1/2” 8-track r2r machines (prior to Teak) and added dbx noise reduction. From there it was 1” 16-trk, built the Kopperhead facility, and then to 2” 24 track. Roland digitals came next (I was the US beta tester for the VS-2480) before we moved into Pro Tools HD-3.
As a keyboardist, I went from piano to a Vox Continental organ in the 60’s and then to the first series Model D Minimoog, which I still have and use today. Added an ARP 2600 and 2500 Wing Cabinet and created training film scores and local/regional jingles. In 1980 we opened our John Storyk designed studio and purchased a Synclavier II digital synth. That’s what really changed everything for me. I “found my thrill” in sound design and became a beta test site for New England Digital.
In 1985 we upgraded to a full “Poly” system, or Synclavier Digital Music System. And we had 100k sampling. Astounding. It’s STILL astounding thirty years later. In fact, that’s where we're mostly using the SVS Ultra Bookshelf and SB-2000 powered subwoofer, in our Synclavier Suite. We have a fair number of monitors and speakers around here, from old Aurotones and JBL 4311’s, to Urei 813A’s, small Legacies, Dynaudio BM5’s & 6’s and many others over the years.
Alex: It's simply the computer that changed it all for me. I grew up using a Mac and have been playing with music production software ever since I can remember. With my laptop, I can score a commercial, write a song, mix a song, and so on - from hotels, planes, and anywhere in the world. I spend a lot of my time on tour so this is huge for me. You can work with crazy amounts of tracks and sounds at one time and really get super specific about every little detail, automate it, and change it over time. It's quite interesting again with sound design. In the analog synth world 8 voice classic synths are quite expensive and you are still limited to those 8 voices and having only one sound or patch available at a time. I have soft synths that have 200+ voices and I can have 10, 20, 30 of them going at the same time. I think technology has made almost anything achievable, and the options limitless.
How has that progression influenced you as a musician/engineer?
Lee: My progression from analog synths into Synclavier digital, was way ahead of the studio curve of going digital. It led to my backing out of engineering projects for others as analog mixing and tape became so very, very slow to me. Later as we converted our control room over to Pro Tools, I moved back into recording and mixing. The degree of editing, pitch correction, and audio processing now available has come so very far that it’s hard to fathom. Eight years ago, we began a partnership with Kent State University at Stark’s new BS degree in music technology. I developed their audio recording program and the classes are taught here at Kopperhead. I bring this up because today’s college age students have read about the “analog days’, but don’t really have any idea what it was like to spend hours calibrating multiple multitrack machines and keeping all the other decks, consoles and peripherals working and up to spec. Today we do backups, update software, and replace hard drives. So as a musician, engineer, and instructor, we get to concentrate on our music, projects, and clients’ needs way, way more efficiently than at any time in the past. The processes themselves are so much quicker and more efficient that everyone benefits. In trying to perfect a vocal performance we now explain what is needed and press record - it’s instant production feedback, versus waiting for the 24-track to rewind. Just like I’ve doing with sequencing on the Synclavier since 1980. Times HAVE changed!
Alex: This progression, has inspired me to think in different ways and create in unique ways. It’s great that so much is available for such affordable prices, but that means everyone has the same resources. People are using a lot of presets and samples and what not that everyone else is using, which is fine, but it now takes a big effort to not sound the same everyone else. So in that sense I think it really has pushed me to think outside of the box. It's also nice that I can open my computer and instantly record any idea I may have in my head. And cell phones are great for this too. I have so many lyric ideas and song ideas written down in my phone that I would have otherwise forgotten. I use the voice memo app to record melodic ideas or any song ideas on the go as well. I firmly believe that technology has let me create and produce what I hear in my head a lot easier, and more efficiently.
Any projects you’re working on that we can share with the SVS community?
Alex: I am always working on new music and such and Third Eye Blind is currently touring in the US and UK through September, so come on out! (Tour Schedule) People can also stay up to date with me on the road & off via Twitter (@akopp) & Instagram (@alexrkopp). Our studio is a great and relaxing place to work, and we love working on all types of projects - so send all your musical friends our way!
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