You could call Sonic Forest a home studio – it is Hooge’s home, after all. But, as he illustrates during a virtual tour of the space, the term doesn’t do Sonic Forest justice.
Spread over two levels of Hooge’s 3000-square foot Metchosin area home near Victoria, BC, and renovated and refitted in 2017, with Dante connectivity throughout and a recently installed Dolby Atmos system incorporating Adam S3H studio monitors, Sonic Forest is airy, open, and decidedly cutting-edge technologically. And, true to its name, there's a forest view through massive windows on the main and second floors.
Although Hooge is eminently familiar with RME, he hasn’t used the company’s technology extensively until recently. At least not until he came across the 12Mic-D digitally controlled microphone preamplifier, something he felt compelled to get his hands and ears on. “I’m all Audio over IP here,” Hooge explains. “Every room has a patch bay, and I’ve got Dante wired throughout the house. So, when I saw RME had a Dante-compatible version of the 12Mic, I jumped and cold-called GerrAudio because I wanted to see how the unit would work for an upcoming session.”
It was a significant project, Hooge continues, working with Whitehorse-based producer Matthew Lien and featuring an eight-piece Baroque string ensemble that he’d initially hoped to record in a Victoria area church. A project he figured the 12Mic-D would be a perfect fit for.
“When the church venue fell through, we ended up at Sonic Forest. Matthew was flying down from Whitehorse and really wanted to record in that church. He’s very into binaural recording and records impulse responses in various churches all over the world. He knew my house would be good for certain things but less so for others, but we connected everything via Dante and got a really clean recording with the 12Mic-D.”
Photo Credit: Justus Lowry – Rain Owl Productions Inc.
Not only was this the first time Hooge used the unit for a session, but it was also the first time he’d recorded a Baroque ensemble. “We had eight separate headphone mixes for the talent, and it worked perfectly. “I used the RME web interface because I’m a ProTools guy. So, I could wire everything through ProTools and the Dante Controller and use that to control all the preamps and the 12Mic-D.”
The stakes were pretty high. “I had a house full of people – including eight musicians and Matthew. As I said, I was shelling out eight separate headphone mixes, which I hadn’t done before with this interface. But RME has such a great reputation I knew that if anything wasn’t going to be an issue, it was going to be an RME product. That’s one reason I took a chance using an interface I’d never used before.” Happily, he adds, “Everything just worked. Right down to setting up and controlling the mic pres with everything patched into the 12Mic-D through Dante.”
For Hooge, the 12Mic-D is a game-changer. “It’s so rock-solid, internally (as it relates to hardware and software), and it has 12 outs. The basic setup for a Dolby Atmos studio is 7.1.4, which happens to be 12 outputs, so it matches perfectly for anybody thinking about getting started in Atmos. It’s got both the right amount of outputs for an entry-level Atmos facility, and it has Dante, which makes it highly configurable.” Finally, he says, “It’s RME, so, again, the drivers are rock-solid.”
In every respect, as a studio owner/engineer, Hooge is all about future-proofing and is always on the lookout for a means to improve workflow and adopt promising technologies. Hence his move to Atmos (Sonic Forest is currently the only Atmos facility on Vancouver Island) and the Dante integration at Sonic Forest.
Still, as anyone who’s navigated the sea change in technology over recent years knows, it’s a rarity that anything is really, truly plug and play. “Interfaces and software applications are often counterintuitive. But whoever creates the drivers for RME really knows what they’re doing in terms of how humans think. And it’s also intuitive in terms of the hardware itself. It’s like, the button you need next is right next to the one you just used.”
Again, he points out the potential for things going sideways in the session, especially given his use of a device he’d just hooked up. “Yeah, I was nervous, but it was seamless. I went in cold with RME and GerrAudio, but Gerr was like, ‘Yeah, we’ll do this.’ No resistance at all, no problems from the product or the whole periphery of services around it. It was solid all the way through. End to end; a great product and great service.”