For over seven years, Carl Tatz, studio designer and former owner of Recording Arts in Nashville, Tennessee, has installed his proprietary PhantomFocus monitoring systems in studios around the world – either in conjunction with a room design or implemented in previously existing rooms. These systems are a combination of speaker choice and placement, subwoofer placement and alignment, sound treatment and time alignment and EQ processing, all optimized for speaker/engineer positioning. I was curious how a PhantomFocus setup would sound, so I dropped in on some studios in Nashville with Carl, listened closely, and then picked his brain.
My impressions, after hearing two different systems in different studios, is that PhantomFocus does create a very clear center/phantom image in the listening sweet spot, and that the integration of the subwoofer with the nearfields is far more seamless than most studios I have worked in. Carl claims a flat frequency response, and I’d have to agree that’s what I heard. It was also apparent that this isn’t something you just buy and drop in.
Carl: “Initially I do a lot of consulting on the phone. I have them send me pictures, drawings, dimensions — I want to know what this room looks like. If there is anything physical that has to be done [to the room] before I get there, then they do it. So when I get here with my assistant, there are no surprises. It’s two solid days for a single system. First day is set up and the second day is actual tuning. What I’m looking for is the imaging. I’ll move the console. The subs are always corner loaded. I face the drivers towards the wall. From there, the whole trick is to get the phase correct. Done right, you don’t think there are any subwoofers. That’s why I like to cover them up so people don’t even think about it.”
But I wondered how a subwoofer driver facing the wall would work in phase with the nearfields.
“A digital processor — what I use it for primarily is equalization, phase and crossover management. Out of the console, into the processor and into the speaker system.”
Does Carl tell people what nearfields to use? I heard Dynaudio M1, ProAc Studio 100 (Tape Op #69), and ADAM S3X-H speakers during these tours.
“I do not tell people what speakers to use. If somebody asks me my opinion, I’m gonna tell them I’m very impressed with Focal Twin6 Be, Dynaudio M1, the new ADAM S3X-H, and I also like the JBL LSR6328P and Yamaha NS-10M.”
It appears there are different styles of PhantomFocus Systems for different needs.
“There are four systems, the difference as you go up are the processors and the subwoofer system gets bigger. System Three has four subwoofers, one in each corner of the room. Not only am I attenuating the width mode, I’m attenuating the length mode. I’ll delay the front subwoofers to time align the back ones.”
One thing that Carl is adamant about, and I’ve been experimenting with and enjoying myself, is the angle of the nearfield speakers. (See Carl’s “Monitor Positioning” in Tape Op #78.) He has them toed in towards the listener quite a bit more than is usual.
“Set up the speakers at a 30-degree angle. You go into a studio and somebody’s working and they don’t set the speakers up at a 30-degree angle — they think it looks too severe, but the fathers of stereo knew this and specified it back in the ‘60s. I have a proprietary distance between the tweeters — 67.5 inches — there’s a little bit of snake oil in there I think! It’s something I came up with when I had my studio. Most consoles are between three and four feet deep and you want that equilateral triangle to cross in back of your head – not in front of your head.”
And last but not least, I asked the kind fellows who hosted our listening sessions what they thought about PhantomFocus.
Greg Strizek of Verge Recording (Dolly Parton, Rodney Atkins, Blake Shelton) in Nashville had this to say: “It was just night and day compared to just arbitrarily placing the speakers. It probably takes a couple of months of listening to it to really feel like you have a handle on it, but when you do, it’s surgical when you really get into a mix. It’s awesome. Translation-wise, with bottom end and the outside world — I really trust it.” Andy Dodd of Red Decibel Productions (Kelly Clarkson, High School Musical, Miley Cyrus) had a PhantomFocus System installed in his private studio, Red Decibel East. “It’s been amazing to be able to hear things for what they are. It’s nice to not have to second-guess yourself. Producing and tracking has been a huge difference — along the whole process I’m able to make better decisions. Even when listening quietly you can still hear the low end. That’s been a huge thing.”
The PhantomFocus System might not be something everyone wants or needs, but in the studios I heard it in, the imaging and overall sound was impressive, and the producers were very happy with the results. That should tell you something!
(Pricing varies, www.carltatzdesign.com) –LC
by Thom Monahan
Monitors of all shapes and sizes have always seemed like an extension of the stereo speakers I saved up my paper route money to buy when I was a kid. Over time they got better, clearer, definitely...