Opulent Sounds from the Lion City: The Recording Studios of Singapore

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I recently moved to Singapore with my wife for a job opportunity, which meant getting to know a whole new recording studio scene in a new and foreign city.

We had heard and read enticing things about this dynamic city-state, and now that we are finally settled in here, we can positively say the “Lion City” has exceeded all our expectations.

Erwin Soo image licnesed via create commons

An image of Singapore’s skyline at Marina Bay. Photo by Erwin Soo.

Singapore is a fascinating country—the world’s only island city-state. It hosts a population of just over 5.5 million people, comprised of a diverse collection of Chinese, Malay, Indian, and other ethnicities, who all peacefully share this 277-square-mile “Little Red Dot” situated at continental Asia’s southernmost tip.

Since becoming a sovereign nation in 1965, Singapore has climbed to fourth place in rankings of the world’s highest GDP-per-capita countries. It has been named the most technology-ready nation in the world by the World Economic Forum, the second most competitive nation, the third-largest foreign exchange market, third-largest financial center, and the second-busiest container port.

All this rapid achievement makes it easy to forget that this relatively new country—which now supports one of the wealthiest and most active economies in the world—started nearly from scratch just over 50 years ago.

Image licensed through Creative Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:1_singapore_f1_night_race_2012_city_skyline.jpg

A view of Singapore during its signature F1 race.

During our first days and nights out in Singapore, we discovered that the Lion City is a very musical place, with a plethora of music venues, theaters and music schools, and tons of opportunities to hear live music any day of the week.

The city government has even dedicated its own Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, and a National Arts Council, whose mission is to promote and nurture all kinds of arts in the country.

Gardens By The Bay. Photo: Suyash Dixit. Licensed as Public Domain with Creative Commons.

Singapore’s Gardens by The Bay, a stunning 101 hectare green space that comprises three waterfront gardens. Photo by Suyash Dixit.

As any of us recording studio geeks might do when arriving in a new city, the first thing I did once all of our belongings finally arrived from Madrid (after two nerve-racking months of knowing that all our possessions, including all my audio gear, were floating somewhere between the Mediterranean sea and the Indian ocean) was to do some research on all the recording studios in the Lion City and start making some visits.

In the process, I’ve met some truly remarkable people, seen some inspiring spaces and been exposed to a wide variety of approaches to the recording studio affair. Here are my first encounters:

YellowBox Studios

My first stop was at YellowBox Studios, run by composer Ricky Ho and sound designer Rennie Gomes.

Ricky Ho is a veteran film-scoring composer, who received the Best Original Music Score award at the West Hollywood International Film Festival in 2008 and has been nominated for the Taiwan Golden Horse awards on different occasions. Rennie Gomes has also won several awards for his work as sound designer, including the Best Sound Design award at the New York Festival in 2002.

With the expertise of both partners, it’s not strange that YellowBox offers two different studios under the same roof: YellowBox Music and YellowBox Films.

YellowBox Music

At the heart of YellowBox Music is a beautiful 32-channel Neve 5088, the “culmination” of Rupert Neve’s knowledge of analog circuits, according to the man himself.

This is a fully-discrete analog design with custom transformers at every input and output (even on inserts) and high-voltage discrete op-amp cards specifically designed for the model. The upper “penthouse” section of this console is filled with 5015 (preamp/compressor) and 5033 (5-band EQ) modules.

The 32-channel Neve 5088 console at YellowBox Music.

The modularity of the console allows for easy repairs and maintenance, to go along with the superb Neve sound.

The control and studio room both offer a warm and spacious place to work, at 430 square feet (40m2) andover 1000 square feet (100m2) respectively.

This large recording room is able to accommodate up to 30 string players, a 60 piece choir or a 15-piece band complete with their equipment.

An expansive tracking room at Yellow Box Music.

The DAW used here is Pro Tools HD over Digidesign 192s. The main monitors are ATC SCM 300 ASL, along with pairs of JBL LSR4326 and Yamaha HS5 for the near field. The outboard gar selection includes units like the Chandler Germanium, Earthworks 1022 and Grace Designs M201 preamps, Empirical Labs Distressor, SPL Transient Designer and Anthony de Maria ADL 1700 compressors, and TC Electronic M5000, Bricasti M7M and Eventide H3000 verb/FX units, among others.

The mic locker offers a beautiful selection, with Neumann U87, KM183 and KM84, Coles 4038, AKG, C414 and C451B, and Gefell UM90 available, to name a few.

YellowBox Films is one of two sister studios on site.

YellowBox Films

The Dolby Certified mix theater at YellowBox Films was introduced in October 2010, and is one of the largest post-production facilities in Singapore. This is a 1160 square foot (108m2) dub stage that hosts three Pro Tools HD rigs and two Digidesign Icons.

The setup runs on SSL XLogic Delta and Alpha Links, with Euphonix format converters, and allows up to three different seat mixers to work simultaneously, either in Dolby 5.1 or 7.1, with Dolby E, Dolby Digital AC3, and DTS-HD available for mastering and mixing down deliverables.

A view of the back of the room at YelloBox Film’s dub stage.

The monitors are three way JBL, and picture playback is taken care by a Barco DP 2K via DV1080p onto a 9m screen. For noise reduction, YellowBox counts on Stage Cedar DNS300, TC Backdrop and TC 6000 systems.


Suite Sound

My next stop in the tour brought me to Suite Sound, an award-winning audio post-production and music production recording studio that opened its doors in 2007.

A D-Command system lies at the heart of this control room Suite Sound, which is one of five audio suites.

Or rather, I should say studios, because Suite Sound is organized into five separate suites, each of them equipped with Pro Tools HDX and a variety of outboard gear including the Shadow Hills Mono Gama, Manley VoxBox and Focusrite ISA 428 mic pres, Tubetech CL2A, AMEK System 9098 and Drawmer 1960 compressors, and Shadow Hills Equinox 2ch preamp and 30ch summing mixer and more.

The mic closet stores Neumann U87s, Neumann M149 (75th anniversary), Brauner Panther and Sony C48, among other selected pieces. The main recording room houses a Yamaha C5 piano, and the main suite offers a 24ch D-Command control surface.

During my visit, I met Koon Soo, director and audio engineer with over 25 years of experience, and Sean Chan, an audio engineer with over 18 years in the trenches, who has worked with top Chinese artists like Stefanie Sun, Kit Chan Mavis Hee or Ah-Mei.

One of Suite Sound’s tracking rooms.

The flexibility of having five different rooms allows Suite Sound to do any kind of work, from audio post-production to sound design, voiceover recording, and music composition. On top of that, they have a vast pool of in-house and external vocal talent, with both female and male voices in more than 30 different languages.

Lion Studio

Established in 1980, Lion Studio is the longest standing major recording studio in Singapore. It was built to satisfy the production needs of PolyGram in the Asia Pacific region, along with Dragon Studio in Hong Kong. (Sadly, its sister studio, Dragon, was burned down to ashes in a terrible fire some time ago).

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