What do you call a man who launches his first studio in a communist bloc ex-bomb shelter? Who moved his family and facility a half-world away to record and mix music in America? Who learned English from reading Pro Tools manuals??!!
That is a 100% SonicScoop-certified Audio Warrior, and his name is Kostadin Kamcev.
Today, Kamcev owns and operates Studio Mozart in Little Falls, NJ. Tucked away in this quiet neighborhood right off Route 46, it’s the proverbial hop/skip/jump via car, bus or train from NYC. For a growing client list of locals and regional visitors – including Lenny White, Steve Smith, Neal Schon and many more – word has been spreading not just for Kamcev’s dedication, but his sonic results.
Beyond Kamcev’s considerable expertise, the draw of Mozart is easy to see. It provides the NYC area with a much-needed room for spacious live tracking, courtesy of a 17-foot cathedral ceiling with four ISO booths. Also onsite is an assortment of delish keys including a Yamaha Conservatory C7 Grand Piano, Hammond B3 with a Leslie 122, and Fender Rhodes Suitcase, plus plenty of amps, guitars and drums.
In the Mozart control room, things are equally appealing, thanks to a pristine Neve VR60 with Flying Faders and Total Recall Automation, modified with Musgrave Modification on all channels. Meanwhile, that loaded producer’s desk isn’t just for show: Kamcev “uses everything,” hand-building replicas of many classic outboard units to go along with the originals he’s stocked up with. A CLASP system seamlessly integrates Pro Tools HDX with Studer A827 2-inch 24-track and MCI JH24 2-inch 16-track tape machines.
And the monitoring? As unique as it is powerfully accurate, via five sets of speakers headlined by a pair of Atomic Instrument 1015 mains.
Macedonia to The Garden State
The story of Studio Mozart begins a long way away in Macedonia, a small Eastern European nation landlocked by the likes of Kosovo, Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece and Albania. Although Macedonia’s history dates all the way to antiquity, its long history didn’t add up to a lot of clout in the 20th Century, when it was annexed and re-annexed by Yugoslavia until finally breaking free from socialism in 1991.
Studio Mozart came into being not long after that historical landmark in 1992, when Kamcev – a locally famous musician whose audio engineering skills were developing quickly – launched a radio station, dubbed “Radio 1,” which at the time stood as only the second privately-opened radio station in all of Macedonia.
“From there I moved the studio into one of the city’s bomb shelters as they were sitting unused — the city started to rent them,” recalls Kamcev. “That was underground and you could not hear anything from outside, nor studio noise coming from the inside.
“After spending a couple of years there,” he continues, “demand was rising and I basically moved and commissioned my studio to the former recording space buildings of the National Television in Macedonia, in the capital of Macedonia, Skopje in 1997 in only one night! I installed all the gear, and wired the mic lines and the multitrack lines, so the studio was ready to hold a session the next day.”
The next key move for Kamcev was in the beginning of the year 2000, when he took the bold step of moving to America (ESL classes supplemented the English skills he’d gleaned from translating those aforementioned Pro Tools manuals). He officially started operating Studio Mozart again in 2005, in Clifton, NJ, before moving the studio in 2016 to the current Little Falls location – where he could finally go big.
“I was very lucky to find the place where Studio Mozart is nowadays, as the house had this extension in the back, 1500 square feet in size, with a 17-foot cathedral ceiling,” he says. “My previous space was only 420 square feet, so naturally 1500 square feet provides much better accommodation for the clients and me. I made sure that the creative atmosphere I had in my old place was kept, and even improved.”
Despite his considerable audio skills, Kamcev recruited help to build out the space, settling on Jeff Headback of HD Acoustics as his acoustical designer. “From the conversation with him, I knew I was in good hands,” Kamcev says. “I sent him the initial sketch for the space, and he came up with ideal proportions for the control room. His knowledge of acoustics and acoustical materials is invaluable. The room sounds excellent and translates to the real world. After getting the plan from him, he insisted not to change anything even by an inch, if I wanted to get a great-sounding control room. He was right – and that’s exactly what happened!”
Hear Mozart Studio in action via Steve Smith’s 2017 release, “Heart of the City.”
Studio Mozart’s large live room (27-feet x 20-feet with a 17-foot cathedral ceiling) is capable of accommodating various configurations of bands, small orchestras and choirs. The studio’s Yamaha C7 Conservatory grand piano, Hammond B3 with Leslie 122 and the Fender Rhodes electric piano all especially benefit from the surroundings.
Drums recorded in the big live room can get to the huge level, while the four sizeable ISO booths allow the studio to accommodate almost every type of session. “The live room and the booths are wired directly with 60 mic lines with the console,” notes Kamcev. “Our Pro Tools is set up for simultaneous recording, with 48 inputs as well as 48 outputs on the mixdown through the Neve VR console.”
A Star Neve VR
“Every aspiring audio engineer’s dream is to have a large-format recording console,” Kamcev says. “I was always torn between Neve and an SSL G+. I commissioned and worked on an SSL G+ for some time, although somehow the sound of the mic pres was not my cup of tea.
“Then I got involved in installing and re-freshening a Neve VR with the Neve VR wizard himself; John Musgrave. I was on that project for a week, and learned as much as any engineer can from the master: I saw all the signal paths and module parts from the board, how they interact with each other, and got a hand on one of the most highly appreciated modifications for the VR, the ‘Mad Lab’ Modification (the Musgrave Mod).
“I had the chance to directly compare the sound of the modules with three levels of modification: Full channel Mod (coming from Chung King Studios), Partial Mod (coming from the Hit Factory), and no mod (coming from House Of Blues, Memphis). The Full Channel Mad Lab Modification sounded way more superior than the other two. I Learned that today’s flagship Neve 88R was born out of the Mad Lab Modified Neve VR channels.”
While becoming endowed with his hard-won Neve wisdom, gaining all that knowledge, Kamcev was also in the process of moving his studio and selling his trusty Trident Vector 432 board. Not long after finding a buyer for the Trident, Kamcev found out that another Neve master, Gregory Davis, who served as a supervisor for US Neve technicians in the 1980’s and ’90’s, had a VR console in mint condition and available for sale to the right buyer.