John Harris in his new 5.1.4 mix room

In what was a bedroom at his home in Burlington, New Jersey, broadcast and mix engineer John Harris has built a remote surround mix room around Neumann monitors. ‘I have a complete 5.1 system and four height monitors, he confirms. ‘Everything is Neumann actives.’

Harris built his career by anticipating the needs of his clients, while delivering the best possible recordings and mixes for a range of A-list artists, television broadcasts and live events. For 30 consecutive years, he has been the music mixer for the Grammys. Additionally, he’s recorded the likes of U2, Metallica, Eric Clapton and Paul McCartney. This year, a time where much of the world has gone remote, Harris has set up a remote mixing environment with Neumann monitors at his home.

Harris and creative partner Jody Elff have spent several years discussing what could be possible if music were to be mixed in real time over vast distances – from literally anywhere to a network of fixed-base mix rooms.

‘What would that do for our industry?’ he asks. ‘The industry of remote recording has changed 100-fold since I started, and it has become very specialised – it comes down to you and your art, and how you create your best.’

The pair began pursuing their new endeavour, HEAR, in earnest last year, leveraging existing technologies such as the Internet, proprietary switches, VPNs and other ‘commoditised’ connectivity infrastructure – with the goal of delivering perfect recordings and mixes to remote clients.

Harris' state of the art mixing environment in Burlington, featuring Neumann monitorsHarris’ system comprises Neumann KH 310 monitors at LCR, KH 310s in the rear, and KH 120 in a rectangular array on the ceiling. ‘The system we have set up consists of two components – one is to control the machines on the other side, and one is to hear them properly,’ Harris explains. ‘Our controllers are so fast that you can really get the feel of a live remote mix so you are making fluid movements.’

When the pandemic hit in March, their new business model was put to the test with real-world challenges and Harris wasted no time implementing his new monitoring environment. ‘I want to get people excited about how we are able to deliver all the needed components to the artist and monitor and create in an ideal environment – and to a Dolby standard,’ he says.

To facilitate their remote recordings, Harris and Elff FedEx Pelican cases to the recording locations – which can be sent to professional facilities – or more often than not, a personal home. Each case contains a six-space rack with recording hardware and software, as well as microphones.

‘They roll the case in, power it up and plug the internet in,’ says Harris. ‘When the client turns it on, our switches see it and immediately we are able to control everything – we talk to them on their headphones as if they were in a studio. The systems always function as a “recorder” but also function as a mixer that I control with hardware controls – not a mouse. If the goal is to be live, it will output my mix to streaming, a network, or wherever it’s needed in real time.’

Once recording is completed, the audio uploads to a secure site and, in about 20 minutes, Harris is able to access an entire multitrack and start re-mixing, continuing the process from where he left off.

‘I built it this room from a blank slate, and thought, “if I could do anything, what would I do?”.’

He sought advice from a friend, multiple Grammy-winning Eric Schilling, who recently set up his own multichannel mixing array at his place in California. ‘I think there are 19 speakers in all, and Eric told me they were all Neumann – KH 310s, KH 120s and KH 810 subs. He couldn’t say enough good things about them, so that helped solidify my decision.’

Harris also contacted Tim Moore, Relations Manager at Sennheiser, during the planning and selection process for the room. ‘John and I have been working together for years, and we’ve worked on dozens of projects together – but usually on location at live events. It is exciting to see him leading the way with the new remote working methodologies to better serve his clients.’ says Moore. ‘There are so many possibilities that this can hold for the future in how live events can be produced and delivered to the market.’

With the monitor installation and room tuning completed, he mixes on both loudspeakers and Sennheiser HD 820 closed-back headphones. ‘I’ve come up with this amazing hybrid monitoring set-up,’ he says. ‘Now, the same confidence that everyone had from my headphones, I get out of my speakers. The HD 820s will tell you if the bottom end of the mix is right.’

Now that he has his monitoring environment set up properly, Harris can get down to business: ‘As long as I know that what I’m hearing is the same that other people will hear, then I’m good and can stop worrying about the equipment and just mix.’ Currently, he is working on a project that will appear on HBO Max, and a tribute to jazz great Charlie Parker for Jazz Foundation of America.

Despite the pandemic, Harris feels well connected with his peers and is happy with his Neumann mix array: ‘I feel more in touch with the audio world than I ever have, and I am getting great results from these monitors,’ he says. ‘My phone has been ringing off the hook – everyone is talking, being creative and coming together as a community. There are just not that many events yet, but we are ahead of the curve though and we are ready.’

More: www.sennheiser.com

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