Spice House

At age 13, Alex Santilli went from building with Lego to assembling computers. At 16 he began designing loudspeakers. By 19 he was mixing on Pro Tools and restoring analogue consoles. In 2009 a local studio owner hired him to ‘resurrect’ expired gear. He restored the studio’s mixing console and outboard, rewired the studio and began engineering sessions there.

After managing the studio for two years, he was ready to build a studio of his own...

Alex SantilliOccupying a fully renovated former stable, Spice House Sound is the latest recording studio to join the Philadelphia music scene and brings innovative acoustics and a welath of technology. Work on the facility began in 2011 when 21-year-old ‘audio-impassioned gear head’ Alex Santilli made a cold call to the Walters-Storyk Design Group. At the time, neither architect/acoustician John Storyk nor Santilli could have known quite what a journey of experimentation and discovery they had begun.

‘Alex Santilli has a genuine reverence for sound and, he’s an innate gear whisperer,’ Storyk says. ‘He can breath new life into vintage technology most of us would just shovel dirt over.

‘I was intrigued by his vision for the studio, and found him to be a hand’s-on prodigy. He personally implemented the entire systems integration, pulling every wire himself. We appreciate projects that we can have fun with and learn something from. Spice House fulfilled both those wishes.’

‘The building provided us with about 2,000-sq-ft of usable space,’ Santilli says. ‘Our live room has a 650-sq-ft footprint, and our goal was to maximise its volume. The room opens to a cavernous 16,000 cubic feet.’

Spice House

At 40-sq-ft the fully isolated, room-with-in-room, control room comfortably accommodates ten people. Its ceiling slopes from 10ft to 14ft – taking full advantage of this height, a loft area was created above the control room, iso booth and sound lock. This area acts as a home for the ceiling cloud when not in use.

The spacious live room boasts a 25-ft ceiling height. WSDG Project Manager Matthew Ballos regards its ceiling cloud is a ‘one of a kind marvel of (mechanical) engineering: ‘Taking full advantage of the elevation, we wanted to provide Alex with the flexibility to track widely diversified sessions. Working together we came up with a motorised, track-mounted acoustic absorption unit, which gives new meaning to the term ‘ceiling cloud.’ We also employed more traditional, wall-mounted variable acoustic treatments. These two systems work hand-in-hand to provide the space with the versatility of sounding like a large live room or a small intimate space.

The 120-sq-ft iso booth can function as an overflow mix station and a semi-isolated 90-sq-ft sound lock can double as a recording space – it adds to the overall flexibility of the studio. All spaces have been wrapped in reclaimed barn wood, which enhances the vibe and amplifies the studio aesthetic. Band members can also record from the control room roof, if they’re looking to hit some especially high notes.

Spice HouseThe heart of the Spice House system has been rebuilt and redesigned with carefully selected components and circuits to attain a performance standard beyond that of professional equipment. By retrofitting state-of-the-art components and op-amps, using direct-coupled and transformer-coupled circuits, and expanding bandwidth performance for zero phase-shift in the audio band, Santilli has created a distinctive sonic signature to define the studios’ idiosyncratic sound.

He spent eight years designing the loudspeakers and reproduction system, focusing on sensitivity, transient response, true full range response, and linear absolute phase. ‘We achieved a carefully crafted and measured experience that can only be realised to its full potential in a John Storyk-designed room,’ he says.

‘No one will recognise the console or the mains. I built them from scratch and have been fine tuning them for a couple of years. One of the special kicks about working with WSDG was having a chance to collaborate with John Storyk.’ Santilli concludes. ‘Matt Ballos and the WSDG team were extremely helpful, and everyone went the extra nine yards. But the idea of picking up the phone, calling John out of the blue, and having a pretty meaningful conversation with him was a great surprise. I see this studio design/build experience as an extended one-on-one master class. I couldn’t be more pleased with the look and sound of Spice House Sound, and I get the feeling John had a pretty good time with this gig too.’

Spice House Sound’s opening project was Flyermile, a new rock band that took full advantage of the unorthodox shape of the room to cultivate an abundance of idiosyncratic sounds.

Recording equipment:
Auditronics 710 console (custom modified + rebuilt)
Otari MX-80 2-inch tape deck (custom modified + restored)
Ampex AG440 Tape deck
Alesis HD24XR ADA HD recorder (Jim Williams modified) (x2)
PCM1794A-based DA (custom built + modified)
Phi 8.4 monitors (custom designed far field, full range speakers)
Furmann HD-6 headphone mixing system
Custom Built Mac+PC
GFA 545 amplifier (custom modified and rebuilt)
GFA 555 amplifier (Jim Williams and custom modified) 
Distressor (x2)
1176 rev D (custom built) (x2)
Pultec EQP-1A (x2)
Aphex 651 (Jim Williams modified) (x2)
Orban 642B (Jim Williams modified)
Presto A908 2 Channel Tube Preamplifier
Ampex 2-Channel Tube Preamplifier
Pendulum OCL-2
Buzz Audio SOC 1.1
Urei LA-4 (custom modified)
More: www.spicehousesound.com
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