So says Matt Knobel, director of Setai Recording Studios: “One way or another, almost everyone on my discography has gone through Focusrite’s ISA430!”
A luxury hotel fronting up to the coastline on Miami’s infamous South Beach is perhaps an unlikely setting for a recording studio, and to the casual observer it’s an easy place to overlook. But raise your eyes to the penthouse apartment of this stunning Art Deco hotel and you’ll find Setai Recording Studio, a superbly appointed facility that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean from one of the most famous beaches in the world. Most days this is where you’ll find Matt Knobel, recording and mixing some of the biggest stars in Rock, Pop and Hip Hop.
Miami is a place to see and be seen, something Matt very much took to heart when designing Setai Recording Studios. “My philosophy? Wherever you are you should be able to see the water. When you’re in the studio and it’s beautiful outside – especially when you’re in Miami – who wants to be inside? But we have so many windows in the studio and the control room that you never feel like you’re not outside!”
Location, location, location. These may be the three indispensable watchwords when building a studio, but Setai’s success rests not just on what’s outside those walls but also what lies within. How else can you explain the string of repeat appearances from some of the biggest names in the world? Over the years Matt’s worked with them all, from Whitney Houston to Outkast, Mary J. Blige to Ricky Martin, Sean Combs to Lenny Kravitz. But for all of the first-rate gear that gives the studio its character, almost all of these artists have had their vocals put through Focusrite’s ISA430 Mk II [analogue channel strip] at some stage.
“From way back in the early ’90s I loved Focusrite’s legendary ISA110 [mic pre and EQ] and ISA130 [dynamics and de-essing] units. Sonically they were absolutely perfect. So when the ISA430 came out… Ricky Martin was using one in his house, and I found that it was almost the same thing. Focusrite didn’t exactly re-invent the wheel here, they just kind of put it all together, cleaned it all up, added the digital features, added some more features… and it gave me the same great result. So when I saw the ISA430 Mk II it was a no-brainer. Of course I could have gone for a simpler unit, but I have a digital console so I figured why not get all of these features in one box.”
“Back in the day when I first used the compressor I was squashing the hell out of somebody’s vocal. He had no idea that I was compressing that much. And that was the first time I realised how clean this unit is. You can do extreme things but it doesn’t come across that way. I’m a big fan of signal processing that can be invisible. So the artist is listening back to the recording and is just like ‘wow’. He told me that it was the best acoustic guitar performance he’d ever done, and that the sound was inspiring for him. For me I felt like it was good mic selection, but then it was also a great mic pre, a great EQ, great compression. But then that’s what you get with the ISA428 Mk II. It’s like having three great modules in your rack, but it’s just one unit!”
“With the ISA430 Mk II it’s not like I can’t live without it; if you gave me a weak console I’d still be able to mix. But to me it’s about more than that. It’s about desire. Of course I can live without anything in this studio… but the ISA428 Mk II is what I choose to have, as opposed to being stuck with something. I bought it for a reason. I bought it because I love it. The de-esser is silky smooth, not abrasive. The compressor can be as aggressive or as gentle as you want without it being obnoxious. And the EQ is very strong, but at the same time it isn’t harsh. It isn’t like any other EQ I have in the studio, it’s completely its own thing and that’s exactly what I love about it.”