Konken Studios in Hamburg are one of the most renowned German addresses when it comes to the sound mixing for TV and cinema productions. Countless movies and TV series, both German and international alike and ranging from the 1990’s movie “Kleines Arschloch” to the latest season of the “Weissensee” TV series, were mixed here. Owner Stephan Konken has been managing the studio that carries his name for almost 30 years – and successfully so. Thanks to his expertise, he has not only only take the Nika and Golden Eagle award home, but can also look back on a nomination for the Amanda award. Just recently, he was also been nominated for a prestigious Golden Globe for his work on the movie GETT. But even though Konken Studios have been among the top players in the market for a long time, they, too, had to adapt to changing prerequisites in the industry: Ever tighter budgets and deadlines as well as an increasing number of re-recordings in the course of a mix made it obvious that their older AMS Neve DFC console – although proven and tested – just wasn’t up to the job anymore, resulting in the purchase and installation of a modern Pro Tools | S6 system. We sat down with Stephan Konken and asked him to tell us about his workflow and his first experiences with Pro Tools | S6.
Time for new solutions
“I had been thinking about replacing my AMS Neve DFC console for quite some time. For my productions, I need a tool that is powerful and can be deployed universally. In addition, it has to be flexible enough to handle projects of any size and to be well-thought-out in terms of maintenance. My old console had served me reliably for 15 years, and the sound quality was still great, but the workflow was far from state-of-the-art. Relatively quickly, S6 emerged as a promising option, but as a first step, I wanted to find out if it really matched all my requirements. After many phone calls and a lot of consideration I teamed up with (German reseller) SMM in the spring of 2014 in order to develop a concept. We went through all aspects of TV and cinema mixes and created several possible workflows. In May, Mike Hofer and I thoroughly tested all the critical points with a demo console for five days. At the end of the day, it was obvious to me that the S6 would mean I would really have to change my workflow, but that it would also have a lot of benefits – and that was the crucial factor for me. As a result, SMM installed two new Pro Tools HDX systems including a 24 fader S6 in our central control room in December 2014.”
Behind the scenes – video interview with Stephan Konken (in German)
The S6 ist put to the test
“Now, a couple of months and movies later, I’m comfortable with it, and I’m actually having a lot of fun with the console. Fairly quickly, I stopped thinking about the interface. Thanks to the ergonomic design of the S6 I was able to find my way around the setup, and despite having to adjust to the new workflow, I was back to my former working speed in no time. The first stress test for the S6 came with the production of the third season of Weissensee, a very popular TV series in Germany. With more than 80 incoming sound tracks and about 150 channels, I really depended on a streamlined workflow. At first I thought that I would need more faders or joysticks, but relatively quickly, this proved to be a false conclusion as I can work really well with the touchscreen. I particularly like the scrolling waveform display directly above the channel strip – you can let go of constantly looking at the edit screen and focus on the console and the mix. In any case, the link-up between Pro Tools and S6 is one of the most important factors for the switch. The interaction takes place in the most intuitive way. ”
“In any case, the link-up of Pro Tools and S6 is one of the most important factors for the switch – the interaction takes place in the most intuitive way.”
Old habits, new efficiency
“At first, I created my set-up in the same way I was used to from my old console. I constantly had to roll around with my chair in order to be able to operate all the faders. Thanks to the conceptual design of the S6 I’m now always sitting in the sweet spot, which is great. At first, the buttons on the S6 seemed really small to me, but they are well illuminated and thus easy to tell apart even in the typically dark mixing situation. Right now I’m considering if it might make sense for me to get an additional fader module – I could place my master faders there. I really like the thought that, thanks to the modular concept, I can adapt my S6 to future requirements and workflows. When I start a new project, I always base the setup on my masters. I use it as the initial point and then adjust from there. The inputs are organized into groups and routed onto correspondent stems, sorted by dialogue, foley, ambiences, effects and music. For international productions, there are additional parallel tracks, for example for dialogue variations. The reverb/hall returns are also being assigned to the stems.
Some of the plug-ins are indispensable. I often use PhoenixVerb, iZotope Ozone and Insight. When it comes to the limiter or the multi band compressor, I rely on the Avid Pro Series plug-ins because they deliver excellent results. I like to place them on the touchscreen so I can access them directly there. In addition, I use the expand mode on the knob modules for many effects because it enables me, for example with the master limiter, to control the input gain directly at the knob of the respective channel strips. Mac Pros with HDX cards serve as workstations, and my stem recorder is the current Mac Book pro with an HD native system.”
Looking at the big picture
“Irrespective of the technical aspect, for me there are three decisive factors for a good sounding mix: the intelligibility of the dialogue, the creation of clear and defined spaces and a conclusive, homogeneous overall picture of the sounds. We mixed the current movie in a 7:1 format, and I paid particular attention to using the panning in a very subtle way as this corresponds best with the movie’s story.
Here at Konken Studios, I feel we have really benefited from the switch to S6, and that we are well prepared for the future and upcoming change processes in the industry. Even though my old DFC is still standing in a corner of my studio, I haven’t once been tempted to reinstall it.”
Behind the scenes – mixing with Pro Tools | S6 at Konken Studios