Recording Corinne Bailey Rae with Lynx Aurora
Review care of Source Distribution
Producer and jazz musician Steve Brown shot to prominence through his work with Corinne Bailey Rae, whom he met performing in jazz clubs while at Leeds Music College. "Corinne used to work behind the bar at the Underground, which was one of a few centres for live music in Leeds at that time. There was loads of great stuff going on. A couple of people ran jazz/salsa/hip hop crossover music nights with live bands, and they used to put on a lunchtime jazz gig every day. I did gigs there with John McCallum, (who appears on Bailey Rae's second album, The Sea), and Corinne would get up in her break and sit in with us."
This kick started a musical relationship between Brown and Bailey Rae that led to Brown working as co-producer on her first two albums and acting as musical director on her tour of The Sea album : and in both studio and live environments Brown is now a firm advocate of the Lynx Aurora audio converters:
"I use four Lynx Auroras these days. I have an 8 channel version with a FireWire card in it, a 16 channel version with an AES card that lives in Limefield studio in Manchester, and two more 16 channel AES Auroras in the private studio here in Leeds."
Limefield, the studio where much of The Sea was recorded, was built by Brown himself, along with John Ellis:
"John's always made music in that space. He's been in that house since he was a kid, and he's always been a monstrous musician, with great parties and jam sessions, so it was already a space for music. It seemed to make sense, so John and I pooled resources and built a studio there, converted the garage into a control room and a dead space, and we use the big old ballroom which is John's front room as the live area. That studio is definitely geared towards acoustic music. It's a beautiful sounding room and it's always been a great space for playing acoustic music."
Initially Limefield was built around a small analogue desk and a few bits of entry-level equipment, which they modified and improved on the advice of Matt Newport at Black Lion Audio in Chicago. But Brown and Ellis soon realised that to get the sounds they wanted they were going to need to improve the quality of their signal path from source through to DAW : including the A/D and D/A conversion stages.
"Through the process of modification I learnt a lot about differences in audio quality. I heard our original audio converters pre-mod and post-mod and I could really hear the difference in terms of frequency response and clock quality. But some op-amps in the modification which on paper have a broader bandwidth also have a slightly aggressive upper-mid tone, especially on percussive material, which we couldn't really get rid of. So we spent a couple of months looking around to upgrade our converters."
This search brought Brown to the Lynx Aurora converters. The Aurora comes in 8 and 16 channel versions in a single rack space. Both converters can be configured to work with a variety of interfaces via optional cards, including USB, FireWire, ADAT, MADI and Pro Tools HD. The Aurora interfaces have a maximum sample-rate of 192 kHz and feature SynchroLock technology to ensure incredibly low jitter and transparent audio quality. ?When I got the 8 channel Aurora it instantly impressed me: what you put in is what you hear back. That's the only goal for me with converters - how close is the playback sound to what's being tracked? Beyond that, there are lots of nice functional things with the Lynx stuff, but the real motivation for me is that transparency of sound."
The Aurora converters aren't just getting used in the studio, since Brown also takes them on the road with him when touring with Bailey Rae. "For use on the road we equipped two of the Auroras with MADI interfaces. We had an analogue front-end on stage so we didn't have to rely on the preamps in the front-of-house console, which makes a big difference. We then converted this to digital on stage and sent the Aurora's AES output to the front-of-house and the MADI output to the monitoring guy."
With Bailey Rae recently picking up her second Grammy for best R&B performance (for the Brown-produced Bob Marley cover Is This Love), it's no surprise that things are looking busy for Brown, including work on Bailey Rae's third album. "Right now I'm doing an EP with John McCallum, alongside a few other collaborations with other people, but mainly working on Corinne's new record. We're about five or six songs in now and Corinne's in LA at the moment, recording with RZA from Wu-Tang on a collaboration which I've been working on across the Atlantic. It's sounding really exciting - it's amazing for me to have his ears and input on things. I've really enjoyed the developments that have come from that collaboration. When she's back we'll crack on with getting the rest of the album done and it should be released later in the year."