Veteran producer embraces the new M-Audio DSM monitors
Producer/engineer Elliot Mazer is best known for his collaborations with Neil Young, including the classic 1971 album Harvest—and the number one single “Heart of Gold” that’s still a mainstay on rock airwaves. In the years since, he’s participated in, among other things, the inception and evolution of both digital audio and compact studio reference monitors. M-Audio had the pleasure of speaking with him after he’d been using technology that combines both, in the form of the M-Audio DSM studio monitors.
The Harvest Season
Technology may not be the first thing that comes to mind when listening to the work of Mazer or Young. However, that’s actually the same kind of complement as saying you didn’t notice the music in a good movie. Both scenarios embrace a similar philosophy: the more transparency the work takes in the service of creating a greater experience, the better.
“I have done every imaginable job on the records I’ve made,” Mazer says. “The studio is my instrument. I like to start early in the process, learn the songs, and help the artists create a record that makes that song sparkle. Putting a song together is kind of like cooking a great sauce. You have to use your ingredients appropriately to create an end result that serves the purpose. For me, it’s all about using the studio to create sounds that are appropriate for the project.”
Mazer and Young have developed a great deal of mutual respect in their work together over the course of nearly four decades. “Neil loves spontaneity and he loves technology,” Eliot relates. “He is a brilliant person who is constantly striving to perfect his art and to give fans a chance to enjoy great songs that have a great sound.”
The Evolution of Studio Monitoring
Having started producing in 1962, Mazer has seen a lot of changes in studio monitors over the course of his career. The journey has included huge near-prehistoric monitors that were “basically okay between only 100 and 8000 cycles”, early near-fields that he “couldn’t wait to get away from”, large tuned monitors, plenty of high-end custom designs, and lots of “stuff that sounds too hi-fi-ish”.
“Recently, a major audiophile company visited my studio and brought an extremely high-end set of $10,000 monitors,” Mazer recounts. “They sounded okay—but I just couldn’t envision myself mixing on them. I’m much more partial to my M-Audio DSM2 monitors. They don’t color the sound with hyped bass and highs—they just provide me with a true reference point that I know will translate well to other systems.”
While the M-Audio DSM2 reference monitor retails for an attractive price of just $749 each, Mazer is clearly more wowed by the performance—which results from M-Audio sparing no expense in the design process. “I don’t think of it in terms of dollars,” Mazer states candidly. “Within reason, I’ll spend whatever I need to in order to help me make my recordings sound right. And I really like the DSM2s. They sound big and have very little distortion or coloring.”
M-Audio DSM Monitors: Digital Done Right
One of the reasons Mazer chose the DSM2 is the fidelity he gets by driving them directly via digital connections. “I think digital audio sounds good when you don't hear a digital sound,” he says. “The fewer A/D and D/A conversions you have in your signal chain, the better things are going to sound. Going out digitally into the DSM speakers sounds great, which is a credit to M-Audio’s digital amplification. That's a big advantage.”
Mazer praises the DSMs for their neutral sound, which allows him to get a true representation of what his mixes really sound like. “With the DSM monitors, what you hear is what you get,” he states. “Every monitoring environment has certain anomalies, and no matter how good your ears are, your recordings and mixes are going to be affected by what you're hearing. So if the monitors sound overly bright, you'll tend to make a mix that's not that bright. The DSM monitors give me a true representation of the mix so I can trust what I hear.”
Mazer set the DSMs up by playing some very familiar recordings and adjusting their response via the rear-panel controls. “From then on, I wasn't concerned with the speakers,” Mazer says. “I didn’t have to wonder if I had the right amount of bass and treble in my mixes. When I play back my mixes on various other systems and send MP3 files to people, everybody says the material sounds good. That's what speakers should be doing—influencing you to make mixes that sound great and translate well across different systems.”
Interestingly, Mazer likens the DSMs to his favorite headphones, which he especially relies on when working in other studios. "I just put on my favorite pair because most studios have foreign monitors and foreign acoustics and wacky ways people listen,” Mazer explains. “And the DSMs sound like those headphones. I was working on a mix in my own studio a while ago and I was listening through the DSMs. Then I listened to the same mix in the headphones, and there was nothing I wanted to change. That’s pretty amazing considering that headphones and speakers are completely different acoustical and spatial environments.”
As you might expect, Mazer is a Pro Tools and Logic fan, as well. He also uses the M-Audio ProjectMix I/O on some projects and a variety of M-Audio interfaces on the road. “I like your gear a lot,” Mazer states unequivocally. “One of the things I've always liked about M-Audio is that you democratized music-making. That’s an important thing, because somebody can buy a Pro Tools system for around $500 and they wind up learning the same software that people are using to make records that cost a million dollars. They have access to a set of tools that almost every record touches in production. That has never happened before.”