Show Us Your Space: Charlotte's Catalyst Recording

Welcome to the latest addition of our Show Us Your Space series, where we explore and celebrate the unique music-making environments of studio owners, independent builders, and musicians at all levels. Today we're heading down to Charlotte, North Carolina to tour a studio borne out of karaoke.

"I started Catalyst Recording way back in 1993," owner and engineer Rob Tavaglione told us, "when I was working as chief mastering engineer (and then chief engineer) at a karaoke studio. We achieved success as a Fortune 200 company before the karaoke business was decimated by piracy, so I went full-time with Catalyst and never looked back.

"Since then I've won two Emmy awards, done tons of on-location recording, recorded all types of material at Catalyst (everything from pop, indie, rap, rock, metal, country, voiceovers, audiobooks, and commercials) and have found my life's calling—doing off-kilter re-mixes of my favorite songs that clients record here at Catalyst." Follow along below as Rob graciously takes us through his studio doors and show us some of his gear.

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The Recording Rooms
Catalyst Recording A-room

The A-room at Catalyst Recording is a 16' x 12' room in which I typically record drums, percussion, vocals, and acoustic instruments. The room is surprisingly neutral for its size, with bass trapping, absorption, and ample diffusion from both my hand-made cork "ab-fusers" and slat diffusers on the ceiling.

Catalyst Recording B-room

The B-room is 12' x 12' and houses my 1980s Yamaha upright (well-aged and -maintained, it sounds great for jazz, indie and pop) and is designed to be brighter than the A-room.

With a repurposed garage door to encourage reflections, bass trapping, absorption, and more cork ab-fusors, this room sounds great for group vocals, upright bass, piano, electric guitar feedback, and drums too.

The Control Room

Next up is the control room. This large room houses all the recording gear and also acts as a recording room for electric guitarists, keyboards, my personal overdubs, and any artist I need a close connection to during overdubs and composition.

Catalyst Recording Control Room, Center

The guitar iso-box allows cranking up my tube amps with minimal bleed and the tape machines still actually get used (for extremely colorful mastering jobs, of all things). The ceiling's slat diffusers help achieve a pleasant balance in the sweet-spot, with additional bass trapping and absorption.

I track live bands all the time via a front-end with Millennia Media STT-1 (the sweetest vocal sound), Avalon VT737, AMS-Neve 4081, Manley TNT, True Precision 8, Focusrite ISA 428 MkII, Fredenstein F200, Daking FET-III, Empirical Labs Fatso, Maag EQ4M, Meris 440, BAE 73MPL, Cranborne Camdens and my custom modded (by Revive Audio) ART VLA. Monitoring is via Focal Trio 11Bes and Auratones.

Catalyst Recording Control Room, Right
Catalyst Recording Control Room, Left

You can't see it, but this studio is centered around my Apogee Symphony I/O MKII Thunderbolt conversion, which after extensive testing (I've been writing and reviewing gear for Pro Audio Review/Pro Sound News since 2007) I have determined is the best conversion available, bar none.

I sometimes mix in-the-box but typically utilize high-voltage analog summing (and monitor control) from SPL for its punch, warmth, headroom, and most importantly soundstage depth.

The Essential Gear

I've tried and reviewed everything under the sun, but I just can't find more euphony for vox than with this Roswell Pro Audio Colares. It can get a nice C12-ish FET sound but with the switchable harmonic saturation (very mild distortion) kicked in, it does wonderful things to vocalists that are unattainable with plug-ins.

It's not just capable of dirty rock sounds, either. It also excels with classical, pop, jazz, country, and even bluegrass—with presence, warmth, and detail.

Roswell Pro Audio Colares
Vanguard Audio Labs V1S +Lolli

After reviewing this stereo mic kit there was no way I was going to return it, as it can do almost anything—and with a more natural, resonance-free smoothness than anything I've ever tried. It includes small-diaphragm cardioid, hyper-cardioid, wide-cardioid and omni capsules, with large diaphragm (cardioid or omni) heads too.

Focal Trio 11 Be

It can be tricky filling a large control room with evenly dispersed sound, especially with low ceilings and the complications of being in a basement. I've reviewed dozens of monitors over the years and found many worthy contenders, but nothing touches these Focals for dynamics, headroom, smooth dispersion, and a non-fatiguing presentation.

They reach beyond me to inform my clients, they reach lows normally attainable only with a subwoofer (but with more accuracy) and they're truly analog (no DSP, no conversion, no voodoo).

To find more information on Catalyst Recording, visit its website.

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