Toontrack have kicked off the month of March with a strong addition to their famous range of Superior Drummer expansions: The Rooms of Hansa SDX. The SDX gets its title from the four rooms at the prestigious Hansa Tonstudio in Berlin, where it was recorded by Grammy Award-winning recording/mixing engineer Michael Ilbert.
We take a closer look at why this is such an iconic studio as well as Michael's own illustrious career...
Hansa Tonstudio, Berlin
Starting out as a record label based in a small recording studio, Hansa Records was founded by brothers Peter and Thomas Meisel in the early 1960s. Throughout the 60s, they built up a solid reputation and consistently added new artists and productions to their roster up until the early 70s when they decided it was time to take the next step and upgrade, so founded the Hansa Tonstudio in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin.
The first of the four rooms, Hansa Studio 1, was opened in 1973 though relocated in 1980, and features a fantastic set of equipment including vintage compressors and reverbs - the centrepiece of the studio though is its classic SSL 4000 E-series mixing console, a very rare piece of history!
Michael Ilbert and Toontrack recorded in the live room of Studio 1 for the SDX, a spacious and versatile room that has captured countless famous recordings. For drums, it’s a perfect room – spacious but with a relatively moderate ceiling height, making it ambient without sounding overpowering.
The second of the four rooms, Studio 2, is perhaps the most famous of them all and is certainly not just a room! Before Peter and Thomas Meisel founded the Hansa Tonstudio, they frequently rented the legendary Meistersaal recording hall which was situated very close to the Berlin Wall in the Berlin-Mitte district. It was previously owned by Ariola Records but by 1975, the brothers had taken over ownership and turned it into Hansa Studio 2.
The Meistersaal is a stunning concert hall built in 1910, it's large size and wooden walls make for exceptional acoustics and for this reason, throughout it's time as a recording studio, it was the top choice of many legendary artists including David Bowie, U2, Iggy Pop, Tangerine Dream, Brian Eno, Depeche Mode and many more, the list goes on!
Since this room no longer is officially an operational part of Hansa, the amount of projects recorded here are few and selected very carefully. However, with the help of Michael Ilbert and the owners of Hansa Tonstudios, Toontrack were given the unique opportunity to capture drums in this historic space.
Another well known room of the Hansa Tonstudio, used by Michael Ilbert and Toontrack for the SDX is the Marble Room. Named after it's interesting use of Italian marble on the walls, the room's acoustics make it a perfect space for drum recording, so Toontrack took full advantage of this!
It's specially designed without any 90 degree angles to allow for more interesting reflections of sound and creates a more exciting acoustic in the room, whilst the hardwood flooring effectively breaks up the diffusion and keeps the decay in check – making it the perfect ambience for controlled but still reverberant rock drums.
The final room recorded by Michael and the team was the vocal booth...yes, you read that right! Although intended for vocal recording, the nature of this very small room makes it ideal for recording dry, punchy and muffled drum tones. This room has a special something that pushes each instrument to the edge of the speakers without making it sound contained or claustrophobic.
On top of using all these amazing spaces, Michael Ilbert went the extra mile and even took a stereo ambience recording captured in the famous Hansa staircase. The spiral staircase of Hansa Tonstudio was used by many engineers as a reverb chamber, and was even used in the recording of David Bowie's 'Heroes'!
Michael Ilbert is a Swedish Grammy Award-winning recording engineer born in the mid 60s. He spent many years at the Music-A'Matic studio in Gothenburg, Sweden before relocating to Berlin in 2007, where he took over one of the studios as Hansa, making it his very own mix room where he was able to keep all the gear that he'd been collecting for years. His discography features credits on over 250 productions involving some of the biggest names in the industry including a-ha, Backstreet Boys, Robyn, Muse, Adele and Ed Sheeran. Toontrack were in very safe hands for the production of this SDX!