In a modest 10ft booth at the back of the Moscone Center, a small but insistent AES buzz formed around a new company, UnderToneAudio, and its hand-built, no-holds-barred analog console. The UTA custom console is designed from the ground up to provide the best in analog sound, benchmarking classic devices while incorporating the latest in materials and design. UnderToneAudio is the brainchild of Eric Valentine, a 25-year veteran of studio recording, and electronics circuitry designer Larry Jasper.
The UTA custom console is a Class A device from input to output, with vacuum tube mix buss and control room outputs for a detailed, open sound. The version shown at AES was a 24-input desk. The console’s design can accommodate up to 108 inputs, offering 24 busses, two switchable line inputs with trim per channel, full analog VU metering, three-way speaker selection, EQ and insert switching automation, and individual level and pan control on the buss sends for surround mixing.
To ensure that sound is properly heard where it counts most (in the engineer’s seat) the console incorporates an acoustically transparent work surface, a design that appears to consist of a pebbled metallic material. Undertone describes it as “porous metal,” and its benefit is the virtual elimination of comb filtering caused by nearfield monitors reflecting off the console’s surface.
The UnderToneAudio console also features a new EQ system. Each channel includes a Class A, four-band parametric. To eliminate the inherent hiss caused by unused EQ bands, all bands of each individual EQ can be bypassed, keeping the noise floor as low as possible. These EQs allow a choice of either a peak or shelf shape, with a shape control enabling any blend desired between the two. This makes it possible to emulate the contour and slope of any other equalizer made.
The overall circuitry design features discrete component circuitry with no crossover distortion and is designed to minimize the artifacts introduced into the audio when it is, inevitably, converted to digital. And, each removable module features active circuitry for easy serviceability. The entire goal of the console is to preserve and capture the artist with exceptional detail and accuracy, provide the operator with the tools to mix effectively, and generally bring the warmth and accuracy of classic analog console design into the age of digital audio.
Eric Valentine became inspired to develop the console when he realized the futility of attempting to keep the classic analog consoles he loved in proper working order, as proprietary parts fell out of production and the consoles continued to age. His vision was to recreate and improve on the solid design principles of the past, using modern materials and technology to ensure both the performance and serviceability that professional studios demand. Judging by the steady stream of AES attendees at the UnderToneAudio booth at AES, there is still plenty of interest in a console designed around sonic excellence.