Interview Anssi KIPPO – Astia Studio founder (Finland) – 15/09/2019
What is your story? How did you get into the music business?
My name is Anssi Kippo and I am the founder of Astia studio, which has been in operation since 1994. We have two studios in a 750m2 building in Lappeenranta, Finland and our A-studio is full analog. We have bands coming for sessions from all over the world. Some have arrived from as far as 9,000 km away from places like the USA and the furthest corner of Russia, Vladivostok. In the 90’s my home town had no place to record so I got an 8 track tape machine along with a small mixing console to work on the songs I had. As soon as the local bands found out about my equipment, I had months of bookings and things evolved from there.
From what I’ve understood you work with tape a lot. Do you see potential for resurgence in the cassette as a format that people use to enjoy and listen to music?
Yes. A few years back I quit computer recording. I think you can solve most problems in life with a simple A/B comparison. Dozens of times we’ve recorded the same take on both the tape and DAW with the exactly same result every time; on DAW it sounds like a lot of editing is needed unless we record again. Yet, when listening the very same take from tape everything sounds perfect and soulful. This eventually led me to do tape sessions only and every band who visits me is blown away by the amazing sound difference. If you monitor from the output of the sound card, the difference is minimal. My world was turned upside down when for the first time I changed the monitoring from the output of the sound card to before the sound card. For the first time in years music sounded right again. I recommend you to do this simple comparison yourself. Keep the signal path analog and you can spot amazing differences. The same applies for vinyl records made in the analog-era; I am not talking about the digitally remastered ones, but the pre-digital vinyls. Compare them to any digitally made vinyl and be surprised. I have written clear instructions about the comparison on my blog that has been shared on social media several hundred times already. For 15 years I couldn’t listen to any music outside the control room. After rediscovering vinyl records I listen to them every day. Even when working for ten hours in studio we listen one album during breakfast, another during lunch and after work yet one more. For the first time in over 15 years music feels good again and that’s all thanks to the full analogue signal path. If someone told me few years back that a cassette sounds good, I would have laughed. After making the A/B comparison I’m no longer laughing and I actually listen to cassettes pretty often.
I know that you record using analog mediums, do you also record digitally? Do you have a preference?
I no longer record on DAW. Every musician who visits me is blown away by the huge sound difference and they do not want to have their music ruined by digital recording and especially not by digital processing. For some reason people tend to think that plugins are no different from the real life hardware. If that’s so, then why not instead of riding a motorcycle or a horse, ride them both on PlayStation only? They have been very nicely simulated there. Or how about if instead of a real woman, you should consider marrying a blowable rubber doll? She’s a nice emulation of a woman… No-one in the right mind would even think such an idea, yet for some reason that’s how things are with plugins and amp emulations among audio people.
What about the bands, have you noticed preferences amongst them? Do you see a trend between analog and digital?
Definitely. Most bands I know are tired of the disappointment on every album and recording session. The drummers especially are not happy as all the hard work they’ve put into developing their signature style is not translated from the final mix as every hit has been edited to grid. All the money they’ve spent on drums and the new drum heads was money wasted as that’s all gone thanks to sound replacer and drum samples. I think it’s about time we make music sound great again! Analog tape is the answer as it captures a lot more compared to DAW. With my simple A/B comparison I have amazed the local university professors, doctors and even the head master of the university. They are so excited about the topic that they are starting an official study on the subject.
Do you have a favorite project that you’ve worked on in the past, or is too hard to decide? What’s your favorite memory with a band?
Oh, there are so many cool albums and sessions with amazing musicians that I’ve done. I’d estimate that I’ve done around 2,000 studio sessions. One of my favorite bands is definitely Children Of Bodom. I produced and recorded three albums, an EP, several singles and B-sides along with demos for them. We had over 20 studio sessions together. I also toured with them as FOH sound engineer and occasional tour manager from 1998 until 2002. From the recent sessions a black metal band Spell Of Torment got me very excited as they are bringing the truth back to metal. A local band called Royal Max visited me for two song session and they brought fresh organic sound to rock/pop world that is unfortunately mostly dead and fake.
Do you think high fidelity sound is the only reason for the resurging demand for analog consumption of music?
I do not think it is the only reason. Actually the research that I am doing in collaboration with the local university shows that the analog signal chain delivers emotion compared to emotionless sound of digital audio. This is one of the reasons why vinyl records, cassettes and tape recording are rearing their beautiful heads. From what we’ve witnessed ADHD symptoms are reduced when a person listens to music that has never been converted to digital and I was contacted by a person who told me he was cured from a deep depression by listening to full analog signal chain music for three weeks. People sense these things and this is why analog audio is gaining popularity. For way too long music hasn’t touched us so it’s time to bring all that back.
What are the advantages of recording on an analog medium?
The unlimited possibilities of digital recording lead to endless editing along with long and expensive studio sessions. I think it is awesome that the analog equipment limits your options in a very positive way. When I still did DAW sessions, we could easily work one week on a song and several months on an album. After making the transition to tape recording only the sessions got fast and both the bands and artists are amazed by how much more detailed their music, playing and vocals sound even when you listen them as a poor quality mp3s on the internet. To me there’s no returning to computer sessions. Today anyone who has a laptop can call themselves a sound engineer, anyone who has a camera is a professional photographer or a movie director. And unfortunately there any many who shouldn’t do any of that. Working with tape takes skills and it also limits the amount of people who even dare to try it. We are living strange times; more music, photos and videos are done than ever, yet what they deliver is emptiness. Back when only real professionals were doing these things, there was a value, some spark of a genius talent which nowadays unfortunately is a rarity.
What is the gear you use when you are recording, mixing and mastering the music?
After 15 years or recording to computer and 8 years of using digital mixing consoles I went back to full analog signal chain. Both our A and B studio control rooms have an old school full analog Trident Vector 432 mixing console. The studio A console has been recapped. I record on Otari MTR-90mk2 2” 24 track tape using RTM SM900 tape and mix to stereo using Studer A812 1/4” RTM SM900 tape. We have a Neumann U67 and other vintage microphones. For reverb I use an EMT-140 mono tube plate reverb from the 50’s and a stereo tube version from the 70’s. Delay is done with Revox B77 and Revox PR99 stereo tape machines. As for hardware I like LA2A, 1176, Drawmer 1968ME and for drums the Trident built-in dynamic modules are awesome. On every session I keep the signal path full analog and only after mastering transfer the material to digital. All the vinyls and cassettes are made directly from the tape keeping the signal path full analog.
Is it possible to emulate those advantages with digital recording?
Not during our lifetime. For over a decade I too believed that the digital emulation was equal to a real life hardware. Yet, nowadays I demonstrate these differences by making an A/B comparison. Every band who visits us for a tape session is blown away by the amazing differences of the digital and analogue audio.
How do you see the future of analog recording?
As everything in life is a wave in motion, analog recording is coming back. All the time more bands and artists are waking up to the cruel fact that their music sounds empty and hollow. It doesn’t touch the listener and it definitely does not deliver the emotion. Analog audio does that and it’s easy to spot as I explain on my blog. Once you know what to focus on, you cannot comprehend why you haven’t noticed the difference before. I thank Recording The Masters Tapes and Mulann Industries for making music sound great again!
Do you think that part of the reason for your success, which is quite remarkable, has to do with the fact that you primarily use analog tape?
Well, we have had clients from all over the world for over two decades also when we were working with full digital signal. I hope that going analog will scare the non-professional artists and bring in those who are the True Artists with a capital T and a capital A. I am happy to offer a warm, soulful, touching and full-of-emotion option in this empty, cold and hollow plastic age. To me analog tape has brought back the joy of music and I highly recommend it to all my fellow sound engineers and producers. It is definitely worth the effort and to me there’s no going back to digital!