Massey Hall’s new world-class recording studio is powered by Apple’s M2 Ultra chip


I remember the years in my early twenties through the concerts I attended – Justin Nozuka at Danforth Music Hall in 2015, Block Party in the Phoenix in 2016, Ólafur Arnalds at The Elgin in 2018. And so much of how I recall those experiences is defined by the places where they occurred. Tightly packed bars and ornate theaters all set the scene for a night of music.

But when I think of Toronto’s music scene, one place stands out from the rest: Massey Hall. It’s more than just a concert hall – it’s a Canadian icon. To say I was excited to go behind the scenes would be an understatement.

When I met with Doug McKendrick, Vice President of Production and Technology at Massey Hall, he casually dropped that Ron Sexsmith was doing a health check on the main stage. A Canadian legend is warming up a few floors below my feet.

I was invited to check out the new recording space, and while I knew there would be some cool technology powering the space, I was expecting a small studio above the main venue, not a technology powerhouse. It suddenly made sense that they invited someone from MobileSyrup.

“We need an infrastructure that would give us the ability to record a lot of tracks and channels simultaneously.”

“We wanted to be able to record anywhere, anytime,” said Doug, sitting across from me in the engineer’s chair. “If we were just recording through this window here, that would be one thing. But there are spaces that are six to seven floors below us, or even in a different building. We need an infrastructure that would give us the ability to record a Lots of tracks and channels simultaneously. Sometimes 100 different microphone inputs to manipulate. And that’s how we ended up with what you see here.”

Looking behind him, it was hard to believe all the inputs were sent to this room. There are hardly any cables at all. And aside from the mixing board, preamps and speakers, the only other visible tech in the room is a Mac monitor and a couple of iPads.

“The console is connected with four Ethernet cables. No bulky patch-based stuff or big wiring harness to deal with. We wanted it to be streamlined. And the same goes for the workflow when recording,” he says, motioning to the monitor. “We needed computers that could handle anything we were going to throw at them. You could do it with external chassis and various racks and all that, but we wanted everything in one place. And that’s when we started thinking about a Mac Pro.

It’s a story we hear time and time again – creatives looking to get technology out of the way to keep them focused on their work. The last thing you want is a recording session to be interrupted to let a project render or to switch out cables.

When I asked him how they landed on Apple, his answer was simple.

“We don’t bother here,” he said, laughing. “It didn’t seem like there was any point in getting the best of the best.”

In this he locked his chair and opened a project with dozens of tracks.

“The M2 Ultra chip was a game changer.”

“The M2 Ultra chip was a game changer, at least in our world. You see how it can handle a lot of productivity tasks and it just makes sense. It’s all about asking, ‘How can we put the highest capacity in the least? time?'”

To see it in action is impressive. The recording was from a week earlier at the 500-person live performance TD Music Hall at Allied Music Center. Not to be too hyperbolic, but it was unlike anything I’ve ever heard. It wasn’t just surround sound, it was like being in the hall with the audience as the music was played live.

But I’m not a professional sound engineer, so I asked for his honest opinion on the sound. Can he hear a difference between this and other recording spaces? His answer was simple.

“Absolutely. It is world class. “

I poked my head into the four studios and various recording rooms, each one equipped with a Mac. The entire floor is equipped with Apple gear to enable musicians to work without limitations. As he shows me around the spaces, Doug shares a common scenario.

“Everything is on one system, so you record a quick clip, you drop it and you record back. It keeps everything going.”

“Imagine you’re in the studio, you have a spark, so you walk down the hall to one of the rooms,” he says. “Everything is on one system, so you record a quick clip, you drop it and you record back. It keeps everything going.”

And that’s possibly the biggest takeaway from the whole experience. Massey Hall isn’t just a resort to be a high-end recording studio—it’s building a space for future generations of musicians. This is not just a place for musicians who can sell thousands of seats. It’s a place for aspiring musicians and sound engineers to hone their skills.

Unknown to many, Massey Hall is a charitable not-for-profit site with community outreach and educational programs. In recent years, these programs have taken place in venues across Toronto. Now, with seven floors and a variety of newly renovated performance spaces, everything can happen under one roof.

The hope is that young musicians have a place to establish their sound, experience performing and eventually graduate to the main Massey Hall stage.

“It’s all about creating the loop. We want to get people here and start creating.”

Knowing that generations of musicians will grow up attending, practicing and playing at Massey Hall, I can’t help but root for Doug’s vision of Massey Hall as one of the premiere live recording spaces for musicians in the years to come.

“You could be listening to your favorite artist ‘Live at Massey Hall’.”

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