Zeuss Parlays Performance Into Recording!

For several years, Chris Harris enjoyed fleeting fame, occasional fortune and generous helpings of fun of playing guitar in heavy metal bands with a following in the Northeast, such as Doom Nation.

He took his final big-time onstage bow five years ago, but he hardly left the music scene. Instead, he moved from behind the mic to behind the mixing board, parlaying a knack for recording bands from a sidelight into a full-fledged sound production/engineering company that’s now becoming a recognized force in heavy metal music circles.

Harris’ Hadley, Massachusetts, company, Planet-Z Recording, which takes its name from his industry moniker – “Zeuss” – has been involved with numerous up-and-coming heavy metal acts, including Shadows Fall, God Forbid, Sworn Enemy and Hatebreed. In all, he’s helped engineer and/or produce about a half-dozen albums for small independent labels. One of his latest acclaimed achievements is recording “The Art of Balance,” a new Shadows Fall CD released in September.

Photo: Chris Harris a.k.a. finds Lucid’s gear a plus for heavy metal recording.

In moving from being a performing musician to owner of Planet-Z Recording, Zeuss has stepped out of one type of limelight and into another. But while he’s toiling now behind the scenes, he’s certainly not lost touch with the creative side of the music business. Like all producers and engineers to varying degrees, Zeuss is able to bring his own creative talents to the music – not with musical instruments, though, but rather with studio engineering, production and recording gear.

“I really try to capture the sound that the band wants, and as an engineer/producer I have a lot of choices to make in using that equipment to transform the band’s sound into a real creation,” he says. “It’s like getting all the ingredients together and making a pizza.”

Among the latest additions to his ingredient list are two products that are becoming as indispensable to his creative music making efforts as pepperoni is to the pizza chef: a Lucid ADA8824 converter and a Lucid GENx6 word clock generator.

Both pieces of equipment have made the challenging process of working in dual analog and digital audio formats easier, and have enabled Zeuss to ultimately produce a better sound for the bands that rely on him to accurately interpret and produce their music.

For recording and producing music in a digital format in his studio he uses two Mackie digital 8 bus consoles, as well as Mackie HDR 24/96 recorders, Great River mic pre-amps, Empirical Labs distressors, and a Universal Audio 1176 limiter among others. The ADA8824 converter has allowed Zeuss to more readily move between analog and digital inputs and outputs. Last April, on the recommendation of his audio gear supplier, Mercenary Audio, Foxboro, Massachusetts, Zeuss purchased one ADA8824, opting to move to an outboard converter rather than relying on the converter embedded in the mixing console.

“There’s more inputs and outputs available with the 8824, making it easier to get things into and out of the recorders and the mixing console,” he says. “I also like this unit because it can transform the signal in both directions – from analog to digital or vice versa. Usually, converters are made to work one way. For instance, since I use a digital console I don’t need the converter to get into the console, but if I wanted to take a track and process it with analog outboard gear, I can go back through the converter to make it analog again.”

Realizing that relying on the onboard converter was limiting his ability to produce the best sound possible, Zeuss began evaluating different outboard converter options. After trying out several other models, he settled on the 8824 because of its flexibility and its ability to actually better produce sound with the qualities demanded by heavy metal music.

“The 8824 was more expensive than some competing models, and less than others, but I feel it really captures the sound I want without having to spend a very high dollar amount,” he says. “I like it because it’s very clean, open sounding and less grainy, and the top end that’s produced is very smooth. That’s key to me because I want the music to sound like I hear it in analog format, and that sound can change because of converter circuitry. Essentially, I really like analog sound, and this converter captures that sound for me. I like the outcome: how the 8824 transforms analog sound to digital.”

Lucid’s ADA8824 is able to accomplish all of these feats by way of a unique design that features digitally controlled analog attenuators on both inputs and outputs, allowing for adjustment of operating levels via a graphical user interface. The 8824 integrates seamlessly with ADAT lightpipe-equipped digital audio gear, including mixers, recorders and computer interface cards. Using the fiber-optic connection, multiple channels of data can be easily and cleanly transferred with 24-bit resolution via eight channels of I/O.

Important as the ADA8824 is to his engineering work, Zeuss says the Lucid GENx6 word clock generator he purchased before the 8824 has become an absolutely essential part of this digital audio recording system. Similarly acquired as a superior alternative to a clock built into his console’s onboard converter, the GENx6 has allowed Zeuss to more accurately align and synchronize his console, converter and recorders.

“It makes everything in my digital system run in the same timing,” Zeuss says. “If the equipment is not running at a good solid speed, snapshots are not being taken accurately and pieces of the audio are missing. The GENx6 is very stable, more so than the one in the console’s converter.”

Designed to route word clock or superclock at a digital sample rate of 44.1kHz or 48kHz, the GENx6 operates as a stand-alone clock source with the mere flip of a switch. It allows Zeuss to distribute or generate sync information and routes word clock or superclock to six BNC outs, thereby reducing system jitter and improving overall audio performance. “It has improved the depth and tightness of the sound,” Zeuss says. “It’s a great little unit because it can be used both as a distribution unit as well as a clock.”

Since integrating Lucid audio products into his operation, Zeuss says he’s noted a subtle improvement in the quality of the music he’s producing, as has the bands that pay him to reproduce their music as accurately as possible. The lead guitarist for Shadows Fall, in fact, alluded to the ever-improving sound coming out of Planet-Z in a recent Q & A interview on a popular heavy metal music site on the Internet. Asked to note the biggest difference between the band’s newest album that was about to be released – “The Art of Balance,” – which Zeuss produced, and the band’s previous release, Matthew Bachand said, “The production is the big difference. We had much better gear to work with in the studio, so it sounds a lot better.”

With much-hyped records like “The Art of Balance” under his belt, Zeuss is hopeful that even bigger projects with top record labels lie ahead. “I’m looking for products that can help me produce a unique, signature sound, and products like the Lucid converter and clock definitely are a big factor in determining the sound that we get in the end,” he says.

Lucid, a division of Symetrix Inc. is dedicated to producing sonically superior digital audio hardware for recording, mastering, and audio postproduction. Lucid’s critically acclaimed converters can be found in studios worldwide and were nominated for a 2000 TEC award.

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