A chat with Timothy Stollenwerk

Posted on: 21/03/2024

Timothy Stollenwerk is the founder of Stereophonic Mastering, based in Portland. He was one of our first mastering engineers to adopt the Dave and M-Scaler into his workflow and has been using it ever since. With over 2000 albums under his belt he has been particularly busy – so we are super grateful that we’ve had the opportunity to ask Timothy a few questions, so please enjoy the blog below!

 

1. For anyone who might not know you, can you tell us a bit about who you are and what you do?

My name is Timothy Stollenwerk, owner and operator at Stereophonic Mastering in Portland, Oregon. I’ve been professionally mastering music since 2000. I started off as a recording and mix engineer and then switched to mastering in 1998 after adding a computer to my studio. I feel blessed to say that for as long as I’ve offered my audio engineering services, I’ve been busy with a wide variety of musical styles for artists both locally and around the world.

 

2. What does a typical day for you look like?

I usually kick off my day by tackling emails and phone calls, and then it’s off to a hot yoga session—a daily ritual that began around the same time I started mastering. I find my daily yoga practice promotes physical well-being and mental clarity, which positively impacts my stationary work in the studio that comes later in the day. My mastering practice and yoga practice have developed in tandem over the last twenty years, and are two things that bring me joy.

 

3. We know you’ve worked with a comprehensive range of artists, musicians and bands, what has been keeping you busy recently?

Every year brings a fresh wave of talent with new artists and labels. It’s rewarding to be of service to these musicians and creative artists of today. The diverse range of music I’m entrusted to work with keeps me engaged and interested. I’m also a gear-head, so upgrading my studio and trying out the latest advancements in technology is endlessly fascinating to me, and luckily it’s an integral part of my profession to stay at the forefront of my craft!

 

4. What are the biggest challenges when mastering music?

There are multiple challenges: audio restoration can be tedious and time-consuming; over-limited mixes can tie mastering engineers’ hands. But always, there is the challenge of making sure I can capture the artist’s vision. Over time, I’ve learned to ask a set of questions to get myself and the artist/producer on the same page for the project. I find that having everything in writing is best, because details can be lost in conversation.

On the personal side, I’ve been working from home long before the pandemic. Finding a harmonious balance between studio work and personal life is always the goal.

 

5. What is the biggest myth about music mastering that you’d like to expose?

From my perspective, I think there’s too much concern placed on ‘target loudness’ with sites like Spotify and not enough emphasis on making great-sounding masters. If your master sounds great with good dynamics and tonal balance at full scale, then it’s still going to sound great if Spotify turns it down to match their target loudness. Loudness normalisation is simply a convenience for the end user, so that a folk song can play next to a metal song on a playlist without there being a huge jump in volume. It’s not a ‘loudness penalty’ as the internet likes to fret over.

 

6. What are the key changes (no pun intended) with mastering music that you’ve seen in your career?

The evolution of digital audio has been really exciting to see and work with over the years. When I began to explore mastering in the late ‘90s software (DAW and plugins) did not sound very good. Today’s software sounds incredible and can be used side by side with analogue gear for excellent results.

 

7. What are your most precious day-to-day tools for the job?

My digital/analogue and analogue/digital converters are my most precious tools.

When you master in the analogue domain like I do, the most important step is the conversion from the digital-to-analogue domain (where analogue compressors, EQs and limiters etc are dialed-in while mastering) then back into the digital domain using an analogue-to-digital converter.

This back and forth step is absolutely vital, and is often the weakest link, which is why I’ve chosen what I believe to be the best with Chord Electronics’ M Scaler upscaler/DAVE DAC and Prism Sound AD-2 and Lavry AD-122-96 MX as my ADC (analogue-to-digital converter) to pick from. I consider these converters to be the finest ingredients in my mastering kitchen!

 

8. How has technology’s progress made your job better or easier?

All of the technological tools I use keep improving and changing, and that is part of the fun! My DSP speakers (including room treatment and digital room correction) in conjunction with headphones offer me a ‘white balanced’ reference point to master from that translates extremely well into the outside world. Advances like this help me maintain a good pace in the studio, while mastering with a relatively modest set-up.

 

9. How did you discover Chord Electronics?

I believe the first time Chord caught my attention was in a John Darko review on the original Mojo. I ordered the Mojo/poly combo and was very pleased with what that little powerhouse could do. I liked it so much that I bought a Hugo locally and used it in my studio as my headphone amp up until DAVE arrived.

 

10. Many people reading this will be aware of the necessity of a DAC, like the Chord Electronics DAVE that you use in mastering, but how does the upscaling ability of the Hugo M Scaler assist your work?

The DAVE and the M Scaler serve double-duty in my studio, so they’re getting a lot of use! The first way is by using the DAVE and the M Scaler to drive my LCD-5 headphones. This combo produces excellent results for me. The second way is the DAVE and the M Scaler act as my mastering DAC while working in the analogue domain. I haven’t heard a better way to play an artist mix into my analogue mastering rig than by elevating their mix to 768 kHz on playback.

 

11. You’ve worked with some big names and mastered well over 2,000 titles, who are your musical heroes and why?

I’m mostly inspired by other audio engineers. When I hear great-sounding music that catches my ear, the first thing I do is look up the engineers involved, which is why it’s always a bummer when engineers are not credited! (hint hint)

One of my heroes in the musical world would have to be Eric Isaacson of Mississippi Records here in Portland Oregon. Mississippi Records puts out some of the greatest music around, with Eric curating the releases and coordinating tons of events. He’s created a beautiful community in Portland and has influenced other labels worldwide. Our paths merged in 2003, and I have been mastering and restoring their releases ever since.

 

12. Can you tell us anything about any future projects?

I’m excited for a few of the albums I’ve mastered working with the labels Danger Collective, Mama Bird and Bongo Joe Records to be released later this year!

With more creators having access to audio recording technology, I’ve continued to get busier each year. As a music lover, I’m grateful to hear so much music and am looking forward to what’s next.

 

 

To find some more information about Timothy, you can see his website here: https://www.stereopho.com/about