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RSR050 – Carl Tatz – Designer of the Phantom Focus System ™

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RSR007 - David Glenn - The Mix Academy

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RSR050 - Carl Tatz - Designer of the Phantom Focus System™

My guest today is Carl Tatz, principal of the recording studio design firm Carl Tatz Design LLC. Carl has been designing award-winning studios for over a decade, driven by his acclaimed and ever-evolving Phantom Focus™ System monitor tuning protocol. (PFS for short). The Phantom Focus System is a complete monitor design protocol that optimizes the listening experience to include the speakers, the room, and the engineer into a finely tuned focal point that allows the sounds to float transparently around the speakers.

Carl’s designs extend from the modest, but breath-taking, high performance home screening room on one end of the spectrum, to the full blown home theatre palace on the other end. His designs always deliver stunningly accurate monitor systems whether for home mix studios or complete studio designs for larger studios. His promise is to always “wow” his clients regardless of the size of their project.

Some of the services Carl offers are Acoustic Design, Home Screening Rooms, Recording Studios Monitor Systems, Discrete 5.1 Listening Rooms, Room Analysis, Tuning Sound Isolation, and now ergonomic furniture design for the studio with the CTD eChair

Carl Tatz Design has been recognized professionally by the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association (CEDIA), Audio Engineering Society (AES), National Academy Of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS), and Carl was the Former Vice-President Nashville Association Of Professional Recording Services (NAPRS).

I have heard Carl’s Phantom Focus Designed control rooms and they are something that has to be experienced to truly believed. Listening to a Carl’s PFS monitors = mind blown!

My experience was like listening to the music radiate from a wall of granite 20 feet tall. Heavy, solid, sculpted and gigantic!

“If I didn’t have the PhantomFocus I would not be designing studios” - Carl Tatz

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PhantomFocus System™

Up until now the PhantomFocus System is a protocol. The hardware includes a pair of subwoofers, the PhantomFocus stands made by SoundAnchors, and a digital processor (most of the time I use an Ashley engine). That’s all involved; the rest is just elbow grease! It’s a two-today process for my assistant and I. The first day is setting the speakers up, we laser them in with a four-laser system to get the angle correct and position them correctly in the room. There’s a lot of pre-work that’s done prior to us showing up. If it’s a studio we haven’t designed we need to know what’s going on in that room. I need dimensions and all sorts of details so when we so up there’s not going to be any surprises.

The first day is what I call the rhythm section. We set up the monitors in the correct position relative to the modes in the room. I call it the rhythm section because if you don’t have that you’re just polishing a turd, you can’t EQ it. That’s one of my things about these self tuning boxes out now. I recommend them, they are better than nothing, but some of them will account for the speakers not being set up correctly. The physical setup of the speaker is so critical. So once that’s done, the next day I come in with speakers, subwoofers, and the approcessor and play with crossovers, slopes, and EQ and get it to lock into the PhantomFocus pocket. Once it’s there, it’s like BOOM.

Are there simple tricks to do to with a speaker to begin to get an understanding of what the possibilities are if they were to do a PhantomFocus System?

This is something I teach in my lectures! I would direct people to go to my website, go to the library and click on Acoustic Tools. There are two things there: a software program that calculates the room modes and there’s a chart called the Null-Positioning Ensemble. Those two things are extremely valuable; it’s what we use in the PhantomFocus System. One is the active software and the other one is an example that shows you where the listener and the speaker should be. The Null-Positioning ensemble is very easy to understand chart of how you should set up your monitors. It’s important that people understand that it’s not just a general idea of what you should do when you set up your speakers; it’s an exact idea.

Favorite Tips & Secrets

If you have a pair of monitors on a stand in back of a console even on a meter bridge at ear level, your monitors are going to roll of drastically at approximately 125 hz, then it will come up somewhere where the actual low end of the speaker is like 40-50hz so you’ll have this huge grand canyon of missing information. Don’t think it’s not happening with your speakers. It happens all the time. The reason why people have such a hard time with their low end is because they don’t have that information there. So you get your kick and bass to sound how you want, and with that grand canyon of missing information there you push up the bass and get your speakers to really kick. Then you take it out to the car and you have WAY too much low end. Everybody goes through that. The tweeters need to be ear height, roughly 48 inches sitting in a chair. It makes a huge difference.

“Monitors typically sound better sideways then they do upright” - Carl Tatz

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What is Imaging?

When you’re sitting in the sweet spot, it’s so intense that the speakers seem to go away. I’ve had people tell me not only does the vocal seem like it’s floating right there like there’s a center speaker, I can easily tell where it is whether it’s an upfront vocal or behind; you can really find the pocket. The other thing that happens is all your sources sound drastically different, they never sound like the speakers they sound like the recording. You can hear a difference from one bass to the other bass. Its that revealing.

What are Room Modes?

It’s based on the round trip speed of sound and it only applies to low frequencies. So it’s the time it takes to go from the back wall to the front wall and back again. It’s hard to explain, but in the modes you’re going to have dips and peaks. The dips, otherwise known as nulls, are deadly. You don’t want your speakers or your ears to be in the null. Check out the mode calculator.

Carl Tatz Auralex

It’s a good example of what we do. Check out the DreamRoom and that’s pretty close to what you can do by yourself. It’s painted walls with columns and panels. You can buy the kit and put it up yourself. It’s a rigid fiberglass product; the columns are reflective on one side, absorbent on the other. When you set them up on the wall that way it creates what we call the acoustic lens. It’s great! It gives you reflection, diffusion, and absorption on the sidewalls.


The designer is a former racecar driver. When he retired, he had broken every bone in his body and decided he was going to design the greatest task chair ever, and he did! The chair works and leans with you, it puts you in a position where you can work all day and not be fatigued. It’s not the kind of chair you want to sit down and relax in. But when you’re working in front of a console, it makes you sit upright. Your posture will benefit. It’s so good it actually comes with the PhantomFocus System now.

New PhantomFocus Monitors

I have my own speakers! It has been and still is an evolution. The PhantomFocus can work with anyone’s speakers, but it was a no brainer for me to come out with my own speaker. In order for me to do it, it had to be better than anything else out there and it is. The subwoofer is a pistonic low frequency emitter. It’s built into a quarter inch aircraft aluminum case. It has a direct drive unit that controls the bass and increases the energy. I think these things weigh 85lbs a piece. The speakers themselves have a very expensive scandinavian scan speak tweeter and morell drivers. It’s loosely based on the Dynaudio M1 speaker, which had always been my favorite.

“You don’t tune a room you tune the monitors” - Carl Tatz

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Jam Session 

Q- What was holding you back at the start?
A -Paying bills. I was working in a restaurant and knew what I wanted to do but wasn’t sure how to do it. I had this guest house, took out an $8,000 loan, followed my dream and started my first studio.

Q- What was some of the best advice you got early on?
A - You’re worth what you charge. Once you have some skills and are pretty good at it, what you charge people will perceive that's what you’re worth.

“When you’re sitting in the sweet spot you’re just enveloped in the music” - Carl Tatz

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Q- When someone is trying to adopt this quality and wants to charge what it’s worth, what’s the process?
A -When I started off I did stuff for free. I was thrilled just to have the opportunity to try what I wanted to try, but once you’ve had some success then you set your price. The way I look at it when people ask me how much is the PhantomFocus or what a mixroom is going to cost, if they think it’s high then they are not my client. Simple as that. You want people who get you. I’ve been really lucky to have great clients.

Q - Share a favorite hardware tool for the studio
PhantomFocus System

Q -Share a favorite software tool for the studio
 I think again the room mode calculator and the null positioning ensemble.

“Set your tweeters at ear height” - Carl Tatz

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Q -Favorite Book?
 Master Handbook of Acoustics by Alston Everest. For more advanced would be Sound Reproduction by Floyd Tool who’s one of my mentors and associates now. He basically invented small room acoustics.

Q -Share with us a tip for the business side of the recording studio

A Linkedin. I’m told I’m in the 1% of linkedin. I suppose it depends on what you’re doing, but if you want to create a mailing list that’s a great way to do it.

“You don’t tune a room you tune the monitors” - Carl Tatz

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Q - What is the single most important thing a listener can do to become a rockstar of the recording studio?

A Choose records you admire and try to emulate them. Above all just do it. Record anything to work on your chops.


Big Thanks to Merissa Marx for this week's episode!!