Hansahaus Studios Bonn

2/15/2022

Author: Karsten Hein

Category: Explorations

Tag(s): Audiophile Music

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During the Corona Pandemic in 2021, the German Boogie Woogie pianist Jörg Hegemann produced a CD album that set a new audiophile standard for himself but also for the genre as a whole. And — since I had translated the liner notes for many of Jörg’s CDs — I was also among the first people to audition the new album. “Foot Tappin’ Boogie” took me by surprise, due to its sophistication of music, but also, because the recording itself carried a depth and dimension that I felt was on par with some of the great artists of this world. As an enthusiastic audiophile listener, I had sometimes spoken to Jörg about the subject of recording quality and suggested he attempt a proper studio recording, but when he finally did follow my lead, the result swept me off my feet.

Jörg explained to me that he had recorded “Foot Tappin’ Boogie” accompanied by double bass man Paul G. Ulrich and with the help of Klaus Genuit at Hansahaus Studios Bonn. Of course, the studio name and its owner did not mean much to me at the time. However, I later learned that some famous names in music had created their albums there. Among them were the American saxophonist Maceo Parker, Jazz guitarist Dean Brown, New York’s Fusion-Jazz duo the 'Brecker Brothers', as well as the German singer Pe Werner. I was delighted and congratulated Jörg for his achievement. At the same time, I felt compelled to start a web-shop connected to my eiaudio.de blog in order to sell Jörg’s “Foot Tappin’ Boogie” CD. I also invited Jörg for an interview about his life and career which I posted on YouTube. I also made a point in thanking Jörg for his contribution to audiophile music.

Some time after our interview in mid-November 2021, Jörg asked me if I felt that the audiophile community might appreciate an album that was especially dedicated to them and if I would be interested in joining him in the making of it, to which I most readily consented. Jörg suggested that he would ask double bass man Paul G. Ulrich and 'Boogie Shouter' Thomas Aufermann to join him once again. They would go back to the same studio and also rent the same legendary Steinway & Sons grand piano, hoping that Klaus Genuit would support him in the recording and mastering of the album. If all things worked out, I would have the opportunity to join the musicians on their first day in the studio and to offer my suggestions regarding the parameters of the recording. However, this is not to say that I felt at all knowledgeable in this respect.

Jörg succeeded in his planning and rented Hansahaus Studio A from Friday 11 to Sunday 13 February 2022. This would give give his team two full recording days as well as the Sunday for post-production and mastering. As had been suggested, I drove up to Bonn on the first day of the recording. I arrived at 11:30 AM and parked our car in the courtyard of the piano factory behind the studio. Looking across the parking lot, I saw that Jörg had also just arrived. We walked up a narrow steel staircase and entered the studio through the backdoor. My first sensation was one of space. I saw an acoustically sealed room to the right, a separate area for the double bass to the left, and a large central space that one would need to walk across on the way over to the grand piano that was partly separated by acoustic glass.

The large mixing console with multiple rows of channels, the rack for amplification, and the gear for processing and recording, were all in a sealed off area overlooking the whole space. I felt that this was a genuinely nice place to record an album. And Klaus Genuit understood about music. He told me that he had studied Classical Music and some Jazz, and that the 300 square meters Hansahaus was already his third studio. He had set it up during the heyday of music production, and much of the equipment was reminiscent of the generous budgets that record companies were willing to spend back in those days. Klaus explained that a studio of this size and equipment would be nearly impossible to set up by a private person having to rely on the funds available from recording these days. The time to make that kind of money from selling records had been over for a while. Klaus himself had started his career in recording on analog equipment working with large reel-to-reel decks but did feel surprisingly little nostalgia about the long forgotten struggles between man and machine.

As we were sitting back to listen to Klaus Genuit dial in his large JBL 4343 monitors for the recording, I could not help but compare their sound to the one we experience on a daily basis using our electrostatic speakers at our home. During the few occasions I had, listening in the sweet spot, I took note of the following: The JBLs were built flat into the studio’s front wall, which was angled towards the listening position. This created an impressive holographic stage with precise center image and lots of information regarding depth and width. The JBLs' paper-cone midrange drivers portrayed voices in natural tones, although they could appear thin, depending on the audio source. The way the studio was set up, the 4343 sounded a bit dry and were lacking the long decay and nuance that I was used to from our home system. Bass felt very tight and could on occasion build surprisingly at the very low end, especially towards the back of the room. This system had clearly been set up with the aim of serious production rather than celebrating the joy of listening.

My impression is that the lack of nuance and decay is a mixture of the large amount of wiring with cables touching all over, the acoustic treatments of the room, but perhaps also the result of XLR converters used on many levels. For the supervision of the recording process, the apparent lack of finesse might not mater much or even be an asset, as it pushes the sound engineer to try harder. In the end, it all boils down to the age-old discussion between the sound engineer in the studio and the audiophile at home about what matters in music reproduction. I was not going to enter this discussion, because I was indeed very happy with the final products that come out of Hansahaus Studios.

Jörg Hegemann, Paul G. Ulrich, and Thomas Aufermann had come into the studio to do business and set to work right away. They recorded nine songs for the new “High End Boogie Woogie” album on the first day. Jörg hit the keys of the grand piano so hard that he literally broke into a sweat in the process. All the restraint of cancelled performances during the Covid was finally broken for the time of the recording, and title after title found its way onto the hard drive. The second day saw the recording of a further six songs for the album, and the final day was reserved for the mastering of the album. When I last spoke to Jörg over the phone, he said that he was very pleased with the result. I think, we are both eager to hold the new “High End Boogie Woogie” in our hands, a product dedicated to audiophile listeners like us.