Dave Pensado is a grammy award winning mix engineer (1 win, 4 nominations) based in Los Angeles, California. Dave started out his audio career doing live and studio sound engineering in Atlanta. In the 90s he made the move (pilgrimage?) to LA and found himself working at the legendary Larrabee Studios where he cut his chops, mixing on an SSL desk. Around 2010 onwards, Dave started to find his in-the-box mixes were starting to sound better than what he was able to do in the studio (how’s that for inspiration, computer music producers?). Pensado’s studio is now based at Fab Factory where he specialises in creating radio-friendly records mixing pop, hip-hop, R&B, and Latin. The studio setup is based on a hybrid approach to mixing (In-the-box and outboard gear).

Dave Pensado’s Studio

In the interactive studio photos below you can click on gear highlighted and learn more about each device. If a piece of gear is not highlighted it’s more than likely listed in the gear database below.

Crane Song Avocet Reftone 2LD Stereo Pair - Reference Monitors Analog Design – Black Box HG-2 Kush Audio – Clariphonic MS 2-Ch Parallel Equalizer

Crane Song Avocet

Crane Song Avocet

The Crane Song Avocet is designed to solve the problems of accurate monitoring and volume control as required by studios and mastering rooms alike. The Avocet controller has three digital inputs, three analog inputs and a headphone system.

Reftone 2LD Stereo Pair - Reference Monitors

Reftone monitors

The Reftone 2LD reference monitors are modeled on the original Auratone 5c speakers. The Aurotones also known as 'horrortones' are speakers that sound like hell! If you can get your mix to sound good on these speakers - you've got a killer mix on your hands.

Alternatives to the Reftones/Aurotones are using an old school ghetto blaster, bouncing your track to your phone (the device the majority of people listen to music nowadays via streaming services...what a horror show, eh!). The Reftone company is ran by Dave Hampton who built custom versions for Prince & Herbie Hancock.

Analog Design – Black Box HG-2

The Black Box HG-2 is a distortion unit inspired by the Thermionic Culture Culture Vulture. The HG-2 is an incredible piece of outboard gear...true analogue-tube magic. For those working in the box - Plugin Alliance's Black Box HG-2 is worth checking out.

Kush Audio – Clariphonic MS 2-Ch Parallel Equalizer

Kush Audio's Clariphonic parallel equalizer is a mastering engineers dream machine. Once you experience this on your 2-bus you'll never take it off.

Gear List Breakdown

Gear TypeProduct Name
500 SeriesAPI – 550A (x2)
500 SeriesShadow Hills – “Pensado Edition” Dual Vandergraph
500 SeriesAPSI – 559 (x2)
500 SeriesB&B audio – EQF-2 (x2)
500 SeriesRadial – EXTC Reamp
Audio AnalyzerAudioControl Industrial – SA-3051
Audio InterfaceUniversal Audio – Apollo 8
Audio InterfaceUniversal Audio – Apollo twin
Compressorelectro-harmonix – Tone Corset
Compressormäag Audio – Magnum K (x2)
Compressor / LimiterBAE – 100CF (x2)
ComputerBrycentennial Custom-Built Mac
Digital Multitrack RecordersTascam – DA-3000
Effects RackEventide – SP 2016
Effects RackEventide – Eclipse
Effects RackTC Electronic – G-Major 2 Multi-effects Rackmount Processor
Effects RackElektromesstecknik – EMT 250
Effects RackEventide Orville Harmonizer Special Effects Processor
Effects RackBricasti Design – M7 Reverb
EqualizerKush Audio – Clariphonic MS 2-Ch Parallel Equalizer
Equalizermäag Audio – EQ4 M
Equalizermäag Audio – EQ4
EqualizerBettermaker – EQ 232P
GuitarMartin – D-18 (1963)
GuitarFender – Stratocaster (1971)
Guitar PedalsJ.Rockett Audio Designs – Tim Pierce OD
Guitar PedalsMXR – Custom Audio Electronix Boost / Overdrive
Guitar PedalsEarthQuakerDevices – Afterneath
Guitar PedalsMXR – Boost / Line Driver
Guitar PedalsBOSS – Auto Wah AW-2
Guitar PedalsBOSS – Chorus CE-3
Guitar PedalsMXR – sub machine
Guitar PedalsDOD – FX25 Envelope Filter
Guitar PedalsBOSS – Heavy Metal HM-2
Guitar PedalsTech 21 – SansAmp
LimiterBettermaker – Mastering Limiter
LimiterBettermaker – Mastering Limiter
Master ClockAntelope – Isochrone OCX
MasteringTC Electronic – Clarity M
Microphone Preampmäag Audio – PreQ4
Microphone PreampA. Designs – Ventura SE
PluginsWaves Vocal Rider
PluginsmcDSP ML4000 Mastering Limiter
PluginsUAD SPL Vitalizer
PluginsSoundToys Decapitator
PluginsAcustica Audio Dave Pensado EQ
PluginsSly Fi - Axis, Deflector & Kaya (Kush Audio)
Plugins

PA Maag Audio Magnum-K

PluginsPA Black Box Analog Design HG-2
PluginsBrainworx bx_console Focusrite SC
Preamp/Effects ProcessorFractal Audio Systems – Axe-Fx II XL+
Pro Tools InterfaceAvid – HD I/O 16x16 Digital (Modified x3)
SaturationAnalog Design – Black Box HG-2
Studio Monitor ControllerCrane Song Ltd. – Avocet
Studio MonitorsiLoud Micro Monitors
Studio MonitorsReftone 2LD Stereo Pair
Studio MonitorsAmphion – Two18
Studio MonitorsAmphion BassOne25
Studio MonitorsAugspurger – GA-115V
Studio MonitorsAugspurger – SUB-18 (x2)
Surge ProtectionMonster Power – Pro 2500 (x2)
WorkstationArgosy Dual 15 workstation w/ 800 Racks (Carl Tatz Editon)

Studio Gear Used On Every Mix

On one of Pensado’s Place tutorials Dave shares 3 pieces of gear he uses on every mix…

The Locomotive Audio 14B Compressor

Locomotive 14B Compressor
The 14B Compressor

The 14B Compressor gets you the sound of real vari-mu tube compression – a sound that cannot be replicated with any other method of gain reduction.

http://www.locomotiveaudio.com/14B.html

The Overstayer Audio M-A-S Compressor

2 channels in a single space 19” rack-mount chassis

The Overstayer M-A-S gives you the harmonic character and peak rounding of classic recording and mixing chains in a simple, highly controllable rack-mount unit.

You can use the M-A-S Compressor on individual tracks for cumulative benefits. The M-A-S can add consistency as peaks and harsh transients get smoothed and absorbed into the performance, making balancing tracks in the mix easier, and lessening the need for bus limiting down the line. Alternatively, using the compressor on a full mix, the added harmonic content can energize, and add cohesiveness and detail.

http://www.overstayeraudio.com/m-a-s/

Black Box Analog Design HG-2 Compressor

Analog Design Blackbox HG-2

The HG-2 was recently ported to VST by the audio wizards over at Plugin Alliance. So if you’ve not got $2k to drop right now you can get the VST at a fraction of a price. Huge fan of the HG-2 here at Spectralplex with it sitting on the 2-bus.

Get a full tour of Fab Factory with Warren Huart (Produce Like a Pro).

Pensado’s Plugin List

Plugin TypePlugin DeveloperPlugin Name
Audio RepairIzotope RX7
Bass Resonance Little LabsVOG
Channel StripBrainworxFocusrite SC
Channel StripSSLSSL Native Channel Strip
Channel StrpDMG Track Control
ClippingSir Audio ToolsStandardClip
CompressorElysia mpressor
CompressorSSLMaster Bus Compressor (AUD)
CompressorSlate DigitalVBC (FG-MU)
CompressorWaves API 2500
CompressorBoz Digital LabsManic Compressor
CompressorJoey Sturgis TonesGain Reduction
CompressorPlugin Alliance XLA-3
CompressorU-HEPresswerk
Compressor Acustica AudioEl Ray
Compressor Audified u73b
De-EsserFab FilterPro DS
DelayLine 6Echo Farm
Delay OverloudECHOSON
EQOeksoundSoothe
EQSoundtheory Gullfoss
EQDangerous MusicBax EQ
EQUniversal AudioBrainworx bx_digital V2 EQ
EQAcustica AudioPensando EQ
EQOverloudOverloud - EQ550
EQAcustica AudioAmber 2
EQKushHammer DSP
EQSoftubeTonelux Tilt
EQDDMFDirectional EQ
EQOverloudGem EQ550
EQ SPLVitalizer MK2-T
EQ WavesF6
EQ Acustica AudioDiamond EQ
EQ Tokyo dawn labs Slickeq
Guitar AmpLine 6Helix Native
HarmonizerEventideH910 Harmonizer
Harmonizer Waves Doubler
LimiterMcDSP ML4000 Limiter and Multi-Band Dynamics Processor
LimiterWavesL2
Limiter AvidPro Limiter
Limiter DMGLimitless
MasteringSlate DigitalFG-X
MasteringIzotope Ozone Mastering Suite
Mastering EQKushClariphonic Parallel EQ
Mastering EQ Plugin Alliancebx_digital V2
Multi-EffectsU-heUhbik
Multi-EffectsHeavyocityPunish
PanningBoz Digital LabsPanipulator 
PitchAntaresAuto Tune
Pitch CorrectionMeldaMelda mautopitch
Plugin WrapperDDMFMetaplugin
PreampUADHelios Type 69
ReverbFabFilter Pro-R
SaturationKazrogTrue Iron
SaturationVertigoVSM-3
SaturationSoftubeSaturation Knob
SaturationSoundtoysDecapitator
SaturationSly-Fi (Kush)Kaya
Saturation Black BoxHG-2
Spatial EQMathew Lane DrMS Spatial processor
Stereo Width NugenStereoizer
Transient ShaperSPLTransient Designer Plus
VocalWaves Vocal Rider Plugin

Plugins Used On Every Mix

In episode 208 of Pensado’s Place, Dave shared 5 plugins he uses on all his mixes – quite a few of them leveraging machine learning / A.I.

Soothe – Oeksound

Soothe 2 Plugin

Soothe by Oeksound is a dynamic resonance suppressor for mid and high frequencies. Unlike traditional EQ-tools, soothe analyses the signal on the fly and makes frequency-wide adjustment in real-time. The plugin is fast becoming a must have tool for all mixing engineers around the world.

Gullfoss Intelligent Automatic EQ

Another artificial intelligent equalizer – Gullfoss listens to a signal and help you get better polished mixes while sorting eq issues in real-time. Arthur C. Clarke famously stated “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. Put this EQ on your master and you’ll hear exactly what he means. Magic indeed.

Kazrog – True Iron

Classic Analog Transformers, In The Box! True Iron is a NAMM TEC Award nominated plugin made by Shane McFee. The plugin accurately emulates 6 classic line transformers, known for their use in many of the biggest names in vintage analog outboard sound processing.

Overloud – ECHOSON

The Overloud ECHOSON is a Gem Series magnetic drum delay plug-in offering vintage-style echo and delay. Its unique tone defined the sound of the ’70s.

Acustica Audio – El Rey

In partnership with Greg Wells & Studio DMI – Acustica Audio took one of the finest and musical sounding analog tube compressors (The RCA BA-6A limiting amplifier) and introduced unprecedented musical compression to the digital domain. El Rey sounds incredible on vocals and the drum buss.

Eventide – H910 Harmonizer

 Released in 1975, it was a digital multi-EFX device from the future. Famously described by Tony Visconti as a digital processor that “fucks with the fabric of time” on a pre-album phone call with Bowie and Eno. This device is now available in software format and a great weapon of choice for those who love to create unique combinations of pitch shifting, modulation, and delay effects to warp tracks into hyperspace. As used by Bruce Swedien on the legendary “Thriller” Album.


Pensado EQ

Pensado EQ in Collaboration with Acustica Audio

The Dave Pensado EQ is the result of an obsessive analysis of all the fine details that characterize Dave’s unique workflow and approach to mixing. The EQ features four strategically selected frequency bands, LP/HP filters and two selectable preamps for extended analogue flavor. Each frequency band emulates different hardware machines (word is over 40 machines were sampled to create this VST!) that Dave has used over the years and have contributed to crafting his sonic trademark.

Pensado EQ GUI

As expected Acustica knocked it out of the park in terms of audio quality – the Studio DMI Diamond plugins are insanely good – Pensado’s EQ is up there with them. True audio nirvana all in the box!


Pensado’s Place

Pensado’s Place with Dave Pensado & Co-Host/Manager Herb Trawick – Episode 380 with Mike Dean

When not mixing 200+ records a year, you can catch Dave with industry veteran Herb Trawick talk all things audio in their weekly show, Pensado’s Place on Youtube.

Pensado’s Place has been running since 2010 (now over 470+ episodes!) and interviews the worlds best engineers and producers. Notable and insightful interviews include Mike Dean (Kanye West, Madonna, 2Pac), Mick Guzauski (Earth, Wind and Fire, Eric Clapton, Daft Punk), and Young Guru (Jay-Z). My personal favorite interview by Dave is  episode 56 with Steve Duda of Xfer Records – the developer of the incredible Serum VST Synthesizer, Cthulhu, and LFO tool. This interview was prior to Steve releasing Serum and contains an insane amount of music production insights for electronic music producers.

TEC – Hall of Fame Award

At the 35th NAMM – Dave & Herb received the TEC (Technical Excellence and Creativity) Hall of Fame Award for their incredible contribution to the audio world for their great work & knowledge sharing.

On top of Pensado’s place and non-stop record mixing – Dave has recently collaborated with Acustica Audio and Studio DMI to produce his very first VST – The Pensado EQ.

Pensado’s Mix Credits

Dave Pensado’s mix credits include work with Michael Jackson, Elton John, Beyoncé, Flo Rida, Seal, and Mary J Blige. It was the work with Blige on the album Growing Pains that Pensado won a Grammy Award alongside engineers Jaycen Joshua and Kuk Harrell.

Dave Pensado Producer Tips

Dave Pensado In the Studio

Dave’s philosophy on using gear…

“I remember when I only had one or two pieces of gear. I knew these things inside and out. I could get them to do things that other people didn’t know how to do because necessity is the mother of invention So don’t don’t be envious if you don’t have the newest, greatest piece of gear, everybody on the internet is talking about. Master what you’ve got and then grow into what you need.”

I’d much rather mix a record or hear a record with someone that was really, really good with their gear and can get nuances out of it than somebody that just got a bunch of stuff and didn’t know how to use it”

Dave shares 15 mixing tips and his philosophical approach to music in a great interview with Landr. Here are 5 of my favorite mix tips from that interview…

  1. Listen on different systems to make sure your mix works (Dave tests his mixes on different devices including his phone – sadly the device where the majority of people will experience your mix!)
  2. Room treatment is super important. (Spectralplex note: If you’re unable to treat your room at this stage – look into using Sonarworks 4).
  3. Use a reference track. Even with different genres. Turn down volume and mix towards it.
  4. You are selling your taste, not your skills (🔑🚪).
  5. Mixing is not something you add to the production, it’s what you do to finish the production.

Dave uses a lot of great hardware gear and plugins to get the sound he wants. He has one favorite saying though, that should resonate with all mix engineers and producers….

“It’s better to sound new, than to sound good”

Dave Pensado

You can spend your life trying to sound good with gear – what the world wants is to hear something new. I hope you enjoyed this gear breakdown of Dave Pensado’s studio setup – if you want to explore other producers/engineers studios check out this link for more studio inspiration.

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