Recording studio

Recording studio plagued by interference as Rogers cell tower runs out of options, customers

A Vancouver recording studio says it suffered from canceled bookings and lost contracts due to interference from a nearby cell phone tower owned by Rogers Communications.

An independent investigation has confirmed that interference is being generated by a cell tower belonging to the telecommunications and media company.

The tower sits atop a building next to Armory Studios, which for more than two decades has recorded albums for world-renowned bands including rock band AC/DC and singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan.

Despite attempts to fix the problem, Rogers now says there’s nothing more it can do, leaving the recording studio to scramble to find a way to coexist with the multibillion-dollar company’s cellular equipment.

“Interference noise is very annoying,” said Paul Silveira, studio manager at Armory Studios, adding that a recording studio needs a quiet space to be successful.

Many microphones in the studio pick up high frequencies which get worse as more microphones are used.

“People expect the highest quality from us and for that outside noise to come in… It’s just not fair and it has to be dealt with,” he said.

Third party investigation

Rogers has worked with the studio to try to resolve the issue.

The Armory team, including studio technician Corey Dixon who led the initial investigation, believed the interference was caused by a frequency emitted from nearby Rogers Tower.

Rogers hired a contractor to investigate further, which confirmed the studio’s suspicions.

“The hypothesis…has been confirmed by studio testing,” Exotek Systems, which conducted the investigation, wrote in a report.

Listen to a sample of the interference below:

The report goes on to say that Rogers’ cell tower generates a strong signal that nearby microphones, like those at Armory Studios, are unable to filter out.

During the investigation, Rogers shut down a section of the tower and the interference was cleared. But on February 11, this section of the tower was turned back on and the interference came back to life.

In Canada, telecommunications companies are licensed by Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED), a federal government department, to operate in certain radio frequency spectrums.

But despite the unintended interference, the investigation found that Rogers is operating within its parameters.

“We are unable to take any further action regarding the interference issue at Armory Studio,” Howard Slawner, vice president of regulatory telecommunications at Rogers, said in a letter to the studio.

This has left Armory Studios in a position where it cannot operate at full capacity.

“We are an international studio, we need outside international clients, but we can’t lie to them,” Silveira said.

Dixon agrees.

“With this noise here, they’ll never be able to operate at the same capacity as before. It’s just not possible,” Dixon said.

Equipment Replacement

In the letter, Rogers suggested the studio replace any studio microphones that experience interference.

Along with the financial costs of replacing equipment, Dixon says it’s an unrealistic solution, akin to asking a painter to use only three colors in their palette.

“It’s art. We create art here. And there are tools that artists love to use and help capture the art that they want to create,” Dixon said.

A building pictured in Vancouver with a cellphone radio tower on top. According to Exotek Systems, Rogers’ cell tower generates a strong signal that Armory Studios’ microphones are unable to filter out. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Some microphones pick up sound in different ways, Silveira says, adding that artists and producers expect studios to have a wide range of microphone options.

“We can’t tell our customers that some of these popular microphones can’t be used,” he said.

As a freelance studio technician, Dixon says dozens of studios he works with in British Columbia and Alberta have recently experienced sudden and inexplicable interference.

He surmises that the problem of interference from cell towers, which produce increasingly strong signals, is widespread.

“They’re at their wit’s end because they say, ‘I have no idea what’s going on here,'” he said.

Back at Armory, Silveira hopes Rogers will change his mind and keep working towards a solution, though he admits it often feels like a Goliath-sized challenge.

“We need to work together and keep this conversation going. Instead of just putting up a wall, like they did, and saying ‘it’s not our problem,'” he said.