Audeze speaks to composer, producer and engineer Ricardo Wheelock

May 20, 2023

From Nicaragua with love, Ricardo Wheelock is a Composer, Producer, Mixer and Recording Engineer. He also does live sound and has even worked in sound design for film.

Ricardo Wheelock in the studio with his Audeze MM-500 headphones

"I am still in disbelief on how good these headphones are for mixing duties, they are the first headphones I hear that don't require any correction software..."  - Ricardo Wheelock
Here's our chat with Ricardo:
Can you pick out any highlights from your work that you're particularly proud of?

As a recording engineer the work I am most proud of is Moses Sumney's grae double album. 

As a mixer engineer I have worked for shndō (the composer and producer of the song "Peaches" by Justin Bieber). This is the song I mixed for him.

This a selection of works I have done as mix engineer.

There are two Nicaraguan artist which I think are amazing and don't have enough recognition: Ceshia Ubau and Rigoazulado, I have mixed almost everything they have launched in the past 3 years.

This is a video interview I did for Amphion Monitors some time ago.

I recently composed the original sound track for an Amazon Prime Video mini series Good Rivals, which got nominated for the 2023 Sports Emmys for Best Documentary Series.

I have also composed a lot of music for Gabriel Serra's films (Oscar and Emmy nominated director).

How would you define your main role on most of the projects you work on these days?

You could say I am a headphone based composer and mixing engineer at the moment. I recently moved to Mexico and I still don't have a proper room to work there. I left the room in Nicaragua where I mixed for 10 years, so now I need a solution that allows me to work anywhere so having reliable headphones is a must for me... I composed 95% of the Amazon Prime Video mini series soundtrack on headphones and I mixed the music also on headphones... so headphones are like a big deal to me.

How did you get started in music? What kind of music did you listen to while growing up and how has that progressed?

My father (RIP) was a music lover and when I was a kid he played tapes to me with the most diverse music you can think of, from Astor Piazolla's tangos, to Pink Floyd to Latin American Boleros. So as a mixer engineer I genuinely like a huge span of music styles from reggaeton, to electronica, jazz, blues, R&B to heavy rock and pop: I honestly love music in general and this allows me to work with such a diverse span of artists and situations.

I lived in Barcelona for 10 years and there I grew up a lot professionally and you could say I learned the craft there, and thanks to the city's diverse music scene I was able to cultivate my love for diverse music there.

Can you name any factors that influenced the course of your musical life? Heroes, role models, moments, interactions, etc?

Professionally I learned a lot from a guy named Natxo Estevez who is the leader of a Spanish band called The Black Suns, from him I learned to never give up until I hear on the speakers what I hear inside my head.

From Moses Sumney I learned how important it is to be free and never be afraid to go to uncomfortable places, he is such a talented, brave and exuberant artist that just being around him is a constant learning experience.

And from Tom Elmhirst, who is my favorite mixer in the world and who I met recently, I learned to not waste my time on projects I don't believe in, Tom is such a generous and beautiful human being. Meeting him was honestly a life changing experience.

Something I have developed over the past 5 years is how to create strong bonds with young upcoming artists. My most interesting clients are in their 20's and we have developed this great trust based working relations in which our age difference is not even subject. This is key for me and it should be for anyone wanting to develop a career in this business, to gain the other's trust and never diss someone because of their inexperience or age.

Can you briefly describe a moment of frustration from your past work, and what you may have done to overcome the obstacles?

It took me a particularly long time to become a mixing engineer comfortable with his work, in this regard the most important piece of equipment is the one that lets you listen to your work. In other words studio speakers and headphones. It took me a long time to find the proper speaker / room / acoustic treatment combination. Now I can't have that anymore cause I just moved to a new country with my family so headphones are basically my only salvation at the moment.

Would you approach it differently now?

I would have probably invested earlier in acoustics and in a proper studio build.

Is there any gear you find yourself turning to most when working on a project? What are some of your favorite tools/instruments recently?

Real analog spring reverbs, for me are the only miss from plugin companies, I have yet to hear a proper spring reverb sound coming out of a plugin, so I keep 4 beloved analog spring reverbs (Vermona Retubeverb, Demeter RRP-1 Real Reverbulator, Roland Space Echo RE-201, and the best of all a Zerotronics Cool Springs LE).

I also keep a Juno-60 and Roland SH-2 from 1978, those machines will be taken out of my dead cold hands.

For the Amazon Prime Video mini series I acquired Native Instruments Komplete 13 and a bunch of libraries from Spitfire Audio and Heavyocity.

Do you have any words of wisdom for people who might aspire toward a similar path for their own careers?

Don't try to do everything by yourself, create alliances with younger and older people than you. The only way to make it through is by gathering forces. It's already a lonely world but it doesn't have to be in the workplace.

How long have you been working with headphones, and how do you typically use them in your workflow?

So I have been using headphones for 20 years, but for serious mixing and mastering work last year was when I started using them on a regular basis. Since at the moment I only work on headphones they pretty much live on my head all the time I am working on.

Do you have any additional comments or stories you want to share?

One fun fact about my work is that there is a cool bedroom pop band from Costa Rica with whom I have worked as a mixing engineer, they are called Soap and for being from Costa Rica they have huge numbers like 100k Spotify followers. So the first time I mixed their best selling single "Call Me" they said to me "we like your mix, but we need it to sound worse, more amateurish" this was a shocking moment in my career since usually artist want their music to sound as good as possible, so I quickly understood this had to do with their style and I immediately degraded the sound of the mix, they were super happy with the result and that has become my most listened work as mixing engineer with more than 4 million plays worldwide.

How have your Audeze headphones affected your work?

I am still in disbelief on how good these headphones are for mixing duties, they are the first headphones I hear that don't require any correction software... My quest for a truly reliable mixing headphone is over, the MM-500 are the first pair of headphones that allow me to get pretty much the same results I get on my studio speakers. They are really comfortable for long hours and also quite easy to drive, plus I love their dynamic's representation, the changes in tuning, design and weight coming from the LCD-X 2021 are in my opinion in the right direction and represent what I believe is the first reliable mixing headphone in the world. Kudos to Manny and Audeze!
I started sending mixes done on the MM-500's to clients and they are quite happy with the results...