Galaxy Studios (Belgium)

The Magical Hub of the Sound Revolution


This is where the future of audio is being shaped right now - places that are full of music and great sound. It’s where people who love to innovate and experiment are drawn. Where they treat themselves and others to phenomenal audio experiences. “Places” invites you to take a look behind the scenes at these “places to be” in audio, from remarkable music clubs, to legendary recording studios and even art and audio conventions.

In 1980, the Van Baelen brothers founded Galaxy Studios. What began as a teenage dream is now a hotspot for big names in music. It's a place where the sound experience meshes with audio excellence. Come on in!

  • Author: Carlo Roschinsky
  • Photos: Galaxy Studios
„If you're looking for sound experience and audio excellence, you'll find it at Galaxy Studios.“

Mol is a small community in the Antwerp region of Belgium with close to 35,400 inhabitants. The streets are straight and lined with trees, the houses meticulously built. Lakes and forests are close by. There are two kinds of people who regularly visit Mol. For one, there are the Belgian families who go there for summer vacation. The other group are musicians, some of the world's most famous. Mary J. Blige has been there, as has Lauryn Hill. Rammstein too, plus the star tenor José Carreras and Herbert Grönemeyer. But they don't come for the nature – they come to record their albums. They come for Galaxy Studios.

If you're looking for sound experience and audio excellence, you'll find it at Galaxy Studios. It is the birthplace of Auro 3D, the technology that revolutionized the music business. The studios grew into a conglomerate long ago. Today, the only ones with a clear view of the business' structure are its founders, Wilfried and Guy van Baelen. The company premises are like a small village, with buildings, green spaces, private hotels, restaurants and cafés. But the road to success was a long one.

Wilfried van Baelen was 15 years old when he played his first gigs on his electric Hammond organ. He was a tinkerer, an inventor, maybe even a nerd. But what fulfilled him back then even more than his concerts were the hours spent in the studio. There weren't many, but they left an impression. Three years later, Wilfried built his own music studio in his parents’ yard with the help of his brother and father. The first instrument to be plugged into the new digs was the WERSI Galaxis organ, self-constructed by his younger brother Guy. That's how the studio got its name. Wilfried produced a number of albums, dividing his time between London and home. On the side, he finished his studies at the Royal Conservatory in Brussels. Things were going well, but one idea kept itching at him. The little studio at his parents' house wasn't enough for Wilfried van Baelen. He wanted more. He wanted to create a space where music could be at home. Van Baelen wanted a quantum leap, a revolution. He wanted the ultimate sound experience.

By 1992, it was time for his dreams and reality to become one. In Mol, he began to work on a studio complex that was bigger than anything of its kind. The recording area would set a new world record for sound isolation. And then the stars started coming. Talking to Wilfried van Baelen about all this – the beginnings, the success, the situation today – requires patience. The father of success is a busy man. Then, suddenly, he calls from China.

Wilfried van Baelen, the story of Galaxy Studios has been full of success. Have you never experienced any setbacks? Given the extreme investments, we were very fortunate that we had seven golden years after our grand opening. In terms of business, they were probably the best years ever in the music recording industry. We didn’t even feel the impact of 9/11 immediately in the way other music studios suffered because our clients continued investing in top-quality productions. We started to feel the pressure a few years later when computer equipment became so advanced that parts of our services could be done by our clients in home studios. The moment I saw that happening, we expanded the studios in 2006 with a full image, post-production department with a 4K DI workflow. Yes, we were already doing production in 4K 10 years ago. I believe we made the right choices in order to survive the crisis, which allowed us to keep our top quality for music productions alive at Galaxy Studios. In recent years, our music studios have been getting more work due to the Auro-3D format.

You're the brains behind Auro-3D, which has become a standard worldwide. Did you expect your baby to get this big? It is nice to see that what I started with the launch of Auro-3D has become a worldwide standard and has helped launch a new wave in the industry related to Immersive Sound. German producer Tom Hapke called me in early 2005 for creating with him the first ever pop production in the 2+2+2 recording format, which until then was only used for classical productions. Working with these two front height channels brought me very quickly to the addition of the missing two back height channels on top of a 5.1 basic speaker layout which was for me a shocking new experience. I had never heard sound so naturally before! It felt like being at the place where it had been recorded.
I realized that, after more than 130 years of sound evolution, we were missing the height dimension in sound. I never could have imagined that the subconscious effect would be so deep and emotional. There was so much more natural sound, depth, clarity and transparency. The problem was that the technical solutions were not on the market to bring that experience to the consumer. All formats were limited to eight channels, whereas I needed at least 10. That limitation was the inspiration for inventing technical solutions that enabled us to bring a true 3-D audio experience to all markets using existing delivery formats and without compromising audio quality.
It was with the scalable speaker layouts – for everything from small rooms right up to large ones – and groundbreaking technical solutions that I launched at the AES Spatial Audio Conference in Tokyo in 2010 that Auro-3D finally became an all-in-one, cross-market format.
The reactions on the market were amazing. Skywalker Sound, the world’s most prize-winning sound studio, installed the system, and a year later George Lucas announced he was producing his first movie ever in Immersive Sound using the Auro-3D format.
That, of course, triggered other companies like Dolby and DTS to start working on their own answers to the technology, but that wasn’t easy given that our key technologies are well-protected by patents. Our position got even better when Alfred Schefenacker became partner in 2006. I’m quite proud of the fact that, after about 40 years of two-dimensional surround sound formats, I brought the missing and final dimension in sound to all markets with the Auro-3D format.

Are you a utopian or a man of technical details? A visionary or a practical person? I’m probably a combination of all these elements. I have a very innovative mind and was always looking to improve the sound experience. I pushed the industry hard to move ahead because I felt the evolution of the moving picture was moving forward much faster than sound. I was always looking for a combination of practical solutions and ways of improving the quality of the experience. That’s what led to the Auro-3D format, which enables the delivery of the most immersive sound experience in the most efficient way possible to all markets.

A new building phase began in late 2012 at the Galaxy Studios village in Mol. What can visitors and sound enthusiasts expect from you? The new building is related to the expansion of our businesses. We now have about 50 people working at Galaxy Studios, Mollywood (Film Financing) and Zilvermeer Productions (Film Production) and about 50 people in Auro Technologies. Another goal of ours was to build reference rooms as the next-generation “Immersive Sound” studios. We’ve already finished the AuroTorium, which has become a worldwide reference for film sound-mixing. And Galaxy Studios Acoustic Design has now finished the designs of a new reference mastering studio.

Wilfried van Baelen, what do you think about this new wave of high-end recording and high-end listening? Where is it coming from? Why has audio leadership become so important to people now? I believe this is all about the “new normal.” For the new generation, flexibility is more important than quality. People want to have content everywhere they go and in the best quality as long as it doesn’t have any impact on their flexibility. Sound quality did go down with the increased flexibility created by the mobile industry, but this doesn't mean people aren’t interested in having better sound quality. I see a very bright future because a trend has already started that is seeking ways to improve sound while keeping the same flexibility. High-resolution audio was already a major topic last year. That’s why Auro-3D and its technology is all about delivering hi-res audio in each channel and bringing that new immersive sound experience in the most efficient way to everybody, everywhere and in the way it was intended by the creators. We have very exciting times ahead of us – not only from the reproduction side but also from the creation side. I feel very fortunate to have played a substantial role in moving the sound industry forward to new heights of creative possibilities, bringing a new level of emotion to all people.

Mr. van Baelen, we thank you for this interview.