The Disruptor

Million Dollar Snare Mastering Engineer Nicolas de Porcel disrupts the recording industry with BOXX.

by John Vondrak

de Porcel Headshot

“I'm the busiest, freest guy on the planet. I'm convinced of that.”

So says chief mastering engineer Nicolas de Porcel, founder of Million Dollar Snare (MDS), a critically acclaimed, globally recognized mastering studio in Sacramento, California. “People are demanding things from me right now,” he laughs.

de Porcel’s jubilant and devil-may-care attitude is instantly understandable given that our conversation takes place following Million Dollar Snare’s sweep of three rap categories at the Grammys with Killer Mike’s album, MICHAEL.

After a brief conversation regarding his newly purchased Cybertruck (every BOXX customer story gets around to cars and motorcycles eventually, or in this instance, at the very outset), we soon settle in to de Porcel’s background, work, and why he became a BOXXer.

Straight Outta Fremont

In a previous conversation, I recalled that de Porcel was a musician, so we began there. “I started out really young,” he recalls, “and music has been part of my entire life. My dad had me and my little brother sitting down in his office in Fremont, California playing guitar to us and singing. That’s one of my first memories.”


His musical roots run even deeper. de Porcel’s maternal grandfather spent decades in a traditional church choir, while his dad’s father, in 1977, attended one of the first electronic music conferences in Australia.

“Think early synthesizers—he was doing all that,” says de Porcel. “He introduced me to music and technology in his studio when I was around 12 years old. I started downloading software on my dad's computer. I don't even remember what kind of computer it was, but we lived in Silicon Valley, so he always had custom built stuff. I downloaded Fruity Loops and started to produce, because all of my friends started to rap and I thought, well, I'm a white kid, I didn't really rap, it doesn't seem like something that I would do, but I could help in this way.”

And help out is exactly what the 12-year old Nicolas de Porcel did. He became well versed in MIDI controllers and how to navigate via human interface with the computer. He discovered that the MIDI controller was comprised of knobs which controlled different oscillators and software capabilities. He also discovered the keyboard. Not the computer keyboard, the piano keyboard. “I picked up a MIDI controller that was a little piano and that's when my grandfather (the digital music aficionado) began training me classically.”

As time went on, de Porcel began producing for local acts in the Bay Area, and at the ripe old age of 16, produced his first album for an East Oakland rapper.

“I was in real dicey situations during this time,” he laughs. “A 16-year-old white kid producing, wearing all the big street wear in East Oakland, trying to make things happen.”


By his twenties, de Porcel was also producing electronic music for himself and charting on Beatport, where DJs went to download music to spin music at their shows, riding the wave of the electronic dance music (EDM) scene in the late 2000’s to early 2010’s.

“Everyone got their music from Beatport,” de Porcel recalls. I started charting actual songs—fully produced and composed. Along the way, I was picking up engineering and mixing, but I could never understand mastering, so I would always send my mixes out to get mastered by mastering engineers. I would call the big mastering house, talk to the secretary, and get my song mastered, but it wouldn't sound like how I wanted it to. I could never talk to the actual engineers. I tried a bunch of different ones, but this was my experience across the board.”

Unfortunately for de Porcel, he was spending his entire paycheck (while working at a Target distribution center) on mastering and not getting the desired results. He was also newly married, and while on his honeymoon, asked his bride if she would let him spend some of their wedding money on mastering gear.

“You’re going to do it anyway whether I agree to it or not,” he laughingly recalls her saying. “She knows me, you know?”

The Student Becomes the Master

Mrs. de Porcel’s trust paid off when he landed his first major job mastering Kendrick Lamar's The Heart Part 4. “These guys called me up at 10 at night and said, ‘Our mastering engineer can't do this, but we need it done right now. Can you do it?’ I was at work at the distribution center managing a team of 50 people, and told my boss, ‘I gotta’ leave.’ I stayed up all night working with these guys to get this song out, and that was the thing that started it off.”

The budding mastering engineer picked up a copy of Mastering Audio by Bob Katz, a go-to textbook that spells out all the basic rules, but what de Porcel gleaned from it was surprising. “What I realized was that some of the pioneers of mastering went from being transfer engineers in the Fifties and Sixties to mastering engineers in the Seventies and they didn't know what they were doing either!” de Porcel laughs. “They were just trying to get the best sound, so when I approached it from that standpoint, it was like, well, I don't really need a mentor because some of the people that would be mentoring me would be the same ones I fired from my jobs!”

de Porcel points out he hired some of the biggest names in the business, but insists his comments are not meant to be derogatory or a critique of these engineers’ mastering abilities. He says it simply came down to a difference between his ear, his style, and theirs.

“My whole approach,” he says, “and especially being from the Bay Area and Silicon Valley is that I'm going to do something different. I'm going to disrupt. Disruption has been the name of the game the whole time, so into this world dominated by old white men enters this 30-year-old, first generation American kid whose dad is an immigrant from Bolivia.”

The MDS Studio


According to de Porcel, mastering engineers still don't understand mastering and that's the secret of it all. Still, regarding his own success, he credits (along with his mantra of disruption) his ability to understand where the technology is at currently. As an example, he cites delivery specs which underwent a major shift with the arrival of streaming. By moving away from the 16-bit wave to the capability of delivering a 24-bit higher sample rate format, the listener can hear in ultimate fidelity. He also mentions different DSPs which have their own preferred file formats and a layer of transcoding that happens between what he delivers and what they give their listener.

“What I try to do is the Moneyball approach,” he says. “It's Silicon Valley again. We're not trying to be the biggest, the loudest, or the best. What we're trying to do is deliver the most optimal product that transcodes in a way, so whether it’s Spotify, Apple Title, Amazon, or whatever, it sounds the same everywhere. That's where we broke in. Along with our actual sound, we have a sound that we like. One of my friends says MDS “sounds like an analog master in the digital era.”

The Million Dollar Process

TikTok unBOXXing

When I ask de Porcel about his process, he describes a “giant funnel where we intake projects.” Sometimes the recording artist makes the request, sometimes the artist makes the request to their management to use Million Dollar Snare, and sometimes it’s the record label. Messages arrive via email, text, phone, Instagram, TikTok, and everywhere else.

Files are pulled into Magix Sequoia, and because of the software technology, de Porcel can initially assess what he’s going to need to do without even listening to it. “I know if I’m going to have to be heavy handed or real light handed,” he explains. “Or maybe I'm going to have to get on the phone with the mixing engineer and say, ‘Can you send me another version of this?’ We analyze the files, look at it, and listen to it, which is obviously more important, and then we'll make the decision to get to work, which is 99% of the time, the happy path—go directly into mastering. We're looking to achieve the end result and delivering the final file that gets uploaded. Usually, our interfacing with the artist is when we send the file to them for final approval and the artist puts their stamp of approval on it. We help in that process like a therapist in a way. We say it’s ready to go because most people, including sometimes artists themselves, might not be secure enough with sound to approve the final product. They rely on us to say, ‘This needs to be a little bit brighter’ or ‘It’s not going to translate on small speakers’ or ‘There's too much bass.’ We're making those types of decisions as well.”

Million Dollar Snare also relies on multiple third party virtual software packages that work inside of Sequoia like Izotope and Cube-Tec, which de Porcel refers to as the “really secret unavailable software that no one can get.” Cube-Tec is a 32-bit plugin while Sequoia has a built-in 32-bit bridge so both are extremely CPU intensive. When trying to process on his previous computers, the result was often crackles and other unwanted sounds, but with his new APEXX S3 workstation from BOXX Technologies, de Porcel says, “You couldn't even tell that there was a bridge because it's just so seamless, so flawless. That’s the cool thing about having a BOXX.”


The MillionDollarSnare BOXX APEXX S3

  • Intel i9-14900K (14th gen) at 6.1GHz
  • 192GB DDR5-5600 MHz (4 - 48GB DIMMS)
  • 2 x 2.0TB SSD NVMe/PCIe 4.0 M.2 Drive
  • NVIDIA  RTX A5000 24GB
  • Intel PRO/10 X550 RJ45 10 Gigabit Dual Port Server Adapter PCIe 
  • Microsoft Windows 11 Professional Edition 64-Bit High End


Disrupting With BOXX

Being an Intel Creative Partner is how de Porcel initially became aware of BOXX. He had access to laptops, but with his demanding applications, what he really needed was a studio workstation. “I needed something to power Million Dollar Snare,” he insists, “something that was going to propel a rocket.”

One visit to the BOXX website and de Porcel found what he was looking for—a kindred spirit. “BOXX felt like another company that was cutting edge rather than ‘How can we sell the most amount of units?’ I don't care about volume. I care about the highest quality, the highest standard. Money is great, it does give you freedom. It's super cool, but at the same time, we're not going for the money. We're going for Diamond Records and Grammy Award-winning songs. You're not going to do that off of a prosumer Dell. You're going to do that with something that's cutting edge and exclusive. That's what BOXX is. If you want the best of the best, that's used by the best of the best, that's what BOXX is to me. It's not a Facebook machine.”


Apexx S3 Exploded view


When comparing workstation manufacturers, de Porcel recalls that while configuring his new APEXX S3, he specifically requested a 10 gigabit Ethernet port to run his NAS. Based on his previous experience with computer manufacturers, he was certain it would be overlooked. “I thought for sure they would get it wrong because it was such a weird request. The BOXX guys assured me, ‘Yeah, it's in there. It was so nonchalant. I thought they blew it off, but when I got it and plugged it in—yep, 10 gigabit Ethernet port. Even better, when BOXX tuned up the computer and sent it to me, they put in things that I didn't even know I wanted. They were delighters for me.”

de Porcel’s APEXX S3 is not housed in the actual studio, but in an adjacent room. He initially structured the space in that way due to the noise of his previous computer. “You really can’t hear the BOXX,” he says, “until you export a file. Then bam, it exports a file extremely fast and you hear the CPU being utilized. It’s also noticeably different from previous systems in terms of speed and latency. Every task I do now is incredibly fast and the software runs with extreme stability. It never crashes.”

When discussing exporting audio files, de Porcel’s enthusiasm goes to 11. “My assistant bounces a lot of files and before, there were times when we had to wait for 20 minutes to bounce a batch of files, whereas this APEXX S3 takes maybe two minutes.”


His excitement surrounding his BOXX APEXX S3 also extends into how BOXX is in sync with his overall creative/business philosophy.

“I have to sit there for the full four minute duration of the audio no matter what. I rely heavily on this BOXX workstation because I know that this thing is capable of pushing the limits of technology. Remember, the whole thing I've been trying to do is disrupt. So from the very beginning, I've had ideas that I couldn't execute because I've been limited by the technology. Now, I'm able to execute those ideas. For instance, on my old computer, I could only use one instance of a certain plugin in a certain mode because the plugins even of themselves have different settings where we're using the max amount of CPU processing to get the ultimate sound. Now I'm like, ‘What would happen if I used three instances?” With the BOXX, I've been able to do it and it handles it in real time, no glitches. BOXX has enabled me to push the limits of what's possible in audio, and for me, that's the most important thing because being part of the recording academy we're trying to further the arts and sciences, in this case, of mastering audio.”

When I ask de Porcel to look into the future of Million Dollar Snare and describe the BOXX role in it, he once again mentions his roots.

“Being from Silicon Valley, we're big on the pivot,” he says. “We're very customer centric. Today, we could be doing Stereo and (Dolby) Atmos mastering, and tomorrow, we could be in a format that no one's ever heard of or we’re helping to develop AI tools that assist in doing this a little bit better.” He admits that while the technological future remains unknown, BOXX will be a critical component.

“I see BOXX being part of the story because it can handle any idea we want to execute,” de Porcel says. “That's always been my thing. I had the idea, but was limited by technology. It was the same when I was producing EDM music. I couldn’t throw in the 50th bass track because I would have 50 tracks of each bass doing a different thing with a different oscillator. Being limited and freezing tracks ruined the vibe of production. With BOXX, if I have an idea, I just sit down and work. I don't even think about it. I'm not limited anymore. There are no limitations.”

At the time of this writing, Kendrick Lamar’s Not Like Us is breaking multiple streaming records including the record for the most single day streams for a rap song in global Spotify history with 11.85 million streams. It charted at number one on the Billboard Hot 100, while his other track, Euphoria was at number three. Both were mastered by Nicolas de Porcel at Million Dollar Snare on his BOXX APEXX S3.