Over in Chatsworth, I stopped in at the new 60,000-square-foot office and manufacturing headquarters of Miller & Kreisel Inc., for a glimpse into what the rapidly growing, high-end speaker company was up to. M&K has long been a favorite of audiophiles, both consumer and professional, for its high-quality systems. Lately, the increase in surround sound projects and 5.1 home theater applications, coupled with enthusiastic endorsements by such notables as Skywalker Sound, 5.1 Entertainment, Walter Afanasieff and Bob Ludwig, have led to increased visibility and burgeoning sales for the company.
During the expansion, Stephen Powers, an industry vet who has produced and/or engineered over 100 albums, and who previously helmed Drive Entertainment and Chameleon Music Group, has come onboard as president of M&K. Company co-founder Ken Kreisel, president since the company's 1973 startup, is moving over to CEO and planning to devote more time to his integral role as chief design engineer.
Kreisel has been directly responsible for the development of M&K's philosophy and products, and is generally considered to be the father of modern satellite subwoofer systems. He's been involved with both consumer and pro audio since his early career when he sold hi-fi equipment during the day and, at night in the same store, engineered direct-to-disc recordings. It was back in 1973 when Kreisel's fate was truly sealed: That's when Walter Becker induced him to design a system, complete with a dual-driver subwoofer, for the Steely Dan Pretzel Logic mix sessions. Since then, Kreisel has gone on to introduce such innovations as adjustable spectral balance (now known as timbre matching), the first powered subwoofer, the first 3-tweeter array home speaker system, the first PushPull dual-driver powered subwoofer and the first phase-focused crossover.
“The comment that people always make is that M&K speakers are absolutely transparent,” says Powers, “rather than having some kind of favorable, appealing coloration of the sound, which is different than what a lot of other speaker manufacturers have done.”
All of this garnered Kreisel attention from Dolby Labs, which used M&K's 5000 system as a reference speaker for the development of AC3, and in 1999, from George Lucas, leading to the exclusive use of M&K monitors for production audio on Star Wars: Episode 1-The Phantom Menace. Since then, it's been pretty much non-stop for M&K, with production and design ramping up as more and more golden ears types have become fans. The new facility houses a staff of about 100 and features demo rooms for both the pro and consumer series. The manufacturing wing boasts two full production lines, with three expected to be operating soon. Testing rooms are also on-site; they're a key component, as every individual speaker is tested before it leaves the facility.
“It's true, every speaker is tested,” asserts Powers. “Most manufacturers figure that it's more cost effective to test just one speaker in 10 and to replace any failures. We don't think that's acceptable, so we test each one rigorously. People know that when you get an M&K speaker, it's going to perform perfectly. We also have the longest warranty in the business; our powered products are 10 years speaker components, five years on electronics, and our passive speakers are 10 years parts and labor.
“M&K makes sophisticated products,” he continues. “We aren't in the mass retailers. We use an elite group of high-end audio dealers. Our largest is Magnolia Hi-Fi based out of Seattle, and now in San Francisco. Here in the Los Angeles area, we have many dealers, including Real Time Audio Video in Dana Point, Audio Video City on the Westside and Wilshire Audio in Westlake.”
The proliferation of home theater and media rooms is making custom installation a growth area. With an eye to the boom in multichannel home systems, M&K now offers, in addition to mains, bookshelfs and subwoofers, an in-wall, ceiling and frame-less architectural series that uses the same components as its MPS and S Professional Series.
“More and more homebuilders are recognizing a media room as a selling point,” says Powers. “It's pre-wired with sophisticated cable for DSL and LAN, so you can run appliances off your computer. Fiber optics are now going in the walls of new homes. The wired home is a very big trend.”
You've got to figure that Ken Kreisel never sleeps, because while designing, running the company and overseeing the development of an ever-increasing line of speaker products, he's continued to engineer recording sessions. M&K distributes a line of CDs, including the recent release The Max Weinberg 7. To further that venture, in the works at the new facility are a soundstage and an editing suite. Also starting up are prototype and R&D design areas; current works-in-progress include — check it out mixers — a high-level automotive reference monitor system. Which leads us back to the beginning, long ago in that hi-fi store where Kreisel also installed high-end car systems, including for that way hot-rodded BMW of Walter Becker's. You know, this Kreisel guy has always been ahead of his time.
“My passion is in recording — cutting-edge recording,” he says. “That's what has driven me. I can point to almost any speaker we have and tell you what artist or studio in the last 30 years has prompted us to make it. I consider it my R&D to work with key people and solve their problems. Now we are seeing the results of all of that.”
Sound City Studios, that vintage Neve bastion in Van Nuys, has installed a larger 80-Series desk into Studio B. The two-room Sound City, which celebrated 30 years in business in 1999, has always been known as a good-vibes place to record and a great place to rock hard. On the day I visited, it was obvious that the tradition was continuing, with producer/engineer Joe Barresi and new Dreamworks' artists Leisure generating monster guitar tones in Studio A. Studio A, a favorite with such rock stalwarts as Barresi, Ross Robinson, Matt Hyde and Rick Rubin, is famous for having stayed essentially unchanged for the past 30 years. During that time, major albums for Fleetwood Mac, Nirvana, Tom Petty, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Rage Against the Machine, among others, have been done there. The formula still seems to be working; in recent months, Studio A, with its Neve 8028 console, has stayed busy, playing host to the reformed Bad Religion, Virgin artists Amen, Ry Cooder with the Buena Vista Social Club, and Ben Harper producing Blackalicious.
Meanwhile, Studio B has been in transition. For the past three years, it complemented Studio A, housing a Neve 8038 owned by producer/engineer Sylvia Massey. When Massey departed L.A. for the rural life and her own private studio near Mt. Shasta, the 8038 went with her, leaving studio manager Shivaun O'Brien and owner Tom Skeeter with a dilemma: Should they stay within their vintage niche or try something different? After taking some time for research, they decided to go with a 40-input, 24-bus, 32-monitor Neve 8078.
“We find that with our clientele, 50 percent of the records are mixed on 80-Series Neves, the other 50 percent on SSL,” says O'Brien. “Those that go with SSL to mix like the punch of the G Plus, so we actually looked at putting one of those into Studio B. But we've always been a Neve house, with vintage consoles and equipment. It really is our niche and what we do best. Also, Studio B is unique in that you can both record and mix in it. For example, Lenny Kravitz records in B, while Ben Harper, Betty Blowtorch and Rick Will mix there. And Queens of the Stone Age's R was tracked, overdubbed and mixed all in B.
“It's pretty much split 50/50, so we decided that we needed something flexible that could be used for both. The 8078 is a respectable console for mixing as well as for tracking. And the new console is a great improvement, because we can go 48 track with no problem, whereas previously, with the 16-bus, 32-in 8038 it was tough.”
The 8078 features 31105 4-band EQ and dates from 1977, when it was first commissioned for The Town House Studios in London. Before arriving at Sound City, the desk, which is fitted with user-friendly, Macintosh-based GML automation purchased from George Lucas' Skywalker Ranch, made its home at Memphis' House of Blues Studios where it was used for projects by such artists as Isaac Hayes, Boz Scaggs, Saliva and Full Devil Jacket.
The console's installation was supervised by L.A. Neve guru Pat Schneider. Prior to the commissioning, Studio B, which, by the way, houses a classic Steinway C grand piano, underwent cosmetic refurbishing, receiving new carpet, paint and wall treatments. Although Bob Hodas was called in to revoice the custom George Augspurger/JBL mains, in deference to B's existing clientele, nothing was acoustically changed, in either the control room or the studio.
“The console is a stock 8078, all hand-built with a discrete audio path,” comments O'Brien. “We've learned that having an 80-Series console that's stock is a very good thing, since many of them have been altered with modifications that have turned out not to be improvements. I've been to the original Neve factory and seen how these consoles were made; there's real craftsmanship in them. That's what gives them that special warm sound that people value. In the end, it was talking to our clients that helped us make the decision to stick to vintage Neve. It's what they wanted, and we feel very comfortable with the decision.”
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