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To Dave Isaac, Manley Sounds Like Money

Los Angeles, CA—August 2017…During the 30 years three-time Grammy Award winner Dave Isaac has produced and engineered in the Los Angeles area, he has worked with more stars than you can see through the City of Angels’ polluted skies. In his first eight months, he worked with Madonna, Michael Jackson, Puff Daddy, Babyface, Billy Idol, Whitney Houston, Bette Midler, and Kenny Rogers, and more. Next, he loaned his skills as a producer, engineer/mix engineer, sound designer, and musician to Marcus Miller, and together they worked with the likes of Luther Vandross, Eric Clapton, Wayne Shorter, David Sanborn, and many more, as well as working on multiple films and TV shows, including “Everybody Hates Chris.”

But years before all that, Isaac produced and engineered in his R&B, gospel, funk, and soul-infused home of Motown, working with the likes of Stevie Wonder, Aaliyah, Aretha Franklin, Barry White, El Debarge, KEM, and Anita Baker. “Coming from Detroit, I was around a lot of funk, starting with George Clinton and Funkadelic,” reminisces Isaac. “My dad grew up with James Brown so I always had that James Brown thing in my house. In Detroit, we focused a lot on the downbeat, the ‘one,’ especially with the kick and bass.” Isaac became adept at bringing an old school Detroit feel to his music because it was natural for him.

Manley Labs’ Massive Passive EQ and Stereo Variable Mu® Limiter/Compressor eventually became essential to Isaac’s sound—but it took him awhile to realize that. “I had seen Manley gear for years but had never used it,” he admits. “Then I met EveAnna Manley, and she invited me to visit the company. I was amazed at what was going on under that roof in Chino! Until I visited, I had no idea that everything was built right there! EveAnna really knows her stuff inside and out, and she is adamant about her coworkers knowing their stuff too. I’ve worked with various companies over the years, and visited their offices or factories, and was never so impressed like I was with EveAnna Manley!”

Isaac was about to start a mixing project for Prince and Morris Hayes, so he borrowed a Massive Passive and a Variable Mu to try out. “Right away, the Massive Passive gave me a sound that I loved,” he reflects. “I told EveAnna, ‘it sounds like money; it’s like I just added three zeros to my invoice!’”

The Variable Mu delivered wonderful warmth on the bottom end. “Prince was adamant about the warmth of analog, he was adamant about the downbeat and the feel and level of the kick drum,” states Isaac. “Like James Brown, he was all about the ‘one.’ Prince liked the sound, and I figured it must be the new Manley gear because it gave the kick and bass that old school feel. I had great low-end ‘oomph’ with the Variable Mu and I had this top-end money color with the Massive Passive. Prince felt it right away. He said ‘Morris tell Dave that I only want to change a couple of little things.’ That was my first project with him, and I was expecting him to tear me apart or have a list of changes but it was an absolute piece of cake. The changes were so minor that it simply was a matter of taste and feel!”

Eventually, Isaac returned the loaned Manley gear. “Then I realized something was missing,” he admits. “One day Marcus Miller said, ‘Dave, what happened? Something is missing in the mix for this album that was there before. So I got another Massive Passive and another Variable Mu—this time I got the Mastering versions — and right away everything was fine. The problem was that I bought the gear through a record company that didn’t work out, so when I cut ties with them, I gave back the Massive Passive and Variable Mu. Of course the sound changed again, and I started realizing that the difference again was the Manley gear.”

“I once did some additional mixing with Tony Maserati for Robin Thicke and Pharrell, Leah Labelle, and Printz Board. The first mix that Robin sent me, I sent back about four hours later, and he said, ‘How did you do that so fast?’ I now equate it to the gear that I was using, which included my Manley twins! As soon as I did a mix away from that environment, he called and told me that something was different. I guess I hadn’t learned my lesson yet.”

This time, Isaac bought his own Massive Passive and Variable Mu. “I feel like I’m home again. My productions and mixes sound so good, baby I feel like I’m printing my own money! Now, confident with my Manley Twins (Massive Passive and Vari Mu), I know I’ve got that Detroit hump—that downbeat, and that warmth on the one.”

“When I want to use the Massive Passive on the mix, I usually boost—I rarely cut—because with the Massive you can boost in any of the bands, and you won’t hear it the way you would on other EQs. It’s not as harsh or overbearing; it feels natural. When I use it on an instrument, vocal, or background vocals, you would think this is what the elements sounded like without EQ.”

Isaac understands theory but emphasizes trusting your ear, as well. “There’s theory, and there’s hip hop!” he laughs. “It’s about what sounds good, not always theory. With the Massive Passive, I can work theoretically and surgically, or I can just turn the knob until it feels good, like we do in hip-hop. Either way the outcome is always musical.”