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Pete’s Place Audio - Electrodyne 501/511

Ken Hirsch , Orphan Audio LLC , Quad-Eight Electronics LLC,

Electrodyne Corp.

pan60 Electrodyne interview: 7/2010

So, Ken – Let’s get a bit of background about you. Ken  ---Born in Boston with ancestry of European and American farmers, blacksmiths and tailors (back to the 12th century), Alaskan fishermen (founders of the Alaska Packers Association in the 1800s) and even a few real pirates!! I got the music and electronics bug at the age of 6 and never looked back (well…. until recently, and of course I realized it was too late now to grow up, so…) I went through two years at Cal- Poly as an EL and realized I had better get real or I would end up buried in the back rows of an integrated circuit manufacturers cubicle farm like Dilbert. So I was invited to move into a house in Malibu with 5 other electronic geniuses, and began building private recording studios for local celebrities, custom PA systems and installing car stereos. (Guess which job made the most money?) pan60 LOL I bet I can guess that one correctly! Ken I was then asked to be the live sound engineer at a now (but at the time, not yet) legendary Malibu nightclub after designing and installing the PA there. 4 years later, I was touring the world with bands I had only known from owning their platinum selling albums and became known as a “MacGiver” in the pro sound and touring industry. During and after 12 years of touring the world and working with bands like Little Feat, Pink Floyd, Supertramp, Toto, Dixie Dregs, and many others, I also had a few straight gigs like B&B audio (precursor to Aphex), Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs, JL Cooper, Numark, 7th Level, and Euphonix, to name a few. pan60 B&B Audio, wow! Now I will be bothering you more. I have been doing some digging into B&B. Ken Orphan Audio began in about 1984 as a document preservation company and now also sells DIY supplies and preamp kits for QE, Electrodyne and Sphere amp cards. Some years later I purchased many of the remaining manufacturing assets of Quad-Eight and began restoring and rebuilding many of their famous designs. This, of course, led to re- opening QE around 1994 and today we are restoring and re-racking original modules and designing new products under the QE trademark. pan60 It is so great to see someone resurrecting what can be nothing less than some really righteous gear, as they say! So, what are your hobbies or obsessions? Ken  --- Music, Electronics, Audio, Recording, Collecting, Restoring and Archiving rare original audio schematics and documents, Recording Electronics, Music Electronics, Recording music, Playing musical instruments, Repairing musical instruments, Designing and building musical instruments Recording Audio (live or studio), Mixing Live Audio, Designing and Building recording Studios, Designing and building PA systems, Designing and building custom recording electronics, Scuba and horse riding with my wife, Fencing, raising my three daughters (don’t even ask, you’ll never be good enough for them)…………uhhh,.. did I miss anything? pan60 LOL I have Daughters, so, I know the feeling. Tell us a wicked cool story about yourself, something you would probably only tell a Priest: o~. I want to know about some of the stuff, something I can hold against you later: )~ Keep you hostage. LOL Ken  ---As a highly experienced live touring sound engineer and musical instrument technician (ok,.. I was a ROADIE for 12 years!!!!) I saw and survived many things that would turn your hair white (Oh, wait… That’s MY hair)! But since I was lucky enough to tour with either Jazzers or “Post-12-Step” bands, I only got to hear others stories of how they made it through a particular legendary tour. ///PA: Dixie Dregs, Philly, one hand on faders, one inside a live Marshall spitting sparks and smoking, two DSP engineers from Ensoniq handing me tools and standing way back as I got periodically shocked by 485volts dc. pan60 Ouch! Not much shocks me, but my hair has turned white. Okay, I have to know, how did you manage to restart Electrodyne? Let’s cover everything, from finding and getting the name, to seeing the first product out the door. Ken Obviously with my passion for “Orphaned” companies (QE, Sphere, Helios, Langevin, etc..) and with many members of AES and the Hollywood Sapphire group having history with Electrodyne, I would have acquired it sooner or later, however the process really fired up when I found a huge cache of NOS Electrodyne and Langevin parts in a Hollywood studio storage warehouse around 2002. I eventually purchased the entire original Electrodyne document archives in late 2007 (which also included much of the original Langevin docs back to 1942), which capped it off recently, with the release of the first new products from Electrodyne, since 1974. I have continued to pursue bringing QE and Electrodyne back to life by applying for acquiring trademark status for QE and Electrodyne. The process of studying the Electrodyne factory archives and engineering notes, talking with original employees and designers, choosing, designing and redesigning circuits, locating original parts and original parts manufacturers, testing, carefully improving selected circuitry and field testing. This took over three years, but was well worth the effort (and we are just getting started). We are looking to produce more products in 2010. pan60 Well, I am absolutely in love with the 511 EQ, as well as the 501 Pre, so I am looking forward to seeing what comes down the pipe in the future! Ken  --Amazingly almost all of the original parts (discrete transistors, diodes, switches…) required for me to build the new Electrodyne 500 series modules are still in production forty years later, and the quality and consistency is incredibly high compared to the 1960s and 1970s, while the prices have plummeted. Unfortunately, labor costs have skyrocketed. However, we are finding that we can often build and sell for close to 1970s prices for a similar product. We even got sign offs from original Electrodyne engineers on our op-amp and circuitry improvements. It seems we came up with many ideas that the original engineers wanted to add, but were too expensive to do in the 1960s. This is also true for many of the circuit improvements we have added to new QE designs. pan60 So, tell me about some of the circuitry improvements in the 511 and the 501? Ken We spent a lot of time analyzing the original Electrodyne amp designs and factory engineering notes. We spoke with factory design and sales engineers who were there in the 1960s and 1970s. We also asked owners and end-users about the original consoles, for example we wanted to know what they heard and what the design engineers wanted to change. For instance, we made very careful changes to select discrete op-amp designs to remove early-onset distortion and asymmetrical clipping that both design engineers and users complained about. We found out later that some of the changes we made, (requiring weeks of intense "backbreaking" testing and tweaking) were nearly identical to ones requested by John Hall (then Chief engineer of Electrodyne), but, unfortunately were nixed because they added a very significant $4 per op-amp in 1970 dollars (imagine that in 2009 dollars!). After those simple (but difficult to achieve) changes were made, we obtained an additional smoothness in amp response without losing any of the original desirable tone. The most amazing thing to us, was the same critical op-amp components used in the original designs are in full production after 40 years (still made by the original companies and with a better quality than ever). Weirdly enough, due to the overall reduction in cost of electronic components over the last 40 years, and the associated reduced labor costs due to increased component reliability and unit to unit consistency, we have been able to build and sell the new Electrodyne gear at close to the 1970s pricing. The changes we made to the op-amps that were cost prohibitive in 1970 ended up adding only about 15 cents in 2009 dollars. pan60 Let’s cover component choices, from what had to be resourced, what is the NOS [New/Old Stock] (if any), to how hard was it to get those trannies back in production. Ken Transformers: We selected from among many original Eddie Riechenbach designs that he originally built for Electrodyne, and contracted with Tom Reichenbach and David Geren of Cinemag, to build to original factory specs. I just walked in to Cinemag and asked, “Tom, remember these transformers your dad designed forty years ago, can you start building them again?” As usual, Tom answered “Yes”. In every case, (Electrodyne, QE and other American classics) the new transformers or EQ inductors have matched my original factory sample to within 1/4db across the entire frequency spectrum. Cinemag (AKA: Reichenbach Transformers), is one of the few examples I can think of, where a company is still in business after 40 plus years, building the same product and doing better work than ever. The knobs are NOS originals from Electrodyne factory inventory I purchased in 2002, and we will continue to use them as long as they last. pan60 how difficult was it to size the pre and EQ for the 500 format? Ken  ---O….M….G!!!!  The huge output tranny chewed up almost 25% of the main pcb and left little room for discrete op-amps, inductors, switches, etc… But, with careful layout, I was able to use heavy-duty single sided circuit board construction to retain some of the original secret mojo that type of layout technique can add. It was much more difficult for the preamp, with two transformers and three amp stages. pan60 Was there any difference in the power supply needed for the original vintage unit verses the +/- 16Vdc rails as supplied by the 500 format? If so, how did you manage this? Ken  --Big bonus here: The original Electrodyne designs used a 24 volt supply split into +/-12v, so the +/-16v supply in 500 series racks gave us extra volts to use to add headroom, lower noise and run the amps more conservatively while swinging more level overall. In short everything is better with more voltage. It also simplified and made the power supplies more reliable. It was the perfect synergy and an opportunity too good to pass up. The 500 series has a popularity and form factor that is perfect for the new Electrodyne products pan60 I think the 500 format is a fabulous format (as if anyone doesn't already know). Tell me about your website and some of the vintage cool gear you are into? Ken: We (Josie, my wife, and I) are running two websites www.orphanaudio.com and www.quadeightelectronics.com. Orphan Audio is principally a DIY and historical site and has a multi-level forum dedicated to education and history on Quad-Eight, Electrodyne, Sphere, Helios, Langevin, ADM, as well as other relevant DIY construction information and repair topics. Recent new forums added are a place for regional custom shops to post their contact info and Euphonix CS console forum for owners of the “new Classic” CS series digitally controlled analog consoles. The forums were created for anyone interested in the history of their gear, (like famous recordings done on the classic American iron that is still being “discovered” and rising in popularity), or the new generation of DIY’ers that the recording community desperately needs to support to keep the old knowledge alive and to encourage them to bring fresh ideas into the industry. This site has been in the rebuilding stage for some time and will emerge soon with more content and history on a wider range of products. The Quad-Eight site is just getting started and will be continually evolving as new products are introduced. It is linked to the Orphan Audio forums for information and history. pan60 So, this is a cool place for anyone that may need some information or help with a cool resurrection project, and maybe find some needed parts to boot: )~ That sounds cool! On a side note, a lot of folks have asked about bringing back some of the different colors. I know this can get a bit costly just because of set-up alone. Can you chat about getting a at least a couple of colors off the ground? Maybe a green and orange? Ken Custom colors are always an option for any customer who wants something special, however there is always cost associated with custom requests. Original module front panels were hand engraved Formica laminated over machined aluminum panels (with cost attractive materials, we might be convinced to release a new Electrodyne product in some of the wild colors of the 1960s. pan60 Okay, back on track. Have you thought about producing a new product for the Electrodyne brand? There has to be something wicked cool that was intended but never seen the light of day. Maybe something of your own design? Ken A new Electrodyne design is on the test bench right now, and will be in limited release later this year, but you didn't hear this from me... (or did you???) Keep an eye out this year for a new Quad-Eight product that might be just what you are looking for..... pan60 LOL Could you give me some specs on the 511 and the 501 for those that want to know? As I understand, there will be some improvements. You mentioned the added voltage was a help. Are there any other improvements? Ken Since the original Electrodyne gear ran on 24v (split to +/-12v internally) it was great to have +/-16v from the 500 racks to get a little extra "oomph" and a bit more safe operating area to get the modules to almost +30dbm output with lower distortion. This allowed us to control which components contributed to the overall tone without worrying about undesirable *#$@>! creeping in to spoil what was there all along. Additionally we were able to take advantage of the extra voltage to drive the op-amps more conservatively, letting them run cooler and making them more reliable. pan60 Personally, I am loving how well the 501 plays with some of my others pres, but let me ask, where do you see the 501 and the 511 really shine the most? Would it be era, genera, or any particular instrumentation? Ken I try not to make judgments on gear I build, and leave it to the users to tell me what works for them. That said, (and most unusually), every user has a different favorite instrument to use with the 501 and/or 511. Where one engineer loves how the Electrodyne 511 EQ brilliantly floats a lead vocal over a gospel choir with only 2db of equalization, another raves about how the 511 kicks up an "in-your-face" punch to a previously lifeless lead guitar with both EQ knobs cranked full up. We took the best of the 1960s designs and added modern functionality that makes them more useable on a wider range of instruments. Frankly the new designs would not be as good as they are, if we didn't beta test them to death by asking the best engineers and producers in the industry to beat it up. We listened to their suggestions regarding improvements and what to leave as is. It’s amazing how high quality the 1960s designs actually were. It is time they made a comeback and so they can be appreciated by a new generation. pan60 Having had the 501 and 511 for some time, I have to say I absolutely love these two units! I WILL be adding more of these to my rack in the future. I recently stated that the 501 ( as well as the 511), brings the thought of rich creamy chocolate covered caramel (and, oh man, I love creamy chocolate covered caramel)! This pre is just thick enough, it is rich, and detailed! The 501 is not too colored, but slathered with a fair heaping of MOJO, very nicely detailed and articulate. I cannot see any one not loving this pre. From the top down you have the gain at just what it says: )~ Next is the out, a button for the DI, and a 1/4'' input. On the left - this consists of a row with four buttons: Hi-z Low-z, a 20db pad, Polarity and a 48-volt phantom power button. All if it is straight forward and to the point. The 511 EQ is an awesome tracking EQ for my work flow. It is simple, fast to set up, and easy to dial in. I could also see this on a two buss for some gentile MOJO type of tone shaping. It allows for some really righteous tone shaping. It is rich and, again, very smooth. The 511 is a no brainer, and has a great sound. Looking at the 511 the top button is for shelving, which I find to be a very functional feature! The top knob offers four selectable bands. It includes a thumb lever under the knob, as was the original. The bands consist of: 10K, 5K, 3K, and 1.5K with a plus or minus ranging from 0 to 12db. Next is a shelving button followed by another knob and thumb lever offering the same 0 to 12db cut and gain, and the frequency selection of 500hz, 250hz,100hz, and 50hz. As Ken stated, you can really, really push a selected band and float a vocal (I like that, Ken ), and/or push something right in your face. You can make it pop! You can cut harsh frequencies and still have a very sweet musical sound. I will make sure we get the link to your site and Pete's as well. Thank you for your time, Ken. Ken Much appreciated. Thank you. Ken Hirsch Quad Eight Electronics(tm) LLC, www.quadeightelectronics.com Orphan Audio LLC, www.orphanaudio.com Electrodyne(tm) a division of Orphan Audio LLC
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