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Shiny Box SI-PRE An Interview With Jon Ulrigg pan60: Jon, let’s get started with the interview! First, tell me, how did you get involved in the industry?  Are you a musician, engineer, or just into the small studio gear market we all love so much? Jon Ulrigg: I first got started in music singing in large choirs and ensembles, and solo voice. I picked up some piano from banging out multi-part arrangements. I started playing guitar when I was 19, bass a few years after that. I kicked around in a few bands as a guitar and bass player and played a lot of live shows for a number of years (nothing famous or that anyone would have heard of =) ). From a very early age, I knew that recorded music was where it was at for me. In parallel to my musical interests, I started messing around with electronics at a young age (I think I bought the Green Radioshack Electronics book when I was 11), taking stuff apart and building weird little do-dads. I put it down when I started following the music path, and it wasn't until I decided to build my own studio that I picked it up again. In the late 90's, I designed and built my own studio (a personal studio, not a commercial facility), and once I had the rooms built, and the electrical work complete (I did the electrical service installation myself, as well), I started down the path of recording equipment. I had a few nice pieces of equipment, and some mid-level equipment. This really awoke the little kid in me who messed with electronics. I had to know why I liked the sound of some things more than others.  It was a slippery slope, as my studio primarily consists of custom pieces I had built. I still own some equipment made by other companies (especially microphones), but I learned how to build equipment by building equipment, which is how I've always learned (learn by doing). pan60: How about something about yourself, hobbies, likes, dislikes. Jon Ulrigg: I listen to the voices in my head. =) There isn't much I can't make a computer do. I've always had the ability to fix things, and figure out how they work. I use my ears. I am really, really into recorded music. I'm very much an album person, meaning I prefer to listen to an entire album. If there's one track that I can't listen to, I'll generally pass on the whole thing. I'm okay with only liking some albums by artists. =)  Once I started to write my own music, I stopped playing other people’s music. I absolutely love listening to other people’s music, but when I pick up an instrument, I play things that come from within. It’s really kept the concept of music as a fresh and new thing to me. After playing a supporting role in bands, for most of my musical life, I started to record my own music, which I find deeply rewarding. I'm spread a little thin, so it takes longer to do than I'd like, but I recorded my first EP last year, and am working on another at present. Shameless plug, the first EP can be listened to at http://www.myspace.com/theshinybox, and is available via iTunes, Rhapsody, etc. =) pan60: Most of us know you are into ribbon mics, so tell how that came about, as well. Jon Ulrigg: Ribbon mics, for me, happened because electrically they were so simple. I had built a bunch of mic pres, compressors, eq's, etc.  I used some ribbon microphones on drums, and really loved the sound, so thought that I could knock one out and be on my way. Little did I know what I was getting myself into. Being a passive device, the interaction between everything that makes up the microphone has provided oodles of hours of experimenting.  I came up with a design, but didn't have any good relationships with a machinist who could make the parts for me. I fell into a relationship with an overseas factory, and imported some microphones to experiment with, and sold some of that first batch to the DIY community at essentially my cost, so that others could experiment too. That was roughly 4 years ago. The microphones I sell today have just evolved into a custom product from there. I'm essentially using a factory made microphone body, and building the insides myself.  I make and install my own ribbons, have a selection of custom transformers that I work with, and listen to every microphone myself before it is shipped out to make sure it sounds the way I feel it should. The different microphones have been voiced so that they sound as good as I can make them sound. It's taken some time and a lot of experimentation to get to this point, but the goal has always been to make the best sounding products I can, and the incremental changes have really added up. pan60: What made you want to make your own pre? Jon Ulrigg: I've always placed a high value on customer service with ShinyBox. The company is really just me.  That means that I've talked to every customer. The theme that continued to present itself was that people loved my microphones, but needed a little bit more gain out of their mic pre for softer signal sources. That or the mic pre they had was getting noisy once it got into the upper gain settings. So, I wanted to create a mic pre that had plenty of clean gain, and would sound great with my microphones. pan60 How did the pre design come about? Jon Ulrigg: The design of this mic pre is actually the result of a collaboration between Justin Morse of Roll Music Systems and myself. Justin and I have known each other for a few years, and it turns out we both had the same idea separately, which was to develop a transformerless mic pre for the 500 series format. Once we started talking about it, we decided to throw in together and come out with one product. After a serious bout of thumb wrestling (I kicked his ass!), it was decided that it would be a ShinyBox product. I firmly believe in collaborative development, as it makes good ideas into great ideas. I've found a great deal of kindred spirits in the boutique audio market, so I spend a lot of time bouncing ideas around till the good ones stick. As long as it goes both ways in terms of idea sharing, everyone’s products benefit. There were several rounds of prototyping, messing with different features and functionality before we landed on the final version. pan60: Any plans for future gear? Jon Ulrigg: *Laugh*  I honestly feel like I have the next 5-10 years of products already in the can. I know what they are and what they are going to do. It's really just time to develop them, and the capital, to get them into production. The very next product I have that is really close to production is a 500 series EQ called the Guillotine, a high pass, low pass filter. I showed it at the AES Amsterdam show, and the Potluck Con. It's now just down to getting it into production. pan60: Tell us about the component choices. Jon Ulrigg: The Si is really a “no holds barred” on component choices. The op amps used are made by That Corp and Burr Brown, the capacitors are made by Wima and the 12- position switch is made by Grayhill. I chose Omeg pots for the output trim because they feel right.  The metalwork is all done by a local shop here in the Seattle area, and the finish is really sweet. There are light pipe push button switches, a 10-segment, multi-mode meter, and the knobs are custom machined. My goal was to knock it out of the park, and I feel that we accomplished that. I couldn't be happier with how it turned out. The 10-segment metering is a custom design using a microcontroller. It's really fast, and has functions like peak hold and over sensing.  You won't find better metering on a 500 series module. pan60: Also, give us some specs on the SI pre. Jon Ulrigg: 72dB of gain in 6dB steps. 10dB output trim to get those fine positions between steps as needed. Phantom power for those microphones who require it. Polarity switch. Hi-z switch, which changes the input impedance of the mic pre from 1.4K to 8K. Useful for ribbon and dynamic microphones. 10 segment metering that has metering modes supporting peak hold and over functionality, with a reset button. Modes are switchable via the front panel. pan60: The 10 segment metering you have which is uses a microcontroller… WOW! I have to say, I like this. It is just cool! Tell us how it works and what made you think to do it? Jon Ulrigg: The metering is using an A/D converter to sample the audio, and in turn, driving the lights that should be on using software algorithms. The meter is software controlled, allowing some flexibility in the meter functions (it can operate in several modes (normal, over, peak hold, peak hold/over (combined)). There is a small tactile button that allows resetting of over/peak, and allows the user to change operating mode. Although using a mic pre is primarily a sonic undertaking (you use your ears to determine whether or not something sounds good, I hope =) ), the addition of a responsive meter with a rich feature set can help along the way. The feature set was determined by what I found useful for the ways I work. pan60: Also, I know you have teamed up with another manufacturer to help open up some cool possibilities for the 500 format, possibilities we might not otherwise have. We will keep that a secret for now, but maybe we can get the both of you involved in a future article: )~ ? Jon Ulrigg: I have no comment at the present time. =) pan60: Aside from the Guillotine, don't you have another pre coming, or did I misunderstand? Jon Ulrigg: I do have another mic pre in the works. It is transformer coupled, with discrete op amps. It’s been in development for a while, but I still feel it is not quite ready. It sounds really good and it fits the design goals that I set out to achieve, but I’m still not quite pulling the trigger on releasing it. There are a lot of microphone preamps out there, and I feel that to warrant making another one, it has to be a truly special tool. So let's just say the design is in spin cycle. pan60: The metal work on the Si pre is great! Do you want to speak about that? Jon Ulrigg: I was really after something that made the module feel solid. I wasn’t keen on leaving it an open frame. The box is powder coated, but it’s masked in a way that metal-to- metal contact is made where the pieces fit together. pan60: Personally I love seeing these things closed up. I think it offers protection as well as an extra degree of shielding. It can also be a downfall in making maintenance a little slower. But, a thumbs up from me on it! Jon Ulrigg: I’m used to having to open microphones to get to the working parts. Some of those microphones are not the easiest to decipher. A few easy access screws aren’t that big a hassle =) pan60: So, here are my thoughts. First, what did I not like: )~ (I hate this part, so let’s get it over with). The main thing was the lack of pull-tabs!!!! Come on guys, some of the 500 format Slutz use a lunchbox or two-slot unit, and have to swap cards. We should find a place to put some pull tabs and or some captive machine screws. Okay, now what I like and what I think. First, I like Jon and have had several great conversations with him. It is obvious he cares a great deal about his reputation and his product. You got to love it when someone is passionate about what they do. Jon, I assume service is at the top of your list based on our chats? Jon Ulrigg: Well, it’s one of those things that you really have to believe in to do right. I have to deal with mega-corporations, just like everyone else, so I know what it feels like to spend hours on the phone only to get someone who can’t do anything to help you. I try to treat my customers like I would like to be treated. pan60: That’s what I want, as well! The pre looks great both inside and out.  So a big star for build! This is an IC-based pre. But, as I have said in the past, I have no issued with IC-based pres. I tend to like them with dynamic microphones in many settings. I have tried the Si pre on acoustic and electric guitar, vocals, and drums. It comes across as an honest pre, it is not a faltering pre (and I do not mean that in a negative light), as in it is not going to give you a vibe or real color that isn't there to start with. It's honest and to-the- point. This is great for a lot of things. There are times when I (and I assume the rest of the world), just do not want the pre interfering with what I am (or what we are) doing, and/or going for. This is a great choice for just that type of scenario. I think it shines most in a good acoustics setting, as well. I liked it on acoustic sources, as well as some vocals. I like this pre with dynamic microphones, a bit more so then condensers, but then again, I love dynamic microphones, so it's a plus in my book: )~ So Jon, what is your favorite use for the Si pre, and where do you feel it shines the most? Jon Ulrigg: I really like the Si for drum overheads and room mics. I was really after something that would work well with my ribbon microphones. So, it will work well where the microphone is already capturing the source the way you want. In the 500 series format, there wasn’t a mic pre on the market doing this yet, which is why the Si is unique. It’s not trying to play the color game so much as giving you what you already have. pan60: The fact that you had the ribbon microphones in mind when designing the Si pre is probably the reason why I like it with dynamic mics in general. Thanks for the interview Jon! It was nice visiting with you. Jon Ulrigg: Regards. ShinyBox Audio Ribbon Microphones and Studio Electronics (206)409-6896 http://www.shinybox.com Check out Jon's web site and don't forget to check into his ribbon microphones!
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