ECHO PARK: Stepping into Vintage King’s brand new showroom in L.A.’s Echo Park neighborhood, it’s hard not to feel your heart skipping a few beats; unless of course, the sight of racks and racks filled with glorious recording gear isn’t your thing.
If it is, then you would also be instantly aware that virtually nowhere else does such a purpose-built retail space exist like this one. Not only that, but in addition to the large showroom, vocal booth, and an incredible critical listening room, the second floor of the building is devoted to two beautiful mastering rooms. Infrasonic Mastering, co-founded by Vintage King’s Jeff Ehrenberg and mastering engineer Pete Lyman, has also found a new home at 1176 West Sunset.
Aside from the mounds of gear, the most striking aspect of Vintage King’s new L.A. outpost is its construction. Sound and Structure, Inc., founded by Robert Maune was contracted to design and build out the space, and its execution is not only highly functional, but stylish and unique as well.
Maune, who guided me around the space, was quick to note his love of the retro aesthetic: “I love the design of the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, and that fit well because a lot of the equipment that is going to sit here is based on the old-school approach.”
Indeed, the main showroom space makes use of what could be described as “retro” materials – in particular, the walls are covered in pegboard, which Maune notes, “has an acoustic function, but also harkens back to Les Paul’s classic studio.”
This main showroom space can double as a tracking environment. “One of the challenges of a room this huge was that it would definitely have sunk a large chunk of the budget,” says Maune about his approach for the showroom. “So I did what I could in here, because I was told that as a secondary use that they were interested in doing some live recording .”
Where Maune’s expertise really came into play was in designing the vocal booth and critical listening room – to provide acoustical qualities that would help customers make decisions about which microphones, monitors, and other outboard would best suit their needs.
The vocal booth has virtually every microphone that Vintage King sells plugged in and ready to demo. One can quickly and easily patch in the mic they wish to try along with any preamp, compressor, and EQ choice – a great option to have as a buyer, especially with the myriad of 500 series pieces out there.
The critical listening room is a whole other piece of work and involved some challenging design criteria.
The objective was to create a control room-like environment so clients could easily demo different monitors, and even consoles, in a sonically controlled and acoustically superior room. Sounds difficult but doable – however, with the added criterion that there should be many pairs of monitors instantly available and easily audition-able, things became a bit more challenging.
The room itself features a front wall loaded with five tons of sand and six pairs of soffit-mounted large monitors. The back wall is five feet deep and loaded with Sound and Structure’s exclusively-designed Quadratic Pipe Array for bass and broadband absorption.
“Normally in a high end studio you might have a pair of serious full range monitors in the wall, but here, they were asking for six pairs, and they still wanted a sweet spot for people to come here and actually switch through them,” Maune explains. “Another thing that’s unusual is the layout. What we’ve actually done is set them up in an a,b,c, configuration [gestures towards speaker pairs that overlap each other] like this, because it would have been unfair to set them up in a way in which only one pair had a sort of golden position….a fairer balance.”
Maune also points out that while the monitors have been set up in a semi-permanent way, they can easily be swapped out with some easy modifications, “The baffles around the speakers are designed to be easily removable, so as stock changes, we can just manufacture new baffles. The speakers are very rigidly held by a frame, so that they are properly anchored into the wall, and again, that can also be adjusted for upgrades or changes.
“We also custom built a quasi meter bridge [for nearfield monitors], which is also full of sand, and isolated with rubber. It’s of course, not absolutely ideal, because we have some acoustic shadows from the speakers sitting in front, but the idea would be, during a demonstration, we would take them off and sit them on the floor. At any rate, it’s actually a much better room than what many people work in!”
The New Infrasonic Mastering
Stepping out of the critical listening room, Maune and I walked upstairs to check out Infrasonic Mastering, where mastering engineers Pete Lyman (No Age, Best Coast, Norah Jones) and John Greenham (Tigres del Norte, Omar Sosa, Aesop Rock) have already begun conducting sessions.
There are two rooms here, accessed by a long hallway with a beautifully curved half-arched ceiling, which serves two purposes. “I designed all this just because I thought it was beautiful, and I had to hide some air conditioning…”
The actual mastering rooms are virtually identical – they are mirror-images of each other, even down to aspects of the color scheme, which evokes what one might expect from a 1970‘s sci-fi futurist.
As far as the sound of the rooms, once again, Maune had something specific in mind, “The typical paradigm of mastering suites has been an acoustic signature somewhat resembling the ‘typical’ American living room. I tried to respect the fact that music is now more frequently heard in much tighter listening environments, an automobile perhaps.”
While buying new recording gear is always an exciting prospect, one rarely can say that the purchasing experience is ever a particularly unique one. Vintage King’s aim with their Echo Park showroom is definitely representative of a need in professional audio to have a more tailored experience when it comes to making well-informed decisions about potentially expensive purchases. Not to mention, with planned events and showcases in the works, they have also provided the beginnings of a new Los Angeles community based around pro audio.