Ears Behind the Gear: Todd Humora – Director of Engineering, API

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Every console manufacturer has its own distinct “sound.” Ask an engineer who’s dedicated to those signature sonics, and their face will light up as they try to describe it – guaranteed.

At API, there’s a new person in charge of safeguarding that sound. Todd Humora, a 16-year veteran of the company, was recently named to the coveted position of Director of Engineering at API – a job that holds not a small amount of responsibility. After all, the design of every new API desk, 200/500 module, rackmount outboard unit, and TranZformer pedal must now pass through his hands and ears before gaining approval.

Humora heads up a tight Maryland-based team at API, one whose latest major accomplishment stands as the Legacy AXS Recording and Mixing console, which combines API’s well-known Analog Signal Path with a multitude of new features. It’s a board that sees a return to the traditional 1.5-inch module width standard, allowing for for the use of API 500-series EQs on a per-channel basis. It also has a complete center section that includes six automated stereo echo returns with motorized faders, 5.1 surround monitoring and a built-in 2500C Stereo Bus Compressor. Onboard or remote patch bay facilities are part of the design, and a DAW/Producer’s Desk is one of several customizable options available.

A man and his workbench: Todd Humora was recently named Director of Engineering at API.

A man and his workbench: Todd Humora was recently named Director of Engineering at API.

As you might expect, there’s more to getting one of these created than just soldering some circuit boards – engineering a new or updated API solution requires creative thinking and a whole new level of critical listening. The tricky objective: Hone a unit that will simultaneously please artists, recording/mixing engineers and his salesforce, all while maintaining a classic sound that audio pros covet.

An avowed “console junkie,” Humora talked to SonicScoop about the rewards and challenges that come with his highly desirable title.

Being the director of engineering at a large format console company is a little like being an NFL head coach: There are only so many of these jobs. What makes being Director of Engineering for API such a unique position?

As you said it’s certainly one of the few left. There’s probably fewer large format analog mixing console companies than NFL teams left out there in the world.

That’s an interesting question. I’ve never really thought about it that way just because of the way my journey got here, but we certainly are proud of the products we make and the quality of the design for them. I’m just sort of trying to maintain that, and maintain the history and keep the flow of designs and products and production together. That didn’t really answer the question though, did it?

Said like a true engineer! That’s your technical mission. I’m imagining you and your counterparts at SSL, AMS Neve, Harrison — what is it that your small group has an opportunity and a responsibility to do?

I certainly feel a responsibility — and I would think that any of those positions would feel the responsibility — to maintain the high-quality products. We have a world where it’s great what you can get and put in your basement or your little home studio now and be able to do, but we certainly want to maintain that highest quality of audio period, from input to output. Certainly for me at API, that means also a lot to maintain the quality and the history that the company has.

An Early Start

You’ve been with API for 16 years now. How did you come to join the company initially, and what are the various titles you’ve held since you’ve joined?

This is the fun little story I like to tell. I actually started working for [API President and Owner] Larry Droppa as my first job out of college back in 1996. At that time I was designing live consoles for Audio Toys, the Paragon II and other such things like that, the live consoles. That’s the angle I came in at. Larry bought API, I think it’s ’99, right around there somewhere.

I started basically as an engineer. Another gentleman was the head engineer at the time named Shane Morris. He and I worked together as basically the two engineers for Audio Toys for a number of years. After API had come online Jeff Bork and Paul Wolff and Shane, the four of us merged together for a while sharing tasks and chores, and then my wife and I moved away for a while in 2002.

So pretty much when I started back again in 2006 API product was what was left and I worked under Jeff Bork, who was the Director of Engineering at the time. I returned just as another one of the engineers in the department, continuing to design products and refresh products, or design new products and redo some of the older products as need be over the years.

In January or February of this year, Jeffrey Bork moved out West with his wife. He jokingly said his wife had moved for him many times in their lives and she got a job opportunity this time, that it was his turn to follow her, so he left the company as a full-time in-house engineer, but he still works for the company on a remote freelance engineering basis. There was a period to see how things went with me as Director of Engineering and things went well, so they offered me the position full-time.

Engineering for an Evolving Audio Landscape

How have you seen the needs of audio engineers and studios change over your tenure at the company?

Certainly when I started 20 years ago, the digital console wasn’t really a reality yet. People were just sort of tinkering with the ideas. There was some digitally controlled of analog stuff out there, like the Soundcraft Broadway I think was one of the first ones way back when. While I was still doing the live stuff is when Yamaha’s 02R and then the big PM1D came out. Certainly for a while digital had taken hold and we maintained the analog philosophy. API, as you I’m sure know, we have one digital product, which is the A2D mic preamp with the digital output.

The other major change is, obviously it doesn’t take rocket science to see the large format studios becoming fewer and fewer far between, when API obviously is going to start selling fewer and fewer large format consoles. The company’s been evolving. The 1608 [16-channel console] came out eight years ago maybe? Certainly not more than 10, because we were developing it right as I started back in 2006, and it probably took us a little while. That’s what we would call a mid-range console, which is something that API hadn’t offered in many many years. It was either a big guy or just individual rack pieces.

THE BOX is an API console at its most compact.

THE BOX is an API console at its most compact.

More recently, we’ve got even smaller with THE BOX [small format] consoles. Again, just seeing that market evolve into more of what you can do in your home. We try to provide the analog pieces to perhaps round out some of those home studios a little bit more warmly, depending on what somebody wants, whether it’s mic pre’s or mix summing or things like that.

When we’re talking about a console like THE BOX, it’s got a smaller footprint. What are the other aspects of a board like that? That the engineering team huddles together and thinks about to say “Okay, this is going to be more optimized for the project recording and mixing market.”

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