Alternate Soundings (AL.SO) – Olivier Bolling [Founder]

Olivier Bolling is a well-known name in the Paris audio scene. He first built his reputation as the Technical Director of La Seine and Studio Plus XXX, and later with studio-building and gear design through his companies Audio Tech and Alternate Soundings (AL.SO). I was looking for a technician to work on my audio gear when one of Olivier’s peers suggested that I reach out to him. So the relationship developed into a sit-down where we talked about his time at Plus XXX, his thoughts on various recording consoles and the products he makes at AL.SO.

– Hi Olivier. I learnt about you from Pierre-Olivier Margerand, who runs POM Audio Design. Thanks for sitting down with me. How did you get your start in this business?

During my first visit to a recording studio, I saw a big MCI console that was being used to record over twenty musicians, and that caught my interest. I later saw a sound engineer on TV installing mics for Earth, Wind & Fire, and I decided to pursue the same kind of job.

I started with audio in 1986 as an assistant, but I built my reputation as the Technical Director at Studio Plus XXX from 1996-2005. I also became known for my work with recording consoles thanks to developing mods for Neve and SSL desks, and I later built my own gear as well.

– I haven’t seen many technicians in Paris that branched out into gear manufacture or studio building. Are you the only one who did that?

There are others, but most of my peers don’t have their own companies and they generally work as independent freelancers. I also benefit from having my own workshop with a large inventory of spare parts, and my music background helped set me apart because I could develop solutions that not only worked technically, but artistically also.

– Can you tell me a bit about your music background?

I started playing piano at a music conservatory when I was six, but due to laziness I changed to the trumpet at eleven, only to find that it was even harder to play than the piano (laughs). But it presented a physical challenge that I found motivating, so I stuck with it. The trumpet is a lead instrument that places the player front and center, which means everyone’s going to hear whether you play well or not, and I appreciated that challenge.

– Have you played on any popular records?

I’ve played on indie records and at live gigs, but I decided not to become a full-time professional because I never felt ready for it as a young man. Also Claude Bolling is my uncle, and he’s a very accomplished artist who played with some of the best jazz musicians in the world. He also sold a lot of records in the US, and I didn’t want people to think I became a trumpet player because of him, or that I wanted any favors. And of course, I realized there were more talented players around than me, so I chose to focus on audio.

– Once you finished your studies, how did you progress in the audio industry?

After obtaining my electrical engineering degree, I was hired to work at Studio SEI, which doesn’t exist anymore. They had a van with a console inside, and we’d record classical and jazz music at clubs in Paris. We also had a mastering studio at a time when there were only eight mastering engineers in France, which was a valuable learning experience for me. I worked there for six years until they closed.

– Did you ever engineer any albums?

After my time at SEI, I stopped with audio engineering because I could only find gigs for recording pop music, which isn’t the background I came from. I was used to engineering jazz and classical records, so when I couldn’t continue with that I decided to focus on being a technician.

– And how did you become the Technical Manager at Les Studios De La Seine?

The previous Technical Director was a friend of mine. We had arranged to go clubbing one night but he was stuck repairing a console at La Seine. So I came over to the studio and asked him for the schematics, and after studying them for a bit I told him what repairs to make and we fixed the console in two steps. A few days later, the studio manager called me and asked, “Are you the guy who repaired our console just by looking at the schematics? We need to talk “. My friend had recently been offered a new job and was about to leave La Seine, so they asked me to replace him and I became the new Technical Director. It was the perfect job for me – by making sure that the gear worked, I acted as the link between the musicians and audio engineers, and I understood everyone’s needs because I’d been both a musician and an engineer myself.

– As someone who worked there, what do you think made La Seine into a unique place?

I’d say it was the studio owner, Daniel Brunetti. He was the first owner in Paris who understood that a studio should be cheap in order to attract more clients. But his approach was a nightmare for me because I wanted the gear to be perfectly maintained (laughs). I was the guy who insisted on buying the best of everything, from the latest consoles to the finest studio furniture, but Daniel was like, “Don’t worry about that. It’s fine as it is “. Ironically, that became the approach most other studios took once the money dried up in the 2000s, so Daniel was actually ahead of his time. He had a relaxed way of dealing with people and was willing to find solutions that worked for everyone. Twenty years ago, that wasn’t a cool way to manage a studio, whereas it’s the norm today, and it’s one of the reasons La Seine is still around.

– Did La Seine have any advantage over places like Studio Davout or Plus XXX in terms of gear?

No they didn’t, even though they tried. They wanted the same kinds of consoles and control rooms as Plus XXX and Studio Guillaume Tell, but it wasn’t possible because of the way La Seine was constructed, and due to their financial situation. When it came to the technical side, no studio was better than Plus XXX, Guillaume Tell and Studio Mega.

– You later moved on from La Seine to work at Plus XXX. How did that transition happen?

La Seine had three consoles: an MCI, a Neve V3 and a Neve 51 Series. But the staff actually wanted an SSL, so I contacted the French SSL representative about doing a course in the UK for the SSL 4000. Some weeks later, he mentioned to me that Plus XXX were hiring, so I asked one of my technician friends from Sony about it, and he said, “I’ve heard the owner of Plus XXX can be difficult to talk to, so let me get back to you on that “. Some days later, I was in the workshop at La Seine when I got a call from my friend and he told me I could interview for the position. When I later met the studio owner, Claude Sahakian, he told me I’d been recommended by my peers and he offered me the job. So I left La Seine three days later and spent the next ten years at Plus XXX.

– What was the difference between your jobs at La Seine and Plus Trente?

The main difference was that La Seine didn’t have enough money to do what the technical department wanted, and the owner was okay with that, whereas Plus XXX would either modify or change their consoles every year. Also, the technical aspects of Plus XXX were perfect and the team was excellent. We had two SSL 4000s and a Neve VR when I started, as well as a Sony DASH machine. I was so excited to work there because of the SSL 4000, and we installed the SSL 9000 just a month after I arrived. It was like a dream (laughs).

– Were you there at the same time as Philippe Zdar?

No, Zdar left his assistant job at Plus XXX about four years before my arrival. But he came back a lot to work on his own projects, like the Cassius albums.

– When I look on Discogs, I see Maxime Le Guil’s email on the Plus XXX page. He now runs Mix With The Masters. What was his connection to the studio?

Maxime Le Guil is the son of a well-known audio engineer called Hervé Le Guil. His father owned a studio south of Paris called Gimmick, where he’d made a lot of important jazz and pop records in the past. Maxime moved into Studio 1 with an SSL 4000 after Plus XXX had ceased operations in the late 2000s. I’m not sure how he did it, but he continued using the name, although he changed it from “Plus XXX” to “+30 Studios”, probably because “XXX” has other meanings (laughs). I remember when Plus XXX launched its website in 1998, and we received a lot of complaints about our name. We even had guys who wouldn’t accept assistant positions with us because of that. Anyway, Maxime stayed there for around six years, but of course it wasn’t the same studio. Even if some of the live rooms were the same, all the great gear had been sold.

– But why did Plus XXX shut down in the first place?

Around 2003, the rise of the MP3 caused many studios in Paris to crash. The first one to fall was Studio Mega, which was sold to its employees. A few months later, Claude Sahakian was contacted by a guy who wanted to buy Plus XXX to expand his post-production business. So the studio was sold in 2005, but the new owner never understood how to run a recording studio effectively. In the post-production world, clients have to pay upfront for studio time and prices are non-negotiable. But in the music industry, we’re more open to negotiating prices and doing each other favors. So the guy was too strict with his employees and clients, which ruined the studio’s reputation. I had already left before the place was sold but I heard the stories. He also didn’t want to invest in the studio maintenance like Claude had done, and clients didn’t like that. They wanted the old Plus XXX where everything was perfect, from the wall paint and the toilet to the SSL console. So in 2007, the post-production studio was shut down and Studio 2 was remade into a mixing room for film, whilst Studio 3 was used for voice-over work. Hervé Le Guil then bought the place and that’s how Maxime took over Studio 1.

– What did you do after Plus XXX?

After years of working on other people’s gear, I decided to launch my own company in 2002. At first it was called “Cox“, which came from the first letters of my wife’s and daughter’s names, plus my own. But someone came to me and said, “Look, you can’t use that. Don’t you know what that means in English? ” (laughs). So I changed it to Alternate Soundings. My first product was a tube pre-amp, but I decided to change focus to compressors instead because I couldn’t find one that I wanted for my sessions. Even though I knew how to repair them, I didn’t really understand how to design one, but I took it on as a challenge anyway.

I spent my holidays designing the first prototype and built it when I came back to France. The first version was made of junk parts from the workshop at Plus XXX; the casing came from a word clock and the potentiometers were taken from another unit because I had no money to buy new ones. Even the knobs came from other machines, and I drilled everything together by hand. The final result looked like something out of Mad Max (laughs). I wish I still had it, but it’s gone now unfortunately. I installed it in Studio 1 and one of the assistant engineers said it worked well. For the next four months, it stayed there and was used on a lot of sessions. Even Zdar ended up liking it, and I only had to make a few modifications to it. Then something interesting happened: Tom Durack was a producer who worked at Power Station with acts like The B-52s, and he came to Plus XXX for an album session. A staff member told him about my compressor and he ended up using it on the whole album. A few weeks later, Tom called me from Studio Mega and said, “Hi Olivier. I need your compressor. Could you bring it to Mega? “. That made me a little nervous because Mega was Plus XXX’s biggest competitor and the owners didn’t see eye to eye (laughs). But I was friends with the maintenance guy there, so I handed him the compressor and told him to keep quiet about it so no-one would find out. Tom used it to finish his album, but then called me from Japan a month later, asking me to send it to him again! He claimed to have a problem that couldn’t be solved with anything else, so I posted it to Japan, which was a bit worrisome because it was made of junk and might have fallen apart. But I took it as a sign to build an official version of the machine.

– But that took a while didn’t it, since the compressor came out several years later?

Yes, but only because I’d just bought a house and spent the next three years doing things like rebuilding the plumbing and the roof – so I had no time to focus on the compressor. But a friend of mine pulled me aside and said, “Look, I remember your compressor. That thing was amazing and you need to finish building the new version. If you do, I’ll pay for you to showcase it at the next AES France in 2013 “. So I took some time off to work on it, but I realized that I’d lost the original blueprints. So I had to spend weeks reverse engineering my own machine, and I only finished building it at 3am on the day of the conference. But I came to the show, and whilst I was demoing my machine, George Massenburg and Al Schmitt walked up to my booth. They thought the compressor looked cool, and soon after that I had tons of people coming by to test the machine, telling me they’d never seen anything like it. Hervé de Caro from Innovason later came up to me and said, “Would you like to demo your compressor at the AES in San Francisco? I can arrange a booth for you there “. So I accepted and went to San Francisco soon after.

– How did that AES show in the US go?

It was amazing. The lead designer at Avalon came to my booth and said, “Your machine is great. When I first saw it, I wished I’d made something like that “. Another guy came by and was interested, but I wasn’t sure who he was and couldn’t see his badge. He contacted me a few days later and said, “I’m surprised you didn’t recognize me since I used to do sessions at Plus XXX. My name is Manny Marroquin. Could you sell me one of your compressors? “. So that’s how I got started as a gear maker.

– Was that the compressor that became the “Dynax“?

Yes, that’s right. The idea was to make something different than a regular Vari Mu or 1176; I wanted a compressor that didn’t produce harmonic distortion or artifacts, and there were hardly any ones like that in the 2000s. The first version of the Dynax was mono because I originally wanted it for vocals, but I later developed a compression curve that created a special pumping effect called Anti-Dyna, which made the compressor more suitable for punchy sounds like drums. So I decided to make it stereo for the demo at AES in San Francisco, and called it Dynax2. By the way, everyone says “Dynax Two”, but the name was actually “Dynax Square”. But no-one ever got it, so now we all just say “two” (laughs).

(Below: Olivier demoing his compressor in 2007)

– You mentioned that you wanted the Dynax to not produce artifacts or harmonic distortion. Why was that?

Because many other compressors already did that, and building gear that distorts the signal is easy. But I wanted something clean, which lets you add in coloration afterwards. I also realized something: many people weren’t using compressors strictly for the compression. They were using it for the signal coloration, which I found stupefying at first. But that’s why Vari Mu compressors are so popular; when people see the VU needle hitting -4 dB, they feel that their music is getting colored in a pleasant way. But is that what compression is really about? Not really. So my purpose wasn’t to help make coloration cool, but to make compression cool, and not many machines were capable of that when I started.

(Below: first review of Dynax from Resolution Magazine 2006)

– Can you expand on how the Anti-Dyna feature works?

It’s the result of a unique compression curve that goes from compression to limiting and then over-limiting. So with a fast release, the middle of the curve remains normal whilst the start and end of the curve receives heavy gain reduction, and that creates an intense pumping effect. It’s very useful for those who make electronic music.

– Can you tell me about the Dynax M?

I brought the Dynax2 to Masterdisk Europe, which is the mastering studio of Eric Chevet. He had been my assistant previously, so I visited him to test the compressor and discuss its performance. He soon became my first customer and I had others who bought it for mastering as well. They kept asking me for more features, so I made the “Dynax M” to fill their needs.

I have another compressor called Helax, which was designed for vocal compression like the first mono Dynax, but it also works well on other acoustic sources.

– And the MP2 and MP5

The MP2 is a two-channel 500 series pre-amp with one input on the front and the other on the back, which I made in 2007. The MP5 is a one-channel version of that, but with more gain, a VU meter and the Tilt EQ feature. I recently released the MP5L, which has a DI input, a low-cut filter and replaces the VU with a LED meter. I’m also working to finish designing the Anti-Dyna stereo 500 module.

(Below left to right: MP5L and MP5)

(Below: Olivier showcasing AL.SO products at Musikmesse in 2016)

– How did deadmau5 get the Dynax2 in 2011?

I really don’t know. He most likely bought it from Vintage King, but I’m not sure. I was calibrating some speakers in a studio when someone showed me the video of him using it and it came as a surprise. I tried contacting him to see if he wanted to talk about it, but I was never able to reach him.

(Below: Deadmau5 praising the Dynax2 and using it on “Professional Griefers“)

– It seems clear that having two pre-amps in a 500 module is a brilliant idea; with an eight-slot lunchbox you could record sixteen tracks. Why haven’t other companies thought of that?

Because many of the designers at major audio companies like Neve and SSL never worked as audio engineers, so some things aren’t intuitive to them. For example, I was the first designer to put a DB25 connector on the front of a summing mixer, but multiple people from API didn’t understand that when I demoed it at AES. One of their lead designers even asked me, “What’s this for? “, which I found baffling. But now it’s quite common to see DB25 connectors on the front of gear. So some things only become normal when the trend gets going.

(Below: Some MP2 units in the workshop)

– Do you know of any records that AL.SO gear has been used on?

There are many records on Manny Marroquin’s website that my gear was used on; he uses the Dynax a lot. As for the MP2, it was used by Julien Delfaud to track vocals on “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix“. The only other vocal pre-amp used on that album was the D.W. Fearn VT-1.

– Can you tell me about your other company, Audio Tech?

Sure. The French government offers financial help when you lose your job, and they suggested I take a loan to set up a new company after I left Plus XXX, which I did. Making products for AL.SO is something I’ve done as a passion, whilst Audio Tech is my main job that involves repairing gear and doing installations at studios. But it gets tiring to run both companies. I’ve spent the last three days running cables at a commercial studio and tomorrow I have to demo AL.SO products. After that I have to install speakers at a theater, and next week I construct a Neve sidecar. The week after that I’m setting up 55 speakers at another theater, and then I travel to some other countries for assignments there. I’m grateful for the paycheck, but it drives me crazy sometimes to have so much work.

– Let’s talk about consoles. What advice do you give clients who consult with you about getting a new one?

I advise my clients to buy the console that suits their needs. I know of people who want API consoles to record classical music, which isn’t optimal because those desks aren’t transparent. I also ask if the console will be used for recording or mixing, and what size of desk a client’s control room can accommodate.

I installed an SSL console at a studio six months ago and the story behind that was funny: when my client was building the studio four years earlier, I told him, “This studio won’t be suited for just external pre-amps modules. You need to get a console as well “, but he was like, “A console? That’s not modern at all. Consoles are a thing of the past “. But then I got a call in August when the studio was completed, and the owner was like, “We ended up buying a 48-channel SSL Duality…Can you install it next month? ” (laughs).

– What were your considerations for installing consoles at Plus XXX?

At Plus XXX, the sound quality of our recordings was the most important thing, which is why we chose to install SSL and Neve consoles. It helped that Claude Sahakian wasn’t just a studio owner – he was also a brilliant engineer who understood electronics. So even though we had the SSL 4000, he was willing to upgrade to the 9000 when it became available. Many engineers in France knew how to use the 4000, but not the 9000, so replacing one with the other was a risk. We had to offer many days of free training sessions to win people over, and even though they were nervous at first, they preferred the 9000 over the 4000 by the end of the training.

By 1998, we were talking to Neve about their work on the Neve VX and we wanted to order one. But one of Neve’s designers, Robin Porter, offered us the opportunity to help develop the Neve 88R, which was still a secret project at the time. We did a lot of beta testing for it, and I worked on the monitoring path as well as different parts of the channel strip. Plus XXX would later become the first studio in the world to install one, but prior to that SSL had offered us an Axiom MT+. Even though features like automation and instant recall should have made a digital console more appealing, the sound quality I was looking for wasn’t there, so we had to go with the 88R, even though it was still in its production stages.

 – Apart from gear and studio installations, what other gigs do you receive for Audio Tech?

I also work with designing electrical wiring for buildings, since analog recording and mixing can be significantly affected by the electrical mains. Nowadays, many people have their console’s power supplies on the same network as the rest of their studio gear, which can create problems. The mains run on alternating current, and a lot of studios use switched mode power supplies to feed their regular appliances, which can create artifacts if the switched current runs back to the mains, and that creates audible noise on your recordings. So you need good grounding to avoid that. Also, many studios have air conditioning systems that affect the mains as well, so just buying a big console or power supply isn’t a good idea. Each studio needs bespoke solutions to resolve those issues rather than a one-size-fits all approach, and part of my job is to consult on things like that.

Philippe Weiss talked to me about how manufacturers sometimes use cheap components in their gear. He mentioned how the SSL 4000 uses 50 cent op-amps, but if you replace them with more expensive ones, the headroom and sound of the console improves. What do you know about things like that?

Some things are true and others not. It’s false regarding the headroom, unless the previous op-amps were very poor. Increased headroom on channel strips comes from extending the power supply, and you have to redesign the mix amp if you want the same result on the master bus, which is more difficult. I agree that component quality is a problem, but there’s a lot of false claims out there, and I’ve learned a lot about parts selection from direct experience. For example, I spent some weeks designing a mic pre-amp for a course at INA, and I discovered that the best op-amp is not always the one that specs the best; sometimes lesser quality parts are better in certain parts of the circuit.

I remember a time when people were talking about the “incredible op-amps” in a new API console, so I tried the desk at a friend’s studio. At first it actually sounded better than the previous model, but hours later we heard noise coming from the desk, and my friend asked me what the problem was, and I said, “It’s your op-amps… “, and he was like, “That’s impossible! These are supposed to be the best models! “. But I had to tell him, “Look man, think of your console like a car: a small car with oversized tires might have better brake functionality, but it won’t turn as smoothly as it should. So having the best components isn’t everything “. In his case, the op-amps were oscillating because of too much slew rate and poor damping.

There’s lots of myths about capacitors too. Sure, some of them are very poor quality and cause distortion, but I remember a funny experience from a studio that had an SSL 4000: the owner had changed out all the capacitors in the desk for a more expensive brand and he was boasting to me about it. But I told him that if he’d chosen better quality ones at a more reasonable price, he could have bought a car with the difference. He didn’t believe me, but six months later when I came back and asked how the things were going, he said, “I’d rather have bought the car ” (laughs). So you have to be careful with doing reckless mods to a console. I’ve even seen people who buy gold-plated components for the on-off switch on their power supply, which makes no sense.

– What are some of most efficient mods you can do to the following categories of gear or components:

Consoles: It depends on the console. For example, if you want to upgrade a Trident, the pre-amp is key. In the 80B series, the pre-amp has a design fault: the potentiometers weren’t well-placed, so the mic input impedance changes when you adjust the gain, which is silly. Sure, the pre-amp still works, but if you compare it to a Mellennia, the specs are very different. But with some electrical know-how you can mod the 80B circuit for cheap.

If you look at the schematics for an Amek, it’s not at all like a Neve V series. An Amek channel strip is very light and the components overlap in many parts, whilst a V series is full of metal plates that separate everything. It’s the same if you compare a Neve with a Trident: you could put 100 channels into a Neve 88R, whereas a Trident 75 wouldn’t handle that well because the distortion levels on the summing amp would be crazy.

Transformers: I approach transformers different if I’m designing a compressor versus mic pre-amp. People sometimes get obsessed with having a certain brand of transformer, but the transformers need to match the other electronics. So the optimal design would require mods to the circuitry too, not just a transformer swap.

Op-amps: The TL072 op-amp works very well in some designs, but I’ve also seen situations where someone swapped for an OP27 or OP177 and the difference was non-existent or worse. Also, if you upgrade the op-amps in certain consoles they never stop oscillating, so be careful.

Personally, I’d rather use a solid state op-amp over a transformer on the direct output of a console because the sound of the transformer is less pleasing on the output stage.

Cables: I remember working on a console and I ran shielded cables from the transformers to the potentiometers, thinking those were the best. But then I switched them out for normal cross-wired cables and the result sounded better. You can’t avoid using the shielded ones in some machines, but that was an interesting result.

– As someone who builds studios, what are your thoughts on people who buy tape machines and vintage gear to recreate the sounds of the past? Does that tend to be successful?

Keep in mind that the magnetic tape being used today isn’t the same as before. We rejected a lot of tapes at Plus XXX, and I remember testing twenty reels of Ampex to find which ones were good. People don’t do that anymore, and there are only a few manufacturers left anyway. And when people tell me that they bought an old Ampex, I always ask what condition it’s in because an old tape machine with worn out components won’t help you achieve the sound of the 60s. The dream of a real vintage studio isn’t a cheap one, and you need to spend a lot of money on refurbishment to make it work. So don’t confuse “vintage” with “old”, which is a common mistake. “Vintage” means pre-80s gear that’s in very good shape and has an interesting character, whereas “old” gear is just junk. So if you buy an old machine without restoring it to factory condition, you won’t get any vintage sound with that.

– And what about comparisons between modern and vintage gear? AMS Neve gets compared a lot to Neve Electronics, as an example.

Those comparisons are dumb. It’s like saying you wouldn’t buy a Jaguar because they don’t make them like in the 60s anymore. I’ve been put in charge of a lot of old Neve consoles, and yes they sound incredible when maintained correctly, but they’re also full of noise and distortion when not. If you tried to make an orchestral record with a Neve 80-series, you’ll end up saying, “Hmm, the violins sound a bit bizarre…“. But if you used an 88R, which is a very high-resolution console, you’ll clearly hear the difference, and it’s not a comparison. People want to deify Neve Electronics because their consoles aren’t produced anymore, and it’s like deifying a famous musician who died at 27 and gets turned into a legend. But no-one is a legend 50 years after they’ve passed because other artists would have come along who improved on what they did. Jimi Hendrix was an important musician, but he’s not as important as other guitarists who came after him that are still alive and have legacies that are much longer.

– I saw that you did a gear demo with Geoff Tanner in 2013. What are your thoughts on Aurora Audio? I’ve never used their gear, but someone once told me they’re just Neve clones.

Geoff doesn’t make clones. He was a manager at Neve Electronics and was responsible for their large-format consoles, so Aurora gear uses the same technology. He’s the guy with the most accurate knowledge about vintage Neve consoles, but his designs aren’t 100% identical because I think he made adjustments to his op-amps. But yeah, it confused a lot of people because the aesthetics and schematics are largely the same. But he’s justified to make that gear because he’s a part of the Neve story, as opposed to random guys who make Neve clones just for profit. People like Balthazar de Ley and Dave Hill from Crane Song are real geniuses who make original products, but there are lots of cloners out there who hardly do anything innovative. They prefer to find the original schematics for vintage gear, hire an electrical engineer to replicate it, add some big knobs and sell it for a profit.

– Thanks for talking to me Olivier. So what’s next for you and AL.SO?

I’ve been taking a break from AL.SO for a few years, but I intend to finish designing some new products and return to the market in time for AES New York in October. But I’m aware that things have changed since the 2000s – there was a time you could sell your product directly to a distributor and they’d keep it in stock until a customer bought it. They’d even have a demo room and a tech team if a customer wanted to try a product. But stores nowadays won’t even stock the product because they can use drop shipping instead. If they get an order, they just call the manufacturer and ask us to mail them a machine at our own cost. So I’m going to focus on selling direct-to-customer through my website, which is a change for me.

The reason why bigger distributors can sell gear at low prices is because they have no stock or sales team. So smaller outlets have to do the same to stay competitive, even though it hurts the manufacturers. Imagine if one of my compressors is bought by someone in the US and later develops a fault. It would have to be shipped back to France rather than the retail outlet, and I end up with the liability, which isn’t how it used to be. So times have changed.

– Do you think you’ll be successful with your products? If the gear is good, the sales should reflect that, no?

That’s what I used to think, but I’ve now realized that it’s largely about marketing, which is never something I was good at. I’ve seen cases where small companies demo their gear and potential customers will say that the product is better than the latest release from a popular brand. Yet they’d rather buy the brand unit because they’ll be able to sell it in a few years. It’s hard to win that battle as a small company, in addition to fighting the myths people choose to believe in. For example, I know people who’d rather buy a Neve Electronics clone than a real AMS Neve unit because the modern Neves aren’t the same as the “vintage” ones. But they forget that the clone isn’t the same as the “vintage” one either! So it becomes hard when customers go for marketing over reality. But I’m still hopeful that things will go well.