New Adventures in Hi-Fi



Sound engineer Shorty wants to take club systems
back to the '70s

By Kerri Mason

One day not long ago, Craig ďShortyĒ Bernabeu surveyed the state of nightclub sound, and did not like what he saw. The producer/DJ/sound engineer who had trained under Steve Dash, worked on the fabled Twilo system for Junior Vasquez, and experienced the legendary Paradise Garage sound system firsthand, couldnít find a single system in clubland that followed what he saw to be the tenets of good sound. So he founded Systems By Shorty, a New Jersey-based sound company through which he hopes to combat the evils of overpowered systems and excessive digital processing. In fact, Shorty doesnít use digital processing at all Ė he believes that good sound lies in basic system components alone. ďA sound system should not reproduce one kind of music only, like dance music,Ē reads his companyís charter statement. ďIt should be able to reproduce any kind of music in a flawless manner.Ē Shorty is already bringing this philosophy to three Long Island clubs, CPIís, Luxe, and Cyberia. And Sayreville, New Jerseyís Abyss recently hired him to tune and maintain a rented EAW sound system (from local company Designatronix) for Danny Tenagliaís one-off there, temporarily replacing old boss Dashís celebrated Phazon. Bring on the drama.

We asked Shorty about his reactionary yet revolutionary sonic ideas, and how he thinks theyíll be accepted by todayís nightclub community. And oh yeah, about Twilo too.

Why did you pick now to start your own company?

Over the last ten years in this industry Ė not the home hi-fi industry, but the big PA dance club industry Ė itís gone from being about quality and vision and innovation, with guys like Richard Long or Louis Feldman or Alex Rosner, to commercial, loud, bad, expensive sound systems. I know that because Iíve worked with the best Ė Junior Vasquez, David Morales, Steve Dash Ė and weíve discussed the problems in audio. A lot of companies have gotten away from what really matters. So what I decided to do was open a sound company that would bring quality and value back to the club scene. My concept is: You work with the best equipment, best materials, and offer the best workmanship, and you get the best sound, period.

What will you be carrying?

Well, as far as products, itís going to be McIntosh, BGW, Bryston. These amplifier companies make hi-fi amplifiers with class AB circuitry. A main problem with whatís going on with this industry is that popular amplifiers are using class H, which is not designed to reproduce hi-fi at all. So everybodyís going around saying, ďOh yeah, youíre going to have a hi-fi sound,Ē but itís not going to be possible with those amplifiers. Thatís like saying a Corvette ZL6 is going to give you good fuel economy. Itíll go fast, but itís not that economical. So I believe in using a more hi-fi product. Iíll use Bryston for processing as well as amplification, and BGW on my mid-bass and sub-low bottom end. And all our speakers are custom-built EAW cabinets with the best wood and speaker components. Iím loading my boxes with T.A.D. Horn drivers, and I use JBL just for my tweeters. So basically what this company specializes in is the mid-high to high end sound systems. Just because of the quality build of this stuff itís expensive, but it does the right thing. I hear too many club owners complain that they just spent six figures on a sound system and theyíre not happy with it.

Do you think the marketís ready for that?

I think some of the market is. Some of the sound manufacturers that Iím working with want to do exactly what I want to do.

What characterizes your systems?

I donít do any digital processing whatsoever; these systems are totally analog. Iím using vacuum tube front-end circuitry. Iím not caught up in the politics of getting involved with a big company. Iím just looking to give the DJs, the people on the dance floor, and these club owners especially a value for the money theyíre spending, and finally give them a system that really reproduces; something thatís going to keep the people in the club, wanting to dance and have fun. But itís mostly just to put the best sound out there, period, without anybody having anything to say about it.

You know, the big corporate companies arenít really into this; itís why they donít make this product. But who cares? Iím not a corporate company, Iím a small company just really looking to give you the best value, which is what this used to be about.

Give me an example of one of your systems.

The most interesting system Iím working on right now is the bumper car ride on Coney Island. The sound in here is phenomenal. Itís an old Altec Lansing voice-in-the-theater system from the í70s that weíre revamping. Itís going to be Bryston and BGW. Itís got Richard Long J-horns in it, GML EQs, White Instrument EQs, a Summit Audio vacuum tube compressor, a Bozac mixer as well. The full range is going to consist of three Bryston 4Bs on the midbass, a Bryston 3B on the horn mid-high, and Bryston 2Bs on the tweeters, and BGW 750Gs on the sub. Also, in Luxe on Long Island, thereís BGW750 G on the mid, the mid-high is BGW350A, and thereís a D75 Crown on the JBL 2405 slot-loaded tweeters. Thereís a UREI mixer in there too.

So youíre going back to the idea that basic components are all you need.

Iím really going back to the old theories of doing things. Because whatís happened is everybody got caught up in this whole power-hungry thing, that you need a million watts, which isnít true. If you have proper speaker coverage and the proper power going to the speakers, youíll actually get more out of it. Because what happens is, when you overpower a speaker with thousands of watts, most of the power gets wasted in heat right out the back of the speaker. So the speakerís not really getting all of the power which is being displayed. So youíre better off engineering with the proper power and proper techniques of designing a sound system, which is what Iím doing. And Iím doing it analog, because thatís the best way to do it.

Why is that? What are the advantages of analog over digital?

Itís a realistic sound. Whatís happening when you use these digital processors is itís taking a signal thatís analog off a turntable through your mixer, and going through the digital. Itís converting it into a digital domain, itís sampling it, changing it, making the corrections where a computer is saying, ďThis is the way stuffís supposed to sound,Ē and itís converting it back to analog. What is the point? The more stuff there is in the signal chain, I donít care if itís digital or whatever, you degrade. Itís just more processing; youíre going through another circuit board and it just degrades your audio. A lot of producers Iíve talked to are dumping their digital consoles and going back to analog, because thereís a warmth with analog thatís like nothing else.

How will that make your systems sound?

Theyíre going to be very smooth, very transparent. Youíre going to hear every inner detail of the music, the way the producer intended it to be. And also, the sound is not going to be appropriate for only one sound of music. With a lot of nightclub systems, if you play anything but dance, it just sounds miserable. With the type of product Iím going to be using in my sound systems, you can play jazz and itís going to sound wonderful. Itís a hi-fi company that makes studio gear as well as hi-fi home stuff coming from the studio end, so they really care about their audio and what itís supposed to sound like. Itís not going to be a fatiguing sound where youíre going to leave the club with your ears ringing.

Will the big superclubs that are hooked on power go for something like that?

You know, like I said, if you have the right amount of speaker coverage with the right amplification, that will power the speakers and you will get more volume and better volume out of whatís going on in the system. The reason why a lot of the clubs are loud today is that the DJ is playing the records looking for intelligibility out of the music, and looking for information, and heís not getting it because the speakers are not reproducing it. So the DJ says, ďOh it must not be loud enough,Ē so he turns it up louder, and is still not getting it. Heís just getting the same thing but louder. And by the time heís done, heís run out of power in the sound system, clipping everything. And thatís not right.

Thatís not all DJs.

No. Nobody got out of the Twilo system what Junior [Vasquez] did. You listen to the old school DJs, like a Danny Tenaglia, or a Timmy Regisford, or a Tony Humphries, or a David Morales, or Frankie Knuckles, and they know what theyíre doing when it comes to sound. They know what the systemís limits are, they know how to get what theyíre getting out of it, they know how to climax the system to push a certain sound if theyíre looking to change it, and they know when to bring it back. A lot of these DJs play their monitors so loud that they forget about how loud the dance floor is, and they donít know when to pull back, because thereís a certain point that the human ear fatigues and it doesnít sound good anymore, Ďcause your ears are just closing up. I can remember many times with Junior at Twilo, and if it was a new sound he was pushing, the system would come out of nowhere and just kick, and after a while he would pull it back. Thatís how you properly work a system.

Are you going to give some of these places live capabilities if they need them?

Well, it depends Ė most clubs donít really spend the money on live gear. They rent in. But itís going to be the type of thing where they go from their mixing console right into the mixing board thatís in the club, which is UREI or the Bozac or whatever Iím using. And itís going to be right, because I donít EQ my systems with records Ė I EQ with pink noise, so it isnít dictated by one particular record sound.

How does tuning that way change the resulting sound?

When youíre EQ-ing with pink noise, itís giving you equal output per frequency, so what youíre doing is youíre making your systems curve through pink noise, then youíre listening to it, and then youíre fine tuning. But youíre getting your basic curve through pink noise. I learned all this from Steve Dash, who most of my training has come from, plus what Iíve learned on my own, and what Iíve learned from talking with Scott Findland and other people in the business, different engineers. But a majority of what Iíve learned is from working with Steve Dash, whoís a brilliant, brilliant engineer.

Tell me about that time when you worked with him.

I worked with Steve from 1995 to 2001. What the guyís come up with over the years and how heís just taken sound and developed it, and how heís gotten stuff that you would think doesnít sound right to work. Heís an amazing engineer, and a genius.

But heís into digital processingÖ

Yeah, heís doing digital high-end sound systems, but Iím not. Iím not a fan of digital, but he gets it to sound amazing. From everybody that Iíve seen do anything with digital audio, heís done it the best. You go hear a lot of these clubs, and you go ďEh, I donít know.Ē You go to Steveís clubs, no matter what, it sounds amazing. Iím biased because I worked with Steve for so long, but I know from what people have told me about liking the way Twilo sounded. It was a very, very good sound system. Obviously, if they had put more money into budget to do different stuff, he would have come up with different things. It could have been better. And it was a six-year-old sound system. Technology had changed a lot since it was built.

What about the sound quality from CD players now?

I canít sit and enjoy a CD at all. And Iíve heard a lot of different CD players, and not just the DJ ones. Iíve heard hi-fi CD players that cost $5000. They just canít get it right. They will. But as of right now, itís still not better than vinyl. Analog recording still outdoes digital recording.

Everyone seems to be using them though. Itís so easy for the DJ.

You just said it right there. The thing about everything going on in America is about convenience. I mean, I still use my reel-to-reel if someone gives me stuff, because as soon as I take a CD and I record it to tape, it fattens it up and warms it up. And thatís a major problem. Itís the recording domain that theyíre recording to. If they went to tape in the studio and mastered off of tape, these records not only would sell better, they would sound a hell of a lot better than they do. When I was DJ-ing and CD burners were still available and people would give me their CDs, I was going and getting acetates cut, just so I could play them on the turntable because it sounded better. Junior Vasquez does not like playing CDs. He plays acetates. In fact, he just got an acetate lathe.

Do you think that awareness has to do with his history?

You can hear a lot of these DJs who used to go to the Paradise Garage, you could hear what they learned off of what Larry Levan was doing, because Larry was the one who started this whole sound that everybodyís into. Not the techno/progressive stuff, but there was some stuff that Larry did play that was techno-y. Garage wasnít just soulful, gospel-y music. Garage was everything from Talking Heads to Barbara Streisand to Michael Jackson. It wasnít just the soulful gospel vocal all night long. And garage especially was not always up-tempo. There were some nights when Larry would play 110, 115 beats per minute, depending on his mood. And that was a phenomenal sound system that hasnít been outdone to this day. Richard Long was using class AB amplification, he was using McIntosh amplifiers, he was using BGW 750s, he was using Crown DC300s, he was using UREI amplifiers. This is all why that club sounded like it did. You know, back then they didnít have digital:they didnít have class H. They all had big power supplies and they were all made to reproduce audio, because the music was produced properly. It would take two, three months sometimes to mix a record. You can have a phenomenal sound system, but if the source is not a good source, if you put shit in, youíre going to get shit out. Itís all also source-dependent.

Copyright 2002 Club Systems International Magazine
Copyright 2002 TESTA Communications