Sound engineer Shorty wants
to take club systems
back to the '70s
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
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,
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
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.
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
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
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
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
the big superclubs that are hooked on power go for something
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
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,
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
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.