Paul Morrissey, Urei Fever


What happens when you revive the product that helped change DJ-ing forever? Jock hysteria. Product manager Paul Morrissey fields the manic inquiries.

By John Landers

Paul Morrissey is having computer problems. “I’ve developed this virus on my email called Urei,” he laughs. “It just keeps bombarding me – ‘Re: Urei, Re: Urei, Re: Urei.’”
Everyone, it seems, wants to know about the 1620LE, the limited edition revival of the mixer that became an integral part of dance music’s development during the ’80s and ’90s. As both an electronics engineer and veteran jock, DJ product manager Morrissey is keenly aware of how much is riding on this high-profile project. Club audio aficionados have become emotionally invested in Soundcraft’s resurrection of the hallowed Urei name, and one false step could be a public relations disaster.
Fortunately, Morrissey looks to be the right man for the job. When most of his peers were assembling table lamps in shop class, Morrissey was busy making his own mobile sound system from scratch. “I’ve been designing and building my own DJ equipment since I was 13 years old,” he says. “I had a fantastic engineering teacher when I was at school.”

After working for various electronics companies, Morrissey naturally gravitated to the audio industry. “I had my own business doing sound installs. I used to custom-build speaker systems and all that sort of stuff,” he says. Eventually, he went to work for a major player in the DJ product market. “I was with Vestax for seven years as the technical manager, which encompassed everything from product development, endorsee development, installation development, liaising with PA companies, contractors, and installers,” Morrissey notes. “I had a very multi-faceted job, but the one I enjoyed most was product development and design.”
After joining Soundcraft in June of 2004, Morrissey began applying his many talents to the re-launch of the Urei line. “When we sat around the table and discussed the heritage of the brand, we thought it would be fitting to redo the 1620 as a limited edition issue,” he says. “It’s a piece of history.” In order to properly establish what promises to be a full line of modern DJ products, the 1620LE was born.
Even in this business, few product managers can beat match, let alone rock a roomful of hip Brits. But Morrissey learned to mix the hard way, “with turntables that didn’t have variable speed and a rotary mixer,” and now has a monthly residency at The End in London, with DJ Andy Smith. “I’m pretty active,” Morrissey observes. “That was one of the reasons that I got recruited for this job. I’m passionate about what I do. It’s got to be fun. If you don’t enjoy your job, what is the point? I gave up ‘job’ jobs just to pay the mortgage years ago.”
So you’ll forgive Morrissey if he’s as excited as the audiophiles who email him daily. “Urei’s back,” he says. “It’s back for the 21st century, and we’re going to take it on from here.”

The original Urei 1620 has had an enormous impact on club culture. Because its crossfader-free design encouraged DJs to blend records in certain ways, the mixer has had a lasting influence on the way we experience dance music. Given the evolution of the genre, however, are 21st century DJs ready to forsake their linear faders and return to rotary-style mixing? The rotary mixer has endeared itself, in an iconic way, to DJ culture. I can’t see it ever going away. I was even talking to scratch DJs at the NAMM show, and they were all saying, “You know what? That thing is such a piece of cult history, I’m going to buy it. Just to say I own one.”

Why choose now to revive it?
Andy Trott, the Soundcraft Group President, was looking at the Soundcraft portfolio thinking, we’ve got mixers for home-based musicians. We’ve got everything from front-of-house to recording mixers. We’re a mixer company, but we don’t do anything for the DJ market. I think he said, look, we’ve got this fantastic name and we really should do something with it. There’s a big chunk of the market that we’re not in. As a mixer manufacturer, we should be.
In all honesty, I don’t think there was some big game plan. It was a case of the right people being there at the right time and thinking, this is a great idea. We should do this. One of the key factors is that they’ve recognized that the DJ market is in a depressed state at the moment. We can get in now, take everybody else on, and be a major player when the market swings around again. A lot of forward-thinking going on there.

Looking at the website, some people have gotten the impression that the 1620LE was going to be an exact copy of the original 1620. I know you’ve made some upgrades. What we’ve done with the 1620LE is re-engineered it to 2005 standards. In terms of functionality, it’s almost identical to the original unit. We wanted to stay true to the original unit. It’s just put together better.
We A/B-ed between an original 1620 and a new 1620LE. I knew the 1620LE was going to sound better, and it did. I know all of the engineering flaws of the original
1620, and we rectified all of those.

I noticed XLR booth outputs and a few other changes on the rear panel. Care to elaborate? Sure. You have proper balanced outputs on the booth now. The days of being limited to unbalanced RCA connectors are over. That always mystified me. Also, the back panel is completely loaded. Whereas before, you had to add extra microphone sockets and all that kind of stuff, now you just need to configure the input cards internally.

You mean, set it for phono or line in? Phono, line or mic. The whole back panel is fully loaded so you can just configure your channels however you want them. Channels 1 and 2 can be phono or line, and [the auxiliary channels] can be line, phone or mic input.

So installers won’t need to order extra phono cards or XLR sockets to customize the 1620LE for specific applications. In the old unit, you used to have a load of cut links. If you wanted to have a line input or a phono input, you had to cut little links. Everything is done with switches inside now. For simple functions – like defeating the EQ and defeating the mic to the booth – just take the lid off the 1620LE and select the position of the switch that you want.

Instead of performing minor surgery on an expensive mixer? Instead of having to cut links and then re-solder links. Considering where that product was, though, 25 years ago, it was pretty innovative for that time.

Having the option to reconfigure it at all was innovative. Completely. I was buying mixers back 25 years ago and butchering them because I wanted them to do something the manufacturer had never even thought of.

What other improvements were made? We wanted to bring it up to 2005 specifications. All of the connectors are gold, so they don’t oxidize. All of the connectors and cable headers lock into place and stay where they need to be, so you don’t get all of the intermittent problems you suffer with the old 1620.

DJ booths can be very toxic environments for audio equipment. Oh, God yes.

How about the rotary potentiometers? Does the new 1620LE utilize the same 40mm models as the original mixer, or have they been upgraded? We went to [Japanese electronics manufacturer] ALPS, who made the original Black Beauty. They now have a pot called the Blue Velvet, which is just a nicer, sealed unit. The [electronic function] is identical to the original, but the internal [mechanical] design is better, and it doesn’t suffer from leaks around the gaskets. It still has that very positive feel to it, but not the scratchiness that some of the old Urei pots suffer from.

And how about the switches on the 1620LE? It’s just an updated version. The auxiliaries and the monitor use a new, sealed version of the old switch. It’s a completely encapsulated unit, so it doesn’t oxidize, and you don’t get intermittent problems.

The pots and switches on the original 1620 were essential to its longevity. The mixer had a reputation for being dependable, even under the worst nightclub conditions. Oh, yeah, but I expect to see these still going in 50 or 60 years. The old units were very reliable, but where they were hard-worked, they took a bit of a battering. Technically, the 2005 components are just that much better than the original versions. One of the problems on the earlier units was the very small shafts on the EQ pots, particularly if they were being transported around. They were very thin. We’re using a conventional pot on that now, so they’re a lot stronger. The actual tangs on the PCB [Printed Circuit Board] inserts on the original pots would snap due to vibration. We’ve gone over all of those little niggling problems.

I see you’ve also added a retaining clip to the IEC power cord socket on the 1620LE. I know it’s a small thing, but as someone with hands-on experience wiring (and re-wiring) DJ booths, I appreciate that sort of attention to detail. That will be on every Urei DJ product.

Well, it’s a thoughtful touch. Another little touch that we came up with is the headphone socket. They’re chrome-plated and lit internally with a blue LED. When there’s nothing inserted into that jack, you can see that chrome barrel glowing and you know where to plug in your headphones, even in a dark, dingy DJ booth.

Were there any circuitry issues? There were various safety issues that we addressed. The actual circuitry itself, we haven’t changed. We stayed very true to the original thing. We used better tolerance components, but we were very careful not to lose any of the warmth out of the sound. There were various safety things, like there weren’tany onboard fuses. The old unit wouldn’t pass current safety standards.

So you’re protecting both the unit and the user. Safety-wise, we brought it right up to 2005 specifications.

So the Limited Edition is not an exact copy? That was actually one of the questions we were asked about on the website. “Are you going to be able to upgrade it, to put better components in?” And my reply on the forum was that we’ve addressed all of those poor contact issues and safety issues, but without having any conflict with the sound of the original unit. The R&D engineers worked very hard on that.
There were a few things that they could’ve done to make life a lot easier for themselves, but it would’ve affected the sound. It wouldn’t have made it any worse, but it would’ve been different. We didn’t want that. They worked very hard to maintain the integral sound quality and tonality of the mixer, but addressing the service issues, the quality issues and particularly the safety issues.
We’re using much better quality PCB’s than were used 25 years ago, so there’s no flex in the boards now. All of the boards are supported properly, so you don’t get the flexes and breaks that you used to. It’s subtle.

So some of the advertising copy on the website was just painting with a broad brush? Yeah. I’ve got to be honest, most of that was written back in December because we had to get to print for NAMM. We were still testing prototypes then. I started June 1, and January 10 we brought three products to market. There was some very heavy duty R&D going on.

Since the original 1620 went out of production, several manufacturers have attempted to fill the void left by its absence from the marketplace. Were you confident that this particular rotary mixer would still be popular in the 21st century? Having repaired and patched together [vintage] 1620s for various people for a number of years, I knew the secondhand market and what the demand was there.

How’s the response to the “new” Urei 1620LE? Is it what you expected? I am absolutely blown away by the reaction to it. I thought it was going to be good, but I didn’t think it would be this good. It vindicates us.

What sort of reception is the mixer receiving outside of dance music meccas like New York, Chicago and London? The day we launched the 1620LE, our Japanese distributor came to us and said, “I want to order a hundred of these. Now.” That was literally an hour after we’d launched the product.

That must’ve pleased the sales department. I wanted to turn around and say, “I told you so.” Sales people in this business are always a little skeptical, but there are a lot of smiling faces at Soundcraft at the moment.

How are DJs reacting? I’ve had some very, very bizarre email from every corner of the DJ community about the fact that we’ve brought Urei back, to the point of almost delirium in some of the messages. There were two emails I sent back – I’m not going to say who sent them – and I replied, “Dude, what the f—k are you talking about?” They were so excited, you could tell that when they were typing they couldn’t get their heads and their hands together. And those two guys were premiere-league DJs.

"It's like an extension of his body": DJ David Morales at work.

Why do you think this particular mixer design has been so successful? A 1620 is a pretty basic mixer, but listen to the way that somebody like David Morales uses it. He changes the gain rate, and he works the rotaries to blend the mixes. A really great DJ can be so creative with it. I cite Morales because I remember seeing him play the very first Creamfields in England years ago. He actually played after Louie Vega and Kenny Dope, and they’d rocked the arena, but Morales went on and tore the roof off. And it was all because of how he was working the mixer.

It’s like the 1620 is an extension of his body. That’s what I want to do with all of the future Urei products. I want them to be an extension of the DJ. It’s like I’ve been given the keys to the factory. I haven’t been given the keys to the sweets shop, I’ve been given the keys to where they make the sweets. I’m a kid in a 43-year-old man’s body, and just want to be able to go away and create as much stuff as I can for people to enjoy. I’ve got to be honest, it’s an honor for me to do this.

So what’s next for the Urei DJ brand? For us at Soundcraft, we’ve got all kinds of new Urei products coming out over the next few years. Some are going to have faders, and some are going to be rotary. Some are going to be analog, and some are going to be digital. We’ve looked at the past, and we’re looking very much to the future. The whole thing’s about striking a balance, and being able to create products that DJs can use as artistic tools.

It seems like the 1620LE has been worth the wait. Now, installers and DJs can get that famous Urei sound in a fresh mixer with a factory warranty. And you’ll be able to buy spare parts for it without going to these websites and getting ripped off for $150 for a knob set. What the hell is going on there?

Behind Every Good Mixer…
DJ Andy Smith inspires Urei’s crossfade edition

The vintage Urei’s popularity is linked to its rotary format. But Paul Morrissey and the rest of the Soundcraft team wanted the new line to satisfy all types of DJs, not just those favoring gradual mixes. For inspiration, Morrissey turned to his DJ-ing partner and friend Andy Smith.
“If I’m doing my own gig, I’d use the 1620LE [rotary],” says Morrissey. “When I play with Andy, he does a lot more scratching and stuff.” Smith – who serves as seminal Bristol band Portishead’s “unofficial crate-digger” and recently release d a mixed CD, Andy Smith Presents Northern Soul (BGP UK) – brings out the funk in his product manager buddy. “We’re big Salsoul, Prelude and West End fans; we really like that sort of stuff,” says Morrissey, “but we’re into real dirty funk as well.”
So when Morrissey sat down to devise a new two-channel Urei mixer for crossfader-favorers, the 1601, Smith became part of the process. “To be honest, Andy was really the inspiration behind the 1601, because what he does is mixing and turntablism together,” says Morrissey. “He actually had quite a lot of influence on the layout. All of the original ideas were run by him. There’d be a bit of discussion, and then we’d jig things around.”
For their Friday night back-room residency at The End in London, called Feelin’ Good, Morrissey and Smith go with the 1601 and the more juiced 1601S (which features onboard sampling capabilities) to blend their old-school favorites. “We’ll play ‘Are You My Woman?’ by the Chi-Lites and just loop up the breaks,” says Morrissey. “We use two copies of a lot of things. You want to have a crossfader, because you want to be able to cut up the two copies.”
While Morrissey is still a knob-twiddler at heart – “I prefer rotaries,” he states plainly – he’s looking forward to Urei’s next generation, which he calls “multi-genre products.” Is a cross-knob or roto-fader in our future?


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Copyright 2005 Club Systems International Magazine
Copyright 2005 TESTA Communications