continuing sonic saga of the audiophile’s Promised Land.
By Kerri Mason
Sound engineer Shorty is in his car, somewhere
on the endless stretch of Interstate 87 between New Jersey
and the Great White North, and his cell phone, as expected,
isn’t cooperating. He gets disconnected, calls back,
erupts into a burst of static, calls back, blanks out entirely,
and calls back. He can’t wait – not even for a
few hours, when he’ll arrive in Montreal and have clear
if couture-priced cell service – to share what’s
in his head: The entire schematic of the revamped sound system
at Stereo, heralded the world over as the best place to listen
to house music.
“David and I are both audio whores,” says Shorty
through the crackle, referring to Stereo co-owner and DJ/producer
legend David Morales. “We love the finer things that
money can buy, and we like audio reproduced the best it can
be. And I think that’s what the people coming through
the doors at Stereo deserve, as well as the DJs.”
The ultimate analog dance system (the building’s only
bit of digital is the requisite pair of Pioneer CDJ-1000 CD
players – with Ashly preamps, of course) didn’t
come easy or cheap. Shorty started work in February 2003,
and with monthly visits like the one he’s making now
and an investment well into six figures, he completed the
revamp of original creator Angel Moraes’ system in late
2004. But as Shorty is quick to point out, “We’ll
never ever stop grooming this sound system. It will always
be improved; it will always be a work-in-progress, so it’s
The system is a patchwork of vintage components encased in
custom-made boxes, $6,000 hanging tweeter clusters fashioned
out of $30 plumbing pipe, and a comparatively small arsenal
of Bryston, BGW and Crown amps pushing a mere 19,000 watts
to power the whole thing. “Seventy-thousand watts is
for Britney Spears at the Meadowlands, not a nightclub,”
There’s no DSP, no zoning, not even a compressor or
a limiter. And the resulting sound is so alive, so human,
that a visiting DJ once seized the moment and played Bach,
for a dancefloor packed with 800 people. “You’d
think playing a recording like that for a full room would
be offensive, because it’s all mid-range,” says
Shorty matter-of-factly, “but it was actually very pleasant
on the ears. It’s a very versatile sound system.”
We asked Shorty to break down one of Stereo’s six 14-foot-tall
stacks, which he did: Over the phone, straight from his head.
Labor of love, indeed.
1 One JBL 2395 acoustic lens horn,
loaded with one TAD TM 4002
neodymium upper-mid horn driver.
“Lens horns aren’t manufactured anymore. There
are people out there who do custom-make them, but they cost
a lot. Manufacturers offer CD horns because they can build
more of them for a lot less money, since they’re an
injection-mold or fiberglass. And you can get better and more
accurate coverage with a CD horn.
“But we happen to like the sound of the lens horn –
there’s a sweetness to it. The way the metal plates
radiate to the soundtrack, that adds a sonic texture and flavor
to the midrange that we find very attractive. That’s
why we still use it over a CD horn: At the end of the day
it’s about the way it sounds.
“When David Morales hired me to come in and reengineer
Stereo with him, this was one part of the original system
that we did not want to get rid of. If they were available
today, I would still use lens horns over CD horns for their
2 One JBL 2405 slot-loaded tweeter.
“That’s for the full-range high-end, to give a
little spice to the music on the top of the full range.”
3 Two SBS (Systems By Shorty) SH
112 front-loaded horn cabinets loaded with two TAD TM 1201
“Most manufacturers today aren’t really designing
front-loaded horns; it’s a design that stems back to
the ‘50s and ‘60s. There are companies starting
to come back out with them lately – they’re becoming
very in-vogue – but most are still doing direct-radiated
low-mid sections. The theory of late has been that you get
a lot of output from a direct radiator box with high power.
“But a front-loaded horn really projects out the sound,
and you get a lot of accents out it that really are appealing
in dance music, which a direct radiating box doesn’t
create. It really images out nicely on the dancefloor. And
it’s very projective in the vocal range and the lower
mid range, for percussion.”
4 Two double-15-inch rear-loaded
scoops loaded with four
TAD TL 1603 mid-bass woofers.
“Scoops have always sounded good to me. That’s
another design that was engineered in the ‘50s, and
adds efficiency. These add a lot of whomp on the bottom and
give the bass a very round sound. It’s an exaggerated
sound, but it’s pleasing to the ear with dance music.
“Most people, again, are using direct radiator boxes
for mid-bass, with the theory that you can get the same amount
of output with a lot of power but with a smaller box. But
with the rear horn-loaded box/scoops in a properly designed
sound system, you can use better quality power amplifiers
with real high quality drivers, and get a more efficient and
better quality output, as compared to direct-radiating enclosures
using very high power.
“Guys who are into dub and reggae are using scoops because
of what they do to low-end kick. I mean they’re not
the most accurate, but they sound good to the ear. And what
dance music is really accurate? I mean, you’re not playing
David Sandborn here. There are some exaggerations, some distortions
in the music that you do want; that make it more alive and
a lot more exciting when you’re dancing.”
5 Beacon lights.
“David wanted to have these in the speakers; they have
an amazing effect on the dancefloor. Richard Long had them
in a few clubs, the [Paradise] Garage had beacons, Zanzibar
had beacons in the Berthas.
“The lights don’t affect the sound with the scoop,
because the cabinet is rear-loaded and all the fidelity is
coming off the cone. So as long as they’re not blocking
the cones, you know you’re not going to have a problem.”
6 One Levan horn (built by Steve
Dash) loaded with two JBL 2242 18-inch drivers.
“This is a horn-loaded box that works on compression
theories. It takes a sound coming off the face of the woofer,
pushes it through a compression chamber, expands and contracts
it a few times, and then once it comes out it expands again,
and the waveform completes itself at the mouth of the horn.
“I really love the Levan horn for its high efficiency.
I mean if you wanted to, you could use it with a Crown PSA2
amp at about 400 watts and it will shake the building and
kick your ass. I love its chest-pounding impact. It adds the
right type of exaggeration and distortion to dance music.
It really gets that roar out of the crowd, especially when
David kicks the system. It just gives you that ‘holy
“These boxes are not the lightest or the smallest or
the most attractive things in the world, but in my opinion
they’re the best disco subs available.”