Tuning specialist Brad Katz is JK Sound's X-factor.
JK Sound's Brad Katz
By Dennis Sebayan
Before Oregon native Brad Katz found his calling as an audio technician, he was delivering pizzas. Thankfully, 10 years ago he took a job in the rental department at celebrated San Francisco sound firm JK Sound (jksound.com). He grew within the company and soon entered the install department, where he learned the rack-wiring, speaker-building ropes.
Now, Katz is a critical part of what makes JK – which designed, installed and still maintains the systems at Bay Area staples Ruby Skye, Ten15 and the brand-new Slide (nominated this year for a “Best Sound System” Club World Award), amongst countless others – so successful, running the onsite wood shop (he estimates he’s made about 65% of all their custom boxes himself), building up his already impressive knowledge of SMAART analysis software, and field-testing every single JK install. JK president Mike Lacina credits him with “shining my designs to that high-gloss polish.”
After the holidays, CSI caught up with Brad, in between
some of his 13-hour days: He’s in the midst of two installs,
an upscale restaurant called Crush 29, and Badlands, the biggest
gay club in Sacramento.
What’s been your most demanding project?
The latest was Slide. There’s a subwoofer that we had to fit
with two 12-inches, based off the EAW SBX220 subwoofer. We
had 13½ inches outside dimensions to work with; it was a real
squeeze making it fit. We had to go with half-inch ply on
the sides – which I don’t like to do with subwoofers – and
a lot of internal bracing. The problem with half-inch on the
sides is you’ll get a lot of reverberation; the thinner ply
will shake. So inside the box, I strapped the sides together
double ¾-inch ply, and used four braces.
You recently worked on two installations.
Right now, I’m doing a place up in Roseville [California]
called Crush 29, the premiere of a new chain of Napa-styled
restaurants. It’s going to have an inside seating capacity
of 250 and outside seating of 50. Sound is a major issue with
them. They wanted a sound system that was close to what you’d
hear in a hi-fi lounge rather than a restaurant; that’s why
they brought us on board.
What are you implementing at Crush? A lot
of this job was aesthetics, and working with the architect
to get things hidden and to fit into the décor. We have eight
custom eight-inch subs that fit inside the banquettes. We
have four EAW CP 499 Series speakers that fit into the ceiling,
which is a custom dry wall/wood slate design. We have a bunch
of SpeakerCraft AIM 5 and 7 Series for getting the ceiling
speakers to aim where we want them to. They have both an aim-able
woofer and tweeter inside: If you can’t get the ceiling speaker
directly above the seating area, you can aim it over to where
We’ve heard that you’re really keen on the processors
you installed in Ruby Skye. The Dolby Lake Processor
has set the benchmark for us in terms of speaker processors.
There are a few advantages: One is their conversion, which
is by far some of the best. There are the algorithms inside
for the EQ and crossover: They work really nice and sound
really good. They’re also very phase-coherent: With any kind
of filtering, either analog or digital, there’s some kind
of phase offset, depending on the frequency and amount of
processing you’re using. But the Lake seems to minimize it.
They have a linear phase filter for the crossovers as well.
The Lake is used with a wireless tablet. With that user interface, being able to walk around the room and tune is a night-and-day difference. It’s one thing to move a computer around the room with wires, when there’s nobody there. It’s another to walk around with a wireless tablet during a live show. The user interface is very user friendly: It’s like painting.
Ruby Skye's sound system in action.
Tell us about Badlands.
It’s the biggest gay club in Sacramento. We’re using a custom
EAW AX396 box, but instead of dual 12s we’re using dual 15s.
It’s the same box we used at Supperclub in San Francisco.
What prompted you to go that route? With
a club atmosphere, you really want to get as much low-mid
and lows out of your top boxes as possible. This way, you
can cross the subs down lower, like 70-80Hz. I’m a big fan
of 12s, but sometimes you can get into an issue of really
trying to get the impact and headroom. A lot of the chest
impact in dance music is through the low-mids and lows. It’s
really important to have powerful drivers. Each box has a
dual 15” mounted in a dipolar format.
Any other products that you’ve gravitated towards
in your work? I’m really excited about the Gunness
Focusing technology, which is on the EAW NT series speakers.
They’re coming out with it for AX and their line arrays as
well. It’s certainly something to look out for with the club
and live market. It makes live reinforcement speakers sound
like studio monitors. With your normal speaker set-up for
a club, there’s a lot of distortion when you try and compress
all this air into a horn. Gunness Focusing removes most, if
not all of that distortion.
I’m also very excited to work with Bassmaxx (bassmax.com) subs. I’ve done a few demos and I’m trying to get them installed at more places. Their engineering is quite different from standard designs. The output is phenomenal – very high efficiency and SPL (Sound Pressure Level) at 148db peak, plus clarity.
We installed two new X3C subs at Supperclub. The X3C is a triple 12-inch loaded into a horn that fires out the bottom. I heard four of them this weekend and there was way too much sub – for the first time, by my standards – but it sounded nice and clear, with low distortion and high efficiency.
Why do you enjoy club work? Beyond my love
of all audio hi-fi, no club or install is ever the same. I
love the constant problem-solving nature of the beast. There
are always new technologies and better designs to explore
and I love coming up with new solutions for spaces. Exceeding
expectations is the best reward I could hope for, especially
- but rarely - my own.
How does working with JK Sound enable you to explore
your interest in club installations? JK Sound doesn’t
limit my creative potential. My boss Michael Lacina has always
given me the freedom to explore new and better ways to solve
problems. I get hands on involvement in the design process
when applicable and that is what keeps me at it.