Phoenix Audio, maker of Class A, high-end audio tools for the studio, seeks to, "embody the classic British tone, but with a modern twist," which they successfully do. Since 1998, Phoenix has designed quality preamps, compressors, equalizers, and summing mixers. In 2009 the company moved to the US, under the direction of Robin Ashley, in order to work more efficiently within the American market.
What was your history, leading up to owning Phoenix Audio? What was your history, leading up to owning Phoenix Audio?
I was a producer, engineer, and DJ many, many years ago, in my early twenties. I worked in a Guitar Center-type store in the UK called Sound Control. It has now disappeared. I was the pro audio guy, so I hung around studios. I then went to Tascam and was the UK sales manager. Then I moved to another business, joining Alan Stewart with a company called ASAP Europe; a small pro audio dealership and distributor in the UK. It's traditionally been involved with Avalon gear and nice high-end mics — very choice, top-end bits. We were the European distributor for Phoenix Audio. Phoenix Audio's been around since '96, set up by Shaun Leveque with David Rees as a design consultant. Some of the units by Aurora Audio, which is Geoff Tanner's company, were badged at a very early point as Phoenix Audio US as Shaun and Geoff had some early collaborations on these units but decided to go their own ways. The two companies are different, and they have always made different products. There's always a little confusion about this!
How'd you end up working with Phoenix?
I was the European distributor for Phoenix Audio. Around 2005 they had supply issues, as well as some reliability issues, from time to time. The company went reasonably big, then smaller, and then sort of lost their way on what they were doing. We decided to buy the company, but re-jig the whole thing. We knew certain products were very good. We'd give studios a unit, and they'd say it was fantastic. They'd love it. Dealers would say it was great; they'd sell ten, but then, when they wanted another ten, it took six months and they'd lose impetus. If you can give customers confidence in the product, and they know that they can buy it easily, and you make it an attractive business for the dealers, then you're onto a winner. We also knew that we wanted to be here [in the US] as well. This is the main market for these types of products. Americans are also a bit insular. They love American products. Customers get confused; if a foreign product breaks, would they need to ship it back? All those boring logistics that make people think, "Eh, maybe not." If you're here, it's easy. Customers can ring you up, chat about a project, and ask you to look after things. Dealers are very comfortable with prices in dollars. It's all easier.
Did starting to run the company force you to personally move to the States?
Yeah. I've been here since 2009. I had to acclimatize and change my accent slightly.
So there's a Neve heritage, of sorts?
Yeah. The Neve thing is really actually David Rees. David was a designer at Neve through the '60s and '70s. He's Rupert Neve's [Tape Op #26, #87] cousin. Rupert was much more of an ideas and concepts type of guy. He would go to the BBC, or studios for broadcasting, and come up with concepts and designs. David was like the technical and design manager, and would put that into practice. David designed the original Neve 2253 [compressor] and the resulting 2254 (limiter/compressor ) is pretty much his design, exclusively. He was part of the team that designed Neve 2264s, 1073s, and 1081s. As the design engineer, he was pretty influential in how all those were done. That's where that Neve background comes from. With what we try to be, as a company, the Neve thing is good and bad. In the early days, we probably made a bunch of sales to people who thought they were getting a 1073. You couldn't buy those types of products then.
They weren't available.
Nowadays we've obviously tried to distance ourselves, as we're an original manufacturer and we'd like to be known solely as this. We do have that lineage, but we can do more. I guess it would be a similar conversation with Rupert Neve and RND, in the sense that they'd say, "Those products are great, but we can do...