For years now I've been bumping into Brad Avenson, a real down-to-earth guy who's been building his Avenson Audio company up with small, ingenious little tools to help us all make better records without busting our wallets. He began building mics with Erik Wofford under the Stapes name, and branched out with Avenson Audio and the STO-2 mics soon after. Avenson's Small DI is an amazingly tiny, in-line DI box, and the upcoming Mid-Side and Blend half-rack boxes look to be very useful. Plus he's got a headphone amp and a multi-featured IsoDI as well. Cool stuff outta Austin, Texas.
I remember when Erik was doing the Stapes mics, and I wondered what your connection was with that era and how that evolved into the Avenson mics?
He built a battery version of the mics out of the Tape Op book [issue #16, book Vol. II]. I thought, "I can definitely do that better. We can use phantom power." We worked together to build that first mic, and he was selling them and I was building them. Eventually I decided to redesign the mics for a metal body and bring them out under my own brand...
You were using XLR connectors before.
We were using the little Neutrik XLR connector. There are some brass versions, and after that we went to a plastic Delrin — an all black, tiny mic. I think we made almost 300 of those before I started the metal body ones.
Did you guys part ways?
He was doing a lot more recording, and I was trying to get more people selling them. I decided if I brought it out under my own brand, he could still sell them and I could pick up other dealers.
What was your background in electronics?
I started out as a computer programmer in high school, and then as soon as my first program went obsolete, I decided, "I am completely out of software! I want something tangible when I'm done." I still have the first ugly guitar pedal I built. It's sitting in the shop.
The operating system's not going to change on you.
With that I started getting more into hardware, and I got a job working at a government research lab. I was doing high-powered switch research for railguns.
It was really interesting. They were working on some electric tank project and some flywheel battery concepts — really, really big electronics and inductors the size of a room. It was really neat working on electronics with a wrench instead of with a soldering iron. I did a lot of prototype building there, which really honed my construction skills. Then the funding died on that and I got laid off, so I got a job across the street in the same research area at Applied Research Labs. They did sonar research — more construction and practical implementation.
You were learning about parts and electronics?
How to build things. "Okay, we've got circuits here. How are we going to put them in boxes?" I was still working at Applied Research Labs when I did the very first mics, and eventually I left UT [University of Texas at Austin] and started working at a recording studio.
As an engineer?
Yeah, and as a maintenance guy. If you know which end of the soldering iron to use, you are now the maintenance guy at the studio. I was working there and getting started with Avenson Audio. At the same time I started playing in a blues band. I was on the road with Malford Milligan for a couple of years playing trumpet. I always said I got paid to drive the bus and played trumpet for free.
That sounds fun though.
It was. Eventually I got tired of being on the road, and the band wasn't able to support the seven-piece action anymore. That tapered off and I started doing Avenson Audio more full-time.
Is it a full-time job for you now?
Yeah. I discovered that there were audio companies that needed engineering help. I've been working with a number of other companies. It works differently per client. With some clients I will come to them with different ideas I have for their product line that might work. But a lot of times they have an idea of what they want. We'll work together and figure out how to turn these ideas into reality. I am working with Jon Ulrigg over at ShinyBox Audio. I've worked with Pete Montessi at Pete's Place Audio on the new BAC-500 [Brad Avenson Compressor]. I also work with Mike Castoro over at Wunder Audio. I designed the big recording console they did. It's quite a board.
Do you get a royalty? I have talked to some people who said they get a percentage of...
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