We recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Robin Ashley, the company’s President, to learn about what Phoenix Audio is currently working on. Read on to learn about their design philosophy, their signature sound, and what Phoenix Audio has in store for the future.
Tell us a little bit about how Phoenix Audio first got started.
Phoenix originally started in 1996 as a company that serviced vintage Neve desks in the UK. It was kind of a strange period where everyone was in the mindset that vintage consoles were of no use anymore. We all thought the future was going to be digital consoles like Yamaha 02Rs and that’s what studios wanted at that time. Some studios were actually throwing away their vintage analog consoles.
There were some engineers who still wanted to use vintage consoles, but most of the desks that were still around at the time were in poor condition. Phoenix Audio got their start restoring those consoles. But, they realized that market wasn’t going last forever. Fixing vintage Neve consoles is an expensive prospect. It costs a lot to get a 64 channel console into proper working order. A lot of studios didn’t have the capital to do that. Maybe that’s why they were heading more to digital consoles.
At that point, the guys realized that for the company to survive, they would have to branch out. That’s when they started designing their own gear.
What’s changed the most over the years?
The designers all have a background working for pro audio companies. One of our designers was the original Design Manager of Neve. He designed all of those classic products that people love and still use to this day. But they didn’t want to reissue vintage gear—they wanted to design original products.
A lot of designers from that era, including Rupert, really prefer their newer designs over the classics. It’s like an artist—they always think their later work is better than their earlier work. In that spirit, the thinking, the technology, and the components that we use have all evolved a lot over the years since the 1960’s & 1970’s.
In 2008, we moved the company to the US from the UK. We saw that the future success of the company was better here. The US has a much bigger market for these products, and it helps to manufacture, distribute, and offer customer support locally.
How would you describe the company culture at Phoenix Audio?
It’s a pretty laid back company. We’ve got about seven employees spread around the globe. There are some in the UK, some on the east coast, and some of us out here in Southern California were HQ is.
We all have different backgrounds and experiences and preferences, which is great. It’s very relaxed. It’s not like a large corporate company with strict rules. It’s a great place to work, everyone is really happy.
Tell us a little bit about a typical day at the office.
Well, that depends on who you talk to. I’m in the office most days, which means I’m managing the business. I make sure components are ordered on time, which is becoming increasingly difficult with new tariffs and longer lead times, manage the manufacturing process and look after our distribution and dealer sales. It’s a little bit of everything. I wear a lot of different hats.
What makes Phoenix Audio different from other pro audio companies?
We tried a long time ago to be different from other pro audio companies. We realized that cloning the same pieces of gear as everyone else isn’t necessarily a great business idea. Whenever you copy someone else, there’s always going to be someone else later down the line that copies it even better than you did and for less money. When you’re in that type of business, you never last long. From our perspective, it was always important to be different.
In terms of the mic pre, people often mistakenly think that because we have a history with Neve that our products are Neve clones, but that’s not true. The 1073 is all about the input transformer and the output transformer. We’re quite different. Our mic pre is completely Class-A discrete and our input amplifier is transformerless, which gives the unit very fast transient response. Then there’s a Class-A discrete output stage and our custom output transformer on the backend where you can slow things down and color or saturate signals. It’s very different from the 1073 in design, operation, and components.
Well, the preamps in both of those units are the same design. They both have the Class-A discrete transformerless input stage with the Class A discrete output amp & transformer on the backend, I think people like them because they’re so flexible. You can go from being really clean to really colorful, which makes it great for people who don’t have a rack full of different options. It’s a really good all-around preamp. One day you can be doing pop and the next you can be doing heavy rock. You can use Phoenix preamps on a variety of instruments & voices and they always sound great.
The DRS-Q4 mk2 has now been discontinued and is being replaced by the Ascent Two EQ, which just got a great review in Sound on Sound. The Ascent Two is an evolution of the DRS series. It’s essentially the same preamp with an upgraded power supply, a new EQ circuit, and higher-quality components.
What made you decide to branch out into analog summing with the NICERIZER 16 Mk2?
That goes back to the beginning of the company. People used to love analog consoles, but they’re bulky and expensive to maintain. When the studio revolution hit in the 90s and 2000s, a lot of studios went out of business. People started to move into project studios and home studios. But what people often found was that digital consoles didn’t sound that great. They loved the flexibility of digital, but they didn’t necessarily like the sound. So there was a desire for more analog sound.
We wanted to create something compact that would deliver the analog sound but would also integrate well with digital. That’s where the NICERIZER 16 came from. We were one of the first companies to release a summing mixer back in 2003. We like to describe the NICERIZER 16 as a console in a box—it’s the sound of a large format console in a 2-rack unit.
It’s a pretty simple unit—just 16 XLR inputs and two outputs. You can route your DAW straight into the NICERIZER 16 and drive it as hard as you want to add more color and saturation. It adds width, depth, separation. It just makes everything sound nicer. That’s where we got the name from.
Phoenix Audio just announced the Gyrator-EQ-500 at NAMM—what makes this unit different from your previous EQ modules?
We’ve been doing 500 series units for seven or eight years. We weren’t the first but we knew early on that it would be an important product range. People love the 500 series units. You can mix and match colors, making them very flexible. They’re great for those on a budget too because you can slowly build up your collection over time, or swap out units for new colors.
However, API products are designed to run at 16 volts. Our products are unique in that they’re designed to operate at 24 volts. When Phoenix Audio products run at 16 volts, they don’t sound as good. In order to get our sound in a 500 series module without compromising the sound quality of our full-sized units, we designed a special power supply for all of our 500 series units which steps up the 16 volts to 24 volts. That way you get the full sonic signature of the product, doing that whilst conforming to the API standards wasn’t an easy process.
The Gyrator EQ 500 is an evolution on the DRS EQ 500 with a new design. We reorganized all four frequency bands with 12 fixed positions, including a new “sheen” position that can be used to boost at 25 kHz. It uses all stepped controls, which makes it easier to recall sessions.
It’s a very musical EQ. You don’t have to be an expert to use it. You can mess around without the fear of making your track sound harsh or distorted. They sound fairly clean to start but you can drive them pretty hard to create some color.
Traditionally we have been more of a studio-based company, but we’re increasingly looking at other markets. We’re seeing our products being used in the live scene a lot more recently. Live music production is evolving. It used to be all about flexibility, but now people are focusing more on sound quality. Now that artists are making all of their money on tour, top-tier performers are looking for the best quality they can get.
We’re seeing more and more high-end gear being used live. We currently have two products doing well in the live sound market. The N-8 DI, which is an eight-channel DI, just got taken out on tour by Lady Gaga, Usher and the Black Eyed Peas. We also have a tabletop version called the Nimbus DI.
In terms of evolution, we’re trying to make our products interact more with the digital elements of the studio. I think you’ll see more products with digital recall and things like that. I think it’s pretty exciting how analog gear is going to evolve in the next few years.
Currently, Vintage King has special savings on two fantastic Phoenix Audio products. We have a small selection of B-Stock DRS-8 MK2 that are 25% off while supplies last. The best selling DRS-Q4 is also on sale for an incredible price of $1299. That's 48% off in savings!
If you’re interested in learning more about gear from Phoenix Audio, contact a Vintage King Audio Consultant via email or by phone at 866.644.0160.