Behind The Gear: Tierra Audio
TIERRA Audio is a newer brand on the pro audio scene, one that got started in Madrid, Spain in 2018. Dubbing themselves the “ECO-Smart Pro Audio Company,” TIERRA puts a focus on not only achieving high end sound in their products, but also on being an ecologically responsible company.
As a part of our ongoing Behind The Gear series, we sat down with TIERRA Audio Co-Founder and CEO Javier Pascual to learn more about the brand, its product lineup, and the important work the company is doing to ensure the safety of our planet.
What initially sparked your interest in designing and building your own pro audio equipment? Since I was a child, I always wanted to be an inventor. That's what I used to tell my parents' friends when they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up! Years later, at the age of 12, I learned to program and my life changed completely. I spent my nights programming video games. It was my particular way of being an inventor.
Then I went to University to study Computer Engineering and there, by surprise, I found what would be my second great passion with the help of an old but valuable Spanish guitar that my grandmother gave me: writing and singing songs. From then until now everything went very fast.
In 2017, after more than 20 years working as a computer engineer and entrepreneur, and after several professional projects in fields as different as CrossFit or musical theater, I decided it was time to go back to my essence, to what made me happy: inventing products and being close to music. Building my own recording studio in the backyard of my house, underground, together with some good friends, I came up with the idea of making our own equipment.
A few months later, I called an old friend, Esther Gutiérrez, who is an industrial engineer with a lot of experience in the aircraft manufacturing world (and an excellent painter!). I said, "Hey, join me and let's make beautiful things in a different way." She agreed without hesitation. I sold some of my companies, she quit her job, moved from Sevilla to Madrid with her little dog Tina, and we decided that TIERRA Audio could be a nice turn in our lives.
Today, after more than four and a half years, 18 products, eight employees, 22 countries where our products are sold and a global pandemic in between, both Esther and I are clear that this is the hardest and most intense thing we have done, but also without a doubt the most rewarding and creative thing we have done.
TIERRA Audio is adamant about its dedication to be ecologically friendly. What were some of the challenges in trying to establish a company whilst adhering to those principles? Indeed, both Esther and I were clear from the beginning that TIERRA Audio had to be a company that was respectful of the planet and people. Running an electronic engineering company is a huge challenge, but it is even more so if you want to take care of what is currently the only habitable planet for us.
The main decision, and the simplest to execute, was to use the most environmentally friendly electronic components and to use lead-free tin. The next step, which was somewhat more complex, was to design our products with recycled and recyclable materials, such as stainless steel, aluminum or wood from sustainable plantations such as Paulownia or bamboo (the fastest growing tree and plant on the planet, respectively). We also screen print our products with laser instead of paint whenever the support allows it. And our packaging, which is fully recyclable, is designed without plastics.
I can assure you that the design and manufacturing processes become exponentially more complicated when you do not use the usual technologies (or usual countries) for the manufacture of electronic products. But it is definitely more fun and challenging to do it in an eco-responsible way.
In addition, all our products are handmade (with tons of love) in Madrid, Spain, maximizing collaboration with local artisans and suppliers, who make use of sustainable raw materials and who care for and respect their workers. More than 85% of our suppliers are in Spain. The rest are spread all over the world, from the USA to the UK or Germany. The high quality of our products and the sound that we always pursue requires certain technical decisions that are not open to discussion, such as the choice of certain brands of components, cables, transformers or capsules for our microphones.
Finally, we're aware that all of the above is not enough since we will always leave a carbon footprint as a consequence of our business activity, even though we promote the use of renewable energies in our facilities and those of our suppliers. We made the decision to plant a tree for every product we sell and one tree for every five microphones we sell. We can happily say that many of our customers choose us, not only for the high quality of our products, but also for our ecological values. Years ago this would have been impossible, but today it is a responsible and wonderful reality.
One of the first things people notice about your line of products is your line of Flavours Preamps. Can you talk a little about the idea behind those and how you chose the various tones for each preamp? The Flavours Preamps are such simple yet incredible products, we are still absolutely in love with them. The idea came about at the end of 2020. We had been working on the electronics of our future ribbon and condenser microphone range for several months when I had to stay in bed for two weeks after a delicate surgery. I don't think I have ever been more productive in my life; sleep, eat, work, eat, work, eat, work, eat, work, sleep again! Except for the tremendous pain of the injuries, everything was happiness and efficiency (Laughs).
I had a lot of time to think about food, as you saw, and talking with Esther about how much flavors can help to define sound (who hasn't at some point?) I thought we had all the know-how necessary to create some "toys" that would symbolize just that: the flavor of sound. I didn't want to just make a booster like others I had already used in the studio with simple and unique amplification. I wanted flavor, color, dirt, variety... Pure life!
I opened my Macbook and started working from bed, all the way from breakfast to dinner. That same night, I gathered our entire team on a Zoom video call and excitedly told them about the idea. I think they all thought I was dying and delirious. Fortunately, they are great engineers, professionals and people, and they trusted my proposal (I think they are crazier than me!).
After a few weeks, we already had the first results and seven defined flavors that gave way to their corresponding sonority: Salt, Pepper, Vanilla, Chili, Mint, Cocoa and Truffle. And I guarantee that all of them, absolutely all of them, sound like what they taste like... or what they sound like, whichever you prefer.
People write us and send us fantastic videos using the Flavours Preamps in ways we had never imagined. It's amazing how creative people are. That's why we're so excited to be a part of their creative process. We learn so much from them, every single day.
What are some of the existing gear pieces out there that influenced your taste in recording equipment? Although I am a computer engineer by vocation, and therefore I have grown up in the digital world, I confess that I love everything related to analog sound; transformers, through-hole components, saturation, color, distortion, harmonics everywhere. Of course, you have to respect the original sound and its source, but that does not mean that it cannot be enriched and enhanced with the different ingredients that physics puts within our reach.
That's why I consider myself a loyal follower of what I call "the legendary manufacturers" of pro audio and Hi-Fi; Neve, Thorens, AEA, Manley Labs, Shure, Bang & Olufsen, Solid State Logic and Neumann. Their products are true works of art that were developed by women and men who were pioneers as courageous as they were ingenious! We are talking about times when there was no Internet, no suppliers like Mouser, no materials and no tools like today. True engineering marvels.
Their original products, without choosing a favorite because they are all incredible, are the ones that inspire me the most when I try to bring new value to this industry with our creations. Not only at the sound level, but also at the level of the construction process and materials technology. In this sense, I must recognize that Apple and its products, even not being a pro audio brand, have always been a reference for me. I firmly believe that you can't do hardware design without a deep understanding of how these crazy people from Cupertino conceive their products.
As a recent anecdote, I will tell you that the inspiration for the design of our new condenser microphone, New Twenties, was born in the cinema while I was watching the premiere of the movie Mother of the Blues with Esther. When I saw the imposing Ma Rainey and her band performing their beautiful music live in such a raw and organic way in front of that rough but elegant carbon microphone, tears came to my eyes and I knew that we had to pay tribute to that golden era and its protagonists! When I got home that same night, I opened my 3D design program and began to reinterpret the "One Mic Recording" concept in the TIERRA Audio way. Besides, we are in The New Twenties, we couldn't let such a beautiful opportunity slip away!
Your cherry wood front paneling is super eye-catching. How did you decide on that material? Was it a challenge to implement a wooden housing for your pieces? I learned to love the combination of wood and steel thanks to my little brother, Carlos, who is a great designer and furniture builder in his spare time. Wood is an incredible material. Very noble, full of visual and tactile nuances. You can work it in infinite ways and if you know how to treat it properly, it is a material that will undoubtedly survive you.
Our personal challenge was to escape from overly elaborate plastic-based shapes, vintage designs, and designs similar in appearance to legendary brands. We wanted to achieve a simple, attractive design with modern lines while still using such an ancient material as wood. An original design that when anyone would say: "Hey, this is a TIERRA Audio product."
Technically, it has been a complex path. We use natural cherry wood, no melamine or imitations, and that requires a very delicate work and a series of treatments to ensure the durability of the material without losing its aesthetic properties. To get to our finishes today, we have gone through hundreds of cutting tests, sanding, pore filling, varnishing, laser engraving, etc. Finally, we have managed to control the entire process, and we have even developed our own tools to work the wood with guarantee. It is a work very similar to that of a luthier with the neck of a guitar. The feel of the finished product is very similar.
In the end, what we achieve results in very special products, each one with its own personality, no two are alike. There are times in the office when we all gather excitedly around the new boards to contemplate the beautiful grain of the wood. There are even customers who come to the factory when we are manufacturing their unit to choose the wood frontal they like the most. And because for every product we sell, we plant a tree (with a real photo and geo-positioning associated with the product serial number), we know that our products help make the world a greener place.
Some of your products, including the Icicle EQ, have the knob to choose between Clean and “Oomph!” Tell me a little about that function and how it affects the tone of the unit. Within the audio world there is one player that not everyone appreciates as it deserves: the Total Harmonic Distortion, or THD. Basically, THD is a technical parameter that indicates the linearity of a system. In other words, to put it simply, how much the output signal resembles the input signal.
In many occasions, within a recording, mixing or mastering process, you may need as much transparency as possible. Many people say that this is the right thing to do, "Amplify or equalize my signal, but don't alter it or I'll cut off your hand."
Well, we like to say that we "enrich" the signal, and we achieve that thanks to the "harmonics," usually coming from analog transformers. We love harmonics. We love transformers. If I could, I'd put a big transformer on my smart phone. I'm sure it would be cooler! [Laughs]. That's why many of our products carry the option "Oomph!," an onomatopoeia that symbolizes strength, power, character, sex appeal. It's like the final twist to your sound, a final squeeze that gives it color and texture to a greater or lesser extent.
On some products, like our Icicle EQ, it can be turned off completely to work with a crystalline sound, or it can be adjusted for the subtle saturation of a tape recording to a powerful germanium diode distortion that is wonderfully crazy for treating guitars, basses and drums (and even vocals!).
At other times, as in our Boreal FET Compressor or Canyon Summing Mixer, it's an option that gives you access to a distortion or saturation circuit based on discrete electronics or on analog transformers, which bring a very special color to the resulting sound. In other words, if you are afraid of exceeding the mythical 1% THD threshold, you should not use these options. That said, you should try them if you want to bring different degrees of musical distortion to your sound to achieve artistic results that will help you differentiate your sound from the rest.
Where do you see the brand heading as it continues to grow? What’s next for TIERRA Audio? We are a very small company, we are far from being like all those big brands we admire so much, but the truth is that this allows us to be very agile in making decisions and materializing ideas.
Despite everything we've talked about so far about analog, we carry the words "digital" and "smart" in our DNA. We have been working for a long time on great and innovative products that we believe will surprise many people. I can't tell you more about it now, but there are things that no one has seen yet in the pro audio world! It wasn't all made up.
Until then, we already have some very new analog gear on the launch ramp, such as a new Eurorack module for modular synthesis called Colorizer One, perfect for electronic music genres and ambient music, and very interesting proposals for new outboard gear and microphones.
2022 is going to be a very important year for pro audio and for the music industry in general, with the recovery of everything that sadly we have all lost along the way last two years, and TIERRA Audio is going to live up to the expectations, always with all the love and passion we put in everything we do.
Being very small doesn't mean that we can't dream big. That's why we are very grateful that great professionals like Vintage King trust in our products and help us to continue building such a beautiful story. It is an honor for us to have you close to bring our products to the American market. We deeply admire and respect your way of understanding music. See you at the next NAMM Show!