Q&A: Crookwood Audio Engineering’s Crispin Herrod-Taylor12 January 2017
Crookwood Audio Engineering was created in June 1992 by Birmingham University graduate Crispin Herrod-Taylor and his partner Penny. The company’s first product was the Paintpot, a 2-channel released in May 1993. “Our mastering consoles are also highly regarded, both for their incredible flexibility, and for their neutral sound character,” says Crispin. “We have probably made more mastering consoles than any other company worldwide.” In June of 2015, the company launched a Kickstarter campaign in order to fund the SoundBucket, a colourful, hi-fi quality portable Bluetooth speaker
Crispin: you have quite the surname…
Everybody remembers it!
Like your correspondent here, you went to Birmingham University…
I studied Physics at Brum, because I wanted to know why, rather than how stuff worked. This all went swimmingly well until we got into quantum mechanics. As fascinating as it is, it’s a whole mindset away from everyday reality, so I focused instead on semi-conductors and acoustics. But mostly I ended up at the Student Union running the technical events side…
How was Solid State Logic?
There are certain points in time, where everything comes together; SSL in the ‘80s and ‘90s was such a place. I had the most brilliant time there, and met and worked with some truly expert and visionary colleagues and clients, which even 30 years later are worth their weight in gold. SSL had everything: fabulous products, wonderful R&D, challenging installations, and lots of cash which made anything possible. I don’t think anything in audio will ever exist like that place.
Then you decided to start your own company. What did you think you could do differently?
After SSL, I worked for (the new) Focusrite, and designed probably the last big format analogue console. But it was clear that digital was coming, and big consoles and studios were going to wane. I saw a huge role for sonically competent analogue kit that could integrate well with digital and I set up Crookwood to start work on compact digitally controlled analogue gear.
Where does the name of your company come from?
I chose the name of the farm where I grew up: Crookwood. It’s in rural Stonehenge-land where there is a wood shaped like a shepherd’s crook (the crook-wood). Crookwood farm is in the Domesday book, making us the oldest name in audio!
I’ve had a few raised eyebrows, because it contains the word ‘crook’, but we’ve been trading for nearly 25 years now, so I think we’re OK!
Tell us about the Paintpot…
This was our first product – a portable, digitally remote controllable mic preamp. Pretty advanced for 1992! Running miles of cable from mic to console was a guaranteed way to lose quality, so we designed a mic transducer amplifier that you could place next to the mics, driving the cables back at line level, yet operate it from the control room. People will remember it from the shape and colour, but it had a lot of interesting analogue technology in it, and even now, some 25 years later, the Paintpot mic amp circuitry is widely reckoned to be one of the best available.
What have been other key products from the company?
Our mastering/routing/monitoring systems are used widely around the world and have set the standard for efficient and sonically accurate production gear. We’re really proud of them.
What sets Crookwood stuff apart today?
Our gear is based on modular digitally controlled analogue processors. This lets us easily adapt products to meet a specific need: we change software and add processors, so we can add features or (for instance) go 5.1, 7.1, Atmos etc without redesigning anything. Our gear is infinitely expandable and upgradable, and built to be maintained. I hate planned obsolescence and throw-away culture.
Who are some of your higher profile clients?
I am particularly thick when it comes to recognising names. I remember having a drink with Brian May in a bar at Metropolis during a Focusrite console install, and asking him if he played in a band…
However, when we started to market the SoundBucket speaker, we thought we should see what artists our clients had worked with, and the list and our client list is incredible. (See: soundbuckets.com/about/artists/)
From Paintpot to SoundBucket: is this closing the circle?
Ha! The SoundBucket is nearly where it all started: I designed a cylindrical speaker as part of a physics project back at Uni – cylinders have certain unique properties. The SoundBucket came about for lots of reasons, but I wanted to go back to my roots with Meridian Hi-Fi and make a competent contemporary small speaker that could work well equally in a studio, or a home environment. Oh, and my kids dared me!
What has been the response to the SoundBucket?
Excellent! We put the money into proper drivers, and good analogue design, rather than plastic and DSP, and it’s paid off. We’re still tweaking in response to user’s feedback, and there’s a lot to do to get them better known, but we’re really pleased with the results.
What of 2017?
Crookwood is 25 years old this year, and there’s lots bubbling: so many ideas, so little time – keep watching this space!