Augspurger boss on studio evolution, changing hip-hop and working with Dr Dre & Jay-Z

PAD (Pro Audio Design Inc) and Augspurger® Monitors president, Dave Malekpour, joins Headliner for an in-depth chat on how the monitors he builds have shaped hip-hop as we know it, studio evolution, working with the likes of Dr Dre and Jay-Z, and more.

Is there a busier person in pro audio than Dave Malekpour? Mere minutes into our meeting with the PAD and Augspurger® Monitors chief, it would appear the answer is a resounding ‘no’. Upon inquiring what he’s been up to recently, before we even take our seats, we are hit with a head spinning volley of projects and excursions the likes of which would occupy months’ worth of real estate in most diaries yet fill only the previous few days in his. It sets the tone for what proves to be a uniquely insightful and expansive conversation with one of the pro audio industry’s most accomplished and sought after figures, as we explore how he arrived at where he is today.

You can watch this interview here or read on in full below.

“My parents were music lovers, and I was always attracted to music,” he starts as we settle into a studio at TileYard London, recalling the formative years that would see him acquire considerable skills as a musician, engineer, and producer. “I’d wake up with melodies in my head, so I started having piano lessons around six years old. As I got older and started a band, I got a four-track and I was the guy with the PA system, so I got to play at all the parties. Throughout my high school life, I was in a band recording myself or my friends.

“As for how I stumbled into this career, I was in a studio recording my band in Boston. One night the console went down, and a guy came down to fix it and later on I ended up working for him. So my first gig in pro audio was working for Electronic Acoustic Research Systems, a small company that had designed studios for the band Boston, The Cars, Mission Control and other studios around town. I learned how a studio was put together from the inside out. That triggered something in me.

“Then there was a chance to start my own business but approach it as a musician, engineer, and producer. From that point I wanted to combine the design part with the equipment and the integration. So, in 1989 I launched Anything Audio, which morphed into Pro Audio Design. As the name suggested, Anything Audio did anything – restaurants, stores, but then we got a job working for The Hit Factory and that was where my passion kicked in. I reformed the company as PAD to really focus on studios. That was in January 1993.”

One of the most revered studios on the planet at the time, The Hit Factory was the go-to facility for many of the biggest names in music, including Steve Wonder, Talking Heads, David Bowie, John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, and many more. It was here that Malekpour began to earn a reputation not only as a formidably skilled technician, but one that would move heaven and earth for his clients.

Dre was shocked. He has a pair of our speakers in his studio and it made those moments in the game feel real. Dave Malekpour, president, PAD and Augspurger® Monitors

“Around that time, I’d taken on distribution of Dynaudio Acoustics,” he says. “The Hit Factory called me because they had a pair of M1s but when they moved locations the rooms were really different and they weren’t getting any low frequency, so they asked me to fix them. I called Andy Munro (Dynaudio Acoustics founder) and said The Hit Factory has a problem, can you come over and help me? He came over and it was an experience because Ed Germano (Hit Factory owner) was an intense guy. I walked in the lobby and there were plaques for all these amazing artists, and I was so excited I was coming to help them. But they weren’t happy with the fact the speakers weren’t living up to what they had when they bought them, so there was a moment where it was like, ‘you fix these or else…’ That was a family you didn't want to mess with.

“We found it was a positioning issue, so we moved the speakers and solved the problem. From this initially tense moment they asked us to outfit another studio. And it was nerve-racking, but it worked out and we built a lifelong relationship. Those experiences form who you are and tested me in what I would do for my clients, and the answer is anything.”

That willingness to go the proverbial – and often literal – extra mile for his clients opened the door to some truly unique opportunities.

“We’ve done some interesting jobs,” he smiles. “We did a job for Rockstar Games when they were making Grand Theft Auto 5, the Dr Dre version. I got a call from DJ Pooh who I knew through doing Snoop’s studio, and he’s partly behind GTA. He called me and said they were filming at a motion capture studio with Dre and Anderson .Paak. Originally they were going to just have tables where the consoles would have been, but he asked if I could get an SSL over there, a pair of Augspurgers, Pro Tools, and make it run so that when Dre comes in it feels like he’s in the studio. So, we had a working studio within 24 hours to film the animation of Dre. When you see him at the console his movements are real. Anderson .Paak was at a drum set; they were in those motion capture suits… Dre was shocked. He has a pair of our speakers in his studio and it made those moments in the game feel real.

“Another interesting project,” he continues, “is one we just finished for Roc Nation where Jay-Z’s career is being highlighted at the Brooklyn Public Library. We recreated Baseline, the studio we created for him in 1998. I got the original Augspurger® Monitors speakers and refurbished them and the original SSL G+ console. We got those pieces back and restored them and my guys went in and installed it. I’ve seen some footage of Jay-Z walking around being blown away - he was right back in the place where it all started for him.”

They may not have known it at the time, but Malekpour and his team were about to, as he puts it, “change the game for hip-hop music”. The build of Baseline back in 1998, with its Augspurger® Monitors and SSL G+ console, would lay the foundations for the sound of a hip-hop and R&B movement that was about to dominate the mainstream.

We built some new subwoofers and it just changed the game for hip-hop music. Dave Malekpour, president, PAD and Augspurger® Monitors

“It was OG Juan, who is now one of the top guys at Roc Nation, who called and said they wanted to make this studio and needed some help,” explains Malekpour. “They found a building that had been a studio, but it wasn’t the greatest, so we helped refurb it and came up with the concept. We put in a 64 frame G+ and at first we had Tannoy double 15s. But after putting a pair of Augspurgers in another studio in New York (Unique Recording) they heard about them and wanted those. So, we built the pair that are in the exhibit now, and they were the third pair of Augspurger® Monitors Classics I ever made. We built some new subwoofers I designed as well, and it just changed the game for hip-hop music.”

He also recalls encountering a budding young talent by the name of Kanye West during his time at Baseline.

“I remember Kanye was sleeping on the couch at Baseline,” he says, “and I had a conversation with him early on. He was saying, “I’m going to be the greatest rapper of all time”. You’d often hear people saying things like that, but it turned out to be true!”

So what is it about the Augspurger® Monitors systems that lend themselves so generously to hip-hop and R&B?

“There are a number of things that have made them the standard in hip-hop, R&B and dance, where low frequency is super important,” Malekpour elaborates. “Early in my career I was working in nightclubs and learned a lot about how subwoofers work. One of the places I was working kept blowing out drivers. I started doubling up and even going to four times the power - the driver would say 500W so I’d find a 1,800W amp. I knew I was on to something.

“When I started building Augspurger® Monitors I added the subwoofers myself and built the first pair for Unique, and we put some 18” subwoofers in it. It was around 1998 and hip-hop was becoming mainstream and the low frequency really helped fuel the experience of feeling that music and not just hearing it. But we have lots of artists of all styles using them today. With the Augspurger® Monitors horn you get incredible dynamic range. With the smallest amount of power, we can get a very responsive output. We want you to be able to hear and feel the music as if you are with the artist and have a lifelike experience that doesn’t have any compression.

When Busta Rhymes goes from the studio to the club with the same mix I know I did my job well. Dave Malekpour, president, PAD and Augspurger® Monitors

“If you’re making music for the club, it’s good to be able to feel what it will be like in the club. Busta Rhymes is a great example. He works on our systems every day at Quad Studios and when he’s done at 3am he’ll go down to the club and play that track. When he goes from the studio to the club with the same mix I know I did my job well.”

Having navigated the digital revolution in studio design, Malekpour insists that while the fundamentals of what makes a great studio haven’t shifted too much, the needs of artists have.

“Some of the parameters have changed because for a long time people wanted to set up huge rooms for big bands,” he states. “Today people aren’t using those facilities as much. What people are looking for in a studio has changed – we might have a killer vocal booth and a bigger control room. What’s really changed is our ability to make predictions. We use predictive acoustics modelling as a key part of our studio design process.”

While Augspurger® Monitors may have clocked up more than three decades, its influence and list of credits could easily fill the resume of a brand twice its age. Over time, the company has evolved and adapted with the sector, and often set the agenda for what artists and producers can expect from the premium end of the market. For Malekpour, rather than being the fruits of a grand masterplan, Augspurger® Monitors's success is largely attributed to a commitment to fine details and, above all else, quality. It’s a strategy that has demonstrably served the brand and its clients well, and indeed, one that looks set to do so for generations to come.

“We’ve taken this product to levels that I didn’t even think would be possible,” Malekpour reflects. “It’s a combination of lots of things that has made the product what it is. It’s refining the wood part of it - the horn itself (which are all made of solid maple). I used to laminate three pieces of 1” wood together and then carve them. About 10 years ago we started to get 3” pieces of wood. It took a little time to find the right mill, but we found one that looks out for the wood we want, and they put it aside for us. They know who we are and what we do. Every one of our vendors is part of us.

“Because manufacturing Augspurger® Monitors started as a side project, I have always thought about what the best driver I can use is; what’s the best amp; what’s the best finish? Every time I look at how we can do something cheaper I would have to compromise, and I won’t do that. We make them by hand, we finish them by hand, and it’ll be for the people who can really appreciate that. That’s our calling card.”