Meet the Maker : Dominik Klassen | elysia

Dominik | elysia | KMR AudioGerman based elysia are known for making some of the most amazing sounding and beautiful looking pieces of studio equipment currently available, whether in Rack or 500-Series format. Set up in 2006 by Ruben Tilgner and Dominik Klassen, I caught up with Dominik for a chat about all things elysia : past, present and future... elysia 500-Series | KMR Audio KMR : When elysia was formed, I know by yourself and Ruben, was this because you felt there was a lack of certain equipment for your requirements, as things had been missing you thought ‘we can do something here better’? DK : You're right, Ruben and I founded the company in 2006. Both of us had worked for a considerable time in different branches of the audio industry before, and based on this experience we had developed a strong vision of what audio processors should be like, in our opinion. How they should sound, which features would be useful, and how a convenient workflow could be achieved. At the same time, both of us were not happy in our jobs, and we felt we could do a lot of things in a better way. In the end, the logical consequence was that we both 'fired ourselves' at the same time and started to build up our own company, which became elysia. KMR : What were your backgrounds? Were you both engineers, musicians? Is this how you met? DK : We had known each other for a couple of years before we even started to think about working together. We were even playing in the same band for quite a while – a pretty freaky electronic session music project which rehearsed and played live in 5.1 surround exclusively. That was a lot of fun, but setting everything up for live events always took ages! The band always rehearsed on Mondays, and afterwards, we’d usually go to the same pub to have a beer and talk audio... this is how it all started. Apart from this, Ruben has been an audio electronics developer ever since he started his career, while my background is more related to the management side if things which have proven to be an excellent and powerful combination over the years. KMR : elysia I feel has a reputation for incredible build quality and attention to detail, is this something that you set out to achieve from the very start? The look and appearance of all elysia products oozes quality, and this is obviously important as it backs up the internal design quality as well - was this an essential choice too? DK : Yes, absolutely. Right at the beginning of the company, when the bank owned almost all the money we had, we took a considerable amount of it and spent it with a company who would help us to develop the industrial design of the alpha compressor. The cost hurt considerably, but it was one of the best investments we could make! We are of the opinion that a beautiful sounding product deserves a beautiful exterior as well, and once you start to take care over these things, you’ll notice it is not just a genuinely significant effort, but a lot of fun, too. Internal construction, external design, build quality and choice of components – these are not separate topics at all, but all important chapters in the same book. KMR : What was the first product that you designed, and how hard was it to get from design idea, to prototype, to finished product? Did you work with other Engineers/Producers in the testing stage? DK : The product we started with was the alpha compressor. A true mothership of a compressor, it is a complex design, and every single one of its aspects has been worked on extensively. elysia alpha compressor | KMR Audio The good news is that when you’re just about to start a company you can focus on the very first product, and this is what we did. Every single component has been chosen by ear from quite a palette, every little bit of the circuitry has been evaluated time and again and reworked until there was nothing more to do... The same goes for the housing. elysia alpha compressor inside KMR Audio If you have a look at the housing of the alpha compressor, as well as glancing inside you can’t help but notice the alpha is – without exaggeration – a piece of industrial art. It was very hard to transfer the product design concept from paper into reality as it’s 100% custom parts, all developed by ourselves and manufactured according to our specs. And yes, of course, we made an extensive demo tour with the prototype once it was finished, and this really helped a lot, both in terms of proving the product concept and its technological implementation as well as giving it the finishing touches based on user feedback. KMR : I love that many of your products are available both in 19" Rack format and 500-Series format, but with hardly if any difference in design and sound. The idea to make the rack and 500-Series circuits cross-compatible is great, and while this has made sense for the end user, were there difficulties in getting this layout and plan to work? DK : It was one of those golden moments. We were discussing if we should give the 500-Series market a try or just continue to build rack units exclusively. When the concept for the xpressor started to become more concrete, and we had to make a decision, all of a sudden the answer was not “Rack” or “Module”, but “Let’s just do both” instead. elysia expresser | KMR Audio elysia expresser inside | KMR Audio I know, from today’s perspective it sounds like the most obvious thing, but at the time it felt more like being struck by lightning, and I have to say it was a very good idea, as the products are selling well in both formats. Making it happen was a little bit of work, but we came up with a nice I/O, power supply and housing concept, which we have been using ever since. elysia xpressor500 | KMR Audio KMR : You use Class-A discrete circuitry throughout all of your products. Why did you choose this and not, for example, say Valve/Tube etc - Did you both have a background in Class-A type designs, and that appealed to you? DK : Once you dare to de-mystify Valves, you are likely to see them as electronic components with a certain function and with their pros and cons, which is the same as with transistors. While we all love certain Tube devices for what they do, this component is not mandatory for being able to create a great sounding audio product. We never hear such things like “You know, I love my alpha compressor, but could you please build me one with tubes instead?” The attempt alone would be ridiculous. Creating a product with so many technologically complex functions based on tubes would result in a device reminding of a NASA cockpit, with a budget in the same ballpark. Just think Fairchild squared!. Regarding solid state Class-A circuitry, we just love the resulting sound quality, and this is why we’re using it exclusively. On top of that, we hardly ever use any integrated circuits at all. Ruben has a very in-depth knowledge and tonnes of experience in designing discrete circuitry, which is becoming more and more a lost art these days. The significant benefit behind it is that you don’t have to rely on what the chip manufacturers can offer, but you can build every single part of your topology exactly as you want. Looking into elysia products, you won’t find a single similar amplifier type for everything, but we have designed a lot of different types all by ourselves – every single amp perfectly suited for the specific task it has been placed for. elysia muses | KMR Audio KMR : I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but many of your products are extremely competitively priced, in a focused way at helping the ‘working musician/engineer’. Your quality has never changed, how do you achieve this? Is it because you have everything made in Germany, under your own quality control? DK : When we started the company, we always dreamt about being able to come up with what we called “Class-A for the people”. At this time, the market was more or less completely divided into the 'good stuff which was very expensive' and the 'cheap gear which was just not good enough for discerning ears'. But for several reasons, things went an entirely different way, and we debuted with the exact opposite: One of the most expensive audio processors of all time the alpha compressor! It took a couple of years until we could pick up the original idea again. Starting with the 500-Series and 1U series of products, we achieved to present a new line which still has the same quality standards and is still Made in Germany indeed, at a value for money ratio which we consider to be very good. elysia karacter500 | KMR Audio It absolutely lives up to the criteria for a true elysia products. How could we achieve this? We spent vast amounts of time and effort on optimising our production processes. For us, it was never a question of where to cut corners, but where the work could be done more efficiently. Once you start to implement this into all the tiny single aspects of production, you can avoid a lot of unnecessary costs, and this can be transferred into a much more attractive price for the users in the end. KMR : What inspired you to get into music / music production? Was there a moment where you felt ‘this is what I want to do’? DK : Both Ruben and I have been playing several instruments ever since we have been kids. We were trained on classical instruments, followed by playing in several bands and musical projects which required skills in additional instruments. Mix all this with a deep interest in technology and all aspects of sound, and you’re right in the middle of music production. Not such an unusual career for so many of us! The moment where I knew ‘this is what I want to do’ came shortly after Ruben told me he was about to quit his job. I took a couple of days off to travel to the sea for some serious fresh air and essential insights, which was when it really struck me. Once returned, I quit my job myself as well, started elysia, and never looked back since that day. KMR : What of the elysia range are you most proud of? Or is it like being a songwriter the last product is your best or is it the first elysia design you released? DK : Obviously, we’re still very proud of the alpha compressor. It marks the beginning of our company and has been our flagship ever since. We feel it's a bold statement in sound, function and aesthetics, and looking back at the time we developed it still feels like having made the impossible possible. Then there is the nvelope, and (nvelope 500) which is our most complex device. There is so much crazy stuff happening under the hood of this amazing processor, and it is based on truly unique technology in the world of analog audio processing. elysia nvelope500 KMR Audio elysia envelope | KMR Audio Finally, I just love the mpressor, which is my all time favourite compressor – this bad boy has serious balls! - and is now available in a single channel 500-Series version the called the mpressor 500. elysia impresser KMR Audio elysia mpressor500 KMR Audio KMR : As most productions are completed within DAWs how important is it that your software competes (as you do software similar versions to your hardware) -Or is this just a nice way to introduce elysia to software users, and then perhaps introduce them to your hardware later? DK : Actually it’s all of the above. There are so many people out there who want or need to work in the box exclusively, so we are glad that we can offer our tools in the digital domain, too. The question “hardware versus software” is often looked upon from a wrong perspective, trying to determine the exact amount of % a hardware might sound better than a plugin, and believe me, this is one of the most asked questions ever. For us, it is much more important to be able to offer the best solutions to our users for the specific environment they are working within. I have heard this from other manufacturers, too, and after quite some years of doing both, we can confirm that the benefit has been a mutual one – the software would not exist without the hardware, and our hardware has considerably benefited from a much larger user base and a corresponding growth in brand awareness. elysia plugins | KMR Audio KMR : Is software controlled hardware something you may look into, as many companies are looking at this? DK : We have spent some time on this indeed, and as a result, we have some interesting concepts and some partial prototypes. The time the first companies released such products became something of a double disappointment, though - first, because others had been simply faster than ourselves. But what struck me even more was that I felt the general interest in what we thought should have been the holy grail of analog audio electronics was obviously not as big as we had thought. For this reason, we have put the greater part of our efforts into this direction on hold, and we went on to projects which seem to have more potential for the time being. But still, let’s see what the future will bring in this regard. KMR : How do you balance the creative idea of a sound/product and then turning that into reality with the technical side? Does this take a team of people to make it happen or are you mainly hands-on throughout the process, and beta-testing? DK : Thankfully, this has never been too much of a high-wire act for us. When it comes to new products, every single one of them starts with a blank piece of paper. It’s not like we have this or that part of circuitry we like and then we’d start looking for places we could nicely implement it into – it’s just the other way round. Our basic sound philosophy has always stayed the same over the complete line of products we have today, hence the consequent discrete Class-A approach. So, when we’re discussing new products, it's mainly about debating user needs and useful feature sets. Usually, one or other special or sometimes even unique aspect results from these considerations, too, and only if we feel that the concept for a new product is reasonable, attractive and complete, we go ahead with the technical implementation. Ruben and myself actually realise most of these steps, but of course, we always try to get as many opinions and feedback both in the concept and in the later test phases as we can. Usually, the intense concept phase really pays off in the end, as we basically never have to change significant features or ideas, or go through many PCB revisions before we can release a new product. KMR : Where do you see elysia going next, is there anything you can talk about, or all 'hush hush' - is say the Modular Market something you may look into? DK : It’s interesting that you ask, because getting a better idea of the modular synth market was one of the reasons for us to exhibit at the Superbooth show in Berlin for the first time in April this year. We got the impression that while this is a super creative and exciting field indeed, it’s also a pretty fragmented market at the same time. So, we’ll keep an eye on it for sure, but we might not immediately plunge into it right now. Other than that, we would like to look after our excellent relationship and co-operation with the guys from Brainworx/Plugin Alliance, which will certainly result in a new great plugin with the elysia logo on it. And yes, we have all kinds of exciting ideas for new hardware releases as well, but I’m not so sure if we’ll be able to drop any details before 2018 begins... KMR : Your studio is burning down! What 3 things do you save and why? DK : Rather than that, I’d grab a fire extinguisher! Once empty, I‘d get another two – there are seven of them inside our building!! KMR : Dominik thank you very much! elysia alpha logo | KMR Audio