John Oram Interview Part 1:"If you're going to design equipment for music, you should really be a musician..."
There are not many people who, after fifty five years of professional career, are still active, set new goals and are satisfied with achieving them. John Oram is undoubtedly one of the golden names of the audio industry. He is a man who has made a strong contribution to where music is today. His extraordinary, high end equipment for many years has been synonymous with the best possible sound quality.
You know him even if his name, or the company he runs today, says little to you. Even if you haven't heard of John Oram or Oram Sonics before, you've certainly heard about Vox or Trident. Yes! John W. Oram is a man who designed fantastic equipment for both Vox and Trident (which he owned for years). He worked with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and many more, designing as part of the Vox team, new creations: The Wah-Wah, The Fuzz Box and Continental Organ, leading to the circuitry design for Vox AC50 and Super Beatle amplifiers.
The sound of his equalizers, consoles, compressors and microphone preamps has been heard hundreds of times, even if you had no idea about it. He is not only an extremely experienced, fantastic studio gear designer. He is also a talented musician and mix engineer. His designs have been nominated for 23 Technical Excellence & Creativity awards, winning some along the way. However, I do not want to prescribe here his huge biography, there's not enough space for it. Besides, I can safely say that no words of introduction will reflect how unusual this man is. How much knowledge he has and how much it is worth learning from him. The fact is he knows the world that fascinates many of us. He knows it from the inside. And I will ask him about this world today. I can promise you that after reading this interview you will know more about equipment and audio. It's an interview to which it's worth coming back and to which many of you will surely come back again.
So, here is the first part of an interview with John W. Oram, in which we will return to the past, to the beginnings of the audio industry, to the golden age of music. We will talk about the railways of his fate, about Vox, Trident and Oram Sonics equipment. We will also move on to the future. We will learn how his new equipment is made.
Adrian Lucas Witaszczyk: If I had to list and describe here everything that you've done for the music and audio industry over all these years, there would probably be no room for any questions here... But let's try to systematize, to face up to your extraordinary biography...
John Oram: Thank You! Okay!
So, you started in Vox in its most magical, now mythical period, in the sixties. Can you tell how the audio industry looked at the time?
Yes. It was 1964. At that time there was two main guitar amplifier companies. One was Vox and the other was Fender. Vox company were the distributors of Fender guitars and amplifiers for all of Europe. So, if you wanted to get a Fender guitar you had to come to Vox. There was no Marshall. There was no Hiwatt. There were no competitors at that time and Vox were the leaders. Our biggest amplifier at the time was the Vox AC30, which was a 30 watt amplifier. It used special output tubes, output valves, as we say in England. And they were the EL84's, and that was this period when I joined them.
How did you get to Vox and what did you do while working for this company? What were your responsibilities?
I went there as an electronics student. I was learning electronics in college, and they paid for my college time, but I still had to go and work at the company whenever the college had a holiday. So every Saturday morning when there was no college, I had to go to Vox to work. Everybody worked in England then, on a Saturday morning and on five days a week on top. So, Monday to Friday I was at college, then I would come back. But, if there was a holiday in the college, then, I had to go and work in the Vox company. And I was fairly famous as a musician, because I'd been a drummer from the age of 11 and at 15 I left school. My school... I had basic qualifications, nothing fancy, just basic maths, English, physics, French, geography, these were my subjects that I had certificates for, and I joined Vox. And when they found out I was a musician, it was good, because we had a Vox band and I was the drummer in that band and one of the guitarists was a guy called Dick Denney. He was the designer of the AC30 and I became an apprentice, a student that worked with him. And when we started getting more bands, joining the company, one of them of course was the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, they wanted more power, more loudness. So I was given a job working with Dick and another guy to build the Vox AC50, for which the EL84 tubes were no good. So, we used the EL34 and I built the first AC50 and an AC100, which was a 100 watt amplifier, that went to the Shea stadium in New York. That was in 1965 and I prepared all of that and was there with the Beatles. So, that was an early day start for me. I stayed with that company for seven years, but I left the Vox company and went with Tom Jennings, who was the founder of Vox, who started a new company called J E I (Jennings Electronic Industries) and that was when I was age 20. So I had two years with him there and that was the start for me, and it was all music. It wasn't recording, it was just guitars, amplifiers and electric organs. I spent 18 months, one year and a half in the electronic organ design place and I was studying all the time learning how to design organs, how to design amplifiers, how to design guitar pickups, how to design foot pedals. I worked on the very first Wah Wah, that ever happened and I worked with a guy called Stan Cutler on that, as well as Dick Denney. I did all the theoretical electronic design because at college I was learning to design electronics on paper. The other designers at Vox, they were not academic, they didn't design on paper. They designed with their ears, what we call empirical design.
Were those colourful times? Was it easier to live then?
Yeah, maybe? I don't know! Things were less money. Obviously, we did not have the same pressure, that we have today for taxation and the money you have to pay to our country, because we had a different level of learning about life.
It was a simpler form and you must to understand that in those early days, there were very few people in this business and... it was three years... It was 1967 before Marshall arrived. Marshall Amplifiers, they were never heard of, and in the recording business, there was no SSL, Neve was there designing broadcast, but he wasn't into music. So all those early days were fresh and if you had a good idea and you were able to express yourself, you could make money. If you had a good thing, a good product, but you had to work hard.
...But you lived among all those legendary musicians, anyway, did people at that time feel that they were making history, that they are doing something great?
No, because it was an experiment. It was a try, I mean everybody makes history. You and me making history right now…
...But when you started your professional career the world looked different than today. The equipment was less but the music more... How do you perceive, that at that time there was less equipment, people did not pay attention to the brand, played on what they had, what was available and the music was full of quality. Today it's quite the opposite. Why?
I don’t agree with that. I mean, everybody makes the best they can do, but you see that you didn't have to be amazing. And because the musicians were not amazing, the music they made was very simple. And simple music is the best kind because everyone can understand it. It still has to be good. It's no good when you're trying to play a guitar if the guitar is out of tune. You have to know how to make it in tune, and then you have to learn the right chords and the right format and the right styles. In my 55 years of the business, I've seen the whole thing go round in a loop, probably two and a half, three times now. It all comes back, you know, we say in England, there's nothing new under the sun.
Yes, the history is a circle…
Yes, of course. Because, you know, I meet people now of your age 35, 36, and I say to them, at one time I was the drummer with Marianne Faithfull, she was famous, and they say, never heard of her.
Yes, and they haven't! And I have 18 year old people, who come in to see me and I talk about the Beatles, and they say, who were they? Who were the Beatles, you know? So everything has a lifespan. Everything has a history.
Well, I think that today if you want to learn something about music, you have to go back to the past. To the 70s, 60s…
Well of course. We know that the blues was the foundation of rock and roll, and the blues goes back to black music and most of it in the black era was black slave music and... in the deep south of America we had Africans who were slaves. And to amuse themselves, they had folk songs to sing. And they made up songs that would match their terrible lifetime... So, that was a terrible thing to have slavery. But, it brought the black people to the front and there's no one finer than a black man or woman when it comes to feeling inside the true meaning of music. A white man? Forget it! He's lucky if he has abilities. The black man has it from the beginning. He is born with it. There's nothing finer than a black dancer today. They have more rhythm and they have more feeling. They have more soul inside in my opinion.
Yeah, that’s right!
And this is important... Its all important…
I wanted to ask you, why you left Vox, but maybe I will ask you otherwise... Was the transition to Trident a deliberatly planned decision or was it an impulse resulting from the worsening Vox situation at that time?
So, at that time the research and development team, which was me and Dick Denney, Tom Jennings, Mickey Bennet and Dave Roberts, we all left Vox, because Vox was going in the wrong direction as a company, and there was more competition. The guitarists, they could say, do I buy a Vox amp or do I buy a Marshall amp? You know, the sounds were different and the style of music was different. If you were in a heavy metal band, if you were Metallica, right? You wouldn't buy a Vox amplifier. It was not loud and hard enough. You'd buy a Marshall. You buy a 4x12 stack. You might buy two 4x12's, and say, you've got 8x12 speakers and that would be a given sound. Whereas, Queen, right? The band, Queen, they had their lead guitarist, Brian May, and he loved Vox. He got nine AC30’s placed on on top of them, right? So you have to understand that music changes and everything else also changes. And I left, with the research and development team with Tom Jennings, the founder of Vox, and we started this company J E I (Jennings Electronic industries). And we were selling good products for two years, but I had to move on, because I was then getting lots of interest in me and not the product. People wanted me to create them things, and... I had a year when I was a consultant to various Companies,
I wasn't part of their team. I wasn't in their Company, I was a freelance. I was separate from them while working with them and I was looking at different business and, remember, that, I opened my own recording studio in 1964. So, though I was working for Vox, I also had my own company, which I used to go to of an evening and for the weekend. So, I would come out of the college at four o'clock in the afternoon and get onto a bus and go straight to my studio, which was 10 miles away. There's lots of pictures of my old studio on my website. Have you seen them where I'm sitting there at my mixer and things?
That was number six studio in England. You know, my life has always been doing on what I know I can do and what I want to do. And I always liked the challenge of something new. So when I left Jennings, I already had the studio successful, recording lots of bands of that period. And, the more I got involved in studio... that was when Trident Studios came along, because Trident was also building studio equipment. And when their boss (Malcolm Toft) came to my studio, he said, "wow, this is great. It's small, but it's great". And he liked it. And I said, "but I have lots of designs". And he said, "okay, well, come and work for me. I give you one project". He said, "we take you for 10 weeks". And I went to work there for 10 weeks and I finished the project and he said, "that was great". "Do you want another project?". And I said "yes", and from project to project I stayed at Trident for 14 years. So what should have been a 10 week contract became 14 years. That's it.
Oh, that was my next question! So, If we played chess, I would get the checkmate. Ok, so, Vox started to have troubles but you were lucky for the second time, as if something was leading you… They were starting to have troubles, meanwhile, ten years later you were already a member of Trident, another audio legend... And again you hit the golden period, because it was at that time that Trident started climbing to the top...
Well, Maybe it was because of me? Because when I left Trident after 14 years, within four years, Trident was finished and closed.
Actualy, that's highly possible… As far as I know you were responsible for many things there...
Yes. Everything. You see, when I joined them, they had two consoles, I did not design those. One was called Trident A Range very, very good, still recognized and Trident B Range that no one ever seemed to buy. So, the A Range was famous when I joined them, my first project was a parametric equalizer called the CB9066B, that was its name, and it was a great sounding EQ. When I finished that, the boss said, "We want a very simple console. We don't want the A Range. Its too much money. We want a console, that can be built specially for theater sounds. For going into theaters and for bands to have for band sound". And it was called the Trident Fleximix. Fleximix was the name given, because you bought a little frame and in the end of the frame was a connector and you could buy another little frame and that connector would plug in to the next one and then the next one... And so you could build a mixer from eight channels. You could go eight, sixteen, twenty four, thirty two to fourty… you could go on fourty eight… fifty six… you could make a very, very big mixer using a Trident Fleximix and I created that and it was the first recording console in the world to use Op-amps, chips. Everything before then, was using discrete components. It was a revelation, and I worked with the Texas Instruments Company in America and designed the very first chip specifically for audio.
Trident produced cleaner sounding equipment than Neve or Harisson…
Yes. Harrison always had some signature coloration, but I wouldn’t say anything against Harrison.
No, no… I didn’t mean to be against Harrison, I wanted to ask about something else… Over the years, the sound of Trident A Range has been overgrown with legend…you must know this sound well?
As I said earlier, I didn't design the A Range. It was a very old design. It was nothing special, other than the fact, that the equalizer used coils. It used inductors, it was an LCR technology, and yes, it's famous, but it's not the most famous Trident console. The most famous Trident is the series 80. That series, it's sold more rock'n roll consoles than any other company anywhere. More than SSL. More than Neve. More than Harrison. More than API as far as I know. The Trident series 80, but you got to understand it's not all about a design. It's about the marketing and the cost of the product. I mean, the best Trident console ever was the Trident TSM, but when it came out, it was over 90,000 pounds. It was too much money. So, you can have the best thing on the planet, but it's no good. Like I asked you, in recently, before this interview, how many studios in your country have got a Neve or an SSL. It's a handful. It's a few but that's not the console's fault. If you're going to have a studio... Oh, I will say it differently... I could have a studio in central London and I would be working 25 hours a day. And the studio in Warsaw, Poland, it probably earns a lot. In Poznań or Kraków earns probably a lot, but if I said I'm going to open a studio in one of the little cities in Poland I doubt whether I'd have any business. That's the point. So it's about where are you and how good are you as an engineer and what do people truly want. You know, do they want a special facility... For example a Neve console, fantastic for the way in which it's built, beautifully engineered, and the only problem with Neve, with the old Neve consoles, is when you buy them, you have to change the capacitors, right? Whereas if you buy a DC coupled console... A certain API and certain Harrison and certain other types, they don't need recapping, cause there are no capacitors in the whole circuit.
I wanted to talk about it a bit later, but since you called out the topic… How is it with products signed with your name? I mean the Oram branded products?
The Oram products, you don't need to recap them either, because they do not use electrolytic capacitors, which grow old and they get unpleasant and then stop working. They use ceramic capacitors, which is solid. Everything I design for Oram is built by robots. It's Surface Mount Technology, which you don't have a choice virtually all the time. You have ceramic components which are solid and they don't have a need to keep changing them.
So, Is there such a thing as the signature Oram sound? How would you describe the sound of Oram products?
Yeah. Everything I've ever done has the same property. Something that I call Oram Sonics. And even at Vox, I was designing with Oram Sonics, but I didn't know I was. It's a technology that I apply to my circuit designs. It's a way in which I go about circuits. I do not use other people's circuits. I create my own circuits completely, and those circuits that I create have a characteristic sound. And it wasn't until the 80s when computers were becoming cheap, that I have enough mathematical power to calculate why my sound is what it is and even back in Vox days, even Dick Denney was putting in Oram sonics without realizing, because he used certain component ratios and that is what it's about. It's component ratios. It's how big are the capacitors in the circuit, how big are other resistors, how do they relate together? You know, everything in electronics, particularly in the EQ relates to time constant and the mathematical formula for a time constant where there capacitors and resistors, the time is equal to C times R, capacitance times resistance, but you can get the same time answer and time is the reciprocal of frequency. So frequency equals one divided by the time it's the same thing. One millisecond of time delay equals 1000 hertz, one thousand cycles. So when we listened to a thousand cycle tone, we're listening to a one millisecond interval of a wave form. All right? And I don't want to get too technical because the people who read this think I'm crazy.
No, that is the purpose of this magazine so...
Well, fine, I'm happy to tell, but a lot of people then want to argue cause they don't understand what I'm doing. But the important thing is that if time equals C R, okay? Let's assume silly example. Let's say that time equals ten, doesn't matter where it is seconds, milliseconds, ten days. It's all time, okay? Time equals ten. If time equals ten, equals C times R, C could have a value of one and R would therefore have a value of ten. One times ten is ten. But it could be that C actually has a value of ten then R has a value of one. You get the same answer, Ten times one or one times ten is the same number. So you have to ask yourself from a sound point of view (audio), you have to say, is the capacitor value ten and the resistor value one? Or is the capacitor value one and the resistor value is ten? Because allowing as the same time constant, and it equals ten, the sound is totally different when you listened to it. Now, most engineers use semiconductors or transistors, which they do today, there's very few console's made with tubes, right? Most people when they designed with semiconductors, they use low value resistors because the circuits are low impedance and high value capacitors.
I don’t do that. So I've just revealed to you the Oram secret. Cause I've never told anybody this. But an electronic engineer will look and he will say, hang on, John Oram is using high value resistors and low value capacitors. And the reason is because in Surface Mount Technology, a high value capacitor is too large physically, it's too big. Whereas I can get a capacitor, which is a ceramic, which is very, very tiny. And there's two advantages. A, it doesn't take up lots of space and B, because it is small, okay, It's made of a ceramic material but doesn't have an electrolyte like in an electrolytic capacitor. So therefore the caps don’t need changing. But the sound is quite different. And it's an analysis that you can do on computer. It's called group delay.
What Is it?
Most engineers haven't heard about it. Most people have never heard of group delay. The group delay is a function, where you get a delay mechanism built into the low frequencies. It doesn't affect you on highs. If you can get a delay at low frequencies, then the signals do not inter modulate in a nasty way because they are separated by a time domain.
This is the science. This is scientific John Oram. So the Trident series 80, the Trident 80b, Trident 80c… This is the key to the Trident success, because it sold lots of consoles and I also did, I designed all of those. So I did the Fleximix, then the TSM, the big one... and then the series 80, the b and the c... were just the adaptations and many went on from there.
You know, they went on to bigger things, but you have to understand the science. The science with me is all about not just science. The science with me is about the music, because I'm a musician, and I'm not just a drummer. I understand music. So you've got to understand different products. And I designed the Trident Trimix. That was another board that was used for broadcast, then, there’s the Inline Console. So, there's lots of different technologies in 14 years. And then I left the company and in four years it was closed. Then I was asked by my customers, (because I was then making Oram), they came to me and they said, "will you ever make Trident products?" And I looked, and the company was now closed, and I already owned all the circuit designs except for the main Trident logo. And I bought that and registered it. And so in 1998 I've brought Trident back and it was called Trident Audio Limited. And I owned that company for 10 years. And in 2008 I sold just the trademarks and closed the company. The company that now calls itself Trident Audio Developments Limited bought that logo from me.
UAD and Softube have launched a software plugin version of the Trident A range equalizer. Have you heard them?
Did you use it? If so, what do you think about it?
No. I heard it but for me they do not sound anything like the real thing. I don’t like plugins. I never used them.
Since we are already dealing with the plugins.... What do you think about plugins? About all this digital madness?
To me they sound fake. All plugins, not just that two. All plugins as I said before sounds like plugins. And if you can't hear the difference, and lots of guys can't. Well, what can I say? If you can't hear the difference between, I don't know, something, and the next thing… It's like a bar of chocolate. I mean, if you can't taste the difference between plain chocolate and milk chocolate... You know, that's my opinion about plugins.
Plugins are also becoming more and more expensive.... and sometimes it seems to me that we pay only for some kind of illusion of having an original character, original sound.... while in the meantime we pay for graphics, for GUI and trademark...
Yeah, but that’s life. That's commerce. That's the commercial world.
Are you talking about every plugin?, every category, every type of plugins? There are also the impulses based plugins...
Yes course! Can you tell the difference? I can, and I could never work in the box. In the box for me is a game that can make music, but does it sound as good as the real thing? The answer is no.
So, what do you think about all this digital madness today?
Again, can you tell the difference? What is digital madness? Madness, what does that mean? I mean, I can take a 16 year old boy or girl and I can say, what music do you like? And they tell me what type and they'd probably only ever heard it on MP3 quality. They've never even heard a CD. Have they ever heard a high quality vinyl? Have they ever heard a reel to reel tape, which has been made straight from the source? But you see, half of those people have never been into a concert hall and heard the live sound, because most live sound is rubbish these days. What is wrong with front of house engineers? With live sound? Why do they have to have the kick drum booming so loud? Why is everything so loud? Why? Is it because they are deaf and their ears don’t work? Or is it because they just don't believe it's any different?
And the kids who were going there, what are they hearing? And ask yourself this... How many of those kids are there with a complete open sanity in their brain? Or are they listening via drugs? Are they taking ecstasy? And then they go, Ooh, they're smoking cannabis. Do they hear what's going on? So, you see, the whole science of audio has been modified. When I started, you'd go and hear a guitar player, and he would be on stage with a guitar and an amplifier. And if the guitar was not in tune and you understood music... You said no, but there were still people in the audience that used to come when the guy was out of tune, and they couldn't tell the difference. So, we're talking standards and we're talking how important are those standards. So, how different is Oram to Trident? You asked that question before. It's very different, because the Oram technology is 25 years after I designed the Trident stuff. So, not only have my ears changed, my musical knowledge has changed, but also the components available to me in those designs has changed. So you've got to try and tie what I'm saying into a sensible answer because, everything in life changes. I'm still happy with the Oram sound and people who record with me are happy with the Oram sound, but in some ways I do work in the box because, I use Pro Tools, okay. But I also use Pyramix, which is fantastic, which is running at 384,000 bytes sampling, Okay. So if you played me a CD, 16 bits of 44.1 kHz, I can hear the difference between that and a recording made in 24 bits at 96k, but I also hear the difference between 96k and 192k twice as much. And as I say, go to Pyramix, you get even more.
And therefore sampling rate is very, very important within listening, but I don't work with plugins. All my outboard equipment is analog and I record in analog, I monitor in analog on the speakers and I recalled within Pro Tools and I'd come straight back out of Pro Tools, back into an analog console. So, I'm doing no mixing in the box. I'm just using the Pro Tools, as a tape recorder would be. Can I hear the difference between Pro Tools and an analog tape recorder?
Exactly. Of course I can.
Did you think about entering the Vst plug-in market?
I talked about it. Yes. I had two of the world's largest creators of plugins who came to me and said, "I can definitely make your High Def EQ", and they were nothing like it. And the digital engineers on both cases said that they believed they got the same sound and they couldn't hear the difference. So what does that tell you? Does that make them good guys or bad guys?
Well, if they were nothing close, than I think that you have made a good choice to not enter this situation. So I think that for you it was a better option.
For me, I'd sell probably thousands!
Yes, you earn money, but you may have lost your reputation then. And if you agree to make this plugins, you may stop earning money in the future, because of the bad reputation and because of the final bad quality of this plugins.
Oh, there you are!
You not only construct the studio equipment, you are also a mixing engineer... In your opinion, does such a thorough knowledge about the equipment help when you sit behind the mixing console?
I've always designed equipment at the same time as having control on the desk, but the control on the desk with the music gives me the ideas for designing the next piece of equipment because, it tells me what I want perhaps to hear, something that the equipment I'm using doesn't tell me. Does that make sense?
Of course, for me it makes perfect sense.
You see, if I'm recording, say a drum kit. I have a microphone on a snare drum. Yeah? That sound has to be a specific sound perhaps for this song I'm doing, and I may adjust the EQ’s and I may move the microphone and I may change the microphone but I still don't hear the sound I want. So, I have to think about it and maybe I'll have to design the electronics to make the sound more what I wanted it to be. It's not only the EQ, it could be the dynamics, you know, compression.
I need a compressor to do a certain job. So everything I do with my brain, it's because my ears hear something wrong or different. So it's a combination. And this is the big difference, because you spoke of Harrison consoles and David Harrison is dead now, but he was a friend of mine. He was a good musician. He knew what he wanted to hear. But Rupert Neve, he's not a musician. He doesn't play on anything. And who is Mr SSL? Who is that?
That’s a good question! I must admit that I don’t know...
I only know that for a long time the owner of SSL was Peter Gabriel, although I heard that some time ago he abdicated, so…
Yeah. but he only put the money there, him and that guy, American guy called David Engelke. David Engelke is a top producer of music, but neither of them designed SSL. SSL was going broke. Did you know it was finished? And Peter Gabriel only kept the company going. The point I'm making is that if you're going to design equipment for music, you should really be a musician.
I agree with you completely, but what about the aforementioned Rupert Neve? After all, he was not, and he is not a musician....
Rupert Neve does not design mixers for music. He creates them as electronic devices and he's capable, but
he’s very old now. He’s 90. So, the king of the castle at the moment is John Oram. Okay? Cause there's no Mr SSL.
Don’t get me wrong! I love Rupert, but Rupert hates me because I've always been a competitor and I always had more publicity than him. You see in America, they call me the father of British EQ.
Yeah. The father of British EQ, they called me that back in 1980s and it’s not serious. I mean, it's a joke, you know? Really, but Rupert got very unhappy and said, "oh, it's just not true. What about me?" And I said to him, "well , you are the father of mic pre's. How's that?". "Oh, No, no, no". I said, "you're the father of the front end, so leave it there". But he, you know… I Don’t know… I don't understand it. Call me what you like, alright? As long as you buy my products, just call me what you like. It doesn't matter. And in the real world, we shouldn't get fired up over this. This is not a reason for being unhappy. You know, every minute of the day that we have is just 60 seconds. And when it's gone, we cannot have it back again. It's finished. So every minute that you happen to have, you should really have as a happy time being good. But, if you're going to spend every minute of your life being worried, being angry, being nasty. I mean, what's the point? And so many people are like that. I'm not like that. And returning to Peter Gabriel… Peter Gabriel had ordered five SSL consoles and they were building them when the company went bust. Okay? Caput, finito...
Yes, I think, he did it mainly, after he and Phil Collins discovered this technique of compression called talkback compression .This happened during the recording of drum tracks for Peter's third solo album...
Oh! That happened. But he's not done it for that reason. Its just a good little story. In fact it was an accident! A kind of mistake, but they liked the sound. So again, it's all down to the music.
When you understood that you would be dealing with sound production equipment. What decided about it? I ask because at the beginning you were a drummer...
Yeah. I always was interested in recording, cause even when I was a drummer and I go into a studio and I was recording or be recorded, I was interested in how the combination of a real instrument with a player and then the microphone, then a piece of cable and then a microphone preamp and then maybe an equalizer or not, maybe a compressor or not, and then maybe an amplifier and then the loud speaker... I was interested in that whole chain of sound. How did it come together? How to do those electrical sounds, make the music. I suppose everybody that's interested in music is going to want to know how it's recorded and how it goes, so...
So, now the tough question, why drums?
Oh, drums is a clever instrument. To me, drums are the hardest thing to play because, you have in mind, that you have to split up into pieces. You have this part, is a right foot and this part is the left foot and this part is the left hand and this is a right hand and, I even sing as well, and you have to manage them all at once. I think drumming it's a good mental exercise because it enables you to do different things with one hand, while you do this with another one, and you have a leg as well. It's going up and down and you have another leg and it's... all this has to be managed. I mean, the human brain in my belief is under used. It doesn't get used properly. And when I see some people,you know, they're animals, they're less than animals, animals are more intelligent than some human beings. When you see a human being having a fight with somebody. It's the most basic instinct. It's prehistoric. That's crazy. They got really mad. It's where the brain is going, you know? So, why drums? That's why drums! Because it's a science... I play piano as well. But, that's not something hard.
Imagine, It is the first day of your new career life... the first day in your own Oram workshop... what do you dream of?
Probably about another great product, or about something else... What have I done in the past? What did I do in the past 25 years that was good, and what can I do to make it better? And if it's all mine, why should it not be called Oram? Seems like a good idea, particulary as people have got to know me, cause I've been to every trade show in the world, and people come along and they say, "Ah, who are you?". And you know, when the owner of Trident Malcolm Toft, he turned around and said, "John joined me in 1974 and was responsible for the supreme sound quality of Trident, and also that, the innovative design features were from John Oram" - he said that. So, with that knowledge I have to go and print it around the world. And then again, people come along and they say, "well, we know Malcolm Toft owner of the company, was he the designer of all this?". And I said, "no, not exactly. He was a systems designer and he guided me in what he wanted in his product. Now I have my own product, which has what I want in it and not so much what he wants, and because of that, it has the name Oram on the front". And they say, "great, we're pleased to know you!"... Cause you can sell a product easily, but the question is, did you create it? Like anything in life, if you create something, you should have the copyright, you should have the trademark. You should have the principle of that product for you, because its you that did it. You see, that's how it is.
Was it difficult to start your own Brand?
It is money. It's how much money have you got and how do you want to do it? You can do anything if you want to. You know, the style of the product, it may well sell it. You know, if my name is John Ferrari and I want to create a new car, I'm not gonna to make it to look like a Ford Escort. I'm gonna design it. If I can and if I have the ability, I will design it and I will sell that product as a new product. And if people like the look of it, they buy it. And if they don't like the look of it and they don't like the way it drives, they won't buy it. So, you've got to market yourself. And we need interviews like this, and I need to talk to you and you write your magazine.
Do you still remember which equipment was the beginning of your journey? I mean the Oram Company journey…
Yeah, of course I do. The first product was a microphone preamplifier with the EQ dual channel called MWS microphone, workstation. Same time I brought out the High Def EQ, HD EQ2 and then a Soniccomp 1 and 2 compressors. I introduced them all out at the same time, that was in, I can't think what year, 90 or 91. And then, I had the first console was called the BEQ it stood for British equalization and that was the series 24. And within a year I'd sold thirty of them, one of which went to Skywalker Sound and was used for the sound design of Titanic, the movie that won two Oscars for sound. The room was designed with a friend called Chris Pelonis, great room designer. I designed the console and installed it, and off the Titanic, the next Oscar was won by Pearl Harbor, the movie, and then King Kong and Iron Man. All Top films. All won Oscars, recording on the Oram Board.
I didn't know about it! And I must admit that this is very useful and valuable infromation! Not only for me but also for many of my readers! Thank you John! It was a real pleasure to speak with you!
Thank you Adrian! It was a pleasure to talk with you. You are a great deep thinker. See you next time!
My meeting with John Oram could not end with one article. In the near future he will return to the pages of studioknowmag.com. I will devote more space to the constructions of Oram Sonics. Perhaps I will also show you his new studio in Spain. Stay tuned!
More information about John Oram can be obtained here.
All information about Oram Sonics brand and its products can be found here.
For all technical inquiries and questions regarding the purchase of Oram Sonics equipment, enter here.
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