[interview] Crucial Audio: Steve Kollander

Here's FXDB's interview with Steve Kollander of Crucial Audio:

How did Crucial Audio start?

I have been into electronics and music since I was a child. I have been designing pedals, amplifiers, preamps and other electronic products/modifications since the 1980's, while working as a repair technician for pro-audio products and an applications engineer for a GPS based time & frequency reference company. I decided to get back to my roots, and I quit the 'engineering day job' in 2006, and started Crucial Audio. It is the accumulation of my life's experience with music, electronics, performance, and manufacturing. All of the dues paid, and time spent doing these things have added up to where we are today, and where we are heading tomorrow.

Over the years I have worked and/or spoken with many great engineers and technicians who have inspired and encouraged me along the way. Folks like Bruce Zinky (Zinky Electronics), Bill Krinard, Jim Hanley, Mike Soldano (Soldano), Josh Fiden (Voodoo Lab); just to name a few...

Crucial AudioWhere do the name and logo come from?

The name Crucial Audio comes from my believe in the importance of audio in life.

The colors of red, gold and green are the logo colors and our product's colors. The mighty lion is our mascot, with the headstock of my G&L guitar on the top of their staffs.

What sets Crucial Audio apart from other builders?

Crucial Audio’s focus is to create hi-quality products for musicians. We will not compromise quality by selecting our components solely by cost, as opposed to performance and reliability. We will always answer to our customers and provide product specials for unique applications.

Crucial Audio products are engineered and tested to current industry standards, and most importantly to customers' satisfaction. Competition is a product of a healthy market, and therefore always hope to have competitors.

How do you start on a new pedal?

Our r&d process starts with the idea of course, create a schematic, breadboard a prototype, then update schematic to create a PC Board. In parallel we work on the mechanical design, artwork, advertisements, etc. The first articles become a pilot run, where the units are measured, tested and evaluated in the field. Any updates are then incorporated to the PC Board and Chassis, then the units are officially ready for production. It can take 100's of work hours and months of time to bring a product into the world. We have streamlined our system now and can get to market quicker.

How do you name your pedals?

I like the names to represent what the product does. The Echo-Nugget is an echo device in a gold box, like a gold nugget. The Time Warp is the same echo device, but it has a special modulation control that changes/warps the time base of the delay.Crucial Audio Time Warp

Can you tell us something about the production process?

All of our pedals are build in the USA. The final assembly, testing & shipping takes place at Crucial Audio.

Crucial Audio uses dual layer FR4 printed circuit boards that include mask, screen, generous copper pours, and thick pads. Our PC Boards conform to UL, CE, and RoHS requirements.
Crucial Audio uses custom designed, anodized, extruded aluminum enclosures. Our chassis are beautifully silk screened and extremely rugged.

How important is the look of your pedals?

The look of Crucial Audio's products is very important. A well put together product should be aesthetically pleasing. We are just, if not more concerned about what is under the hood too.

Is parts selection important?

We pay very special attention to the components used in our products. They are selected primarily by quality and form factor. Performance is more important to us than saving a nickle or dime by purchasing lower quality/less-expensive components. The tubes that our products ship with are hand selected for noise and low distortion. Crucial Audio circuits are crafted to yield clean and great sounding audio.

Which of your pedals makes you most proud?

Well, I am proud of all of our pedals. The Echo-Nugget and Time Warp utilize the same topology, but have different options. They both posed technical challenges: to deliver a low noise, warm sounding, beautiful analog delay without using op-amps. The Echo-Nugget and Time Warp have wider frequency responses and lower noise floor than any of the analog delays we have been compared to. You know...an expensive pedal should sound great and be reliable.

Which of your pedals was your toughest build?

The Echo-Nugget was definitely the toughest pedal to design. The pilot run lasted 3 years, and I went through three board revisions. The mechanical was spot on, but we did update the silk screen on the second chassis revision. The design took awhile to carefully integrate the BBD's with the tube preamp, and deliver a product that would stand up to the most critical stage situations.

Crucial Audio Echo-NuggetWhich of your pedals is the most popular?

The Echo-Nugget is our best seller to date and our first famous user is Benjamin Taylor, and our most recent famous user is guitar hero Jose Neto (of Steve Winwood & Harry Belafonte). The Echo-Nugget is our most popular and best seller to date. It stands out because it is beautiful, sounds great, and rugged. Plus, it is in a Gold Box!

Who uses your pedals and for which genres?

Our products are geared towards musicians and sound engineers looking for great tone, reliability, and functionality. We have a fairly wide customer demographic, but they all seem to share the quest for their perfect tone.

We have been very fortunate to have provided products to quite a few notable artists. Benjamin Taylor was our first famous user, Jackie Greene used one on his 2008 tour with Phil Lesh and Friends. Jackie told me that he left it on the entire time, and was happy that he did not have to carry his tape echo around.

Jose Neto is our most recent famous user. Jose took his Echo-Nugget on his latest Australian tour with Steve Winwood. They toured with Steely Dan, and Jose loves the sound of his Echo-Nugget. Jose told me the Echo-Nugget worked great on his tour!

Steve Kimock & Dick Dale also own some of our products. Please, visit our website for more artists' quotes and links. We will be updating our website soon to include more artist that use our products, and some of their pedal board photos.

What does the future of Crucial Audio look like?

Crucial Audio LLC is currently providing products and services for the music industry. The Echo-Nugget and Time Warp are still in production and we have a few more sponsored artists as well. We will continue to brew up more cool products!
Crucial Audio LLC also provides electronic repair services. We have become one of the largest pro audio service centers in the San Francisco Bay area, and are factory authorized by most of the major manufacturers such as Yamaha, Korg, Roland, Marshall, Line6, etc...

Are you working on any new products?

Our next product, 'The Genie' Vacuum Tube Spring-less Reverb, is soon to be released. Stay tuned for an ad campaign in a trade mag or two! This pedal is based upon the prototype that we created for Dick Dale. It features a great sounding DSP spring reverb (developed by a well known DSP guru) with four Class A vacuum tube preamp stages. There are no op-amps in the audio path, and the DSP circuitry is delicately coupled to valves. The noise floor is less than -120dBv and the sound is warm and natural. Dick Dale used our prototype on his 2010 World Tour, instead of his traditional and fragile reverb tanks.

We will also be releasing a digital delay with vacuum tubes, and a straight up preamp. We have also been asked to build some rack mount tube effect preamps, and I am looking forward to those projects.

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