[interview] N-Audio: Nikolay Hristov

Here's FXDB's interview with Nikolay Hristov of N-Audio:

How did N-Audio start?

I love electronics ever since I was little. I started with electronics when I was around 10 years old. I also started to play bass guitar at school. After that I went to a Technical University in Sofia. There I started to make pedals. At this time I was working for the Bulgarian National Radio and I had good electronic teachers there.

Around 6-7 years ago I had some help, but right now I make all my pedals with my own design concepts.

Sometimes, like for my switching systems, I check how well-known products on the market work and think how to improve them and make the best possible product myself.

Where does the logo come from?

N-audio comes from Niki Audio ;-)

My logo was made by a friend/musician. He work as graphic designer. It's inspired by Freak Kitchen's cow. Freak Kitchen is one of my favorite bands ;-)

What sets N-Audio apart from other builders?

Most of DIY builders make pedals that are not that good. I think that I make them like pedals on the market, but with the knowledge of a musician and an engineer. I play on stages for more than 15 years and I have a good experience with this. The combination of my musical knowledge, my electronic knowledge and my love and no-compromise attitude with design and electronics is my goal for good sounding pedals or good designed gear.

Also when I make a new pedal, I make a prototype. This first pedal I bring to well known musicians here in Bulgaria to test. I continue to make some modifications until I get the best from this pedal.

How do you start on a new pedal?

  1. It starts with an idea.
  2. If there is another pedal on the market of this type, I like to make something better with more options.
  3. I make a prototype.
  4. Playing with the prototype & making modifications.
  5. PCB and box design - I make this in parallel to the circuit to optimize it during the entire project. Right now I use 3D software to generate the entire pedal. This is better to reduce some problems.
  6. Next I make the first prototype with the final enclosure for the unit. Of course without labels. This is necessary to check all dimensions.
  7. Finally I make the entire project

The time of making one pedal (not just a single custom pedal) is from 2-3 months up to more than half a year. I spent about 3-4 months for research, playing and testing the new Firesound V3.

Spring 2011 I started with the sketch and first prototype of my future Bass Preamp-DI and hopefully I'll finish it in the spring of 2011.

How do you name your pedals?

I'd like to make a series of pedals with my daughter's name, but I'm not sure which pedal could have "Eva" as its name ;-)

The Firesound V2 serial numbers were starting with "EN", "E" from my daughter's name Eva and "N" from my name.

Can you tell us something about the production process?

At the moment I build all pedals at home myself.

The type of circuit and parts varies from one product to another. Sometimes I use conventional elements, sometimes SMD parts. I prefer double sided pcb's for audio.

Most of my enclosures are made after my own design from sheet metal. Sometimes, for custom pedals, I use standart die-cast aluminum boxes.

I use only powdercoating, the best one method, and screen printed labels. Sometimes I use a front panel made from laser engraved stainless steel or anodized aluminum.

How important is the look of your pedals?

very important! I want to make gear with a professional look. I choose screws, knobs, and all of the stuff. Also I make my pcb's with a good order of all components too.

Is parts selection important?

Yes of course. I use good parts: caps from Wima, connectors from Neutrik, quality resistors,... For different products I use different parts.

If the circuit needs matched components then I match them. Usually matching is a more important for non-pedal stuff.

Which of your pedals makes you most proud?

At this time with my Firesound V3. This is the best pedal I made so far. This pedal is the ultimate overdrive/distortion in a small enclosure with a lot of functionality. It's a professional design with quality pcb's. There are no cables as in most pedals, only 2 wires for the battery strap. The construction is on 3 pcb's and the design is really complex.

I spend a lot of time with my Bass Preamp-DI. This will also be an uncompromising box. I love how it sounds. I spent a lot of time playing it at home and in the studio, changing tubes, parts, options, etc.

Which of your pedals was your toughest build?

Sometimes I have problems with something, but I'm not sure that I have a "toughest build". Just small problems. When I have a problem, I just leave it for 1-2 days, after that it's easier to fix it. I'm not sure why, maybe my brain still works on fixing that problem while I make something different, so that when I start working on it again, I know how to fix it ;-)

Which of your pedals is the most popular?

Absolutely my Firesound.

Most musicians need an overdrive/boost pedal. This is one of most used pedals for guitar players. Some players are owners of a few boosters and they love all of them. Here in Bulgaria I sell a lot of my Firesound pedals. Right now I make version 3, which is really the ultimate overdrive with transparent sound and great flexibility.

Who uses your pedals and for which genres?

I think that I know how pedals must sound. I know which schematics are better than other ones, usually I prefer to use my own design. If someone can play guitar he will get the best sound from his fingers, pedals are just a small part of the entire sound.

I made pedals for some well known artists. At the moment for most of the Bulgarian artists as I'm well known by all musicans in Bulgaria, but I have some notable clients in the rest of Europe as well.

On a live show of Akaga, a well known band here in Bulgaria, the guitar player (who is my friend and client) took a tubescreamer and showed me how he'd like to put it in the trash, because he loves the Firesound sound ;-)

What does the future of N-Audio look like?

I'd like to make good looking stuff without any compromises. I don't like to spend money on cheaper parts, pcb's etc.

Right now I work on my Tube Bass Preamp-DI box with 2 tubes and an output transformer for balanced galvanic isolated outputs. I'd like to integrate some new features there. It will sound great! I chose gold plated JJ tubes as they sound best for bass. The pedal will have 3 knobs for bass, treble and level.
At the moment I have second prototype ready, and the sound is amazing. I'm working on about 2 more switches for tube compression and harmonics.

I will also continue with switching systems. I will soon offer a small 12-channel switching system. This unit can be also be custom built with specific requirements from the client.
After that this system will have MIDI support. My goal is a wireless switching system with 2 modules: a battery powered pedalboard with a wireless module and a rack unit with all relays and MIDI ports for switching. The wireless signal will be used only for data (MIDI and relay control) not for audio.

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