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Markkus Rovito 13th July 2022 02:32 PM

Profile of Heritage Audio and CEO Peter Rodriguez
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Heritage Audio CEO Peter Rodriguez

For more than a decade, Heritage Audio has made the best and most unobtainable analog outboard gear of the past obtainable and relevant to modern production

Heritage Audio makes the sound of yesterday for tomorrow. That’s the phrase that has defined the Spanish company—now in its 11th year—since founder Peter Rodriguez started it in 2011. Heritage Audio’s outboard analog processors, summing mixers, 500-series modules, monitoring controllers, and other products embody the company’s design philosophy of taking the best of the classic, proven audio gear of the past while also tweaking the designs to make them more flexible and adaptable for modern studio methods and digital environments.

“We want to get a sense of the old designs and translate them into the ways of 21st-century recording,” Rodriguez says, “which is different from other companies that basically recreate old gear as well as they can and make it affordable. That was not my vision. You know, forget about copying both the mistakes and the good parts; we just dissect the good parts and add things of our own.”

While Rodriguez comes from an engineering educational background, after school he could not resist the call of music and worked as a music producer, arranger, mixer, and guitarist for more than 15 years. However, as monetary prospects from music started to dry up, and Rodriguez wanted more family time, he decided to try to turn his hobby of building audio gear into a real business. By late 2011 Heritage Audio released its first product, the 1073/500 microphone preamp and EQ—the first 500-series module based on the legendary Neve 1073. It was a critically acclaimed and award-nominated product, and it set up the next decade of Heritage Audio’s success. The Heritage Audio 1073/500 mic pre and EQ

“I wasn't actually focused on making a big impact in the pro audio industry,” Rodriguez says. “I was just trying to make a living at one point. But I was thinking, these classic designs have been untouched for decades and people are not even thinking about why they are great. They're simple. They’re missing a lot of features. So why is nobody tweaking them? If I tweak these designs and make them more appropriate for the recording needs of today, people would love them. And that's what happened. I was just trying to become self-employed, sell a few units a year, but the whole thing exploded at some point. I was filling a gap because other companies were sleeping on their past reputations. It snowballed to where I had to hire people, move to another place, and set up a big factory to make all these products and I'm really enjoying the ride.”

Analog Gear for Today’s Needs

Heritage Audio has built a reputation on recreating classic analog gear with adaptations for modern production. Those modern updates largely come from Rodriguez’s observations as a professional producer, and they model original analog vintage units that he has either owned or used. These modern adaptations may include more creative parameters that end up on the front panel, or internal adjustments going on behind the scenes. For example, today’s levels are much higher than the levels of several decades ago, so Heritage Audio gear addresses that.
Heritage Audio quality control checking the performance of HA81A preamp/EQ units.

Other changes relate to characteristics that people simply did not want before. “We love analog gear today for different reasons,” Rodriguez says. “People used to hate analog gear back in the day because it was noisy. It distorted. Those limitations of the technology are what people began to like at some point.” So, whereas producers used to try hard to avoid getting distortion from a mic preamp or a pumping effect from a compressor, Rodriguez says the technology was never able to get rid of such things completely, and after digital production offered cleaner processing, producers began to prize that analog character and wanted to push it to its limits.

So, Rodriguez says there is no need to try to directly copy an old piece of gear when today’s producers want something a little bit “more”. In the case of compressors, people today want “crazy-fast” attack and release, pumping, and distortion. In the past, producers did not use compressors creatively - they were simply for sending a healthy level to the tape without saturating. These days, they want to hear the compressor. Also, parallel compression did not even exist ‘back in the day’, Rodriguez says. So as Heritage Audio adds all these kinds of things to analog gear that otherwise sounds and performs very similarly to the classics, customers have been loving it.
Heritage Audio Successor stereo bus compressor

The proof is in one of Heritage Audio’s most successful products, the Successor master bus compressor. Its circuit is based on Neve compressors of the late 1960s to early 1970s, but the sounds you can get with it are “miles away” from the old Neve designs, which were slow. The Successor has the flexibility to be really fast and has very creative filters on the sidechain. Users can choose which frequencies the unit compresses and when, which sounds very modern but still keeps the familiar ‘old-school’ sound.

Equalization provides another example of this approach, since people want to get really aggressive with EQs nowadays. For subtle, correctional EQ there are plenty of good plugins for that. So for Heritage Audio’s EQs, they add really aggressive frequency cuts that Rodriguez says were probably unthinkable back in the day!

Doing The Impossible To Give Producers What They Want

Adding new twists to the design of old favorites dates back to the first Heritage Audio product, the 1073/500 500-series module based on the Neve 1073. As a producer, Rodriguez loved the old Neve 1066 and 1073 preamp/EQs but always wanted them to be more flexible. In particular, he wanted to be able to both boost within the mid-range, and also cut within the mid-range at the same time. He’d also been hearing for years that people wanted a 1073 in the 500 Series format. “So I thought, okay, I'll do that,” Rodriguez says. “If I needed that, then other people will want it too. It was partly my love for those old designs and partly my desire to make it more accessible to more people.”

The problem was that people started telling him that it was technically impossible to make a version of the 1073 for the 500-series format—that ‘the format was not good enough’ to allow it. “I thought, no, it's not impossible; I will do it,” Rodriguez says. “And I did it. That was one of the challenges as a new company to come up with something new and shocking.”
Daily production at the Heritage Audio factory in Madrid, Spain
In school Rodriguez studied civil engineering, which was a broad base that included some electrical engineering. Then he went into the music world for 15+ years. His first project for a major label in Spain was for Sony music in 1997. While working on music, Rodriguez took part in the production of several gold and platinum records and made a lot of music for commercials. However, he also did a lot of self-study of electronics and circuits while learning how to repair equipment - for example, figuring out why a certain microphone sounded better than another microphone. When he started thinking about making his knowledge of electronics profitable by creating pro audio gear, he went back to school to study telecommunications engineering, which included a lot of electronics.

“I know a hundred times more now than I did 11 years ago,” Rodriguez says, “but I was a proper engineer at the beginning.” Rodriguez is still the head of a full team of engineers at Heritage Audio, which has a few dozen products to oversee. But in the beginning, he did everything, including all the designing and engineering. With the 500-series 1073/500 module, he started by making a prototype and just took it step by step until he had a finished product.

“It worked really well,” Rodriguez says. “So at the beginning we also did a couple of 4-band EQ modules that were not based on pre-existing EQs. Those were very popular because old-school engineers always wanted that, but nobody was listening to them. So we made them, and we expanded the market.”

The Ad that Caused an Avalanche

While Rodriguez had earned his stripes as both an engineer and a musician/producer/mixer, by the time he started Heritage Audio, he had zero experience as an entrepreneur. A few years into it he studied business, but he confesses to having no clue about launching a company at first. He chalks up his initial success to working 20 hours a day and placing an ad on
Eleven years on, Heritage Audio now makes the 73EQ JR, as well as other 500 Series preamps and chassis.
“I had an accountant, but I had no idea what the guy was telling me,” Rodriguez says. “I didn't know what those numbers meant. I just needed money to buy parts and build stuff and ship it. Ours was a pure business case of a good product that gets attention and gets sold. At the beginning I put an ad on for this product that cost me like 250 pounds. That was the best investment I ever made. That ad got the attention of a lot of dealers all around the world. It was January 2012, and we got a few invitations to go to the Musikmesse trade show that March. Of course, I didn't have the money to exhibit or fly. I drove from Madrid to Frankfurt non-stop. There I met our US distributor that has been our distributor ever since. And he became one of my best friends. It's been all about making great relationships with the right people and being reliable. All the rest has been learning as you go.”

MotorCity EQualizer: The Happiest Accident

While the Heritage Audio experience has been a long journey and it's been tough sometimes, Rodriguez says it’s also been very exciting and full of happy accidents that have led to making gear that people love.

Perhaps the most extreme example of serendipity occurred in the summer of 2020 shortly after the COVID-19 lockdowns began. The famous mix engineer Michael Brauer (Coldplay, The Rolling Stones, James Brown, Aerosmith, Paul McCartney, Rod Stewart) was in Middletown, New York at the headquarters of Black Lion Audio to have his two Motown EQ units serviced. Rodriguez calls the Motown EQ an unobtainable unit with mythical status. They were never available commercially. Motown Records made about a dozen of them in-house exclusively for the Hitsville, U.S.A. studio in Detroit in the early 1960s. Rodriguez had always heard that they sound absolutely amazing and had wanted to try one for himself for many years.

Black Lion Audio has the same US distributor as Heritage Audio, so when Brauer brought in the Motown EQ units for servicing, the owner called Rodriguez to tell him about it. “He says ‘I have two of the Motown EQs you've been telling me about for years,’” Rodriguez says. “I said, ‘No way! I'm flying to NY tomorrow!’ But it was the pandemic. I couldn't fly. I couldn't put my hands on the Motown EQ. So we developed a system to reverse engineer the Motown EQ remotely.”

Although he would not be able to work directly with the Motown EQ himself, it was still a dream project for Rodriguez - but he did not know how long he would have to work with the units. Brauer has basically used the Motown EQ on at least the kick and the snare of every mix he’s done since the 1980s, so they didn’t know exactly how long it would be before he took them back. Up against the clock, Rodriguez dropped everything else he could to work on reverse engineering the EQ over Skype and Zoom. They used a couple of engineers whom they trusted in NY, one of the best Heritage Audio analog engineers who was locked down in Lisbon, Portugal, and Rodriguez himself who was locked down in Madrid.

They ended up taking about a month and a half of remote conferences in the mornings for NY and the afternoons for Europe. They would ask questions, take pictures, take measurements, and then go back to their labs to work on equations and try to figure out what exactly was inside the EQ. Eventually the conferences developed to the point where they were testing the Heritage Audio simulations with the measurements of the original Motown EQ.
Heritage Audio MotorCity EQualizer mono 7-band passive EQ

“At the end it was crazy,” Rodriguez says. “We were sharing files of the real unit processing with our unit, and those sounded the same. That was amazing. It was one of the most exciting journeys in my life as an engineer. That thing became the MotorCity EQualizer that we sell today, which is an awesome EQ. So that was just by accident, and now Brauer is our endorser for that EQ!”

Because the MotorCity EQualizer is the only available recreation of the Motown EQ, Heritage Audio gave the mono, 7-band passive EQ a historically accurate control set. And because most of the original parts are no longer available, the company had period-correct parts built from scratch.

Monitor Controllers and Betting on Bluetooth

While gaining access to the Motown EQ to recreate it was a case of simple good fortune, many more of Heritage Audio’s successful products dating back to the 500 Series 1073/500 have come from identifying modern producers’ needs that weren’t being filled. As a result, two of its consistently more popular units are two of its four studio monitor management units: the RAM System 2000 (with Bluetooth), and the Baby RAM 2-channel monitoring system.
Heritage Audio RAM System 2000 desktop monitoring system with Bluetooth

Rodriguez notes that when more people were still using large-format mixing consoles in their studios, a monitor controller was part of the console. As more and more people removed the large consoles from their workflow in favor of recording to computers with mic pres and other outboard gear, there was less opportunity to control all their speakers. Some manufacturers and custom gear makers started making custom monitoring solutions; then a couple of companies brought out some very expensive monitoring systems. Finally, after a few years some more monitor controllers appeared that Rodriguez calls “really cheap and really bad.” That’s when Rodriguez declared that no one was making mid-priced monitor controllers that sounded great. And there was another missing feature he wanted to address with Heritage Audio monitor management systems: Bluetooth.

“Something I encountered going through major recording studios is that I wanted to play something from Apple Music or Spotify on my phone, and it was a nightmare,” he chuckles. “They had to find some kind of XLR to mini-jack adapters. So you had a giant adapter hanging from your phone. And then Apple got rid of the mini-jack, so you had to email files to the studio computer; it was a nightmare.”

Rodriguez decided in 2017 that because everybody uses Bluetooth to play music from their phone, he would make the first monitor controllers with Bluetooth connectivity, which became the RAM System 2000. He knew that some people would complain that Bluetooth was not professional quality. But he also expected Bluetooth to improve over time, which it eventually did, and now has codecs that are indistinguishable from lossless audio.

“Those were quite successful, I would say because they sound great,” Rodriguez says. “But also, having Bluetooth as one of your inputs was a radical departure. Of course, there were the typical complaints that Bluetooth is not professional. But once you connect your phone to one of these monitor controllers, all the convenience overrides that little bit of unprofessionalism that is in your head. When a client arrives in your studio and you have this feature, you have a client forever. It’s simple.”
The Heritage Audio offices and production facility share the same building outside of downtown Madrid

Made in Spain

At the very start of the company, Rodriguez manufactured all the units himself, and as Heritage Audio grew beyond the point that he had the time to do that, he still wanted to keep the manufacturing at home, rather than sending schematics overseas. Today, Heritage Audio continues to design and manufacture most of its products from a 700-square-meter facility about 15-20 minutes from downtown Madrid, Spain. The building has engineering and marketing offices, the manufacturing line, a warehouse for components, and a small recording studio they use as a lab for testing prototypes and comparing them with other gear.

Keeping everything under one roof in Rodriguez’s hometown means that there can be fluid interactions between engineering, manufacturing, and quality control personnel. Every product is tested by staff before shipping out. Up until late 2018, Rodriguez still personally listened to and approved every product that left the factory, before continuing growth put too many demands on his time.

While Heritage Audio tries to be a Spanish- and Euro-centric business when possible, the company must source rare and/or custom-made components from wherever in the world it has to, spanning several continents and many countries. And the supply chain shortages, delays, and price hikes that have run roughshod over global commerce since the onset of the pandemic have also affected Heritage Audio. Prices for many of their necessary components have “gone through the roof,” Rodriguez says. However, the company has still managed to keep its retail prices the same, which it will do for as long as possible.

“I'm really enjoying this ride,” Rodriguez says, “so as long as it's feasible, we’ll keep our prices the way they were before the pandemic. It’s going to be a tough couple of years, I guess. So, let's help people. I think people deserve a little bit of help when difficulties arrive. We will just get less profit out of the product.”
The original Fairchild Model 670 tube compressor

Child of the Fairest Compressor of Them All

Despite the supply chain disruptions and price increases, Heritage Audio has still kept up a busy schedule of releasing new products, including the new 8-channel mic preamp Súper 8, the 8-slot 500 Series enclosure OST-8 adat (both with built-in high-quality 8 Channel Analog-to-Digital Converters), and the 500 Series Bluetooth module BT-500 v2.0 for wireless audio streaming. But the most challenging feats amidst an already challenging supply chain picture had to be the new Herchild Model 670 stereo tube compressor and Herchild Model 660 mono tube compressor—recreations of the iconic Fairchild Model 670 and Model 660 tube compressors that had an inimitable sound and were used on innumerable classic hit records of the 1960s, 1970s, and right up to today.

Heritage Audio took over two years to find all the right components and understand every piece of the puzzle that was recreating the Fairchild 670. The company talked to many transformer manufacturers and ended up sourcing custom transformers from five different manufacturers across four countries and three continents. They also searched far and wide for the right kind of special vari-mu tubes and ended up sourcing tubes from military surpluses in Kentucky and Nebraska in the USA, as well as a NATO warehouse in France. While the supply chain became very complicated, Rodriguez says it was worth the effort, and they ended up with the best transformers money can buy today to replicate the original unit as best as possible.
Heritage Audio Herchild 670 stereo tube compressor

The Herchild 670 and 660 recreate what Rodriguez says makes the sound of the original Fairchild: a very fast attack and medium fast release, as well as a unique feature called the DC Threshold—a kind of progressive ratio control. Those two factors are what Rodriguez says makes the pumping Fairchild sound that can be heard on so many recognizable vintage hits, for example the sound of Ringo Starr’s toms and cymbal crashes. He says the units breathe life into anything that passes through it, even if it’s not compressing.

There’s one new addition to the Herchild 670 and 660 not found on the original: a sidechain filter that helps the low-frequency kicks and basses to not always dominate the compression. The sidechain filter makes the Herchild units also capable of doing some tone shaping rather than just dynamics control.

Only about 1,000 of the original Fairchild 670 compressors were made, and those remaining are less and less likely to be in suitable working condition. While the Herchild 670 fetches a pretty penny, it’s still at least half the price and half the weight of an original unit, not to mention that it’s built to work reliably for many years into the future.
The new Heritage Audio OST-8 adat 500 Series enclosure is unique for its 8-channel, 24-bit/192kHz A/D converter that integrates easily via ADAT Lightpipe

To Be Continued…

With more than 10 years behind it and considerable momentum from both new and perennial products alike, Heritage Audio seems well set-up for at least another 10 years. However, Rodriguez says he’s not the type of guy to make a strictly planned, 5- or 10-year roadmap. He would rather focus on what he calls the good part about being a small company: the flexibility to read and listen to the market and respond quickly to opportunities, like they did with the MotorCity EQualizer. Although he does see some good possibilities in analog outboard gear and in expanding horizontally to other areas of the pro audio market, where Heritage Audio can apply its signature method of updating the best parts of classic gear with modern touches. “I think the quality can be improved while still being creative in many more different areas” Rodriguez says, “where again, there are a lot of companies making the same thing that was made back in 1950. I think there are things we can tweak a little bit and make our contribution to those products.”