Windy City Sound: Dizengoff Audio and the New Studio Boutique

When thinking about Matt Newport’s newest venture, Dizengoff Audio, my mind kept wandering back to Chicago’s own Bad Wolf Coffee, a favorite caffeine/pastry destination of the Reverb staff. Both are fiercely proud Chicago institutions, operated by dedicated individuals invested in crafting small batches of products using locally-sourced, high quality ingredients, even at the cost of more time and fewer products. Turns out the artisan approach works just as well in the studio as it does in the kitchen; just think of it in terms of compressors instead of croissants.

No matter what industry you're examining, the boutique explosion shows no signs of slowing down, and Matt Newport’s Dizengoff Audio stands right at the vanguard. The company already made heads spin by developing a rabid following with only one (incredibly crafted) preamp available for purchase. A compressor is in the works, and the audio world is already foaming at the mouth to get their hands on it. So what is it that sets Dizengoff so far and away from the pack? Details, details, details.

Newport’s vision for Dizengoff is hand-crafting the finest renditions of classic recording gear at an attainable price, and the success of his strategy need only be measured in the fanfare from large-scale producers and bedroom recorders alike. Featuring a twelve position stepped gain control, sturdy 2U aluminum chassis, and a clutch Trim control for adding/shaving a few dBs, Dizengoff’s D4 Preamp is a slick, built-to-order powerhouse based on the British tube consoles of the '60s made famous by The Beatles and Pink Floyd. Although the inspiration comes from decades away and another continent, the production is all modern and all Chicago. Newport pulls all the electronics for his products from local sources, creating a signature Windy City sound from the schematic of a legend. If the critical response has anything to say, the D4 already has an expedited pass to that legendary status.

Dizengoff is already looking to strike again, preparing for the release of his newest design, the D864 Compressor. Based on the Federal AM864 vari-mu compressor, the D864 takes the same ethic of classic design with carefully considered, locally-sourced materials to create a new classic. When you consider the fact decent shape AM864s run around $1200 to $1500 and the D864, which will be available for preorder soon, comes in at $649, the circuits align and the signal couldn’t be clearer.

We recently caught up with Matt from Dizengoff right here in Chicago to pose some questions about his work. Take a look below.

What led you to the creation of Dizengoff Audio?

I came up with the idea in 2011, when I owned Black Lion Audio. I wanted to do a project that focused on vintage clones, but I didn't want to turn BLA into a 'clone' company. So I created Dizengoff Audio. When I sold BLA in late 2012 I kept the Dizengoff Audio name. My non-compete didn't allow me to produce any recording studio products for awhile, so the company sat idle.

How large is your staff at Dizengoff Audio? How many hats do you wear in day-to-day operations as the founder?

It's pretty small. There are four people involved including myself. I pretty much wear every hat--product development, inventory management, marketing, engineering/design, you name it. I'm fortunate to have good resources and great people working with me.

We loved your D4, so much so we featured it in our article on home recording essentials. What have you been working on lately?

That was very kind of you, and I appreciate it! Lately I've been shipping lots of D4's, working on my D864 varimu compressor design, and doing lots of planning for future products. The response to Dizengoff Audio has been larger than I expected, so it's taken longer to finish the D864 design than I thought it would.

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What advice do you have for musicians interested in starting up home recording?

There's a lot of great gear available these days, and it pays to do some research. Also--practice, practice, practice. Recording is a craft that takes time to learn, and like anything worthwhile there's a lot of work involved. Teach yourself the art of listening, I can't stress that enough.

Where do you look to for sonic reference points when crafting your products?

That's an interesting question. It really depends on the project. Sometimes I use an artist or album as a reference point. Other times it might be a visual cue, such as a movie. Tony Visconti's work on T Rex's Electric Warrior or certain kinds of motion pictures and visual theories, like "auteur theory". Sometimes it comes from conversations with people. Other times it's a concept in my head, something that comes into my imagination. For example, when I developed the circuit for the converters Mike Shipley used on Alison Krauss and Union Station's Paper Airplane album, I had this idea in my head that came from a dream I had in the middle of the night. It was such an unusual idea that I had to prototype it and see if it even worked. That circuit had such a striking sound--it created a very unique converter/clock architecture that gave very a rich quality. I think that concept made a decent mark in recording--AKUS won a Grammy for that album, and if you look at who uses the Sparrow converters I built out of that idea, you'll see some pretty big names were and are still using them: Butch Walker, Tony Maserati, Tom Lord-Alge, Ross Hogarth.

I came up with the idea for the D4 in late 2014. I had spent about two years testing and refining a concept of how physical geometry on a circuit board affects the flow of electrons. I'd heard Bruce Botnick's Martech MSS-10 preamps, and I love the way The Beatles albums and The Zombies Odessey and Oracle album sounds. I wanted something with that vibe and clarity, and I felt an EMI copy would be a great idea. But I wanted it to have a distinctly Chicago element, and I wanted to draw from all of Chicago's history in recording and manufacturing. So I created the D4 out of that. I went to my favorite little transformer designers here in town and asked them, "can you do this for me, I need this much inductance, these impedances, the core needs to be made from these laminates, and I want to use Western Electric's winding protocol even though it was originally an EMI part." They were so helpful-I'm insanely picky about certain things, and I was insistent on following a certain approach. At the time, I had completely isolated myself from the recording marketplace, so I had no idea that Chandler and EMI were reissuing the same preamp.

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