The SOS team were recently invited to the reopening of Turnkey's music technology sales facility in London's Charing Cross Road, where we were treated to a tour of their newly installed demonstration and evaluation facilities by shop manager and director Rupert Pfaff. The store is owned by John Arbiter, who literally grew up with music retailing. Day-to-day management of the store is handled mainly by Rupert, who recently also had to deal with the upheaval of integrating the company's guitar retailing side into the Charing Cross premises, which necessitated the leasing of an extra floor of the building. Bringing guitars and hi-tech music equipment under one roof was obviously a good move, since the guitar business has increased significantly due to the cross-fertilisation between the hi-tech and guitar areas, and guitarists are now coming in to check out recording gear.
This latest incarnation of the store was in part inspired by the way top hi-fi dealers and computer stores do business. Rupert explains:
"Turnkey has a pioneering tradition and we felt a need to take the presentation of the technology to the next level. The company's founders were instrumental in the development of low-cost recording products for musicians and, indeed, the basic concept of the personal studio. Tascam's 144 (the first ever Portastudio), Seck consoles, Accessit effects and many of the Fostex products from the early 1980s were largely Turnkey concepts.
"The pro audio trend is to demonstrate products by appointment, but we've opted for a more flexible approach where all the major products are permanently wired up so that the prospective purchaser can make direct comparisons. If you do need to spend a whole afternoon checking out Pro Tools or some other sophisticated system, then our basement studio is available. But computers in particular have meant that a much broader spectrum of users, from CD-ROM authors to secondary school music teachers, are becoming involved in music production, and getting a product demonstration shouldn't be an uphill struggle. From my viewpoint, I hope the 'ivory tower' music store is finally on the way out. You don't have to take the whole day off work or be a platinum-selling artiste to get through our door."
So, how does the theory relate to practice? As soon as you walk off Charing Cross Road and into the store, you encounter a row of computer workstations (Macs, PCs, Amiga and Archimedes), running the major sequencing, hard disk recording and score-printing programs. If you catch the salesmen on a busy day, there's also a self-running demo which gives you a guided tour of each of the products. Naturally, the appropriate security software is installed to prevent the users from accidentally trashing the software, but the obvious advantage is that a prospective purchaser can get hands-on experience of a real system at their own pace.
Directly opposite the computer section is the main sales counter where the Time & Space sample CD jukebox is installed. Sample CDs are becoming more important to customers all the time and Turnkey are currently evaluating a Sony CD-ROM jukebox that would allow clients to actually load in and play samples from up to 300 CD-ROM titles.
In the keyboard department, there are dozens of synths on tiered stands, each provided with headphones. If rack modules are your thing, there's an entire wall full of them, with each rack controlled by its own mini master keyboard. To check out an individual module, all you have to do is turn up its volume control. All the outputs are permanently connected via a mixer, so there's no need to patch or switch. The store also stocks a huge range of 4-track and 8-track cassette multitrackers, all of which have their own demo tapes copied from an ADAT master. This setup allows the playback quality and EQ of any recorder to be checked out and compared against the others.
What sets Turnkey apart from other stores is the new studio room where a vast, computer controlled relay switching system has been installed to allow customers to evaluate their own selected combinations of mixers, outboard, power amps and monitor speakers, again without having to patch anything. The matrix system can also store two separate patches which can be switched at will for true A/B testing of any equipment. Source material is available in 8-track digital and stereo formats, while test CDs may also be used to evaluate effects processors. Customers are encouraged to bring in their own material to help in their assessment.
An acoustically isolated vocal booth is located at one end of the studio room and this is currently set up so that up to six microphones can be auditioned at the same time, with the results recorded on separate tracks of an 8-track digital recorder. The remaining two tracks can be used to play a backing track for the vocalist to work to, making this one of the best-equipped Karaoke booths on the planet! The vocal booth also allows a full range of mics to be tried through a selection of mic preamps, including models from dbx, Aphex, SPL, Manley and LA Audio.
At the time of our visit, one of the basement rooms was still being refurbished, but the aim is to provide a live sound demo facility where clients can compare PA systems of all sizes, again using a relay-switched comparator system. The basement studio, however, was fully up and running and is used mainly for extensive demos of more costly equipment, including the Waldorf Wave synthesizer. Nick Thomas explained that clients buying upmarket equipment or complete studio packages require a quiet, secluded environment, not just for demonstrations but also to be able to talk over their needs uninterrupted. Turnkey can also handle studio installations at all levels, ranging from the home-based project studio to serious commercial facilities. Recent clients include The Human League, Erasure, Virgin Interactive and Bjork, but it's probably safe to say that George Martin is one of the store's longest standing high profile customers.
Now that the renovations are complete, you can be sure of one thing -- the directors and staff of the Turnkey music store will be thinking of what to do next. Standing still is not an option!
A Turnkey, 114-116 Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0DT.
T 0171 379 5148.
F 0171 379 0093.