AKG, lynchpin of the Harman empire now under Samsung’s stewardship, celebrated 70 years in business in November with a rising star-studded cast at Capitol Studios in Los Angeles in honour of a fellow septuagenarian career, that of the legendary arranger and producer Quincy Jones (above right).
Impressively, the event looked forward as much as it looked back. Quincy, sharply dressed and full of life, accepted AKG’s Lifetime Achievement Award from renowned British radio DJ and host Nick Harcourt after the assembled crowd had been wowed by fellow Brit (and interviewee in SOS November) Jacob Collier.
Collier’s three song set of classics from Quincy’s oeuvre was as daring as we’ve come to expect from the 25-year-old pianist and singer, whose genre-defying arrangements span jazz, blues and hip-hop, sometimes, seemingly, within the space of a single bar.
“One of the greatest talents I’ve ever seen,” said Jones after the performance. Coming from a man who’s worked with Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis and Michael Jackson and who’s been nominated for a record-setting 80 Grammys, winning 28 of them, this has to be a mind-bending endorsement.
But Quincy is anything but stuck in the past. The 86-year-old held court for almost two hours in the live room at Capitol Records as a stream of young YouTube stars from Luciana Zogbi to Romy Wave, Blanks, Maejor, Ramzoid, DJ Austin Millz and others came and paid their respects, took pictures and genuinely engaged with the maestro.
AKG put on a superbly restrained event. No speechifying or product lectures; just a scattering of new £139$149 Lyra USB mics, aimed squarely at the podcast and YouTuber market, and a cool breakout session with Harman acoustic research fellow Dr Sean Olive, who entertained the more geekily inclined in the Studio A control room with a potted history of and philosophy behind AKG’s headphone designs. Samsung’s investment in Harman makes a lot more sense when you consider the race for dominance in the $20bn cellphone headphone market. The challenge is simply convincing people that better quality sound is worth investing in.
Speaking of which, Capitol’s Studio B control room, sporting a handsome 56-channel Neve 8068 board, also had a pair of laptops at the back where one could remix 'Billie Jean'. Fascinating to be able scroll through the tracks: CS-80 for those synth string pushes in the verses, Emu English Horns, Rhodes, two unnamed bass synth tracks and a solid ‘digital sausage’ snare, completely devoid of dynamics. Isolating (or removing) Michael Jackson’s breathy, nervy and twitchy vocal, complete with squeaks and yelps, made you appreciate that this performance turned what was otherwise a fairly straightforward synth-orientated, quantised and compressed backing track into the masterpiece that it is.
AKG dotted a handful of listening stations about the control room with the K371 over-ear, closed-back, foldable studio headphones so you could remind yourself of what the finished item sounded like after you’d been hacking the multitrack to bits. Both the headphones and the mix sounded so deliciously crisp and defined compared to my weasely remix. Ha!
Major props to AKG for hosting a fascinating evening where old and new technologies and old and new faces got to meet and greet. They really should do this again. And Happy 70th Anniversary to the twin stars of the show. Julian Colbeck