Grammy-award winning and multi-platinum album selling Pentatonix is one of the most successful musical acts to emerge in the past several years and putting a cappella music back on the map. Kirstin Maldonado is the lone female voice in the quintet and also the proud owner of SVS Ultra Tower speakers and an SB16-Ultra subwoofer.
Recently, Kirstin embarked upon a solo career with a new album titled L O V E. As part of producing the album, Kirstin sought to upgrade her home audio system so she could more accurately evaluate the sound quality and artistic presentation of various mixes outside the studio. She also wanted an awesome system she could just kick back and enjoy a movie with after touring for several weeks.
Coming from the world of a cappella, with only human voices in the mix, Kirstin’s first solo album gave her the freedom to explore different genres and musical styles, which also created new challenges. In this audio interview, Kirstin talks about the important role her SVS SB16-Ultra subwoofer and Ultra Tower speakers played in the mixing and layering process for her debut album and she also discusses some of the most riveting, and giggle-inducing audio moments she’s had since bringing home her new reference SVS speakers and subwoofer.
(0:29) You’ve have a lot of amazing opportunities with Pentatonix, but tell me about what it was like to be on Sesame Street?
That was about 4 years ago now, so crazy to think, but it was just so exciting. I feel like as Pentatonix grew we kind of kept having those really cool wow moments, like being on Sesame Street. You know, you grow up watching that, it’s been around forever, so it was just really cool to have that opportunity to do that and it’s cool hearing how many people have come to us saying “Oh, I saw you with my kids,” or like “Now my kids are growing up and they love you still,” and it’s just really crazy what kind of fanbase we developed from Sesame Street, which was already a cool opportunity for us.
(1:30) What can you tell us about the new album and your motivation behind it?
Well it’s called L O V E and I started writing it last year and I think I hadn’t taken a lot of time to really figure out who I was individually as an artist. You know I’ve kind of been doing the group thing, which is amazing, but I had a moment where I was like, you know what, I should be engaging all these opportunities and really putting myself out there and I started writing with a new team and they were amazing. The entire experience was really cool and really creative because it has always been a bit daunting to write original music for Pentatonix, just because you have 10,000 limits already in a way because you want to write a great song that could maybe be on the radio, but it has to be acapella and there’s all these limitations. With this, I just got to be really creative and really free with everything. It was a great learning experience for me to because even though I’ve been in the music industry with Pentatonix for quite some time now, it’s a whole other world with production and so there was a lot I had to learn in terms of creating the music and listening to the demos and how we wanted to add more layers. It was just really, really fascinating and I’m really proud of how the entire album came out.
(3:32) A lot of people don’t get to hear music outside of earbuds or cheap Bluetooth speakers. Why is sound quality important to you as an artist and at home when you’re listening personally?
It’s insane the difference it makes and I didn’t even realize it for a long time coming from an acapella background. You hear a song on great speakers or better sound systems and you’re like “oh wow this sounds even better than I’ve ever heard it before”, or you can more clearly identify something you might want to change. For the mastering and all the layering and the electronic production that I wanted to have in my ep, it was night and day difference, and I have to thank SVS because I listen to all my new mixes on the Ultra Towers and with the SB16-Ulta system. You can hear and finesse the little details that are going on with such clarity, so it was kind of crazy compared to anything I’d heard before. I feel like I was one of the few artists that probably had a lot of notes just because I was blessed to have a really amazing sound system here at my house because I was like “Oh, I hear this layer, I want it to be up a little bit or I want it to feel more musical or aggressive.” Most people don’t even realize how much goes into creating a great song or having great production, but thankfully with the SVS system, it was just amazing and so revealing. On the personal listening side, when we first started playing songs that we enjoy or playing movies or playing anything, we were like giggling. My fiancé and I were literally giggling with big grins on our faces, just sitting on the couch listening and taking it all in.”
(5:04) Was there ever an “A-ha” moment, where you heard music through an audio system, and were like, “Wow,I didn’t know it could sound that good”?
I think it was a gradual progression. I didn’t really get exposed to a lot of home theaters or high-end audio systems as a kid. I feel like it was more like when movie theaters had better sound quality. We didn’t really have a lot of cool technology in our home, honestly, but I think it’s just insane how much more, how much richer all the music is and how clear and powerful sound can be when you have a great system. You don’t even realize it’s like a whole other world, like you’re opening a whole new chapter of what music can be and hearing things you didn’t know existed on tracks you’ve heard a million times. I think it’s very important for artists to listen to their music with great speakers too, just so they get the full understanding of what their sound is. It’s so important to listen on a range of systems to get to know what your music really, but it’s most important to listen on a system that can reveal everything because then you understand the true potential.
(6:39) Why is bass important to music?
I think bass in combination with the beats and the percussions are the foundation of music and you layer everything else on top of it. It’s kind of like when you’re building a house and need that foundation, that’s what bass is, and I think a lot of people don’t understand or hear the importance of it because a lot of the bass that people are hearing through lesser systems end up just sounding woofy and really distorted, but when you have a proper sound system and a subwoofer like the 16-Ultra, it doesn’t sound like that. You hear the level, you hear how everything kind of stacks into its place and I think that was what was so shocking and so amazing about now having the quality of sound I have at my house. Every sound and bass note was on its own shelf that stacked up and not all smeared together or boomy, which I think a lot of people experience with bass, so it’s super important to have it be clean and well-defined.
(7:52) How have you used the SVS SB16-Ultra professionally and personally?
Yeah, honestly, it was crucial when I was listening to the mixes and the masters for my EP. I based everything off of a song called Bad Blood by NAO and I really, really love that song and I think the production is amazing on it and that was one of the first songs we played. I was just totally blown away because everything was so clear, and that’s where that analogy of “Everything was on a shelf” because you could hear every single layer very clearly and see exactly where it was and how it built up and I was like “Wow, I need all my mixes like that.” I’ve based everything off of how clear everything sounded and it’s because everything could clearly be heard. I think that was definitely the biggest “A-ha” moment.
One of the first movies we watched was Hacksaw Ridge and it was incredible. We have a pretty new TV as well, so we were blown away by the quality of the whole presentation. It’s funny because at first, we were actually unsure if it was just way more intense than any movie we’d ever seen, or if it was because all our upgraded sound system and the SVS subwoofer and Ultra Tower speakers bringing that intensity with the realistic noises and everything. I was like gripping the armrests and tense in my seat and discovered you don’t realize what your missing until you hear it or when you have the right audio system to get the most out of it.
(11:20) You also own a pair of the Ultra Tower Speakers. What has been your experience using them?
When I was doing my masters and my mixes, I was kind of floating around to different sound systems. Obviously I was using the one in my living room with the SVS Subwoofer the most because it was the most enjoyable, but I would float into the office and hear it from there, and then I would listen on my headphones at times, just to get the sense of how it sounded across everything and to makes sure a note didn’t only work for a specific sound system, so having the different systems was really amazing because it allowed me to make really great notes, and it allowed me to help me get my music exactly where I wanted it to be for people listening on any kind of system. The Ultra Towers are just so revealing and truthful so I knew if it sounded good with them, it would sound great with the most expensive speakers out there.
(14:22) You have a new LP out now, L O V E,. What else are you working on in the next couple
Well, I’m continuing to write music. There’s going to be an album probably next year, but for now, were really working the EP and the single, which is Break a Little. We’re putting out more music videos as well and just getting back in the studio. Pentatonix is about to tour in August, so I’m going to go do that for a bit.
(14:51) Where can people find more information about you?
Yes, for all the social sites, it’s @Kirstin, my website is Kirstin.com and my YouTube is KirstinVEVO with all my music videos. The new album is on Spotify and iTunes, it’s called L O V E and I’m really proud of it. I couldn’t have made the sound be exactly what I wanted it to be without the SVS subwoofer and speakers, it was super crucial to the whole process and was very much needed and very appreciated so thanks for making such great sounding products.