Rob Espinosa is a self-taught guitarist and veteran musician who’s shared a stage with Jefferson Starship, John Denver, Vince Gill, Glen Campbell, Tommy Smothers, Huey Lewis, Kenny G., the Gatlin Brothers, and many more. As someone who has been touring and mixing music in studios for over 25 years, Espinosa is no stranger to high-performance audio gear.
When it came time to upgrade his personal home theater and studio systems, SVS earned his attention for what he calls, “Wonderful, affordable products that sound fantastic and represent what may be one of the best values in audio I’ve experienced in my career.”
Espinosa uses SVS Ultra Bookshelf speakers and an SB-1000 subwoofer as the reference monitor system when he’s mixing down live music recordings for his current band and other projects he’s involved with. His current project, Rio Salinas, is based out of San Luis Obispo, a musician’s hotspot in central California, and features Greg Smith from The Eagles, Louie Ortega from the Texas Tornados and several other world-class musicians. The sound is described as, “A sort of a country-rock, Tex-Mex funk n’ blues, rock n’ roll band with all-original music.”
Espinosa also choose an SVS PB-2000 subwoofer to complement his existing Tower speakers and was simply floored by the enhanced soundstage and “sonic compression” that took over the room. In the interview below, Espinosa shares some interesting thoughts about pro audio speakers, subwoofers and what the future has in store.
Questions And Answers:
Q. Why did you choose SVS Ultra Bookshelf speakers for your home studio?
A. I’ve been using a pair of Ultra Bookshelf Speakers for many reasons, but the main one is neutrality. So many speakers these days have a particular voicing or sound quality because manufactures are trying to tell the listeners how to the music is supposed to sound. It’s artificial and doesn’t reflect exactly what the musician intended you to hear. The SVS bookshelf speakers are so neutral, that they leave the music open to my interpretation. They aren’t trying to diminish a certain frequency or push a certain sound element to the front. So much of today’s audio mixing and mastering is digital and the days of going into a big recording studio and paying an engineer are past, so having the ability to record at home and have a utter transparency and neutrality is absolutely critical to producing music that sounds great whether it’s played on a pair of earbuds or an ultra-high-end stereo system.
I’ve always found the most popular pro studio monitor speakers just don’t sound that good and I’ve always preferred the sound of a more accurate speaker. Like, what goes in, comes out and the speaker is completely neutral.
Q. You also added an SB-1000 to the studio set-up, is having a subwoofer for audio mixing common?
A. I was using the bookshelf speakers and wanted to enhance the low end just a little bit more and decided to add an SB-1000 as part of the system. There’s an old-guard way of thinking that says it’s bad form to use a subwoofer when doing mixing and final mastering on a song, which has more to do with history than anything. What I mean is, when people were originally mixing music, subwoofers didn’t really exist. Home audio subwoofers only emerged in the last 15-20 years and weren’t readily available until recently. I mean, when someone is listening to AM radio, who cares if they have a subwoofer? In the early days of music playback and hifi, few people even had systems that could really play below 40 Hz and the mixing below 60Hz just didn’t really matter than much. Now that there are more sophisticated sound systems, it’s possible that a lot of information can be omitted during the mix-down process.
Nowadays, there are far more people using subwoofers in the mix-down process. You do still have the old guard who might be using the tiny Yamaha pro monitor speakers or something similar, but there are a lot more subwoofers showing up in studios now. For me, I like to hear everything from the very bottom up to the top with full clarity. The Ultras Bookshelf speakers will certainly do that, but there’s just something a subwoofer adds that you feel. You don’t necessarily hear the low notes, but it widens the soundstage and instruments have a different placement. There’s more openness to the soundstage.
Q. Why is bass important to music?
A. For me, bass and having the low end, if you don’t have it, it’s like going out to dinner with a nice suit on and forgetting to wear your shoes. It’s just incomplete. It rounds out the sound, you can A-B test it and turn it on or off. If you don’t have a subwoofer in your system, you don’t realize what you’re missing, and you’re missing a lot. It creates a balance and delivers the sound that makes you nod your head, tap your toe and really feel immersed in the music.
Being a guitar player, I want to make sure my contribution adds something to the music to the point where if I’m missing, people notice and are asking where I am. That’s kind of how the bass is. It needs to be subtle enough while still adding something artistically and sonically, but not so prominent that it overwhelms the soundstage.
Often with a great musician in a band, you don’t realize when he’s playing because it’s just so natural, but when they are stop, you miss them. It’s not what I’m hearing, but rather what I’m not paying attention to. That’s kind of how a subwoofer is. There so much impact and foundational sound that it offers, but it should never over-emphasize itself to the point where it draws attention away from the song. The SB-1000 subwoofer walks this line perfectly and the price is just stupid low for what you get.
Q. What has been the impact of the PB-2000 subwoofer on your home theater experience?
A. I got the PB-2000 as part of the theater room with a pair of Monitor Audio tower speakers and I am completely stunned by what the PB-2000 can do to fill the room. It has all the power and depth you could ever want, but it can also be extremely delicate and render very fine sonic details with pinpoint precision delicately, or at high volumes. I was watching a movie the other night and noticed the dishes ware rattling and the kitchen was coming to life, which has never happened before. It feels like I am getting the full sonic impact out of every moment.
As for a specific movie moment, I’ve always loved Men In Black, and there’s a scene where the car turns off and the motor turns down and without a subwoofer, you just think it’s done. As the frequencies roll down, there’s about ½ second gap and then an infrasonic tone which is the bottom end of the engine turning off and I remember jumping out of my seat. I played it back and realized it was on the audio track. That to me is like an Easter egg you can only enjoy by having a powered subwoofer. And when it happens, it can make a movie you’ve seen a bunch of times seem like a completely new experience. There’s a visceral impact, and you feel a sort-of gut punch, and that’s the cherry on the sundae.
Subwoofers to someone who’s never heard one, just reveal a whole new listening experience and offer details you never knew existed. I’m just constantly amazed.
Q. Anything you want to share about current projects or SVS?
A. I’m currently in a band called Rio Salinas with some musicians who’ve really done some diverse music and played with bands like The Eagles, the Texas Tornados and a few others. After 15 years of living in hotel rooms, sleeping in airport terminals and trashing my gear all over the world, I just said enough is enough and this new project has just been a whole lot of fun and mostly keeps me close to home. I see a lot of potential. We’ve done the Monterrey Jazz Festival and have a bunch of gigs coming up in California. It’s a fun mix we like to call “Cali Tex Mex Rock’s Blues” so definitely a unique sound.
From my perspective, being a professional music listener and player, I just wanted to give my feedback because I’ve been so knocked out by all the SVS products I’ve heard and the level of support, so I’m happy to share my opinions.