Small-Town Audio Geeks Bring Big Sounds To The Dance Floor : The Record Fulcrum Acoustic speakers are in some of the hottest clubs in Hollywood, Vegas and Singapore. They're also in Bible-Belt churches and Disney World. Joan Baez uses them for her stage rig. They're made in a tiny enclave outside Boston, by a small team that prides itself on making its work "invisible."
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Small-Town Audio Geeks Bring Big Sounds To The Dance Floor

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Small-Town Audio Geeks Bring Big Sounds To The Dance Floor

Small-Town Audio Geeks Bring Big Sounds To The Dance Floor

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And now, to the world of music and the speakers that play it, specifically high-end speakers that are heard from Disney World to Bible Belt churches, and from Canadian hockey rings to Las Vegas nightclubs. Fulcrum Acoustic is the manufacturer.

Andrea Shea of member station WBUR paid a visit to the quiet Massachusetts town where the company is based.


ANDREA SHEA, BYLINE: Well, I made it. GPS doesn't pick up Fulcrum Acoustic's Linwood address because it's actually a post office on the edge of Whitinsville, a quaint, former industrial village about an hour from Boston.

DAVE GUNNESS: The UPS guy can find us - that's all that matters.

SHEA: Fulcrum Acoustic founder Dave Gunness opened his workshop here five years ago.

GUNNESS: There are no high-intensity nightclubs anywhere near here. But there is a core of speaker companies in this little neighborhood.

SHEA: Thanks in part to its proximity to MIT. Going back to the 1950s, former students or professors started such companies as Acoustic Research, Advent and Bose. Others followed, including Eastern Acoustic Works, where Dave Gunness was an engineer. When the company moved most of its production overseas, Gunness took over some of its equipment and space inside two old wood and brick former mill buildings, which he now shares with a bunch of birds in the rafters.

GUNNESS: They're our tweeters.


GUNNESS: They get a little upset when we make loud noise. But then they always come back.

SHEA: Gunness and his team engineers make a lot of noise as they obsessively test their tweeters and woofers.


GUNNESS: It's a sweep that goes from 10 Hertz to 24 kilohertz, so the whole range.


SHEA: The company produces about 2,000 speakers a year. The prices go from $800 to $6,000.

GUNNESS: And there's a lot of aesthetic decisions that have to be made to really make it sound the way it needs to. So we tune speakers for a Las Vegas nightclub much differently than we do for a church, a jazz club or theme park.

SHEA: Speakers for a church, for example, have to be able to be able to deliver a natural-sounding human voice. But Vegas nightclubs require something more aggressive and complex. Gunness says clubs often boast 100 to 150 speakers.

GUNNESS: Las Vegas nightclub, you have just an insane amount of low frequency capability.

SHEA: Meaning bass?

GUNNESS: Yes. Sometimes 10 double 21-inch sub-woofers all concentrated on a dance floor that's only 20 by 30 feet. And that's capable of deflating your lungs practically.


SHEA: Electronic DJ Zedd's new remix of "Empire of the Sun" is not the type of music Dave Gunness usually to listens to, but it will be pumping through Fulcrum speakers in the Vegas club Light, where DJs Skrillex and Zedd have residency deals.

DJ ZEDD: Some people don't realize how important good speakers are for the kind of music I make.

SHEA: That's Zedd speaking from Germany, where he lives.

ZEDD: You know, I would say the bass is more crucial for the kind of music I make because it's getting to a point in the frequency range where if the speakers are good enough you literally don't hear it.


SHEA: In fact Zedd refuses to play certain tracks if a club's sound system can't handle the frequencies. But John Lyons describes the ideal.

JOHN LYONS: Picture, like, a set of headphones to be able to have that audio experience but on a dance floor with, you know, 1500 people. It's a visceral experience and it really is one of those things that causes people in a nightclub to be able to lose themselves.

SHEA: Lyons owns the clubs, Avalon Hollywood and Avalon Singapore, but he also installs sound audio systems for high-end Vegas venues. He's been using speakers crafted by Dave Gunness for years. So has Joan Baez's tour engineer, Jason Raboin. He stopped by Fulcrum Acoustic to pick up speaker monitors for the folk icon's tour, and he's really into the fact that these speakers are local.

JASON RABOIN: I live about an hour from here. And they're made and they're not shipped in on a pallet. And on top of that they sound amazing. They make my job easier.

SHEA: They make it, Raboin says, invisible. Fulcrum audio engineer Rich Frembus says that's the goal. The audience shouldn't notice the speakers unless something goes wrong.

RICH FREMBUS: Well, there's an old adage - and certainly in pro audio - that you only really know you've done a good job when almost nobody comes up and says anything to you.

SHEA: And it seems that's the way the self-described audio geeks at Fulcrum Acoustic like it.

For NPR News, I'm Andrea Shea in Boston.


SHEA: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.


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