Designer Talk : Thomas Barefoot | Barefoot Sound
Thomas Barefoot is the Designer, Engineer, CTO and Co-Founder of Barefoot Sound. Originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, it was in San Francisco that in 2004 he took the monitoring world by storm with his new Barefoot monitor design - each one being made by hand in his garage!
I caught up with Thomas to find out where the journey began and where it has taken him, so far...
KMR : Barefoot Sound has come a long way in the 12 years since you produced your first studio monitor. What was the point where you felt things really started taking off for you?
TB : After the second year, we moved out of my garage, into a warehouse, developed a bona fide manufacturing process and caught up with all the backorders. That’s when things really started moving. At the same time, major Producers like Michael Brauer and Butch Vig started using and endorsing our speakers. It was a sort of stamp of approval and orders really started pouring in. I’d say that was the big turning point for us.
KMR : Your monitors pack a lot of technological innovation - is there a design feature you are particularly proud of?
TB : The Dual Force vibration canceling technology is probably our most recognizable design feature. However, I wouldn’t say it’s THE thing I’m most proud of. Barefoot Sound grew out of my participation in the online recording community. If there’s one thing I’m most proud of, I would say it was my ability to hear, to understand, and to synthesize that community’s, my community’s, needs and desires into tangible products that help them achieve their artistic goals.
Engineers, Producers and Artists aren’t gear designers, they can’t necessarily articulate what it is they want and need. But there is most definitely collective wisdom that reverberates in the community. I’m proud that I’ve been able to tap into those messages.
KMR : There are a lot of big names now using Barefoot monitors. Has your reputation been driven mostly by Studios or Artists?
TB : I would say Barefoot’s reputation has grown inward, from the top down and bottom up. I mean, on one side, we’ve had amazingly adventurous grassroots early adopters within the online community. These folks were willing to take a chance and lay down their hard-earned money on an oddball new company making these strange looking and expensive monitors. But, even though the price was a stretch, they could recognize the groundbreaking performance and value our products offer.
On the other side, we’ve been extraordinarily fortunate to have an incredible roster of celebrity Producers and Artists get behind our brand from the earliest days. That’s really thanks to my business partner Tedi Sarafian (CEO and Co-Founder). He’s from a Hollywood family and has been immersed in that world his whole life. Whereas my modest Pennsylvania upbringing restrains me, he is bold, confident and simply unafraid to ask, and to ask big. So, he’s been able to enlist an amazing dream team.
That makes me particularly proud because we’re a small company and could never dream of paying these folks for their endorsements. They’re coming on board because they truly believe in our products and what we’re trying to achieve. That’s very gratifying.
KMR : With the new Footprint01, it’s great to see a new Barefoot monitor - but also at a new price point - What was the main design brief with this model?
TB : Simply put, it’s a Barefoot through and through. I’ve been wanting to design a more affordable speaker for years. But that’s a tall order. I really, really don’t like to compromise!
I refuse to just build a scaled down version of our other speakers and sell it for less. The way I approached the Footprint01 was to make a prioritised list of what I think constitutes a great studio monitor.
At the very top of that list are things like wide linear dynamics, transparent mids, deep articulate bass and great translation above all else. If I had to sacrifice or scale down anything for the sake of cost, then it would be things at the bottom of the list, not the top.
So, with a budget and a list of must haves I started fresh. That forced me to design in even smarter ways. Some of the innovations in the Footprint01 will eventually make their way into our flagship models. I’m excited that the Footprint01 is within reach of even more talented people. The reception has been simply overwhelming!
KMR : You started out making electric guitars as a kid. If you weren’t designing great studio monitors is there something else you would have liked to turn your inventing skills to?
TB : I’ve worked in technology most of my life. After college, I worked as a Lab Technician at Alcoa. They gave me lots of freedom to design and build experimental equipment in a group doing applied research in polymers.
My Graduate Studies in Surface Science were funded by the US Air Force. There I did very fundamental research into the Physics ofAatomic and Molecular Level Interactions on Surfaces. Then I worked for several years at Intel developing measurement technology for high volume semiconductor manufacturing – fancy tools like Picosecond Ultrasonic Laser Sonar.
So, I’ve done a lot of interesting and challenging work but what I’m doing right now is really my dream job. I’m using whatever talents I possess to help creative people be even more creative - and how many things in life are more wonderful than music?
It’s very inspiring and I have a mountain of ideas I’ve only begun to tackle!
See below for a Look Inside Barefoot Sound, now made in Portland, Oregan :