Bettermaker is a boutique Polish manufacturer of mastering-grade analogue EQs with digital and plug-in control. We interviewed Marek Walaszek, head of Bettermaker and a very good friend of KMR Audio to try and find out more about the company and the man behind it all.
Tells us about your background and how did Bettermaker come about?
Since I was a kid I was interested in sound engineering and music production. As a little white kid living in Baltic post-communist country, there was only one band I could love and it was Public Enemy, which lead very fast to the Wu Tang Clan. At first I didn’t understand the whole production thing, I thought DJs, producers and sound engineers were the same, but growing up I realised I really wanted to become a music producer. I had a little home studio and nobody to learn from.
In the 90's sound engineering in Poland only happened in Wizards Tower, where no one could get in, so I was left to my own device with some expensive import magazines and scraps of knowledge i could get form the internet. Then, I went to university to study Sound Engineering and Acoustics. I tried my hands at all aspects of sound engineering and realised pretty quickly that I loved mixing the most. I started mixing for people from all over the world through my online services and as a result I had to do a few recalls every day. I started by taking pictures that I would store in the project folder and recall from them.I started to think about how I could improve my workflow.
I knew of a few analogue synths that had recall, and I could not understand why no analogue outboard was making use of this technology. As the studio was running well I could afford to invest some time and money into the project. I turned my live room (that I did not use anymore, recording is not my thing) in to a lab to build the prototypes. That was very convenient because I could test the new designs immediately in the studio.
The idea for plugin control came after we were discussing the protocols that the encoders use to control the filters and I realised that any type of signal could be used for controlling them if translated properly. If you can have a microwave using MIDI, why not an EQ?
I was using the prototype for a year before exhibiting the first two units at Musikmesse. At first people did not understood exactly what I was showing, they kept asking "is it digital?", "is it a soundcard", I had a lot of explaining to do and still today I need to break that barrier before the "ooh" moment.
In the same time prototypes went to Bob Katz, Dave Pensado, Tim Boyce and Ludwig Mayer. To my surprise they all liked it a lot and gave me their wish lists that I used as reference to improve the design. Their help was essential and to this day I'm very grateful for their help and support.
All your products all offer digital/plug-in control but with a 100% analogue signal path. How did you come up with this idea, was it to suit your own workflow?
Yes, the EQ was designed mainly for me to make my workflow faster, but as I did 10 prototypes, people started to take them from me and it became a business. Then as people were using the EQ230P we made a lot of improvements based on their feedback and it lead to the EQ232P.
Your first product was the EQ230P which was then rapidly superseded by the EQ232P. Tell us a bit more about these two products and what are the improvements on the EQ232P?
The EQ232P had first of all 24dB headroom opposed to 18dB in EQ230P we also added the USB functionality, improved the S/N ratio and did a lot of silent updates that made the EQ superior.
The EQ232P has a Pultec inspired section but when comparing with a valve design the EQ232P sounds tighter which is great for punchy and modern kick drums. Is that because of its solid-state design?
There are several things that came to the equation; one of them is the solid state design that makes the transients snap very fast producing that tight, focused sound.
The parametric section is very clean sounding which contrasts nicely with the Pultec section. Did you design the EQ232P as a mastering EQ?
My first idea was to have a lot of mastering grade EQs for mixing, but actually the EQ came out quite expensive, so not many people could afford to buy more than one. 80% of our clients are mastering engineers or mixing engineers using it on the mix buss. The money factor was why we came up with the 500-series modules.
There’s also the EQ232P Remote which offers only Plug-in control
This is an option we did for people who do not need to tweak knobs. I have an EQ232P straight on my desk and I never touch the knobs! The second important thing about the plugin control is that you are always in the sweet-spot while adjusting the EQ. It also offers the possibility to store it anywhere, even in the machine room.
You have some much respected engineers raving about your products, Dave Pensado and Bob Katz, come to mind. Who else would you love to see use your gear?
Well I have a long list of modern engineers I admire. I would love for one to see Ken Lewis and Phil Tan use my products. I know Jimmy Douglas and Jaycen Joshua use them quite a lot. I'm just a big fan of modern styles of music and modern engineering. I would also be happy to show the products to music producers as the EQs are a perfect fit for the modern in-the-box workflow. So I would like to put them on the desk of producers like Stargate, Diplo, Steve Aoki, Skrillex; all of them have an amazing understanding of gear and know how to work fast and this is what I strive to deliver. The EQs are very fast transient wise and very transparent so it suits the modern type of POP, EDM and Hip Hop but I know a lot of engineers that work on different genres of music also like the sound, Bob Katz would be a perfect example.
You’ve also released 500-series modules like the EQ502P and EQ542. Tell us more about these modules and how they compare to your original design? Any notable differences?
There is actually no difference. The circuits are exactly the same. We also made EQ542 Remote and EQ502P Remote that do not have front panels and are much cheaper than the full-faced versions.
You’ve been nominated for a TEC Awards and Resolution Awards 2013. How do you feel about that? Do you feel your products are being widely accepted?
I can say in all honesty, it makes me very happy. After 3 years Bettermaker has been noticed enough to stand next to industry legends like Neve, SSL and API. Every time I look at our nominations it makes me smile. So far we only won the Best of Show on Namm 2014 but competing with world-known corporations will never be easy for a few guys from Poland. I simply hope for the best; that people will continue to respond the way they do to our unique products.
All your products so far have centred around EQs. Are you looking to develop different types of outboard? Anything exciting we can expect from Bettermaker in the near future?
Yes but that's all I can say for now. I’ve been foolish enough in the past and I’ve seen companies presenting products with features that never existed but on my prototypes. There is a lot coming, we just need some time as we are a small company, but the other side of that coin is that we deal with every client individually and that gives us the power to make our products as close to perfection as they can be.