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Behind the Scenes with Dave Lyons of Sonic Circus

Sonic Circus is an audio equipment dealer, equally expert at the restoration of vintage consoles and the sale of new consoles like the API 1608 and Legacy Plus. Owner Dave Lyons is that rare combination of entrepreneur and technical wizard, who has been working closely with API for over twenty years. API was delighted to sit down and take a minute of his time to discuss Sonic Circus and his role in the business.

API: So how far back does the partnership between API and Sonic Circus go, exactly?

DAVE LYONS: We started in 1996 in Boston and API was one of our first product lines in the early days, so we've been with API for quite a while.

API: And what drew you to API gear?

DL: Well, we started out doing a lot of used rentals, console refurbs and restorations, and because we've always had a very capable tech division to handle those requests, we saw a lot of API. They're very desirable consoles in the used and vintage market. API offered us a dealership in October of '96 and we started selling modules. By the end of the year we were one of the top three dealers of API in the country. Ever since then the API team has been very loyal to us.

API: I've heard you restore a lot of the Sonic Circus consoles personally, is that true?

DL: Well, Sonic Circus is my company. We have a senior level technician and a junior level engineer and mostly I consult because I've been in so many studios and I've worked in the industry so long. So it's sort of a misnomer to say I restore them MYSELF, but yes, the company does.

I mean, I got into recording because I wanted to start a studio for myself. I started trading gear in the early days to work up a collection for my own studio and it turned into a business, so it was an organic process. I got an opportunity to really listen to the gear and understand how it all works and when I started working on API consoles, it was a real eye-opener to how superior these consoles really are. Everything is transformer based and discrete, and it has that kind of distinct sound that people really love as a direct result of that.

API: Can you tell us more about how Sonic Circus helps clients with vintage gear?

DL: If you're serious about having a commercial studio, I feel like it's my job to explain the fundamental differences between—and the pros and cons of—each potential desk, like the intricacies of each console. At Sonic Circus we take a vested interest in the process of designing and building your space. That leads to long-lasting relationships with our clients. We're very hands-on about it so I think that's really appealing to people who want a more personalized end result.

Building a workflow has become a real do-it-yourself thing. People buy kits and build their gear from scratch or pick and choose their gear piece by piece. But a lot of people don't have the time to make that their full-time career so we tend to take on a lot of those projects for people and we really enjoy them. We've been doing custom furniture fabrication and design for these consoles—Sharp Sound in Natchez Mississippi and Black Dog Digital up in Rochester, New York are just two examples. There are a lot of commercial brands for studio furniture but people become clients because we do retrofits.

API: Any other names you'd like to drop?

DL: Yes! I referred Lauryn Hill to an analog console after her "Miseducation" record. Someone had sold her a digital console and she was very unhappy with it. We set her up with an API instead and she takes it all over the place.

Recently we did a major restoration with The Doors' guitarist Robby Kreiger. He opened a studio called Horse Latitudes, named after a track on the Doors record Strange Days. We had a vintage frame that I'd had since I was back in Boston and it was really in need of a ground-up restoration. We gutted the entire console, and my engineer and API's Jeff Bork worked together to design a custom center section with all new API 500 Series modules and 325 line amp cards, and it's one of the nicest vintage consoles in Los Angeles right now.

API: Any advice for potential new clients?

DL: A lot of new clients don't understand that the 500 Series is an API invention, and whenever I sell a console I'm very adamant about them loading it with API 500 Series modules. Also, we were delighted when API came out with the 1608 because it came with all the advantages of owning a vintage console without all the complexities of restoring and rebuilding.

API: Final thoughts?

DL: You know, we're all musicians and producers and we're very hands-on about music and the industry. It's really a labor of love for us and for our clients. What people should know about API is that it's stayed true to its original concept from the 1970s on, through the advent of the 1608 and the Vision. They've always built great gear, and Jeff has done a great job taking over design. There's really quite a legacy that people should understand, and they're buying into that whole thing when they choose API.

API: Thanks so much for talking with us.

DL: Anytime, absolutely!