Sontronics Microphones - An Interview with the founder, Trevor Coley, Part 1 / by Tom Sands

We’ve decided to test the realms of transcribed audio for this episode of The Interval, so that you can digest Trevor’s words with some accompanying photos and videos for added context. This is Part 1, we hope you enjoy this reader’s edition of The Interval.

Daisy: We're here with the brains behind Sontronic microphones. Would you care to introduce yourself and maybe tell us a little bit about your company?’

Will McNicol on a Model S ‘White Label’ - recorded using a Sontronics STC-1S matched pair.

Trevor: ‘Sure. My name is Trevor Coley and as you say I am the founder and designer of Sontronics microphones. I started designing the microphones in 2004 so we're into our 15th year now and our anniversary of launch at NAMM in 2005 comes next year's 15th anniversary for the brand in the marketplace. And we're very proud to be where we are right now.’ 

Tom: ‘Fantastic. So let's just then go back to to kind of the beginning - why microphones? What's your background in audio?’

Trevor: ‘Sure. That goes back quite a way as you can see by the colour of my hair - it's starting to twinkle in the light a bit now. I've been involved in audio pretty much all my life - all my cognitive life. When I was around six years old my parents had an old reel-to-reel tape machine, which in fact, just as we moved into these new premises recently, my parents reminded me was up in the attic at their house. So it's sitting in the corner of my shelf up here, now. I used to use that, basically, to record ‘The Top of the Pops’ hits on Sunday afternoon or Sunday evenings at the time, and my sister and I would use a little microphone that came with it to sing along. And that was my first experience of recording - which was over 40 years ago now. So it's going back some time. As well as that, during my teenage years, I was in a band. I was a self-taught guitarist. So not particularly, shall we say, technically great. But I absolutely fell in love with with music, what it does to you, and how it makes you feel so good. I'm very much into harmony. I grew up in a household where Everly Brothers and the Bee Gees were played, so lots of harmony type vocals and instruments. It just stuck with me and it's always been very much a part of my soul and my spirit. So as time went on I left school at 16 and I went into financial services which was really the only industry that would have me - having not done as well as I ought to with my exams (which was through my own fault as opposed to anything else).’

‘But ultimately the passion of music stayed within me, and I remember looking at a job advertised in the Evening Echo one day. It said ‘are you interested in music and do you think you could sell?’ ‘

‘At the time I had in fact had a part time job in a music shop and so I thought ‘yes - I could sell stuff’. I was also very interested in the products and the technical nature of it all. And so I started this job working for a company called the Music Corporation. And the curious thing with that, was that I was wise enough to scope out the company before I went for my interview and I learned a little bit about them beforehand. So I went over, and I'm looking up and down this street for this giant premises, you know - Music Corporation sounding rather grand. And it turned out to be a converted garage on the side of a chap's house.’

...it was like opening the curtains on a sunny day. I was hearing frequencies that I couldn’t capture previously...

‘His parents had allowed him to convert his garage into a recording studio and through various connections he had roots to selling equipment. Anyway, I almost turned away at the door thinking 'this is a joke - how could I possibly dump the financial services industry for this?’ But then I thought ‘you know what? Give it a go’. I walked through the door and the smell of a recording studio hit my nostrils, and that was it forever. So that was effectively the ‘start’ of my career, as such. And sometime after that I moved on to running a music store in Bournemouth as a general manager there, and after that moved on to working for Sound Cross mixing consoles - I was a national sales manager for the distributor. And again, I learned an awful lot about what was possible.

Various other ventures came following that. But soon after I left there I decided that my real passion was with recording. One of the things that stuck in my mind from being a teenager working in these places was the difference of microphone and how the correct microphone can completely make, for any environment, the recording - be it instruments, be it the voice, be it the room itself. And that came to me as a kind of epiphany when, as a 14 year old average guitarist, I realised I could never capture what I was hearing from my amplifier. It was so soul destroying and properly de-motivational to sit there and say ‘I'm not going to ever get that sound I'm hearing on the stereo or off my records or whatever’. And so it turned out that the manager at the music store I was working at said ‘let’s try a different mic’ - and gave me another. It looked better than my one -  my microphone was a pre-wired dynamic mic from Taiwan which was all I could afford at the time. I took the new microphone to the to a gig to try it with rehearsal session and lo and behold, I plugged it in and didn't work. And I think, ‘oh, the guy's just given me an old broken mic’. I came back the next Saturday and he asked me how I got on with it. I showed that it didn't work. He then told me about phantom power. I had no idea what it was. So he gave me this little battery pack - and, lo and behold, it was like opening the curtains on a sunny day. I was hearing frequencies that I couldn't capture previously. And that stuck with me forever.

So that epiphany - that moment - for me, kind of underscores everything about Sontronics. What I want to do with my brand is create that experience for other people.’

Tom: ‘Wow that was a great answer. Thank you.’

‘Shop Session’ with Dolly Mavies, recorded on a Sontronics STC-1S matched pair

Daisy: ‘It was! Just to backtrack to a very simple question but one that I really wanted to ask. Where did you get the name ‘Sontronics’ from? Is it because of its Latin roots?’

...I love geometry - I’m very influenced by Art Deco, too...

Trevor: ‘I don’t often get such an intelligent question so I’d like to answer that intelligently. So, there I was with a blank piece of paper and thinking what do and what I wanted to make my logo look like. And I drew the shape that you will see today on the boxes. I love geometry - I‘m very influenced by Art Deco too. So I came up with the idea of inverted speakers coming towards the logo.  However Sontonics wasn’t the original name. It was actually ‘Sound Works’. However I decided before I proceeded any further with my brand to check the international brand registry database. It’s a database that gives you registered trademarks, and what is and what isn’t taken. Anyway, I came across a company called Creative Labs - back in the 80s and 90s, Creative Labs were very well known for making what was called ‘The Sound Blaster card’ which some of your readers might be familiar with. This was basically an audio card that went inside a P.C. Anyway, I saw that ‘Creative Labs’ had actually registered the name ‘Sound Works' under their brand.’ 

The Sontronics Logo

The Sontronics Logo

Daisy: ‘So they took that name already? How annoying!’

Trevor: ‘Totally evil. And I decided to call them and they were in Singapore and I got put through to the lawyers for the company and I'm thinking ‘oh God, this is a bit serious’. Realising it might be more trouble than it was worth, I started thinking about a different name - and you mentioned Latin, Daisy - I studied Latin at school, so that fed into it. ‘Sontronics’ is a bit of a mouthful but it kind of works, and it looks right. It fits the image, it fits my logo. That's where I began. And then I started to tell my friends my family this grand plan. They all said that Sontronics was an awkward word, but that was, I figured, only because no one had ever heard it before. Six months later I had many people saying that Sontronics was a great name, backtracking on their initial opinions… and so it began.’

Check back for part 2 next week when we get technical about the different types of microphones and what they can be best used for, don’t forget to leave a comment if you enjoyed this and learned something new.

Visit www.sontronics.com for more information about Sontronics Microphones.

TSG <3