"...Every part of the process is important - the bloom is only as good as the soil and the seed..."
Take the Japanese vision of the ‘jazz kissa’, an audio focussed venue serving a crowd of silent patrons, usually solo, who sit comfortably before some of the finest hi-fi equipment in the world, basking in eclectic Jazz and genre presentations. And then, take a more traditional New York bar experience, accommodating groups, chatter and serving cocktails and light plates. Find yourself a tasteful and smart way to blend these somewhat conflicting ideas, and you have the refreshingly unique Eavesdrop, a small 36 capacity bar that sits firmly in the heart of Brooklyn NYC, along the popular Manhattan Ave.
The venue is co-owned and was part-designed by Danny Keith Taylor, a music studio designer with House Under Magic, known for his work at Jupiter Disco, more traditional nightclub with a grungy sci-fi flair, just downtown from Eavesdrop. Danny is also a producer at his own studio, Deep Space Recordings.
MasterSounds is proud to have been included in the audio systems of both venues, with our Radius Four Valve and FX Unit alongside revered gear such as Danley SH60 speakers, Bryston power amplifiers, and the ever-beloved Technics 1200 turntables.
After seeing the buzz around Eavesdrop online, the booked out reservations list and their amazing food and drinks offerings via Instagram, we had to get in touch with Danny to try and get a taste of the Eavesdrop experience whilst resisting the urge to pile down to the airport for the big apple.
We’ve heard you talk about how the Japanese Jazz Kissa concept has informed the direction at Eavesdrop. Could you tell us a bit about what this means to you, and how you have adapted the concept to tailor it to the vibrant environment of Brooklyn?
"The ethos of a jazz kissa is very unique to Japan, but the idea of prioritising the quality of sound within a public space is beyond borders. When Dan Wissinger (founder of Eavesdrop) and I talked through his initial idea, we came to the agreement that creating a true “listening space” in the jazz kissa style with no talking and specific genres, would be at best awkward and at worst impossible within New York hospitality. Instead, we focused on laying out a space that was communal around music, that was evangelical rather than puritan.
That said, we do have a reserved seating policy with limited capacity. The motivation is not exclusivity (somewhat toxically common in New York) but in making sure that the space does not become so much of a social free-for-all that the enjoyment of the music becomes smothered into the background. Of course, it’s not just about the sound - it’s the food, the drinks, and the people. It’s about balancing the equation of “a space” and how all those elements complement and activate each other. "
Alongside fantastic audio equipment, a key feature in sound design is acoustic treatment. Could you tell us about the design and acoustic ideas behind the amazing wooden interior of Eavesdrop?
"Your engine is only as good as the other parts of the car!
In designing Eavesdrop I considered the acoustic treatment to holistically be part of the space, not just tacked-on absorption panels.
I started with what I would do in evaluating a recording studio in terms of placement of absorption, diffusion, bass traps and the modes and nulls of the room - and then we designed each treatment so that it became part of the decor. A rear diffuser became a multi-faceted mirror wall. A large corner soffit bass trap became a low-ceiling private booth. Absorption became the cork surfacing of the walls and up-lit sky panels.
The choice of wood throughout was a nod to speaker design and the use of baltic birch commonly and classically used in their construction. I wanted the space to not only contain a great sounding system but also to surround patrons in the same material."
We’re really pleased to see how well our Radius Four Valve and FX Unit are working for you at Eavesdrop. Could you give us a technical rundown of the setup, why each bit of kit was included, and how they all perform together to create the final sound?
"There are actually two independent systems at Eavesdrop: The main system with the DJ booth, and a smaller 3 way system near the bar with a single Technics SL-1200 and DA converter for digital inputs. They are fed via an analog matrix, so they can share sources or be split separately.
The main system starts with the Technics SL-1200 Mk7’s and Pioneer CDJ 3000’s, the standard tools of the trade. I really didn’t want to have anything more exotic or unreliable put in as a possible roadblock to a DJ trying to do their job. Those go to a patch/breakout panel on the front of the booth, which allows for cross-patching channels/guest gear without having to rip the mixer apart. Every audio input or output in the booth (Radius included) appears on the panel.
I really appreciate the Radius for how no-nonsense it is, without the tribalism of features (or lack thereof) that can sometimes creep around the culture of rotaries or high-end gear. It’s designed for the job in function and features, yet has a real musicality when pushed. I would say the same for the FX Unit - it’s expressive and organic. It’s not an “on or off”, you have to play it like an instrument and really listen to where it’s taking you.
Beyond the mixer, it’s straight into the matrix and then into a 3-way processor I took out of a decommissioned mastering studio, which splits high, mid and low crossover points. The mains are Danley SH60's, which I slightly modified into active two-ways, running the HF on a dedicated amp. Tom Danley is an amazing designer and someone I would truly call a genius - I consider the Synergy horn to be one of the “great leaps forward” in acoustic design. Using them in a smaller space such as Eavesdrop might seem comical considering their potential power and spec, but it also showcases how balanced and inherently well designed they are. They sound just as good at 4 meters than they do at 40!
For the subs, there are Seaton SubMersive F2’s, which are sealed box dual 15” subwoofers. I prefer the tighter more articulate transients in a smaller space versus something reflex or horn driven. Bryston 7B Monoblock amps are pushing it all, Like my thoughts on the Radius, I love Bryston's just for their “no-nonsense” performance. They just work well for what they are designed to do.
The satellite system was the first design I did with my now speaker design partner Jon Perrelly. 10” Beyma coaxial boxes and a dual 8” sub. Very simple math and minimal design - but fitting to the space and application. I gravitate towards coaxials in intimate listening spaces due to the coherency of the woofer and tweeter, plus I love the look of the flared Beyma horn."
Performing as a DJ at Eavesdrop is different from a standard gig with an enclosed DJ booth. With the open room, the setting is more casual, putting the artist on the same level as the audience, and within arms reach. How has this approach worked out at Eavesdrop so far?
"The booth layout is both practical and conceptual. Practical in the sense that the room is somewhat limited and the footprint of a fully spec’d booth eats up quite a bit of real estate (although, the booth is on casters and does have the ability to rotate). Conceptually, having the booth against the wall encourages the idea that Eavesdrop is not a performance venue but a space for sharing music. I think there is an interactive and collaborative energy that comes about when people are on the same plane without barriers and it was important to encourage that.
Of course, it’s not for everyone - and that’s understandable! The DJ’s that enjoy the layout as something unique have commented on how it informs their selections, how they are also an audience to their own set. It’s important to think about how a DJ will interact with the booth - it’s beyond just giving them the right tools - you have to make them feel as if they have a home to express themselves."
Looking at your portfolio, there is quite a breadth of musical projects, from bar and public space speaker design to studio production and recording, as well as art installation work. Do you have any key principles of sound that ring true throughout all this varied work?
"Every part of the process is important - the bloom is only as good as the soil and the seed. You have to be able to adapt and see the opportunities for creativity that are brought about by obstacles - avoiding the trap that doing something different is doing something wrong. That said, you always are working within the bounds of the physics of our world, which every generation before you has also worked under. Respect your elders, listen, and be a student to what they learned - but always create your own experiments."
As we move into 2023, may we ask what future projects you are working on and how you approaching these?
"In the last few years, there has really been a sea change in hospitality worldwide seeking to invest in “good sound”. Some of that is a bit performative by those that are just looking for nice looking speakers/equipment, bragging rights, jumping on a trend. But, it’s also encouraging others to be more adventurous in seeking sound for public spaces that need not be mediocre, boring or invisible - it can be showcased.
Clubs are being spec’d with less and less dark boxes in shadows. Some of that is aesthetic only - a lot of people "hear quality with their eyes", but some amazingly talented designers and companies are currently dusting off the formulas, tweaking them in basements/workshops, trying new ideas and refining old ones. Unfortunately, I’m not old enough to have witnessed the golden era of NYC sound during the Loft/Paradise Garage, Richard Long/Alex Rosner era of incredible craftsmen who were just designing with their ears, but there is an energy in the air of the culture again.
In other words, it’s a very busy time and I’m finding myself lucky to be finding clients that have a genuine interest in the science in addition to the art!"
Photography by Peter Fisher.
Written by Ed Jackson.