Ivor Drawmer, circa 1960s.Born and raised on the small Channel Island of Guernsey between England and France, Ivor Drawmer harbored two passions that would merge to create one of the most celebrated and enduring pro audio manufacturing companies in the world. The young Drawmer had a deep curiosity and unique aptitude for electronics engineering, and he honed his skills at a test equipment company on Sark. At the same time, he played keyboards in a number of bands and saw one possible future as a rock star. To affect that dream, he moved to England in the 1960s to join its raucous music scene.
It wasn’t until many years later that Drawmer found himself in a recording studio, waiting somewhat impatiently to play his keyboard overdub, while a frustrated recording engineer fought unsuccessfully against the limitations of his equipment. Still trying to get the sound right on the drum kit, the engineer had gated the toms. In those days, gates where crude, on/off devices, and every time the drummer hit the crash, the tom mics opened and fairly vomited an unpleasant gnashing sound. Drawmer told the engineer that he could solve his problem and returned the next day with a primitive-looking circuit board that had two jacks hanging off it. The engineer put it in line, and Drawmer adjusted one of the pots that dangled from its wiry frame. To the engineer’s amazement, even the softest tom hit opened the gate while the loudest cymbal crash did nothing.
What Drawmer had designed was the world’s first frequency-conscious gate. By forcing the key to listen only to low frequencies, of which toms have plenty and crashes have almost none, the gate became a much more sensitive tool. That design ultimately became the Drawmer DS201, which still sells at a brisk pace and is the most frequently requested gate on touring riders to this day. However, if we step back from the specifics of this particular anecdote, it is easy to see that the same process fueled and continues to fuel all of Drawmer’s innovations. He has a knack for recognizing problems, many of which were assumed to be insolvable, and then fixing them with clever, musically-intuitive and sonically superior devices.
Ken Giles, circa 1960s.However, the genius of Ivor Drawmer might have been lost on the world were it not for the endlessly energetic promotion of sales principal, Ken Giles. Himself a musician and sound engineer who cut his teeth in the 1960s UK heyday, Giles moved into pro audio distribution. Giles recognized the spark in Drawmer that could be stoked into a fire and has dedicated himself, almost from the beginning, to promoting and distributing Drawmer’s innovative designs.
While Ivor Drawmer has slowly collected a small, trusted research and development team, every Drawmer product is ultimately designed by Ivor himself. Related Giles, “Even the software is coded by Ivor! He’s really unique in the industry. The same man who designed the DS201 gate and the 1960 pre/compressor writes the code for the 2476 mastering software and the TourBuss plug-ins. When he’s not working with capacitors and a soldering iron, he’s working with a keyboard and a mouse.”
Giles coined the term “Drawmerisms” to describe the multitude of features and innovations that are unique to the Drawmer brand. Every Drawmerism starts as a sound engineering problem either that someone on the R&D staff has encountered, that someone has read about, or that customers have related. “The inspirations for my designs evolve,” explained Drawmer. “I try to come up with a different angle on things. For example, when I heard people complaining that any time they compressed a track with a lot of low end, the high end ducked out. It took some doing, but I engineered a solution. The DL251 was every bit as musical and functional as an ordinary compressor, but by treating different frequency bands separately, it worked elegantly around that problem.”
In addition to the original DS201 gate, Drawmer’s venerable 1960 pre/compressor stands as an excellent example of a “Drawmerism.” In the early 1980s, high-end studios were rediscovering the beautiful sounds of old Pultec and Fairchild outboard equipment. Unfortunately, according to Giles, these units were dreadfully unreliable. Drawmer saw the value in that sound but realized that vastly more stable designs were possible. At the same time, no one was offering a single input channel. If all you wanted to do was record two microphones, you had to bring them into a mixing board! Drawmer recognized a need for an excellent-sounding, stand alone input processor that captured the beauty of the Pultec and Fairchild units. And thus, in 1983, the Drawmer 1960 was born, named in honor of the sound it embodied.
Now, of course, everyone from Paul McCartney to Madonna track with 1960s. “Digital recording has put a premium on the input sound,” commented Giles. “The 1960 was definitely on the leading edge of that wave. Now it has been reborn in variations such as the 1968 and 1969. The long list of Drawmerisms goes on. Drawmer was the first person to incorporate program adaptive gating. He implemented peak punch to re-inject transients into gated percussion. He pioneered tube drive so that users could drive tubes as hard as they wanted without increasing the output gain. The list goes on and on.
Of course that list continues into the digital domain. Ivor Drawmer was among the pioneers who sought to inject life into digital audio in the 1990s. “When digital gear first became available, the complaints were quick to follow,” commented Drawmer. “They said, ‘yes, it’s fine, but it all the sounds the same – sterile.’ I started playing with little programs to emulate analog circuitry 15 years ago – little code that, charged up, simulated capacitors, etc. I saw that it worked, but to make it better we actually had to engineer in pleasing imperfections. That’s where the art lies. It’s easy enough to design a digital compressor, but if you want it to sound good, then you need to do something more. You need to be less mathematical and more practical.”
Drawmer started out making high-end signal processing equipment for recording studios and live sound, but their market reach has expanded considerably because they’re always ready to offer a unique solution to a sound engineering problem. “Twenty-five years later, people still call us the noise gate company,” Giles laughed. “And that’s fine; I think it shows that if you’re first to the market then you hold a permanent place there. However, if we’d continued to only make noise gates, we’d have a rough go of it. We’re certainly grateful that the 1960 and our other flagship products continue to do so well after all this time, but now we have products in software, live sound, digital distribution, master clocks, industrial installation, and others. In each case, Ivor still does the final design!”
Ken Giles (left) and Ivor Drawmer today, as their company turns 25.Interestingly, while much of Drawmer’s product line is shifting in the digital direction, one very important new series bucks that trend. In honor of the 25th Anniversary of Drawmer the company, Drawmer the man has designed a new series of analogue signal processors. Dubbed the “Signature Series,” Drawmer has shaken off all engineering concerns save one – absolute fidelity. Price point is no concern, and thus there are no compromises. The S3 three-band tube compressor has started to ship and will be followed by other products in the line.
“The strength of Drawmer has always been, and will always be, the innovations,” reflected Giles. “Those innovations have had a significant impact on recording and live sound; many have influenced the production techniques which have evolved and the way the industry makes music. The whole suite of gating tricks that every engineer worth his or her salt knows goes back to Drawmer. The ‘direct in’ style of minimal chain length recording goes back to Drawmer. And so many of Drawmer’s innovations have shown up in the products of other manufacturers, although I would submit with inferior implementation! So Drawmer designs have influenced and shaped the competition and in doing so, the world of pro audio.
“In some ways it’s quite amazing that we keep selling all of our old hits in addition to the new products,” he continued. “Because our products last decades, you’re forced to wonder where all the new units are going. I’ve never heard of someone throwing away a piece of Drawmer equipment! We make everything right here in England, which makes it a little more expensive than if we outsourced everything. But I think our customers recoup that cost many times over since our products last and last.”
As larger companies come to dominate the pro audio world, some question whether smaller specialist companies like Drawmer will survive. Giles thinks their survival is assured: “We’ll stay true to our original mission, solving problems and improving the world of pro audio with Drawmerisms that have yet to be invented. There’s something to be said for companies who have been operating for 25 years with the same principals and staff. The larger companies have a regular turnover of staff and often very little employee loyalty. The dynamics at Drawmer are very different – pun intended.”
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