Perfect Circuit Audio's Vintage and Modular Synths Attract Electronic Music's Biggest Names
A custom-built rack displays some of Perfect Circuit Audio' favorite modular synths
On a recent Saturday afternoon, husband and wife team Brad and Tanya Berry prepare for the upcoming grand opening of their Burbank synthesizer emporium, Perfect Circuit Audio. The large showroom, warehouse and office space on Empire Ave. has been in the works for well over a year. For the past month, customers have started to trickle into the shop to check out the mix of vintage and contemporary gear, but the Berrys still have a few odds and ends to tend to before an Aug. 1 opening bash, featuring live performances by some of their many well-known customers.
What would become Perfect Circuit Audio started as a hobby. By the late 1990s, Brad had become enamored with the rave scene and started DJing, playing mostly breakbeats under various aliases. He got into production as well and started buying synths and other related gear. To fund his own collection, he sold pieces that he was able to score for a bargain and have restored.
"It wasn't about making money in the beginning," says Brad. "It was about being able to get gear I couldn't afford and amassing gear." Then Brad realized that he had enough cash from the sales to pay his rent. In 2007, two years after he got into the synth-flipping game, he got a business license for Perfect Circuit Audio.
In the decade since Brad first started selling synths on eBay, Perfect Circuit Audio has become a go-to source for electronic musicians, including many famous ones. Brad, a big Depeche Mode fan, recalls his excitement after first seeing that Martin Gore had ordered something from him. Dance music producer BT has shopped with Perfect Circuit Audio as well. "I got pretty stoked to talk to him, too," Brad says. John Tejada, who headlines the grand opening, is a friend whom Brad met when he sold the L.A.-based producer a "weird sequencer."
Early on, Brad spent his days scrolling through Craigslist looking for gear. As evening fell, he drove around town securing new pieces for the collection. He asked questions as he went on missions, learning the ins and outs of the synths as he made more purchases. He hired repair techs to get the vintage finds in tip-top shape before putting them up on eBay.
Presentation helped sell the synths, too. "We had linoleum tile set up to kind of create this background and took closeup pictures, angled shots and things like that," Brad says. "When we started to do that, I noticed people were buying from us a lot. They knew what they were going to get."
At Perfect Circuit Audio, customers can try out synths inside a the store's own studio
In the beginning, Perfect Circuit Audio's stock fit in an extra bedroom and closet inside Brad and Tanya's apartment. Then they filled up a storage unit. After that, they moved into a house, but even extra rooms and a garage couldn't hold the finds. They moved the business to a warehouse, then to a bigger one. After hearing that customers craved a small shop where they could play around with the synths, they made the move to the Burbank space. The store also features a studio, where customers can demo the products. The goal, they say, is to create an environment where people can feel comfortable trying out gear and asking questions.
Today, Brad keeps the shop filled with unusual gear and Tanya streamlines the business practices. They stay dialed into the needs of the synth community as well. "I always know that, at the end of the day, this gets to musicians that actually get to produce something really cool," says Tanya. "So it's exciting to be around it and know that at the end of what we're doing is something creative."
What the musicians want changes with the times. Brad notes that sometimes, trends in music affect the gear used. Recently, there's be increased demand for the Roland TR-808 drum machine, which listeners might recognize from 1980s electro tracks. Brad credits the rise of EDM for the resurgence in this piece's popularity. "Music also fuels the technology," he says. "It's kind of a symbiotic relationship."
Where Perfect Circuit Audio was once solely dedicated to vintage, standalone synthesizers, that's no longer the case. Inside the Burbank showroom, Brad points to a custom-built rack holding an assortment of modular synths, including pieces from 4ms, HexInverter and other brands. He says that these mix-and-match items have become increasingly popular in recent years.
"With modular [synths], you can assemble components bit by bit and assemble this unique, great sound that you constructed," he says. Tanya also points out that these can be an affordable alternative for musicians. "If you want to buy a vintage synth that will make crazy sounds, it's going to cost a lot of money." Meanwhile, modular synths vary in price and can be pieced together over time.
As the store's stock has grown, Brad's personal collection has shrunk. "I scaled back because I realized that I had so much money sitting at home in my home studio that got used less and less because the business kind of overtook my life," he says. Tanya adds that Brad's collection ebbs and flows. "It disappears or gets to a very small amount and then it goes back to a huge collection," she notes.
While Brad says there's no particular synth he wants in his collection these days, he might like to have an EMS Synthi, a 1970s analog synth in a briefcase, in the store. "I probably wouldn't keep it," he says, "but I wouldn't mind playing with it."
Perfect Circuit Audio's grand opening party, Electric Sunset, is August 1 from 4-9 p.m. and features live performances from John Tejada, Kid 606, M. Geddes Gengras, Twin Braids and Side Brain, plus DJ sets from Turbotito. More info at www.perfectcircuitaudio.com.
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