A Little Light on Luca Bignardi and Tuning


I’ve been fortunate enough to spend some quality time with Luca Bignardi. 1MORE focuses on marketing his tuning for a reason. No other brand has someone with his prestigious engineering background that is fully devoted to the art of tuning headphones. This is rare in itself, but that fact that it’s Luca doing this work is what really matters. Yes, he has Grammy’s, he is a true expert, but best of all he is kind, passionate, talented, and extremely devoted to his craft and the people around him.

 

I’ve mixed (tuned) music for over 20 years. Mixing is a lot like cooking. You change one thing and everything else changes. Too much spice and you need some sugar. Too much sour and you need some bitter. I can tune a kick drum, take out some of the annoying lower midrange (around 400hz) to give it a nice round bottom, bring up the highs to keep it’s punch, and alone it sounds majestic. Then I pop in the snare drum, but the kick drum sound is also traveling through that mic! Everything I do to the snare affects the sonic quality of the kick. If I add high-end to the snare, the high-end I gave the kick is now way too much. Every adjustment you make forces adjustment to all the instruments you tuned before it. It’s a puzzling balancing act, something Luca has been celebrated for mastering. If you want to hear this listen to, “Lo Canto” by Laura Pausini, a Grammy winning track Luca mixed, engineered, and programmed. It’s a stunning example of his ability to find this incredibly difficult to achieve sonic symmetry.

 

Tuning headphones has similarities to mixing songs, but in many ways it is an entirely different craft. If you are great at tuning songs you may or may not be good at tuning headphones. Tuning headphones is more like tuning a room. Something sound engineers also often get hired to do. Instead of mixing individual tracks into a perfect blend to create a mix (stereo track), you must take the mix that other artists, engineers, and producers have created and reproduce that as accurately and lovingly as possible in the human ear. The room is a combination of the headphone and the human ear, and unfortunately the human ear is more diverse than just about any part of our bodies.

 

Luca didn’t just switch from tuning music to tuning headphones. He admits it’s been a learning process every step of the way. That is why we are so lucky he is a permanent part of 1MORE’s team. He develops as 1MORE develops, and he is the type of person who always strives for perfection.  Sometimes his (and 1MORE’S acoustic and design team’s) adjustments are first made by changing the physical ID of the headphone cavity and the internal placement of drivers and balanced armatures. Sometimes the adjustments are made by how the headphones fit into the human ear, adjusting the relationship between their shape and the “room” they are put in. Sometimes adjustments are made by tuning and shaping the actual output sound of the drivers. And as the driver count goes up this can get more and more complex, though the opportunity for clarity and definition also increases.

 

Luca tries to do everything as natural as possible. He works hard to let the headphones do the work, then the ear, and finally a polished tuning. And just like we discussed with mixing, each and every adjustment changes all the other components. Again, he strives to make the perfect brush strokes, often going back to go forward, until there is a beautiful balance, a “golden sample” so to speak.  There is nothing easy about this, it’s a Rubik’s Cube of sound, but Luca has the skill, patience, and passion to hear it through.

 

In finding this final balance Luca is adamant about honoring mass appeal. This has always been at the heart of 1MORE. We make headphones for all music lovers, from audiophiles listening to old jazz on LPs to young teens falling in love with pop for the first time. This is also something, from a musical standpoint that I have always strove for. I’ve always wanted EVERYONE to hear my mixes as they sounded in the studio. I know Luca also shares this dream, and he has the expertise to make it a reality. I realized this before I ever met him. I simply had to listen to a pair of Dual Drivers (1MORE hadn’t yet created the Triples) to know he was on to this. When I finally heard the Triple Drivers, I literally cried. It was cathartic to know that something so unobtainable was finally obtainable to all music lovers. With this new vehicle (1MORE’S Triple Driver and Luca’s perfected tuning), I couldn’t wait to play every song I had ever produced for all the people who hadn’t listened to them in the studio. I also found myself listening to every song I ever loved since I was kid all over again. You truly do hear, for the first time, every detail the artist intended you to hear.

 

To add to our mass appeal, Luca’s tuning isn’t simply flat. Flat is considered good because it doesn’t change the original sound source. But Luca takes it further. He understands the flat sound reproduction isn’t really what the human ear wants to hear. This relates to the Fletcher-Munson Curve. Our ears have evolved to hear upper midrange frequencies much more than other frequencies. Some claim it’s to hear a baby cry, but it’s likely simply a result of evolving to hear each other communicate in general. We hear best at the frequency range we speak at. Luca takes this into account, along with several other secrets of acoustic science, to tune our headphones to not only represent things as accurately as possible, but also as pleasantly as possible. And this isn’t for just one genre of music. He must do this for all genre’s, which even adds more complexity. He does it because 1MORE is all about making headphones for EVERY genre for EVERY music lover.

 

In an interview, I once described Luca’s tuning to Vlad Savov from the Verge as, “Luca’s tuning is flat with love”.  This is not just marketing speak. If you watch Luca work, if you see him explain anything from a good pizza to his love of Buddha’s teachings you can see his commitment to love. His hands, like a conductor, his eyes slightly moist, his hair flying everywhere, his melodic voice, it all shows a deep commitment to his love for life and music. We are lucky to have him on our team. Please let the world know how lucky they are to hear is love.

 

-David Kellogg CBO, 1MORE