Audeze talks to engineer, artist and designer Chris Henderson
November 12, 2022
Audeze talks to engineer, artist and designer Chris Henderson
Chris Henderson is the owner and designer for Hendyamps studio gear and guitar amplifiers, a platinum certified mastering engineer, musician, music sync artist, score composer, studio owner, and videographer. Chris has been obsessed with music for as long as he can remember and will probably be so until the day he dies.
"The LCD-X headphones have allowed me to dive into the nuances of the gear I build in a level of detail that is unmatched!" - Chris Henderson
Here's our talk with Chris:
Can you pick out any highlights from your work that you're particularly proud of?
Well, if I were to stick to the top three for me on a personal level, it would probably be:
1. The moment I figured out that I had designed and built gear that now resides in studios on every continent on the planet (except Antarctica…lol) and that somewhere around half the Grammy nominated songs that year ran through my gear at some point in the hardware chain. It was a pretty humbling experience because my perspective as a designer is that my gear sucks until proven otherwise in order to keep my bias as limited as possible, and that experience finally allowed me to not be so hard on myself - ha!
2. Growing up, one of my favorite bands was a Prog Rock band named Dream Theater. Throughout high school and early college I was mesmerized by their musicianship and journey as a band throughout the 1990’s and always wanted to actually meet them one day. Well it came as a bit of a shock to me when they one day asked me to send them a piece of gear I had not even released yet so they could use it for their new upcoming album. That was a surreal experience!
3. My studio manager (Landon Hook) and I have been writing and tracking cello and piano based music for a few years, primarily for fun and also for demo content for Hendyamps gear, but one day we were contacted by a film director who desperately wanted to use several of our songs for a documentary he was putting together. That is great and all (we have received a lot of those requests) but then I realized that Joachim Phoenix and Rooney Mara were the executive producers of this film and I about lost my mind. Joachim Phoenix is easily my favorite actor of all time and to be working on that film was a dream come true!
How would you define your main role on most of the projects you work on these days?
It depends on the project to be honest. That being said, I suppose I am the Chief OCD Officer…lol. I have a tendency to become obsessed with whatever I am working on, but that probably stems from the fact that I really love what I do. I always have a tone, idea, or vision in my head and just become transfixed on it, and then refuse to let it go until I can somehow make it happen. It is that way with designing gear, mastering, recording artists, writing music… all of it. My mind just does not let me stop or come up for air until I can see it through.
How did you get started in music? What kind of music did you listen to while growing up and how has that progressed?
I don’t actually remember a time when I was not in music. I grew up playing piano, keyboards, then branched out into guitar, bass, and finally into recording and production. I grew up actually listening to a wide variety of music and always felt at home with rock, metal, classical, new age, world, Celtic, synth based, punk, etc. For me the different styles were really incidental and less important than finding those artists that truly were interested in making art as opposed to over-produced products designed to appeal to the masses. I was always drawn to the interesting, the passionate, the cerebral, and the truly profound, and whatever genre it happened to be in just meant I liked that genre too for that time. Even as a gear designer I have retained this perspective and routinely find myself often reminding customers that at the end of the day music is supposed to be fun, exciting, heartbreaking, and fulfilling, and if the gear you are using does not assist you in this then you need to find new gear! In this industry what we do should be constantly fulfilling, and anything that hinders that end must be eradicated where possible.
Can you name any factors that influenced the course of your musical life? Heroes, role models, moments, interactions, etc?
The biggest thing that has continually inspired me is actually Socrates in that he claimed that the unexamined life is not worth living. It has taught me to always ask “why?” and simply never accept trite and typical answers. As well, in one of his dialogues we see him having a debate with a friend regarding a topic on which they found themselves at odds. By the end of the debate Socrates’ friend states that he has been convinced that Socrates is right, to which Socrates responds hilariously that he too has been convinced and they both had changed sides! This commitment to exploration with an open mind has been my driving force in my musical career as well as design career as it has freed me to always look for new and unconventional solutions, holding nothing as axiomatically correct, but going forward with an open mind and excitement for the future and new fun that can be had in music!
Can you briefly describe a moment of frustration from your past work, and what you may have done to overcome the obstacles? Would you approach it differently now?
Designing gear can be one of the most maddening pursuits a human can attempt. Not only is there an intense amount of knowledge and precision needed, but even when a solution is found, you can still run right into a brick wall simply because there is no solution that will work for your problem, and the trick is to know when to abandon the pursuit, modify the goal, or simply put it on the shelf and return to it once you gather new ideas and/or information. I have an example to illustrate this: I have always loved working with vacuum tubes from an audio perspective because of the sonic signature they imprint. It also helped that the idea of them and their circuit design and application clicked in my brain for some reason which was immensely helpful. However, solid state circuitry never held interest to me, primarily because I hated the sound associated with them (I later came to understand why, but that isn’t important here). Well, one day I stumbled across some very odd solid state amplification transistors known as high voltage mosfets and was intrigued. They both acted like tubes and also didn’t and bent my mind into all kinds of shapes. I knew I needed to understand them better and could see a potential for creating a different kind of sound in my head - Something that was not a tube and also not a typical solid state tone…. something NEW. So I bought a ton of parts and set about solving this new dilemma, but to no avail. For a couple of years I would dive in only to be frustrated with the results and lack of anything to show for my effort. Over and over again I had to set the experimentation aside and ask the question: “Do I continue to waste my time on this or is this something that I need to keep returning to because there is a solution I will find?” My experimentation led me to believe that there was a way to coax these little irritations into producing something magical and so I continually put them away until more time was found for experimentation. Well, long story short, it paid off! After a few years I was able to capture that sound I was after for so long and now it has become an important part of many of my designs. And the funny thing is I am STILL figuring out new ways to implement these very strange devices, creating products that have never existed before. Perseverance can really pay off.
Is there any gear you find yourself turning to most when working on a project? What are some of your favorite tools/instruments recently?
It is funny because all of my gear designs come from my needs in the studio. At some point I have a need and no gear in existence seems to fulfill it, so I have to design it. From there I offer it to others because I figure that they will have the same needs as I do at some point and so most of the gear I turn to constantly is gear I designed. That being said though, there is a lot of gear I have not designed and that is simply because I have no need for it - Either I don’t like the topology/result at all, or someone else has built the gear that solves my problem and I have no need to reinvent the wheel! Two examples would be the 1176 and the Distressor. Both of those units do exactly what I want them to do and I will never try and design something “better”. Why would I? As far as instruments, I can never decide which guitar I like best, though a good Strat is just an incredibly useful instrument because of its various pickup patterns. I did recently acquire a Seiler special edition Grand Piano and it has captured my heart! The European warm and rich midtones are unmatched and remind me again and again that the Europeans are just on another level with pianos! Honestly, the most useful tool for me would have to be my Audeze LCD-X headphones. They are the primary tool I use for gear design as they allow me to hear precisely what is happening when I swap out components and any other circuit changes, and that, in and of itself, is profoundly important for everything I do. I also use them for mixing and mastering reference (along with the main Genelec speakers in the room) and really would be lost without them. That level of detail and precision cannot be unheard and will always be a part of my most important set of tools!
Do you have any words of wisdom for people who might aspire toward a similar path for their own careers?
Always remember that music is supposed to be fun, artistic, impactful, and inspiring! In the world of music you will constantly run into people who will steal these things from you and tempt you to think that it is the opposite, but they are wrong. You may work harder in this industry than you ever imagined, or feel completely drained, useless, inadequate, etc., but keep reminding yourself that at the end of the day, Music is what you love to do and simply refuse to let anyone have the power to steal your joy, vision, and artistic expression! With that kind of attitude you will have a lifetime of fulfillment in this industry.
How long have you been working with headphones, and how do you typically use them in your workflow?
I’ve had my LCD-X headphones for several years now and primarily rely on them for all of my gear development, testing, and modification/finalization. In these applications I simply need uncompromising detail and precision and the LCD-X’s provide that better than anything else I have come across. Many guitarists and engineers debate whether capacitor types, and even resistor types have an effect on the tonal response of a piece of gear, and with the LCD-X’s, I can tell you that they do, and exactly how they do depending on what placement in a circuit is chosen. As well, when mastering, the LCD-X’s easily reveal even the smallest details in a mix that can be manipulated in order to maximize a song’s potential. With those headphones, even the AD/DA converter’s sonic signature is easily noticed, never mind the exact impact any hardware or plugin is having on a mix. Without this tool all of these details become much more difficult to analyze and my designs and mastering suffer as a result.
How have your Audeze headphones affected your work? Can you tell us what you've been working on with them recently?
The LCD-X headphones have allowed me to dive into the nuances of the gear I build in a level of detail that is unmatched! When you can change a single capacitor type in a piece of gear and instantly identify what has changed, you know you are able to trust critical decisions. My workflow has improved substantially as a result too because with the immense clarity these headphones bring, there is no questioning what I am hearing. As well, during mixing and mastering, the LCD-X’s make it so easy to target problem frequencies, sounds, limiter distortion, and anything else that needs to be resolved. Even with an amazing room and monitoring situation, sometimes you just need to become immersed in a mix in order to truly hear what EXACTLY is happening in absolute detail, and the LCD-X’s provide that like nothing else out there!
Recently I have been working with Plugin Alliance on a plugin version of The OVEN I designed for Hendyamps. For the last several months I have had to analyze response curves and saturation characteristics of the plugin and compare them to the actual hardware unit, looking for and resolving anomalies/issues. In this task, the LCD-X’s have been invaluable and initial reviewers are claiming that this is the greatest plugin that Plugin Alliance has ever produced! I also just finished mastering Chase Rice’s most recent record for BMG and the LCD-X’s were critical in this process as they are the best tool I have for precisely setting gain staging and limiter settings because they can reveal distortion and limiter tearing better than even the most high end studio speakers can.
Recently I have actually added the Euclid in-ears to my toolbox and as I have begun to learn these units I have already found them to also be incredibly helpful!. Specifically, I have been able to use them in numerous tracking sessions, paired with an EQ lightly boosting lows and highs in order to match my ear canal response, and there is nothing quite like being able to shift a mic or instrument and hear the audio change in real time while you are attempting to capture a performance. The clarity and detail they bring is immense and being able to remove ALL guesswork during tracking is an absolute life changing experience and I look forward to continuing to learn these in-ears even more going forward!