We’ve all been in a club at some point or another, and as enthusiasts we know just how bad the sound is in these venues. Poor channel isolation, reflections all over the place, and, dear god, the system is half subwoofers and playing the stuff those kids who won’t get off my lawn listen to today. The person spinning the music, and the show they put on while they do it, is often more important than the actual compositions and mixes they’re sending out. And that’s where Despacio—the Spanish word for ‘slow’ and a cutting-edge club audio system—comes in.
Designed by James Murphy, frontman of LCD Soundsystem, audio engineer John Klett, and 2ManyDJs’ David and Stephen Dewaele, they wanted to capture a very unique sound. Ars Technica explains:
“We wanted to take records and slow them down, taking 45s and playing them at 33. It gives another quality to music; it’s swampy and sexy,” [2ManyDJs' David] Dewaele says, adding that it was in line with the New Beat music trend that emerged in Belgium in the 80s. They wanted to showcase an eclectic mix of music, combining new wave, pop, and flamenco that would embody the “true” Balearic spirit.
The project quickly evolved into something huge. A system that would envelop the room, and replicate the Grateful Dead “Wall of Sound,” which, back in the 70s, combined precision with 30,000 watts of analog sound. They knew they wanted to do some conversions on Klipsch speakers, and use McIntosh amps to power the Despacio system, the latter of which got intimately involved in the Despacio project.
“This is something we really believed in conceptually. To build one of the best sound systems in the world—one that would only play vinyl—with the focus being on the integrity of audio and music,” says Ellis Reid, McIntosh Integrated Marketing Manager. “As a company we very much stand for the preservation of the appreciation of sound reproduction.”
With the Manchester International Festival set as the venue, they were able to dial-in the system to fill a specific space. The final configuration specs out to 50,000 watts, and that’s before two 21-inch subwoofers get into the mix. The speakers are arranged in an oval, surrounding the crowd, while the DJs are outside the circle, listening to and reacting to the audience, tuning their experience instead of being the focal point of it. The end result? Fidelity so good that conversations can still be had at 105db, because the muddyness isn’t white noising out what you’re saying. Keep in mind, this strictly 20% of the Despacio rated capacity, which if cranked would literally cause ears to bleed. The end result? An analog sound system that sounded better the more broken in it became, so much so that by the third night when the DJs had to leave for another gig, all they could talk about is how much better it could sound if they had more time.
Read all the details and the insane specs of Despacio at Ars Technica.