Hot off the release of our range Bergantino Cabinet Impulse Responses, Celestion Digital had the opportunity to sit down for a chat with Jim Bergantino, founder of Bergantino Audio Systems, about all things bass amplification, how he got started in the industry and our new Bergantino cabinet Impulse Responses.
So, could you start off by telling us how your working relationship with Celestion began?
In order to best answer this question, it is important to understand how we got here. ‘Here’ being the introduction of neodymium technology to the professional speaker industry over two decades ago, with its lighter weight format being a very desirable and welcome change for the gigging musician. However, this new technology has also brought with it a different tonal palate and performance characteristic, leaving many musicians wondering about, and missing, their older, heavier, ceramic-loaded speakers.
The bass amplification industry shares many similar design requirements to the PA industry when it comes to specifying speakers to produce lower frequencies at higher volumes. So, for the most part we have pretty much relied on the PA industry for most of our speakers or speaker technology, whether stock or modified, to meet our design goals. When Neo speakers came onto the scene inaround2000,what seemed to work fine for the PA industry, where maximum SPL per-watt ruled the day, wasn’t working so well for the bass community where tone was, and still is, ‘king’.
Musicians are first and foremost all about tone, but at the same time they wouldn’t mind lightening their load. So, when neo speakers first entered the market, they were initially very excited about the more ergonomically friendly designs this technology would produce. That was until they had some time to fully digest the newer tone that the Neo technology brought along with it. And here we are,20+ years later where bass players are still comparing neo designs with their ceramic counterparts of yesteryear, still feeling they have to choose between tone and weight!
Essentially, bass players began to realize there was no free lunch with this newer, lightweight technology, and the tone vs. weight “tango” would soon ensue. That’s how the NXT speakers came to be, and how my relationship with Celestion began. I essentially felt the only way I could foresee us working together (not that I didn’t want to, but you know the saying – if it ain’t broke…) was that we would have to figure out, “What are we missing here?” and re-evaluate how Neo motors are designed, because if we keep using the same motor designs over and over again, then we’re not going to get different results (Einstein’s definition of insanity comes to mind here!).
I shared my thoughts in this meeting with Celestion on how the two motor technologies (ceramic and Neo) differ, and what we could potentially do to the Neo motor to help bring us closer to that ever-evasive, ceramic tone and performance in a light-weight, neo format.
These ideas landed on Paul Cork’s desk, Celestion’s Director of Engineering back in the UK where he took an interest in and implemented the changes I suggested -and here we are today!
So that’s the backstory of Bergantino and Celestion and how the relationship began. It was one of those things where we were very happy with our Neo products at the time, plus we were still making our ceramic-based products to satisfy that market as well. But once we got the prototype woofers back from Celestion and tested them, I soon discontinued all of our ceramic designs and now we just offer Neo-based speakers utilizing our new NXT motor. I think that says a lot right there! Does it sound and perform 100% the same as ceramic? Not quite, but it’s 90+% of the way there, and still retains some of the desirable qualities that Neo is known for.
So, we ended up with the “best of both worlds”, in my opinion, and that’s why everyone who has plugged into them has been extremely impressed. Even our hard-core ceramic customers, after auditioning the NXT cabs, have switched over to these new designs without any feeling of compromise.
Celestion also did a great job with the IRs, because we’re already getting some nice feedback from people who have purchased them saying that they are the best IRs they have ever heard, so it’s been a nice working relationship with Celestion on several fronts.
So, tell us a little a bit about your normal day-to-day role at Bergantino.
Typically, the business dictates what my day looks like, usually based on orders, new designs, ordering product etc. It also involves overseeing manufacturing and speaking with customers and vendors alike.
So, you’re really involved with your customers?
Absolutely. In fact, many people are surprised when they call and I’m the one answering the phone! Relatively speaking we’re still more of a boutique company, which means I’m more hands-on in all aspects of the business. I think it’s actually a good thing, because, in this day and age, people are starting to realise that’s what they miss from the older days, customer service. With larger companies getting bigger, some even becoming part of a larger conglomerate, they lose that personal connection with their customers and when needed most, their customers don’t usually enjoy that quick and easy access!
Definitely, people like that personal connection with the people running the business.
Yes, I’m very much involved with that, and I take it very personally. Obviously, I want our products to be extremely reliable, and they are, but problems can happen from time to time. That’s just the nature of anything, but I never want to see any of our customers compromised by one of our products because it may have failed. I want to be able to get them back up and running as quickly as possible.
That’s great to hear, personal touch with customers is so important. How long have you been running Bergantino now?
We’ve been in business since 2001.
Aside from overall changes in your product designs, how have things changed over the years?
When we started in 2001,and up through2015, our products were strictly speakers, no amplifiers. Around 2008 we introduced our IP series of powered cabinets. It was a great concept because it allowed us to match the amplifier to a specific speaker through the power module’s DSP Technology.
In fact, this was actually the precursor for our flagship amp, the B|AMP, which has our DSP technology in it. It was all about allowing people to upload different profiles into the DSP processor, based on the speaker they were using. That’s what we strived for with the B|AMP, and it actually turned out to be so much more. When you have all that software power at your fingertips, it allowed us to have a lot of application code that ultimately defined the user interface and experience. We were able to do so much more with the amp and it really evolved.
The nice thing about it is that when we first shipped the B|AMP in 2015 it didn’t have half of what it has in it now, and because it’s software-updatable we were able to send out updates over the last several years where we have added or changed features based on what we thought was right and also based on feedback from our users, (which is awesome, right? What better feedback to help make a product better than from your customers and how they use it in the real world!). Whether you bought the amp six years ago or yesterday you have the same amp today, which customers really appreciate.
Do you charge for these firmware updates? or are they simply part of the package when you buy the B|AMP?
Completely free. Whether you’re a first or second-hand owner, as long as you have the amp, we make the updates available to you at no charge. I felt it was a value-added benefit to owning our product, and I’m all for making our products the best value they can be and allowing our customers to enjoy them at their fullest capabilities.
So how do your customers get in touch with you to provide feedback? Do they typically contact you on social media, email, phone?
All of the above. From email to the new age of Facebook & social media, they reach out to us through all avenues of communication. We have a nice communication channel and our customers don’t hesitate to use it, which is good, and they’re comfortable in knowing that when they reach out to us there’s somebody at the other end that’s there to respond to their questions or concerns.
You said you’ve had some positive feedback about the Bergantino IRs, could you elaborate on that a bit?
We have! As you know, IRs have become a big thing today and there’s a lot of players using them with processors and pre-amps out there. One of the nice benefits of the relationship between Bergantino and Celestion was that Celestion offered to create impulse responses for our NXT line of speakers– I can’t begin to tell you the positive feedback we’ve gotten from people! They’ve used other IRs, many that have come with some very expensive processors out there, and they’ve just said that the Bergantino IRs Celestion created are the best IRs they have ever heard, and that they feel so much better sending these IRs to the front-of-house through their DIs and using them in their DAWs.
Anyone can produce an IR, but it’s how you do it – like designing amps and speakers, it’s as much of a science as it is an art. I think Celestion has come up with a really nice recipe for capturing very useable and realistic impulse responses. Everybody that has bought them so far has been very happy with them and has commented about their realistic quality.
That’s fantastic news! Do you use any IRs yourself?
To be honest, I don’t even play! We have artists & other people associated with our company who tested the IRs beforehand, and all the feedback was very positive.
Interesting! So how did you first get into the music industry and what inspired you to start Bergantino Audio Systems?
I’ve always loved speakers. Before I started Bergantino Audio, I was working on some home audio designs and stuff like that, more as a hobbyist I would say. Then, trying to bring them to market, I did some designs for some hobby store kits – and sometimes you just never know where fate’s going to take you!
The last place I ever thought I’d be, to be totally honest, is designing bass speakers and amps, because I’m not a bass player! But I just happened to have an opportunity where I was approached by other manufacturers who needed somebody to design some bass cabinets for them, and it turned out they were very successful out of the gate. So I thought that maybe this was the path I should go down.
And here I am, 20 years later! So in a way the business found me, through various connections, and it’s been a lot of fun. A nice thing about the MI business is that you get to meet a lot of really cool people, musicians and other industry insiders.
The other thing that I really enjoy, in addition to the relationships I’ve formed, is that I’m producing and designing products that are making such an impact on bass players’ lives. Artists, musicians; they’re into their art, so it’s always really nice when you get that immediate feedback and hear about how much you affected their tone when using your gear. We all like being recognised and complimented for our hard work, but the nice thing about this industry for me was that the feedback was so immediate and quick, it inspires you.
How have you seen the music world change in the last year and half with the pandemic, lockdowns & things like that?
The music industry really hasn’t changed that much aside from having paused for about a year due to the pandemic, and it’s amazing how people are starting to get back to their normal way of life now. If anything, perhaps the industry is more energetic right now, because sometimes you don’t appreciate something until it’s taken away from you. Now there’s a resurgence of energy with people wanting to get out there again and perform. I think the biggest change in the last several years is the growth and development of technology – things like IRs and the growing popularity of digital gear, things like the B|AMP and other processers & modelers. But at some point, regardless of what happens in the digital world, it still has come out to the analogue world. It’s just a matter of how that plays out or what that entails, and many gigging guitarists & bassists are still using real amps and cabinets, which is great.
In other cases, especially in the studio with a lot of people using DAWs, they are using imported IRs and other plugins so they can build their systems in the digital world – and a nice thing about the new IRs is that they are helping lots of people experience our cabinets, people who maybe haven’t even heard of Bergantino or haven’t played through our them. Lots of musicians have home studios and if they really enjoy what they’re hearing , when it comes to putting a rig together to go out and play live, it gives them a good way to try us in their process of deciding what they want to gig with live.
So, in a way, analogue and digital technologies feed off each other. It’s a nice way for potential customers to learn more about our brand and what it represents and I’m sure it’s the same for Celestion. The IRs let people try a virtual representation of the speaker, which then lets them know what to expect if they buy the physical speaker.
Exactly, in some ways the IRs can act as a ‘try before you buy’ for the physical speakers.
Yes, newer technology can sometimes seem initially scary or even threatening, but eventually you realize everything can coexist. Everything has a place and it can all play and feed off each other.
Do you find bass players are moving towards digital gear at the same rate as guitar players, or in your experience are bass players a bit more traditional and old-school when it comes to gear?
I would say that guitar players are actually a little more set in their ways, and that’s often been the case since I’ve been in this business. If they’re a tube amp guy, they’re a tube guy through and through, and they’re going to carry their tube amp around no matter what, regardless of how heavy it is or how many times it has to be fixed!
One of the reasons I’ve been able to be successful in the bass side of the industry is that I think bass players in general are a little more open-minded to new concepts, technology and companies, so I think how they approach their gear is very different. I did some guitar speakers at one time, but because it didn’t really look like a guitar speaker, guitar players wouldn’t even look at it or play through it! But the bass players were like, ‘let me check it out!’ and if they like it, they like it. I think bass players are a little more adaptable to new ideas, but I believe eventually everyone will catch up. We’re in a digital world, and in terms of gear, digital has come a long way. Years ago it was just ‘OK’, but it has gotten a lot better and now many people say they can’t tell the difference, or at least not enough to lug around their heavier vintage gear. Technology is going to keep evolving and I believe it will find its way into all aspects of this industry in one form or another.
Have you got anything you would like to share with regards to what’s next for Bergantino?
For the first 15 years we strictly worked on speakers and in the last six years we expanded with some amplifiers, so for the most part we have the amplification side of the equation covered, but we’re always looking at new designs in that realm, coming up with new ideas or slight changes on existing ones.
We’re also working on some pre-amp designs right now, to bring some of the technology from the amplifiers down to more of a studio or pedal format, so we’re definitely trying to bring more of our technology from our amplification realm into the pre-amp realm. We’re just trying to diversify a little bit. A lot of gigging musicians, especially if they’re travelling, are not going to bring a large speaker or amp with them. With our pre-amp technology they can basically bring their sound wherever they go and plug into whatever backline or front-of-house is provided for them, with minimum, if any, effort to dial in their tone. At this time, that’s another direction we’re going in.
What’s the philosophy or ethos of Bergantino the brand?
I think that’s a very important question. I like to think that we are an innovating, leading-edge type of company, bringing out products which no one else thought to bring out – like our B|AMP, which was brought out six years ago and, in my opinion, is still not equalled in terms of technology from a bass amp perspective.
As an engineer, my job I feel is to identify a problem and solve it. Or maybe there’s a product out there which I feel I can make better, just like the NXTs, which we worked on with Celestion designing the new Neo motors. We’ve offered Neo speakers for around 10-12 years, with each product line improving on the previous one in some way. Working with Celestion we sought to solve an issue, once and for all, of bass players still comparing their Neo speakers to their ceramic counterparts. We needed to come up with a design which would combine the lightweight properties of Neo with the tonal characteristics of the ceramic speakers. As an engineer it was my job to ask, “Why does Neo and ceramic sound different?”, which is how the NXT series came to be, through our work with Celestion on the Neo motors. That’s what I like; coming up with solutions to those kind of engineering problems that people are searching for answers to.
Cool! Anything else you’d like to share?
First of all, thank you for your time and for the opportunity to share my thoughts with your readers!
In general, I think it’s important for people to do what they enjoy doing, and I feel very fortunate that Bergantino Audio has afforded me that.
I’ve had a lot of fun, met some great people, and formed great friendships over the years, and I’m looking forward to many more years of doing what I love to do!
Thanks very much for you time Jim, it’s been lovely to talk to you.
Check out our new range of Bergantino Cabinet Impulse Responses