Not so much a shop, more a complete studio service. Don Larking, situated in the centre of Luton (surprisingly only an hour by train from London) specialises in studio hardware and, more to the point, has all this hardware on permanent display for the customer to come to his own conclusions.
Not surprisingly a large amount of space is required to store such a vast range of equipment, from giant Tannoy monitors to custom-built mixing consoles, and the Don Larking premises cover three floors and extend far back from the anonymous facades of Luton's Cheapside. The ground floor includes a reception area and a small annexe for tape machines and mixers, together with the main demonstration area.
This area reflects its beginnings as a working 8-track recording studio; Don's experience in this field gives him the ideal outlook as a salesman, in that he can appreciate the needs of the working musician rather than only having a knowledge of the technical side of recording. The demo area remains acoustically and electronically isolated from the rest of the building, and so could be converted back into a studio at any time; at present it houses a Concorde 28 channel mixer together with a 3M 24 track tape machine. These are used to demonstrate any of a wide selection of studio effects unit, including the Lexicon 224 digital reverb.
Fostex are also well represented: their 3070 Compressor Limiter also acts as a noise gate or as a de-esser (removing sibilance from vocals), and although it's designed for the -10dB home recording standard it can also work at the +4dB studio standard. There are even more effects units, including many second-hand models which have come in through part-exchange deals, in the largest demo area.
Here, while every inch of floor space is taken up by mixing consoles and tape machines, the walls are stacked with shelves full of effects and accessories. A new Fostex amplifier, cheaper and more powerful than the Crown DC300, is in constant use, and the room is dominated by a huge horseshoe shaped Allotrope mixer, custom built for John Paul Jones. The Allotrope's getting on a bit in years now, but is still worth every penny of the £8,000 asking price. All the circuitry is discrete, on removable cards and easily serviced, and while more modern IC-based designs may be more compact, older models have the advantage of causing only a little compression at high signal levels rather than going straight into distortion.
Also on sale are a selection of Brenell Mini-8 multitrack machines, and Tubular Bells producer Tom Newman's Ampex 8-track, now fitted with Soundcraft electronics and Bel noise reduction on each channel.
Other equipment available at bargain prices includes a complete set of Melquist auto faders and the Allison Research 65K programmer, direct from the Manor studio and ready to computerise your mixing desk at a moment's notice. The Rebis mini rack effects include an EQ unit, Dual VCA and Auto Panner, at about £80 per unit, and there's also a good selection of Drawmer and MXR units.
Don Larking doesn't specialise in instruments, but there are usually a few lying around for demonstrations or as a result of part exchange deals. These include a Polymoog, and an acoustic guitar which once belonged to Charles Manson and still comes complete with carved poems and designs and a good share of 'bad vibes'. Upstairs there are more instruments: Jeff Wayne's Baldwin electric harpsichord, an ARP 3800 and some Roland and Oberheim modules.
This first floor area contains the smaller mixers, including models by Trident, Seck and Bel. Bel started with a popular range of flangers and noise reduction units, and now occupy part of the same building as Don Larking. Their 24:16 mixer is exclusive to Larking, as are Soundtracs mixers including the Omni, which has a link to expand the basic 16 channel design to 32 channels using another identical mixer. The Trident 16.8 at around £1,000 is another top seller.
A small room for 'home recording' has the Fostex A8 8-track and the Tascam 80-8 on constant comparison, together with various designs of multitrack cassette and budget effects such as the Fostex DDL. The next development along these lines is expected to be a Fostex 16 track machine; this should make purchasing decisions even more strenuous, but it's facilities like those offered by Don Larking which make such decisions easier.
Plans for the future inevitably include expansion and diversification. The second floor is in the process of being wired up for comparative speaker checks: the advantage of working in an ex-studio building is that multicore wiring from floor to floor is already in place, and so connection of any tape machine and mixer to any pair of speakers will be quite simple. There are always new products; Dearden Davies Associates have a new fully modular ultra low noise portable mixer, with sound quality high enough to make digital recording an ideal application, and Trident are marketing via Larking the new Studiomix, derived from the Trimix series and featuring 28 input 16 group frame with 4 way echo return module and 308-jack patchfield.
Don Larking will also market the Movement Audio Mimic, a sort of monophonic Emulator, and hopes to be able to persuade other dealers (such as those in the North of England) who don't have demo facilities, to take advantage of his proximity to the capital.
Details of new products available from Larking and second-hand equipment in stock are given on an occasional newsletter, now with a circulation of about 2,500, which is available to anyone genuinely interested. About fifty per cent of customers just drop in, and if an appointment is made any combination of tape machine, mixer, effects and speakers can be set up and working by the time you arrive.
A look around Don Larking's premises in Luton is quite an experience, although one likely to provoke severe attacks of covetousness. For those who feel the sight of all that desirable equipment may be too much, Don intends to exhibit again in parallel with this year's APRS exhibition in June, when there'll be a slightly smaller amount of equipment on show, but an equal chance to get some of the hands-on experience and helpful advice upon which Don Larking's reputation is based.
Further details are available from Don Larking Audio Sales, (Contact Details).