Ken Kreisel and M&K Sound

The Man behind The Bottom End: The “K” in M&K Sound

Ken Kreisel

For “The Bottom End” to be the most significant track in English jazz club history, it is hardly surprising that a genius was behind it all. In 1969 a young teenage audiophile, and recording engineer by the name of Ken Kreisel teamed up with Jonas Miller, who had opened up the world’s first “high-end audio salon”. This place was called Jonas Miller Sound, and it was based in Beverly Hills, 90210.

Ken had met Jonas during his last year at high school in 1969. He would take his master tapes to Miller’s high-end audio store. Listening to his equipment at the Beverly Hill’s salon got Ken interested in audio, even though his interest in sound and recording started from a very young age. Ken was a child prodigy, who amazingly began to develop his passion for stereo equipment and recording at the tender age of nine years old. After getting a part time job with Jonas, Ken got “bored” of his pre-med study, and decided to work full- time that eventually led to him becoming a partner with Miller.

Kreisel began to research acoustics, and did extensive studies recording many pipe organs. This information helped solve another mystery in regards to the B-Side of “The Bottom End.” For many years people wondered why the B- Side had a 12 minute church organ solo, and assumed that it was connected to the group on the A- side of the record. Valli Scavelli later informed me that it was not Don Baaska playing the pipe organ. Ken wanted to reproduce the bass that he knew was on his master tapes, in particular the transient information from the low pedals. During his early partnership with Jonas Miller, they sold Quad electrostatics and Magneplanar, which was the best merchandise available at that time.

Through Miller, Ken got to know another mastermind, Dr. Lester M. Field. Along with John Pierce, the “father of the transistor”, Dr Field had invented the travelling- wave tube. Ken’s association with Field had a major influence on his study, and development of acoustics, since Fields speciality was acoustics itself. Kreisel did extensive research and experimentation with him. It was a trip back to Harvard, MIT, and Bell Labs in 1971 that proved to be significant turning point. Ken said that it taught him a tremendous amount, and that this trip had influenced everything that he did ever since.

Walter Becker from “Steely Dan” asked Ken Kreisel to design a speaker system to use for the mixing of their new album “Pretzel Logic” in 1973. This system included a revolutionary new subwoofer Kreisel had developed, that had an excellent transient response. Everybody fell in love with that subwoofer, and all the guys in Steely Dan wanted one. Miller and Kreisel’s cliental included some of the most prominent artists in the record and film industry.

Many groups would come and record demo tracks at their salon. Even Ken’s customers that owned Quads and Magneplanar were anxious to possess this subwoofer, because it was very compatible with those speakers too. “Maggie” dealers noticed how many of these speakers were sold, and wanted to know what M&K’s secret was. When Miller and Kreisel revealed this to them, they wanted to buy it too.

What made it so special was that it employed a 12” driver with a precisely balanced magnetic drive system and suspension. It utilized a unique fibre cone formulation; and had special attention given to cabinet structure, configuration, and interior damping. It was said that in 1973 M&K basically invented the satellite/ subwoofer configuration that dominates an entire sector of today’s loudspeaker market.

It has also been said this M&K design made multi- channel home theatres possible. This incredible subwoofer was called “THE BOTTOM END.” Due to this success, in 1974 Jonas Miller and Ken Kreisel formed a separate corporation that was used exclusively for the manufacturing of subwoofers. On the second floor of their Beverly Hills store on Wilshire Boulevard, M&K Sound Inc was born.

Ken Kreisel told me about The Bottom End’s history. “The original Bottom End subwoofer was a studio monitor I designed for Walter Becker and Donald Fagen of Steely Dan in 1973 for mixing their “Pretzel Logic” album. In 1974 Jonas Miller and I started M&K Sound to manufacture the subwoofer for the “rest of the world.” We also did audiophile recordings. We had generic album covers made so we could put test pressing etc. into them. This is probably how you got your copy of “THE BOTTOM END” jacket…it amazes me that the record was found in London.”

In 1976 M&K Sound decided to make Direct-To-Disc recordings. Ken Kreisel was looking to make a special disc that demonstrated the sound of this new recording method, as well as his latest Bottom End speakers. Ken went to the “Celebrity Center” in California where he heard Don Baaska and Valli Scavelli playing with their band. He liked their sound, and wanted to use them for M&K Sound’s first Direct-To-Disc demonstration record. Don Baaska said, “ I recall now that Ken was more interested in the quality of the sound on his recordings, rather than the musical content. It was all direct to disc at 45rpm with specially designed mics and absolutely no editing of any kind. Really organic. Musicians were pleased to record gratis under those conditions.”

This is what made Ken Kreisel such a genius, for he had the ability to record and provide the most incredible range of sounds, that were used as source material for the testing of subwoofer speakers. He would use pipe organs with saxophones and orchestras, music boxes with high bells, real howitzer cannons fired simultaneously for level and impact comparisons between speakers. Ken also used marching bands, flamenco dancers, and even recorded the sound of a steam locomotive using a microphone that was set a few feet away from the wheels as they rolled by.

It has been said that M&K Sound’s “Bottom End Musical Bass And Transient Test Record” is the most thorough test disc for a subwoofer speaker. The jazz musician Jim Morris told me how he once saw a young Ken Kreisel take apart a very expensive tape recording machine, and improve its quality without any reservation whatsoever.

Even though Ken Kreisel’s interest was primarily focused on the sound, he himself acknowledged the magic of the music that was being played at that famous recording session which produced “The Holy Grail”. Ken said, “I remember how fantastic the live sound was, and how “cooking” the band was.” Ken played such a major part in the story, because the musicians did not realize that they were being recorded. He continued to say, “ Frequently, as soon as the musicians know there is a tape running, you don’t get the same performance as when they are totally relaxed. As you probably know, in a sense, the opposite is also true, that you can get a fabulous edge on a performance when it is recorded live, when the musicians know they must perform the set perfectly.”

If it were not for Ken Kreisel’s “vision”, we wouldn’t have had the unique recording of “The Bottom End.” Ken’s mind was made up as soon as it was finished, for that was exactly what he wanted. Don Baaska said that he was shocked when Ken said, “That’s a take!” I am sure that given the choice, the musicians would have opted for a more conventional arrangement of the “Get off the Ground”.

The sound on “The Bottom End” was absolutely outstanding, which was cut at 45 RPM. This was the pinnacle of sound recording during the mid-seventies, for it did not get any better than this. Ken explained to me, “Part of the secret to the recording is that I had perfected, or was in the process of perfecting some very special microphones which were used on “Get off the Ground.” I also had a very specially modified ultra high performance analog reel-to-reel 15 ips tape recorder.” M&K Sound was the great pioneer of Direct-To-Disc records (direct to disc recordings to the LP master Lacquer disc). M&K SOUND INC opened the FIRST direct-to-disc recording facility. This was the first studio in the world ever assembled that was used exclusively for direct-to-disc recordings.

Ken Kreisel and M&K continued to be a major innovator in audio history. In 1976 M&K marketed the First “Satellite-Subwoofer” combination called “The David and Goliath”. In 1977 M&K debuted the Worlds very first “ Self-Powered” Subwoofer called the “Volkswoofer.” Practically all subwoofers today are self-powered. Ken was also designing and building professional screening rooms for directors, producers, and the Hollywood elite. He was regarded as the main pioneer of “Home Theatre” or “entertainment”, because he was creating the commercial theatre environment for the home in 1978, before people had even become accustomed with the term “Home Theatre”.

M&K Real Time Records were the FIRST label to release Compact Discs in the United States, which I personally look upon as an incredible achievement, and all of these recordings were (and still are) DIGITAL. In 1997 M&K introduced their first INWALL speaker the SW-85. M&K Sound celebrated their 25th anniversary in 1999, but Ken Kreisel’s incredible achievements continued to grow. A year later, M&K Sound introduced their first SELF-POWERED monitor, the S-150P/MPS2510P. Ken Kreisel was so confident of his products that he decided to DOUBLE M&K's warranty as part of their anniversary celebration.

Kreisel’s incredible audio technology also reached the big screen in the epic “STAR WARS” series. M&K provided Lucas film, and Skywalker Sound with special monitor speaker systems that were designed by Ken Kreisel. Lucas Film, and Skywalker Sound used these systems to create and mix the soundtracks for the remaking of the first 3 Star Wars re-releases of Episodes 4, 5, 6, as well as Episodes 1 and 2.

Rick McCullum, who produced Star Wars Episodes 1 and 2 said, “We selected Miller & Kreisel speakers to create the Star Wars Episode1 soundtrack and they proved to be the most accurate and best-sounding monitors we have ever used.” The film industry’s top sound engineers/ editors depend upon Ken Kreisel and M&K Sound’s innovative speaker systems, which have helped them in receiving the much-coveted Academy Award (Oscar) for sound.

The following Academy Award winning movies for sound used M&K speakers for the sound design:

2006: Christopher Boyes -“King Kong’’ – Achievement in sound

2004: Randy Thom – “The Incredibles”

– Achievement in sound editing

2003: Christopher Boyes – “ Lord Of The Rings – The Return Of The King”

- Achievement in sound mixing

2002: various – “Lord Of The Rings, The Two Towers”

- Achievement in sound editing

2002: Michael Minkler – “Chicago”

– Achievement in sound

2001: Michael Minkler – “Black Hawk Down”

– Achievement in sound

2001: Gary Rydstrom – “Pearl Harbour”

– Achievement in sound editing

The following nominated films used M&K:

Oscars nominated:

1999: Gary Rydstrom – “Star Wars Episode one”

- Achievement in sound and achievement in sound editing

2000: Randy Thom – “Cast Away”

– Achievement in sound

2003: Christopher Boyes – “The Lord Of The Rings”

-Achievement in sound mixing

2003: Christopher Boyes – “Pirates Of The Caribbean”

- Achievement in sound mixing

2003: Christopher Boyes – “Pirates Of The Caribbean”

- Achievement in sound editing

2003: Gary Rydstrom – “Finding Nemo”

– Achievement in sound editing

In 2001 Ken Kreisel moved M&K to a new 66,000 Square Foot facility in Chatsworth, California, while receiving the coveted “The Absolute Sound/ Golden Ear Award” the same year. He was inducted into the Beverly Hills High School Hall of Fame, “Class of ‘69” the following year. In 2003, M&K introduced an amazing concept in Home Entertainment. The speaker was called the “Column Surround TRIPOLE” that was so unique because it could be placed behind a sofa, which could not be seen in the room, yet the sound would still be of the highest quality.

The latest Star Wars film again had Ken Kreisel’s magical touch within its sound. In 2005, the Star Wars producer Rick McCullum asked for M&K to contribute on his latest addition to the series, Episode 3 - “Revenge of the Sith”. It is quite phenomenal what Ken Kreisel has achieved in regards to Audio Technology. Many would have been proud of just one of these accomplishments, and I have only named a few.

I have so much gratitude towards Ken Kreisel for his sound, and his vision in the making of “The Bottom End.” He has achieved so much, and has worldwide acclaim for his contribution to sound technology, but for me (and many others in the UK), there is no greater accomplishment than his work on “The Bottom End.” I cannot express enough what he has given us, and the exceptional part that he played in an almost unbelievable story. Ken Kreisel thank you so much, for you gave so many kids such a magical gift to dance to, and even after 23 years since it was first discovered here, the spirit of “The Bottom End/Get off the Ground” continues to touch people in such a special way. Ken Kreisel, we all salute you.

The Original Miller And Kreisel (M&K Sound) 'Bottom End' Speaker

Copyright 2007 © Seymour Nurse

Ken Kreisel's phenomenal achievements at M&K Sound came to an end after 30 years, with the closure of the original company.
Read more about this in the Ken Kreisel interview/article:
M&K Sound: End Of Story