Tom’s Audio Journey

When I was two years old a very stern German Grandfather started giving me Piano lessons on the worst sounding Upright Piano I had ever heard. Later on I started learning woodwind instruments and Guitar. I blew up my Dad’s Prized Jensen 15” speaker while I was playing Guitar through the Pentron Tape recorder. Lesson learned about distortion.

I got better and started playing in bands around Chicago in the early 60’s. People thought the bands were pretty good. Made a few bucks at it. Then people wanted my bands to record. Into the Studios on Wabash Street. Why were they clipping wires onto the output transformer of my bass amp? Why overdub the vocals? How come I had to play the guitar tracks twice? Why was the room so big and dead and the Ampex three tracks and Presto Lathes? At this point I just played and arranged the songs. Did not understand the technical details, yet I did blow up that Jensen speaker and probably damaged the Pentron tape recorder at home. I wanted to know the answers to the questions.Tom Graefe Founder Graefe Designs

OK, made enough bucks to go to College. Breezed through it at the top of my class with a degree in Chemical Engineering and a Major in Math and Physics. Off to a Job!
Moved to the South from Chicago. Man what a culture shock. Working for a Major Chemical company and playing in bands at night and weekends. Went through Marantz, Bose, Waferdale, etc. home stereos. Started Grit City Sound and Light, building large PA systems and then had Ralph Productions a little recording studio. Still working the ChemE day gig. Felt an awful lot like a Plummer? Too many pipes and valves. Started building my own amps and speakers. Got a wild hair up my ass and bought the “WHO” Quadraphinia PA system designed by Bob Heil. Loud but not so clean by today’s standards. Working for a Chemical company during the day ( Plummer) and bands at night did not get along. Chemical company went. So I started Building custom Guitars and modifying guitars, plus designing speakers for a “Living” and still doing the band Thang. Then modify amps, speakers, etc. Then I started building custom Mixers after I saw a NEW 1970’s API console.

I was happy but things are never what they seem. I had weekend Jam sessions on my estate in the woods with some amazing players but, the Headhunters kept calling me to work. I said “OK if you can double my previous salary, and get me a job doing something for the environment AND live in South Florida, I will consider the job. I figured they would go away. NAW they got me job in South Florida with a company from Sweden that did air and water pollution research. Crap, I had to work again.



I get to South Florida and first thing I do is start a band with my neighbors and started producing albums for some friends and started a Major Musician complex. You see where this is going! Next thing I know I was running a Studio full time (no job from the Swedish Company, no sense of Humor). I designed the console, speakers, acoustics…….. A huge amount of talent went through the Studio. Meantime girlfriend told me to get a real gig or move out…. So after doing a fun Reggae Album with Dennis Sindrey, he called me and told me I should work for MCI. He had started working there. I said no.

Later I was building custom mixing consoles and modifying Lexicon gear etc., at most of the studios in Fl. I ran into the Manager of the service Department of MCI at 12AM in a studio where Neil Young was recording. He said I should come in the next day and work for him. MCI had 70% of the Studio equipment market share at the time. I came in for the interview and two departments want me to work for them. Service and Console test. Personnel said I could work a half-day at each. I said OK my girlfriend was happy, I had a day gig. Well console test wanted me to take a training class on JH600’s and Service wanted me to teach the class. Ahhh the start of MCI/Sony and me. I was buying all my parts to build custom consoles from the MCI Service Department. I was their competitor.

I went from a Chemical Engineer/ Studio Owner/ Audio Designer/Speaker Designer/Guitar Maker to Service Dweeb. They sent me everywhere, I do mean everywhere in the World. Whatever was messed up I had to fix. I still remember Herr Garten in East Germany and Air Studios In Montseratt (Blowed up now). Bernie T getting bit by the Studio German Shepard, while sliding into the pool working on an Elton Album. OK the Service Manger imploded and they brought on a new guy. He gave me a review that said I knew a lot about Tape Machines but should learn about Mixing consoles. The console in my studio, still running, was one of my designs. I said RIGHT and walked into personnel and said this is not right! The guy does not have a clue! A few doses of Boss Fix Powder and a year later I was the Manager of Console Engineering for MCI/Sony. In the interim I designed ALL Special Products for MCI/Sony.
Then there was Sony Music, Columbia Pictures, SDDS, etc. Lot’s of products later. All this time I was running a full time Studio and traveling the World as Designer, Mixer, producer etc.. In 1994 I shut down a Studio that I had at the Musician’s Thang because of health reasons. I then bought my first set of Audio Concepts speakers and subs. WOW. IF only they would work in the Studio?

Retired in 1998 from the Sony thing and then immediately opened a new studio. Still tired of Westlake, UREI,……. Speakers. Designed a few new studios for friends, Oh yes still producing about three artists per month. Then I started designing Studio stuff for other companies. I thought Mike D made some amazing Shit, why couldn’t it work in the Studio for near fields? I began a dialog with Mike. We went through a few Proto’s until he NAILED IT! I bought his prototype it was so good! The Sapphire XL’s are the result. I will work with any equipment that is available in the studio to produce people. Mostly I bring in my own Mic’s, Pre Amps, and Compressors. Everything I own is modified or something I designed. I mix at my place on a Console I designed. I NOW INSIST on using Sapphire XL’s to track at the other studios and only use the XL’s and a Maestro sub to mix. I have screwed up too many mixes on Genelec’s and …….



I have worked on everything from $60,000 Boxer speakers to NS-10,s and everything in between. Sapphire XL’s are the only speakers I prefer to mix and track on. The imaging is spot on and the frequency response is dead flat with no harshness or ear fatigue. I can mix for 10 hours at a time no problem on Sapphire XL’s. If there is any kind of distortion artifacts during tracking or mixing it is immediately apparent on the Sapphire XL’s. Placing a vocal in the mix is easy. The mixes translate exactly to other speakers. Hey, these are too easy to mix on. These little nearfields are the best speakers period if you want a career mixing. I have done Albums and film soundtracks on these and they just WORK! Oh yeah they sound great too if you want to listen to your old CD’s. Plan on spending a lot of time getting used to your old collection. You will now hear stuff you missed. You must own a pair of Sapphire XL’s with a Maestro sub for the ultimate experience. Oh yeah now you will hear your crappy cables and poor power amp. Start upgrading to the ultimate listening experience.