Ben Jarvis is the son of the inventor of the Stylophone, Brian Jarvis. Ben currently runs Dubreq, the company that manufactures the all new Stylophone 2 with his business partner Tim Crook. As a part of the family business Ben Jarvis is keeping in line with the legacy of the original Stylophone as one of the most unique handheld synths in history.
The Stylophone 2 (S2) recently hit the market and is expected to introduce an entirely new generation to the ultra cool style of it’s handheld synth lineage. Dubreq bills the S2 as “an entirely British made, analogue synthesizer that will fit in a laptop bag. The S2 features include; All metal construction, a full 37 note 3 octave keyboard with +/- 2 octave shifter featuring a wire-free stylus and finger-touch playing method, an all analogue signal path, a classic British style 12dB/octave state-variable filter, dual all-transistor voltage controlled oscillators, sub-oscillators for super-fat bass, an eight waveform LFO with a 14 octave range, an auxiliary-input socket to use the filter and envelope-generator for other instruments, a 1/4″ output jack socket as well as an internal speaker and headphone socket and a CV and Trigger input sockets.”
We were able to catch up with Ben Jarvis of Dubreq to discuss the Stylo, S2 and future plans of Dubreq. Let’s dig in.
So, I understand that the Stylo is a family business. Tell us more about the history of the family business.
My dad used to be one of three guys who owned a dubbing and recording studio in London… they decided they weren’t making enough money so switched to manufacturing electronic toys…. my dad was the ‘inventor’ of the three of them so they asked him to come up with an idea for a cheap electronic toy. He was fascinated with music and electronic keyboards (in their infancy back in the ’60’s) and struck on the idea of removing the most expensive part of an electronic keyboard… the keys themselves, to make a really cheap-to-make electronic keyboard that used the metal pads of the circuit board itself as the keys and that was played by touching a metal tipped pen onto the keys to make a circuit and play the note. The new company was instantly born and named ‘Dubreq’ (a play on ‘Dub/Rec’ from their roots as a studio) and the product was named the ‘Stylophone’. It was launched on British TV in 1968, was played on ‘Space Odity’ by David Bowie in 1969 and went stratospheric from their…. they sold over 3 million of them by 1975 when they stopped production… which was a damn lot of anything to sell back then!
The original company closed in 1980 but, having trained as a product designer, I saw Bowie playing the Stylophone on prime time British TV in 2002 and instantly realised there was still life in this thing. I re-formed Dubreq with a friend who was an electronics engineer and we first re-launched a copy of the original Stylophone, then a Stylophone ‘Beatbox’ a cheap, simple electronic drum machine… and then, last year, began work on the new ‘S2’, the most serious Stylophone ever made!
Tell us about the Stylo2.
The S2 is a British made analogue synth… the words British and analogue mean a lot to people in this industry and we knew that would be the key to this product’s success. It is also pretty unique… it’s stylistically very iconic, the all-metal case with the precision machined aluminium endcaps make it stand out from the pressed steel, wood and plastic of it’s contemporaries, as does the metal touch-sensitive keyboard and the unique illuminated metal speaker ring (which is actually the main feedback interface for the product, the lights around it pulse, spin and switch to show you the oscilator speeds, filter settings, even the volume level). It has been designed to be unapologetically analogue… it’s there to make some seriously awesome noises and we’ve avoided putting too many ‘gimmicks’ on it. People always seem most surprised however by it’s high-end functionality… we have packed the functions of a MUCH larger synth into a very small and simple looking package by being clever with the interface and controls.
Does it have midi or presets?
Nope. Simple as!
We made the decision from the start to aim this squarely at the analogue synth market. It has Control Voltage and Trigger inputs rather than MIDI as these are favoured these days in the analogue synth world. It is a true multi-oscilator analogue synth that bennefits from not constraining artists with pre-sets… yeah, you have to sit with it and make it squeal and roar for a few days before you really get to know all the crazy sounds it can make… but that’s it’s greatest asset in my opinion.
Do you see the Stylo2 as a direct competitor of the Teenage engineering OP-1 or even Korg’s monotribe?
In some ways yes in that it is at a similar price point and will be bought by similar people… but the OP-1 is digital and as such is not likely to have the same appeal as the S2 for it’s sheer noise-making ability, the Monotribe hasn’t quite got the level of complexity the S2 has in it’s controls or features but the big difference there is that this has a BIG keyboard! The keys aren’t full size but are big enough that it can be played in a gig and is distinct notes, not a ribbon synth… to be honest we avoided even looking at the potential competitors to the S2 when we were developing it as that can lead to you diluting what you are aiming to create by trying to match or out-do the feature list of other products. The S2 is what it is… a British hand-made, solid metal, blue-glowing light adorned chunk of awesome. It can generate bass which has had professional synth palyers with their jaws on the floor and is certainly the only British made analogue keyboard synth in anything close to this price bracket…. so we’re confident it’ll carve out it’s own market very rapidly.
I understand that the Stylo2 is manufactured in Great Britain. Why is it important for you to keep it that way?
The original Stylophones were made here in Britain…. it is of course a big selling point but most of all.. it gives us a level of control in terms of quality and customer support that we couldn’t hope to provide with a product we designed then got made in the far-east. It means it’s more expensive and there will be a lot fewer of them yes, but the people we think will be buying it will appreciate what they are getting for that extra money and the security that ‘Made in the UK’ badge brings with it.
I really liked the custom Stylo2 with the great britain flag on it. Are there any plans to create customized S2’s, sort of like the deal with NI Maschine MK2’s custom add ons? (hint hint)
I can’t say much more… lets see how the standard version goes first, but we will be looking at some limited edition versions and we have a great local spray artist who does custom bikes on hand to help with it.
Who are you targeting with the Stylo2?
We’re targeting the serious musicians and the home studio crowd in a way our cheaper products never have. We are hoping our customers will be a great mix of those who will be using this thing on stage in live gigs as well as those who will be sampling it, and/or plugging it into/through other equipment to sample from it and use it in recording. We’re also obviously targeting Stylophone fans… there are millions of them out there who have bought one of our products… this is the ultimate iteration of the Stylophone concept so we want it to act as an aspirational product for everyone who’se ever played a Stylophone too.
You also make a percussive stylo instrument. Tell us more about that.
We have the Stylophone Beatbox which is a pocket digital drum machine with about 40 samples and a unique circular keypad, a bit like a steel drum. It’s a great cheap little product which has a loop/record function to lay down and edit repeating beats which I think is unique for the $30 or so price point it sits at. It’s been popular in the US and we are considering doing to the Beatbox what the S2 has done to the standard Stylophone… but a professional analogue Stylophone drum machine is a little way off for now.
Do you do product development and fabrication for other companies and individuals?
Nope, not really. We have developed some other gift products (not music related) for other companies in the past, but for now we’re concentrating on developing the Stylophone product range and seeing where it leads us.
I imagine there is more to come from your company. Are there any new products to come that you can discuss?
He he…. watch this space! The S2 is only now going on sale… we have sunk a LOT of money and time into it so we need to see how it goes first but… we have some ideas for other high-end products which people have been screaming out for which may come along in the next couple of years if things go well.
What does the future hold for Dubreq?
Success… I hope 🙂
The S2 is a big change of direction for us… and is a unique thing in the musical instrument industry, a product known for cheap products suddenly making a professional level instrument… but so far the reception from those who have seen or played the S2 has been huge and our problem now is keeping up with demand for it rather than trying to sell it, which is a GOOD problem to have. As I said… if this goes well it should mark a new direction for us and we’ll be doing a lot more in the semi-pro/pro arena in the future.