MI Audio boss an Australian gear legend
YOU MAY know Sydney-based MI Audio for their popular and ever-expanding range of effects pedals, but Aussies have long known that they also make exceptional amplifiers too… and thanks to a trip to Winter NAMM this year, many more have been made aware of their high gain heads and classic combos. The MI in MI Audio stands for Michael Ibrahim, founder and electronics genius behind the brand who, from a very young age, was exposed to electronics as both of his parents were electrical engineers.
“I have memories from when I was four or five years old growing up in Cairo, Egypt, of PCB etching in our bathroom, various electronic gadgets being assembled by dad (who was a lecturer at Cairo University, but who supplemented his income by building and maintaining recording studio equipment), and of being taught to draw rainbows by following the resistor color code,” says Ibrahim. It is no surprise then that he went on to study Electrical Engineering and Science at university.
Ibrahim got a thrill from taking a bunch of components and stringing them together based on someone else’s plans and creating various sounds. With some analysis and experimentation he began creating an overdrive pedal to use himself, a pedal that would become the first MI product and a favourite with tone chasers all over the world, the Tube Zone.
“I noticed that to my ears, stringing a bunch of standard overdrive pedals together, all set to low gain, produced a better overdrive sound than simply squeezing all of the gain out of one pedal,” he recalls. “I then made the link between this and the way that vacuum tube amplifiers work, by progressively clipping the signal multiple times. So I designed the original Tube Zone in 1995, which clipped the signal four times. It worked… and I liked it!”
Between 1995 and 2002, a small number of Tube Zone pedals were manufactured, then later in 2002 Ibrahim registered a business name, ordered enough parts to make 25 pedals, and set up a website. To his surprise, all of the pedals sold within a few weeks. In 2004, he quit his day job as a software engineer and a year later had hired his first employee.