DENSEN / DYNAUDIO: Morten Nielsen interview

Originally posted here in 2007:

Meeting the ’Head Honcho’ of Densen, Thomas Sillesen, and Marketing Manager Morten Nielsen for the first time, I was struck by how modest and pleasant they were. There was no hype, no ’our products are the best in the world, and everything else is ‘crap’’ attitude. Whenever I subsequently met Thomas or Morten it has always been good because they just like to discuss and listen to music – very rarely mentioning hi-fi components.

Sadly, there are only a few hi-fi manufactures out there that have this temperament, and it speaks volumes about Thomas and Morten’s confidence in the Musicality of their products that they don’t have to keep harping on about the Hi-Fi attributes of their products – or do blatant petty one-upmanship against other manufacturers to justify performance.

After five years with Densen, Morten has been offered a new Big Adventure with loudspeaker manufacturer Dynaudio. While reading his answers to my questions, you can see why I think Morten (and Thomas) has the right attitude for the hi-fi industry.

[Channa Vithana]

Could you give a brief account of your background and experience in manufacturing specialist hi-fi products?

[Morten Nielsen]

I have been working in the hi-fi industry for the last 12 years, and I have a degree in marketing. I also worked in (hi-fi) retail.

Previously with Densen, and now with Dynaudio, what do you like about designing and making a hi-fi product?

[MN] It’s something we believe in and is very personal to us. When you buy a Densen you buy a product with a soul and that’s why it’s enjoyable working for the company. Densen makes hi-fi because we love music. Personally, I don’t like products without a soul because they don’t give me any joy and it makes me feel that their main purpose is to provide the producer with the largest possible margin.

Densen don’t make products to close a hole in the product range or to simply make a profit. When Densen make a new product it takes a very long time to design it because it has to be the best sounding in its price range. A new product is always designed with heart and soul and therefore Densen does not like to please the markets or follow any kind of specific trends just for the sake of it.

The products are made for Thomas and every product is a child of Densen & Thomas. If anybody else likes the product, then it’s wonderful. Luckily enough, a lot of people do. I like everything to have a personal feel to it and therefore I cannot engage in a product in which I don’t believe in 100%. However, I can do that with Densen and Dynaudio because they are very unique and quality orientated brands.

Can you give an example of Original-Selling-Point hyperbole in hi-fi that has discrepancy with actual performance?

[MN] I think that the hi-fi industry is the one business in the world with the most mumbo jumbo. It seems like every day you read about something fantastic that will change the hi-fi world. But very often it’s all a load of nonsense. The problem is that it’s extremely difficult for anybody to see if it’s something that really works. Take for instance up-sampling (in CD players). Does it really make things better? There are even enthusiasts that say that plastic shouldn’t be inside a product because it will degrade the sound!

Can you explain with your experience what the difference is between so-called ‘Musicality’ and so-called ‘Hi-Fi’ sound?

[MN] Musicality is listening to Music and enjoying it. Listening to Hi-Fi is to listen to sounds and noises and describing how it sounds. Many hi-fi systems are very good at playing Hi-Fi, but extremely bad at playing Music and often it gets worse with the more expensive hi-end systems. The real difficulty is to find a system that’s really great at both Musicality and Hi-Fi… I do believe that Densen and Dynaudio handle these extremes very well.

What do you think of hi-fi magazines and their editors?

[MN] I have a good relationship with many magazines, editors and journalists. While most magazines are good, some don’t have a clue, because they only listen to Hi-Fi and not to Music – they only describe how wide the soundstage is, or the level of detail, etc. And for the readers that’s exactly when nobody knows how wide the soundstage really is! For example, if you asked a singer or a musician about a performance would they say it was good because of the soundstage?

People simply forget to judge a hi-fi system by how good it is at recreating the energy and emotion put into the performance by the artist. Instead they concentrate on things that are not relevant for enjoying the music. Some British magazines seem to get the musical aspect though. Of course listening to music on a hi-fi is great – with a precise soundstage and a high detail level, etc – but if it does not convey the Musicality then it does not matter.

What would change in the future for specialist hi-fi manufacturing?

[MN] I think that the trend towards surround sound is turning again towards stereo. People either find out that their surround system is not very good at being a musical stereo system or they want a second system just for music. Turntables and valves are also coming back. Back to basics! Let’s hope that it means that more people are discovering that a good hi-fi system means more enjoyment from music collections.

What is your view on hi-fi companies setting up manufacturing in the Far East?

[MN] Hi-fi is a difficult business to be in and I do understand that for some it’s about survival and they have to move their production to the Far East. For mass production it’s obvious that you have to produce in the Far East. However for specialist hi-fi products, it can also remove some of the soul or character from the brand. I think that by staying true to a good design and manufacturing philosophy, you will benefit from it in the long run. To have highly experienced people working in the production makes a big difference when adding that all-important final touch to the product.

What have been the best experiences working with Densen?

[MN] There have been many because I have met a lot of interesting people. One of the best things though has been working with Thomas as I have learned a lot from him – mostly from all the challenges he gave me, plus all the responsibility – and the possibility of influencing every product, every concept, through the entire design process has given me a lot of insight. And I would like to thank him for that.

What do you think can be accomplished in your new job at Dynaudio?

[MN] There’s a lot of things to do, because strangely enough, the home market (in Denmark) is not well developed. So I’m looking forward to getting a lot of people thrilled about Dynaudio, because there are so many great things to get excited about the brand. For example:

* Dynaudio is one of the very few loudspeaker companies that manufacture everything.

* The BBC uses Dynaudio loudspeakers.

* Dolby used Dynaudio loudspeakers for the introduction of the new Hi-Res formats.

* Everything is crafted by the most experienced people in Denmark.

* The company has the absolute highest quality in the industry.

* Dynaudio is a very innovative company which spends 10% of its earnings on R&D.

* They have an absolute approach to technology and performance.

* And the sound is both very Musical and Hi-Fi at the same time.

Can you name your five favourite albums, and why?

[MN] Well, there’s a lot of great music out there. I think it’s very difficult to name a few and say they are the best records on Earth, because it changes all the time as there are so many of them. I always say: If you still want to listen to an album 10 years after you bought it, then it’s a great one.

Alternatively, an initially great album – even though you might have listened to it over and over when you first bought it – may not turn out so well after a decade. It’s like falling in love really; you just can’t get enough of each other in the beginning, but if in 5 or 10 years time you are sick and tired of each other, then it was not the greatest love after all.

Right now I really like the latest Madonna record ‘Confessions On A Dance Floor’ (2005). The way it has been crafted is fantastic, for example how all the songs are mixed and connected to each other. Of course the messages in the songs are really intelligent also, when you get down into it. And every single song is really, really great – and I am usually into rock! On a really good musical system each track is just like a different world to enter. Some might say that this kind of music does not sound good on real hi-fi system – well, sure it does, if you have a good musical system it will sound fantastic!

Can you name, in your opinion, the five worst albums, and why?

[MN] Just as there is a lot of great music around, there is also a lot bad music. It’s difficult for me to say what the worst is, as I probably would not listen to it. I mean, sure, it would be easy for me to say that I don’t like the new Take That album, because it sounds exactly the same as when they just broke up. The reason why they are back together again is probably because they found out that (apart from Robbie) they could not manage it alone after all.

When Gary Barlow didn’t turn out to be the next George Michael, they knew something was wrong. And now they still have the same position on the stage as 10 years ago, they still sound the same and there are still tons of girls screaming when they are in concert. So I guess it must be good music for somebody. Maybe I just don’t get it? But honestly, I don’t quite want to either!

Some sad examples are bands that used to be fantastic but just got worse after each record. Bands like Pearl Jam and REM. I mean; what happened? How can such great bands suddenly make such bad music? It’s a mystery. And I actually used to love these bands. Maybe I have changed too…