Hello Raphaël. How did your interest in music reproduction start?
Well, I suppose everything starts with music listening during as a youth, with a father playing music, either on a piano or guitar, or on his HiFi system. Then, my father being an electrician and repairing TV sets, meant that I grew up with electronic stuff around me, which started my interest in technical matters. I started at 16 to learn electronics, and became at 23 an electronics engineer. This gave me all the necessary knowledge required to start to design my own equipment. It was also during my studies that I discovered ‘real HiFi’.
Any brands in particular?
As a kid, I was found of all those mini systems, particularly the Pioneer one. I read some magazines offering tests on audio products, like Denon, Marantz or other Japanese brands. And once, they talked about ‘true HiFi’, ‘subjective results against measurements’, ‘esoteric’ brands like NAD, Rotel, Brinkmann, Electrocompaniet – where the final aim was realism, and the path to it simplicity as defined by ‘straight wire and gain’ – well it was too late, I caught the virus!
Were you encouraged by others?
Not particularly. It was more influences than encouragement.
Well … like my young years at home, my taste for technology, and my meeting with students having the same passion for HiFi.
Can you tell us a little – or a lot if you wish – about Maestro?
Well, Maestro is just a part of a completely fresh approach to a HiFi system. It was in 2006, after some years of work in the industry, that I decided to come back to my first love. And just get rid of my complex (and ugly) HiFi gear. With three objectives : top audio quality, simplicity and beauty. So I took the decision of:
- integrating one amplifier per loudspeaker
- stocking all my audio contents (CDs) on hard drives
- replacing buttons and knobs by a tactile screen
- remove all cables apart the power cords
This was the base of our Canto range of products – and it was rather new! Maestro reads CDs, USB devices, shared folders, and can store every audio content on its internal hard drives. It only has a tactile screen and a rotating knob (and, from my point of view, is very nice looking! And it digitally sends music to one or more speakers.
Using its power cord and PLC technology.
Tenor is the receiver-amplifier connected to the speakers. Like Maestro, it receives the digital audio contents by its power cord. Then, it decodes, converts and amplifies the signal to be able to directly drive a loudspeaker.
No buttons, no messy cables to connect. Simply plug in each product, and select the room and channel of each Tenor. Very short speaker cables and dual mono configuration with lossless digital transmission allow for very high audio quality.
We extended the capabilities of the system by adding remote control applications for tablets and computers, streaming features.
What are the current design and materials limitations that confront all intelligent skilled designers today?
I do not think that there are limitations, unless when costs are the main influence. Engineers have access to very good quality components, and finally it’s their skills and knowledge that make the difference. The digital revolution is still under way, and some didn’t catch the train in time. Carefully applied, digital signals can push the limits of audio quality, and suppress cable effects. Streaming and downloads make CD reading errors a bad memory.
What about creativity, innovation and other ‘motivators?
As an innovative company proposing a rather unique system, we of course believe in creativity and innovation. As an engineer, I believe that it’s the creation that is exciting.
Like an artist?
Yes, precisely. Like an artist, designing a unique object, with the final purpose of being used by other people. That is why the design of our products is important to us, and makes them unique. On the other hand, innovation should not be done for innovation’s sake. One must keep in mind what is the purpose, the final application of one’s creation. And technology should remain hidden, to leave the object simple and pure.
Do you have any particular priorities, other than the obvious one of sound quality, when you approach the design of audio components?
As I already mentioned, simplicity and beauty are our two primary concerns. The pleasure of the ear should be associated with the pleasure of the eye. And everybody knows that complex products always finish on a shelf in the attic! Apple, among others, understood the imperative need for simplicity and intuitiveness. I also like openness, in the way that our products can interact and play music coming from every external device.
To what extent – if any – does marketing influence your designs?
Well, it depends on the meaning of marketing! Strategic marketing and market studies are important to us: they are the best way to create the products users are waiting for. On the contrary, we are not very keen on ‘pushy’ marketing and communication.
Which means what in practice?
We like to believe that the quality of our products is our best ad.
To what extent does marketing into your home market differ from marketing to your foreign distributors?
There is no difference. Apart from power cords and user interface’s languages, the products are the same for every country!
I’m curious about the gestation process you go through designing a new product. How do you normally operate from, say, a clean sheet of paper?
I like the idea of starting from a clean sheet of paper. This is how the all project started, back in 2006. When nothing like this had previously and the idea was to completely change HiFi architecture, that was a thrill – and the start. Now, it’s of course necessary to rely on our existing products and technology, on our brand. It’s difficult to erase everything and start again from scratch. However, products and features shall evolve and improve, again and again. And finally, the best way to do it is not to start from a blank sheet of paper, but rather to use the paper where users wrote down their wishes.
What are your feelings about the whole digital / analog controversy?
Well, as a user and music lover, I don’t wish to fight with an LP anymore. I do not even talk of my little daughters playing Frisbee with them. So, the only solution remaining is digital music, being either CDs, downloads, streaming. Transmitting digital contents is very easy, and distortion free.
So I like the idea of keeping the music digital as long as possible (D/A converter or digital amplifier in the speakers). That way, quality is maintained, and no expensive analog audio cable is required. Moreover, with new HD audio format, unprecedented level of fidelity are attained. For me, there is no controversy. Analog medium will disappear, as well as digital ones. Everything will become virtual, and….digital.
Thank you Raphaël