THE advent of the download age has seen a number of hi-fi manufacturers quickly realign their business models, with an eye on the burgeoning market for relevant components – USB DACs, digital audio players, active and wireless speakers and such. However, some companies have preferred to stick with what they do best and further refine their products.
San Marcos, California-based Audience belongs to the second category. Set up in 1997 by music-loving businessman John McDonald, designer/audiophile Richard Smith (who has passed on) and design engineer Roger Sheker, the company’s brief was to “to build a loudspeaker that would set a new standard in audio performance… a speaker that was faithful in every way to the original recording without the many compromises found in conventional loudspeakers.”
The idea was to build a crossover-less speaker with a single driver, and this led to Audience ultimately designing its own A3 driver, having found everything else on the market to be unsuited to the vision. The first model sporting this driver was the ClairAudient 16.
Today, two models in the Audience line are a manifestation of the first vision – the ONE and the ClairAudient 1+1. Along the way, Audience also ventured into the realms of cables and power… products like the aR series power conditioners, and a number of speaker cables, interconnects and power cords have been hailed as among the best in the market.
McDonald was in Kuala Lumpur recently and we took the opportunity to ask him about the company’s philosophy and future plans.
You make what many respected reviewers say is the best small speaker in the business – the ONE. It is touted as a desktop monitor for use in a small room. Given the current trends with desktop and computer audio, are there plans to use the ONE as a basis for exploring this market, for example, an active version with Bluetooth capability?
We have certainly given thought to making the speakers active and wireless and that very well may happen someday. Having said that, The ONE is intended to be a “true high end” loudspeaker product, not just a lifestyle product. It is intended to deliver the very highest quality of sound as reflected by the many excellent reviews on this product.
Therefore we feel that The ONE is best left as is when serving the true audiophile market so that they can be used with a variety of amplifiers at the election of the end user. Ken Stevens of Convergent Audio Technologies, CAT, uses Audience speakers in the development of his amplifiers because they allow him to hear the differences between his amplifier designs better than any other speaker. At such point that we make The ONEs active, we take away this great and enjoyable opportunity from the true audio enthusiast.
The ONE is undoubtedly a fine mini monitor, but understandably, not for bass freaks. Would you recommend using a sub-woofer with a pair. If no, why not, and if yes, what sort of a sub?
The ONEs have substantial bass, albeit rolled off, even below 20Hz. In many cases, on desks and near walls for example, this low energy is enhanced for much better low response. However, The ONEs do work well with a sub-woofer and we do recommend such a set up when more bass is desired.
Because The ONEs provide a good degree of low energy, the musical definition of the low notes comes from the speakers when left playing full range. For this reason, it is relatively easy to match The ONEs with most any decent sub-woofer.
Do you, in the near future, plan to introduce any new passive loudspeaker models?
Yes, very much and passionately so! Audience was originally started to make loudspeakers of the highest quality. We are now working on the development of a new full-range driver that will represent a breakthrough if it proves to work. We plan to make numerous and larger designs.
Your range of products includes speakers, cables, interconnects, power cords and power conditioners. Are there any plans to expand the range or add a new variety of product in the near future… more electronics, perhaps?
Not in the near future. However, we have a very capable design team so who knows what the future will bring.
What is the secret of your success with your power products, and cables and interconnects?
Ah, the secret of our success … well if I told you my secret, I’d have to shoot you! Haha, just kidding of course.
Actually, there is no secret. And, truthfully I cannot say why we are successful, except that we try hard to deliver real products that I would have in my own home. We do not make any niche products just to fill a market.
Every product that is made by Audience must stand on its own as a real high quality offering and it must pass the test of my big ears.
How much research goes into each product you make?
As much as it takes. It took us over 10 years to get to the starting line of our loudspeakers.
Tell us about an exciting product concept you’re mulling, and may or may not make in the coming years.
As mentioned before, we are working on some very innovative loudspeaker designs. Otherwise, we are always pushing the boundaries of every product that we make.
Which region is your biggest market, and which product is your biggest seller so far?
The USA is our best selling region over all. All of our products sell well. I cannot say there is any standout.