‘TIS an oft-heard sentiment over the past two decades, that the wonderful thing about the Internet is how much easier it has been to reach across the world… and for manufacturers, this can’t be stressed enough. Especially if you’re a boutique outfit, making a small number of handcrafted products for the audiophile market. One such company is Erzetich Audio, based in Slovenia. Formed eight years ago by one Blaž Erzetič, the company is a one-man operation with collaborators, and produces about 50 headphones with wooden parts and headphone amps of various models annually.
Browsing through the company’s website reveals its founder’s commitment to not messing with the environment and staying sustainable. Many of the parts for Erzetich’s handcrafted headphones and headamps are made in Slovenia. The company’s approach is to “create products for people, not measuring instrument” and thus, “the process of building our products is more similar to the manufacturing of a musical instrument rather than electronic equipment.”
Erzetič himself was a guitarist who has released four albums, and he built his own hi-fi system years ago because it was too costly when he was growing up (Slovenia was then part of the former Yugoslavia) to buy a branded one from the shop. But you can read all about his journey, mission and philosophy on the company website. Here, we get down to an email interview with the man for enlightenment on how Erzetich functions.
Tell us three things about Erzetich Audio that’s not on your website.
– I tune all units by ear. If they sound good to me, I check them also with instruments (just for fun).
– First CD that I bought was Confessor – Condemned.
– I try to repurpose chip-offs and the remains of the materials that I’m working with.
The company was formed in 2012 – how long did it take you to start making a profit?
The first year. The company didn’t have a big initial capital (it was self-funded) so it needed to generate income ASAP – it was then growing very slowly, but steadily.
How long does each product take to manufacture?
It depends on which product. Some can be done in a day, if we exclude waiting time for paint drying, some may take a few weeks.
Which are your key markets, by region?
Products are sold worldwide and for a very long time mostly outside Europe – Russia, the USA, East Asia. In the last few years, Europe became interested in these products a bit more.
How many people are employed by the company? Are you the sole owner of Erzetich Audio?
I work alone, but I have external collaborators specialised in their own field (metal parts, printing, etc.). Yes, I am the sole owner.
How has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted your business, and do you feel this is changing the way people listen to music?
Honestly, I sold more units during the Covid-19 than before. I talked to other manufacturers in the field and they said the same. Probably people have more time to listen to music now… or maybe they just have the opportunity to do so, since a lot of them are working from home. In a way, this situation pushed us away from each other and people are trying different things to maintain sanity – sports, art, DIY, etc.
How many items do you ship a month? Is your business via online only and do you employ brick-and-mortar stores to help you sell your products?
The cash flow is very inconsistent, but if I take a yearly statistic, it’s about one unit a week. It’s a small boutique company and that’s quite okay for one person. Selling is split into two plans – distributors and online. Most of the units are sold through distributors and that’s obvious – people like to test and feel them before buying. Online, it’s sold probably 10–20%. Just to fill the void.
You are obviously adopting a sustainable method for manufacturing your products – how difficult has this been?
Due to the boutique approach, it hasn’t been a problematic decision. If this was a mass production, where you have to cut corners at all costs, the approach would be completely different and probably not that close to the sustainable method.
Also, one of the workshops is in the woods and that’s what draws me to use wood as an important material in the products.
You have a limited number of products so far – three headphone amps and three headphones. Do you see expansion beyond this – like perhaps a portable DAC?
There is a 4th headphone amplifier – Deimos, which is currently unavailable, but it will be again (later this year) in a refreshed version. It’s our top headphone amplifier and I use it personally daily.
There’s also another headphone amplifier in development with a very interesting sound signature. I thought it will be available this autumn, but due to the lack of time, it might be pushed to early 2021.
There are quite some prototypes that are lying around the shop that will probably never go into production. It’s not that easy to optimise and prepare a product for the market.
I’ve been working on some prototypes for desktop speakers that use quite unusual materials and designs, but again, time is my enemy and I should probably employ someone sooner or later to help me out.
What is your philosophy behind the design of your products, whether headamp or headphones. For example, you have both dynamic and planar magnetic headphones, so what was behind the decision to go different routes?
Sound signature. Every amplifier or headphones has a different sound signature. On the website, there’s also mentioned how to couple them optimally. The technology is a secondary (or sometimes a fun) matter.
Technology-wise, some components are stock, some components can be done custom. Combining these, I tend to go towards the sound I am looking for – or sometimes just something interesting happens by a lucky coincidence.
Design-wise, it’s a similar process. What is that I can custom-make and what is that’s stock available (and repeatable) and how can I combine them. That’s making the development process very exciting.
In your opinion, what makes Erzetich Audio products different in what is a crowded field?
I’ve been a lot in touch with art, having my own exhibitions of computer graphics and photography, working for five years in an art gallery, three years as an external consultant for the Ministry of Culture, and teaching digital visual arts in two universities. I wanted Erzetich products to be kind of “useful acoustic sculptures”. A kind of form of handcrafted art. By being hand-made, those little imperfections give them a soul by showing the human energy that was put in creating them, pushing them beyond a label of “just a useful product”. They are also numbered by the way that artworks are.
You have a number of artistes using your headphones – do they use it in the studio, on stage or at home? What is your process to tie-up with them?
Mostly they use them in their studios. There are various ways that I contact them – some I contact through a network of acquaintances, some are contacted via management, and some contacted me.
It’s interesting to see how (artistes) differently respond to a collaboration. I established collaborations with artistes that I thought were unreachable, and yet they were very cool and friendly. On the other side, you have minor celebrities with a very arrogant attitude. I’ve seen this pattern also when I was a sound engineer for live shows.