Hifi Pig talk to Conrad Mas, the man behind the UK based manufacturer AVID Hifi. AVID Hifi are perhaps most well known for their range of turntables and phonostages, but at last year’s Munich High End the company introduced a full range of electronics and loudspeakers…and won the Hifi Pig Loves You Award.
How did you get into/what was your first job in the industry?Your History
Absolute Sounds, a retail shop in my home town of Watford, UK was my first paying job within the industry. By this stage I’d established a relationship with them and they knew of my endeavours. I was still young and the owner took me under his wing allowing me free access to everything in the shop. I only learned recently that Jim Dovey the owner has recently passed away, very sad indeed.
Who or what was the biggest influence on your career?
Strangely enough that would be my parents which I haven’t unfortunately had the most positive relationship but sometimes such negativity can make you driven to achieve the unexpected. Probably enough said.
Proudest moment/product you’re most proud of?
After 20 years of development the Acutus is still my baby and now the mother of all our turntables. Now in Reference Mono form, I’d happily put it up against anything. People today say it sounds amazing and to think they could of had it over twenty years ago…
What product do you wish you had never conceived/launched?
Nothing really, especially as everything we’ve launched is still in production with the exception of our Isoschelf rack system, but don’t hold your breath you may see this making its return….
Tell Hifi Pig readers about your next project and what they can expect in the future from you and your company.
Currently we have quite a few design projects in development, notably cascading our electronics from the Reference Pre and Mono amplifiers down to an affordable integrated amplifier. Not forgetting our roots we’re finally designing our own tonearm and cartridges.
You and your system
What was your very first system?
A friend invited me to listen to his home built turntable. I eventually bought the whole system which started my quest to design the best turntable. The turntable was the Connoisseur BD1 kit turntable with JVC JAS-22 amplifier and home made Chris Rogers Pro9TL speakers.
Tell us about your system history and the way it has developed to the system you have today.
It wasn’t till some years later that I bought a Thorens TD160 and Hadcock GH228 tone-arm, my first serious kit. The Thorens suffered the usual blutak treatment and at this stage I developed my own theories from a blank sheet of paper. The Thorens was later replaced by a Logic DM101, it seemed to follow my thoughts on a rigid one-piece subchassis. Some time later I worked in a HIFI shop, which gave me access to many great products of the time. I’d got my own working prototype working by this stage and frankly could do with the money, so I sold everything to fund my development work but whilst working in the shop my home system changed almost daily. Now my system is pretty much a complete AVID system.
What component/product do you miss the most/wish you had never got rid of?
Actually none, but a different type of answer would be ‘who’ I missed the opportunity to meet. George Hadcock called me one day to ask me something. To me it was being called by a legend and I felt really humbled but it turned out he felt the same way and we agreed to meet up. Events prevented us meeting and George sadly passed away and I never got the opportunity to meet the man behind the first serious HIFI product I bought.
How often do you listen to music?
That’s easy; every day. In the car or at work, radio at home and most weekends with shows or dealer events, which is especially good as I’m exposed to so many new artists I’d never get to hear.
Best system (or single component) you have ever heard (no brands you represent please…!)
There are so many that have really impressed me over the years, including the Stan Curtis designed Cambridge CD1 two box CD player, the Tandberg 3014A cassette deck and the Apogee Scintilla loudspeakers, so choosing one is difficult. Put on the spot I’d have to say listening to Alison Moyet on the Infinity IRS V loudspeaker system is still the one that perpetually stays in my mind as being totally awesome.
The state of the industry
Vinyl resurgence… what are your thoughts?
What’s more interesting here is the driving force behind the resurgence. It’s amusing that the press and industry weren’t really aware of it until it happened, many sectors haven’t really embraced it and many are still wondering if it’ll last. The driving force is the record industries push for profit. Whilst downloads remain the dominant volume of music format purchased, despite lower unit sales, vinyl produced higher profits last year and actually a few years ahead of schedule. From a record label perspective, they spend a fortune retaining artists, produce an album, manufacturing and distribution costs, only to have people download two tracks for two bucks. On vinyl however you have to purchase the whole album which then becomes more profitable, let alone reissue box sets with huge profits. Just like people buying white cars was cool and everyone followed like sheep, so to the vinyl resurgence stimulated by the larger labels and its here to stay and grow. The downside are some people looking to cash in like supermarkets and hoping to reduce prices, but as the pressing capabilities world wide are saturated it’s likely to remain a niche profitable sector which in turn will keep quality high. Obviously this is just a conspiracy theory but we do know some influential people :-)
Is CD a dying format?
Again its all about perspective. Whilst CD sales and CD related hardware sales have fallen off a cliff, they still massively out sell vinyl. But what goes around comes around and with the shear volume of this format out there don’t be surprised if it has its own resurgence in ten years time.
What are you views on the state of the industry/where is it going/what will it look like in 5 years/what will typical systems look like?/What will happen to prices?/What will happen to the high end – will it carry on regardless?
This is a massive and potentially far reaching question, but possibly one to answer short and sharp. Easy first, as a typical system in 5 years will be streaming and vinyl dominated. High end I think will actually grow as the largest generation listening to music evolve from teenagers into adult families at home. Prices will remain in line with inflation as in the next five years the global economic situation will not improve greatly, especially in the UK with its new isolationist agenda.
Digital downloads, what do you think their impact has been on the way people listen to music?
Well its certainly got more people listening to music and especially the younger generation and allows people the opportunity to easily seek out new artists and genres of music. I think in the future download services will increase in price, however music publishers will also use low resolution or clips to market to potential new customers but with the view of purchasing on more profitable vinyl. So downloads will become the McDonald’s of music; easy consumption usually on the move and vinyl is your at home with a bottle of wine quality experience.
How do we engage young people, the audiophiles of the future?
It’s been the audio industries biggest problem for the last thirty years. There is more people listening to music than ever before, but they simply don’t know that we exist. A lack of marketing to make audio aspirational and differentiate between true HIFI and low-fi means people’s buying is cost and perception driven rather than listening and making comparisons. The saviour of HI-End audio will I believe be the advent of higher quality headphones and the resurgence of vinyl making listening ‘cool’ again. Better headphones take people away from low quality MP3 and back to quality. As this generation grows older to have families, listening to music becomes a social activity leading hopefully to separates and loudspeakers. Unfortunately the majority of the audio industry does not have the budget to undertake effective marketing of the scale required, although social media does offer good opportunities. Hopefully they will not become the lost generation that missed high quality audio.
Online shopping’s effect on the retail industry?
Effects have been both negative and positive. It’s allowed once unknown retailers accessibility to a wider audience and the ones that offer good service have grown and seen many of their internet customers become shop customers. However on the negative side we’ve seen an increase in discounting which not only devalues brands but then takes up valuable time with manufacturers policing the web. Most detrimental though is that internet selling are lost opportunities. As customers click and buy, retailers think of the order as easy money, however the opportunity to up-sell through demonstration or discuss alternatives means a less profitable retailer and one that losses the ability to sell, rather than just collect orders. This is also a disservice to the buyer as well. Can you imagine an internet self diagnosis website and then click and buy dangerous medication. Its what doctors are for and good retailers should be audio doctors, giving clients best advise. For that I’m afraid you need good customer contact and not a mouse click.
The way you work
Presuming the measurements are fine, what do you listen for when assessing products?
Dare I say it, sometimes the equipment measurements aren’t always good but offer great musical insight, like a lot of valve amps for instance. When assessing new designs we look for certain things, but ultimately its needs the women effect. You may not realise but in R&D women make the best listeners. Whilst men will procrastinate for hours about the virtues of equipment, most women will give a simple yes or no, it’s right or wrong. Ultimately if it makes you want to put another piece of music on to see how it’ll sound you know its right. In fact with our Acutus turntable we know its right, so much so we’ve been thinking about warning new buyers against sleep deprivation…yes it’s that good we believe!
Your sound preference -‘Smooth, listenable musicality’, ‘forward, driving, ‘foot-tapping’, involving sound’ or ‘detailed neutrality and transparency’?
Depending upon the music, it’s all of those things. The problem is when the reproduction equipment varnishes the music, making it HIFI rather than an experience. When you go to a live gig, it’s an experience not HIFI, High Fidelity should give you that same feeling.
Turntable preferences…direct drive, belts, Idlers or what?
I simply cannot imagine how some manufactures can offer a buffet of different drive systems other than just to shift another box. As a designer who spent twenty years in search of perfection I want to give the best performance at any given price. For me it’s belt drive for so many reasons, so all our turntables use the same drive system.
Your preference – Full-range floorstanders or freestanding mini monitors with a sub?
Dare it be said, loudspeakers have profound effect upon the final sound. So whilst different turntables will have a large effect, the difference between a closed box design loudspeaker to an electrostatic is simply huge. However the room conditions are even more significant in choosing the right loudspeaker, especially room size, type of walls, suspended floor and on. Not ducking the question, but you ideally choose the speaker to best suit your conditions and musical tastes, in the same way you don’t choose a Ferrari to plough a field.
It’s all about the music, man…
What is your favourite recording?
There’s so many that mean different things but ‘Alive and Kicking’ by Simple Minds is that fall back track that keeps me motivated even after the usual kick-backs that running a business in this industry presents.
Tell us about your 3 most trusted test recordings.
For voicing our electronics and loudspeakers we do have three specific tracks to give us what we’re looking for;
- The beginning of ‘Friday Night In San Francisco’ by Al de Meola, John McLaughlin & Paco de Lucia where we look at the speed of the guitars,
- Alison Krauss & Union Station’s Album ‘So Long So Wrong’. The track ‘Looking into the Eyes of Love’ we look for Alison’s voice to be uncompressed,
- Eagles ‘Hotel California’ on Hell Freezes over live album where we are listening for the impact of the kick drum.
What are your most embarrassing recordings/guilty musical pleasures?
Another’s embarrassment is someone’s pleasure so you should never be shy about playing something you like but it’s true it can surprise some people, especially at audio shows. So you’ll find me playing James Blake, Megan Trainor, Ellie Goulding and Paloma Faith rather than the usual Patricia Barber or Dave Brubeck.
Having safely ushered your loved ones out of the house as it is burning down to the ground, you ignore all standard safety advice and dash back inside to grab just one recording – what is it?
Eagles ‘Hell Freezes Over’ live… do you know how much its worth :-)
What do you as a company have in the pipeline and what new products can we expect to see?
At this years Munich HighEnd Show I think we shocked many people with the unexpected launch of our Reference loudspeakers, let alone the Acutus Reference Mono turntable. We were delighted to have come onto the Hifi Pig radar winning your Hifi Pig Loves You award. Next Munich High-End Show, however, we hope to maintain our surprises, so we’ll have an electronics line all the way to an integrated amplifier, our own tonearm design and pick up cartridge. It’s what makes me get out of bed in the morning, my hobby that I get paid for…what a great life.
Thanks for speaking with Hifi Pig.