When we were asked to take the trip down Valence in the South East of France to visit APURNATM we naturally jumped at the chance. Not only is this an absolutely beautiful part of the world, situated as it is on the left bank of the Rhone and surrounded the Massif Central and the Ardèche hills to the west, and the Vercors Massif in the French Prealps to the east, but we were also going to be treated to a private and exclusive viewing and listen to APURNATM’s two hundred thousand euros (per stereo pair) Pure 200 amplifiers.
Yes you read that correctly two hundred thousand for a stereo pair of amplifiers, but then you can also go 5.1 or 7.1 and buy the requisite number of mono amplifiers! Many will be reading this and immediately reel in horror at the price of these amps but then you are clearly not the market for these beautifully crafted and luxury products. The market for APURNATM is the super-rich; people that have yachts, luxury cars and homes around the world. These people exist in large numbers and crave exclusivity and opulence in the things they choose to spend their money on. You may or may not agree with the need for an amplifier like the APURNATM, but there is a market their and the guys behind the brand intend to cater to that market and why they will be attending the fabulous, they are an old client of mine, Top Marques Monaco show later this month.
The couple behind APURNATM are Franck and Catherine Borne, and a lovely pair they are too. Franck runs a very successful electronics company and is responsible for the technology behind APURNATM, but Catherine adds the feminine touch and this shines through in the finished product and the “Unique Like You” branding the company have adopted. The product is fully Made In France of course, something the couple are immensely proud of! Franck is a long standing audiophile and whilst at university built his own amplifiers; it’s still there in the company’s display cupboard that shows the evolution of APURNATM. Both Franck and Catherine are music lovers with a particular affection for opera and it was a visit to Opéra De Lyon to see Carmina Burana that set the first seeds for the couple’s journey leading to the birth of APURNATM. They bought the CDs, the SACDs and vinyl copies of lots of versions of this piece of music, but never did they feel they were getting the true feel and dynamic of the opera house experience, despite having a high-end system.
Let’s get the technical features out of the way first of all. The APURNATM is essentially a mono integrated amplifier offering up 200 Watts into 8 Ohms and doubling up into 4. You get two XLR inputs (one of which is in bypass mode), three RCA inputs (one of which is in bypass mode) and two phono level RCA sockets for either moving coil or moving magnet cartridges. Obviously you need a pair of amplifiers for stereo. The aluminium chassis of Pure 200 is formed as one piece with the aim of reducing vibration and there is an integrated powered ventilation system to keep the amp cool. All components in the amplifiers are made specifically to APURNATM’s specifications and carefully measured and paired where needed. Putting the barebones of these amplifiers together takes three days and takes place in the company’s workshop. Each amp weighs 47.5Kg in the standard finish. There are several patented technologies within the Pure 200 but more than that simple fact we were not made privy.
So, the amplifier’s inner workings are done with and that’s the macho stuff taken care of, but what happens next could only be the brainchild of a woman who appreciates the finer things in life. Once built, the chassis and electronics are sent away to the same craftspeople that carry out work for luxury brands Hermès and Cartier and this is where the lavish extravagance begins. Customers can specify specifically how they want their amplifiers finished and hence the Unique Like You branding. And the amplifiers that we saw were absolutely stunningly finished and just ooze elegance and craftsmanship of the highest order…as you would expect.
The stereo pair we heard (pictured above with Franck and Catherine) were crafted with a wealthy Chinese woman in mind and have highly polished brass plaques on each amplifier saying “Flower Princess for Shuang-Pu Yao” and I think this is the kind of person to whom the Apurna amplifiers will appeal a great deal; someone who has oodles of disposable income and who wants something beautiful and exclusive – fine audio jewellery, if you like. They are absolutely beautifully finished with layer upon layer of lacquer and the workmanship of the craftsmen carry out these sonic works of art could never be called into question.
The remote control is stunning and feels luxurious, solid and is presented in its own wooden box. Nothing has been overlooked here and it is clear that every detail has been meticulously crafted and finished with a particular kind of end user in mind.
We had a listen to a few tracks of music including the aforementioned Carmina Burana (an old Decca pressing) and it was clear that these amps are sonically very good indeed and very fast. The familiar almost whispered choral part of this track builds to a fantastic crescendo and speed and attack are words that come to mind; but you would take as a given that these amplifiers could perform well sonically! To judge them absolutely in an unfamiliar room and with unfamiliar ancillaries is nigh on impossible and somewhat pointless given that what people will be buying into when they buy these amplifiers is opulence, luxury, exclusivity and lavishness. These are no simple audiophile offerings and the package goes much further than that…and that is the crux of understanding what Franck and Catherine are trying to achieve here.
With thanks to Franck, Catherine, Clarisse, Delphine and the rest of the APURNATM team for making us feel welcome and looking after us so well.
HIfi Pig asked a few questions of Franck and Catherine.
Who or what was the biggest influence on your career?
There’s no one thing that had a particular influence. It was more a sequence of events. The fact that I had worked for different-sized companies and in different fields allowed me to form my own opinion about managing a business in general and about the luxury segment in particular. CB
Proudest moment/product you’re most proud of?
APURNATM. I totally relate to this product – you can feel the quality and the luxury. CB
Tell Hifi Pig readers about your next project and what they can expect in the future from you and your company.
Naturally we plan to expand our range with ancillary products, but we can’t talk about that yet – it’s still confidential. CB FB
What was your very first system?
My very first system was a pretty decent SONY – one with a turntable and huge speakers. That was in 1984. CB
How often do you listen to music?
All the time, every day, everywhere. But even more since our APURNATM adventure began, because we also listen to music at the office. CB FB
Vinyl resurgence… what are your thoughts?
It’s great, it shows that after all the enthusiasm for CDs, customers today are focusing more on sound quality and analogue technology, which remains the benchmark. FB
Is CD a dying format?
No, I don’t think so because it’s a relatively small and very portable medium, even though it faces competition from streaming websites. For now at least it still has a place in the market. FB
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?
I think that after years of selling us only mediocre sound reproduction, demand is going to force manufacturers to produce something better, particularly since vinyl is making a comeback and with it, turntables. For a large part of the market, price – I mean low price – will no longer be the primary selection criterion; we’re moving towards a more balanced market in which sound quality will be the deciding factor, as it was 30 or 40 years ago. CB
Digital downloads, what do you think their impact has been on the way people listen to music?
People who only ever listen to virtual music are always amazed by the sound you get from an amplifier and good-quality speakers. Young people who’ve often only ever known CDs don’t really get this difference, but the music market is evolving positively in this direction. CB
How do we engage young people, the audiophiles of the future?
Hard to say – I think the market is going to be split, between those who swear by virtualised (and lower quality) music which nonetheless is extremely accessible anywhere, and the more demanding who‘ll be looking for high-quality sound reproduction. CB
Online shopping’s effect on the retail industry?
The impact’s obvious. Customers are buying without testing or listening to the equipment. Even technical data or comparisons are no substitute for actually experiencing the music yourself. CB
What is your favourite recording?
Bob Sharples – Dimension in Sound – “Mack the knife” FB CB
What are your most embarrassing recordings/guilty musical pleasures.
Diana Krall – The look of love FB CB
What do you as a company have in the pipeline and what new products can we expect to see?
It’s still too early to say. CB FB