Last week Hifi Pig published a review of the English Acoustics Stereo 21C amplifier, a modern take on the classic Leak Stereo 20. Here we have a quick chat with Jordan Jackson, Chief Operations Officer for the Wiltshire based company.

 

Jordan HArd At Work With the Soldering Iron

HP: What was your motivation in bringing what is an iconic product back to market?

JJ: We have always loved the original and for years we were asking ourselves why no one has brought it back. There are a few products out there that retain parts of the circuitry but nothing that keeps the timeless design of the chassis. This is what we wanted to capture when designing the Stereo 21c but inject some modernity within the amplifier by using new components throughout and this is where the name comes from, 21c which represents 21st Century.

Close Up Of The Stereo C21 Showing the RCA Inputs

We have been designing amplifiers for the best part of 30 years but we have never released a final product, only prototypes which have made over the years. We were tired with seeing all of the, what we considered, poorly made products that flood the market and demand very large price tags and when we restored our personal Stereo 20 we loved how it was constructed in a beautifully simple but appealing way and we wanted to capture this.

HP: What do you feel is so special about the original Stereo 20 and how do you feel you have improved on the design?

JJ: The Stereo 20 was special because it was one of the first commercially available hifi stereo amplifiers, launching at the 1958 London Audio Fair, two months after the introduction of stereo records. When the Stereo 20 was launched other manufacturers were using two mono amplifiers to realise stereo, the Leak stereo 20 was way ahead.  Its design is beautiful, not just from a visual point of view, but the circuit design and transformer design are very good. Our criticisms of the chassis stem from how it was manufactured back in the 1950’s using folded steel and then spot welded together, something which is very rudimentary and basic by today’s standards. We improved upon this by having a thicker folded steel chassis with a built-in joggle to support a base plate and have seam welded the corners ground to a smooth finish so you have a lovely rounded edge. As I mentioned, the base plate is something we really feel we needed as the original was never supplied with one and there are high voltages inside making it potentially unsafe in the hands of someone who is unaccustomed to valve amplifiers.

The changes didn’t end there, we have redesigned the mains and audio transformers so that the mains runs on a specific voltage that is country-specific and it now runs 20°C cooler compared to the original. For the audio transformers, we have redesigned these to run specifically on 8 ohms as this is the most common impendence on modern and classic speakers. We also wanted extended bass performance with a smoother roll-off at the high-end, but still maintaining that classic sound, but with a modern precise delivery.

A View Inside the English Acoustics C21

Perhaps the most special part of the Stereo 20 was what was printed on the front, “Made in England”. This is one thing we wanted at our core company philosophy and we have gone extensively out of our way to source UK-made components and we hand build all of our amplifiers at our workshop in Wiltshire in the west of England. Because of this we are sure to include Made in England on our amplifiers and we are also an official member of the Made in Britain partnership, but more notably, we are the only valve amplifier manufacturer to carry this prestigious mark.

HP: What would you say the company philosophy is and how important is a UK supply chain to that?

JJ: Our company philosophy is to ensure where we possibly can, all of our products will be, and are, made in the UK using as many UK sourced parts as far as physically viable. A UK supply chain is hugely important to us as we feel UK manufacturing has a lot to offer and having British made HiFi is a breath of fresh air in a market that is dominated by outsourced, cheaply made products.

We also prefer the traditional approach to business where you interact with the client as much as possible and this is why we personally hand-deliver all of our amplifiers where possible as we feel it is important to make them feel valued and that they are not just buying a product, they are also buying the knowledge, expertise, and care that goes along with it. We also note that most manufacturers only offer a 2 year warranty and this is why we offer 3 years instead, we are so confident in our design and build quality that we felt we could better the industry standard.

HP: Given there has been a move towards more complex loudspeaker design that inevitably require lots of power, how relevant do you think the amp is in 2021?

JJ: It is a question that we get asked a lot and how do we cater to current speaker design. This is why we have a specific 8 ohm output impedance and test on a wide variety of speakers. Our main demo speakers are a set of Bowers & Wilkins 800 D3 diamond speakers and we also have Quad electrostatic ESL-2912’s, Wharfedale Linton’s, vintage Heybrook HB-1’s, Klipsch RP-600m’s, and a few others so we can be confident that the amplifier will work and drive a range of modern and classic speakers.

Even though the amplifier power of the 21c is modest, the stated power is across the audio range from below 20Hz to above 20KHz.  This is a notable detail in itself, as most other manufacturers quote over-generous power and performance figures, and almost universally at 1KHz.  It’s rather more difficult to get a clean 10W at 15Hz compared to 10W at 1KHz, and this is why other manufacturers stick to 1KHz for their performance claims.

The C21 Is Available In A Wide Range Of Colours

We recently had a demo with German Physiks where they kindly brought down their HRS-130 loudspeakers which are not high sensitivity, but the Stereo 21c was able to drive them perfectly and provide the distinctive ‘valve sound’ that we have all come to love. You do not need a hugely powerful amplifier on contemporary loudspeakers provided the amplifier is designed properly and the 21c is a testament to that, as was the original Stereo 20.

HP: Who is involved in the company and what is their experience in the audio industry?

JJ: We are a small team that is mainly situated in England, but we are spread as far as New Zealand. At our Wiltshire headquarters there is our Chief Technical Officer and founder Peter Farrow and the Chief Operations Officer, Jordan Jackson (that’ll be myself). Further afield we have director Ron Martin based in Aylesbury, our Creative Director, Jamie Baker based in Bournemouth and our Compliance and PCB designer, Adam Rosner based in New Zealand.

Combined we have over 60 years of audio experience and Peter is an ex-BBC broadcast and sound engineer with a 1st class honours degree in electrical and electronic engineering from the University of Leeds. He was also awarded the English Electric Valve Company prize for the best telecommunications project in 1989 when he graduated.  Peter and Adam design the amplifiers, it is my responsibility to take the prototypes and turn them into finished products.

I (Jordan) have qualifications in business and media production with an avid interest in audio and manufacturing and I design all of our amplifiers using high end CAD software and have a large hand in building and assembling them. I’m also the person you’re likely to speak to when you contact us!

Ron is successful director of a high-profile company and has years of experience managing various companies and ensuring business compliance so that all procedures are carried our correctly and within regulations. He is also a qualified electronics field application engineer and has worked for various blue chip companies.

Jamie is an established photographer with a wealth of knowledge spanning from photography to graphic design. His experience is not just in UK companies but also those in the Middle East, most notably, Dubai where Jamie was based for 5 years working with a successful production house and he is our guy who produces these excellent photos.

Adam runs an audio design company which also manufacturers valve amplifiers which is based in New Zealand and he is our PCB designer and compliance designer who ensures or amplifiers pass stringent safety regulations and helps with the internal layout and design.  Adam has considerable compliance experience the Aerospace industry, which have some of the toughest regulatory requirements of any market sector.

HP: What is next for English Acoustics?

JJ: The Stereo 21c marks the first in a long line of high-end British made products from English Acoustics. We have more products in the pipeline and a few designs which we have prototyped and they have worked faultlessly for years with 10,000+ hours on some!

We are working to expand our portfolio and offer something for everyone which utilises the exceptional craftsmanship you would find on the Stereo 21c and build upon this.

READ THE FULL REVIEW OF THE STEREO 21C

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