atelier 13 audio
ABOUT OUR PHILOSOPHY
Our Philosophy and Approach to System Composition
You may have noted that we present different systems at different price points ... from as low as $2K, and up to $150K. We selected these price points intentionally. This, although in theory - but not in practice - we could have shown an unlimited number of system alternatives at all sorts of intermediate prices ... and above.
The whole point of this deliberate and time consuming process was to compose very musical system chains using selected components from our chosen product lines.
This process is ongoing, and seeks to identify "System Equations" that extract Maximum Performance from a given Investment Limit.
David and I personally put ourselves in the position of evaluating these systems as though we were in fact going to be the customer acquiring them. At some point in boils down to either a Thumbs Up, or a Thumbs Down.
Why Trust us ?
Over the last 45 years, I have either privately owned or represented over 300 components. The majority of these were acquired as a dealer or as a distributor.
Since my early twenties, I had walked the road much traveled by audiophiles in quest of the "ever elusive" holy grail, and have personally lived with about 25 different systems ... systems covering just about all types of component topologies. I had also done a lot of “home-brewing”, and my workshop was (and still is) full of NOS Tubes, Oil caps, transformers, vintage gear, and gear that I had built over the years.
As for David, his experience was gained in the Computer Tech side of the music recording industry.
Does the following sound familiar ... ring a bell ?
This journey was fueled by great Passion, but was also "serious business". Serious, because I was spending significant amounts of money on gear ...and, consequently, I was not happy when some of the systems proved to be in the least bit disappointing, bland, characterless, un-engaging, irritating or downright unmusical. And there are more unflattering adjectives that come to mind :=))... but I think you get the message.
On the plus side, I have to admit that I really enjoyed this journey ... but more importantly ... I listened and learned a lot along the way
Why work with us ?
Against this historical backdrop, we want to ensure that all our systems have the musical goods, and are right on the money.
Can these systems be tweaked to deliver more ? Sure they can.
Are there variations on their "individual musical themes" ? Sure there are.
... and this Variability is precisely why we love to do what we do.
Whilst we are very confident of the musical quality of our systems, we also seek to ensure that these systems are solid foundations for future additions, upgrades and derivatives for when the time comes to explore these with our customers.
Our Views on Music Reproduction & Approach to System Composition
I very often use the adjective musical in reference to one component or another, or in reference to a system.
Musicality, however, is a function of the quality of the performance, and of the quality of the recording thereof.
Once this musicality is inserted at the Source, the question then becomes whether or not a component, or a system-chain, allows the listener to hear and to feel it emanating from the speakers in the listening space.
If the listener feels the artistry and the emotion of the performance, then one can conclude that the sum total of the components in the system "promote musicality", as opposed to impeding it, or veiling it.
In this sense, an individual component participating in this chain can also be said to be "musical", or perhaps more appropriately ... "pro-musical".
This however begs the question as to how a component, indeed a system, promotes or impedes the restitution of the emotional message transmitted during a particularly artistic performance which has been embedded in a good recording.
In my view, the answer to this question resides in two inter-related issues :
A. The first issue derives from two fundamental questions :
1. What is the essence of a great musical recording ?
2. How does this challenge a system ?
Well, really great music incorporates a highly complex and engaging, indeed a captivating level of "emotional ebbs-and-flows" ... passages that navigate from quiet and gentle to loud and explosive ...from the serene to the intense and back ... from slow to fast and staccato-like ...and back.
There are deeply sad or intensely joyful moments conveyed by the composition ... all meant to either tell a story or to share an emotional state, drawing the listener into its "emotional reality".
Sure, there are plenty of songs or instrumental pieces that have a "narrow emotional bandwidth". Songs, for one, often rely on the relevance of the "social commentary" incorporated in the songwriter's words, indeed in the poetic manner in which these words are assembled into the Message.
If the Words -- as expressed by the singer's voice -- are the primary deliverer of the message [whether emotional or rational], then - sometimes - the musical background arrangement tends to be less loaded with emotion... and the focus is on the Voice as the key emotional driver.
But here we know that, of all the instruments, the Voice presents the highest variation in terms of nuance of expression, tone, inflection, and textural complexity ... just to name a few variables. With Vocals, the system is essentially dealing with a bandwidth fundamentally focused on the mid-range. But this does not lessen the challenge for a system : to properly capture and restitute high emotional complexity.
So, whether the musically-expressed emotional content is "high bandwidth" as with Large Scale Orchestral or "narrow bandwidth" as with Folk Vocals, the system's ability to convey the emotions is equally challenging.
...regardless, the CORE concern is the conveyance of EMOTION ... and not if one can hear all the High Frequencies, or all the Low Frequencies.
Finally, no system can do it ALL ... But ALL good systems must be able to convey the CORE EMOTION of the music. The degree to which a system does this whilst providing Deeper Insight, and a more Intricate Experience, is typically -- but not necessarily -- a function of its Cost.
B. The second issue derives from the following questions :
1. What in a component promotes or impedes the Emotion of a good recording ?
2. How does a chain of components in the system -- and given the customer's room characteristics -- affect the Emotion of a good recording ?
My "inner musical soul" tells me that there are 3 things going on that reconstitute that captivating feeling of "being in the emotion".
1. TIMING ... the "T" component of PRaT
> Timing / Phase is when "all components of the musical phraseology" get to your senses in exactly the time sequence that they were performed and recorded in. Nothing sounds artificially delayed ...
> Micro-dynamics sparkle across the scene and Phrase Punctuation is natural ... as opposed to being exaggerated or dull.
2. DYNAMIC CONTRAST
> This is related to "R" ... Rhythm / Pace. It is a function of the "energy" or "drive" that propels the musical phrases towards our human senses such as to impart on these the correct sensation of scale and intensity, and the intended variation thereof. V
> Finally -- and before moving on to the third critical contributor -- what to think of the notion of "P" ... Pitch ? In my opinion, Pitch is not a primary and direct factor influencing the equation, but is a derivative that naturally occurs when T and R are in synch with one another ... very much like when a turntable's motor and bearing are well synchronized, causing the LP to rotate at the correct speed.
3. INNER DETAIL & COMPLEXITY OF TONAL AND HARMONIC STRUCTURE
> This one is the proverbial "icing on the cake". You can have TIMING and / or DYNAMIC CONTRAST, but will not necessarily be rewarded with inner detail and refined harmonics.
> For this to be present, the components must have very extended Bandwidth Capability ... and the veils created by power supply Noise and Harmonic Distortion must be absent ... meaning that you have a totally BLACK Backdrop and Clear Tonal Transparency.
> This is where things get rapidly expensive -- top notch power supplies, superb output transformers (if Tube), and low noise and high precision / low loss passive and active circuit components -- all of which then have to be meticulously combined by a very talented designer into an awesome "emotional instrument".
C. Sounds good in Theory, right ? ... but what about Reality ?
"HOUSTON WE HAVE A PROBLEM" : Unfortunately for us, many designers [and their marketeers], as well as dealers all too often exhibit the following behavior under commercial or financial pressures :
Many are in a hurry to sell, and take short cuts -- i.e. the "its good enough" syndrome.
OR, they are greedy.
What we then end up with is "BLING THAT DOES NOT SING"
... and they all then pray that our natural [but regrettable] tendency towards "confirmation bias" will blind us from the sad truth that we were sold less than worthy components at, arguably, unworthy prices ... OR :
...if the components were "worthy", they were not musically compatible with the other components of our system chain ... a situation which is equally regrettable especially if a dealer knowingly sold us the component.
What are some of the Consequences ?
When and if we wake up to the truth, our valuable money is long gone.
Taking corrective measures at this point is prohibitively and demoralizingly expensive.
Buyer's Remorse sets in ... further amplifying the sense of betrayal, frustration and distrust.
D. So, again, why work with us ?
We are committed Audiophiles who think like Audiophiles, but we also "know a thing or two" about the Audio Business. By "marrying up" these two factors :
We have created a service that understands and focuses primarily on the real concerns and needs of Audiophiles ... rather than on the needs of manufacturers.
The integrity of the customer's system is our first Priority
On the other hand, we also aim to protect the integrity of the excellent components that we represent, and thus protect the reputation of the manufacturer's who make these.
Recommending a component for use in a system "where it does not belong" is very detrimental to to the reputation of the component.
Finally, if we cannot source the right component for the customer's system, we will :
1. Either obtain a compatible component through our Network ...
2. ... or will recommend another dependable source from whom the customer can acquire the compatible component.