We figured what with momentous release of Perreaux’s first loudspeakers, the Audiant SR35, and 2014 being the company’s 40th anniversary, it was an apt moment to quiz owner Martin van Rooyen, colloquially known as Marty.
Witchdoctor – You could have knocked me over with a feather when I heard the news that Perreaux was making their own speakers. I guess I had always seen the company as amplification specialists. [Although we know of course, that you have turned your attentions to CD players, etc, in the past] And the speaker market seems like such a crowded field. What motivated you to try your hand at speakers?
Marty – The speaker market is indeed very crowded. However, the move towards speakers is logical. We have many users worldwide. In recent years we looked at companies such as Linn, Naim, Gryphon and a host of others who also offer loudspeakers as a part of their lineup. We feel like they do, that buyer behaviour is varied and it is best to be able to cater to as wide a grouping as possible. Granted most are happy to purchase a component from our lineup. However, some have broader aspirations and take a whole-of-system approach. As opposed to a market driven approach, ours places greater emphasis on acoustic and electro mechanical engineering, which some of our customers find very refreshing indeed.
Witchdoctor – What specifically was the thinking behind the SR35s, and were they a long time in R&D? How did you decide on a path in terms of sound and design; who to employ and where to get parts?
Marty – The SR35 is designed to compliment the Audiant series lineup and as such it required a thoroughly modern approach. As usual at Perreaux, everything we do is pretty much designed with an engineering focus which can at times be a very challenging environment to partake part in.
Engineering briefs were created, cabinets mocked up, components installed, measurements taken and so on and so forth for what seemed like an iterative eternity. I feel it has been one of our more challenging undertakings to date. This is partly also due to the reason that it was a re-entry into loudspeakers for us and as such there was also little room for compromise between aesthetic and engineering bottom lines.
The final version of the product was created approx 2.5 years after the project first commenced. Cabinet manufacturing, sanding, spraying, testing, assembly and packaging is all done in the Perreaux factory. Our engineered approach, with sophisticated math modelling and live testing has exceeded our initial design goals.
I also would like to pay credit to a wonderful and dear friend, GB, who gave of his time and incredible design expertise so generously and repeatedly. How he resisted reaching for his gun to shoot me, I will never fully understand. I wish to sincerely thank my kind friend for everything he has done for us over the years.
Witchdoctor – Are they designed, like so many products these days, to be at their optimum when matched with other Perreaux gear?
Marty – Yes, correct….they have specifically been designed with the Audiant series in mind and will perform optimally with the Audiant series amplification products.
Witchdoctor – They’re fairly efficient, smallish speakers. Perreaux built its name on super-powerful amps. Has the company philosophy shifted into downsize mode, given the size of living areas and concern over power-sucking devices?
Marty – Sort of….the SR35 when combined with the Audiant 80i or DP32/100p combination will enable each amplifier system combination to develop to their fullest potential. The Audiant series amplifiers delivering between 80 – 100w of pure clean power when matched correctly to the SR35… will deliver an incredibly convincing performance. Perreaux has always been known for high powered products, and putting things in context the Audiant series are also at the extreme end of the performance curve for this class of product.
The SR35 is not designed for the Eloquence or Prisma series products… both of these series should be used in combination with far larger loudspeakers than the SR35. We reserve the right to develop larger loudspeakers in time to suit our larger amplification products.
Witchdoctor – Were the speakers envisioned with a particular type of user, or with an idea of the style of music that might suit them best?
Marty – In golf there is a saying ‘drive for show and put for dough’. The same applies to hi-fi gear. It would sadden me to see an offering as sophisticated and detailed as the Audiant series be applied on full-on head-bashing applications. If a client wants to achieve this type of sound, please purchase Cerwyn Vega and a switch mode PA amp. The Audiant series is specifically designed for the discerning customer that aspires to own a high quality preforming NZ manufactured system that can cater to their wide variety of music tastes.
Witchdoctor – The SR35s have such an extraordinarily clear and yet dynamic sound… being a fan of hybrid electrostatics, and so often disappointed even by expensive cone speakers, I’m amazed at the brilliance of these quite modest speakers (in terms of price). What were the key characteristics you were looking for in the SR35s, and are there any secrets you can reveal? (My guess is that fewer crossovers really helps get rid of any hash, and that because the drivers/tweeter are on a dedicated panel at head height, this makes them more like stand mounts in a more convenient and attractive form?)
Marty – Good observations… amazing sound agreed… but please understand that I need to be a bit careful in what I say for fear of revealing too much.
I want to state, our price in NZ is basically our gift to our loyal NZ buyers only. Think in terms of a speaker of a multiple of this price if it was exported, passed through customs, had VAT added and been put through an overseas distributor/retailer network.
The first thing which strikes you about many of these products we looked at is the old out of sight out of mind principle is still alive and well. Most look incredible from the outside but on closer inspection inside, not a dollar extra is lavished than absolutely has to be. One very rough measurement is to simply weigh each cabinet against measured outside dimensions. It soon becomes apparent that the SR35 is substantially heavier per equal measure of volume than its competitors. What does this reveal? A very robust and heavy cabinet construction that will assist in the reduction of cabinet flexure and further dampen internal resonances to an absolute minimum.
Let’s now move on to the drivers. The mid range/woofer drivers are modified Norwegian SEAS products, supplied to us directly by SEAS Norway. The tweeter is also from SEAS Norway and are the same model as used by some of the most reputable world reknown loudspeaker manufacturers in their reference series products.
The driver arrangement is an MTM (Midrange, Tweeter, Midrange) format. This is also known as a D’Appolito design after world famous audio designer Joseph D’Appolito. You can read all about him here.
In a nutshell…a D’Appolito design ensures that a pinpoint source at the centre of the tweeter is always maintained. This is opposed to systems which employ asymmetrically mounted drivers, which due to the changing nature of music produced can result in a smearing of the central focus of the sound in a vertical direction as different drivers are employed to produce sound at various frequencies.
On the drivers, let me be clear: not many speaker manufacturers today source their drivers from SEAS Norway. Why? Because they cost a fortune. You want the best, most accurate and detailed sound possible, look to Northern European manufacturers.
We have used high tensile black electroplated stainless steel machine screws to mount the drivers and plate to the cabinet. This in turn has necessitated the use of internal machine thread T nuts being internally placed into the blank wooden plates beforehand. These machine screws offer incredible integrity.
Internally, we have used a special design programme to ensure that internal reflections are reduced to as great an extent as is practical. I could be giving the game away here, but let me say that we have really put considerable thought into this aspect of the design.
Internal cabling: once again, we used quality cables and hand soldered everything carefully with high silver content solder.
Crossover: best engineered design employed, top quality components sourced directly from Jansen in Denmark.No compromises.
Rear port: is custom constructed and precisely optimised both in length and size for our design. We could have purchased a plastic port tube like everyone else does…but it would have invariably involved compromises, so we designed and manufactured our own port and after many iterations of calculated vs tested results settled on the optimum, which is what you hear today.
The aluminium front panel plate is not some aesthetic piece, it is 12mm thick made from a solid extruded piece of marine grade aluminium, milled to our precise requirements and then carefully threaded, bead blasted, anodised and then screen printed. I will not tell you how much those front panels cost, but let me assure you that one of our esteemed Northern European competitors use something similar in their design and their speaker retails around $10,000 here.
The reason we chose to mount the tweeters? The mounting height of the tweeters is critical. They are specifically designed to be as close to ear height to the seated listener. In addition to this we have also offset mounted the tweeters to either side of each cabinet to minimise edge diffraction issues.
Witchdoctor – My only (rather oblique) criticism is that, because I like deep bass, I felt that they needed the addition of a sub in a larger lounge. There’s certainly adequate and well-controlled bass when instructions are followed regarding the position in relation to the wall behind the speakers. What are your views on this?
Marty – Referring to my earlier comments about form and function, we specifically designed the speakers around the needs of living in today’s modern environment. Most buyers when forced to admit, their better halves so often act as the final hurdle. Many say ‘go ahead, buy a nice sound system, but I don’t want to see it’, hence the massive drive towards discrete in-wall systems with all their ghastly acoustic idiosyncrasies.
Clearly one of our design goals was to allow the rear of the speaker to come close to the rear wall (300mm) and not force the listener to mount it well out into the room. For aesthetic and coupling reasons, we also wanted the port to be rear mounted. In terms of compromises…actually we have made very few. Bass response is exceptionally tight and has real punch and when measured the overall response when mounted as per our recommendations is very flat throughout the audio spectrum.
One of our design goals was for a speaker which exhibited natural bass with a rolling bass response, which in turn would extend to very low frequencies. The end result of a speaker with a natural bass profile is more low bass at the expense of total bass.
That said, we have no control over the acoustic treatment of the listening environment which our speakers are utilised. If used with feet spikes on a hard wood floor…I would venture to say that the bass response may indeed prove to be too much for some listeners. If on the other hand you use the SR35s in a heavily carpeted room with lots of soft furnishings and drapes, you may find that the bass is either to your taste or for some music tastes, could potentially benefit from a discretely mounted sub. To me it largely gets down to personal preference. That said, I’m no fan of subs.
Optimal listening position is also hard to achieve in most homes. Generally, the TV rules and the speakers are placed either side. The listener should be situated at the apex of an equilateral triangle. The speakers can also benefit from moderate toe in.
One thing that sticks out to our minds is the exceptional three-dimensional holographic sound stage that we feel we have achieved with the design. People who hear them at Perreaux have been genuinely awe struck.
Witchdoctor – I found with the Audiant 80i driving the speakers, I was frequently turning the volume to around half to achieve optimum sound levels. I gather that this is perfectly okay? It’s just that I’m used to only ever getting to around 9 o’clock on the volume.
Marty – Yes, perfectly okay. There is this widely held belief that there is any meaningful measured and repeatable correlation between amplifier knob position and output volume. You change speakers and the amp volume may need to be raised or lowered to suit prior tastes. The same also applies to audio tracks. Some are recorded at a low setting and some are recorded at far higher levels. There is no damage to the amplifier or the speaker if turning above the 12 setting. Consider it to be an arbitrary value.
Witchdoctor – Are there plans for a range of different sized speakers?
Marty – Yes. In a perfect world, we would like to do more in the speaker space. I think that we need to give this thought more time to mature and to roll the concept around in our mouths and also to give our customers time to appreciate the SR35.
Witchdoctor – Finally, I’m sure our readers would love to know more about Perreaux’s plans for the next year. With the increasing sense of pride in NZ, are more of us wanting superior locally made products like Perreaux? Or is most of your drive still towards international markets?
Marty – We remain very satisfied with our long term relationship with Harvey Norman. They have been one of the most loyal and hard working partners we have had and long may we remain in their favour.
A number of years ago HN deliberately set forth with a plan to bring greater focus on NZ-made products and selected Theophany for loudspeakers, Perreaux for amplifiers and other peripherals and a grouping of other local suppliers covering cables, racks, etc. In the main, we feel it has been and remains a sound strategy and to give them full credit, they did not hold back on their orders with our company. After the dust settled, what they found was that there were not too many customers for a $10,000 high end piece like the Prisma series 350 power amplifier. Like any good business, managers are charged with ensuring their stock turns over at a maximum pace, hence the reason why they have moved the exotic items out and continued their focus on the Audiant series (primarily the Audiant 80i) because it is just affordable to their customer base. We have never made demands on them to hold certain stock. If they require a very expensive unit for one of their customers, they know they can simply send us an order.
In terms of the Audiant SR35 loudspeaker, actually it was our decision to build an online store to enable us to offer the unit to the NZ public. We wanted to show respect towards HN and Theophany and not apply any pressure for them to stock it. To that end no one from Harvey Norman has seen or heard an SR35 and we have no intention of changing this.
In terms of plans for 2014, we are committed to an amazing new mm/mc phono pre amplifier for the Audiant series, which promises to be an incredible development. It is really going to set a few hearts racing when it comes to market. I’d love to say more, but watch this space and yes, HN will definitely be offering this unit across selected stores throughout NZ.
In terms of NZ made products and people identifying with it etc, yes, there is an incredible loyalty towards our brand and love for what we do down under. That said, I look around me and all I see is endless factory closures. Manufacturing has suffered badly over the past 30 years and will most likely continue to decline. Today manufacturing makes up less than 16 percent of GDP, down from 30-plus percent 25 years ago. With free trade agreements being signed with low wage countries, I can only ever see the rate of decline in manufacturing increasing. To my mind, once manufacturing is allowed to decay to a point that critical infrastructure can no longer be supported, it will trigger a final hollowing out of the top tier group of manufacturers. The only long term answer is to acknowledge the vital role manufacturing plays and to reverse the decline through encouragement and support, and in doing so reverse what has become an all too familiar sight.
If you feel Perreaux has over its 40 years as a New Zealand based manufacturer earned a deserved reputation for quality, be assured that we have really pushed the boat out with the SR35 loudspeaker.
Read our review of Perreaux’s Audiant SR35 loudspeakers here.
You can also read about and buy the Audiant SR35 loudspeakers at www.perreaux.com