Gediminas Gaidelis - AudioSolutions
Distributors and retailers of audio equipment are usually interested in devices from England, Germany, France, Italy, USA, Scandinavia and so on. We have western, northern and south Europe all covered, plus there are some companies from China, Japan or even New Zealand. Countries like Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Russia practically don't exist in the consciousness of a typical audiophile. It's a shame, especially when you see such products as these made by a small Lithuanian company named AudioSolutions. I had an opportunity to listen to the Euphony 50 speakers and I have to say I liked them very much. During the Audio Show 2013 exhibition in Warsaw I also met their creator - Gediminas Gaidelis.
He's a friendly and communicative young guy, who knows how to mix an enthusiastic attitude to audio with the real knowledge resulting from his own experience. I appreciated his sincerity and the fact that he didn't just dance around his products, but visited other rooms at the show, memorizing the most interesting devices. Apparently running the business didn't kill his musical joy. Gediminas doesn't turn the whole audio gear and listening process into a big mystery. Many technical things are pretty straightforward in his world, so I kept asking more and more questions. Here's the transcript of our conversation.
What does the audio market look like in Lithuania?
Well, pretty dead. The main thing that can be sold is speakers up to €1000. People purchase more expensive speakers of course, but this is a rare thing in our country due to the deep economic crisis.
Can you name some other companies making audio equipment in your country?
There are two official companies. Reed makes really nice and high quality tonearms for turntables and LessLoss manufactures hmm... Voodoo:D I am joking of course. There is deep philosophy in what they're doing. Actually they are making really good and nice looking products, but I prefer more technical way to improve sound.
Why did you decide to start building loudspeakers and not amplifiers or cables?
It is an easy answer - when I was young I was always more interested in mechanics than electronics, and always wondered how things work from mechanical point of view. Later I got interested in how to build things. Electronic stuff is interesting (I actually graduated in it and have electronics engineer diploma) but my main thing was to construct some mechanical structures. I was a big enthusiast of wood working (my grandpa was a craftsman) and big music lover from (according to my parents) my birth. Later those things - wood works, passion to music and curiosity of electronics - combined and when I was 5 years old I built first cabinet with two widebanders from Soviet music center. Of course it looked awful and it was made from cardboard, but it was my very first speaker system. It actually had a phase inverter (but I didn't know back then what it was, I just knew that it must like this) and speaker binding posts made from M8 steel bolts with nuts:D I wish I had a photo of them... As for your original question, actually I built some amps on chips, and discrete elements working in AB class with higher idle currents. They sounded interesting, more like tube amplifiers, because they had no negative feedback and output impedance was high. I actually have one working to this day, but - as I said - electronics was not as interesting to me as mechanics.
So when did you decide to start the company?
If we don't count those speakers I made as a 5 year old, my first normal speaker was made when I was 14. It was based on 75 GDN bass driver, car midrange and silk dome tweeter. I even made some crossovers, of course without any calculations. I started to experiment with different crossover components, different volumes etc. It was really interesting. The real knowledge started after a few years when I came across a book about loudspeaker design. Then I discovered Thiele-Small parameters and crossover calculation materials. I read any books and articles, got some freeware programs for calculating boxes, crossovers and started to take my experiments to a different level. The real business started when I was 16 or 17. A friend of mine asked me to build speakers for him and I earned my first €15. It was an awesome feeling and I thought that I would like to do this all my life because I can construct new and new models. I like to create things, plus I get some money. I started by making two models of cheap speakers with drivers purchased from Poland, but I quickly understood that this is the wrong way. The speakers sounded bad so I switched to Peerless drivers. From this point I started the search for quality.
How many people are working in AudioSolutions right now and what do they do?
We are still expanding, but I hope that in a few months we will be able to employ about 15-20 people. Right now we are a bunch of highly specialized craftsmen. Some of our workers are responsible for gluing Euphony cabinets, other for shaping Rhapsody side walls, others for veneering cabinets, and I'm responsible for painting, lacquering, final assembly and packing. All our products are hand made, so we are always covered with dust. You will not see white gloves here as in many promotion videos, we are real craftsmen.
How much time does it take to design a pair of speakers, from the first sketch to the moment when everything is ready for production?
It depends on what you are designing. Speakers like Euphony are easier to design, because less prototypes are needed for catching the right proportions of cabinet (after calculations of course). Speakers like Rhapsody or our newest model need a lot more work. Euphony line was created in approximately three months, while it took ten months to design the Rhapsody series. Vantage - our new flagship model - is still in creation phase and now it is exactly two years since the first sketch. I hope we will be able to launch them in late spring. We need to improve some cabinet parts a bit, do many crossover tuning calculations and many, many tests before we launch this remarkable product.
How does this design process look like usually?
Imagine a really tired guy in the middle of the night sitting next to a PC and watching some lines in AutoCad:D
What kind of drivers do you use? What is the main deciding factor in making this decision?
SEAS, SB Acoustics, Peerless and Scan-Speak. The main factor for choosing driver is not the cost. First of all it's performance, and then comes the cost. By choosing drivers and looking in datasheets, doing some modeling with powerful LinearX LEAP 5 program I can decide which of the drivers can fit together and which won't. Plus I have 9 years of experience with various drivers and cabinets till AudioSolutions was born, so it makes this part a bit easier.
Are you a fan of some unusual technical solutions in loudspeaker design?
If trying to make speakers look sexy is unusual, then yes. Actually sometimes I am trying to express some emotions in speaker shape. We can see the same thing in automotive market. Cars can be agressive, sexy, neutral, sweet etc. I have many future prototypes in my head, so I think Vantage is not the end, but just the beginning. As for the technical solutions, I'm not using any unusual systems yet. I will only do it if it would be confirmable by acoustic science. And if it would be something really new and thus unusual.
In AudioSolutions catalog we have two main product lines - Euphony and Rhapsody. What are the main differences between them?
The main difference is looks. You may notice that Euphony perform with the same ambitions as Rhapsody, with very high quality level (of course Euphony don't sound so rich as Rhapsody, but the picture is the same just with "less pixels in it"). That is because we saved money on design and invested this money in better performance. We have manufacturing limitations because it is a hand made product, so the only clever thing was to sacrifice looks and extend sound quality. We don't like to make crap, forgive me my language but this is true. So as I said before - the difference lies in design, shape, slightly poorer crossover components and a bit cheaper drivers - that's all. The most important thing is that they perform similar to Rhapsodys and this was done on purpose - to allow people to have a great sound for less money.
Some manufacturers say that it's best to place the bass units low down, but in your speakers all the drivers are rather close to one another, with bass cones just below the midrange driver and tweeter. Is that important?
Yes, very. It depends on crossover point, if engineer will choose larger distances, crossover points should go down. Otherwise speaker will have serious problems with lobbing in polar characteristics, which means that you move your head a few inches and you are out of the sweet spot. But these are just small problems, there is a lot more philosophy about this. It short - driver's position is very critical to the final performance, and many parameters and designer's decisions should be combined to get really good sounding system.
In some models we see the bass-reflex port on the front panel and in other ones it's placed at the back. Why?
Actually only Euphony series have a port on the back panel. Rhapsody 200 had no space on the front panel to use two large ports, so they are back-firing as well. Euphony speakers are made on purpose with ports firing back. This is done to use room gain in bass region. We tuned our boxes, crossovers, ports in such manner that speakers placed next to the wall create massive, deep and well controlled bass without any booming. The good side of this is that small speakers sound like really big ones, far better than someone you expect from 15 cm driver. Plus you can place them close to the wall and save living room's space.
Have you tried making closed boxes, transmission lines or open baffle speakers?
Yes I did. Closed box is a really nice and easy thing to make, but nowadays many drivers are optimized for vented boxes, plus a closed box has smaller efficiency. Other types I tried only out of curiosity, but they use widebanders and I prefer more standard drivers. No speaker is an ideal electric-acoustic converter, so I chose the ones I like myself.
How important is the damping material inside cabinets? Some say that there should be as little as possible, other put a lot of wooly stuff inside their cabinets. Are you a fan of any particular material?
I always say that speakers should be as simple as possible, but not too simple. If I measure impedance and there are fast phase and impedance spikes visible, it indicates that the box is not damped enough. Then I calculate where I should add the material and what should it be made of. The same happens with cabinet walls resonance measurements. It is clearly visible where I should apply MDF or plywood for example.
Some people say that the heart of a loudspeaker are not the drivers, but crossover. Would you agree?
Completely. Drivers are like clay. One clay is better, other is worse, so you shape clay with your hands like drivers with crossovers. You take away what's not needed and voila. The same results but in poorer quality can be achieved with poorer drivers and with poor hands or crossover we can't have a masterpiece, even if we do have superb clay or drivers.
The monitors such as Rhapsody 60 are usually seen on dedicated stands, which tilt them a bit backward. Is it necessary? Would you recommend putting monitors on other stands?
No, they should stand on their original stands. The crossover is calculated with speakers tilted backwards and drivers time aligned. Setting them up without tilting back destroys performance and it is very easy to try - you will be surprised. They even measure really bad without original stands.
Some audiophiles like to experiment with the wires inside the loudspeakers. Do you use some particular type of wires? Do you think that changing the wires inside loudspeakers will improve the sound even more?
Actually it is not possible to change our wires or crossover components in our speakers because crossovers is submerged in quartz sand and compound mix to eliminate capacitors microphone effect and isolate crossover itself from humidity. But yes, we do use good In-Akustik (Germany) and superb Canare (Japan) wires for high priced products. There is no need to change anything is our speakers, we already did this for the listeners.
What is the best way to find a perfect model of loudspeakers to match a particular room and electronics?
Since we adapt our speakers to room performance, all our speakers perform very good in living rooms. So the only question is which ones can you afford and how much place can you sacrifice. Of course let's not go nuts and place Euphonys 40 in 200 square meter room, or Rhapsodys 200 in 10 meters. As for electronics the best way is to start from asking what type of amp do you preffer. Our speakers perform best with SE tubes, Class A monos, amps delivering first watts in Class A and high powered amps in Class D.
Are the AudioSolutions speakers different depending on the country to which they are shipped? For example do you make a slightly different sound for Poland and England?
I've heard about such things in the market. We do apply very, very small corrections for products sold in eastern region like Philippines or Indonesia.
What are your plans for the nearest future?
Launch Vantage as soon as possible and make them superb performing speakers, slowly but steadily expand the company and start sketching more models which will follow the Vantage. I always have plans, so time is the only thing we need.