Ole Klifoth - Audiovector
Audiovector is one of the most recognizable Scandinavian loudspeaker manufacturers with a true legacy and dozens of awards. They participate in all major events, and now intensively develop active wireless speakers. The company has over 22,000 fans on Facebook and keeps up with various technological innovations. If you truly want to discover the philosophy of the company, you have to meet its founder - Ole Klifoth. This friendly man has been running the company for 37 years with the help from his son, Mads. In addition to the audio equipment, he's also interested in Scandinavian and American literature, and in his spare time he listens to jazz, rock and blues in a wooden house, deep in the woods.
Ole is also a keen car enthusiast, with a bit of a soft spot for Porsches, of which he's been driving various models for the last ten years. We've met during special dealers' days in Warsaw. As we both had pretty tight schedules this day, we had a coffee or two, and happily Ole agreed to continue the interview later via email. This way I was able to find out some things I could not dig up a few months ago when I was reviewing SR3 Avantgarde Arreté speakers. If you want to know Audiovector better, now everything should become clear.
How did you become interested in hi-fi and when?
I became interested in music when an uncle of mine brought back a 78 rpm record as a gift when I was about 12-13 years old. It was extremely fascinating to listen to Charlie Parker on the family's mono record player/radio console. I think it helped that my mother hated that record. From music my interest grew into hi-fi. I built my first speaker when I was 14. When I was 19 I got my first real hi-end amplifier, a Sugden pre-power class A amplifier. It burned every 6 months, but it sounded great with the horn speakers I had built.
Audiovector was founded in 1979, but you already had a lot of experience on the market. What was your profession before that and what made you establish your own loudspeaker factory?
Apart from having a degree in Nordic literature, I am also a trained electrician. While studying literature, I worked in a small hi-fi company in which I soon became responsible for the design of the company's loudspeaker line. A loudspeaker line which was aiming at incorporation all the good qualities of the best current loudspeakers from KEF, B&W, Tannoy, Quad, JBL, and none of the bad sides. I did not know a lot about loudspeakers, but I was extremely interested and, after all, this happened in the early 70's, where almost anything was possible. Also a lot of literature was available in French, German and English, so there was a lot of inspiration available.
So what was your first real speaker like?
My first professional creation was a hi-end speaker using 8 drivers in a 6-way configuration. This speaker was sold together with Mark Levinsons, Audio Research amplifiers and various other high end electronics. Then I engineered the Trapez, which was a scaled down 3-way version of the 6-way monster, I discovered that hi-fi and music was way more exciting than literature and I started my company with almost no money, almost no space, but with a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of energy.
How would you describe your company's philosophy during these first years? Has anything changed since then in terms of the philosophy behind your products?
The goal is the same today as 37 years ago - I want to build speakers which are true to the music they play. Not just with respect to linearity and neutrality (both are extremely important) but also with respect to dynamics, speed and retrieval of inner detail both in the frequency and the time domain. There are loads of reviews confirming this through the last 37 years. You can find many of them on our website.
Many people say that soon we won't have any hi-fi factories in Europe and everything will be moved to the Far East or even Africa. But your speakers are still made in Denmark. Do you have to pay high price for that?
Audiovector is made in Denmark. Or rather hand built in Denmark. We have a great history of loudspeakers and loudspeaker technology in our country. First of all magnetism was discovered by a Dane - Hans Christian Ørsted. And secondly, we have had more loudspeaker manufacturers per capita than any other country. Some of them are gone now, sold to Chinese companies. Others have moved to the Far East. All the cabinet factories are closed now, because production has moved to China. Audiovector is a family company and we want to stay independent and free. We want to keep our skills in Denmark. When you outsource to other countries, you lose your skills. You ask if we pay a high price for this. The answer is no. We probably pay a little more for parts and materials, but the highest price - to loose contact with our beloved work - we are not prepared to pay.
Audiovector's headquarters are located in an industrial building inside the harbour in Copenhagen. Seems a bit unusual, isn't it?
We are situated in the Freeport of Copenhagen because this is a place with space, fresh air and very close to the centre of Copenhagen, where the majority of our Danish dealers are situated. From our windows, we have a view over the sea, this makes Audiovector a great place to work. We are very demanding when it comes to the quality of craftsmanship from our engineers. When we offer them the best conditions, we get the best out of them.
How big is the factory right now and how many people does your company employ?
Audiovector is not big. We are small and specialised. We build around 3500 pieces of speakers at the moment. We do all the exterior design work along with the best Danish industrial and furniture designers, we do all our R&D in house and we design all our drivers in order to be able to get exactly what we need for our purposes. Our drivers are built in Denmark by Scan-Speak - probably the world's most prestigious driver manufacturer. Our crossovers are being built by the same factory as when we started 37 years ago. For one reason - they are always in perfect condition and with extremely low tolerances.
When we were reviewing your SR3 Avantgarde Arreté speakers, we were quite amazed by how many technical solutions have been implemented in them. Just to start, there is the SEC (Soundstage Enhancement Concept), NES (No Energy Storage), LCC (Low Compression Concept), NCS (Natural Crystal Structure), Resonance Free Fixing, Dynamic Feed Forward, Nanopore Damping, Titanium Technology, Duo Mechanical Grounding, ARA Filter... Can you shortly describe what they do, so even the beginners could understand the technology behind your products?
All our speakers are engineered with Low Compression Concept in mind. The LCC concept sums up all the best technologies pioneered by Danish and Scandinavian speaker engineering through the years - low loss cross-over technology, low compression tweeter technology as pioneered by Scan-Speak and Dynaudio (in Audiovector's case, it is more of a no-compression in the SEC configuration, we use), light, stiff and sounddead membranes, excessive heat routing away from voice coils, titanium voice coil technology (Audiovector's specialty). All this sums up to an open, clear and musical sound. Soundstage Enhancement Concept - we use the rear radiation from the tweeters to create a more spacious soundstage and reduce compression to almost zero. No Energy Storage refers to the fact that energy stored in cabinets (even the best cabinets store energy), should not be transferred to the drivers. This is avoided by our special 3-point fixing system. Natural Crystal Structure is also simple. When a material, in this case copper wires, terminals, crossover components are treated at -238 degrees Celsius, the materials involved end up having a lower resistance and a more harmonic material structure. This improved sound quality quite substantially. Dynamic Feed Forward is a circuit I invented with the goal of reducing resistance in cross over components even further. This coupling reduces loss by about 50 %. The goal is to get closer to an active system in this respect. Nanopore Damping is just a more efficient way of inner damping in cabinets, because it means lower loss and less reduction in dynamics. Titanium Technology? Let us try and make a small film for your website. It will tell the whole story about reduction of friction and distortion. Resonance Free Coupling and Double Mechanical Grounding are the forefathers of NES. We use a special technique for the fixing of our tweeters. They are mounted in rubber grommets, which form a 2500 Hz mechanical cross-over between the tweeter and the baffle. It works both ways. Above 2500 Hz they do not get affected by each other. No cabinet vibration or stored energy in the tweeter. No tweeter energy in the cabinet. This can be fine tuned by the dealer using a special Audiovector tool.
Active wireless speakers are getting more and more popular, but also require some serious work to make sure the whole system is able to transmit high-quality signals, and the speakers have suitable amplifiers inside. You said that your Class D amplifiers are quite unusual. What is so special about them?
Our Class D amps you could call "Virtual Class A amps". We are able to control distortion in the DSP's of the amplifiers. We found that if we strive for the same distortion profile as on Class A amps and tube amps, we get - yes - Class A sound or tube sound. Without the drawbacks of both, because the damping factor of our discreet amps is much higher. The aim is to take a high quality and well proven speaker construction like an SR3 Avantgarde Arreté and add modern, green, efficient amplifier technology in order to form a new generation of speakers aimed at people who require the highest quality LP, CD, streamer, wireless Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, without having to live with a huge rack system.
Could you tell us more about the Individual Upgrade Concept?
The upgrade concept is a case of extended customer service. Whenever there is a new technological improvement, it is possible to implement it in existing speakers. We all know the feeling of buying, for example a camera, only to experience that it is outdated after 6 months. So as a customer, you say to yourself - I should have waited! I want my customers to feel comfortable when they buy an Audiovector. I had a customer a couple of weeks ago, who wanted to upgrade his S6 Avantgarde speakers from 2001. He wanted them to become SR6 Avantgarde Arretés. No problem! We did all the technical stuff. Cleaned the cabinets and repaired a few small dents. Packed them into new boxes. With a new warranty. The customer got new speakers and saved 40% compared to trading his old speakers in instead of buying new ones. The upgrade is possible on speakers based on all existing cabinets.
Plans for the nearest future?
In the future, we will see active speakers for wireless streaming becoming more popular in the high end segment. We have seen this in our crystal ball a long time ago and this is why we have developed Discreet to be a parallel to our passive speakers. In size, in engineering and in user friendliness. Our next project is a high end hub for Discreet. Milled out of one piece of high quality aluminium, resistant to both airborne and mechanical vibration and supporting 24 bit/192 kHz transmission. Passive speakers for high end use will never go away. Not only are these the basis for the active speakers, because we need perfect acoustic technology to which we can add modern amplification, but there will always be end users for them. We will keep on developing them!