Siegfried Amft - T+A
In a complex world of audio equipment it's now all about not just products and brands, but most importantly - the people who stand behind them. This applies to manufacturers as well as distributors or retailers. It seems that in the era of ubiquitous fakes, the authenticity driven by a true personality begins to matter more and more, becoming something unique and very desirable. Many new companies on the audio market have been established as a result of the agreement of several people who, in most extreme cases, know nothing about the hardware and music. It is easy to note, however, that the most respected and iconic brands have always been associated with real people whose philosophy works for years.
The names of these personalities are almost inextricably linked with their companies. For audiophiles Sonus Faber is Franco Serblin, Marantz - Ken Ishiwata, Hegel - Bent Holter and Audiovector - Ole Klifoth, not to mention the obvious situations such as Cardas (George Cardas), Kimber Kable (Ray Kimber) or Sennheiser (Fritz Sennheiser). These are not the kind of companies whose activity is calculated for a quick profit, because nobody really stands behind them. In a sense, the person and the name of the founder can be treated as a guarantee of high quality of the products and a good prognosis because these companies often become family enterprises operating for many, many years. T+A Elektroakustik also has such a personality - Siegfried Amft.
So why T+A and not, for example Amft Audio? Well, the name of the company is already reflected some of the philosophy of its founder. T+A stands for Theorie und Anwendung - Theory and Application. Surely you can see this in company's devices. There's not much room for understatements here, and the technology does not come from nowhere. Technical solutions used in equipment made in Herford are always well tested and proven, even if we are talking about a relatively new topics, such as hi-res files streaming. German engineers leave no room for mistakes even when it comes to choosing the colour of the displays. Yes, according to our sources, these characteristic blue-greenish displays work by far the longest. And if you think about such small things, it is easy to imagine the care taken which capacitors, transistors and other key elements having a real impact on the sound. This uncompromising design philosophy distinguishes T+A's equipment from its competition. Is that what Siegfried Amft imagined when he designed his first machine and founded the company nearly 40 years ago?
Looking into the history of many hi-fi manufacturers you can find out that some of the big companies were founded by people with no real experience with electronics - musicians, sociologists, doctors or racing drivers. With you it's a completely different story, so when did your educational path took a turn towards speakers and amplifiers?
I built my first speakers and electronics when I was a young teenager. I studied Physics in the seventies at the Technical University of Hannover and planned to stay in Plasma Physics research. But after having joined several lectures on electroacoustics, held by Professor Fritz Sennheiser, I decided to found my own Audio company. After my final exams I started building high-end speakers and electronics.
You decided to start your own company very early, without the usual period of working for someone else for several years after graduation. Was it difficult to start your own business straight away?
Honestly, it was a nightmare. I had a very good education and a very nice title, but virtually no money. In 1978, there was no start-up finance or risk capital like today, the banks simply did not want to take the risk of financing a young scientist who wanted to build expensive audio equipment. So my wife gave guaranties for the first bank credit to start the company.
You started T+A in Herford and the factory is still there, even though it's been expanded. How big is the company right now?
We are still in Herford, East Westphalia, and the company grew step by step. Since 1988 we have our own buildings which have meanwhile more than 6000 square meters production and administration area.
At the beginning you were mainly designing and building loudspeakers, but in 1978 you could only dream about computers and tools we have now. Was it hard to design good loudspeakers back then, or perhaps it's still not as easy as one might think?
The theoretical background of speaker design is in fact relatively old and a good engineer was of course able to build very good speakers. It simply took longer because computers, tools and software did not exist like today. Moreover, one thing is absolutely clear - the developer designs the speaker, not the software. If they have no ideas or lacks of knowledge, even the best software is useless and the speaker will be bad.
What were the most important moments in the T+A's history?
The first step was the foundation in 1978 of T+A - Theorie und Anwendung in der Elektroakustik (Theory and Application). Development of the first speakers lines took place in the early 80s. Lothar Wiemann (Physicist and Chief of our R+D) joined T+A as a young student and developed our first electronic components and active speakers in 1982. Between 1985 and 1990 T+A was one of the biggest speaker manufacturers in Germany. In 1988 we decided to set up of an R+D division with five engineers to develop complete electronic lines. We also moved to our own factory building with 3000 square meters of production and administration area. In 1992 there was a big growth in the electronic department and more turnover with electronics than with speakers. T+A became the biggest high-end electronic manufacturer at the beginning of the new century. New, modern building for administration, sales and lab was built in 2003. Among our biggest achievements I would also mention three times "Brand of the Year" in Germany from 2010 to 2014. We are the best awarded German company since 10 years.
Many loudspeaker makers are using one or two original technologies to stand out from the crowd. PMC have their transmission lines, Wilson Benesch makes everything out of carbon fibre and so on. But with T+A it's hard to say because some speakers use transmission lines, some don't, in some models you use metal cabinets, in others it's MDF. There are dome tweeters in most of them, but in the flagship models there are big ribbons... What is the reason for such a diversity?
There is an old saying in Germany - many roads lead to Rome. Moreover, this is true. Depending on the expectations customers have for their hi-fi system and especially their speakers, it is necessary to take different approaches. If customers do not want to spend too much money, you cannot use hi-tech materials like carbon fibre cabinets or electrostatic tweeters, and then the designer has to find good sounding solutions for a reasonable price. This is why we use bass-reflex cabinets combined with high quality drivers in our standard speakers like Pulsar. If people have higher expectations regarding the size and design, we use aluminum cabinets. For our high-end customers, who do not care about the price and the size, we have relatively big transmission line constructions with complex drivers in our Criterion Series and even superior technologies like closed cabinet designs, midrange arrays and electrostatic line sources in our Solitaire speaker line. All lines are very good in their class and we think we have to offer different solutions to our customers regarding price and quality level. This is our philosophy not only for loudspeakers, but as well for our electronics. We want to make everybody happy with excellent products in the level they like.
Apparently you like designing hi-fi electronics even more than working with loudspeakers. When did you start making amplifiers and other components and how was it perceived by the market?
An excellent audio system need both - speakers and electronics. Therefore we want to keep both in our hands to make sure that we have the same quality level in both areas. But it is true, we sell much more electronic components than loudspeakers now. The reason is simple - it's much easier to produce loudspeakers and therefore there are many more small speaker manufacturers in the world than electronic manufacturers. It is very difficult to design and produce hi-end electronics, it requires a lot of experience, know-how and financial strength compared to speakers. T+A is now over 35 years in the market and has developed into one of the leading electronic manufacturers in the hi-end world.
In T+A's catalogue there are not many budget products, in fact even the smallest stereo system with dedicated loudspeakers is quite expensive, but it's already a hi-end product. Is it because you don't want to go below a certain level of build and sound quality?
We do not want to make low budget products with dubious sound quality and produce them in China. We develop and produce our products in Germany and therefore they cannot be cheap. Our mayor concern is the quality, not a low price.
In your electronics we see a lot of real, beautifully finished metal and other materials which nowadays are quite expensive, but in many cases the lifetime of electronics mounted inside will be shorter anyway because of new DAC chips, new formats, sockets and so on. How to make an amplifier or DAC last longer in real life?
All our products have very long life times (between 10 and 20 years) and we still can repair all products we made in the past. Sometimes it is crazy but customers are sending 30 year-old speakers or amps for repair. We have no problems with standard parts, but for example, mechanisms, valves or displays have limited lifetimes and have to be replaced after a certain time. This is not a problem for us because we have all spare parts in stock. Regarding the software of our products, we always offer updates and new formats where it is possible, even for old models.
Some time ago we heard that at T+A you would sometimes start designing a streamer or some multi-format player, and then just before putting it into production, cancel the whole project because you don't like the end result. Is it true?
I am happy to say that such a problem never occurred. Sometimes we had to delay the start of a product, but at the end we always have been successful to launch the products in the planned performance.
You have a very strong R&D departament at T+A so what were the most important technologies developed there? Can you name some other companies using your knowledge and designs, or do you keep everything to yourself?
The strong R+D department allows us to develop technologies and concepts much earlier than our competitors. We do not share them. We have several important waypoints over the years. In 1982 we developed a unique technology for transmission line speakers and called this line Criterion. We have improved this technology and the cabinet design in careful steps for many years and they are still our best selling and most important line. In 1985 we introduced the Solitaire hi-end speaker line, fully active with patented feedback system and T+A electrostatic tweeter. In 1988 Audio Con was our first complete electronic line with amplifiers, tuners, CD players and receivers. It was the first system, which had one system remote control and RS 232 interface! In 1992 the new R-Series came to market. The design, the technology and the sound quality of this line is unique still today. In 1995 we made fully digital, fully active A2D speaker with 11 signal processors. It was a huge development project and the basis for our expertise and superiority in digital signal and sound processing. In 1997 we developed state-of-the-art PRE DA 3000 digital preamplifiers with D/A and A/D converting and hi-res oversampling algorithms (Quadruple Converter with free programmable signal processors). In 1999 the new R-Series was born with massive aluminum cabinets and newest technologies like SACD and DVD, DSP and new amplifier technology. In 2001 came the K6 All-In-One DVD Surround Receiver with digital surround processing, FM tuner, two zones and video switching. Several design awards for cabinet construction and functionality. The V-Series was born in 2003 - state-of-the-art valve amplifiers and players. Extremely high performance and output power handling. In 2005 came the TCI speaker line - active and passive speakers with electrostatic tweeters and transmission line construction in 3-D formed cabinets. Then in 2007 we introduced the E-Series. First electronic line in the world with streaming client integration into a CD player - the Music Player Concept. In 2009 we developed the Caruso - an all-in-one hi-fi system operating with all audio and video sources. In 2010 came K2 and K8 - AV components with hi-end audio performance. In 2012 we introduced the HV series - no compromise hi-end electronic line with superior performance and unique technologies like high-voltage amplifiers. In 2015 - R-2000 series - completely new development of the famous R-Series with new cabinet design and technologies from HV series. And now there is the E 1000 series - the successor line of the E-Series. New heavy cabinet design and integration of T+A's newest technologies. Extremely good price quality relation.
When it comes to electronics, there are several different lines in your catalogue and they all look quite different, which probably means it's not recommended to combine, let's say, an E-series amplifier with the R-series media player. Are these devices designed to work best with other products from the same range?
Absolutely, each range represents the same level of performance in all models and they are matched perfectly in their input and output stages and quality levels. For example the Music Player from the E-Series, MP 1000 E, is an excellent unit and if you combine it with the PA 2000 R it would be a nice system, but the performance will not be as good as if you would use the MP 2000 R. In addition, they have different bus systems so they cannot communicate with each other.
It seems that among the most popular technologies right now you would find everything associated with DACs, streamers and D-class amplifiers, but you also make the V series tube amplifiers and players, and in the new R series we have a hi-end turntable. Do you think all these technologies are really coming back into the world of hi-fi, or is it just something extraordinary for the selected group of music enthusiasts?
We have the impression that valves are disappearing a little bit from the market. There are big problems with the constancy and the reliability of valves today and except typical hi-end customers, normal consumer does not understand and doesn't want to handle these problems. On the other hand, it is a fact that the sales numbers of turntables and vinyl records are growing very fast. I am sure that this is not a short time fashion. People like the sound and the handling and even the older generations have all kept the vinyls they bought in the 70s and 80s.
The flagship High Voltage series in its most advanced form is a real domestic power plant. Do you really need such a great power for the ultimate music experience? There are many hi-fi makers saying that it's not necessary to go beyond 15-20 watts when we're talking about an amplifier for home use.
When we are talking about high-end we are talking about perfection and the best possible sound quality. A normal sound level requires not more than 20 to 50 watts, which is true. However, the sound quality, refinement, resolution, imaging and stability of the sound is by far better if you have big power and current reserves. Our HV series offers a class A range up to 50 watts, which is only possible because the PA 3000 HV or A 3000 HV have more than 500 watts in total.
How do technical parameters like distortion or S/N ratio translate into sound quality? Which of these parameters do you consider to be the most important and why?
It is not one parameter, which is responsible or most important for the result. It is the combination of all. A well-designed unit has to have good parameters over all, not only one extremely good one.
What about home theater systems? They were very popular some time ago, but now music lovers seem to move back to classical stereo. Would you agree?
Yes, fully agreed. People buy cheap surround system for their TV and high quality two channel systems for their music. Our AV products K2 and K8 are selling very well, but not to surround freaks. They attach customers who want to have a very good sounding stereo system and from time to time be able to watch a movie.
Which T+A products are the most popular and successful?
The E-Series is new so it is very popular. The best-selling unit over all is the Multi Media Receiver R 1000 E. The R-Series is already 1,5 years on the market bust is selling extremely well, number one here is the MP 2000 R followed by the small amp PA 2000 R. In the HV series the PA 3000 HV is selling best followed by the (very expensive) PDP 3000 HV. Our best selling speakers are the Criterion TCD 310 and the Pulsar ST 20.
How many distributors does T+A have around the world? What markets are the most promising for you right now?
We have 24 distributors worldwide. The strongest market is Germany - we are the market leader in the high-end audio business here. We have a very good development in USA, Canada, UK and also Singapore and Philippines.
Plans for the nearest future? Streamers, wireless speakers, all-in-one music systems?
As always we are very busy. Two news models will be ready by the end of the year in the HV series, a wonderful power amp, PA 3100 HV, with VU-Meters and connectivity to the power supply PS 3000 HV. A new multi-source SACD player MP 3100 with all new features like True One Bit DSD DAC and new streaming technology. At the beginning of 2017 we will introduce Cala Plus, a beautiful designed CD Multi-Source-Receiver with all new streaming technologies. There is also a new speaker line coming with perfectly designed aluminium cabinets and high-end drivers - this one will be called Talis.