A visit to Audiothlon

For most people, an amplifier or speaker is an object like everything else, but for music lovers they mean a whole lot more. What's important is not only how audio equipment looks or sounds, but also who designed it, how and where it's made, what is the philosophy behind it. The name Audiothlon may not say much to most audiophiles, but some will surely know Equilibrium and Enerr. These are the two brands owned by Audiothlon, much like Audiolab and Luxman are owned by IAG. Equilibrium makes hi-end speakers and a variety of cables, and Enerr's specialty is everything related to power - distributors, conditioners and of course power cables. They are all made in the same factory located in Zielona Góra in Poland. Since we were the first journalists licensed to get inside with our cameras, we took quite a lot of pictures and tried to get the best understanding of how all these products are made.

Although Audiothlon has been working for several years now, the whole factory looks as if it was completed a week ago. The building is divided into three main sections. It's hard to say which one is the most impressive because you will find lots of interesting things in each section of the factory.

Although Audiothlon has been working for several years now, the whole factory looks as if it was completed a week ago. The building is divided into three main sections - the office with a large listening room, cable and power distributors production line and the second production line for the speaker's cabinets. It's hard to say which one is the most impressive because you will find lots of interesting things in each section of the factory. Every piece of kit used to weld cable connectors or cut the MDF panels looks brand new, all because members of Audiothlon's team really care for their things, but that's not all. To put things simply, if you want to start making cables or power conditioners, there are many components you can buy for the start, and here you will find some of these like screws, connectors, badges, boxes and so on. But there are also some elements of the factory's equipment that you will not be able to buy anywhere, because where necessary, Audiothlon's engineers make everything themselves - tools, measuring equipment or big things like a separate room where finished cabinets are covered with a layer of transparent lacquer.

Among such custom-designed tools you will find small things like a mechanical wire bender, used to bend solid core cables used in power conditioners for example. Polish engineers believe that the fewer connections you have inside the device, the better sound you will get, so in their more expensive power conditioners there is for example just one welding point - behind the inlet socket. Then the electricity is conducted through all filtering circuits by a single wire. There are bigger machines too, like two heavy towers used for cable braiding. Both units look like small fridges and are aligned by a laser beam so that they stand exactly opposite one another. Than cables are mounted into special attachments on the top, one of which is connected to an electric motor controlled by software designed by Audiothlon themselves. Workers can specify all the parameters for making a specific cable, the machine starts rotating, and at the other end the tension of the cable is controlled, as it becomes slightly shorter because of the braiding.

There are more things like this in Equilibrium/Enerr factory, but for me the most impressive thing was the speaker cabinets production line. At any given point there are just a few of them in the workshop because making speakers like these requires time, and skill. The cabinets are made of MDF panels which arrive at the factory already in different finishes and with a second layer of veneer on the back. There are dozens of colours to choose from, so you can order pretty much everything you like from the catalogue of wooden and modified veneers. The MDF panels are then cut on precise saws and CNC machines, so the cabinet is already pretty rigid when all the panels are in their place. According to Equilibrium engineers, they would pretty much work even without any glue, but of course they are eventually glued together, during which process all the panels are held together just by a few pieces of masking tape. Then the cabinets are cleaned, lacquered and checked, so that the final stage of manufacturing can begin - the installation of speakers, damping material, crossover, cables, bass-reflex ports and heavy, decorative feet.

But of course, the most important place in the whole factory is the listening room, where you will find some of the company's discontinued products as well as all the current ones. The listening room is also a testing ground, where the loudspeakers are fine-tuned before they go on sale. When I arrived, the team was testing some new components for the crossover, which was mounted on the floor, outside each loudspeaker. This way it's easy to change a capacitor for example and compare different components almost in real time. There is also some basic measuring equipment in the listening room, so the designers can run a simple test within 5 seconds. Of course it's not the end of all measurements taken in the factory, but kind of a quick test which shows if the engineers are going in the right direction. After a day in Zielona Góra I could go on and on about the things I saw there, so instead let me show you some photos, which kind of speak for themselves. I think soon we will hear about Equilibrium and Enerr more often. Photos by Tomasz Karasiński.

Audiothlon
The main listening room is an ideal place for testing new speaker, cables and power conditioners.
Audiothlon
In the most expensive Equilibrium speakers you will find ceramic drivers.
Audiothlon
The new Ether Ceramique model is now also available with metal dome tweeter in a large diffuser.
Audiothlon
Listen and make measurements - this is not a problem here.
Audiothlon
Yep, that's pretty much what you want to see on the screen.
Audiothlon
Some of the discontinued products by Equilibrium are still kept in the factory.
Audiothlon
The main production line where the cables and power conditioners are built.
Audiothlon
Simple and very solid - that's how guys from Audiothlon build their equipment.
Audiothlon
Two more seats where some prototypes were assembled at the time of our visit.
Audiothlon
The best of Enerr's power distributors have solid spikes similar to those used in Equilibrium speakers.
Audiothlon
This is an enclosure for the flagship power conditioner with two rows of outlet sockets on the back. Sadly, they are probably not going to put it in production.
Audiothlon
Each power conditioner has a logo on the front and a violet LED on the bottom, illuminating the floor or the shelf of your rack, which actually looks very cool.
Audiothlon
Packing and labelling. Some spare parts and very expensive drivers on the right.
Audiothlon
Everything must be in order here. Well, they told us there was some cleaning in the factory before we arrived, but I guess it would look similar on any other day.
Audiothlon
Everything in this factory looks as if it was new, but they already made so many speakers, cables and power distributors that all this stuff had to be used a lot.
Audiothlon
One of the things Audiothlon's engineers had to design and build themselves - a nice wire bender.
Audiothlon
It looks easy and nice now, but it takes two or three guys to hang cables like this.
Audiothlon
Yep, to make good cables sometimes you have to be a programmer as well.
Audiothlon
Equilibrium badges used in older speakers.
Audiothlon
Various components for interconnect cables.
Audiothlon
The second half of the factory - the carpentry workshop.
Audiothlon
These cabinets are waiting for the final stages of production - lacquering and mounting the internal parts.
Audiothlon
This saw can cut MDF panels with great precision - it's important because the blocks are already finished with a nice veneer.
Audiothlon
A CNC cutter is used to make all the bracings and complicated internal shapes of the MDF panels.
Audiothlon
Boards are cut at 45 degrees and then joined together.
Audiothlon
Strenghtening panels make the boxes very, very strong.
Audiothlon
This is just a demonstration of what a CNC machine can do in just a few minutes.
Audiothlon
One of those places where it's better not to put your fingers in.
Audiothlon
The cabinets are held together by just a few pieces of masking tape when the gule sets.
Audiothlon
A lacquering chamber is completely isolated from the rest of the factory. What you see in the centre of the photo behind the cabinet is a huge air extractor.
Audiothlon
Touch this small black button and the air is pulled out of the chamber so strongly it's impossible to open the door - it's just sucked into the frame.
Audiothlon
Piotr Kwiatkowski and Lech Popławski - the brains and the hands of Audiothlon. Thank you guys for inviting us in!