We Ask 10 Questions For High-End
During Enjoy the Music.com's very special 25th Anniversary we're asking various high-end audio manufacturers to answer the same ten questions. Their answers may surprise you! This month we're featuring Florian Cossy, CEO Of CH Precision. Each and every CH Precision circuit is designed with a single goal – to touch the signal as little as possible. It sounds simple and in some ways it is, at least on a conceptual level. But it also means accepting that conventional approaches and accepted practice fall well short of that ideal. Providing the shortest signal path through a product is one thing; doing the least possible damage as the signal passes is quite another. One demands the smallest number of individual stages necessary to get the job done, with no inter-stage coupling via capacitors or transformers. The other necessitates multiple layers of electrical and mechanical isolation to protect the signal from noise and the outside world.
Every CH Precision product starts life as a blank sheet of paper, its task analyzed, the performance parameters defined and the optimum engineering solution selected. There are no preconceptions. In each case, the chosen solution might be found in the digital domain or the analog, selected for its ability to deliver the best possible results in each given situation. The result is that no CH Precision product is either wholly digital or absolutely analog.
Q. What is your favorite piece of vintage hi-fi, and why?
A. The Goldmund Apologue speakers. I still remember the first time I saw and heard this legendary speaker, back in 1996 when I was working there. It left a lasting impression! I could also have said the original Wilson Audio WAMM. I'm glad to see that both models have been rejuvenated for the 21st century.
Q. When did you decide to start a high-end audio company?
A. That was back in early 2009. Is there a better moment to start a company than when there's a massive financial crash?
Q. What, and when, was your company's first product?
A. It was the D1 SACD/CD player, although it was quickly followed by the C1 D/A controller. The D1 was introduced at the end of 2010 while the C1 was first shown mid-2011.
Q. What challenges did you face during those early years?
A. The biggest challenge we faced was caused by the tsunami in 2011. When you consider that Japan was our first successful market and accounted for the majority of our sales at that time, it created a really difficult situation. Not as difficult as the situation for people affected by the tsunami, but who thinks about hi-fi at a time like that?
Q. How have your products evolved over the years?
A. For CH Precision, the really important evolution was conceptual – the evolution of our thinking – before we even designed the first product. Although people had built card-cage type designs before, we wanted to extend this modular approach to a whole new level. Look at the back of any CH Precision component and it is a modular design, with individual input and output cards that can be selected by the user according to requirements, but that level of modularity is only the starting point. The units share physical 'building blocks' that extend into almost every area of construction – chassis, power supply, display technology. The benefits of this in terms of manufacturing and configuring products are obvious, but the challenges are considerable.
CH Precision products are not just modular, they are also amongst the most versatile on the market and that is only possible through the development of highly sophisticated software control and management systems. It is this combination of precision manufacturing and the use of cutting-edge software that enables the performance of the products to emerge. We use the simplest possible signal paths, built entirely with discrete components, but we leverage the power of software to maximize their potential, whether it is the monitoring and elimination of minuscule amounts of residual DC in the L1 line-stage, selecting the optimum gain and global feedback ratio in an amplifier or making the inputs of the P1 phono-stage not just amongst the best sounding but also the most configurable on the market. The two things go hand in hand – simple signal paths but ultra-sophisticated software and housekeeping systems.
Of course, the modular construction and software control means that products can be updated as well, which is especially important given their exceptional lifespan. (Since the start of the company, only one product – the A1 amplifier – has been retired and owners were offered an extremely attractive upgrade option to the larger and more powerful A1.5 that replaced it.) But that is only one aspect of the products' modularity. CH Precision components are not only modular by design and execution – they are modular in application too. So all the core components in the CH Precision range can be upgraded and expanded without redundancy: you can add an external power supply to a P1 or L1, step up to separate, dual-monaural head units and even add a second X1 PSU to create a four-box unit; you can add the C1 DAC to the D1 disc player – taking advantage of the proprietary HD-Link high-res connection for native SACD replay – followed by an X1 dual external supply to drive both units and finally a T1 Master Clock.
After that, you could upgrade the C1 to a three-box C1d dual-monaural DAC and even add additional X1s; your CH Precision power amplifier can be configured as a stereo, a bi-amp'ed stereo (with both channels sharing a single input), a high-current or high-powered mono-bloc; the gain and feedback settings for each channel can even be set independently to further optimize active/multi-amp systems. We offer all of this without cost penalty to the customer – so the total price paid by the owner of a four-box P1 phono-stage is the same, whether they bought it all at once or one box at a time!
The only way that this level of configurability and versatility is possible, either in the design of the components or their application, is if you establish it as an essential requirement, right from the very first moment. So although the products can evolve and develop, embracing new technology, components or formats more readily than any others on the market, the real evolution was intellectual; recognizing the possibility of creating a genuinely timeless design platform and understanding how to execute it. I wouldn't say that once we'd done that the rest was easy, but working from such a fundamental principle certainly guides and controls every stage of the design and decision-making process.
Q. What is your company's most popular product(s)?
A. There is no single, best-seller in our product range. If you look at the sales figures, although they vary over time, it soon becomes apparent that these variations even out and the products are almost equally popular across the range. The only exception to that was the original A1 amplifier, which never achieved the same level of sales. However, it did establish the concept for our power amplifiers – a really important step for the company – a concept that has been proved by the success of the much more expensive M1.1. We looked at the differences between the two amplifiers and upgraded the power rating and performance of the A1 to create the A1.5 and now that model sells extremely well.
Q. What is your next planned product offering and its' features?
A. This year, we will be launching the new 10 Series amplifiers – the L10 line-stage and M10 power amplifier. These units employ the same essential topology and concepts as our established 1 Series designs, but with a raft of refinements. So the functional versatility and user options all remain, with full remote control of every setting in the products via the CH Control App. That allows you to do everything from configuring the operating mode of the power amp (high-current or high power mono, stereo or bi-amp – just as in the 1 Series) to adjusting the information on or color of the display text. Operationally, the 10 Series maintains the flexibility and functionality that has become such a key part of the CH Precision story. But in this case, we have turned our attention to further refining the details and componentry in the signal path and audio circuit itself.
The boards carrying the audio signals have been re-laid to improve performance, shorten the signal path even more and minimize any interference or crosstalk between channels. The quality of the components has been substantially upgraded, with superior resistors and the same type of capacitors that we used for the M1.1 upgrade, only in the 10 Series they are used throughout the power supplies for both the L10 and M10. Also, we have further refined control over feedback within the products, giving users a choice of local or global feedback in the line-stage and the ability to set the global feedback ratio in the M10 power amp in 1% steps, 0 to 100%.
The M10 also offers more power than we have ever provided before and that has meant a massive increase in the power supply capacity, with huge, individual transformers for each channel. Practically that has imposed a two-chassis format, separating the power supply and audio circuitry, meaning that we now have separate power supply arrangements for both the L10 and M10, which besides the recognized benefits associated with keeping AC and audio signals physically separate, has also allowed us to significantly improve the grounding arrangements in both units, with a further gain in musical performance. The result, the cumulative effect of multiple layers of refinement is transformative.
For many listeners, the 1 Series products already represented the state-of-the-art, both in musical and technical terms. The 10 Series starts where the 1 Series finishes. The M10 stereo chassis easily surpasses the already impressive natural fluidity and expressive musical performance of the M1.1, the L10 matches and in some ways betters the performance of the four-box L1 – and both the L10 and M10 can grow to dual-monaural topology! Even we were surprised by the huge leap in performance represented by the 10 Series. Having said that, it took ten years to complete the 1 Series, so we have a long road ahead and who knows how high it will climb?
Q. What advancements do you speculate high-end audio will offer ten years from now?
A. The next big change in audio is already with us – we just haven't fully exploited it yet. Streaming will become more and more popular as time goes by, both with the public and with audiophiles. But just like any other audio source, it will take time to realize its potential. It took well over 50-years to get both record and CD replay to acceptable performance levels for high-fidelity use. File replay and streaming face the same evolution over at least the next decade, both in terms of replay hardware and source providers. As equipment manufacturers, we meet new challenges in network replay every day, but unlike physical media, we are also faced with much greater variation in the quality of input material. You only have to look at what is possible from Red Book disc replay to appreciate that there needs to be more to streaming music than simply higher sampling rates.
We need to take a long, hard look at what happens to the data stream before it even reaches our systems. But while there is huge scope for improvement in the broader IT infrastructure, I also hope that streaming services will soon offer real 'HD quality' masters, as there is plenty of room for progression here. We shouldn't be working based on offering recordings that will sound great on an in-car system. In an ideal world, mastering should be done to the highest possible quality, while lower resolution or compressed files can be offered in parallel. High-end audio set-ups are capable of so much more than simply streaming compressed files!