BackgroundArtisan Audio came into being because of dissatisfaction and frustration. I had been around audio since the 70s as my father was always working with home audio. In the mid-90s I had indulged myself by spending a large chunk of my hard-earned cash on new amplifiers and speakers.
I had researched carefully, auditioned with my own of music and had been very demanding. The system I selected was conventionally British – solid-state amps with low efficiency three way speakers. However, I found that once the novelty of the new upgrade had worn off I was listening to my music less – I would find myself feeling I’d just had enough after a couple of albums.
Stranded by a snowfall one day, I whiled away my time browsing online. I found a psychology experiment that had concluded from blind listening tests that most people found the sound of valve electronics less fatiguing and more pleasurable than solid state.
Involving soundAround the same time I had drawn a blank searching for a better turntable. The turntables I auditioned had a grey, lifeless character to them that just bored me. Online research turned up interesting ideas on the untapped potential of classic idler wheel and direct drive turntables. The Garrard 301 and 401 have cult status, however there was a buzz about the humble Lenco.
I picked up a few old turntables and tonearms and got to grips with getting good sound. Surprisingly, the old direct drive sounded less coloured than some current popular £3000 belt drives I had auditioned. The Lenco idler drive turntable, when mounted in a massy, solid plinth possessed stunning dynamics, lashings of bass and was fantastically involving. The only problem with it was that it still looked like 1960s technology!
Retailer or Importer?We are regularly asked if we are a retailer or a distributor. In reality the boundaries are blurred these days.
We describe Artisan Audio as a self-financing research project into lowering the point at which diminishing returns kick in for high-end audio.
Also our goal is to demonstrate the virtues of alternative architectures like horns, open baffles and strain gauge cartridges.
So that we can offer a full range of audio products we do retail some brands (Dynavector, Astin Trew, Hannl, WBT) however our focus is on developing the brands we import and building a retail network.
We don't offer financial services products and we aren't really set up to take part exchanges (you'll do better elsewhere but there's no harm in asking) but we do accept debit and credit cards.
Broader HorizonsResearching US forums unearthed an exciting turntable project in the US (Teres) which had morphed into three small companies, all designing massy unsuspended turntables. These were gaining an enthusiastic following. These products were "off the radar" for UK audio because they didn't exhibit at the huge Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Two of the US turntable manufacturers found were located near Denver. I emailed both and arranged a weekend audition visit. What I heard took me completely by surprise. The claims I had read on the forums were not exaggerated. Both designers had genuinely taken vinyl replay to new levels for their asking prices.
More than that, Thom Mackris and Chris Brady were using low output valve amps and horn speakers that could out-prat most Naim combos I had heard, with the added bonus of better resolution and imaging.
Whilst we generalise about US audio based on the mainstream consumer brands that are imported to the UK, what the Colorado pioneers were accomplishing was in a different class.
I was certain that I couldn’t possibly be the only UK audio enthusiast who would find moderately priced valve electronics and speakers that trounced more expensive products irresistible. So Artisan Audio came into being. From frustration to inspiration!
Increased listening enjoymentWhen we have exhibited at audio shows some visitors have been amused by the unconventional appearance of our products.
Yet each of our designers has created his products to achieve specific sonic goals and the shape and materials are critically important. Just as an aeroplane or a formula one car's form follows its function, so too with home audio.
And that defines the difference for us - a one litre hatchback will get you to the shops but is it fun to drive?
The designs we offer simply provide more listening enjoyment. You only have to read magazine reviews of products from Valvet, Green Mountain Audio and Soundsmith for confirmation of this - the recurring theme is the enjoyability of the designs we offer.
In the process of setting up Artisan Audio we did extensive research and listening evaluations. We have a good knowledge of what's available and how it sounds and we believe we are pretty good at suggesting options for changing how a system performs to meet specific requirements. Please ask for our ideas - the conversations are always enjoyable.