Interview with Yoaw Gonczarowski of YG Acoustics

Interview with Yoaw Gonczarowski from YG Acoustics. Insights look at their philosophy and building process.

MI: How and when YG acoustics was formed?

YG: YG Acoustics was formed in 2002. I established it as initially a small research lab for high-end loudspeaker design, rather than the full-scale factory that it has become today. The first project was to develop our own design and optimization software, since we immediately noticed that the limiting factor in today’s audio industry is that practically everybody designs speakers using the same off-the-shelf software product. While this product is not bad, it is severely limited in that it only allows a designer to optimize either the frequency response or the phase, but not both. This is, by the way, the reason that in today’s high-end audio world speakers can be generally divided into two groups – those that sound neutral but uninvolving (good frequency response but bad phase), and those that sound exciting but colored (good phase but bad frequency response). We were not willing to accept this compromise, and the only way around it was to develop our entire optimization process from scratch. It was a huge investment, but definitely worth it. In 2003, we constructed our first loudspeaker prototype using this new technology. We submitted it to a competition run by the Ministry of Industry, and won a sizable government grant for further research. The next big step was to unveil the resulting product to the audiophile community, which we did at High End 2004 in Munich Germany. From there, things moved on rather quickly – we won top awards in several countries (most important of which is the extremely-prestigious Japanese audio Grand Prix), and several trusted industry experts gave us a “nod of approval” by purchasing our speakers for their own reference systems. We now sell over 100 pairs of speakers a year, and run a state-of-the-art factory in Arvada, Colorado, USA (near Denver).

MI: Is there a person or company in audio business that inspired you into audio business?

YG: My father was my initial source of inspiration to build speakers – when I was 15, I bought my first audio system, consisting of a Sony CD player and amp, and Bose speakers. I was unhappy with the sound of the speakers, and did not know what to do. My father suggested that I try building speakers myself, since I was always enjoyed building things. He helped with purchasing textbooks and some basic tools, and this is how things started. For starting audio as a business, I above-all thank my wife Anat (the Anat Reference flagship line is in her name). She stood by me in the most difficult initial period of trying to create “something from nothing”, and her support gives me energy to do what I love best – creating machines that bring the joy of live music into people’s homes.

MI: Do you consider yourself an audiophile?

YG: Definitely – I love music and enjoy experiencing its full emotional and intellectual impact at home! To me, being a music lover is being an audiophile. After all, all conductors of classical music all play from the same partitures. The difference between my favorite conductor Sir Simon Rattle and the “average neighborhood musician” lies in how they interpret the emotional details of a musical piece. Only on a good system can one hear those details. Otherwise, it is like looking at a wonderful painting while wearing dirty eyeglasses.

MI: Are you building your speakers in house? What is the procedure? How are the standards?

YG: We build our own cabinets and crossovers in-house, and for the drivers we use a mixed approach – we design them in close cooperation with Scan-Speak, and then they perform the routine elements of production, while we only manufacture the parts that are above their capabilities. Please see the attached document. It is our new ad for Stereophile, where we describe the process in detail. Many people asked us about the process lately, so we decided to use our ad space to give a comprehensive answer.

MI: What is most important thing in building loudspeaker?

YG: No shortcuts – building the best requires no compromises. Don’t try to put a lesser material inside the speaker just because people can’t see it – they will always hear it. Also, sometimes during the design process one encounters a situation where component A sounds better, but component B measures flatter. The standard industry approach is to just use component A, and claim that “measurements do not tell the whole story”. This is not our way at YG Acoustics – when this kind of conflict occurs, we perform further research until we fully understand the phenomenon. Then, we design a component C which sounds and measures better than both A and B. We do not stop the design process until everything fulfills those criteria. The last stage before a YG Acoustics speaker goes on the market is that I live with it at home for 6 months – only once I am convinced that the speaker provides long-term enjoyment, do I deem it a viable product.

MI: What materials do you use for building speakers, what technology and why exactly?

YG: We construct our speakers from aircraft-grade aluminum (two different alloys with differing mechanical properties to eliminate each other’s resonances), and in the most critical parts (namely the front baffle and some adjacent parts) we use ballistic-grade alloy. The latter is unique to us, since it is normally not available for commercial users. However, I have some good connections that allow me to obtain it. The material is precision-milled on CNC machines to tight tolerances, and then precision-ground using a custom-made CNC polishing robot. The result is very high accuracy and consistency between speakers (wood-based speakers have a deviation of about 0.5 mm even if plates are cut using CNC, and tool-based metal speakers have a similar deviation. Our fully-machined parts have a deviation of below 0.02 mm). In addition, the combination of machining and precision-grinding allows for very hard surfaces, which in combination with the raw materials’ properties create a speaker with the best strength-to-weight ratio on the market. Also, through careful optimization, our speakers contain no internal stuffing. Instead, plate dimensions are carefully optimized to prevent resonances from ever occurring in the first place. Everything is bolted together (no glue), so that if new technologies emerge, we can offer customers the option to upgrade without replacing their speaker – we can simply exchange the parts that require updating, at a fraction of the cost. This protects our products’ long-term value.

MI: How do you achieve high end performance?

YG: It is a combination of a few factors. Most critical is our proprietary in-house software development: frequency response is +/-0.7 dB, and relative phase between drivers is no more than 5 degrees at all frequencies. Other factors are using the best materials and most advanced construction techniques for cabinets, and no compromises in the quality of drivers and other parts.

It is important, by the way, to stress the phase issue – no speaker on Earth has zero-phase at all frequencies. Even if you had a sound-source that offered this, move 1 cm in any direction and the phase will “go all over the place”. This is why our ear does not care about “absolute phase”. The brain does, however, immediately notice once the sound comes from a few different drivers that are not coherent with each other (i.e. mid-woofer and tweeter). This is the reason that single-driver speakers provide such realistic imaging – while their phase varies with frequency, there is no deviation between drivers (since there is only one driver to begin with). We have created unique crossover circuitry which matches the drivers’ phase to each other with high precision – they always move at the same time, even if at high frequencies the tweeter moves more than the mid-woofer, and vise-versa at low frequencies. They act in unison, and this is what convinces our ears most. Others may be able to match the phase at the exact crossover frequency, but we can do it throughout the entire band.

Some experienced engineers would at this point say – impossible! Take 2 drivers of the same make and model, and the deviation between them would be about +/-1.5 dB and roughly +/-10 degrees. That is absolutely correct! This is where we have a true advantage over all other manufacturers – we match drivers in very close pairs, and then I personally design a crossover for each pair, to compensate for those deviations. Anybody who uses off-the-shelf optimization software cannot do this, as a crossover design takes months to optimize. However, using our own software it is a matter of hours, and is definitely possible even on a production-basis. This is why you never see other speakers that can achieve such accurate frequency response and phase.

MI: Why did you move into high end audio?

YG: I have always loved music – I was raised in a highly musical home where both parents played instruments (my father used to be a professional bass-guitar player, and my mother plays classical guitar). I play keyboards as a hobby now, and used to gig with several local bands in the past. My brother is an opera singer. My wife used to be a professional ballet dancer. So, music was a big part of my life since forever. This, in combination with my enthusiasm with technology, made sure that high-end audio would be my passion in life.

MI: What is the difference in constructing pro audio speaker or high end speaker?

YG: In the general industry, there are many functional differences which are readily apparent – pro-audio speakers are mostly active and have integrated amps, and are suited for positioning in the traditional in-wall speaker locations that mixing rooms offer. Home audio speakers are passive, and free-standing.

We also manufacture a pro-audio line, however it follows more closely the principles of high-end home audio – it is not self-powered, and is designed for positioning away from the walls. I feel that these are critical to maintain the same level of performance that our audiophile lines offer. The only difference is that our pro-audio line can function on the unstable raised floors (with cables running underneath them) commonly found in recording studios, and require treated rooms (high-quality studios are always treated). In contrast, our audiophile line requires a stable floor, but can be used in rooms without acoustical treatment.

MI: What electronic do you use to drive you speaker in lab?

We have several systems, in order to test every loudspeaker in various setups. Here is a list of the main systems used:

Main audiophile system. Source: dCS. Amps: Krell. Cables: Kimber Select. Rack: Finite Elemente. Various accessories.

Secondary audiophile system. Source: Symphonic Line (digital), Linn LP12/Ekos/Lingo with Lyra Titan (analog). Amps: Symphonc Line. Cables: Symphonic Line. Rack: Audio Magic. Various accessories.

Main pro-audio system. Source: computer with Lynx Studio professional sound card. D/A conversion: Apogee Digital. Amps: Crown. Cables: Apogee Digital and Kimber. Rack: Road Ready.

MI: What electronic do you use to drive you speaker at home?

YG: Very similar components to our main audiophile system at the factory: dCS, Krell (bi-amp), Kimber Select, custom-made rack to match cabinetry, various accessories.

MI: How do you found yourself on the big rising competition from China and eastern countries? Do you feel threaten?

YG: We do not feel threatened, as frankly in our price range country-of-origin is not so significant. No matter what country a manufacturer resides in, if they wish to produce true ultra-high-end quality, they need the best people and tools. This type of specialized manpower and machinery costs considerably more than entry-level workers and tools, regardless of location. However, of course we must be efficient and competitive when compared with manufacturers from all over the world. So, a global economy presents challenges also for ultra-high-end, but they do not have much to do with one specific country or another.

MI: How important are room acoustics?

YG: Room acoustics are always somewhat important, however with modern-technology in speaker design and also in speaker placement, it is possible to obtain good sound even in far-from-optimal rooms. For instance, we offer our subwoofers in both fully-passive and active-powered configurations. For problematic rooms, we recommend the active-powered ones as they allow for adjustment to the room’s acoustics. Furthermore, we take “guesswork” out of the equation – our customers typically send us blueprints of their rooms, and we send them in return the exact recommended speaker placement and subwoofer settings. We run the simulation and optimization using our own software, so it produces highly accurate results.

MI: Is high end well constructed loudspeaker capable of top performance in moderate home, without expensive room treatment?

YG: Yes – our Anat Reference and Kipod product lines can produce fully lifelike sound in average homes.

MI: What would be your dream setup, if time, circumstances and finances wouldn't be the limit?

YG: Anat Reference Professional is frankly what I consider to be optimal in today’s circumstances – with a correct system and setup, it offers sound which is indistinguishable from live music. This is because its deviations are smaller than those inherent to the human ear.

MI: Do you think that real live experience is possible inside or our listening spaces? Yes, no? And why?

YG: Yes – I can honestly say that in my own home, as well as many of our customers’, the sound is completely lifelike and carries the full emotional impact of live music.

MI: What amplifiers you prefer to for driving your speakers?

YG: Solid-state designs, with a good and stable power supply. My customers successfully use many brands, and the most popular among them are Krell, Halcro, Boulder, Classe, Burmester, Accuphase, Symphonic Line, etc. The list of brands is rather long, but all offer the stability and speed necessary to drive the speaker to its full potential.

MI: What is your YG acoustics dream audio product?

YG: I do not want to reveal future product plans, so please allow me to avoid this question. I can promise, however, that any such plans include full backward-compatibility with our current product lines, so that you can upgrade without having to sell your existing speaker.

MI: What is an ultimate audio system for you?

YG: A system that brings the full emotional impact of live music to a home environment.

MI: What are your musical references?

YG: I only use as reference music that I have also heard live and unamplified. This is my only way of truly comparing live versus reproduced sound. Ideally, I like to use tracks where I actually attended the recording session during which they were created.

MI: What do you listen to at end of the day, when work is over?

YG: Mostly classical music, and world-music (traditional music of various areas of the world). I also enjoy pop and rock, however my true passion is the emotionally-laden expressions of composers such as Beethoven, and the pure unadulterated sound of music from far-away traditional cultures.

MI: How do you see audiophile and high end market?

YG: The market is (and always will be) a luxury niche market, but once someone realizes the joy of music at home with high-end audio, there is no way back. Therefore, I am optimistic that the industry will continue to gain fans.

MI: Is there a place for high end on the market. Is this moving towards small high quality manufacturers?

YG: I believe that there is definitely room for high-end on the market, and the movement is all up to us as industry members – if we supply the market with high-quality products (not just well-sounding, but also reliable and well-constructed with long-term value), the market will accept them and allow us continued success.

MI: What kind of impact internet made on audio industry and your business?

YG: It is much easier today to obtain information about the available products and technologies, which is a very good change. Freedom and availability of information are key aspects of a successful and modern audio industry, and the internet helps immensely in this matter.

MI: What are your plans for future?

YG: Our mission is to continue to develop the best loudspeakers on Earth, and make sure that even as our competition advances, we are still always a step ahead. It is a continuing challenge, and everything that we do now and in the future is in order to maintain this goal and provide our customers with top-quality products.

MI: Any words for our readers?

YG: Please continue to spread the love and joy of music across the world!

You can check more about YG- Acoustics at: www.yg-acoustics.com

Matej Isak

Mono & Stereo