Exclusive interview with Vivid Audio


Great insight into the Vivid Audio. Matej Isak interview with Laurence Dickie of Vivid Audio. 

How did all started for Vivid Audio?

I left B&W in 1997 because I wanted to get into professional audio. Specifically I wanted to apply the lessons I had learnt from Nautilus to studio monitors so I spent the following two years developing drivers with much higher maximum output levels but at the same time was able to optimise and improve the basic performance of the diaphragms. Then in ’99 I received an email from my old boss, Robert Trunz, who was by then living in Cape Town. He had been contacted by two guys who were setting up a speaker company and were interested in meeting me. One of them, Philip Guttentag had been the South African B&W distributor so he was already very much on the same wavelength. So in 2000 I went down to visit him and his business partner Bruce, a very capable engineer who also had a deep understanding of B&W products.

These guys had been assuming they would use OEM drivers like everyone else but it turned out that the drivers I had been developing for the monitors were perfect for the designs they had been considering and before too long I persuaded them that manufacturing you own drivers is both possible and desirable because you can do stuff which no-one else considered practical or economic.

Our first product was the B1 which we followed immediately with K1 and C1, all of which we launched in July 2004.

Why the name?
Choosing a name is always a nightmare so in end we hired someone to help. ‘Vivid’ stood out for all of us.

When did you got “hooked” to the music and hi-fi?
My family were all musical to some degree or other and my father had already a Tannoy York corner speaker and Quad amp when I was born so the idea of taking reproduced sound seriously went without question. So I was immersed in music thoughout my childhood. Coupled to this was my interest in science from an early age so it was only natural that I should become intrigued by the engineering that went into the audio equipment. I made my first ‘speaker driver’ when I was aged eight by sticking a coil of wire on a paper cone and using an alnico magnet. I didn’t have a signal source so I just watched it move when I connected a battery!

What made you move into creating speakers?
While I was very interested in the electronics and amplifiers, the loudspeaker uses the most varied cross-section of science and engineering and to top it all off you also get the opportunity to be a sculptor!

What was your entry to high-end industry?
I started building speakers based on KEF drivers at the end of my university studies and sold about ten pairs but thankfully was saved from trying to start a business myself when I got a job designing active speakers for B&W in 1983

Would you consider yourself as an audiophile?
Linguistically-speaking, yes. I love audio and the science of audio engineering. And I love music and the emotional place it can take me to. However the meaning of the word has perhaps become warped to mean someone having a quasi-religious obsession with audio. There is an awful lot of bad science in audio and sadly I believe many charlatans who take advantage of the enthusiasm, naivety and faith of some who love audio but who don’t have the engineering background to understand what it’s all about.

Who were your inspirations, products and people, that made biggest impact on you (and still are)?
I was very impressed by Peter Walker and both his early amplifiers and ESL. Raymond Cooke and KEF, John Bowers and B&W. Design wise I was very taken by some Elipson designs from the early 70s as well as the B&W model 70 Continental with the curved baffle and ESL head and I generally liked anything with a horn especially from Western Electric because they show off the curves of the horn so beautifully.

There have been some notable driver designs which have impressed me, the Heil air motion transformer on the ESS speaker system. The various ionic tweeters and one full range ionic ESL I once saw in France which, although fundamentally limited to about 78dB max, produced the sweetest sound I think I will ever experience. The Yamaha NS1000.

While my loudspeaker work at B&W followed a path which had been started by John Bowers it was Robert Trunz who supported me when I proposed the Nautilus design. Many felt it to be too exclusive to be a viable commercial product but Robert had the vision to understand the value of such a creation and allowed me to complete the project.

Kindly list all of the present products from Vivid Audio?
In the order in which we released them; B1, K1, C1, V1(three versions), V1.5, G1, G2, G3

Would you say that Vivid Audio products share the same recognizable sound across the range?
Very much so! My design criterion is to minimise colouration in every driver and every part of the enclosure and system. We use the same quality of crossover components in every model. So the main differences between models are mostly about bass extension and maximum SPL. Having said that, the V1 and V1.5 models, which are both two-way systems, do have a slightly narrower beamwidth in the mid and high frequencies so the in-room spatial character can be slightly different depending on the acoustics.

Please elaborate more on your top of the range Giya speaker. This is your state of the art speaker. What makes it so special?
When we first started to consider a flagship model it was to be the top of the existing Oval range but a true four-way with 225mm coned drivers on the front and back. But when we created the prototypes it became clear that acoustically it would be better to have the new bass drivers on the sides. At that point I realised that the industrial design would be completely new but then also began to think this was the time to do some work on integrating the well-proven exponential absorber into a bass-reflex system.

Please tell us more about your unique internal design?
While the use of an exponential absorber does an excellent job of absorbing the rear wave from the driver without resonance, if you try to add a reflex port the result is very poor. The unique trick with the Giya is that we use an absorber with a taper which effectively removes the enclosure resonances but does not affect the port output so giving us the best of both worlds.

Why do you think Vivid Audio products are bellowed by many audiophiles?
The purity and honesty of the sound allows the listener to get closer to the original recoding. I once heard Bob Baum of Menlo Scientific give a talk in which he referred to test using a specially synthesised signal which has frequency response like pink noise going through alternating narrow bands of full output and -120dB. The idea was that any noise or distortion would fall in the ‘empty’ bands and he coined the term ‘spectral contamination’.

Vivid Audio products have low spectral contamination and the effect is like looking through a fine Zeiss telescope after using children’s binoculars!

How did you managed to get recognised so quickly?

Without question, the link with the Nautilus has been of enormous help because people were already familiar with my design philosophy.

Speakers mad in Africa?
Some components are made in other countries, for example the diaphragms are made by my old friend Roy Rodriguez the UK, voice coils from Thailand and the magnets, almost inevitably, come from China but all other components are locally sourced. All driver assembly, crossover assembly, cabinet manufacture and final finishing are done in our factory in Durban.

Would you say that even your entry range can perform very good with the state of the art products from other manufacturers?
Absolutely! As I said above, we use the same standard of components throughout our range.

What do you think about upcoming digital revolution? Can you kindly tell us more about your view of “the real sound.” What would be the the ultimate high-end audio design?

I will answer all the questions above in one go. The current two channel solution to reproducing three-dimensional sound is, of course, an illusion and the ultimate goal should be the re-creation of the sound field. This might be done using an array of small transducers covering the inside surface of the listening environment. The more interesting question is how the thousands of channels required can be recorded and stored. Perhaps a spherical array of microphones and a massive amount of data compression ( the adjacent channels would not be that different after all). But my feeling is that it might be more practical to record the individual sources’ sound field anechoically and the measure the hall response and put the two together digitally at the moment of synthesising the wave field.

We’re probably an awfully long way away from combining the technical correctness of this approach with a practical system and with an audiophile experience.

Any plans to introduce any new line of products outside of spekaers?
None, there is no point in our trying to compete with other manufacturers of electronics at this stage. We do not have any in-house expertise in the field; I personally stopped designing amplifiers twenty-two years ago and the state of the art has moved on a long way since then!

How important is the right room setting for ultimate reproduction?
Exceedingly important! The wrong room can make a nonsense of our best efforts as speaker designers. The amusing thing is how unpredictable this business still is; I’ve heard some of the most amazing sound, especially in the bottom end, in perfectly ordinary houses whilst some beautifully built rooms have sounded awful.

One lesson I learnt very early on in my time with B&W was the importance of acoustically significant clutter; I had just finished the design of the first active speaker and we had the things set up in the laboratory surrounded by all the usual detritus. John Bowers came into the room and was immediately impressed by the sound in the room so he ordered that it be converted into a new listening room. So the benches and shelves were removed, carpet replaced and the walls repainted. The acoustics were completely ruined and the room was never used for listening.

Fortunately many domestic environments have excellent clutter like bookshelves and record collections but as these are replaced by digital media we have to deliberately add diffusion and absorption.

Of course room correction can be effective in the low end but further up the frequency scale the problem becomes too three-dimensional and effective treatment is best carried out with proper room treatment.

It must be great feeling to know, that your products helped people enjoy the music worldwide?

That is 110% what it’s all about. Every so often someone will contact me to say how much they are enjoying listening to a particular piece of music and that totally makes my day!

What product of yours you’re most proud of?

The B1 will always be dear to my heart because it represents the culmination of so much work and was the first I did without the help of an established organisation.

Do you produce everything in house?

As much as possible.

Can we hear your thoughts about tubes vs Transistors?
The first amplifiers I ever built were tubes because it’s very easy to get a reasonable sound so for many years I was a tube fan but that was in the 70s when transistor amps were still sounding pretty harsh. Then my father traded in his Quad IIs for a Yamaha CA1000 and I have to admit I was impressed. I started to experiment with building 2N3055-based designs and at the same time was becoming very interested in active speakers and somehow when you are considering that sort of filtering and two or three channels of amplifier the solid state option becomes much more attractive. The was the point at which I joined B&W and started to work with complementary MOSFETs and I am still proud of the sound we managed to get with those designs.

There are fine examples from both camps. I’m more interested in the coming of age of switching amplifiers. I am very impressed by the work of the Devialet team who have managed to produce a beautiful sounding amplifier. I think we are at the same point today with switching amps as we were with solid state in the early 80s.

What would you say that sets Vivid Audio above other manufacturers?
We designed everything from the ground up and took nothing for granted. When I first created the design of what we now call the D50 and D26 for the studio monitors, I contacted a few driver manufacturers to see if they would be able to make them for me. All declined saying that there were simply too many non-standard parts.

Would you say, that ones love for music reflects in his product?
I would say inevitably, without a love for music I can’t imagine ever embarking on this road.

Prices can go quite high within high-end. Where is the border line between luxury and real high-end?
I don’t necessarily believe there is a causal link between price and performance. Your question I take as one of semantics. I take real high-end as fine engineering but luxury also includes the pointless expenditure of silly money on stuff which is just not important. Somewhere mixed in with all this is the ‘snake oil’ pedalled by charlatans on the unsuspecting.

There is the high-end and ultra high-end. What is the difference in you view?
I understand high-end as being the result of taking sensible precautions to ensure that all known imperfections are at a practically low level where they are unlikely to be perceptible. Ultra high-end I take to be the continued improvement of those known imperfections even when you can be fairly sure that the difference may be beyond human perception but looks nice on paper!

Are high prices a must for some of the top class products?
As I said above; the link is not entirely causal and it is perfectly possible to get excellent sound for a reasonable price but there will probably be some compromise like the maximum SPL or bass extension.

Form follow function in Vivid Audio?
Very much so where function dictates. There are areas where function doesn’t care and then I can apply a little aesthetic licence.

Is classic music the top most test material for state of the art reproduction?
The equipment should be able to reproduce all music accurately but acoustically recorded music has the advantage that you can easily compare to the real thing.

Having said that, I feel that certain types of music can work better on a loudspeaker which adds a little character; in particular I feel that mid 70s funk and heavy metal doesn’t always sound right on a very clean system, but then it was probably mixed on speakers with two 15” bass drivers and a 100mm dome compression driver on a big horn so you might expect it to sound more correct on the same sort of speaker.

What is your opinion on digital music revolution and the birth of mp3?
The future of music is almost certainly digital for the vast majority of people. The MP3 has been a necessary compromise for the mass market and has helped fill everyone’s pockets with thousands of tunes but as storage becomes cheaper and smaller the need for lossy compression will probably go away.

Best system ever heard in you life?
After we had launched the G1 Giya in Seoul I was taken to visit a Mr Cheung who has one of the most impressive collections of Western Electric equipment in the world. He played me a cinema system with dual 18”s on W-horns and twin 594 compression drivers on a multicell horn, all field coils and all driven by the original racks and a dCS front end. I have to admit I was blown away. The music was full of character but just came out and enveloped you. Truly amazing.

The most accurate was the full range ionic panel I mentioned above but, as I said, 70-odd dB does not make for a satisfying performance.

Vivid Audio audio philosophy?
In loudspeaker design? I have always summed it up by saying I strive for freedom from resonance and reflection since I believe our ears to be particularly acutely attuned to these effects

Would you say that high quality is more affordable today or you have to pay premium price for best components and sound?
Certainly your money buys better quality at the lower end of the scale but as we have become aware of the remaining imperfections, so the cost of eliminating these quickly adds to the price of a high-end system.

Where does usual hi-fi stops and high end comes in for you?
I wouldn’t like to draw such a hard line. The most high end system can sound perfectly awful and a modest system can really sing as the result of all sorts of variables, some of which we may find difficult to explain.

What is the definitive goal of Vivid Audio?
Undoubtedly to bring musical pleasure.

What do you see the future of audio and Vivid Audio in it?

Well despite the rise of personal music and the use of headphones I believe that music as a social experience will never go away and as long as that is the case I would hope we will continue to have a place. We shall continue to innovate and be able to contribute to the leading edge of audio but I have always maintained that when the loudspeaker revolution comes, let say a millimetre thick full-range on-wall transducer, it will be as a spin-off from another industry completely. Arrays of minuscule air valves or pumps, something analogous to the DLP projector chip which exploits the microscopic machining of silicon developed over the years by the semiconductor industry. Or perhaps the direct excitation of the air by particle beams or lasers? Who knows…and will it ever be high-end?

It seems that physical medium are not obsolete at all?
No but I’m not convinced that there is anything fundamentally superior about the physical medium. Ultimately it is limited by noise and if the digital media currently lack the resolution then it is only a matter of time before the gap is closed. I believe there are good and bad examples in both domains.

What is your opinion on rising sales of vinyl?
I doubt if the numbers driven by high-end audio aficionados. I think is more a quest for authenticity and to have something tangible. I imagine there’s also backlash element somewhere in there. Having not seen a breakdown of the sales I’m not really well placed to comment.

Do you think analog master tape quality can be matched withing digital domain?
I see no reason why not.

Who are your musical inspirations?
If you are talking about my tastes in music, there are too many to mention, I like a huge range of music.,

Is it possible to achieve concert feeling within high-end audio?
It may be that a certain suspension of disbelief is required but yes, I have certainly enjoyed reproduced sound which transported me from the room to the original performance.

Is there a place for mystics in audio or simply good and great engineering?
I’m not saying that we know everything about audio; there are inexplicable facets which confound the engineer in me but I feel it is essential that you have a full understanding of the engineering in order to be able to make progress. ‘Faith-based’ audio can certainly make a good sound but I feel it tends to be by chance and rarely advances the art in the longer run.

What is the difference between audiophile and music lover?
A music lover doesn’t let the obsession with the sound get in the way of their enjoyment of the music. But there are so many varying degrees and types within each category it is unwise to generalise. Personally I have the greatest respect for music-lovers of my father’s generation; they would spend quite some time researching and auditioning what equipment was available and what was possible within their budget and then take the plunge. Having done so they would stop worrying about the equipment and get on with enjoying the music and the performance. The average period between upgrades was probably about ten years and on the other hand they have thousands of recordings and deep knowledge of music and its history.

On either side of this model you may have; on one hand the equipment obsessive audiophile who is constantly upgrading their kit and tweaking this and that but who might have a limited range of musical tastes, and on the other hand the true musician who doesn’t care much for the equipment because nothing will ever match the thrill of the live performance so what’s the point in trying? The stereotype of this type of musician is still happy with a very basic system.

What does music lover gain with ownership of one of your products?
My usual analogy is that we provide a window onto the recorded performance and our goal is to provide the clearest possible window.

Who would you say typical Vivid audio customers are?
At present we are still undeniably a quirky brand so our customers tend to be knowledgeable and confident. They audition a Vivid speaker and tend to ‘get it’ immediately. They are not afraid of being unconventional and are impressed by our conviction in what we do. I imagine they will be followed by a wave of more cautious types who might be impressed by the technology we have developed but are still a bit in disbelief that a small new company can spring into existence and take on the likes of B&W, KEF, Magico etc.


Matej Isak Mono and Stereo ultra high end audio magazine All rights reserved, 2012 www.monoandstereo.com Matej Isak Mono and Stereo ultra high end audio magazine All rights reserved, 2012 www.monoandstereo.com None of the original text, pictures, that were taken by me, links or my original files can be re-pritend or used in any way without prior permission!