A very interesting interview with Charles Brandt, owner of the Swiss high-end cable manufacturer Brandt Audio, which among other things works closely with Stenheim, a renowned Swiss loudspeaker manufacturer.
Please tell us about your background and how you got into the high-end audio industry. Can you tell us more about your very interesting background?
“When you play with fire you always end up getting burned”. You could say that this saying sums up to some extent what happened to me with high-end audio.
Like many people, I have always been sensitive to “beautiful sound”, to its most perfect reproduction possible, but it was when I entered the world of organizing classical music concerts that everything really changed.
The process took place over several years. I started to associate with musicians and go to a lot of concerts and before long I started to feel frustrated when I went home and tried to relive the emotions that I had experienced “live”. Once I’d changed different elements in the system, there always remained the question of how they were wired up, which was when I understood how important this was.
Normally, audiophiles borrow cables from all sorts of friends to try to improve their system, but they end up having only a partial vision of a whole that lacks any coherence. Buying a complete set of cables is also an option, but that can be very expensive and without any guarantee of success.
I happen to be quite good with my hands and my analytical mind allows me to deconstruct complex phenomena. So, little by little, I got into cable forums with audiophiles who were discussing all sorts of things and trying out many different solutions. Over time I was able to build my first speaker cable and when I compared it to the one I had paid a lot of money for from a hi-fi shop, I realized that my cable “sounded” much better and that it had only cost a fraction of the other one!
The road was long and arduous, the dozens of prototypes were as numerous as they were ugly, but they were getting increasingly interesting. I made a lot of mistakes; I changed direction several times. I started to use enameled copper and made interconnects. It was the day I was able to compare my products once again with the “commercially available and expensive” ones I had been lent, that I realized that I was on to something!
Please tell us about your current products.
I am very proud of my current products. They are the result of an entire process that has to combine reliability, technique, and production. I have managed to make cables that are, apart from their superior acoustic qualities, light, flexible, elegant, and versatile. It’s the result of a lot of work and the good fortune to have chosen the right suppliers and to be surrounded with outstanding people in my team.
My products are made by hand, one by one. I think this is the most interesting way of going about it for this type of niche product, as I am not looking to make large volumes. I don’t have any pressure or profitability constraints. My only aim is to make cables that fully satisfy audiophiles.
Today I could sheath my conductors with composite materials, shield them and sell cable by the kilometer. But these materials get in the way of the acoustic message and could cause the loss of that hint of soul that touches us so deeply! My cables are “oversized”, meaning that there is an air space between 27 and 43 times the size of the conductor inside, and we know that air is the best insulator. I’ll leave it to you to imagine the benefits for the acoustic message that can pass through such a space without hindrance from one end of the conductor to the other.
Would you describe yourself as an audiophile?
If you define an audiophile as a person in search of a perfect sound that respects the source, then yes, I am an audiophile.
Who inspired you (and still does)?
My blacksmith grandfather who was a great perfectionist and highly skilled at working all sorts of metals – iron, copper, brass – to make works of art.
Do you produce everything yourself?
No, I develop each piece to master the process and then I entrust the manufacturing to a specialized workshop in Geneva, which does some parts for DartZeel and Goldmund. I sometimes make pieces when demand is very high but I prefer to leave the work to more dexterous hands than mine.
What is your approach and what is special about your topology?
When you work on a production process, you have to be able to continuously optimize, to reduce the number of components by simplifying and eliminating duplicates, and to reduce the amount of suppliers by keeping only the best. I have outstanding suppliers; most of them are based in Switzerland, and others are in the four corners of the world. I have achieved a high degree of collaboration with all of them, which is a key point.
Tell us more about the fine selection of materials you use.
The choice of materials was made gradually, by listening carefully to the musical qualities of each of them. I was also lucky enough to be able to count on the expert ears of my professional musician friends. As time went by, I became unconvinced by some materials, but the one that was never in doubt is copper and enameled copper in particular. PTFE-insulated, silver-plated copper is used for some sections but enameled copper is present in every part of my cables. Copper offers a great ability to transport the acoustic signal without distorting the message. On the contrary, I have managed to instill a warmth and softness that one only encounters in live concerts and I am very proud of this. I have also managed to perfectly master the sound that a cable gives you; I am able to modulate the frequency by changing the composition of a conductor. It’s fun to make a new cable by setting a few objectives and then varying the elements to achieve them.
What importance do you place on parts? Do you require exotic components and how do you use them?
The search for exotic materials, especially as insulators, has been part of my quest. It was very interesting to use braided agave (cactus fiber) to make the speaker cable jackets. The quality of the sound obtained is incredibly good; it reflects a softness and a freshness that inert materials cannot give you. In practical terms, setting up the production in the Moroccan Atlas mountains, then employing hand-braided agave jackets in cable production was no mean feat!
Today I use a lot of natural silk in the insulators. Silk has the same acoustic qualities as agave, and additionally, it can be used during the manufacture of the conductors, which does not present any major difficulties.
Tell us about your weldable connectors.
Brandt-Audio quickly had conductors manufactured especially for our needs and according to our specifications. The next logical step was to have total quality control throughout the manufacturing process. I had some problems with the components we were using and decided to design the ideal connectors for my speaker cables myself and to fix their quality parameters. They had to be able to be soldered, of course. That’s how the 5-micron, gold-plated banana plugs were born (just so you know, the audio industry uses a 2-micron standard and the costume jewelry industry works with 4 microns).
To avoid having to put a layer of nickel on the plugs (nickel is magnetic and magnetism has a terrible effect on the transmission of the sound message) I obtained a 5-micron, fine gold plating. These banana plugs are beautiful; they fit beautifully into the connector terminals and allow a perfect passage of the signal. The soldering part is open and easy to work on, which allows the realization of beautiful, efficient, and solid solder connections.
The forks came next at the request of some customers who swear by fork contacts. Here too, the design was made to the specifications of Brandt-Audio cables, according to the same criteria: no nickel, 5 microns of gold plating, and an easy-to-make, solid solder connection. My plugs are among the most beautiful plugs available on the market.
How do you recommend specific cables for your customers’ needs?
Sometimes I give advice, but to give the best advice to a customer you have to know their equipment and allow them to test different options. My dealers are very familiar with Brandt-Audio’s products and are in the best position to advise customers. We have two different conductors for speaker wiring, so there are at most two tests to make to determine which one is the more appropriate.
Can you tell us more about your collaboration with the Swiss manufacturer Stenheim?
We started working with Stenheim in 2016 for the Munich fair where we shared a listening room. Brandt-Audio provided internal wiring for the new Alumine Five. We had a great deal of success with our 100% Swiss room.
It was for the internal wiring of the Alumine Five Signature presented at the 2018 High-End that our collaboration really took off. Based on their specifications I proposed some options which Jean-Pascal Panchard and his team worked hard on. The result was the cable that currently equips the SE models of the ALUMINE TWO, FIVE, and now THREE.
With this conductor, Brandt-Audio produces a speaker cable called WAGNER II under its own brand name. This cable is obviously ideal for Stenheim speakers but not exclusively. It offers a lot of musicality, like all Brandt-Audio cables in general.
Made in Switzerland!? Very important?
There is a seriousness in the quality of the work done in Switzerland that nobody disputes. Yes, I think it is a plus to be able to certify Made in Switzerland to our customers.
What music do you use for the final inspection of your cables?
As you can imagine, I am always looking for particular pieces of classical and non-amplified music.
The best recordings are not always the most suitable arbiters because a good cable must also be able to correct imperfections.
I am very sensitive to timbre. I now systematically use a recording of Aaron Copland’s clarinet concerto by my friend Pierre Génisson. There is in this recording an extremely interesting and delicate passage where the reproduction must not make us forget the clarinet. This passage will show up the qualities of the amplification as well as those of the wiring. I also use a lot of piano pieces whose timbre I listen to with great attention, typically the brilliant recordings of my friend Boris Beresovsky, Rachmaninov, Chopin, and Liszt!
And finally, an opera aria, preferably Italian, a female voice that will perfectly transmit an intense emotion like those of Anna Netrebko, Mirella Freni, or Maria Callas.
What we expect from our system is precisely the capacity to restore an emotion. Recently with my friend Jean-Pascal Panchard, we were comparing two speaker cables on a dream system in Stenheim’s listening room. We both noticed that the Brandt-Audio cable had the ability to transmit an emotion that the other cable, from a prestigious brand, was unable to produce!
What about your reference speakers?
I have two. The first is without any doubt the ALUMINE FIVE SE that I modestly contributed in developing; perfect speakers that allow you to hear levels of detail and coherence that have rarely been achieved. You only have to read the reviews in the specialized press. The second one is the Blumenofer FS1 equipped with a 38 cm from TAD before Fukushima! It took me a long time to get them perfectly set up!
What would you say sets Brandt Audio apart from other manufacturers?
Brandt-Audio products are niche products aimed at discerning and demanding audiophiles who will be able to get the best out of them.
Would you say that your love for music is reflected in the designer’s creations?
I recently had a visit from an experienced audiophile who came to buy some very high-end equipment that I no longer required. He was very impressed with the quality of the reproduction, which only reinforced his choice. He saw to what extent it is possible to bring a system to perfection. The joy of listening to such well-reproduced music is immense and I can assure you that some nights you have to struggle to tear yourself away to go to bed!
Is classical music the pinnacle and ultimate test of reproduced music?
To really judge the quality of a system, yes, classical music is essential because it sets the standards and defines the limits, but I also listen to a lot of jazz.
What do you think about high-end audio being part of the luxury industry?
High-end is definitely an important part of the luxury industry. The ability to make people feel emotions is unique to it, it’s a bit like haute cuisine.
There is hi-fi, high-end, and ultra-high-end. What is the difference?
The criteria of hi-fi are very broad. Today just about any system fits the bill. The high-end and ultra-high-end are on a plane above, where systems tend towards perfection, sometimes at an inordinate cost. Financially speaking, my products are in the high-end category, though qualitatively they are part of the ultra-high-end. They form part of systems that allow you to hear everything; you can notice the slightest change of a cable, soldering, one of the electronics, and in that device the change of a component, absolutely everything!
Classical music or music recorded in the studio as reference music?
In any event, you need to have professional recordings, made live or in the studio by recording professionals. Sound engineers do a great job; it’s a relatively small world where everyone knows each other and works with big production companies.
Where is the fine line between resolution, transparency, and musicality?
Hervé Délétraz from DarTZeel expressed this relationship best on the potentiometer of his preamps: the more you increase the volume, the more you increase the pleasure!
Do you tune/voice your products or what is your specific goal in developing the Brandt Audio sound signature?
The sound signature is the result of several factors that make up the conductors themselves. Copper, enameled copper, insulation, silk, nylon, cotton, the space left around the conductor, and the architecture – all these variables influence the sound signature. You don’t choose your signature; it is the result of the work done; it’s incredible. Brandt-Audio cables have a particular sound signature, fresh and dynamic, which seems to appeal to audiophiles if the success of the Stenheim SE range is anything to go by.
Does the form follow the function with Brandt Audio cables?
Brandt-Audio cables are aesthetically pleasing, and over time they have become flexible and light, which has been the result of a lot of work without compromising sound quality. Yes, it has been possible!
Who would you say are the typical Brandt Audio customers?
My customers are audiophiles who take the time to listen before they buy and who don’t stop at brands. Once they have listened, there is not much that will make them change their minds. They are all attentive and demanding listeners.
Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?
I advise them to discover our cables by testing them on their reference system. Depending on their speakers, they might find their dream cable by choosing between our two similar but different conductors.
If you feel that any other specific topic should be added, just write a paragraph about it and I can generate the question on top of it.
Brandt-Audio also produces power cables. Although they are made to the highest standards, they are reserved for countries that do not impose specific requirements. These products are part of our ongoing projects. •