Over the years, there has been much speculation about FM Acoustics when it comes to sound reproduction and what exactly makes these products so special and different. The main question has always been what kind of electronic wizardry is hidden under the chassis of these iconic electronics that have been (and still are) used by some of the most famous musicians, artists, and sound engineers in their homes and studios over the years.
When the opportunity finally arose to experience FM Acoustics electronics in my environment, I did not have to be asked twice. You only get an opportunity like this once in a lifetime and as many of you have asked me to write in more detail about this iconic Swiss manufacturer and what makes it so special and distinguishable.
To start with, Manuel Huber is one of the most intriguing, if not the most charismatic person I have had the privilege to meet over the years in my high-end audio journey.
His multi-layered personality was shaped by his upbringing, especially by the music, art, books, poetry, and related artists to which he was constantly exposed in his childhood home.
His mother was at the center of the cultural events of the time, inviting renowned artists, writers, musicians, conductors, etc. to private cultural events at their home.
These cherished and treasured moments made a deep impression on the little boy and Huber still speaks with great enthusiasm of these priceless moments of his life.
The story continues with Huber’s exploration of the world of music and the first replica Hammond organ he tried to make, because a genuine Hammond was prohibitively expensive for a 15 year old.
Over time, with his effervescent curiosity and talent for electronics, he gained experience that led to the development of the first studio electronics, which was and still is the backbone of iconic high-end audio products.
This is where the course was set for FM Acoustics, with an extremely determined and tenacious young man who had a laser-sharp, focused vision to develop the best possible electronics for recording and reproducing music.
This fantastic quest and lifelong account contain many anecdotes that would be worth a book of their own about the stories, encounters, people, etc.
FM Acoustics can be easily compared to the aura of Haute Horlogerie. I do not like this comparison in general, as they are two very different industries. Nevertheless, in the specific case of FM Acoustics, some intimate similarities are significant.
First and foremost is precision and fanatical attention to detail, down to the smallest part that is fanatically measured. Huber takes great pride in the way his proud creations are made, and there is a strong foundation backed by an even richer heritage to make FM Acoustics products the way they are. The Swiss are known for their absolute dedication to precision. And that is something that is the foundation and modus operandi of FM Acoustics.
The aforementioned fanatical attention to components is directly related to component selection and measurements of the parts. While many manufacturers nowadays use SMD, automatic machine PCB assembly FM Acoustics is doing the opposite in careful, all discrete non-SMD componentry slowed-down and refined way.
Hand assembly, hand selection/measurements and soldering PCBs through holes require tremendous time, manual labor, and expertise. This ensures longevity and, as is often pointed out, a different kind of sound quality.
Above all, this way of manufacturing takes time. And in Switzerland, time is equated with money. It’s not cheap to make something that depends on time and labor in Switzerland. The hourly rate for an audio engineer alone is certainly not insignificant. Hence one of the reasons for substantial price tags.
FM Acoustics does not launch new products every year to please the masses and people with an urge for constant upgrading. They serve a select clientele that appreciates a carefully crafted product and can distinguish this Swiss manufacturer’s offering from the competition. As proven many times, FM Acoustics products are also an investment that doesn’t depreciate rapidly.
The electronic upgrades are introduced only when there is something essential to add. Not as a fad or a mere upgrade for upgrade’s sake.
This is where the similarity with the Swiss watch industry becomes apparent. Some of the most reliable mechanical mechanisms are upgraded over the decades only when fitting and the same goes for the look of iconic watch designs, where design elements are added even more carefully. If at all.
So for FM Acoustics MK I, II, and III upgrades, it may be more than a decade before they receive their official FM advancement stamp and name.
Manuel Huber is very protective of his brand and products, as many have tried and are still trying to duplicate FM Acoustics’ circuits and painstakingly gained know-how.
The secret of the famous FM Acoustics sound reproduction is undoubtedly directly related to the handpicked, measured, and matched parts that ensure the lowest tolerances. Even part-by-part reverse engineering did not produce the same sonic result that FM Acoustics is known for. There is no substitute for the real thing, the ingenuity and the work process that has been developed over nearly five decades.
As with assembly, every product from FM Acoustics is rigorously and strictly tested before it leaves the factory. And this includes not only numerous high-tech measurements but also direct physical stress and tests of mechanical and thermal behavior under highly demanding conditions. This is something not every high-end audio manufacturer is willing or able to do.
This process, like development, assembly, and measurement, also requires the associated utensils and skilled personnel.
Every part of FM Acoustics electronics is rigorously tested and measured for precision and thermal stability.
This stringent process follows every FM Acoustics product from the very beginning, i.e. with every electronic part, and ends with the finished product being subjected to elaborate precision tests.
Strict parts tolerance and critical operating temperature behavior (measured in multiple stages) are the backbone of FM Acoustics’ famous sound.
Akin to watches (COSC), the products of FM Acoustics have to function day in, and day out without any problems in all parts of the world and under all kinds of conditions.
Our hearing and brain are very sensitive to phase and time. For this reason, we can perceive even the smallest changes in time and volume, something that has long been known among experts. Thus the FM Acoustics fanatical determination with precision.
Every seasoned studio engineer is aware of the effects of the simplest phase perturbations, which affect the primaries of psychoacoustics and can be noticeable by something as simple as the positioning of the kick drum or bass in the epicenter of the stereo field. Such precision and the consequential result are of elemental and essential importance in music recording and production in the studio.
Audio engineers who know anything about electronics and how even a single electronic part can affect not only the sound but also the final perception of the listener know how important the “tuning” part of any audio electronic is.
This can be done in many ways, among other things, just as an example with proper referencing of second (or odd) harmonics. Merely a part and parcel of the complex concept.
Everything is just a piece of a puzzle, that needed to be summoned into a coherent whole that should sound like real music in the end.
When all these features can be put into a concept and put into practice, as they are at FM Acoustics electronics, the music can take the needed shape and form.
I can only guess and follow my intuition, and it leads me into the realm of psychophysics and psychoacoustics. The way we relate to sound perception and how we react to what happens through the amplification, equalization, and transmission of the signal. The latter is also related to how our brain/ear mechanism converts sound into music.
There has been a lot of research on replicating the transcoding of the auditory mechanism and this can be done if you know how to do it. I have elaborately explored this in the software field with inspiring results. However, as with DSP and digital room correction, the algorithms and code still cannot escape their digital footprint.
I believe that Huber has succeeded in exploring and deciphering something unique that can be hidden in the circuits and remain passive. In addition to strict tolerances, and hand-selected, measured components with guaranteed long-life thermal performance and stability, I believe Huber has incorporated even more propriety particularities into his circuits. But understandably, he guards his secrets very closely.
But when this phenomenon is realized in the physical world, it can bypass logical sense guards by delivering a high degree of realism, as in vinyl playback and impressively in FM Acoustic electronics.
This particular intrigue continues with FM 133 and FM 233 Harmonic Linearizers and their ability to change the sound without fatigue, alternating frequency bands (especially Q), or alienating the music. But that is the riveting and most interesting subject worthy of another essay.
Regardless of how the music was recorded, whether in the studio, live, or as a hybrid capturing, FM Acoustics electronics fetches the crux of musical realism with unique ability to communicate the factual message with its back-and-forth interactivity.
FM Acoustic synapomorphy delivers this for all its products with a clear raison d’être: to represent and portray the reality of music as it is.
In the subtle realms of ultra-high-end audio, there are no quick fixes. Making audible, objective sound achievements and improvements takes a lot of effort, investment, and a particular long-term process of trial and error.
Of course, one is not only buying an exclusive ticket to the world of music that Huber envisioned and that is reproduced in his electronics. The feeling of being proud to own something that has not been rushed, that has a rich heritage, and that has been made by real people in real-time is an additional merit.
Above all, FM Acoustics’ products are distinctly and unapologetically Swiss. Beyond that, they mirror the spirit, mind, and heart of Manuel Huber and the carefully chosen team.
Huber is a genuine music lover, kind earthling with a grandiose heart, and genuine gentleman with unruffled young boy-like enthusiasm and curiosity.
Like Huber’s persona, FM Acoustics’ representation of the elasticity of time and space offers a thorough awareness of the perennial chorus of music.
FM Acoustics’ products are distinguished by life-like zeal for a deeper bonding with real and genuine aural interactions.