This editorial piece appeared in the 300th issue of TAS.
This is the 300th issue of The Absolute Sound. As we enter the third decade of the 21st century, that is a remarkable milestone for a print magazine dedicated to high-end audio and music. In the 46 years since Harry Pearson published the first issue of TAS, the world has become a very different place, particularly in audio technology and magazine publishing. One would think that the technical, cultural, and business transformations that have revolutionized how people access music, and how they get their information, would long ago have decimated The Absolute Sound. Indeed, over the past two decades countless print magazines across diverse fields have folded or shrunk to mere shadows of their former selves. But TAS is going strong because people still enjoy listening to music, and because enough of them (you!) care about the quality of its reproduction to read what we write. A substantial number of you apparently believe that reading articles on a computer screen is far less engaging than leaning back in a comfortable chair with a printed magazine in your hands.
Much of TAS’ longevity is rooted in our commitment to the ideals on which the magazine was founded. When I was brought on as editor in Issue 134 (I joined TAS as a writer in Issue 118 after ten years at Stereophile and Fi), I was asked to develop the magazine’s mission statement. The four-word description I came up with then is just as appropriate today—Connecting People with Music. In fact, the greatest satisfaction from this job comes from hearing from a reader who expresses how much more he’s enjoying music because he bought a product we championed. A hi-fi system, no matter its cost, is a vehicle for exploring the world of music, and TAS has been there to guide you on that journey for 300 issues—and counting.
This idea of a long-established company prospering by remaining true to its core principles struck me at a press briefing during the recent Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. The event was the launch of the new Chora line of speakers by Focal, the French speaker manufacturer celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Focal’s approach to the Chora speaks volumes about the company’s values and intent.
First, some background. In 1995 Focal developed a new cone technology called the “W-Sandwich” for the flagship Utopia line. In the W-Sandwich cone, a Rohacell foam core separates two skins of resin-impregnated glass tissue. This structure offers high rigidity, low mass, and good self-damping. Moreover, by varying the thickness of the Rohacell core and the number and thickness of the glass-tissue layers, the designer has precise and individual control over a driver’s stiffness, mass, and damping. Each driver in a finished loudspeaker can thus be finely tuned for its intended application.
This build technique, which I’ve seen firsthand, is expensive and requires hand-work in applying the glass-tissue layers over a conical form. Its high cost made the W-Sandwich driver practical only for the flagship Utopia line, initially. But Focal wanted to bring the technical and sonic advantages of W-Sandwich cones to lower-priced products, and so spent the last two years developing materials and methods that would allow an affordable line to include the technology. The company developed a new skin material made from thermoplastic polymer embedded with non-woven carbon fibers, along with new cone-manufacturing techniques. The Chora speakers feature these new drivers in a line that ranges in price from the $900-per-pair Chora 806 stand-mount to the top-of-the-line 826 three-way floorstander at $2000 a pair. That’s not all. The entire speaker is built in France, not farmed out to a Chinese factory, and includes premium crossover components.
Focal could have simply stamped out monolithic cones, cut costs by building everything in the Far East, and increased its profit margin. But it didn’t. That kind of commitment to an ideal—creating a superior product and a more satisfying customer experience by applying your specific expertise to a challenge—is what distinguishes the high end from mass-market audio.
I sincerely hope that one day a future editor of The Absolute Sound commemorates the magazine’s 600th issue, and that the high-end industry has upheld the values on which it was founded.