Q&A with Craig and Christina Milnes of Wilson Benesch

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Q&A with Craig and Christina Milnes of Wilson Benesch

What ignited your interest in the high end? 
There wasn’t one thing, but some of the more important influences would be my uncle’s high-end system based upon Gilbert Briggs-design home-built loudspeakers, and the fact my father played trumpet every day of his life and performed in a number of bands professionally both before, during, and after the war. But I suppose the real catalyst was reading the news in a number of high-end audio magazines in the late 1980s that stated “analog is dead and CD is the future.” I wrote a business plan to secure research funding from Her Majesty’s government to develop a radical new turntable, presenting the idea that analog would not die but would in fact not only continue but also retain its reference status.

Did your interest come from the music side or the electronics side?
My interest has always been materials science driven—the ability to improve high fidelity through advances in materials technology.

What gear made up your first high-end system? 
I built my own turntable and speakers whilst doing my Fine Art degree. I used my uncle’s bequeathed equipment to aid development. The equipment includ ed an Armstrong valve amplifier, Leak Trough Line 3 FM tuner, and Sony reel-to-reel.

When did audio develop from a hobby to a career?
I was teaching Design and Technology, whilst in the background creating a business plan and the first parts for what would become the Wilson Benesch turntable. Upon its launch, we picked up leading distribution partners in both Germany and Japan, which at the time were the metronome of the high-end market.

What education did you receive?
The love of drawing came from my sister. Music from my parents. But in formal training, my engineering background started as an apprentice electrical technician at British Steel corporation. I subsequently studied Fine Art for four years.

How do you define the difference between hi-fi and high-end audio?
One aspires to being state-of-the-art; the other doesn’t.

Analog or digital? Do you have a preference?
Analog. 

What interesting fact or aspect about Wilson Benesch might surprise audiophiles?
Well there are many interesting aspects to our business. First and foremost, we are family owned and run. The company is co-owned by myself and my wife Christina. Christina is the Managing Director and the beating heart of the business day-to-day. And our son Luke is our International Sales & Marketing Manager. We are entirely privately owned. But what is perhaps most unique and interesting about our business, aside from the products we make, is the manner in which they have been developed. We have a long history of blue-sky/cutting-edge research. But it is the manner in which this research has been funded that is really unique. We now have six successful grant applications and research projects to our name, which have been funded by Her Majesty’s Government. Essentially it is public-funded R&D awarded on the basis of innovative and unique research projects that have been deemed valuable to British exports. The collaborative nature of these projects has allowed us to work closely with universities and blue-chip companies across Europe, as well as collaborate on product development projects in Asia. Direct product developments that have been realized from this include the original Wilson Benesch turntable, the Tactic Drive unit, the Torus Infrasonic Generator, and we are currently finalizing the development of a new reference turntable set to launch in 2019.

Looking towards the future, how will high-end systems change in the next ten years? 
For more than 20 years our strap line has been “The Future Is Carbon.” It is inevitable that more carbon-based materials science will impact audio design. Graphene remains one of the materials that holds lot of promise but remains elusive. We have been engaged with research in this field for five years, but as yet the structural benefits have been so small it would be less than genuine to make any significant claims for improvement.

What are the greatest challenges confronting the high end?
Certainly, as we enter 2019, the challenges for new start-up businesses, especially in the manufacturing sector, are greater than ever. Where the development is cutting-edge high-end technologies, which are time-consuming, incredibly expensive, and very high risk, the challenges are even more prevalent. Without strong collaborative partners or private investment, the ability to finance genuine cutting-edge developments will be beyond the reach of all but a very few companies.

Outside of audio, what do you do for fun? 
Every day at Wilson Benesch is a holiday. 

What inspires you about your work?
Without any doubt it has always been and remains an enormous privilege to work with scientists, engineers, and academics at the forefront of developments in a broad range of scientific disciplines all over the world

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