Q&A with Dan Laufman of Emotiva Audio

Solid-state power amplifiers,
Solid-state preamplifiers,
Disc players,
Digital-to-analog converters
Q&A with Dan Laufman of Emotiva Audio

What ignited your interest in the high end? Did it come from the music side or the electronics side?
My love of the high end comes from both sides. My dad was an audiophile and an engineer; he built his own tube amps and speakers. The gear was right in the living room, where I would sit in front of the speaker listening to his big band music. I found it really exciting and wonderful. Thanks to this early influence and my love of music and all things mechanical, my interest was triggered at a very early age.

What gear made up your first high-end system?
My first real stereo was a pair of Infinity 2000A speakers, Phase Linear 400 amp, AR turntable, and Dynaco tuner. I built my own stereo preamp from scratch, and did all sorts of things to tweak system performance, including building a color organ with the lights hidden behind the Infinity speakers...classy!

When did audio develop from a hobby to a career?
While I was in high school, I hung out at the local stereo shop, Woodland Stereo Center in Woodland Hills, CA. The owner, Walt, was cool with me hanging around as long as I earned my keep, which translated into helping out any way I could. I got to meet a lot of guys who are celebrities in the audio business; people like Cary Christie and Arnie Nudell of Infinity were more than gracious to an over-eager high school kid anxious to be in the business. I was a big Infinity fan, but I don’t think they took me seriously until I came up with a high-end 12V mobile amp that I intentionally designed to look like an Infinity product. I pitched it to them, and they loved it. But, Bascom King had to bless it, and he finally did with some “suggestions” that turned out to be real eye-openers. The amp ended up sounding great, and we had a huge success with it.

What education did you receive?
I’m self-taught. School meant less to me than getting my hands on the gear and building things. And I was lucky enough to work with and be mentored by some very talented people.

How do you define the difference between hi-fi and high-end audio?
I liken the pursuit of high-end audio to a vision quest. The ultimate goal is to recreate the musical experience with the most pristine, accurate, emotionally evolving sonic characteristics possible. Hi-fi, on the other hand, is less about the music than it is about the appliance. Hi-fi gear plays music and movies, but high-end gear evokes emotion.

Analog or digital? What is your preference and why?
Frankly, I have no preference. I care less about the topology that gets the sound from one point to the other than the level of emotional engagement and musical truth it evokes.

Describe a primary lesson you’ve learned working in the high-end business.
Price bears no relation to actual performance and musicality.

Personal listening devices, headphones, etc. are increasingly popular. What does this mean for the high end?
I love listening to music on headphones, but I enjoy speakers more. Music, to me, is best when it’s a shared experience.

Looking towards the future, how will high-end systems change in the next ten years or so?
I believe that streaming music and video will be parts of the future. Physical media may be around for a while, but its influence will continue to diminish. So-called lifestyle products will have an enormous effect on the high end. I currently have a $49 Amazon Dot driving a $4500 Raven tube amp connected to $9000 B&Ws. It’s one of my favorite pieces of equipment. A whole world of music is a voice command away. Is it perfect? No. But can it become so? Yes! Manufacturers who plan to survive need to build systems and develop technologies that embrace and thrive in the current market, and beyond. 

Going forward, what are the greatest challenges confronting the high end?
The greatest danger is not making high-end affordable and relevant to the next generation of enthusiasts.

Outside of audio, what do you do for fun? What still inspires you about your work?
I love my family, my friends, and living in Nashville. I attend anywhere from 40–50 concerts a year. And I love being a new granddad—that’s the best! Music, cinema, and technology inspire me. Building products that bring our customers closer to the artists is challenging, exciting, and very rewarding.