"When technology is needed, we develop it. When there is something that will happen, we make it happen. We’re not following the market. We’re creating it."
ELEPHANT LIFESTYLE (L): How did you get involved with Goldmund?
MICHEL REVERCHON: Goldmund was founded by two architecture students in France in 1977. At that time I was an audiophile and a customer who was travelling to the US a lot. They asked if I could bring their products to America, so I brought one to Mark Levinson, who at the time was the top guy of high-end audio. In 1980, I bought the company and moved the production to Switzerland because I wanted the Swiss make.
L: How is the company developing today?
MR: We’re Swiss, so we’re slow, but we became profitable in a relatively short time. We’re still a very small company. There are about 18 people in our building in Geneva. We don’t manufacture anything; we assemble. We have five directors but only four assemblers, which is very atypical. We’re looking for extreme results and extreme performance and we’re interested in the science of it.
We’ve been in Geneva for 27 years, working on all types of products. Now we’re talking more about technology and less about specific products. Historically, we’ve been building everything on the long term. When technology is needed, we develop it. When there is something that will happen, we make it happen. We’re not following the market. We’re creating it.
L: Is it the technology that sets Goldmund apart?
MR: Two things make us unique compared to all the other high-end audio/video companies. The first is that we do much more R&D. We have 10 engineers and do R&D on the outside as well. Up to 30 percent of our expenses are in R&D, more than any other company, so we are a scientific company compared to a lot of marketing companies. We work with labs in many countries, including France, Switzerland, Japan and the US.
The second is that we’re a business. Other companies that are doing audio/video are usually doing it as artists or enthusiasts. We are run by a team of five MBAs. We have all the qualities of high-end makers with a smaller volume of business and are much more business-oriented. We are amongst the smallest but doing the most profit by volume.
L: What are you most known for?
MR: We’ve probably progressed most on the power amplifier and are now known as the best seller of power amplifiers in the world. We do more per amp than anything else, even in complete systems. We are also known for being the best at controlling speakers and we’ve developed technology to match all the top speakers. You often see an amplified system with any set of speakers run by Goldmund to make it work perfectly.
L: What technologies has Goldmund developed?
MR: We have a toy that I show to people who come to visit. It’s a small speaker that looks like a box. You put a few of them in a large room and they cancel the acoustics of the room. They don’t do anything but cancel the sound. Add this to the speaker and you have something incredible. We’ve included this acoustic-cancelling speaker in normal speakers.
In 1997 we were looking for a new way of correcting time alignment in propagation. We worked with a laboratory at MIT, where I asked to see any professors who could help us develop the technology to correct time. Their response was, “We have no idea how to do that.” It was considered impossible then, but we did it.
L: How does this change the listening experience?
MR: The time problem makes your brain work to re-align the sound. It has to re-sync everything to make recognition possible. If you remove the work of listening, like we do with our systems, then hearing becomes pure pleasure. You don’t realise you’re making the effort until you hear a system that does the work for you.
It makes you relax. The first time I was introduced to the technology, I had just gotten back from a long business trip. They put the music on for me and I immediately fell asleep. The music was loud, but I was out. I was completely relaxed because my brain did not have to work.
L: What else can we expect to be coming from Goldmund?
MR: We’re looking at a system that’s easy to use, completely self-adjusted, exciting in performance and gorgeous. We will eliminate audio systems where you literally have to sit in one spot if you want a decent result. That’s not acceptable. In 10 years everything will be able to track where you are and how many people are in the room, adjusting accordingly to make it sound good.
Everything that is functional will become invisible. You may keep a pair of big beautiful speakers and decide you don’t want to see anything else. With wireless that is possible. The disc complements have completely disappeared and so has the player. Speakers will appear only if you want to see them and everything will be installed through a local agent that we train.
L: Beyond the installation, what services do you offer along with your product?
MR: Customers come to us because we know what they need. We know more about what is possible, beautiful and necessary. We want to be more professional, more accommodating, more understanding and more aware of what the customer truly wants. We have to make it so your friend is overcome by what he sees when he visits. What’s important is what he tells others about his experience. A discerning customer is not as interested in equipment as he is in service. He’s interested in the way you treat him.
It’s not about high-end audio anymore. It’s about high-end service. I am constantly trying to explain this to customers who come to Geneva to buy a watch, saying, “Look, you buy a complex watch, but do they ask you to change your arm?” Of course not. We do the same. We try to avoid making things complicated for you. You don’t have to adapt.
L: How do your customers react to this approach?
MR: I think they are astonished that we don’t talk about the technology, but about their lifestyle. We ask where they live, where they feel comfortable, where they want to sit and so on. Based on that we provide them with what they want. They often ask if I can make them a drawing of what we’ll do to their room, so I ask them if they have a drawing of the space, and when they show it to me, I say, “OK, that’s it.” We make them feel that everything that was impossible before is easy. That is what they are paying for.
L: For this, you have media rooms to showcase your systems. What is the idea behind that?
MR: The media room is the first step towards managing a complete room where audio, video and acoustics are all set up. Now, all of the equipment is hidden, unless you want to show it. Before, you had ugly acoustic treatments like reflectors, traps, absorbers and things all over the walls. Customers are not interested in that. We work in improving the acoustics of the room without treating it. All of this is showcased in our media room.
L: Do you see any challenges for the future?
MR: The challenge is to make it where there is no competition. We are trying to build a niche in audio engineering. If there is a local base of established companies, we must do something just above that. We have three price ranges in everything: the reasonable, the unreasonable and the unreachable. That tells you what we do. We’re interested in being above the level.