At this year's CES, we had the pleasure of interviewing Andrew Jones, audio engineer and legendary speaker designer who has worked at KEF and Pioneer. Now the Vice President of Engineering at ELAC America, Jones is redefining the home speaker market with the ELAC Uni-Fi UB5 series. We were completely enamored with these bookshelf speakers, which are priced at just $500 for a pair. Patrick Norton chatted with Mr. Jones about the challenges of designing speakers, which we've transcribed below.
Tested: This is kind of a serious geek out treat for me. We're here with Vice President of Engineering at ELAC, Andrew Jones. I've enjoyed your work for a long time. It turns out you're kind of big into maker culture. I asked you when you started designing speakers and you said forever. How young when you started building speakers?
Andrew Jones: I guess it was around twelve, thirteen I got interested in hi-fi and I have a identical twin brother. We'd both got interested in hi-fi together. His interest veered towards electronics and mine to the speakers, but I like to say we started off at birth, because with being identical twins, it's not only that, we're mirror twins. He's left handed and I'm right handed, so we were born in stereo.
That's crazy. He's building amplifiers, you're building speakers. What was the challenge when you first started?
The challenge was understanding, first of all. It's fine to go and buy something but it's knowing how it works, so when you're young you start taking things apart, realize you don't know how to put them back together again, so you're going to have to learn that process. All through school I studied maths, physics, and chemistry. I went to university to do physics with acoustics, because I knew that's what I was going to need for speakers, and then I did a few years' research in both speaker techniques but also anti-noise. You know all the modern day noise-cancelling headphones? I was working on big speakers on ships to cancel the noise from the engines, that kind of thing, but my real interest was hi-fi so I joined KEF.
KEF was, at the time in England, the speaker university, and my mentor, Laurie Fincham, was the technical director there. I learned everything there, and we got to know everybody in the industry that was important and knew things, so you could just ask questions of anybody. If I was stuck on something, I could ask Peter Walker from Quad. He'd just give me a call, "Andrew, I was thinking about what you said the other day," and lay out a beautifully simple explanation. It was a wonderful training that set me up for everything I've done since then.