We talk Hi-Fi with the Norwegian speaker manufacturer Arendal Sound
Norwegian Arendal has in a short time become a serious challenger to established speaker brands and curious as we are, we asked a series of questions to one of the co-founders, Thomas Gunvaldsen.
Following its rise to success over the past decade, we've had the chance to catch up with one of the co-founders of the Norwegian premium audio brand, Arendal Sound. In particular, we have sat down with Thomas Gunvaldsen to discuss the process of creating a speaker system, what to look for in good sound, the company's Scandinavian influences, and more.
Gamereactor: Could you talk a little about Arendal as a company and a brand. How did it all start?
Gunvaldsen: Absolutely. It started while we selling Hi-Fi and home cinema equipment as a B2C retailer in Norway, the company was named L-Sound. Jan Ove Lassesen, the founder of Arendal Sound, started L-Sound back in 2005 and had always had an idea of making his own brand at some point. L-Sound brought us a lot of direct market experience as well as a good network within the industry, that made the timing right to create our own brand where we had control of all aspects on the business side as well as the product side. We wanted to build proper products that we also would be really proud to have in our own setups.
I started working with Jan back in 2012 at L-Sound, and we started the ideas and business concepts for Arendal Sound in 2013-2014 and had our first product launch at the end of 2015.
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What goes into designing and manufacturing a speaker like the 1961?
Gunvaldsen: So the first stage will be the idea stage where we discuss ideas and concepts with the entire team. We try to figure out what our customer wants and needs, but also what we as a brand want to launch to maintain the integrity of what we stand for. We get inputs from the marketing department on their outlooks, our customer support team has their valuable inputs as they are on the front-lines always hearing our customers needs and wants.
In this process we map out what price level we want the products to be in as well. And frankly we have a hard time getting to lower price points, just because whenever we think of doing something cheaply it clashes with our brand ethos of having excellent build quality and performance. So whenever anyone has brought vinyl finish, MDF enclosures, cheap crossover components etc. to the table as a thought of what we could do to reach a lower price tier, it has always been steered away from. Have a look at our 1961 series for example, this is the lowest price point offered by us, but it is not at a low price level per se, and there is nothing about this series that would make you think entry level - because it is not. Painted finishes, HDF cabinets, quality crossover components and drivers with attention to the smallest little detail.
When the discussions are settled, we map out time lines of all the auxiliaries that go into the research and development of such a product, as well as aligning with our marketing team for the launch process of the product(s). This could be anywhere from a year up to three years for larger more time consuming projects. 1961 was about two years in the works before it was launched.
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We typically start with the Tower design for any speaker series, as this is in our opinion the most important, and typically the speaker we will sell most of to our customers. Any other speaker in the series will follow the design principles added to this speaker. We design our drivers in-house, which means we do not find an off-the-shelf driver and build an enclosure to fit it, but we do it the other way around, so that we have a perfect matching driver for a given cabinet and the frequency range it needs to cover. In the early stage there is obviously a whole plethora of simulations on drivers, cabinet/driver interactions, drawings etc. before the first samples are created.
Now, during the R&D phase of the project, which is by far the most time consuming part of the project, I am not sure most people can imagine just how many discussions we go through on the smallest, seemingly insignificant little bits and pieces to get everything just right. We could have probably done such a project in half the time, but when you strive for excellence in all levels it will just take that extra bit of time on all matters. Just a small example from our 1961 speakers, is that we ended up tooling the entire surround of the drivers as not just the surround but it is also acting as a rubber trim ring between the driver and cabinets. I think the end result speaks for itself.
During the design phase, we always strive to uphold our sonic goals; dynamics, tonal accuracy, natural timbre and SPL capabilities. To achieve these goals, we believe our waveguide/tweeter combo is at the heart of it. We are able to design the waveguides so that its dispersion off-axis meets the dispersion of the midranges in that same area, so the speakers have an even sound power. This makes the speakers sound natural and engaging, without starting to sound harsh or muddied up when you start playing louder in normal rooms without heavy acoustic treatment. It aids in making the speaker sound dynamic and engaging.
When we get the first samples, we conduct a series of measurements and listening tests to find out what we need to change. It is very rare that everything is completely perfect in the first samples. We use music material only during this stage for listening tests. We go over all our findings from the measurements, and compare it with our findings during listening and discuss the best path to improve any aspect we thought could be better. This could go back and forth with changes to drivers, crossovers, cabinets etc. a few times before we have it all dialled down to perfection.
When our samples are confirmed we go over to pre-production stage where we do a small-batch production to see that everything is dialled in on the products, on production, and on quality control. We then get to check the products when they arrive to us, and give the factory feedback on any changes to implement on QC or production before moving ahead with the first mass production.
During Mass Production we typically go to our factory and go over all routines for the new products with the QC team, to make sure everything is A-level, as we require for all our productions.
How would you describe the Arendal-sound?
Gunvaldsen: I will be short on this one. Engaging, dynamic and accurate. With great SPL capabilities.
What's good sound to you, personally?
Gunvaldsen: That's a good question. I think good sound for me is what we are striving to achieve in our products. If I sit down to listen to music, first of all, I will need more or less the entire frequency range from 20Hz to 20kHz to be covered. Secondly, the setup must sound dynamic and engaging. I love it when I can crank up the volume so I also feel the music with my entire body. With some more traditional "Hi-Fi" speakers that lack directivity control altogether, the soundstage and dynamics tend to collapse when listening at higher SPL's, although they can sound very detailed and alluring at lower levels, that is not my cup of tea.
Micro and macrodynamics as well as tonality are very important for me. I prefer listening to speakers that don't try to give the recording its own sonic signature, but rather to convey what was recorded in the most accurate way possible.
How does Scandinavia inspire or motivate you guys in what you do?
Gunvaldsen: We are admittedly patriots. Our brand is named after the city we live and work in. It is also very apparent from our graphics that we try to promote the Norwegian culture. From the Northern Lights appearing in a few of our imagery, to wooden cabins, to wood skis, and other accessories ornamenting the insides of the cabin. Let's not forget the polar bears, or knitted wool hats.
The speaker designs are also in line with Scandinavian design. Not so many round edges and shapes, but more straight angles and squared corners.
Why are the speakers called 1961?
Gunvaldsen: Our naming convention is perhaps a bit uncommon. We have based our series names on important events in the city of Arendal throughout the years. 1961 was the year that Arendal got a bridge between the city centre and an island called Tromøya, which by coincidence is where our founder, Jan Ove Lassesen comes from. Prior to this year, they had to use boats between the island and city centre.
Thanks to Arendal Sound and Thomas Gunvaldsen for talking with us. You can take a look at the company's offering at its website right here.