THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX
B.audio embraces car engineering technology to build its pioneering amplifiers and digital-to-analogue converters
Over the Past decade, video sharpened to 4k, mobile internet upped the pace to 5G and TV screens stretched out an extra 30 inches. Yet advances in sound quality have, at best, stuttered to a halt. “A lot of the tech from the 1950s and ’60s is still on the market,” says Sébastien Bermann, co-founder of B.audio. “I remember wondering why modern technologies were so unrepresented.”
Sébastien hand-builds amplifiers and digital-to-analogue converters (DAC) in his workshop in Saint-Hippolyte, near Strasbourg, using insights gleaned from a decade working as a test and measurement engineer in the automotive world. His business partner and brother Cédric, meanwhile, was an electronics and software engineer specialising in products burdened with noise problems. These experiences gave them a different perspective compared to most hi-fi industry insiders. “We took the best from these technologies to set new standards in music reproduction.”The result is a series of patented advancements that eliminate sound distortion rather than try to mask them artificially. In particular, their “Source Jitter Remover”, used on DACs, cleans up the hardness typically found when a digital signal is transferred to analogue. It works by clocking the input directly in the conversion stage, ensuring any device can be plugged in yet generate a completely clear signal.
These eureka moments came from 10 painstaking years of trial and error over weekends and evenings as the pair worked their day jobs. Their breakthrough only really arrived when the prestigious High End Munich audio exhibition picked them to appear on the floor in 2017. The buzz B.audio created led to its first sales to retailers and distributors of specialist equipment in Germany and Belgium, as well as their home country of France. “It was quite a continuous process to reach the highest level,” says Sébastien.
They made plenty of mistakes, too, including attempting to design the prototypes themselves, like many of their rivals. Eventually, they hired product designer Olivier Hess to take over. Now, B.audio’s sleek aluminium-fronted panels feature seamless, ball-bearing mounted controls. “It corresponds to the purity of the music,” says Sébastien, “and that’s important because it needs to be harmonious with the living room.” The obsessive attention to detail shows itself, too, in selecting components designed to maintain their characteristics over time. Their chemical capacitors, for instance, can withstand more than 5,000 hours of operation at 105 degrees Celsius, which translates to more than 40 years of continuous service in typical circumstances.
The brothers are already thinking about the future, and are currently developing a new “room equalization” feature. “It makes the environment better sounding,” says Sébastien, “because the living room is not a concert hall.” And further down the
line still, the plan is to introduce networking and streaming to their products.
Meeting such challenges, however, is what drove the pair to crack the notoriously finicky world of high-end audio in the first place. “We’re passionate about listening to music,” says Sébastien. “But it was also a challenge – we wanted to see what we could achieve by taking an idea from the engineering world into audio.”