‘In the House’, by David Neice
Manufacturer Spotlight: An Interview with Sylvio Comtois, CEO of ArtistCloner, about their current endeavours.
ArtistCloner is a small boutique designer and manufacturer of audiophile equipment, based in Montreal. The owner of the firm and principle designer is Mr. Sylvio Comtois. The equipment is produced ‘without compromise’. ArtistCloner products first came to wide attention for many astute audiophiles at the 2018-19 Montreal and Toronto Audio Fests, where many were struck by the quality of sound issuing forth from the exhibitor’s room. The competition on the same floor of these two shows was fierce, with Audio Note UK holding its usual position just down the hall with a mega buck system, as well as many other outstanding exhibitors. Nevertheless many who attended these shows were mightily impressed by the sound field presented by ArtistCloner products, and significant show buzz ensued.
The products that ArtistCloner currently sells are found here: http://www.artistcloner.com/
Their current products include the ‘Rebel Reference’ speaker system with Scanspeak drivers, as well as the ‘Scorpi’ integrated amplfier and ‘Coleo’ monoblocks. Interconnects, speaker cables and even cable risers are part of the product line. A new preamplifier is being introduced as well as a large floor standing speaker system, the ‘Anima’. The latter is Isobarik-loaded and highly efficient. The warranty offered on analog products such as amplifiers is a generous eight years.
As all sales are in effect custom builds, the readers of this interview can obtain further details on ArtistCloner products by calling Sylvio Comtois directly by phone at 438-338-0218, or by Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
As both the 2020 Montreal and Toronto shows have been cancelled due to Covid 19, Wall Of Sound approached Sylvio this fall and asked for an interview to update us on the company’s progress. We think readers will be intrigued by his answers to our questions.
WoS: Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed as we know you are quite busy. First let me ask how would you characterize the overall design philosophy of ArtistCloner as exemplified by its current products?
Sylvio: Thank you for having me. To sum up the design philosophy at ArtistCloner it is to keep the audio reproduction as immediate and lifelike as possible. Above all, we intend to capture the artist’s intentions and wherever possible, the emotional tone of the music. We build products as simply as possible, and this is not as easy as it sounds. Years of experience listening to live music, electronic components, designing circuits and conducting technical analysis has led us to only use very high quality and tested materials, right down to the solder. The sum total of this experience with parts and design are hifi components that produce highly engaging sound, both as individual components and as a system.
As you and I are aware, synergy is very important and frequently difficult to achieve. Not content with other manufacturer’s products, we have designed our own. As we manufacture 90%+ of the system’s components, including cables, we can tweak the equipment to work together in better harmony. What a time and money saver for our clients. Someone that has gone down the route of upgrades knows what I am talking about here. You can upgrade for years and still not have synergy in your system as it is very elusive.
WoS: When did ArtistCloner emerge as a firm and how did it get started in its early days?
Sylvio: ArtistCloner Inc. saw the light of day in 2017. We tested the market and equipment in 2016 at the Montreal Audio Fest. We were well received at this show with people crowding to get in the room, it gave us a success that was too strong to not continue. The first preamp built was in the early 90’s and it outclassed a well respected brand name. I knew right then that I needed wherever possible to build my own equipment and immediately moved into 2 – way speaker design that some friends convinced me to build.
Things took off from there on a quest to discover pre-amplifiers, speakers, and cables etc. Since then we have built more commercial products and participate at audio shows every year to let more people discover these products.
WoS: It has been a couple of years since we spoke face to face at the first Toronto Audio Fest where you had such success as an exhibitor. So tell us what has been the evolution of ArtistCloner and its designs in the interval?
Sylvio: We have been working on quite a few fronts. New amplification (Kahoonas), preamplifier (SPUNKY) and a full range 3-way speaker, ANIMA. The speaker is really special as it features a large AMT tweeter which has a power rating of 250w and a sensitivity of 100db/1watt! We need to tame it down to near 91db/1w to match the overall rating for this speaker.
This speaker consists of 7 drivers (WMTMW – Woofer – Midrange – Tweeter – Midrange – Woofer) with four 10 inch drivers in two separated isobaric chambers for the bass. The ‘Rebel Reference’ is at work here as well but implemented in a three way design. This crossover is only possible by very careful cabinet design (including 1-5/8” thick hardwood/Baltic Plywood combination), bracing, damping and most critically, component matching.
The incredible capabilities of the AMT driver (flat response across a broad frequency range) makes much of the sound possible. The wave launch and sound immersion experience is just awesome! As capable as the Rebel Reference is, first presented at the Montreal Audio Fest in 2018/2019 and then at the Toronto Audio Fest in 2018, we believe the ANIMA is our state of the art loudspeaker.
The new Kahoonas amplifiers are built from a one piece, milled out aluminum block for a unique design, finish and cooling. Super low distortion, 100W@8Ω, 200W@4 and 400W@2 with a killer look! These amplifiers also sport all Furutech connectors and have an optional wood base to sit on, for even greater performance gains.
As for the preamps, there are actually two types nearing completion, both being no feedback designs, with one big difference: one is solid state and the other is a tube design. The solid state is based on FET transistors. The second is a tube design that has no output transformer and it is doing very well for what we wanted.
We also wanted to incorporate a special user adjustable presentation <<knob>> for different music types. For example you could have a more laid back and wide presentation for say classical or jazz. The other end of the scale would give you a more direct and detailed sound for say rock or electronic music. This makes the product more versatile and fun to listen to with a variety of music types.
WoS: The ‘Rebel Reference’ speakers were a huge hit at previous audio shows, with some listeners commenting on them as ‘best of show”. Have there been any improvements or modifications to those speakers of late?
Sylvio: We always revisit our products to see if we can improve them. The Rebel Reference has been revisited and so have the stands for this speaker to get the most out of it. The stands are the major upgrade here with a large tube design and a cavity platform that are both fill-able with your favourite damping product. We settled on long grain rice! Ssshhhhh!
As for the speaker, the crossover has been tweaked somewhat to make the speaker more room friendly. The biggest problem with speakers is that they will sound different from room to room and taming this effect while keeping the signature of the sound is what we have been working on.
WoS: The Covid 19 pandemic has had injurious effects on the audio industry. How has ArtistCloner been coping with the pandemic’s challenges?
Sylvio: This period has been really tough on the audio industry just like most retail stores that are not online. I think businesses that were suffering before the Covid wrecking ball just got accelerated out of business. Those that were in better shape needed to adapt to this new reality.
We moved to better our communications overall with our clients, contractors and suppliers. We are trying to make our online experience better overall by keeping it simple and clear. We lend out equipment so people can try them in their homes for a couple of weeks. What else could we really do? Like many we have suffered long delays and additional expense with all our outsourced operations. As a whole we are doing well and continue to get keen interest from customers.
WoS: The costs of developing new products must be high. Can you describe the development of new products such as the ANIMA speaker?
Sylvio: Development is what I really enjoy, but boy does it burn a hole in your pockets quickly! The ANIMA speaker is a tour de force in itself. The ANIMA cost much more to develop than anticipated, but this is often the case. Like the musical artists we enjoy for pleasure, our creative juices really flow once we see new ideas or approaches take shape!
The whole process of creating, prototyping, evaluating is long and at times you have to start over to get it right. You really have to enjoy the process, or forget it. For those that don’t know AtistCloner, we build locally near Montreal and use highly-skilled machinists, woodworkers, anodizers, painters amongst others. The advantage of our limited production runs and direct sales/management approach is a plus for the consumer’s investment. This is reflected in firstly, high quality sound and secondly, in the use of expensive parts, useful and longer lasting added features and attention to detail.
These are not disposable goods. We have limited production runs, which allows us to quickly integrate improvements or modify designs as innovations become apparent. We can do things that big manufactures steer away from, as it would slow down production times or increase cost. As a smaller outfit we can take the extra time or use that certain product to achieve the ultimate sonic goals. Our clients are usually people that have been stuck in the upgrade tornado and want to find synergy. We make it work and people hear it when they come to shows.
WoS: For small boutique designers of audio eqiupment and owners of firms that produce such equipment, what can the Canadian audio industry do to further support your efforts?
Sylvio: For small companies like us that are niche, I think if store owners could invite us to setup in their stores for say a month or so and have their clients experience these products, that would be really fantastic! They could feature Canadian products that usually are not in their stores and have like an ArtistCloner month/fest!
It could be any Canadian products as there are many great ones out there, but I think you get the idea here. The exposing manufacturer could redirect clients from his website and do advertising campaigns to attract traffic to the participating stores for that month. How’s that for an idea?
WoS: Of late, and with streaming services being more prevalent, DACs are top of mind for many audiophiles. You are not producing a DAC but your experience with them may help guide our readers. What have you been using?
Sylvio: I am not a great fan of online streaming, as I find that it just does not live up to the sound quality that I would expect. This is from my experience in general and I know that there are exceptions. The online world is good for discovering music and I do like that part of it, so yes I do use it but not for serious listening. For me, streaming from a hard drive to a system that can decode it and play it back with very high quality is more my style.
As for DAC’s, we use our in-house built DAC (fully discrete analog after the DAC chip) to design our products. We have used it at shows such as at the 2019 Montreal Audio Fest, but it was in its prototype form so we hid it in a wooden crate under the Scorpi integrated amplifier. One reviewer said that our room looked like the cave in ‘Castaway’ with Tom Hanks, and that the music server (hidden in the wooden crate) may possibly be called Wilson in the future. That was funny!
This DAC was never intended for retail sales, but we had customers wanting this unit. We built a few, sold them and are working on a finished product with a touch screen. Oops, I just revealed another secret. Thank-god I am the boss in this shop.
WoS: The buzz around ArtistCloner must by now be getting traction outside of Canada. Have you been marketing your products at all via review samples, or more by word of mouth?
Sylvio: We have been so busy that we have not put into much marketing outside of Canada. We intend to put more into marketing (gotta slow down on the prototyping – wink, wink) as the main shows have been cancelled and don’t seem to be viable for some time. We do have other ideas to explore and will use some of them to market our products.
WoS: Are there any last comments you care to make on the state of the art of audio reproduction?
Sylvio: I would like to thank all those that have read this far! Kidding aside, there is much more to discover about audio reproduction, such as measurements vs subjectivity. I truly believe that we will discover other ways to measure things we can hear but can’t yet measure.
Remember <jitter> in digital playback? We could all hear it, but no one could measure it until we could measure it. We need to be open minded about what we hear and can’t measure, for the time being. There are sometimes changes that bring about more musicality and you can’t measure it. Well, we need to just enjoy it instead of sending it to the snake-oil pit. This especially true if it’s a repeatable thing. It could be that you are measuring it wrong or the measuring tool doesn’t exist yet for what you are hearing. Now, does anyone want to talk about cables? 😉
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