BEHIND THE BRAND: THEOPHANY LOUDSPEAKERS (NZ)
With a population of just under 5 million, New Zealand isn't exactly overpopulated with Hi-Fi manufacturers. Although there have been a few stand out success stories both nationally and internationally.
Remember Linx, Mega, Craft Audio, Boland and Lambert? All of these companies have joined the hall of audio fame in New Zealand, but except for Lambert, retired their jerseys long ago.
One company that is thriving and on the rise is the Christchurch based loudspeaker company, Theophany.
Well known for their distinctive hand made curved real-wood cabinetry, Theophany has gone from strength to strength in recent years. A high profile partnership with Harvey Norman and their 'Kiwi-made Hi-Fi' campaign, along with fellow Kiwi audio electronics company Perreaux, raised their profile massively.
That partnership ended a while back, but this has only opened up new possibilities for Theophany, including potential new export markets.
Theophany first appeared on my radar in 2008 when I borrowed a pair of exquisitely made stand-mounts from a local retailer I knew.
I'd heard of the loudspeaker newcomer but hadn't sampled any of their speakers at that stage. A quick request followed, and I drove away with a practically brand new pair of Theophany M3B's.
Clad in a superb real-wood Rimu veneer, they boasted an additional upward-firing bass-mid driver, very similar to the Castle Harlechs I owned (and still do). The fit and finish were up to the standard of any of the imported competition.
The now-familiar curved enclosure brought a touch of the exotic to the M3B's aesthetic, and they sported some pretty serious looking drivers – a carbon fibre bass/mid, coupled with what looked eerily like a ring-radiator tweeter.
The upward-firing driver helped the little Theophanys produce a broad soundstage with a real sense of scale and height to the speakers imaging ability. The small-ish speaker also had a surprising ability to shift air in my listening room.
The M3B was a great speaker that more than held its own against some much-vaulted imports. Although now a deleted model, I imagine it provided the DNA for much of Theophany's current models.
I'd only been thinking about Theophany recently when lo and behold, an email from Garth Murray, the visionary and man behind the company, arrived in my inbox.
He'd invited me to Christchurch to visit his company, and I wasn't about to turn him down.
After a few emails back and forth, as I returned from working on a coastal ship in NZ, it wasn't long before I was clambering down the ship gangway and into Garth's car.
It was a long drive out to Theophany HQ, so we chatted about all things Hi-Fi, and a bit about the beginnings of Theophany and his vision for the company.
Garth had been building loudspeakers for a few years before officially launching Theophany in 2005.
Before starting Theophany, he was an air traffic controller. He had fallen ill with septicaemia after an operation, and upon returning home, he suffered several minor strokes. Unfortunately, this led to him receiving long term memory damage among other side effects.
Perhaps the most incredible side effect, though, was encountered during his sleep. He explained that Theophany was born from many dreams, dreams in which he was building loudspeakers.
He'd wake up and jot down dimensions, cabinet form driver complement etc., even the curved shape that has become a hallmark of Theophany to this day.
It's an unusual beginning and great story for this successful Christchurch based company, but I was left with no doubt about the passion Garth has for the loudspeaker industry – and equally, his passion for life.
In the early days Garth sourced drivers from fellow Christchurch based company Arvus Loudspeakers, but these days Theophany designs every component (even the screws holding the drivers into each cabinet).
Bass/midrange, tweeters, and enclosures are all either fabricated in-house or sourced from quality suppliers to Theophany's exacting specifications.
The crossovers are all made with Air Core inductors, wire wound resistors and polypropylene capacitors for Theophany, ensuring consistency and ultimately, quality control over the finished product.
Even the internal 14 AWG Oxygen-Free Silver Tin coated Copper internal cabling is designed to their specifications. While many speaker companies use an off the shelf cable, not Theophany. It is this attention to detail that perhaps underlines Garth's undoubted passion for his company and the product he represents.
A small operation, Theophany currently employs five staff at their factory with plans to more than double this complement as they head into new export markets, including Australia, and soon, USA.
Garth explained to StereoNET:
It is very exciting times for us, leaving Harvey Norman was the best thing we could have done looking back on it. The response in Australia by some very critical people has been nothing short of astonishing - it has blown me away. We have also gained some very significant support in the USA from some very famous people, details of this will be released later in the year.
These are exciting times for Theophany indeed.
The factory is set in a beautiful rural property on the outskirts of Christchurch, and luckily for Garth, his home is on the same leafy property – traffic jams are non-existent.
Walking around the factory, I noticed the absence of laser cutters and CNC machines. Routers, table saws, jigsaws are all there of course, but the vast majority of each speaker build is down to good old hand craftsmanship.
Each speaker is constructed from laminated MDF; the curved cabinets created slowly in a heat room using custom-designed jigs. Then it's on to the real-wood lamination, also hand done in the factory by Theophany's expert cabinetmaker. A large variety of timber laminates are on hand in case a client requests a specific species or colour, something else you won't get from most of the industry's heavy hitters.
There is no question; these are hand made loudspeakers, voice-matched in pairs for consistency.
There were speakers in abundance here in various stages of completion, drivers stacked neatly on shelving awaiting their final destination, spools of internal cabling, speaker binding post plates ready to go – it was a busy scene, minus the chaos one would possibly expect from a boutique loudspeaker.
And there's the rub – there is definitely a sense of 'non-corporate' with Theophany - it is a family business through and through, and the path Garth undertook since his epiphany those few years ago has taken blood, sweat and possibly a few tears along the way in making the company what it is today.
This dedication to his pursuit of loudspeaker excellence is an inspiring one. Garth's many customers rave about their Theophany loudspeakers, just as I fondly remember the mighty little M3B.
Garth quietly ushered me into one of his demonstration rooms for a wee treat. A brand new floor-standing speaker was being put through its paces.
A medium-sized design, the all-new Pachoulos Kardia is a stunning speaker more than matched by its sound quality. Driven by nothing exotic (in this case a low powered Class D amplifier) with a Squeezebox Touch as the source, the rear-ported Pachoulos sounded fabulous – smooth, extended high frequencies, deep bass without boom or flabbiness, and a clearly defined and detailed midband.
At the expected retail price of NZ $4,999, they are an outstanding bargain and quite possibly serious competition for any competing speaker under NZ $8,000.
Sadly it was a whirlwind tour, and I had to get back to my aquatic workplace. Once I'd taken a few photos and said cheerio to Garth and wife Stephanie, it was time to saddle up for the drive back to port.
Theophany is a bonafide Kiwi audio success story. Moving into previously uncharted export markets would usually be a jittery move for a lot of companies, especially those in the audio industry. I suspect though that Garth and Theophany have the right formula when it comes to great-sounding quality loudspeakers, solid foundations and the right ethos.
The dream continues ...
For more information visit Theophany.
Addicted to music from a very early age, Gary built his first pair of loudspeakers at the tender age of 12. Since then he has contributed to a plethora of publications/websites and has even been heard on Newstalk 1ZB as the stations ‘gadget man’. Technically proficient in both analogue and digital, he feels the road ahead is just as exciting as the road already traveled - and he can’t wait to tell you about it.
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