Interview with Antony Michaelson, our founder
Musical Fidelity celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. How does it feel?
It is a surprise because thirty years have passed in a flash. Along the way, there were times when I thought, ‘That’s it, we’re finished.’ I do not like to admit defeat, so we battled on through supply crises, manufacturing glitches and cash flow problems, which makes it all the more satisfying to reach this point. The other day, I met someone in the business who said, ‘Oh, you are legendary!’ I reckon that means I have been around the business for a while and am still alive and kicking - for which I want to say thank you to the tens of thousands of people who own Musical Fidelity products and to everyone whose hard work and talent has got us where we are today.
Looking back, what advice would you give to your younger self?
When I started the company, I was told by a lot of people that there was no room in the market for another amplifier brand. I did not listen to them and I would tell my younger self, received wisdom is often wrong.
I?would also warn him that dealers will always want what you do not have, even if you have designed products specifically in response to their requests. There is no winning, so stick to your convictions and you will avoid some expensive mistakes. Of course, I made quite a few mistakes using my own judgment. Those were unavoidable.
There were some fundamental concepts that it took me far too long to see. I would tell the younger me to lavish as much care on the external design of products as on the electronics. In audio, there is a limit to the cost of electronics, because you only need so many components to make a stupendous amplifier. But it has to look the part. The electronics can be breath-taking but if the unit looks rough, nobody will believe in what is inside it.
The truth of this hit me at an Italian hi-fi show, where they were showing absolutely stunning-looking loudspeakers. It was almost a case of, who cares what they sound like when they are that beautiful?
For me the electronics are paramount and the quality of sound reproduction is always the holy grail. But if you look back at our first products, you can see how we have developed our industrial design aesthetic since then, to complement the quality of the electronics.
It sounds like you got into audio manufacturing because you were an audiophile yourself.
It was more that I was passionate about music, and still am. I went to music college and then, when I was looking for a way to earn a living, I met someone who wanted to make and market tube amps. For a couple of years we made some intriguing amps with big tubes and that warm, luscious tube sound. That company went bust, but I got the idea that there might be a living to be made in audio.
A few years later, I was fed up with the mediocre preamp in my home audio system, so I designed and made a preamp for myself. An audio dealer friend heard it, and placed an order for some. They all sold over the first weekend they were on display, and he ordered more. Almost by accident, I was back in business.
Musical Fidelity has launched dozens of products over the years, including some classics. Why so many?
Some might say too many, but we have to respond to market pressures. We have to make what people want. Sometimes we follow an idea to its logical conclusion and the product bombs, but our proportion of successful launches has been high enough for us to survive and thrive.
With the A1 we created a whole new class of amps, ‘budget audiophile.’ We have produced valve amps, head amps, pure Class A amps, insanely high-powered transistor amps, CD?players, SACD players, and experimented with bizarre casework and weird heatsinks, just to name a few. I dream up something, the R?&?D people tell me why it cannot be done, and then they achieve technical marvels.
We never stop trying to improve what we make, whether in terms of technical performance, sonic performance or value for money. We have learned that, no matter how good something is, there is usually a way to improve it.
Surely by now Musical Fidelity has done it all?
Nowhere near. You can think of amp design as variations on a theme: with each new product we explore different aspects of the basic idea and that can lead to exciting discoveries. Also, audio is changing and we are going into new areas, for example with the CLiC for people who are into digitally-based source material. We have some surprises up our sleeve!
Our Current Product Range
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