Fine audio in a league of its own

Munich High End Show 2017 stand.
The Bespoke Audio Company workshop in Hastings, East Sussex.

With a 10 year background in the design and manufacture of world renowned audio transformers, Lucy Gastall and Harry O'Sullivan took the plunge and pooled their talents to form The Bespoke Audio Company Ltd in 2013. They haven't looked back. 

We were delighted to be granted a glimpse by Harry O'Sullivan behind the scenes of The Bespoke Audio Company's highly professional, customer-centric operation. 

What's the story behind how The Bespoke Audio Co was formed?

The Bespoke Audio Company was founded on two principles: to hold the experience of the customer as paramount and to accept no compromise in anything we do. We were drawn to start the business because of a mutually shared passion for music, and we wanted to raise the standards of what can be expected from a high end audio company. We took the time to work and consult with other designers, and spent time with a local electronics genius who is also an enthusiastic audiophile. This gave us insight to approach things from a perspective less prejudiced by habit or convention.

Tell us about your backgrounds?

Lucy has a deeply held passion for the aesthetic, for excellence in design and for perfection in execution. She enjoys collecting antiques, from historical architectural salvage and furniture to haberdashery. A beekeeper and a rally driver, Lucy has had articles published in Practical Classics magazine about the adventures with her father in a 1959 Austin A35 they refurbished together.

I come from a professional audio background, having spent years working in live sound, engineering countless live music performances, from rock to jazz, classical to electronic, from tiny bars to festival stages. I play guitar in a local band and I have a small recording studio which I use to record local bands and singer / songwriters. I also keep my hand in working as a sound engineer.

Your debut product is a multi-award winning pre-amplifier - describe what goes into making one.

Each handcrafted pre-amplifier is the result of our years of experience in the research and development of what goes into the heart of a high fidelity audio system. Our pre-amp is a flexible design with six inputs and two outputs in any combination of balanced and unbalanced connections. Customers can choose from an extensive palette of technical options and finishes to to ensure it complements their system. We suggest configurations, but can work closely with the customer to come up with a unique pre-amplifier made solely for them.

Your pre-amplifier is "passive", what does that mean?

A pre-amplifier is the control centre for your whole system. It's the interface between your sources (CD, turntable, tape etc.) and your amplifiers. Put simply, your pre-amplifier lets you select which source you are listening to, and how loud it is. Everything is connected here, it's the heart of a high end audio system.

Modern sources have output levels which are more than capable of driving amplifiers to their maximum volume. So, a pre-amplifier is almost always used to reduce (or attenuate) the signal level. Since there is no need to increase gain, the active element of a pre-amplifier could be considered to be effectively redundant. Our pre-amplifier has no active circuitry in the signal path and uses our own custom designed transformers for level control. We wind these transformers in house, to order.

To be clear, our opinion on the merits of a passive pre-amplifier over an active design is only that: our opinion. It is also inherently biased, since we make a passive pre-amplifier! There are many music lovers who use an active pre-amplifier and enjoy exceptional sound from their systems. There is no right and wrong in music reproduction, there are only preferences.

Configuration drawings, a copy of the completed order, and any artwork for custom engraving are sent to customers in week one for approval.

How long does it take to design and produce a custom pre-amplifier?

The design process starts with the online configurator on our website which generates a code leading to a draft specification and written copy of the order for customer approval. This includes configuration drawings, any artwork or details of custom engraving, and all the component parts.

How many components are involved in the process?

Each pre-amplifier comprises 442 individual components. We suggest configuration options, or work with our customers to create exactly what they want.

You take your customers on a detailed journey throughout the design process - how important is this to them?

Each week we keep the customer updated via videos, photographs and a written update of order progress. The customer experience is really important to us. We involve our customers every step of the way. Sometimes we don't hear anything from customers who leave things totally in our hands; other customers absolutely love the fact they have the opportunity to be so closely involved with the meticulous design of their pre-amplifier.

Why is it important for customers to experience an audition?

Our studio and listening room offers the opportunity for customers to experience a demo of our pre-amplifier here in Hastings. It's just as easy for us offer a demo in Germany as it is in Edinburgh. We encourage our customers to take advantage of our audition service, as we genuinely wouldn't want a customer to buy our pre-amp unless they are certain it's the right one for them. It's "the last pre-amplifier you'll ever own".

How many of your customers book an audition in person?

Not that many do, but it's important to us to be able to offer the facility. More often than not we'll ship their order so they can listen to their pre-amplifier in their own home.

Are your customers based solely in the UK?

We've a global customer base, with our main market in the Far East.

You exhibit at Munich High End, X-FI Premium Audio and Warsaw Audio Video Shows - how important are these events for you?

As we produce a particularly niche product within a niche market, audio shows are vital for us. It's an opportunity for us to meet customers face to face who've read reviews about our products and are potentially interested in booking an audition.

You have global partners who feature your pre-amplifier in shows around the world - what impact has this had on your business?

This has helped us reach markets it may have taken us far longer to break into by ourselves. We've been lucky to a certain extent. Any success we've had has been a combination of hard work and good fortune.

Tell us about Lucy's bees and their contribution to product finishes

The transformers in our passive pre-amplifiers are potted in beeswax which protects them from corrosion and ensures performance longevity. The outer casing is also finished with beeswax. Lucy has started beekeeping to enhance our environmentally-friendly product offering even more!

Lid cowl manufactured by Focus SB.

How does Focus SB fit in?

We were seeking a company to collaborate on the mechanical details of case construction. Lucy's father approached companies for quotes on our behalf, and early contact with Focus SB revealed an affinity with our working practices. 

Focus SB has turned out to be an ideal OEM partner for us based on a combination of factors, including location as we're both based in Hastings. Our product's structural efficiency has evolved with Focus SB's technical experts working behind the scenes. Case construction and manufacture have been enhanced by our collaboration with them. 

They are an extension of our team and their manufacturing excellence is fundamental in enabling us to achieve the very best in high quality pre-amplifiers.

You've attracted some fantastic reviews which must have had a huge influence on business - what's been your most interesting or challenging commission to date?

We like to find a way to say yes to all projects! We never approach a project with a preconceived idea about whether a customer's request is right or wrong. Our most challenging project involved several gold plated parts, which are usually aluminium. This meant a change of material was required on a cylinder. It was hard to do, but we like a challenge. That's one of the reasons customers come to us. Needless to say both we and the customer were delighted with the final result!

Your pre-amplifiers are for life! Where do you see your business heading?

We want to instill our brand into the marketplace. When customers are looking to buy the best hi-fi they can buy, we want them to instinctively think of The Bespoke Audio Company.

Visit The Bespoke Audio Company website and stay up to date with the company's latest news on Twitter and Facebook.
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