Interview: Fyne Audio’s Dr. Paul Mills and Andrzej Sosna

The following interview, with Fyne Audio Technical Director Dr. Paul Mills and Managing Director Andrzej Sosna, conducted by Stereophile Contributing Editor Ken Micallef, was posted previously embedded in a report on Harmonia Distribution’s rooms at AXPONA. Here, we present it on its own so that more people will see it. The video is followed by a transcript of the interview.

Here is the transcript of the video interview, lightly edited for clarity.:

Ken Micallef: Greetings. I’m Ken Micallef for Stereophile Magazine. We are here at AXPONA today and for the next three days. I have the pleasure of sitting next to Dr. Paul Mills, Technical Director for Fyne Audio of Scotland. Next to Paul is Managing Director Andrzej Sosna; both were with Tannoy for many years, and they have several announcements to make.

I am particularly interested in this Vintage Classic series speaker they have here, which should be on the floor so we can play it. What’s it doing up there? Tell me a little bit about this speaker lineup. You mentioned the importance of its Isoflare point source driver and that technology, which is what these speakers are built around.

Dr. Paul Mills: Yes, well, that’s our core technology. There are many other features which are unique to us, but the whole point of the IsoFlare is that, not just are the bass, mid-range units, and high frequency on the same axis, but they are perfectly time-aligned. So that results in a speaker whereby the harmonics are totally true, and even when you move off axis, the frequency response doesn’t change apart from a roll-off of the tweeter at high frequencies. Unlike a conventional loudspeaker, whereby it only really works in terms of the mid-range and high-frequency alignment, it only really works on axis. As you move the axis, the crossover has errors in terms of phase and amplitude, but with this technology, you can move around, and the nature of the sound remains true, essentially.

Andrzej Sosna: Covered a lot of ground there, Paul.

KM: Let me ask a question, particularly about the driver. I know when I reviewed the smaller model, I forgot what it was, that was like a couple of years ago, I noted those dimples in the surround. What are those little dimples all about, and what is the surround and the cone made out of?

AS: The cone is made from paper. It’s a compressed pulp paper, special mix of different types of paper.

KM: Paper is good.

AS: They make it very strong and very light, lightweight. And the surround is another one of our technologies. It’s called FyneFlute, and that’s something that we designed early on and we’ve gradually used it in all of our products. When we first came out with the F1, the first series, it had actually a paper roll surround on it, which is traditional for those bigger drivers. But we found we couldn’t use that for the smaller drivers. It’s too stiff. So we developed this FyneFlute surround, which is a rubber surround. Well, I don’t know the exact material it’s made from. But anyway, we designed the fluting so as it would act as an absorber. So when energy comes along the cone and hits the surround, it gets absorbed by the surround and it doesn’t reflect back down. So that helps to avoid any mid-range kind of interference with reflections coming back down the cone.

KM: What I call the dimple, that’s the fluting?

AS: Fluting, yes. With a conventional surround, you’ve got the same distance from the voice coil to the termination. There’s a tendency for some frequencies, reflections to go back down the cone. What the flute surround does is to make that discontinuous in a way so any reflections are spread over a wide range of frequencies and at such a low level that they don’t become an issue particularly.

KM: I know the Vintage Classic and Vintage Series 8, 8SM, and Classic 10, they’re definitely retro. On the website it says these are “merging retro-inspired aesthetics with the latest developments in acoustic design and engineering.” Why create such a classic-looking, very vintage, old-school-looking speaker now when we have crazy designs that look like walking pods? I’m sure you guys remember that movie, it was a great British movie, The Day of the Triffids, do you remember that? That’s what speakers look like now, The Day of the Triffids. They’re nuts. And boxes can sometimes be frowned upon. Why create such a classic-looking speaker now?

AS: A few reasons, really. Retro became popular over the last few years in various markets, so there’s popularity; people were interested in the retro style again. That was one reason. But another reason, you mentioned we started in 2017, and when we started the business, we went for modern styling, everything was contemporary styling.

KM: Right, the little ones I reviewed were pretty modern looking.

AS: And that was deliberate. You also mentioned we came from Tannoy before, and when we started, we didn’t want to look like anything that was from the previous company, so we steered away from doing anything with a retro feel to it. All the products we developed were new, modern looking. But then five years later, after we started, retro was becoming popular in the market, and we thought, well, we’re five years old now, why don’t we use our modern technology but go back to the retro styling? So we just decided that was the right time.

KM: So when you think retro in speakers, we’re talking about a wide baffle.

AS: This one is more retro with a wider baffle and not as deep; that is a traditional sort of retro style. The Vintage, I’ve got one behind me here, the Vintage Five, there’s a more modern take on a retro, and there’s more modern detailing on that. It still has a kind of retro feel to it, but it’s a more modern look.

KM: What does that little knob do on the front of that speaker?

AS: That’s a control called Presence.

KM: Oh, so it’s similar to the Presence and Energy controls on here. Tell me about those controls.

PM: On all our speakers, the Presence control governs the amount of energy in the 2-5kHz region, and that’s quite an important place, as any recording studio engineer can tell you, because that affects how far forward the presentation is, particularly if you’re using female vocals, you can effectively dial how far forward the stereo image is into the room to compensate for acoustics and also personal taste. It’s an interesting, very useful feature to have. The other control is for high-frequency energy, which affects the plus or minus how many dB you’ve got above the crossover point. Approximately plus or minus 3dB, so that’s effectively how bright the treble energy is. Again, a consideration with the room acoustics, system matching, and personal taste. These things are very useful to have. People sometimes frown upon controls on speakers as they do tone controls and amplifiers, but we’ve implemented it in the crossover circuitry in a way that it doesn’t degrade the signal path, which was the difficult thing to do.

KM: Does that come without a grille cloth?

AS: There’s a grille cloth with it. The grille sits on the back; it’s got magnets so it can just sit on the back of the product when you’re not using it. But that’s another important point, because if someone wants to put the grille on, then you can dial up the HF energy to compensate for the HF loss that you’re going to get with the grille on. So it’s useful.

KM: And why show the little charts and graphs down the front? That embraces sort of old-school geekery. I mean, I love stuff like that, but do people who buy these speakers like to see that now?

AS: Yeah.

PM: It’s just a graphical representation of what these controls do.

KM: Oh, so it (the grille) just clamps on the back. Oh, that’s great. So it covers the whole thing. Beautiful. And what does that speaker weigh?

AS: I think this one’s about 30 kilograms, something like that

KM: And is this in a room playing, or is one of the Vintage series playing in a room somewhere here?

AS: Yeah, we’ve got a Vintage 15 playing just across the corridor.

KM: Tell me a little about the BassTrax Tractrix Diffuser System within both speakers.

PM: Basically, speakers are often front-ported or rear-ported. Front port, you can hear turbulence, sometimes. Rear port is not good in terms of reflections from the back wall. In both cases, it’s fairly directional. What the BassTrax technology does is to fire port-down over a tractrix diffuser, which is the mathematical name for the profile of it. The function of that is, wherever the plain wavefront hits the diffuser, it radiates as a 360-degree spherical wavefront.

AS: It’s open here on the sides.

KM: Oh, so it’s the same with a large speaker as well? I thought it was a horn, but it’s not a horn.

PM: No, this patented technology enables a 360-degree dispersion of energy into the room, making the speaker a lot less susceptible to positioning issues.

KM: Was there something like that on the smaller model I reviewed a couple of years ago?

AS: If it was the F1-5, yes. Yes, that’s right. Same idea. [Editor’s Note: Ken reviewed the F500SP standmount, which did in fact deploy the BassTrax technology.]

KM: What else should we know about the technology you’re using in your new Vintage and Vintage Classic lines?

PM: Basically, it’s just a development in terms of taking our technologies further. In all speakers, we have the same elements, which are core technologies that we build around.

AS: We also developed our own cryogenic treatment facility in our factory. We do full cryogenic treatment on all the high-end models.

KM: On the entire speaker?

AS: No, on the electronic parts. Oh, and what does that give you? The process is to cool down to minus 170 degrees very slowly and then warm back up again. And that releases stresses in the crystal structure of the metals, the wires or the solder joints in particular. So that sort of aligns the molecules. Paul can explain this better than I will.

KM: Is it like a super break-in or something? That’s what it sounds like.

PM: It’s along those lines, but it does give a permanent effect. For example, one of our concerns is solder joints, where the crystal structure can be quite bad. So what this does is effectively realign the crystal boundaries inside cables and solder joints. We also found if you take, for example, a single capacitor and treat that in isolation, you can hear the difference there in terms of the way the stresses inside the materials are effectively relieved by that. But we’re doing the whole crossover, including the wiring, so it’s holistic rather that some people just do cables. After the cryo treatment, no further operations are done to the crossover apart from final testing. So it’s then left well alone. We find the difference is quite dramatic.

KM: How cold does it get? What do you bring the temperature down to?

PM: It’s around about 169, 170. I’m talking Celsius.

KM: And is it brought back to room temperature naturally or some other way?

PM: Yes, it’s slowly taken back to room temperature over the course of a couple of days. So it’s quite a long process and a lot of it is developing that process so it has the most beneficial results. Exactly what we do and how we do it is proprietary, and it’s probably different to what other people do. But doing it ourselves enables us to have that control and also keeping the whole process in the house, avoiding sending it out to some third party and not knowing how they’re doing it. We do it right.

KM: So, is cryogenic treatment becoming a thing in the industry? I’m ignorant of this, of treating internal parts and crossovers and solder joints.

AS: I think it’s been a thing for a while with components, a lot of components, a lot of cable companies offer cryogenic versions.

PM: Yeah, it started off with cables a good many years ago.

KM: I remember it being a thing in the ’90s, I didn’t know it was still going on. So the upward pointing cone at the bottom, what is that made of?

AS: That’s aluminum; it’s machined aluminum.

KM: And how big is it in one of these speakers?

AS: It’s bigger, I couldn’t tell you the actual dimension but it’s maybe about this size. You’ll see it in the Vintage 15, you can see that one, how big it is. Okay. It’s much bigger in the Vintage 15, it must be about 15 centimeters or so.

KM: And how efficient are these speakers?

PM: Those ones, the Classics, are 94dB, so we’re looking at, for the Vintage 5, we’re looking at somewhere in the region, it was around 88, 89dB.

KM: So generally tube-friendly?

PM: Yeah, absolutely. The Classic 5… sorry it’s 87dB on the Classic 5, and the most efficient of all is the Vintage 15, which is 97dB.

KM: That’s in the other room?

PM: Yeah, that’s the one you can listen to in the other room. As you say, very much tube-friendly, but at the same time they have pretty high power handling, so if you want to use a fairly big solid-state amplifier that’s good too. It facilitates all tastes, essentially.

KM: Let’s talk about the newest announcement. Mr. Brightman sent me the press release on the SuperTrak SuperTweeter, a newly patented radial dispersion system.

PM: We have one here. Supertweeters traditionally have been forward firing. We’ve designed a few in our previous lives, but the problem there is it makes them very directional; such high frequencies will beam like a laser so that as you move off axis, the dispersion is not very good at all. So, what this technology does is to fire the energy upwards, and again we’re using the tractrix profile, you can see the cone there, same principle as the bass system, in effect. So, the energy from the dome, when it hits, radiates at 90 degrees through 360 degrees. This is where we get back to the principle of the IsoFlare driver, which is a point source. This device is situated rearwards on top of the speaker at the acoustic source of the IsoFlare, and that ensures that the harmonics from the supertweeter are in phase and time aligned with that of the main driver. Now, there’s a lot to say about supertweeters; it can get very complicated.

KM: So, this addresses the frequency we can’t actually hear, is this correct?

AS: In a way, but that’s not the big issue. That’s not really how this is working. It does do that, but the main benefit is not really the fact you can hear ultrasonic frequencies. The main benefit is it’s putting back in harmonics that you can hear, that get lost because most speakers have a linear phase response that falls at the edges, so the phase goes out of alignment at the extremes, and we correct for that in a low frequency using a subwoofer. If you add a subwoofer to the system, it corrects the phase response at the low-frequency end of your system, and we’re quite used to doing that, adding a subwoofer to the system. But on the high end—this is doing the same thing on the high end—it’s correcting the phase response. And the interesting thing is, there’s a diagram in that brochure that shows you this, but even in that Red Book–style CD, which goes up to that diagram, it’s this diagram here, this is the phase response of a typical loudspeaker, and the phase response goes off at each end, so you correct it with a subwoofer, and this is correcting the high-frequency end. And even with a CD, there’s no phase errors right up to 22 kHz with a CD, but most speakers’ phase response is rolling off, but some roll off at 10 kHz, but ours might roll off at maybe 16, 17, something like that. This is adding it back in again. It adds the harmonics back in to the system, that otherwise you can’t perceive.

KM: Is this in operation of the show?

PM: Yes, it certainly is. You can hear it later on.

KM: What is the little dial control?

PM: That’s simply for the amount of energy, the amount of level you’re putting into it. A bit like a subwoofer, people get one, and they wind it up too high, and then realize that isn’t right. It’s almost imperceptible what it does, but it does have an effect, not just on the sense of space and sound staging, but it does have an effect, we’ve found, and other people have found, on the bottom end as well, in terms of how tight and accurate the bass sounds. The reason for that is, bass instruments such as bass guitar and percussion instruments have a leading edge. We think maintaining the phase relationship of that leading edge accurately makes for the improvement of the bottom end. But that’s the surprising thing, several reviewers and people have evaluated it. “I wasn’t expecting the bass to sound better.”

AS: It’s the opposite; it’s not intuitive that adding HF will do that. But it’s to do with putting all those harmonics back in again, and it changes the overall timbre of the music. It’s quite complicated, so Dr. Paul wrote a white paper describing this whole process, because it’s not something you can immediately grasp. He’s trying to explain that there are some acoustic benefits of ultrasonics, some people can perceive ultrasonics through their skull, but mainly this is about improving the coherence, the phase coherence.

PM: The final thing to say is about the dome itself, which is a thin-ply carbon fibre weave. Metal domes like magnesium and titanium may have quite a high peak where they break up normally around 34 kHz, or sometimes up to 40 kHz. Because the weave and structure of the carbon fibre is optimised, it means that there aren’t any peaks or resonances, they’re all distributed at a very low level. The material is so rigid that it gives a frequency response of up to 60 kHz.

KM: So it’s one per speaker?

PM: Yes. There’s a black dome, you can see that.

KM: And I see a left and right channel and a ground screw, how do these wire into your system?

PM: They simply connect to the terminals on the back of the main speaker. Oh, OK. If you buy wiring or have got HF connections, you connect to the treble. With our speakers, we have a ground terminal, which provides a drain for any radio frequency interference. It can be picked up by the cabling. We have a special high-end cable we make in-house, which is designed for this, with the three connections, which you can see next door.

KM: Are these parts aluminum?

PM: Yes, they are. These are all machined at a nearby facility in Scotland.

AS: Yup, it’s all made in Scotland.

KM: Are they sold in pairs, and how much?

AS: Three and a half thousand dollars a pair.

KM: You know what it looked like to me, the first time I saw a photo of this. It looks like Morse code. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. That’s what it looks like. A very big tapper.

AS: The thing is, once the concept, that you need to have an up-firing system to give the dispersion 360 degrees—so the room gets full rather than beaming—once you have that concept of up-firing, you need to be able to suspend the tractrix cone diffuser in some way. We went through various design iterations, but you have to have something a bit like that.

KM: You mentioned the SP range. Can you tell me about the SP range of speakers?

AS: We have various SP ranges, and they usually have taken technologies from a range above them and brought them down to a lower price point, and that’s what we’ve done with the 7SP. We’ve got the 700 series at the moment, and there’s four models in that range. And we have the F1 range, which is our high-end, contemporary range. And what we’ve done is, we’ve taken the technology from the F1 range and brought it into the 700 series. So the F1 cabinet is a particular shape, and it’s one of those cabinet designs that you either like or you don’t like. A lot of people like it, a lot of people don’t. But the 700 series is more middle ground, so it’s a very attractive-looking cabinet. And so we’ve taken the technology, the same drivers from the F1 and all the same features, crossovers, and the same plinth in the F1. We’ve taken the F1 features and put it into the 700 series and called it SP which stands for special production. And we’ve done it for two models, the 8-inch drive unit and the 10-inch drive unit.

KM: Thank you for speaking with us today.

PM: A great pleasure. Thanks for taking the time; it’s much appreciated.

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