AUDIO EXPERIENCE FROM FRANCE
Paris, Boulevard Saint Michel. An unmarked door, then a small courtyard and a second doorway with the inscription “The Tom Thumb Foundation”. This foundation is specifically dedicated to helping students hatch new businesses. Antoine Bourdon and Claude Hordé are waiting for me in a modest office at garden level. On the right side of the room is ECHO, a large, designer desk sporting rabbit ears, which is an almost immediate conversation starter. I am immediately struck by the object’s quality, its detailed wood finishing, a piece of cabinetry, a working work of art. I immediate think of the concept box (see my April 16th post), another musical table. Here, however, the goal was to design an exceptional piece of furniture that is nonetheless functional. ECHO is an immense work desk; one can comfortably settle down to use a laptop computer, for instance.
An ingenious system of acoustic reflectors reflects the sounds emitted by the speakers installed in the desktop. The reflectors have two positions – a lower position geared towards seated listening and higher position that more broadly directs the sound.
There is a third man (Julien Roqueplan) that remains to be identified in the family portrait. ECHO’s story is foremost the story of a friendship and a shared passion for music that date back to preschool. Two of the three further share a passion for cabinetry and the same educational background: a vocational degree in cabinet-making and a recent diploma from the École Boulle for the applied arts. The third, a young engineer with the ink still drying on his diploma from a prestigious engineering school, the École des Arts et Métiers, quickly joins up with them. They have only one desire: to undertake a union of woodworking, the applied arts, and the multimedia technology that is filling our living spaces. This is towards the beginning of 2012. The idea to design and build a large work desk with an integrated quality sound system occurs to them almost immediately. In a highly organized fashion, the three young men methodically work and ponder, and reflect on the product’s marketability. They think of the luxury hotel market, which might be interested in furnishings that are original, functional, of high quality, and musical! So they continue to search, to explore, and they find professionals capable of developing the audio part of the machine who are also willing to work in France, use environmental-friendly woods logged in France, and commit to a product that is truly “made in France”. They quickly create IOTA ELEMENT, a pilot company that they will use to give birth to the first ECHO prototype.
“We quickly found suppliers who were willing to work on our project, and our role was clearly to design the piece such that it formed a cohesive unit. Gilles Belot of Cairn supplied and adapted the electronics, the loudspeaker system was designed by Claude Martin of Haut parleurs systèmes using the HP Audax as a template,” recalls Antoine Bourdon. As for the woodwork, all the carpentry is done in a shared workshop in Montreuil, and Claude Hordé proudly reminds me that all the types of wood come from France: the desktop is made of sycamore and the facade and drawers are made of pear tree wood, stained black. As for the speaker reflectors, they are made of Corian®, a high-quality material that regular blog readers will remember from a previous post about the manufacturer Soledge (see the post from June 5th).
A single desk is the product of 150 hours of work; it is clear that this precious piece will be manufactured as part of a very limited series, at a level of production (except for the prototypes and the display models) that will be dictated by the demand. Electronics-wise, ECHO is equipped with a 2 x 30 watt digital amplifier, aptX Bluetooth, digital optical jacks, a USB audio connection, and an analog mini-jack connection. ECHO also comes with two 25-mm textile dome tweeters, two 10-cm mid-ranges with paper membranes, and a 17-cm woofer, also with a paper membrane.
What I hear Sitting at the desk with the acoustic reflectors lowered, I definitely feel that I am in the proximity of the sound source; this intimate listening position allows the sound to be broadcast at a low volume. With the reflectors raised, the sound is clearly more broadly diffused and is rather impressive, even though I only have room to back up a few steps to appreciate it. In comparison with the concept box, the ECHO has a more generous sound image and could easily infuse even a very large room with sound. Even if this product does not technically belong in the category of sound systems for audiophiles, its level of performance is nonetheless praise worthy, given the numerous technical constraints it must confront.
This hand-crafted woodwork product will undoubtedly first seduce lovers of modern interior furnishings even if few are likely to be interested in its accompanying sound system. The aim is not to compete with the best audio systems, but rather to offer a singular product. This innovative undertaking should be applauded and strongly encouraged. We wish them the best as they head out to find the future customers that will appreciate this very handsome marriage between contemporary artistic furnishings and digital audio technology.