Christopher Hildebrand of bespoke high-fidelity manufacturer Fern & Roby showed off some impressive pieces of kit at AXPONA a few weeks ago, and when I spoke with him there he related his excitement at attending his first High End in Munich this weekend. He came to Chicago loaded for bear with the company’s new 89dB/4-Ohm/Two-way The Tower loudspeakers, new phono stage designs, tonearm designs, and updates for his existing combinations of Montrose deck guises. Hildebrand has also been rolling his sleeves up on cable design/construction for tonearms, and interconnects, and was showing off several preamplifier/amplifier chassis redesigns that he had collaborated on with Linear Tube Audio and their main man Mark Schneider.
Taking in the whole Fern & Roby/LTA experience in Chicago was a highlight for me as their gear once again perfectly struck that delicate balance between musicality, and recorded-playback fundamentals: Believable realistic bass, punchy, organic-textured midrange instrument, and vocal presentation, and a top end that had a sweet, engaging extension which never strayed into being etched, regardless of music program. Hildebrand has been a man making great strides to create the most honest, curated, synergistic solutions for two-channel audio that he is capable of, and I feel he has succeeded admirably in this pursuit. This is music reproduction without pretense, without flash or bling, and without artifice. Hildebrand is creating a product line if audio gear that is built in service to the music.
“Big deal,” you say, “isn’t that all high-fidelity gear is built for?” In theory, and in a perfect world, perhaps. But in reality, and practice it usually is built to fit within a sonic niche, a pre-existing sales/product structure, or a specific price point. All important things for Hildebrand to consider when bringing his designs to market, but in the end, during the prototyping phase, he always ends up deferring to what sounds best, as opposed to cost, niche, or existing product structure. And for that, I am truly grateful.
I managed to catch Hildebrand before he got on a plane to Munich, and hit him with this Q&A:
I don’t know if this is a regional, cultural phenomena, or just great showmanship, or some combination of both, but that may be beside the point, it just happens to be true. For my part, I am happy that it is the case and that something I have come to love as a big part of my life has a place where it is celebrated just like any other cultural festival. I think this fundamental aspect of the show empowers the participants to have fun while giving it their best. That is what shows should and often do feel like, at least after you’ve made it past Friday and everything is finally sounding right in your room…
So I am excited to go experience this for the first time. I can’t wait to see and hear some of the systems I have wanted to experience but never seen, like large, vintage Western Electric systems. I am also looking forward to seeing new things in electronics, shopping for some vinyl at a show in another country, and meeting new friends and collaborators. Each show I go to has expanded the group of interesting people I enjoy being a part of and I think Munich will provide another great opportunity for this.
CH: In regard to business and why I am going this year. I think it boils down to the fact that I believe [Fern & Roby] are ready to go for it. This will also be my first show outside the USA and I will be there to build relationships with dealers and distributors to start reaching into much larger markets. I will be there with our Montrose turntables, our Maverick Phono Preamps and I will have LTA’s new MicroZOTL Preamplifier with me which we are very proud to be a collaborator on. To have built a relationship with Linear Tube Audio and be tasked with delivering the packaging for an amazing piece of engineering and craft like the MicroZOTL is really exciting.
CH: As an industrial designer and craftsman bringing representative examples of our team’s hard work from the past few years to the international market, I feel the strong sense of anticipation that any experienced creative person feels when they are getting ready to perform. It is exciting and I feel charged up to be there. It has taken me several years to get through the development of our brand and products to feel ready to enter the larger market but with the final piece of development on our Montrose Turntable, the completion of our Maverick Phono preamp and the completion of LTA’s MicroZOTL I felt that it is finally the right time to come to Munich.
The Montrose has matured into a great product with engineering that is designed to make it an easy product to support for dealers and distributors. Our real-time motor controller and drive unit is now encased in a sealed & modular, machined aluminum chassis that can be easily dropped out of the deck with one Allen wrench and just four bolts, making it easy to remove and replace with little or no technical knowledge. If there is a problem with this unit we can now ship a replacement unit in a small box with a return label to return the drive unit that needs service to us for diagnosis and repair.
While this isn’t the most obvious development in our engineering and design, to us, it is one of the most exciting things we have accomplished. The introduction of the modular drive unit it means we can start to sell all over the globe and keep any potential logistical support costs down for ourselves, our growing distribution network and by doing so, for our end users. No one will have to ship a large & heavy table to an authorized service centre for diagnostics and service. We have been steadily working through the process of making a beautiful, sophisticated, ruggedly built and smartly designed product that is easy to use and a real pleasure to listen to. We will be showing the Montrose in Halle 3 at Booth J15. It will be displayed with a Frank Schröder CB tonearm and we will be listening through some Mr. Speakers Ether Flow headphones using the MicroZOTL preamplifier which happens to be a killer headphone amp as well.