Visiting the new CH Precision listening room
By Steve Dickinson
Manufacturers have listening rooms for different reasons. Some are a technical R&D tool; some are a way to impress investors, clients and media, a physical extension of their marketing strategy perhaps; some are multi-purpose and compromised as a result. But rare is the audio manufacturer of any appreciable size that doesn’t have one, in some form or another. Some go to considerable lengths: dedicated mains, room treatment, architectural cleverness; others do what they can with the space they have and a limited budget. I’ve visited a few and there’s definitely no ‘one size fits all’ solution, nor even any obvious consensus over the fundamental guiding principles. The one thing that always holds true, in my limited experience, is that a visit to a manufacturer’s listening room will be interesting and informative. And not just in the chance to play with interesting toys, but in the insights if offers into that manufacturer’s approach to what they do and the way they do it…
I recently had the opportunity to visit CH Precision’s new Swiss headquarters, get the factory tour, and spend some time in the Company’s listening room. Regular readers will know that my head has recently been turned by exposure to the CH Precision stable, as RG predicted at the time, so this was interesting on many levels. It was part opportunity to catch up with RG himself and part chance to put my previous experiences with the Swiss brand into a wider musical and company context. I’ve spent time on the nursery slopes of CH-country in my own listening room, and heard the high-end stuff at shows, but here was an opportunity to experience the upper reaches of the range in what will become a more stable and settled environment – and to see how the Company is coping with the change. “Will” because the room itself is new, has only recently become fully operational and, like the rest of the office space, is still evolving. Not that you’d realise that at first glance. Indeed, I was struck by just how neat, quiet and calm the production facilities were. We watched CH Precision staff assembling 10 Series products in separate areas of almost library-like hush. No radio blaring pop music, or cluttered workbenches, just an air of quiet focus and attention to the job at hand: not a bad metaphor for the whole CH Precision way of doing things, as it turns out. A quiet focus I hope we didn’t disrupt too much when we moved on to the listening facilities.
CH Precision has just moved its location – from one corner of the building in which it’s located to the opposite corner, doubling the available space and consolidating its offices and production. The building itself is typical of office and light industrial buildings on industrial estates the world over. They occupy a couple of floors in a four-storey, modern-but-anonymous block that you could teleport into any reasonably sized town, anywhere, and nobody would notice. The listening room is a pre-existing part of that space, with all the limitations that implies when it comes to size, shape and the quality of the AC mains supply. It’s a decent sized room, though given the sort of systems CH Precision produces it’s not particularly large, measuring 7m x 7m, with a 2.5m ceiling. Spacious enough, but not the auditorium you might anticipate, it’s also square(!) and that ceiling, suspended like millions of office ceilings everywhere, isn’t doing it many favours. CH has installed acoustic ceiling tiles, and there’s a gantry behind the system on the front wall, from which hang some carefully placed, theatre-style acoustically padded curtains (some of the same ones the company normally uses at the Munich show). The back wall is occupied by a bank of IKEA Kallax shelving, groaning under the weight of numerous industry and media awards but mostly filled with vinyl and CDs. There’s half a Vicoustic Flexi Wave diffuser/absorber perched on one end of those shelves, balancing the doorway at the other end, but that’s about it for room treatment. So if you are expecting to be shocked and awed, it’s not the exquisite construction or extensive room treatment that’s going to do it.