America is often thought of as being the home of mass production, it was actually Adam Smith of Scotland who introduced the concept of of specialisation and division of labour in order to better utilise the limited artisanship available in the 1770s.  Empowered by wars and the thirst of consumers for goods the factories spread across the landscape and the traditional artisans left their workshops and joined the lines.

In the Twentieth century the production lines of America became places where humans were fed to machines in an escalating feedback cycle of production and consumption that would eventually lead to the betrayal of the middle class, rust belt economies, and Donald Trump.

In a few rare places artisanship has survived. Where those exquisite products are made that push the boundaries of quality and longevity only hand manufacture will do.

Audio Research is one of the oldest High End stereo manufacturers, It was started in 1970 by a retailer William Johnson who, against the prevailing mass market wisdom of the time, was convinced that a high quality valve based amplifier product simply sounded more realistic than the transistorised solid state products that had taken over the marketplace during the 1960's.

There is a fine crop of his early designs on display in the factory, they are actually very valuable now and it may be hard for us to appreciate how Heretical Mr Johnson was seen as being in an environment where high wattage and low THD (total harmonic distortion) were being advertised as king.

The problem for the competition was that as soon as somebody actually listened to one of these early Audio Research hand made components, they were clearly superior and closer to the original music than any other type of amplifier available.

The simple truth that William Johnson was exploiting is that a good valve product offers an intrinsically minimal signal path that keeps the integrity of the source without processing or corrupting or deviding it. In the same way that a good violin is a thing of undisputed beauty whose form is dictated by its musical functionality, a good valve like the KT150s that Audio Research use in their latest amplifiers are things of physical and engineering beauty where art meets the music in the purest electronic form available. 

Audio Research is made entirely by hand from beginning to end with the aim of producing the best possible music. There are no solder-wave machines because the type of solder and it's manner of application is critical to the sound.

There are no surface mount devices because the circuit board itself is part of the Acoustic nature of the product. All the craftsmanship of the factory is concentrated into a single piece at a time that will take 7-10 days to make.

Each component is run for up to 48 hours and power cycled multiply upon completion and then individually tested in a purpose built room.

Every piece manufactured is individually auditioned by Warren. Warren is a physically slightly terrifying person who would make an effective stand in for Jason Momoa, his special power is a remarkable Acoustic memory and an innate sensitivity for the significant minutiae of music and audio.

In a previous life Warren worked on the Acoustic stealth properties of Trident nuclear submarines. (He really is Aquaman ...) His attention to detail in terms of the resonance occurring within a component under his development is outstanding. He is the literal ears of Audio Research and he attacks the chassis and components with tuning dots and constructional artifice to perfectly tune each model.

The listening room is fantastic and the formal process with which an assay of audio quality is carried out goes down to the last screw and nut of the component being tested. Some concern was expressed by the visiting Australian dealers that the process seemed so dependant on one man. What happens if he sickens or leaves? Apparently and unsurprisingly this small company of artisans has a remarkable staff retention rate and Warren is in unnaturally good health. 

By the way the cables are not just randomly arranged ... we all recognised the basic principles of the room, this is their brand new premises and the obssesive detail that pervades the audio quality of this brand was edified by the lengths they are going to in the room to make for a clean listening space free of resonant and electromagnetic corruptions.

Of course, all the capacitors are specifically made for AR and must pass through Warren before they are acceptable. He can actually hear the difference of whether there is print on the custom made caps which is why the critical big whites and golds are unmarked ...

Even the FETs are sometimes embedded in a silicon capsule when it will affect the sound. The degree of care and attention with which each and every part of an Audio Research component is designed, built, and listened to again and again with each minor alteration before it reaches the end user has to be seen to be believed. I dont thing there is another Audio manufacturer like this ... ever.

And then there are the valves, they are Russian Sovtek that are graded with extreme care and are grouped into particular values and tolerances. To make one Ref750SE requires no less than 300 valves to be sorted with a 48 hour burn in for each one. Greg is their valve guy in his fifties who has worked there since he left school and his whole job is valves and their qualatative parameters.

Every piece of Audio Research valve equipment ever manufactured can still be repaired and the company has a fabulous inventory of old parts to maintain this capability. In an era and product category where so much of what we purchase is essentially considered to be ultimately disposable this philosophy is more than reassuring. It also marks the ineffable agelessness of the raw design concepts used. 

It is worth noting the detail with which an old Audio Research component is treated when undergoing service. Each service item will be tested and then auditioned by Warren on completion.

The factory described two types of service client being the "obsessive" and the "neglectful". The former is someone who worries over a minor hiss or crackle or scratch and the latter is the one who comes in in a panic after fifteen years of ownership because it has stopped working ... "what you mean I have to put new valves in it sometimes?" ... in each case their Audio Research is their baby that they have a unique and lasting long term relationship with.


If you are fortunate enough to own an Audio Research Hi-Fi component you are joining that small club of of brands that includes Steinway Pianos and Purdy & Sons Shotguns. In the world of High Fidelity there is almost nothing else that is so carefully executed and yet so simple to live with.