Monitor Audio is about to release a new flagship speaker called Hyphn. An early version, then called Concept 50, was first shown at the High-End show in Munich last year.
Curious to know more about them, Which Hi-Fi? spoke to Monitor Audio’s technical director, Michael Hedges, to discuss how it’s designing the new speakers to appeal to a new generation of hi-fi fans and its wider plans this year as part of our British Hi-Fi Week 2023 special -event.
Here’s what we discovered.
Engineering over chasing a sound
Hedges told us Hyphn’s release is critical to the company and acts as a “letter of intent” for its future approach to hi-fi design.
“I think you’ve seen Hyphn. That’s our interpretation of solid engineering and a solid modern understanding of how we hear. Hyphn is both a statement of intent and a great speaker,” he said.
Hedges added that the speakers are based on Monitor Audio’s overt focus on putting engineering first over “the pursuit of a specific sound”.
“I think it’s naive to pin yourself down to a specific target profile. For example, if I went ‘good, the sound from Monitor Audio is this target profile, every speaker should meet this target profile’, it could be that as we understand more about psychoacoustics – about how we hear and how we react in a room – that target profile no longer fits, but we have linked our entire brand to it. I actively don’t. We care about solid, good engineering,’ he said Which Hi-Fi?.”
He added that this approach instead focuses on getting the core parts of a speaker right and then building it out to ensure it delivers the best possible audio, both on a technical and realistic level.
“Get the basics right before you start talking about advanced technologies and other things […] If you got all your basic technique right, you can stack on top of that [the] key technologies that actually work,” he said.
Hedges added that Monitor Audio makes every effort to ensure measurements match listening room sessions, so the company can always identify and back up any claims made about the sound of its products with accurate measurements.
“We are very technically guided in this, everything we do, even in a listening room, must have a technical background. We also spend an enormous amount of time listening to the product, and it is that touching enjoyment of the music that is most important to us.
“[But] if you hear something wrong with the speaker, we should be able to back that up by understanding how that affects the readings [we’ve taken].”
He added that this is very different from traditional loudspeaker designs,
“You used to be able to develop a loudspeaker in two years. But what you would get in that two-year time frame was very different from what you get now. That’s because we’re able to get the basics done very, very early in the project and focus on the details using simulations,” he said.
“What we’re finding is that the lessons we’ve learned from previous generations really apply to what we do next — rather than in the past, there was a lot of guesswork or it was based on experience, so if that person left that you didn’t necessarily [get continuity] – if we can’t measure it, we can’t understand it.”
Getting people for real hi-fi
Hedges said the bigger challenge the company faces isn’t designing future-proof, great-sounding speakers, but getting them to younger listeners.
“I think this is something every audio company probably struggles with. There is probably a strategy from a marketing point of view. But from a technical point of view, I think it’s about getting people to experience the product,” he said when asked how to get younger people into hi-fi.
“What we’re finding is that you can have a long conversation with people about how great the speaker is — how it measures, what it does, what the distortion is — and it’s kind of semi-pointless.”
He added that the big battle is getting younger listeners to hear the differences between true hi-fi and lower end headphones and Bluetooth speakers.
“It’s putting them down and playing music so it’s engaging with them on a new level — they don’t know what they’re missing and they don’t know how to value that change […] You listen to speakers and you think ‘wait a minute, I didn’t know, it could get better’. Then you will know if it is worth more to you. We and the industry face this challenge: to get people to buy in, especially the younger generation, we need to let them experience it.”
Hedge’s comments echo those of Stuart George, Cambridge Audio’s CEO, who echoed a similar sentiment to get the next generation into hi-fi during an interview with us earlier this week.
This article is part of What Hi-Fi?’s week long British hi-fi special event. The event, which kicked off on 20 March, will showcase the best of British Hi-Fi past and present for our team of experts. Be sure to keep checking our UK Hi-Fi Week hub for the latest coverage!
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