Earlier this year, a new and elegant high-end Italian audio brand appeared. There’s nothing special in that: high-end start-ups appear frequently, and many of the more elegant ones come from the home of Ferrari and Maserati. But YAR Audio is different from most.
YAR Audio’s system is an ambitious amplifier/loudspeaker project, designed to be more than just an elegant piece of audiophile art. The three-way, five driver tall loudspeakers are a semi-open baffle design, featuring large planar magnetic panels for the midrange and treble set in a carbon fibre shell with wooden surrounds, all suspended from an aluminium exoskeleton frame-base. These are matched with a hybrid 700W valve/Class D amplifier in a unique carbon-fibre chassis, and a series of sophisticated sandwich isolation platforms for source components used with the system. Although the individual components have names in their own right (Feeld platforms, B-yond amp, Y-der loudspeakers), the whole system is designed to be supplied as a whole, and owners of a YAR system will be visited by a two-man set-up team to install and fine-tune the system wherever they are in the world. There will never be more than 99 YAR Audio systems manufactured, and the price of admission to the exclusive YAR Audio club is a healthy €250,000.
There is an uncommon commonality to the shape of the equipment, too. The tall floorstanding loudspeakers and especially the amplifier look very ‘sci-fi’ – the amplifier’s distinctive, almost tumid, hump and clear central grille panel with its glowing blue LEDs offset by the orange glow of valves is redolent of popular images of UFOs. This is intentional; the name ‘YAR’ is drawn from the former Russian rocket test site Kasputin Yar, often nicknamed ‘Russia’s Roswell’ because of the number of Soviet-era UFO sightings in the area. Chief Technology Officer and co-founder Giancarlo Sopegno chose the name as he is something of an ufologist, and thinks the quest for alien life has parallels with the search for the unattainable in audio.
YAR Audio isn’t just magicked out of thin air; it’s no cynical start-up designed to bilk a few super-rich. Sopegno, who has decades of high-end experience as consultant to some of the best in the business, including Audio Tekne, MBL, and Yamaha, joined forces with entrepreneur and friend Adriano Marconetto as CEO on this project, the dynamic duo calling on the forces of noted Italian audio designers like amp specialist Franco Savio and speaker expert Giacomo Satti along the way. Pulling together a dream team of designers is not a new thing in high-end audio – it’s what Constellation Audio has done so well – but few have been quite so Italian, and therefore few will have been quite so well dressed!
That ‘well dressed designers’ line wasn’t a throwaway, because it speaks to the way the YAR system will be marketed and sold. This is every inch a bespoke system, made for a clientele that understands and appreciates what that means, and that puts the system into different ‘channels to market’ from the norm in high-end audio. The system is not being sold in conventional audio stores, or even reviewed in conventional audio magazines. It’s sold through word of mouth and through display at some of the most prestige bespoke centres on the planet.
The European press and public first encountered YAR at Maison Assouline on Piccadilly in the heart of London’s swanky St. James district. A banking hall designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1922, high-end French bespoke publisher Assouline transformed the place into one of the most elegant combination bar, bookshop, and exhibition spaces available in the UK, and one of a handful of places of the same calibre world-wide. YAR took over the elegant upper floor of the plush, luxurious shop (which is about as close as you will get to a large living room of a wealthy individual as you will get in a store) for a couple of months, and impressed many who experienced the system.
Recently, however, the system has moved to even more bespoke surroundings: Ozwald Boateng’s flagship store at 30 Savile Row. Savile Row remains ‘suit central’; the place where English tailoring at its finest has its place in the sun. The significance of Savile Row in suiting history is well-documented; it was first popularised as a place of fine tailoring by Beau Brummel (the person credited with developing and introducing the modern suit), the street has clothed some of the best-dressed royalty, politicians, and celebrities famous and infamous for the last 200 years, and even one of the Japanese words for ‘suit’ is ‘sebiro’; said to be a corruption of ‘Savile Row’. And Boateng was one of the new generation of tailors that invigorated the street in recent years. What better place to exhibit a new generation of audio device?
Many in the audio community are trying to look beyond the traditional boundaries of our industry to find alternate ways to introduce people to good audio. Note that ‘alternate’ does not mean ‘replacement’; that companies like YAR can make their presence felt in circles where high-end audio is effectively invisible is a way to help all of audio get that bit more visible. High-end audio doesn’t have the same marketing abilities of other luxury sectors (not simply advertising budget, but where every Ferrari, Rolex, or Leica owner is effectively a little marketing machine for these companies by simply driving a Ferrari, wearing a Rolex, or taking photographs on a Leica), so riding on the literal coat-tails of another luxury market helps all of high-end audio, not simply YAR Audio.
Trying avenues like this one also sends the message that audio can be of a like mind; that bespoke is as possible in audio as it is in suiting material and design. That re-opens the dialogue between good audio those living a general high-end lifestyle (if you are prepared to spend over $5,000 on a suit – and it isn’t that one-off wedding suit – you are probably living a high-end lifestyle), and the more dialogue between the audio world and the outside world is a good thing.
There is a tendency in the audio world to dismiss things like YAR Audio as ‘not serious’, and are overlooked in favour of brands well-known in the audio ‘space’. This is understandable because if you have invested decades in researching audio brands, well-known brands in that sector keep popping up time and again. But, the problem is that few of those brands are reaching new customers (often not for the want of trying). Worse for some of these brands, such is the devotion of their regular users that trying to reach new markets is viewed with suspicion as diluting what the company stands for. Trying to add mint new audio enthusiasts – however that happens – isn’t ‘selling out’… it’s ‘long-term survival’. Which is why I applaud YAR for taking the bespoke route. And it’s also why if I could afford it, I’d be getting fitted Boateng suit right now. I reckon if anyone could make a walking, talking, misshapen sack of condemned ham like me look good, it would be Ozwald Boateng!
YAR Audio is available for private listening sessions at the Ozwald Boateng store, and will be on demonstration from June 30th to July 6th at Masterpiece London www.masterpiecefair.com
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