Sonic Frontiers Phono One phono preamplifier Talking with Chris Johnson
As reported on the Stereophile website and in January 1999's "Industry Update," Sonic Frontiers was acquired by Canadian loudspeaker manufacturer Paradigm on September 1, 1998. Although Sonic Frontiers was in receivership at the time of the deal, the merger appears to have stabilized SF's operations and permitted them to move forward. I recently asked Sonic Frontiers co-founder Chris Johnson—now Sonic Frontiers International president—how things had changed since the Paradigm takeover, and what it meant for the future of the Phono One and other Sonic Frontiers products.
Chris Johnson: We've received tremendous support from Paradigm. They have four plants, with over 250 employees, near Sonic Frontiers...a considerable infrastructure that has lent, and will continue to lend, support. The changes are ones that always occur in a merger, because they improve efficiency. For example, we have switched over completely to using their Macintosh-based business software. Mostly, the changes are invisible to the customer...the sales and design staffs and functions haven't changed.
For one thing, their backing has allowed us to expand our Parts Connection division...something we've wanted to do for a long time, but didn't have the resources. They've also allowed us to launch a Herculean effort to enter and expand into the multichannel market. In calendar 1999, we will enter all product categories in the multichannel market—source components, processors, and multichannel amplifiers.
Brian Damkroger: What does that mean for Sonic's existing two-channel products?
Johnson: We have design teams continuing to develop two-channel products. Our entire product line will continue. We will not abandon any products or lines in the foreseeable future. If the worldwide market continues to support traditional two-channel audio, Sonic Frontiers will continue to serve that market. If, four or five years down the line, the global market for two-channel audio isn't viable, we'll reassess our position...but we don't see that as imminent. I don't think that anyone would deny that the size of the two-channel audio market has been reduced, particularly in North America, and in response to the situation in Asia. If it stabilizes and plateaus, we'll continue our development of two-channel audio products. If it continues to slip, continued development will be limited to enhancements of the current products, at best.
Damkroger: What about the Phono One in particular? Has development continued on it?
Johnson: It first shipped in August '97, and there hasn't been any development since that time. If the analog market remains viable, we'll continue to produce it.
Damkroger: What's coming in the next six to twelve months in terms of two-channel audio? Are there products under development that are about ready to be released?
Johnson: Within the next six months or year, we'll almost certainly release an enhancement of our separate digital processor to accept the next digital format. If that's two-channel, it will be a two-channel product. If it's multichannel, that's what it will be. Similarly, there will be a Sonic Frontiers DVD-based player and/or transport. That product depends primarily on sorting out the copyright issues.