Henry Azima: A Mission to Succeed Page 3

Henry Azima: How you use op-amps is extremely important. You have to take care, because to make an amplifier with a certain gain with any op-amp, you can do all sorts of things: you can put in stabilization capacitors, you can roll the response off sooner or later; there are even many ways of actually putting the external capacitors and resistors into the circuit. You must be careful in how you arrange the regulated power supplies, etc. I think the op-amps we use are quite excellent: they lend themselves to the neutrality of the sound. To be able to match them in discrete form, you have to spend a hell of a lot more money, and the size becomes out of proportion—especially when you're talking about small amplifiers.

John Atkinson: Have you thought about using any of the high-quality, audio grade op-amps such as are made by Precision Monolithics, or Linear Technology?

Henry Azima: We have actually tried the OP37, which is a direct replacement for the NE5534, and we didn't find any improvement; in fact, if anything, it made the sound not as good. It could be the fact that we didn't alter circuit criteria to suit it, but we shouldn't have had to—the two ICs are supposed to be interchangeable. They are not that much more expensive anyway. We could have afforded to use them in the Cyrus, but we opted not to.

John Atkinson: Your first hi-fi product design was the 700; are you still actively involved in loudspeakers?

Henry Azima: Yes, I have been close to the design side, although Farad has been mainly involved, because he likes speakers. He feels at home with them. He has got a good understanding of the problems and he likes to keep that to himself. But recently, Farad has been very busy with many other areas of the company, and cannot spend as much time on loudspeaker design. I became more involved again, and actually did a great deal of work on the new range of Mission speakers, the new 780 Argonaut, 770 Freedom, and Leading Edge.

John Atkinson: What aspect of loudspeaker performance—sensitivity, bass extension, midrange purity, optimum dispersion pattern, lack of resonant behavior—would you say is most important?

Henry Azima: All of them! Well, traditionally at Mission we have been concerned with the midband. And I think it fair to say that we have been actually known as a good midband loudspeaker manufacturer. But for the last three or four years, we have been trying to come to an agreeable compromise between the need for midband clarity and the kind of bass reproduction nowadays required for rock music and Reggae, the kind of music which people actually love to listen to.

But I must say it's not an easy marriage. There are speakers, especially in the UK, that are well-known for playing the bass extremely well, but suffer from midband problems and colorations. I think for the first time in the history of Mission, we feel confident that we have been successful in marrying these two areas, which we feel to be equally important. We have given a lot of attention to the box design, more than we ever did. The boxes are now extremely well built; for the first time, we have used internal bracing. We have looked at box damping in a big way, and we now use some very special materials. And the two top speakers, the 770 Freedom and 780 Argonaut, are now time-aligned. We have also been extremely concerned with the design of the drive-unit itself, especially the woofer.

John Atkinson: I know that Mission has its own drive-unit manufacturing facility. Do you make the woofers yourself?

Henry Azima: No, we don't. We have them made for us, to our specifications. We still make one or two of our own drivers, but that is basically to keep that side of the company active. There are now manufacturers in Europe that can do an excellent job, at a more competitive price than we could do ourselves. In the Freedom and the Argonaut, we are using a proprietary tweeter made for us in Denmark. It is the result of at least three years' work; in fact, it's our own design in conjunction with the Danish engineers. We prototyped it probably 20 times, until we liked it. It is very special, and exclusive to us.

John Atkinson: It appears to be a horn-loaded dome.

Henry Azima: We don't like to call it a horn. Rather, it's impedance matched. The final major area of concern is the loudspeaker's dispersion characteristic. We paid a lot of attention to that, and we feel that a speaker has to have an excellent lateral dispersion characteristic. The response should roll off off-axis in an ordered manner.

John Atkinson: Mission was one of the first "real" hi-fi companies to launch a compact disc player, the DAD 700 being one of the first machines to be recognized as having better sound quality than the stock players. Could you tell me some of your feelings on CD, its faults and advantages?

Henry Azima: Well, CD, I think, is probably the medium, mathematically speaking. There's no question about it in my mind. The foundation is sound, the technology is fantastic—it can actually extract the information recorded on the disc and replay it. But at the moment, I think probably the weakest link is the recording. That's not to say that playback can't be improved; it would be naive to say that it's extremely good at this stage. It has many faults in many areas, but, knowing the faults and knowing the recordings available, I think the sound you can reproduce from CD is just unbelievable.

I was recently talking with a reviewer from West Germany who was skeptical about the whole principle of the thing, and felt that many discs sound awful. I asked him, "Have you ever heard at least one compact disc which sounds unbelievably good?" He said, "Yes, I have." "A disc which is totally magic, I mean, you cannot fault it?" Again he said, "Yes." Now if you have heard even one, it means that the system works. That is the proof. You cannot make something which is wrong to sound perfect. But if you manage to lay your hand on a good record, a reasonable playback system—the third-generation players work excellently—you can make magic! There may be many areas that can be improved, but the system works.

John Atkinson: I get the impression from talking to studio engineers that the recording field lags behind the consumer field, the playback machines being more developed than the recorders.