Jacques Mahul of JMlab: Inverted domes & otherwise... Page 2

Scull: JMlab was not always as well known outside of France as it is today.

Mahul: Yes, as my business grew over the years, Focal sold products all over the world, but JMlab was mainly for France and Europe. Then, around 1988, we decided to open it to the world. So although JMlab was a latecomer in comparison with Focal, today it represents 70% of our turnover!

Scull: I see. And the other 30% of your business, if I may ask...?

Mahul: Twenty percent of that is the car hi-fi business, which we launched around 1989. And Focal represents the final 10%—supplying various manufacturers with drivers. In fact, our very first client was Jim Rogers himself! You know, the designer of the BBC LS3/5.

Scull: Sure.

Mahul: And JMlab was also wonderful because we could hear our drivers in a finished speaker. Most manufacturers never hear what their products sound like in a speaker! They produce frequency-response charts, but if it sounds good or not, nobody knows. Then it's the customer who is checking the quality! And I can tell you it's very bad to hear your drivers when they are badly used. Then people may say—incorrectly—that our tweeter is very harsh or too slow, when really it is the way it is used that is at fault.

Scull: A good point. What would you say is the overall design philosophy of JMlab, Jacques?

Mahul: From the beginning, my idea was to try and conjugate—is that the right way to say it in English?

Scull: Yes, conjugate, that's fine...

Mahul: Yes, to conjugate the two opposite tendencies of high efficiency with neutrality and lack of coloration.

Scull: Opposite tendencies, Jacques?

Mahul: Yes, back in the '60s and '70s, high-efficiency designs were bringing lots of coloration to the reproduced sound. Then we experienced a movement toward low-efficiency speakers. High-efficiency designs were not very fashionable, you could say. So from the '70s to the beginning of the '80s, what I call the English speaker sound was popular.

Scull: Define that for us, if you would.

Mahul: Well, it was frustrating. Low-efficiency English sound had a good overall balance, but was a bit boring—no real emotion. In my experience, if you hear a composition for the first time, you have a better chance of finding the emotion by the micro-detail that exists in the music rather than by a good overall balance. You know, you can find yourself surprised by the music. That's very, very important. But the problem with these low-efficiency designs is that you don't get the micro-detail that exists in the music that has always been my obsession.

Scull: What changed things?

Mahul: Actually, JBL finally began to decrease efficiency, while trying to show it was possible to have high efficiency coupled with low coloration.

Scull: You go your own way as you design your own drivers...

Mahul: Yes, it can be said that we operate in an opposite way from one of our very fine competitors, Dynaudio. I respect their philosophy of having very high power-handling.

Scull: The problem being...?

Mahul: Low efficiency. But the result is the same. If they need 500W to get the same level output as I do from 10W, then for me, in terms of efficiency, it is better to use a small amplifier. Don't forget that you need good quality high power to compensate for this loss of energy. I can say we do these things because we are always in search of coherence. When you make a big system, you might have a wonderful tweeter, a great midrange and bass, but what is the most difficult to achieve is total coherence at any distance from the speaker.