Jonathan Weiss: Oswalds Mill Audio & Fleetwood Sound Company

Jonathan Weiss doesn't do things the ordinary way. Nor does he follow the usual audio industry processes.

In 2006, Weiss founded Oswalds Mill Audio (OMA), manufacturer of a range of high-end loudspeakers and other products with exotic, vintage-inspired approaches and designs. Serious handcraft and bespoke materials, from solid hardwood enclosures to leather from luxury makers Hermès and Jean Rousseau, are behind OMA's upper-echelon pricing.

Stereophile readers might not be familiar with his speakers, for a couple of reasons. Weiss doesn't do audio shows (at least he hasn't for the last several years), and he rarely submits products for reviews (footnote 1).

Weiss recently launched a more accessible companion brand, Fleetwood Sound Company. The name is not a Fleetwood Mac reference; rather, it nods to something older: the Fleetwood Metal Body Company, where early high-end automobile coaches were made during the first few decades of the 20th century, at a time when some cars were made by custom order. Four years ago, Weiss purchased a 42,000-square-foot factory space in Fleetwood, Pennsylvania, near that historic manufacturing company.

"I saw the potential to expand, to bring the woodshop in-house and to be able to mass-produce so that we can bring the price down," Weiss said by phone from his Brooklyn showroom.

Compared with his OMA "extreme" speaker designs, for which prices can rise to six figures, the smaller-scale Fleetwood Sound lineup is intended as a less costly entry point.

The use of horns can suggest classic, even old-timey speaker designs. Indeed, Weiss has a collection of antique cinema and studio audio equipment, dating back to the 1930s, housed at Oswalds Mill Audio's namesake 200-year-old mill building in Eastern Pennsylvania.

"Sound is not something that technology can change, right? Sound waves—once you have an ideal loudspeaker, that ain't going to change, ever," he told me. "What is going to change are the electronics that run it, the source that feeds it. ... I have speakers, monitors from the 1930s and '40s, that are fantastic things, just incredible-sounding; they just don't have any power-handling."

Before developing the Fleetwood Sound line, Weiss visited the stores of some hi-fi–dealer friends.

"I'm looking around, and what am I seeing?" he recalls. "It's 90% two-way, standmount, and floor monitors. They all have rubber surrounds. They all have a dome tweeter. Now some of them, very few, might have an AMT or a ribbon tweeter, but mainly it's domes. So I thought, what would we need to do if we wanted to come into this ecosystem?"

Weiss wanted to keep his preferred horns to make the speakers as efficient as possible. "So we made a high-efficiency version [of a two-way]," he said. "We made it with professional drivers, and we made it out of real wood, and we made it with a real horn and a real compression driver so it would have power-handling."


The result is the DeVille standmount speaker, which features solid, conical, torrefied wood horns. According to Weiss, it will retail for under $10,000 per pair, without the stands. A slightly larger, active speaker, the Excelsior, is forthcoming. The Fleetwood Sound website touts its wares as "The last loudspeakers you'll ever need."

That's a bold claim. What's behind it?

Weiss likens his solid wood speakers to an heirloom musical instrument or furniture: They are made of hardwoods that are meant to age and last.

"A good piano is something for the ages," he said. "Because it's made out of natural materials, and the way it's made and finished, if you scratch or dent a piece of furniture that's got an oil and wax finish on it, you just put oil and wax on and sand it out."

After talking about how wood naturally ages, Weiss described torrefaction, a process that "cooks" wood to "age" it (footnote 2).

"In Scandinavia over the last 20 or 30 years, they've developed a process where they put wood into an oven and turned the temperature up to the point where it would catch fire. But it didn't catch fire because they took all the oxygen out of the oven. If there's no oxygen, you can't have combustion.

"So the wood starts to change internally, and it literally kind of roasts, and it gets darker and darker as the organic compounds inside of the wood carbonize," he explained. "But the interesting thing here is, that's exactly what happens over the course of decades and centuries. You know, you can't copy a Stradivarius or an old Martin guitar because the wood has aged. It's gotten darker, it's gotten drier. The tonality changes."

Weiss mentioned another technological development that will be utilized in Fleetwood Sound's forthcoming products: the use of gallium nitride (GaN) transistors (footnote 3) for amplification. "We developed our GaN amplification. It's not off-the-shelf anything," he told me. "It took us two years. So we'll be coming out with our own GaN amps, and the Excelsior will be the active speaker using that."


Describing his horn designs' power handling, Weiss used an automotive metaphor. "The limitation of all those two-way speakers is always the mid-highs; it's always the tweeter," he told me. "And I thought, well, why not give people something that has balls and that you can really put your foot on the gas and go somewhere? That's unlimited dynamic range."

The automotive analogy works another way: Weiss's products' evolution parallels that of the carriage-to-automobile shifts—of bespoke Fleetwood Metal Body to Ford's Model T. In the case of Oswalds Mill, it's the switch from handmade speakers to Fleetwood Sound's more mass-produced approach, with customizable aesthetics but standardized parts (footnote 4).

"The problem with audio is that it's like Henry Ford [said], 'They can have the car in any color so long as it's black,'" he said—although he acknowledged that some companies will paint their speakers whatever automotive color a buyer wants.

In addition to a standard range of finish and wood options, Fleetwood Sound will offer customization for speaker cabinets: your choice of hardwoods and just about any custom cover, including leather, cork, crocodile, denim, Japanese paper—even an old pair of Levi's, Weiss said.

Footnote 1: Stereophile has reviewed some of Weiss's products in columns, including the specially plinthed Technics SP10, which currently sits on Stereophile's Recommended Components list.—Editor

Footnote 2: Torrefaction of the horns would seem to suggest that the woods the horns are made of are intended as tonewoods, but Weiss assured me in a follow-up email exchange that he doesn't view that torrefied ash—the DeVille's tops and bottoms are also torrefied—as tonewoods. Rather, he insists that all materials affect the sound, even if the effect is subtle, and he wants to make the DeVille's horns sound as good as possible. Plus, torrefaction stabilizes the wood—important in wood speakers intended to last decades. Weiss also told me that a recent batch of DeVilles use torrefied ash for the whole enclosure, to good effect. Those will be a little bit more expensive.—Editor

Footnote 3: Although a fairly recent trend, manufacturers of Class-D amplification are increasingly embracing GaN transistors. Companies already using GaN include Panasonic/Technics, Merrill Audio, Orchard Audio, and LSA Electronics.—Editor

Footnote 4: Volti Audio described a similar transition in Tom Gibbs's review of another horn-based wood speaker, the Volti Razz.—Editor

Anton's picture

I have the graphite turntable mat and the graphite headshell (best used with a low compliance cartridge) and love supporting what they want to accomplish.

The rest of the line-up is beyond my means, but if I ever hit the Lotto, the first thing I am buying is their 'Ironic' speaker. I just can't stop ogling it.

I am drawn to it like....well, like a magnet!

Thanks for this thread, they are a fascinating company, following the muse their own way...I admire the heck out of them.

drblank's picture

I think the Ironic speaker is definitely one of the coolest things on the market.. For me, I also love MBL's Radialstrahler speakers as far as "looks" and being a piece of art for the eyes…

For me, if had enough disposable pile of cash, I would definitely on the room/room treatment first, THEN audition a variety of speakers. I haven't heard Oswalds speakers and for the most part, I've never been much of a fan of horn based speakers. Yes, I know, they are quite efficient, but it's the sound of the horn that sometimes gets me. It has to be the right drivers and horns…. I am, however intrigued by the types of drivers Oswalds uses.

volvic's picture

I go to their site and drool over some of their products. I am smitten with that equipment rack they display on their website, perfect for all my turntables. Love seeing such innovation and entrepreneurship. I should start playing the lotto.

Cyclotronguy's picture

Conversations with Mr Weiss, regardless of the topic are always memorable charming and wide ranging. As for his work product, meticulous, well executed, thoughtful and always interesting. In a word, fun!