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

Jacques Mahul is an interesting, thoughtful man. He's entirely Parisian: international, urbane, and sophisticated. During "HeeFee" '96 in Paris, Kathleen and I sat down with him and spoke about his early years as an audiophile. To accompany my review of the JMlab Utopia, We tried to find out what drives him—to make the drivers he makes today! I asked him when had it all started:

Jacques Mahul: In 1980, I founded both Focal and JMlab. And before that, I was the chief engineer at Audax.

Jonathan Scull: I had no idea.

Mahul: Yes, and before that I was Rédacteur en chef of L'Audiophile magazine in France.

Scull: Ah-hah, you've worked both sides of the fence!

Mahul: Yes, I was two years an audio journalist before making the switch to Audax.

Scull: And before that, dare I ask...?

Mahul: Ah, long before I entered into the business, I was a hi-fi freak—since I was 15 or 16 years of age. So, Jon-a-ten, you can see that all my career has been involved in one way or another with loudspeakers.

Scull: What did you do for Audax that we might remember?

Mahul: Soon after joining them, I developed the first soft-dome tweeter made in Europe. Later, I had the idea of using double voice-coils of the type we use now on our Micron and Megane speakers. I'd begun by asking Audax to make a unit like that for me, but then decided to make my own.

Scull: So that's how Focal started.

Mahul: Well, when I left Audax, it was a big company in France, but they were making low-end drivers. It was very difficult for me to have a high-end policy there. So, when I left them and founded my own company, I wanted to devote myself exclusively to the High End.

Scull: You had no doubt there were customers for true high-end products?

Mahul: Actually, many of my customers in England and America told me that if I left to make high-end drivers, they would follow me.

Scull: The Pied Piper!

Mahul: [laughs] Yes, that was very nice. Because at that time there were no high-end driver manufacturers. They were all generalists, you could say. But, of course, the High End is only a small part of the total market—even if you make thousands of drivers, it doesn't mean that you can easily survive.

Scull: What was your first product?

Mahul: The first speaker we built was the Micron, which I'm happy to say is still in our catalog over 15 years later.