Bo Christensen

Bo Christensen, who was the guiding light behind, first, Primare, then Bow Technologies, graduated as an architect—not surprising, considering his products' drop-dead-gorgeous looks. I talked with Bo while preparing my review of his Bow Technologies ZZ-Eight CD player (see Stereophile, August 1998, Vol.21 No.8), and started by asking him if his knowledge of electronics was self-taught.

Bo Christensen: I don't have much knowledge of electronics. I have a design team, we have a listening panel, so it's teamwork where I contribute's a team effort where the circuitry is designed by skilled engineers.

Michael Fremer: The first company you were involved with was Primare.

Christensen: Yes. We started to develop things in 1985...

Fremer: And you sold it?

Christensen: I owned half of Primare. At the time I had a pretty big disagreement with the financial backers, and they decided they wanted to go right and I wanted to go left. Them having the money, I sort of had to accept that.

Fremer: "Right" and "left" had to do with business or design decisions?

Christensen: Basically, they wanted to squeeze the name, and I didn't want that.

Fremer: In other words, having designed a series of "high-end" products, they wanted to just exploit the name?

Christensen: Exactly, and try to make some money. Primare was never successful in that we never made serious money. We made some gorgeous equipment from polished stainless steel.

Fremer: Many companies copied those designs. I guess the Primare stuff has become collectible by now.

Christensen: It is, because only something like 200 or 250 CD players were made. See what we did? It's a pretty crazy thing. We delivered them in flight cases! [Christensen shows me a brochure of Primare products and explains the intricacies of their design and construction, later copied by many other famous names in the industry.]

Fremer: So you decided to start over again.

Christensen: Well, I had my doubts. I was approached by various people who said I would be much better off as an independent contractor. But I didn't do it because I thought I had too many contacts in the audio business.

Fremer: You were bought out of your shares in Primare. Was there a noncompetition clause?

Christensen: As I said, we never made serious money in Primare, so the kind of money I got away with was not much, really.

Fremer: When did you start Bow Technologies?

Christensen: In 1994. Our first product was the ZZ-1, the integrated amplifier. That piece was a pretty hard job to do because we wanted to do a very good integrated dual-mono amp. We had some basic ideas, one of them being we wanted to use a tube circuit. We had a very good tube guy at the company, so when I left Primare, some of the members of the staff went with me. It was not a nice place; there was fighting...

Fremer: Do you start with an electronic concept, or a physical design concept, and then make the electronics fit within?

Christensen: That one [the ZZ-1], we started with the physical design. I knew roughly what I wanted, and the concept was pretty clear at that point. And then one of the guys, Karsten Svendsen, said, "Why don't you do this beautiful, simple tube thing with transistors?" We talked back and forth, some trial circuits were produced, and very promising sound came out of that. So we decided to go for it and keep it extremely simple. We have seven active components in the circuit.

Fremer: Tubelike.

Christensen: Very tubelike. And the sonic signature has a tube quality too.

Fremer: Was the ZZ-8 your first CD player since the split?

Christensen: Yes. That was put on the drawing board in late '95. It has been on the market for two and a half years, and we've done extremely well with it. It was component of the year in Japan, and Japan is the biggest customer we have. The ZZ-1 won the year before, and the Wazoo has won as well. We have won three consecutive years.

Fremer: How has the collapse of the Asian economy affected your business?

Christensen: In Japan, not at all. Japan has been hurt, but we have a hard time keeping up with demand in Japan. But Korea is dead, Indonesia is dead. I would say we are affected by it, of course, but we have such a good position in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong that, combined, our far eastern sales are down 20%. It's not a catastrophe.

Fremer: Have you heard Sony's DSD or 24-bit/96kHz?

Christensen: I thought DSD sounded extremely promising, whereas the 24-bit/96kHz that I heard was not that convincing. I could be wrong.

Fremer: I thought it sounded good.

Christensen: Yes, good, but DSD sounded better.

Fremer: Are you working on a DSD player?

Christensen: We are following how it's going. We have been asked by our current supplier if we want samples of DVD drives, but I feel that it's perhaps too soon. It would be a wrong business decision for us. I foresee that we can build upon the [ZZ-8] design for a future format.