Cello Electronics on Comeback Trail, Says Former VP

Cello, one of high-end audio's most prestigious names, is being revived by one of its former executives. Jim McCullough, who served as the brand's last vice president of international business development, has formed a new company, Matthew James LLC, which will make and market Cello electronics.

The manufacture and marketing of Cello products was halted in April 2000, after principals of parent company Cello Technologies, Inc. decided they could no longer operate at an acceptable level of profitability. The previous year, the company had made an ambitious expansion with seven Cello Design Centers. "They did not succeed in the wealthy communities in which they were located," McCullough stated in a telephone conversation March 30. (Their predecessors, two Cello Music and Film Systems showrooms in New York and Los Angeles, had done quite well, however.)

By May 2000, all Cello operations were halted. While negotiating to purchase the manufacturing division, McCullough paid the rent on its facility in the old A.C. Gilbert Building at 315 Peck Street in New Haven, Connecticut. The gambit kept the factory intact: otherwise, it would have faced liquidation.

The new company is operating in renovated space previously occupied by Cello, Ltd. Some Cello veterans have been rehired, according to McCullough, and Matthew James is gearing up production of amplifiers based on Cello designs. The new company has acquired the manufacturing equipment and inventory of Cello, Ltd., as well as the rights to its designs and patents, and the use of the name and logo.

"Foreign distributors were instrumental in saving the brand. Cello had long been an extremely desirable name among Asian audiophiles, and the Russian market was also surprisingly strong," McCullough commented. Matthew James' marketing plans include developing a network of 12 to 15 rigorously vetted North American dealers. "Weeding out the candidates is a tough job," McCullogh said.

Two power amplifiers, the two-channel Duet 200 and the three-channel Trio 200, each capable of 200 watts per channel, will begin shipping in September 2001. A 350Wpc stereo amp, the Duet 350, will begin shipping in December. Other Cello products will follow, with extensive cosmetic and electronic redesigns, including optional digital input receivers.

Digital technology will be an area of emphasis at Matthew James, according to McCullough, who worked in executive capacities at Madrigal, Wadia, and Genesis Technologies prior to signing on with Cello in 1997. "I have a personal interest in the possibilities of digital," McCullough commented, "[such as] a 'Digital Suite,' a preamp that can be configured as users wish. We expect that our digital research will have plenty of fallout into DACs, CD players, and other products."

The new Duet, Trio, and other Cello models will be based on Cello's proven designs. Near-legendary Cello products, including the Audio Suite, the Palette, and the Performance amplifier, will be reintroduced in midyear 2002, McCullough mentioned. Matthew James has no plans to revive Cello loudspeakers, however. "Manufacturing loudspeakers and manufacturing electronics are two vastly different operations," he said. "We want to concentrate our expertise where it is best used."

The decision to forego loudspeakers accounts in part for the reduction of the New Haven facility from 19,000 sq. ft. to its present 8500 sq. ft. Matthew James does have an inventory of parts for Cello speakers—drivers, input terminals, crossover components—and will continue to make them available to Cello owners. There are even some cabinets available for various models, which will be sold until the supply is exhausted. Several owners of Cello speakers who live in extremely humid climates have benefited from the availability of the cabinets, McCullough stated.

The company is honoring all Cello warranties despite the fact that there is no legal mandate to do so. "We simply feel that it's the right thing to do," he said. An advisory that appeared in issue #128 of The Abso!ute Sound telling Cello owners with service questions to contact Mark Levinson at Red Rose Music was in error, McCullough explained.

Matthew James also has no plans to dilute the value of the Cello name by developing inexpensive products: "We won't be making any $2000 integrated amplifiers." Instead, the company will follow the Cello tradition of building only the best for the top of the market. Cello products are for "the special person, not for the casual user," McCullough said. "Reviving the name is a big task, but a great opportunity. We want to build upon history."

For customers' convenience, Matthew James has retained Cello, Ltd.'s old phone and fax numbers: (203) 867-4008 and (203) 867-4014. The new company number is (203) 865-1237; Jim McCullough's home office number is (860) 349-5999. He can also be reached via email. A website is under construction.