Interview with Rolph Smulders

Gepubliceerd op 21 maart 2024 om 15:26

Interview with Rolph Smulders: founder of Audio Components and driving force behind the company.


Audio Components has now existed for about 38 years. What did you do before that Rolph? How did your interest in loudspeakers develop?

In high school, I was already interested in music and amplification of sound. Through the electronics hobby group at school at the time, I started building amplifiers and speaker boxes. This was soon followed by building PA speakers, which were then also rented out to various bands. It emerged that these bands often had little technical understanding and I was given a role as a sound engineer. I did this from the end of secondary school until my student days. I studied HTS electro after which I went to work for Wagner & Wagner Company, at the time the Dutch importer of Magnat speakers. Here I worked in the office for a short time and was responsible for technical support, among other things. Through this job, I joined Magnat in Germany as a loudspeaker designer. At Magnat, I devised the Magnasphere drivers, among other things, and did development work on loudspeaker chassis and complete loudspeaker systems there. Eventually, I worked at Magnat for about five years.


How did you end up with an importer of speaker chassis?

After working at Magnat for five years, my wife and I thought it was time to return to the Netherlands. At Magnat, I made some important contacts. At the time, Magnat was already buying chassis from Vifa, among others. At the time I was a designer at Magnat, Allen Isaksen (now Wavecor) was a designer at Vifa. An important supplier to Magnat for passive loudspeaker filters and components was Heinz Wolf of I.T. Intertechnik. The relationship with Vifa and Intertechnik was so good that I was able to start Audio Components with these two manufacturers.


Who is the Audio Components customer and how has it changed over the years?

In the beginning, we mainly supplied Dutch loudspeaker manufacturers. In this, I could often think along with the customer for the right product choice and then supply them with the parts needed for it. So not only drivers were supplied but also the necessary advice. We supplied manufacturers such as Translator, BNS, Hepta, MC-systems, Studio de Schop, Impulse, Driade and Xanadu. A number of these manufacturers still produce speakers and are still clients of Audio Components.

During the 1980s, self-build specialist shops began to emerge. Physical shops selling speaker components to individuals. Back then, our major customers were Speakerland, Speaker & Co, Natural Sound and Audio Dome. With the advent of the internet, we were able to position ourselves better and started supplying more internationally. This is also when the trend from physical homebrew shops to international webshops started. Think of Willy's HiFi and Falcon Acoustics in the UK and SoundImports in the European Union.


What distinguishes Audio Components from its competitors?

Audio Components' distinguishing feature, besides having sufficient stock, is possessing a lot of expert knowledge and know-how as well as the will to serve your customer quickly and well. We take every question seriously and communicate proactively with the client. For example, if a ship with stock from the Far East is delayed, we let our clients know in time so that they can anticipate this in good time.

Offering the right brands has also always been of great importance. The partnership with Vifa is one of the oldest contacts. The brand merged with Peerless and Scan-Speak was later added. The three main Danish loudspeaker manufacturers then fell under one company. Eventually, Scan-Speak became one of Audio Components' main brands.

SB Acoustics was later founded by some ex-Scan-Speak engineers has also become a very important Audio Components brand. This brand clearly stepped into a gap created by changes in the DIY hi-fi market.


What are you most proud of, after 38 years of Audio Components?

I am most proud of the fact that there are customers who started with us more than 30 years ago, and are still satisfied customers. So the long-term relationships we have with customers. This works very pleasant for both sides. It's more than just selling high-quality products, it's about the relationships with customers and suppliers.


What are the main trends in the market?

A major trend in the last 40 years has been the internet. Supply has shifted from offline to online. Within the range, relatively little has changed. The loudspeaker market is fairly static, there have of course been quite a lot of developments in cone materials and in the drive of drivers but at base, drivers and crossover components have not changed terribly much.

In addition, you see many manufacturers abandoning their European 'roots'. The loudspeaker industry used to be mainly concentrated in Europe. Today, many manufacturers are in Chinese or American hands.

In the past, the homebrew audio market looked quite different. Back then, a lot of information could be found in trade magazines such as Elektuur, Hobby HiFi and Klang & Ton. Nowadays, a lot of information is available online. Self-building was booming before the turn of the century but then it shrank in size. Physical trade fairs were also much more common then than now.


Recent developments at Audio Components have reduced your active role. What's in store for you?

Through a strategic partnership, a number of things are indeed going to change positively for customers. Availability is improved and orders can be processed until much later on the same day. Also, we now ship on all working days and have a B2B portal where customers have a 24/7 view on the availability of items and the possibility to order them there as well.

Besides my advisory role at Audio Components, I am working on some real estate projects and a bit of development myself. I also hope to pick up my racing hobby again.

Finally, I want to build another high-end passive system. Currently, I have a very nice set of Kii speakers that sound great, but developing and building a passive set myself with state-of-the-art drivers is definitely on the cards. There are a lot of great new drivers coming on the market that I would like to experiment with.

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