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Australian company Wayne Jones Audio has made a name for itself in the pro audio world with its award-winning bass cabinets and studio monitors. Featuring powerhouse handmade drivers, with a focus on high-performance frequency response coming directly from the speaker itself, it’s easy to see why the company has garnered praise from the industry for the accuracy and clarity of its sound.
We chatted with the founder, Wayne Jones, for our Behind The Gear series to discuss the origins of the company, what goes into the development of each piece of gear, their recent collaboration with Sonarworks, and the company’s plans for the future, which include a new subwoofer made especially for the Dolby Atmos experience.
Tell us about how Wayne Jones Audio started.
I'm primarily a bass player and I have years of experience in the industry, but when I started out as a teenager I couldn't afford a second bass cabinet. The people that made them here gave me the parts and my dad was a wood machinist and a caravan maker, so he helped me build it. That’s how I built my first bass cabinet.
Along the way, I used to do clinics and masterclasses for an English company called Trace Elliot; I was the product advisor to an importer here and I'd been toying with building bass cabinets myself, just out of interest. While working with them one day I said, “Your cabinets are fantastic but they’re so heavy. Why don't you split them in the middle and make smaller modules?” They didn't take my advice so I thought, “Well, I'll go off and do it myself.”
I started building my own bass cabinets and got custom-made speakers designed for me by an Australian company called Lorantz Audio. My current business partner, Greg Lewis from Queensland, later invested in me because of the love he had from purchasing a pair of my bass cabinets in 2001. It is incredible, having somebody believe in you that much.
We launched the bass cabinets to great reviews from magazines like Bass Player, which led me to bass players for artists like David Sanborn, Usher, Joe Jackson, Rihanna, and different smooth jazz artists around the world.
You’ve said before that what makes your bass cabinets so good is that the sound comes from the speaker first, without relying on porting and other methods to give the cabs more bass response. Tell us more about that.
Yes, the instrument’s sound reproduction has to come from the driver–from the source itself. If it’s not in there, you’re just trying to compensate for it.
With studio monitors, there's another method called digital signal processing (DSP), which a lot of speaker manufacturers use to compensate for any inadequacies in their speakers and unwanted reflections in cabinets. I didn't want to do that. I wanted to get everything right first from the source and just use DSP for the crossover or unwanted reflections that I couldn't remove from the box physically.
I work with Michail Barabasz at Lorantz Audio on the speaker design. He’s seventy-six years old and works with his wife Hazel. They actually designed speakers for the helicopters used in the Vietnam war, to project the sound from the helicopter to the ground. He's brilliant! So he and I are the source of all this–it’s me as a musician, producer, engineer; all my years as a bassist, both in the studio and live, and as a person that uses the cabinets; and his expertise in speaker design.
Let's talk about the design and components of the Wayne Jones Audio Powered Bass Cabinet.
It’s a 1000W 2x10 with a tweeter and an 8-ohm cabinet, which is a standard resistance. The speakers are custom-made exclusively for myself using Kevlar Impregnated cones with eucalyptus pulp from Australian trees and they’re handmade by Michail Barabasz and his wife at Lorantz Audio.
The power amp module is a state-of-the-art switch mode D-class module. It's a 500W-per-side stereo amp that is bridged giving 1000W RMS into 8-ohms, so that drives it. The transients and the dynamics are incredible; they’re far superior to any other power amp module out there.
I only build for the best quality. Money is considered in manufacturing, but I never choose a component based on cost; it's always about having the best possible component available.
On the back of the cabinet, I put a midrange control and a high-frequency control. They're not needed now but in the early days I used to make the bass cabinets out of medium-density fibreboard (MDF) instead of plywood and it had a 600 Hz honk. I put in a ceramic rheostat–it takes a lot of heat in there at that 300 to 600 Hz frequency–so you can back off that frequency. I’ve just carried that through as a feature and usually you just back it off a little bit, about a quarter, in the newer cabs.
So the bass cab is virtually 2x10s and a tweeter, a midrange and a high-frequency control and then the powered version has the power amp in there. I’ve changed the tweeter since the early models. In 2001, I used a 180W PA tweeter, which wasn't necessary for the bass; it was too much. I found one that was not brittle–it happened to be very inexpensive, a JBL tweeter initially called Selenium from Brazil; it did the job. So as you listen to the cabinet, it gives you even frequencies from low to high; it’s not harsh or brittle in the top end.
Tell us about the studio monitors – the Reds, Baby Reds and the Big Reds.
The drivers in my bass cabinets were so good for bass, we used them as studio monitors when we were mixing my first album. My engineer was my friend Steve Scanlon (Avicii, The Chainsmokers) and he mixed the album in my current partner's studio in Queensland. When he brought the album back to his own studio he didn't have to do anything in the bottom end and midrange; he just tweaked the tops. I thought they would make fantastic studio monitors if they were that good in the bottom end and midrange. So I approached Michail from Lorantz Audio and we worked on the 10-inch driver for the monitors for quite a while.
Along the way I engaged Steve Scanlon, who is a much-respected sound engineer, to listen and comment on our work on these as we progressed. I valued him both as a friend and for his comments so I put his name on the monitors for a while there, thus the Jones-Scanlon badge. I have now reverted to calling them Wayne Jones Audio Studio Monitors for the entire range.
I was contacted by Joseph Mothiba, a chart-topping South African artist and producer, who owns his own production company and works closely with Universal Music South Africa. Joseph was looking for something to bring their content up to world standards because they have so much talent there but they were never satisfied with the quality of the monitors they were using; they'd often get rejected by iTunes for their audio quality. After making a trip there to demonstrate the 1x10-inch Reds, that problem was more than solved; Universal can’t use anything else now and the CEO of Universal even has the Reds in his house.
Joseph then said to me, “We've got smaller production studios and broadcast vehicles where we need smaller speakers. Can you make a smaller one for us?” So I designed what I call the Baby Reds, again working with Lorantz Audio to do the measurements. We succeeded in carrying through the same character of detail and reproduction as the 1x10-inch model. Joseph and Alexis King Faku, a producer/engineer for Universal Music, said they had bigger rooms they would like to cater for and asked if I could design bigger speakers as well and that’s how we came up with the Big Reds.
They're so accurate and consistent in every respect–you get exactly the same accuracy, whether it's the smaller speakers or the bigger ones–the character transfers to each model. You get the exact same characteristics, but more of it.
And now you’ve collaborated with Sonarworks for monitors with integrated SoundID Reference.
Yes, you can now store a room calibration profile directly to any of the Wayne Jones Audio Studio Monitors. Sonarworks have such a great product for doing measurements and calibration. After you’re done with the speakers, you still have a room to deal with when you're working in the studio; no studio is perfect. Sonarworks came into the picture and my company, Wayne Jones Audio, partnered with them to enable a customer’s room measurement calibration profile to be uploaded directly to the speakers; thus there is no further need to run the SoundID Reference app on your computer. It is accessed in the control panel, where you upload the calibration profile via USB.
Your room profile lives in a switch: there’s the default flat speaker selection and then with a flip of the switch, there's your room. I'm just finishing an actual app for this; I've had to remotely upload this for people because COVID interrupted the development but we've finally achieved it. We're just packaging it now so I can send you the app and you can upload your own room calibration profile.
Tell us about your new 15-inch subwoofer that you’ve launched to cater to the Dolby Atmos immersive format.
You actually don't need subs with my cabinets; they spec to 35 Hz in the low end, but they'll reproduce down to 28 Hz. So it's just for the Atmos system and for those people that like to go a little lower that I've done this.
Using the 7.1.4 setup I have here, I tried, at first, crossing over the monitors at 80 Hz and then 50 Hz into the sub and then I thought, “What have I just done to my monitors?” Although it sounded great I had taken away all the beauty and the beautiful bottom end that is so unique to them. But I needed to try it and then ended up leaving the monitors as they are in the full range position, just dialing in a little volume level for the sub with the 50 Hz crossover point selected on the sub and it worked great. Of course, I then did a room measurement with the SoundID Reference multi-channel app and uploaded all the resulting calibration profiles to the 7.1.4 system.
When I was recently exhibiting at NAMM I had all my monitors set up to demo for people and as I switched from each set, everyone said, “Where’s the sub?” Even with the little monitors. I said, “There is no sub!” So the 15-inch sub is really to cater for people that want that extra depth and it goes down all the way to 19 Hz.
What is the process that each piece goes through from idea to development?
With the studio monitors, for example, I look at the size first and then decide where I want to put the ports. Do I want to use flared ports or non-flared ports? A topic of debate. Non-flared ports give you more compression and a tighter sound; you feel the air a lot. So I'll look at the physical design, do a prototype and test what wood I want to use, which is critical.
Next, I'll look at the actual speakers. 10-inch drivers have fast attack and depth. They don't give as much bottom end as a 12 or 15-inch, but mine do because we designed them to do that–so you have the attack of a 10-inch speaker but you have the bottom end of a 15-inch. I worked with Lorantz Audio to do that.
After that we match the tweeter to go with how much power that would take. That’s Lorantz Audio’s expertise–to match the tweeter with the driver they’re making. We chose a bullet tweeter but the driver does most of the work and the tweeter is hardly used so you’ll never blow it.
Then we go, “Where will we cross this over? What point is going to work?” We set a crossover point, measure the box and say, “Okay, there's all this stuff going on in here: the speakers are flat, we've got the crossover right but what's going on?” So then I'll look into the internals of the box and remove unwanted reflections.
It’s unconventional what I do there, but it works. Some companies use Blackhole foam, which is layered foam. I tried everything under the sun for acoustic dampening; foam was easy to work with but it dampened everything. I tried synthetic fiberglass and polyfill; that was the closest to what I ended up with, but it still wasn't giving me the accuracy I wanted. I ended up using fiberglass to get to where I am now. It does the job. There's something else I do in there as well but I won't tell you that. [Laughs]
After I've done all this, we go, “Now let's get rid of any remaining unwanted box reflections.” So we'll do a measurement in open air, 12 feet in the air, so there's no reflection from anything and then I'll program the results into the DSP.
Then I'll put a pair of them up here on my bench or in my studio and I'll listen as a musician to make sure that they're giving me everything I want from low to high. Even if there's one tweeter that’s not consistent with another, I’ll know. I graph the tweeters individually before I load them in the box, and even after graphing them if I hear something I don’t like, I'll change them.
The only other thing is the finish. We have senses–we have the visual sense, touch and smell, so I made them appealing. That’s the construction and concept, the process of how it comes together.
The next step is to get out there and do the marketing, and I'm lucky I have the contacts that I have. It’s about getting it out to people so they can experience it and I know from all the reactions that I've done my job well. You’ve got to be happy with the sound.
There’s a lot of industry support and praise for Wayne Jones Audio products–everyone who uses them mentions the accuracy and clarity of the sound.
Yeah, it's incredible. You don't know it exists until you hear it and then you can’t go back. I'll give you an example: there was a studio in Namibia, and they set speakers up side by side to do a mix on my speakers and do a mix on their mains. With my speakers, they could hear everything better. The initial reaction was, “I had that much reverb on there, I can't believe that. The compression–it’s all wrong on my kick drum.” Because the WJA monitors will reproduce that; your mix times are faster and your accuracy increases. You can hear more detail. You can’t hide anything, it unmasks all the problems.
Even I'm blown away every time I listen to music or a movie. You don't want to leave, you get engulfed in it and you can hear things you've never heard before. At Sony Motion Pictures, when I first went over there and the techs had a listen to one of their movies, they said, “Did you hear those sound effects? I've never heard them before.” So it's that kind of detail that I’m happy I can give to people.
What were some of the challenges that you faced early on?
So I've grown to scale-up time with a partner that believes in me. The early challenges were raising capital and I was so lucky I had someone that believed in me to do that. In the early days, the challenges were purely day-to-day financing, for which my business partner and Sales always came through.
I realize we’re always working on things and I don't take time to appreciate the challenges we’ve overcome. Now and again I go, “Oh, look what I did.” And I'll pat some people on the back to say, “Look at what we’ve done! It’s the first in the world, in every respect of what we’ve built. We’ve built the best bass cabinets in the world, the best monitors, and we're just people from here in Melbourne.”
What makes Wayne Jones Audio different from other pro audio companies?
Firstly I’m a musician, solo artist, writer and producer that has had chart success and I’ve worked in many aspects of our industry for over 50 years so I know what we want, both live and in the studio. I also have the knowledge and have gained skills along the way in other areas to be able to design, manufacture, market and distribute the products.
I go to studios in the States and I don't sell the speakers–I tell them about them, we set them up and I say to myself, “I'll just sit back here and wait until you smile.” Then they listen and go, “We can’t believe this!” The guys from Social House heard their music through the monitors and literally had a tear in their eye and said, “You don't know what you've done for us.” That was an incredible moment for me. This is the same reaction everyone has. The speakers sell themselves.
Other speaker companies also came to see me at NAMM, so I sat them down and gave them a listen. For a monitor shootout in South Africa they placed our speakers and others, such as Kii Three, side by side. They had them covered up and asked people, “Which ones do you like?” and everyone said “Those” – which, when uncovered, were the Wayne Jones Audio monitors. People that were there at the time also said, “How can he do that? It’s such a simple design.”
Everybody's going for bells and whistles in their products with speakers coming out the side, room compensation with using measurements coming out of the back, but for me it has to come from that original concept–the speaker has to produce the sound. If it doesn't, you’re chasing your tail.
What’s next for Wayne Jones Audio?
I'm looking forward to expansion, traveling more, visiting different studios around the world to give them the experience. I hope for more trade shows. That excites me, and to have the time to get back to making another album.
The hope is that COVID is behind us and you can actually travel, because the last two years have been devastating.
Yes they have, for all of us. I was so excited about going to NAMM again–the first time in two years on a plane, and then doing the NAMM show. That was a nice progression as well–I was in the Pro Audio section this time, had a beautiful stand and we had a great reaction. Even executives from NAMM came around and I had so many producers come by–they were stunned by the display, so that was exciting. It’s all a progression for us. I haven't done AES in New York yet, I want to do that; I want to go to the UK and Asia. I've been concentrating on the US because that's where the majority of our industry is.
At this stage I’m in the process of finalizing negotiations to bring in a new investor/partner. It would allow me to build factories in two countries, employ more people and ultimately free me up with more time to engage in promotion, studio visits, trade shows and demonstrations–not to mention ongoing design creativity. That's the progress I'm excited about right now.
Product-wise, it’s the sub, which is the latest thing to come out, and the next thing I'll do is add Dante connections. People get around it by using adapters at the moment. There’s a little box I have–RDL makes it–from Dante to S/PDIF and I'm just testing it right now. This will enable digital all the way at 96K; my monitors are 192K but S/PDIF is 96K. There’s so much to learn. I will be making improvements where I can and not fixing anything that doesn't need fixing.