NXT Exclusive Interview with John Franks, Founder & CEO of Chord Electronics at CanJam 2019

A good audio product is not just about good sound quality. During the 2-day CanJam Singapore 2019 held at Pan Pacific Singapore, we spoke to John Franks, Founder and CEO of Chord Electronics and listened to some of his insights on the industry.

How is Chord Electronics unique from other audio brands and how has the brand evolved over the years?

The brand philosophy has always been to make the very best amplifiers that technology and quality machining can bring to the market. Before founding Chord Electronics, I was an avionics engineer, and the thing about aircraft is that you need to get the things right the first time, so you got to have a philosophy of making excellent electronics. So I think I brought that philosophy to the company, and that was around 1990. At that time, I had seen big American amplifiers, and I thought they were nicely made, but the technology of using large A-Class amplifiers and big transformers was antiquated.

I come from a background of very advanced electronics using very high-frequency power supply within a very specialised way. One of the pro-grade amplifiers I designed in the early days was picked up by BBC, who wanted to try out a new amplifier. So they asked me to design one, which I did. They did warn me that because the amplifier would be for broadcasting use, it could take a long time to approve and may require a lot of modifications. 2 weeks after, they called me that the amplifier was approved and proceeded with the purchase order. I believed it went smoothly because of my philosophy of making high-quality electronics.

We were lucky because a lot of famous record producers used BBC studios and they heard my amplifiers. Then suddenly, as a small startup company, I was getting calls from the likes of Abbey Road Studios, Skywalker Studios, Sony in New York, and our business took off.

John Franks

When you design the products, what kind of sound quality do you try to achieve?

I have always been going for one thing, and that is transparency. Transparency is the ability of an amplifier to do at its output exactly what it does at its input, adding nothing, taking nothing away.  There are amplifiers designed to have a warm harmonic sound, and that is actually adding distortion to achieve a certain aim. But we have always gone for transparency, because transparency is true. When you design a product, whether it is digital or analog, you have got to faithfully reproduce the emotion and all of the fine details that are encoded when the musicians were recording the music. It is the absolute, perfect, faithful reproduction of the music, and that’s what we do.

Do you think you have achieved that “perfection”?

I believe we have come the closest, and I think we certainly have put in the effort to achieve that. It’s always a journey and especially when Rob is a perfectionist to build better than he has done before. When I met Rob, I realised he is a perfectionist, and that aligned with my philosophy from my avionic days being a perfectionist too. And here we are, after 25 years, we are still working together.