John Armer reviews Russ's past and looks at the milestones
since the company was founded in 1986.
The germination of an idea
Whilst travelling in the States, Russ came across a spike filter. Recognising its value in cleaning the mains supply, he got the manufacturers to make a version for the UK - but all the prototypes blew up! A lifelong friend, Richard McGinnis who was an engineer at NASA, told Russ about a suppression device that was used in aerospace applications. Russ acquired the parts and built them into a filter which became Clamp 1. Its descendent - SuperClamp - is still in production today.
Russ Andrews Turntable Accessories
Linn had originally supplied the LP12 turntable with the Grace 707 tonearm, but when they started supplying their own brand of tonearms, they asked Russ to take over the import and distribution of Grace tonearms and Supex cartridges. Russ formed Russ Andrews Turntable Accessories (RATA) to sell these, and started working with Goldring to produce his own range of cartridges - the RATA RP range which were both well received and well reviewed.
Introduction of Torlyte
As well as offering Turntable tonearms and cartridges, Russ looked to the idea of turntable support. His R&D led to trying Lakeland slate as a support - Russ and Sue had moved to a farm close to Kendal on the edge of the Lake District in Cumbria by this time. The slate support initially upgraded the sound of his turntable "but what I later realised" says Russ - "was that the high mass support was masking the sound of a faulty tone arm. When the tone arm was repaired, the slate stand sounded worse".
The resulting stand - Torlyte - was developed after many prototypes. Rather than high mass, Russ's approach was the opposite of the slate support - the name Torlyte comes from the fact that it's a low-weight torsion box design. The initial designs were painted black and while they looked different from those offered today, the principles remain the same - to support equipment with a stand that is very low mass and rigid.
The Year of Incorporation
At that time, the business operated out of converted stables in Russ and Sue's farmyard, and Torlyte was manufactured in the barn!
The mains event
Russ continued his research in to the mains supply and, working with Kimber Kable, produced his first woven PowerKord in 1986 based on their 4TC and 8TC speaker cables. At that time, Kimber Kable was producing mostly loudspeaker cable but Russ encouraged them to make an interconnect based on their internal signal cable. The interconnect was originally called PSB but it was renamed PBJ (it's now been superseded by Timbre).
As far as we are aware, our PowerKords were the first commercially available Hi-Fi mains cables offered in the UK - and to date, we've sold over 55,000... and counting!
The Olson commission
At the end of the 1980s, Russ was given the opportunity to put all he had learned into practise when his friend Chris Bonar commissioned him to build a cost-no-object system. Russ actually built two systems - one for Chris and one for himself. The resulting Olson II 3 way system was launched at the 1991 Penta Hi-Fi show in London and the systems are still giving great pleasure to this day. A range of amps and speakers, based on the Olson systems, followed.
By 1993, the business was booming and had far outgrown its location in the stable. So, a move was made into the 'Chris Bonar cabin' - really a large converted outbuilding in Russ and Sue's farm yard!
By 1996 the company had dropped the 'Turntable' part of the name, becoming simply Russ Andrews Accessories and had made the controversial decision to sell its product solely via mail order direct to the customers and not through a dealer network. Russ's daughters Rohan and Kirsteen came on board and new catalogues were produced which extolled the benefits of upgrading a Hi-Fi system's infrastructure (previously, Russ's audiophile catalogues had mostly been lists of parts). The result was a doubling of turnover over the next three years!
New mains products
Following on from the sucess of the mail order business, 2000 saw the launch of a new range of power products to complement the already successful PowerKords and SuperClamps. The PowerBlock™ - probably our most iconic product - was joined by Silencer™, Purifier™ and SuperPurifier™. These products, both individually and in combination, brought a new level of mains conditioning to Hi-Fi enthusiasts and were a hit right from the off.
New offices opened
Having now outgrown the 'Chris Bonar cabin', the expanding company opened new offices in Staveley in the Lake District. The event was marked with an official opening carried out by Tim Collins, our local MP. By now, Russ and Ray were good friends and Kimber Kable was well established within the Russ Andrews product range. It was no surprise, then, when Ray Kimber made a special trip all the way from Utah, USA, to attend the ceremony.
15th anniversary products
To mark the company's 15th anniversary, Russ launched a range of stunning Silver PowerKords. These utilised Kimber's finest woven silver cable and came in 8, 16 and 24 conductor models to reflect the existing copper range.
A silver-wired version of the PowerBlock followed soon after, along with the introduction of an exclusive range of Russ Andrews 'Crystal' interconnects, which utilised Kimber's woven cable in copper, hybrid and silver editions (these have since been replaced by the Kimber Hero range).
Best mail order company
Our products have been the winners of many awards from the Hi-Fi press, but we were delighted in November to receive recognition from ECMOD. Effectively the 'Oscars' of the catalogue and mail order industry, not only did we receive the award for best catalogue company in our turnover category, but we also received 'The best of the best' award, beating the likes of Laura Ashley, RS Components and Scotts of Stow.
Back in 2000 we had worked with the band Embrace, supplying cables for the recording of their album Drawn from Memory, but in 2002 we worked extensively with the engineers at the Astoria studio in London (owned by David Gilmour of Pink Floyd) to fit both mains and signal cabling, and our Torlyte. Other work in the pro audio field included work on Russell Watson's home recording studio, and supplying cables to Michael Zimmerling (recording engineer for Simply Red) and Ken Nelson (Gomez and Coldplay).
Moving to Kendal
We moved offices again in 2005, to the outskirts of Kendal to premises that were more suited to our mail order business - most of our orders now originate from our website (we started selling online in 2003) and via the call centre.
Connected to Music and Movies
Our customer magazine was launched back in 2006. Replacing the previous incarnation, Directions, Connected was a new format with more pages and more room for in-depth articles and product features. The first issue set the standard, containing articles by Robert Harley (Editor of US magazine The Absolute Sound), had a feature on Russ's Hi-Fi system and saw us celebrating our twentieth anniversary!
Today, we are proud to publish a quarterly Hi-Fi magazine that now boasts the second biggest circulation of its type in the UK! Regular features include customer systems, spotlights on products, reader’s letters, reviews, how-to’s, Russ’s First Words and much more. If you’d like to receive a free copy, click here to subscribe.
2008 saw us working with audio electronics authority Ben Duncan and physicist Dr Craig Sawyers to look more closely at the effect of our power cables on Radio Frequency Interference (RFI). We had been the subject of a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority (the ASA) about our claims that our PowerKords can cancel RFI - a complaint which has since been thrown out. But the upshot of the additional R&D was the development of a new range of mains cables with enhanced RFI-rejecting capability: The SuperKords, our most advanced mains cable technology.
As well as working more closely with Ben Duncan and Craig Sawyers, we also started working with specialist transformer designer Paul Houlden to introduce our range of Balanced Mains Units (Paul also manufactures other Ben Duncan-designed products for us - the Zapperators and The AbZorber).
The benefit of a balanced mains supply is that when mains voltage is split equally across live and neutral any noise on one leg is cancelled out by the other (just like in a balanced interconnect, but there it is signal noise that is cancelled). In our opinion, there is no more effective way to feed your system than with a high quality balanced mains supply.
The first units we offered were the BMU 50 and BMU 150 but they were replaced by the larger BMU 1000, BMU 1500 and the BMU 3000 models.
New mains extensions
Our 25th anniversary year was a busy one. After many years looking for an improvement to our highly regarded SuperSockets, we finally introduced our superb performing UltraSockets. The success of these was so good that we added them to our new mini-extension, the X2, which was joined later by the X4 and X6. The UltraSockets then made their appearance on our top-of-the-range PowerBlock.
Following extensive R&D by Ben Duncan, we completed the final rounds of testing on our new and unique Super Burn in cable enhancement. The eventual launch of the new treatment - which we can apply to all Russ Andrews and Kimber Kables - didn't come until the next year but all the leg work had been completed by the end of 2011.
Improving our PowerKords
After over 13 years, the Classic, Reference and Signature range of PowerKords were superseded by the PowerKord-100, PowerKord-300 and PowerKord-500. The new cables featured a number of enhancements, building on the performance of the previous models. A new large-gauge earth was introduced to improve bass depth and definition which also creating a wider format weave to boost RFI reduction. Noise Reducing Sleeving replaced the traditional 'Techflex' and the latest iteration of the superb WattGate plugs - the Evo range - were added.
Our mains products recognised in Hi-Fi Plus 'Best of the Best'
Writing in the 100th issue of Hi-Fi Plus magazine, Roy Gregory kicked off a feature on 'The most important Hi-Fi of the last 99 issues' with none other than the Russ Andrews Audio Quality Mains Supply. Roy had reviewed many of our mains products in issue 3 of Hi-Fi Plus (Russ had installed a full Russ Andrews ringmain for him and fitted Silencers, Purifiers and PowerKords) and so taken was Roy that he included it in Hi-Fi Plus's 100th issue round-up.
Upgrade service re-introduced
Our equipment upgrade service had first been offered in the 1990s following Russ's research into component quality. We were delighted to re-launch it in 2014, offering upgrades on an individual basis to turntables, CD players, amplifiers and loudspeakers.
So far we've carried out upgrades to the Michell Gyrodeck SE, Musical Fidelity A5 amp (shown above) and CD player, Naim Headline, Quad 405 and 606, Marantz 7006 Blu-ray player, Chord Red Reference CD player and Heybrook Point Five loudspeakers to name but a few!
It's not surprising, given the massive growth in personal audio sales, that Kimber wanted to develop a new type of cable for this market. The challange was to produce a lead whose performance would come up to Kimber's exacting standards whilst also being flexible, attractive enough to 'wear' and non-microphonic.
The result was Axios, a range of high end, hand-built cables designed to extract every last detail from high resolution headphones. Each Axios headphone cable features a new, innovative woven design with a seamless transition where the cable splits to connect to the earpieces - completely avoiding the need to introduce a termination at this critical point.
The cable is already the winner of a Hi-Fi Choice 5 Star Recommended Award along with excellent owner feedback .
Our thirtieth anniversary!
2016 marks 30 years since the company was incorporated. We've chosen this year to re-introduce one of our best-selling and most talked about products - our YellOPower mains cable. Kimber Kable has re-manufactured this classic design for us which means that our entry-level power cable is once again made with woven Kimber Kable, bringing the core benefit of the braided design - enhanced musicality - within reach of more and more people.