John's trip to the Boulder Factory.
I took a trip to Louisville, Colorado to visit the Boulder Amplifiers factory. Boulder is a new product line for Pearl Audio so seeing the factory, getting to know the product engineers, designers, and craftspeople is an important part of our business and helps us to understand and support the the products we represent.
In 1984, Boulder started out making cost-no-object electronics for the recording studio industry but soon found that a great number of Boulder customers were music lovers who wanted the equipment for their home systems. Today they have several ranges of offerings at different price and performance points. They've also grown to be one of the most recognized and iconic brands in high-end audio with loyal customers the world over. In 2016, they purchased land in Louisville Colorado and built their own factory, a 23,000 square foot facility filled with the highest tech design-to-build infrastructure I have seen.
The always affable Rich Maez, Boulder's VP of Sales, met me at the entrance. I've known Rich for many years and was very happy to be working with him and finally carrying Boulder in our store.
In touring the factory, we started at the Colorado-zen entry room. The aspens reminded me of when I used to live in Colorado. It was a yearly event for me to drive Independence Pass to Aspen, Colorado when the aspen trees were turning.
We first visited the engineering department where I got to meet the founder, Jeff Nelson, and the Boulder Amplifiers engineering team. There was this calm professional energy about the group - you could tell they had worked as a team for long time and loved what they did.
Next we went into manufacturing area. I was amazed at what I saw. I was expecting a fine engineering company, but this place far exceeded my expectations. If you told me they were building spacecraft I would have believed it.
I've worked in a good number of enterprise businesses so I've been in a good number of control rooms, server rooms, manufacturing floors and all, but I don't think I've ever seen quite this level of perfection in a physical manufacturing facility. Every task I could see was done by computerized machinery from design to testing to final packaging.
This level of control demands an extremely high up-front cost and physical and knowledge infrastructure, but once its done a factory can build much higher quality equipment at any given price point, engineer new concepts, and perform quality control in short iterative timeframes.
Take faceplates for example. Faceplates are often one of the most expensive single parts of an amplifier, often getting into the multi-hundred dollar range for a manufacturer. It's also a unique part, which means that companies need to plan on ordering sufficient quantity to keep costs down while risking overbuying. Boulder, doesn't need to do this. They make their own faceplates in-house. Intricate, complex, finely finished, and beautiful faceplates.
Unlike many companies that have to pre-order say 500 faceplates to get a quantity discount, Boulder takes raw milling metal stock, creates their own faceplates in an efficient just-in-time fashion.
If they need to correct an issue or make an improvement, because it's software to metal, they simply edit the engineering design and their in-house CNC machine immediately fabricates the newly updated component. Think of the money saved and the quality gained from doing this for 30 years.
Circuit and component assembly is also highly automated and kept in tight tandem with design and testing feedback processes. Boulder's sense of mature, well engineered processes are the finest I've seen. I worked in the software industry for many years, and there is an exact parallel to what I would see in the highest level software companies.
The sheer excellence of Boulder's manufacturing hardware infrastructure was absolutely breathtaking to see. This is a company that for several decades has continuously invested up-front in hardware and process for long term benefit. Once a company has machinery and processes like this, it lowers their cost of manufacturing and ongoing support due to more repeatable and higher quality results.
Here they are assembling the boards into the metal chassis. It's hand assembly, but well made parts fit right the first time. Look at how heavy and well made everything is. Look at how the circuit boards have perfect alignment of all components and how short and neat the wiring is. This is the quality attainable when you design everything in a high end virtual engineering environment that directly feeds the specifications and process to manufacturing.
The same highly precise and organized software to physical product infrastructure is also reflected in their automated circuitboard population assembly and component testing infrastructure.
Once the metalwork and circuit boards are assembled they move on to final assembly then testing. Below is a row of the new Boulder 866 streaming integrateds, one of which might be Pearl Audio's. I think ours might be the second one on the right. If you look closely you can see how the panels, heat sinks, and even the connecting brackets are all made from raw aluminum stock that's CNC machined in-house.
Finally, and saving the best for last, Boulder's reference listening loom. I had passed it earlier and I had actually stopped then had to be pulled by the arm to see the rest of the factory.
The room has its own foundation separate from the rest of the factory and two sets of entry doors. The room is about 25' with non-parallel walls on all four sides, evoking the non-parallel sides of 300-series amplifiers which also have non-parallel sides to minimize case resonances. On the floor in between were a set of Boulder's flagship 3050 mono power amplifiers with a 3060 stereo amplifier in between. Each 3050 amplifier outputs 1500 watts in Class A.
Let me repeat that: Each amplifier can output 1500 watts in Class A. I've never heard of anyone getting close to this amount of power in Class A operation. It's a Saturn V amongst Model T's, and it sounded like it too.
Source electronics included the Boulder 3010 preamplifier with 2000-series digital and phono.
At this point Steve Huntley joined us and put on some massively dynamic music from Metallica, and of course the new Tool album. I can honestly say I've never felt, nor experienced that level of sheer power and explosive dynamics in any system, anywhere. The 3000 series amplifiers controlled the Grand Utopia EM speakers, one of the largest reference speakers available, like they were a pair of headphones. The Utopia's huge woofers had zero-lag and were starting and stopping instantaneously. The huge bass waves felt like they could actually pick you up and lift you back little. I didn't know that big bass drivers could produce bass like this. It had the power and immediacy of a live concert in a good hall, except the sound quality and performance were several levels better.
The Boulder equipment is unique in that it places you closer to the recording studio than any other electronics I've heard. There's no euphony, there's no softening of transient energy, but it's not sterile nor strident either. It's just exactly what's on a recording. At the store we have the 1110 preamp/1160 amp with Dynaudio Confidence 60s and I find it fascinating to listen to some virtuoso artists, Joe Pass for example, and hear how superb and subtle the playing really is. Boulder's recording equipment roots are readily apparent and there's nothing else like it.
That's my visit! See also the Stereophile factory tour article.