Welcome to Linus’ new interview series on Headfonia.com! Every two weeks we will publish an interview with an insider of the audio industry. They will give us a little insight on how they started and what they are up to. We are thrilled to be able to share a little something with all of you.
This time we talk to Rob Watts, designer of numerous electronics for Chord Electronics and others!
HFN: Please give us a short introduction about yourself
RW: I have been designing audio electronics since the early 1980’s; my first DAC design was in 1989, which was PDM or a DSD 256 DAC. Because of the limitations of DSD, in 1995 I developed my own DAC using FPGA’s, and invented the pulse array DAC. Then in 1999, the first WTA interpolation filter was implemented with Chord’s DAC 64. This was the first example of digital input to analogue OP being totally my design.
My intent is to improve transparency in the audio chain, so that we can become more emotionally involved with the music, as this is the primary goal.
HFN: You‘re mainly known for working with Chord Electronics, are there any other partners?
RW: Not presently. I have had several digital audio semiconductor clients in the past.
HFN: What was it that got you into audio?
RW: I was always into sound – building my own matchbox radio when I was 12 for use on my paper round. But what drew me into Hi-Fi was hearing my Electronics lecturer’s high-end audio system when I was 16. I could not believe how good direct cut LP’s sounded.
HFN: How committed are you to FPGA technology and why?
RW: I am committed to getting the best sound possible – and that is only achievable with FPGA’s and discrete DAC’s. I understand the issues, having spent 14 years trying to get superior audio performance from silicon – and the reality is that it simply is not possible with silicon chips.
HFN: What is it that fascinates you about electronic design?
RW: Of course, I like electronic design – but what really fascinates me is how minute distortions can be highly audible. Once those imperfections are discovered, then I must often go to extreme lengths to minimize the problem so that it does not affect sound quality. It’s the extreme sensitivity that the ear/brain has; this makes a myriad of tiny errors become very important. It’s the diversity and richness of these errors that makes it so interesting intellectually; then one has the immense satisfaction of after spending many months (an in some instances decades) on development, of getting improved musicality and sound quality too. Win win on both scores…
HFN: What typical loads (high and low) do you consider to test the limits of your gear?
RW: No load to 8 ohms for a headphone DAC; no load to 1 ohm for loudspeaker amps.
HFN: Your products are amongst the most popular designs, especially Mojo slaughtered the portable DAC/Amp market, how could it still be improved?
RW: Better FPGA’s! But we are probably several years away from the next generation from Xilinx.
Learn more about Rob Watts on page 2 of this interview!