Montage of Focal audio equipment


Gérard Chrétien

When did you join Focal?

In 1990.

Gérard Chrétien
What inspired you join the company?

I was fond of Hi–Fi since I was a teenager, my first job was as a journalist and I was editor of L’Audiophile for 14 years where I met Jacques Mahul [the founder of JM Labs/Focal] in 1977. He wrote all the articles concerning drivers, we became close friends and after he started a small business making prototype drivers the company developed and in ten years Jacques was looking for a number two to act as a managing director. At that time I wanted to come back to making product because I studied electronics at university, at that time it was a small company.

Did you have any manufacturing experience prior to joining Focal?

While I was at L’Audiophile I created a shop for components, for kit activities. The magazine wasn’t commercially oriented so the publisher told me to find a way to finance the magazine and the best way I found was to create a reader’s club where they could buy capacitors etc by mail. I created a small company to import parts from Japan, mainly for the DIY market. I created the Maison de L’Audiophile shop in Paris to supply parts and do some small electronics manufacturing. When I joined Focal it was a different story, my main job was to manage day to day operation, human resources, production plans, build new factories. Every three years we had to move, it was really exciting.

What is your motivation in your work?

Focal demo room

I’m still addicted to thinking up new stuff, new products but I have many friends in the industry who are a little bit nostalgic. It’s not my style, I was always focused on the future, what would happen next time? I learned from the past as well, I worked with Jean Hiraga for ten years and he was an audio encyclopedist, he knew everything about Western Electric. To have a good understanding of our industry you need a good understanding of this basis, not to be nostalgic but to avoid spending time reinventing something that already exists. My motivation is to discover new stuff. I’m still a teenager with a big toy, which is our factory facilities. I’m really proud of what we do at Focal because by maintaining and increasing our facilities we have the chance to try new things, to innovate. My motivation is to find new ways of bringing more pleasure to the people so that they can enjoy their music, that’s what I like.

Which of Focal’s designs are you most proud of?

People could say the third generation Utopia, I’m proud of Utopia not only for the product but for what we achieved with the team, it was a fantastic team experience. We were able to obtain a kind of excellence from each member of the team and in terms of management that makes me really proud. Everybody was pushing the same way and when you manage to create this ambiance it’s something really exciting, something rare. It’s not only a technical thing, to have the holistic view of the product, the appearance, the sound experience, the ability to adapt this monster in different environments with different adjustments. Taking care of all these things, it’s not only a pure audiophile thing, it’s bigger than that.

I’m proud of what I have achieved with Jacques Mahul, in creating all these manufacturing facilities. Many people think that manufacturing is mainly a cost, but for us it’s an opportunity. I’m also proud of some of the small products, the Focal XS 2.1, a computer system at 400. To propose this at this price point was not easy, so I’m proud to have been able to do that because at the opposite end, Utopia, there are no constraints but the XS 2.1 is a good example of the Focal spirit. How to obtain sensual sound textures from a speaker at 400 is something exciting. At Focal there is a kind of sound signature, it’s not a coloration, it’s difficult to explain. It’s not dependent on the designer, we have the same character of sound for car audio, small and big systems. There is a collective spirit. I don’t say it’s the truth, it’s our best interpretation of the music.

We work in the product categories where we think we are able to offer the best at the price point. We have a kit system for cars for Euro79, we try to offer the best value.

This Focal sound must be down to you, no?

Over ten years ago I Jacques asked me to manage the home audio division and I have been involved in the tuning of all the products we make. I don’t have time to be everywhere and do everything but I’m focused on home audio because it’s my thing, it’s what I like. I work with the team and we share the same values. I share a lot of music and people use this music for tuning, but it’s mainly a question of sharing. I don’t think we can do our job without passion and enthusiasm.

What do you find most satisfying about your work?

When we launch a new product. To bring to life a new concept, I’m addicted to that, it’s my problem! It’s exciting, every project has some problems, some difficulties, a weakness and these have to be worked out.

What do you enjoy doing?

I have always been a fan of music, I listen to music, mainly jazz music. I have been involved with the jazz festival [Jazz a Vienne], I like to be close to the people who create the music; it’s wonderful. On the other hand I’m always fascinated by the history of science and the evolution of technology, when I visit a city if there is a science museum I’m very excited. Also by the evolution of new stuff: I’m a fan of Apple, because I was a journalist and I got into Apple early on with desk top publishing. Since that time I liked Apple because they make tools for creativity, for artists. All kinds of creativity in science, in technology, not only electronics or audio but the global evolution of science.

What is your most iconic product/the product you want to be remembered for?

Utopia third generation is the iconic product. I like to manage a brand, a brand is something that has to be alive, it has to have integrity and honesty. This speaker range is the best icon of the brand.

Who’s your favourite artist or band?

[Long pause].

OK, who do you like this week?

This week I’ve listened to a jazz musician called Magic Malik, his last album Tranz Denied.

Any all time favourites?

Obviously Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk, I’m really fond of Monk. What I like in jazz music is perpetual movement and creativity, it’s like with audio we have to be inspired by the foundation to bring the future. I’m a fan of Bugge Wesseltoft, Guillaume de Chassy, I’m what I call a gourmandise!

dem room & mahogany Diablo demo
What system do you have at home?

I have two systems because I live in a country house in the summer and a flat in the city over the winter. In the house I have a Scala v2, in my flat I listen with a small Electra 1008 with beryllium and a Naim DAC–V1 and a NAP100, I like this small amplifier, it has nice textures. In my house now I have an Audio Research amplifier, a Lectron amplifier by Jean Hiraga, I have some pure class A amps I made myself and I also have a Micromega amp with Hypex output devices which is very interesting. I have to try different things, I’m waiting for Naim Statement; I was very impressed by the first demonstration. There’s not enough time to listen to everything. I change my system at home once a year, but usually I don’t change anything, I listen to music. We are always trying new things during the day so I want to forget all these technical things and be totally immersed in the music.

Sometimes you cannot enjoy the music which means there is something wrong with the system, but if you are able to why change?

Specialities: Loudspeakers, Headphones

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