Turnbull and his highly sought after limited-run OJAS brand has teamed up with Louis Vuitton menswear artistic director Virgil Abloh to bring a unique Covid-19 DIY loudspeaker project to homebound music lovers with the OJAS 2-Way Speaker Kit and Bookshelf Speaker Kit which landed on August 1 HERE.
The designs can be shipped flat-pack style to keep costs down, and utilize replica drivers sourced from original Altec Lansing tooling dies and machinery. Safe to consider this venture ne plus ultra DIY, and with Turnbull helming the project, buyers opting-in can be assured of an entry way to true high fidelity.
Said Turnbull on an April 4, 2020 Instagram post where he announced the idea: “In an effort to provide some mental and auditory relief (during the pandemic) I’m thinking of putting together a kit that you could assemble at home with very limited tools. I will design a flat packed kit that could be assembled with as little as a screw gun and some wood glue. You could do this on your kitchen table. Then we could all finish them our own way and see what people come up with on paint jobs, etc. who knows?”
I've always wanted to make my work more accessible. My gear is all hand made, either by me personally or a few people that I work closely with in NYC and Japan.
Q&A with Devon Turnbull
Resistor Mag: You’re very well known in the boutique, upscale design world, as well as the hardcore skate, surf and lifestyle scenes in the US, Europe and Asia, but most audiophiles would probably not recognize your name despite your impressive loudspeaker and amplification accomplishments. Who is Devon Turnbull? What is OJAS?
Devon Turnbull: “I think that’s pretty accurate. I’m definitely an outsider in the audiophile world at this point. For the last 20+ years my peer group has mainly been the art and design community, particularly the “downtown New York City” scene (now mostly in Brooklyn). When I was very young, despite a formal education in audio engineering and absolutely no credentials in design, I sort of inadvertently established myself as a multidisciplinary visual designer, particularly graphic art and clothing design. I was often known as Devon Ojas or just Ojas (my former graffiti moniker). I co-founded and designed an influential menswear brand called Nom de Guerre that was in the market from 2003-2010. During that era I spent a lot of time working in Tokyo where I was exposed to the Japanese HiFi scene and took a very keen interest in high efficiency speakers and SET amps.
“HiFi was always my passion, but due to the fact that I had no industry experience, I had no aspirations of crossing over into the audio industry. But then in 2009, the highly influential entrepreneur and patron of art and design, Alex Calderwood, commissioned a broadcast turntable and tube powered phono stage for the Ace Hotel New York after seeing a similar setup in my personal system. At the time I thought it was cool that someone was recognizing me for this really personal work, but didn’t think of Ojas as an audio brand. But, I’m passionate about building these components and more and more of my peers began taking an interest in the work. In 2010 when we stopped operating Nom de Guerre I decided that I wanted to stop designing clothing and focus all of my personal creative energy on HiFi. My audio practice started operating more like an art studio. Without any solicitation I started getting some noteworthy commissions including private systems and public installs for brands like Saturdays and Supreme.
“In 2018 the founders of a new HiFi focused music venue, bar, cafe and store in Brooklyn called Public Records commissioned two large scale systems that allowed me to take my already large scale work to a new scale and push the limits of integrating the vintage components – and design principles that I feel are unbeatable – with contemporary equipment in a very critical public context. Public Records and these sound systems quickly became well known around the world in the music community.”
RM: Where did the idea for the Covid-19 speaker kits originate? What were you hoping to accomplish with them?
DT: “The foundation of Ojas is essentially DIY. I don’t really like to use the term “audiophile,” because I feel like this term has been co-opted to sell expensive audio devices. In my opinion you can’t really call yourself an audiophile unless every component in your system is personally considered on as finite a level as possible. You should know what’s going on inside the box. So I’ve always wanted to spread my love for audio building, which I see as a dying art form, mostly because of trends in the opposite direction in the home audio industry.
“But also, I've always wanted to make my work more accessible. My gear is all hand made, either by me personally or a few people that I work closely with in NYC and Japan, both very expensive places to make anything. So my prices are out of reach for a lot of people, but not because I arbitrarily value them that way. By removing as many steps as possible I can offer the same product well below half of the price I have to charge to make them fully finished.
“When everyone went into lock down back in March–April I reached out to my suppliers to see if I could get enough parts to sell a handful of flat pack speaker kits, something that I could do at reasonable scale without breaking quarantine code. I thought that with more time on their hands I might be able to find 5-10 people who wanted to do a Zoom meeting and build their own speakers. I was absolutely blown away when I received more than 350 responses from people wanting to participate. We immediately sold out the available supply of all of the drivers, and I began planning for subsequent waves of sales. I’m optimistic that this is a permanent part of this totally unplanned audio adventure that I’m on. I hope to share my love for self building, my perspective on component selection and offer people a unique value project.”
RM: What are the specs on the bookshelf and two-way designs? What type of amplification pairing would you recommend with them?
DT: “The Bookshelf is very versatile. It has relatively high power handling at 250W, although I’ve never tried them with that much power. They’re very efficient, somewhere in the mid to high 95–98dB range, and do great on my single-digit watt SET amps. I also frequently use them with Class D amps from 15-50 W and that works great as well. I designed a complimentary sub that doubles as a stand for the speaker, but the low end of the Bookshelf cabinet by itself is so impressive that I haven’t gotten around to extensively tuning and testing the subs because I’ve been really enjoying listening to it solo. I will get to that and then I think we’ll have a building block approach that will make a world class tower out of a really great smallish speaker. I should note that I call this a Bookshelf speaker, but it’s enormous for a bookshelf speaker and there are a lot of people using them on very low stands and love them in that set up. We’re also working on rear loaded horns and all kinds of stuff around this driver. Like I said, I’m very passionate about it!! :)
“The Two Way was designed for an updated take on a speaker like an Altec Model 19 or a Klipsch Heresy. The woofer is very fast and very efficient, but the relatively large voice coil does like to have a good mount of current flowing.
“Originally I thought the next step with these two models would be a sub for the Bookshelf, but the response from the bookshelf customers is mostly that they are very surprised and satisfied with the bass without a sub. On the other hand, I think there are a lot of customers who gravitated to the Two Way assuming that it would have a lot of deep bass, which is really not what we designed that cabinet to do. So instead I’ve prioritized an optional sub kit to match the Two Way.”
RM: The speaker kits have been incredibly well received, that’s got to feel good. Do you have any further plans to expand your offerings at this entry-level point?
DT: Yes! As I said, I will add carefully-paired subs to the kits because I think integrating them well has been a big part of the popularity of my systems.
“But the next kit project that I’m really excited about will be a Classics Series of cabinets deigned to work with the same vintage Altec drivers that I design my big reference speaker systems around. The price point will be considerably higher because of the high value of the reproduction drivers that I put in them, but I think there are a lot of avid Altec fans in the home and pro markets that have very limited options when they’re putting together an Altec-based speaker system. This project is in the early stages but I have some very exciting things to share in the coming months.”
RM: Could you Talk to me about the components used in the kit? There’s a story in, and of itself, in the how and where you’re sourcing the drivers isn’t there?
DT: “Yeah I like this story because it’s kind of a window into my design process.
Back in the early-mid 2000s I used to frequent the DIY audio Mecca of Akihabara, aka “Electric Town" in Tokyo. There used to be many showrooms and suppliers of high end, vintage and DIY audio gear, although almost all of these places are tragically gone now. In one of these showrooms I heard a beautiful 12” coaxial speaker that I was immediately in love with. Being an avid student of Altec and the legacy of James B Lansing, it made sense when it was explained that this was a classic JBL design, but largely unknown because it’s only marketed as a commercial install unit. I experimented pretty extensively with that driver and built several systems for friends and clients using it.
“For the last several years I have had constant requests for a smaller speaker from home HiFi and commercial clients. I’ve built lots of speakers using small full range drivers. The purity of a single driver and no crossover is beautiful for sure, but they just don’t have the efficiency or frequency range to represent the sound I’m after. I wanted something that would fit in a one cubic-foot cabinet, so I settled on an 8” coaxial. I built cabinets for several of the most highly regarded 8” coaxial drivers and felt that there were some good ones, but they all just sounded too clinical and didn’t have the smooth musicality of the rest of the speakers I’m attracted to. Then on a whim I thought I should try the 8” version of the aforementioned JBL. It’s a little trickier to get them because they’re not distributed through pro or consumer speaker building distributors, but once I had it built, it was love at first sight and first sound. I am very passionate about this driver.”