The Evolution of Sound: Brian D. Barr

There are few people as passionate about music playback as Brian Barr, founder of California Audio Technology. He’s an engineer and salesman, working on what he enthusiastically calls the Formula 1 of audio technology. CAT’s speakers, amplifiers and components are custom-built for every client, and with every project he and his team deliver—whether it’s a ultra-advanced recording studio or a sound system for a superyacht, Barr evangelises the process of developing a clear brief and planning a seamless integration.


We spoke with him about yachts as ideal venues for superior sound systems, keeping things simple for owners and his love of vinyl, Auro3D and Dolby Atmos.


What’s happening in the audio space that you’re really excited about?

What we’re excited about is the level of control our audio systems are able to offer that runs in the background and simplifies the experience for the owner. Control is a necessary part of any sound system but we’re saying: don’t exaggerate it. It’s like air conditioning. No one’s excited about setting the temperature of the room; it should happen reliably and accurately in the background.


How do you simplify control of these highly sophisticated systems?

If you have a good budget, you can do the engineering and assemble the equipment to get a control system designed to ensure your components are working properly rather than designed to provide the user with 400 option to fiddle with that most of them can’t even find. I have seen some control systems that have worked flawlessly after ten years because the engineers put the right sensors and the right amount of time and energy ensuring that reliability was number one.


You refer to what you do as the Formula 1 of audio. What does that mean?

We custom-build entire audio systems for each client and each environment. Equally important is that we’re working with the best materials and processes in the world. We flash our amplifiers and critical boards with gold internally so they don’t corrode like copper would. We’re putting power supplies on board that can store enough electricity so that it’s pulling a lot less power from the yacht. We’re building power supplies and electrical boards large enough to push audio down 200m of cable and still have crystal-clear, recording-studio quality sound as loud as the biggest club ashore. To get that right, working with consultants like BondTM and other consultants makes all the difference.

vinyl, when played through a high-quality turntable, pre-amp, then CAT amplifiers and loudspeakers provides an experience that’s quite frankly as good as the best digital studio recordings and has a warmth and an analogue feel to it that’s really desirable.

You’ve been really passionate about the return of vinyl. Can you elaborate?

Earlier this year, vinyl music sales in the UK exceeded digital downloads. In 2016, more vinyl was pressed worldwide than any year in history. The previous biggest year was 1982, and in 1983 CDs took over. Vinyl is an incredible musical experience. MP3 is a highly compressed audio format offering less than one tenth the quality of a CD. And CDs are about one quarter the quality of what’s was actually recorded in the studio. Well, vinyl, when played through a high-quality turntable, pre-amp, then CAT amplifiers and loudspeakers provides an experience that’s quite frankly as good as the best digital studio recordings and has a warmth and an analogue feel to it that’s really desirable. It’s phenomenal.


So the sound of vinyl is winning people back?

The sound is fantastic. But then there’s the experience of listening. Vinyl involves the listener directly in the experience in a way that digital simply can’t offer. There’s the romantic, tactile feeling of being able to handle an album. Then you put the needle on the record, listen to a side, then turn it over, and you listen to the whole album. There’s the sleeve art to appreciate. We have clients who are members of bands like the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, the Eagles, and even modern artists, and they love that this technology is surging back and people are rediscovering the beauty of recorded vinyl albums. It’s more emotional, there’s an order to things. It becomes an event, an exciting moment. Our famous recording artists structure their albums in a manner that takes the listener on an emotional journey. It’s not an exciting moment to pull out your phone and shuffle one of a thousand random tracks.


And what about new technology that’s blowing your mind?

We’re working with the teams from Galaxy Studios in Mol, Belgium, who have developed Auro3D, Dolby Laboratories in Los Angeles, California, who have developed Dolby Atmos and other immersive audio formats to help the advancement of next generation sound. First, we had Mono, then Stereo, then we developed surround where you have all these channels in a circle around you. These new formats build the third dimension of height into the playback experience so that you have a complete sphere of sound around you. The effect is incredible, and so we’re working to deploy this with some of our superyacht clients.