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The owner, engineering

ul. Jontka 5
04-823 Warszawa | POLAND



Written by: Wojciech Pacula
Photo: Andrzej Zawada

No 197

October 1, 2020

ESA is one of the oldest, still functioning Polish audio companies. For many years it constituted a kind of Sèvres meter bar of highest sound quality on the Polish market.

r. ANDRZEJ ZAWADA visiting, chief of the Warsaw company ESA, was one of the most fascinating experiences from the time of my work in “Sound & Vision” magazine (which was about 18 years ago). Invited to his private house, we entered a room equipped with a complete acoustic isolation – even the door was covered with a sliding acoustic panel. If my memory serves well, the role of the main audio source played a beautiful digital transport Micromega Drive 3, with a characteristic, acrylic cover, paired with a TacT digital amplifier – till now one of the very few truly digital audio amplifiers.

⸤ Mr. Andrzej Zawada and his Continuum XXV Anniversary loudspeakers | Audio Video Show 2016

I do not recall the model of the speakers, but I remember it was a bi-module construction, one of Mr. Zawada’s creations. The sound was unique – I don’t remember why, which element I liked so much, but to this day I kept this sonic image in my head with a strong “YES” to what I heard. In an audio system, as in each complete environment, all factors were crucial – first and foremost the acoustic setup of the room was perfect. However, it would not be sufficient, or even important, without the loudspeakers.

Being very well renowned in Poland, for many years they posed the ‘answer’ to the offer of all major loudspeaker companies. It therefore comes as no surprise that we awarded all following Audio Show, and later Audio Video Show, performances with the Best Sound award.

About prehistoric and contemporary times, analyzing Polish market in the meantime, we talk via email – Mr. Zawada from his Warsaw home, me from my place in Krakow.

WOJCIECH PACUŁA: Please, tell us something about yourself and about your career path.
ANDRZEJ ZAWADA: I am mathematician by education, I specialized in probability theory. By hobby, I am a mélomane (French for a ‘music lover’ – transl). For as long as I can remember I paid close attention to the quality of sound I was experiencing – both live and when listening to music records. It was something clearly differentiating me from all my acquaintances, which probably explains why I decided to engage in audio technology in the first place.

I built my first loudspeaker 50 years ago, all from components which crude PRL (Poland under communist regime – transl.) was able to provide. From what I have just written, one may get the impression that I am an audiophile, which I never identified myself with. I still would not call myself that, but for reader’s sake I am willing to carry that burden.

WP: Since when does ESA exist? How did it all start? What were its first projects and who was responsible for them?
AZ: ESA originated in Poznan around year 1991. It was founded by Michał Gogulski and first models were the result of his designs. In 1996 I became Michał’s business partner. We operated together till 1999, when he left the company. I may add here that we split on friendly terms. (Michał Gogulski runs a distribution company INTRADA - red.).

⸤ ESA Furioso loudspeakers in Mk2 version – one of the most renowned ESA designs

WP: Andrzej Kisiel (AkustyK, Chief-editor of Polish “Audio”magazine) is also responsible for some of ESA’s projects, is that correct?
AZ: Various people I worked with had very different views on publicly admitting their contribution and input. On a very early stage I decided never to comment on these topics not to cause any misunderstandings or accidentally abuse someone’s trust. Over the years, I benefitted from experience of many people professionally working with sound, trying to fathom its nature – including conductors, musicians and sound directors. I bet you would be surprised how many of these people are widely recognizable.

WP: How did your view on the loudspeaker being the electromechanical structure evolved over time?
AZ: Frankly, it did not change one bit. There is however a vast difference in experience. I also had to draw conclusions from surrounding market characteristics. It came as no surprise that, being a small entity, I cannot compete with much larger companies in terms of manufacturing costs. Production volume, so closely correlated with manufacturing cost, depends on the ability to find a customer. In order to significantly improve sales, it is crucial to enter new markets, also outside Poland, which, in turn, requires certain skills and investments.

⸤ Carpentry workshop – manufacturing of Continuum XXV Anniversary

The only way which, to my mind, gives the chance to sell our products, is focusing mostly on high-end solutions. Actually, I should have said – highest-end, truly world class. I am fully aware that it means reduction in scale of the production, yet still I believe this is the best option for us.

WP: Is there any new technology, or material, which might be promising in the context of loudspeakers design? What are your plans for the future?
AZ: Indeed, technological progress enables us to use numerous materials (I speak here solely about cases), which a few or a dozen years ago were not even discovered yet. The problem with them is that they are scarce, expensive, and require a completely different set of processing tools and production regime than materials applied in ordinary carpentry workshops. Consequently, it would be best to transfer manufacturing process to new production facilities, or even better to build such facilities from scratch. As always, matter of expenses forces us to revise such grand visions.

⸤ NEO 3 SE model – NEO series was released at the end of 2010

In 2018 ESA released a new model CREDO STONE, with cases manufactured using one of such modern technologies. Quite unexpectedly, experience gathered through working with it resulted in visible, or hearable, improvement of all previous ESA models. Since 2019, all our loudspeakers are created with much more rigid cases, which allows for much more precise projection of the music stage.

Apart from the mentioned hi-tech material, in CREDO STONE we applied a technology – provided by the friend company Metrum Lab – allowing for creating electric conductors with unprecedently low self-noise induced by the transmitted signal. This technology was developed on the request of a company specializing in ultra-precise measurements of electric circuits.

Its name, IFE, is an abbreviation from the Latin Imperium Fluxus Electrons, which means a controlled flow of the electrons. This phenomenon is well known in solid state physics, but as far as I am aware no one before came to the idea of applying it in audio devices. What is even more interesting is that such solutions can be applied not only on the stage of production of the electric conductors, but also to modify these already existing. Owner of Metrum Lab, ANDRZEJ GROCHOWSKI, is an audiophile, and on this ground we got to know each other.

Some time ago Mr. Grochowski started to apply IFE in production and modification of various components of audio devices, covering mostly conductors transmitting the signal. Hence, various types of wiring can be affected, including speaker cables, power cords, and recently also digital cables and transformers. Metrum Lab modifies mostly cables used at a later stage for internal wiring of audio devices. Components modified in such a way were later used to create ESA STONE. But not only – IFE technology was also applied to modify Scan-Speak speakers used in STONE model, as well as coils in the crossovers.

⸤ Biggest so far loudspeakers created by ESA, Revolution No. 9

The proprietary technology of Andrzej Grochowski fulfils the credo of Metrum Lab – the medical Primum Non Nocere oath. In this case it merely touches the technical aspect of keeping the data signal transmission undistorted, with data being the audio signal. The main goal of IFE application is achieving the transmission of data with distortions limited to the absolute minimum. Currently, Metrum Lab is working on a brand new technology for capacitors. Results of the first experiments look immensely promising.

In line with initial agreement, this solution may be applicable in the next ESA product, but it is too soon to talk about it in detail. I am giving this hint just to address your question on the plans for the future.

WP: How has the market of audio devices changed since you started your journey with loudspeakers?
AZ: There is no short answer to this question, so I will be brief. From the perspective of market conditions it is impossible not to take into account the transfer of almost whole production to the Far East. We should also add an immense progress observed in digital audio technologies, which resulted, among others, in the origin of home cinema. There is also a vast list of always revolving ‘hot topics’, the latest of which is the revival of vinyl recordings (I shall add here that I am an ardent supporter of the analog).

WP: How large portion of ESA’s production is aimed at foreign markets? Is it a material part of your portfolio?
AZ: A few years ago it was a significant part of our business, now international cooperation shrunk noticeably.

WP: Do you see any differences between Polish and foreign audio markets? Could you please share some of your observations?
AZ: There is no direct answer to this question. Customers in e.g. Spain were interested in a completely different segment of our offer than customers in Singapore. Nevertheless, neither of them opted for the cheapest models.

WP: What are your newest loudspeakers?
AZ: Our newest models are not that new anymore. In 2015 we released our dipole-design Red House, while in 2018 Credo Stone saw the light of day, the model which I described in detail answering to your previous question.

⸤ Mr. Zawada beside Red House loudspeakers | Audio Video Show 2017

WP: What is your view on the DSP with respect to acoustic interior design – does this technology has any potential for future development?
AZ: As far as technical side is concerned, it definitely has a future. It is worth mentioning, though, that this technology is designed only for the conscious users, who are, and I say it with great sadness, a rarity. Apart from that, it functions only in a digital domain, thus being fruitless for the users of the analog. Finally, DSP is, alas, not a complete remedy to all acoustic flaws of the interior. Concluding – yes, this technology has a potential to flourish in the future, but in reality – only for the few.

WP: Where should an aspiring mélomane begin – in terms of building an audio system. What should be main points of interest, while what should be avoided?
AZ: You asked about a mélomane, while I believe you meant to say ‘audiophile’. For many music lovers audio devices play merely a secondary role, while for an audiophile they are of utmost importance. Furthermore, audiophiles like to constantly upgrade their systems. There is nothing wrong in it, in a way it is a natural state of affairs: if we can improve something, why not do it.

Unfortunately, many customers struggle hectically with their choices, often falling prey to advice of various ‘experts/salesmen’. Such approach makes the audiophile adventure an unnecessary ordeal. I am aware that what I am really advising here is that „better be healthy and rich”, so to conclude – .

WP: Could you suggest five music albums, which readers of the HF should buy instantly, and shortly justify each choice?
AZ: As we have Red House loudspeakers in our portfolio, it is impossible not to mention track |1| Red House by Jimi Hendrix, e.g. from the album Hendrix in the West.

⸤ Jimi Hendrix, Hendrix in the West, Polydor ‎2310 161 (1972)

|2| Goldberg Variations by J.S. Bach in Glenn Gould’s interpretation; for beginners version from 1981, for connoisseurs also the version from 1955.
|3| Soundtrack from the movie The Hot Spot (directed by Dennis Hopper, 1990). We can find here many renowned musicians playing together, e.g. John Lee Hooker, Miles Davis or Taj Mahal.
|4| Record Dialog by the pianist Maciej Grzybowski with pieces of J.S. Bach, A. Berg, P. Mykietyn, A. Schoenberg and P. Szymański.

On a personal note, I would like to add that these albums are too good to be listened to publicly, at least I refrain from doing so.

WP: Thank you very much for the interview and – I hope – see you soon!
AZ: Thank you too!

More about philosophy of ESA in a column by Andrzej Zawada, which was published in “High Fidelity” on September 1, 2013 | read HERE.