Wired for sound

Sonolith, a new audio system by a South African design trio, breaks all the stereo types.

Joe Paine broke onto the South African design scene with the elegant Kreep planter and has since produced a delightful range of indoor and outdoor furniture, planters and décor accessories. In 2013 his Mechanical Bureau was a finalist in the Most Beautiful Object in South Africa

In this latest project Joe tries his hand at something completely different – designing an audio system – for the 2013 Southern Guild exhibition of once-off designer pieces.

“Southern Guild offers a platform for experimenting with product and pushing ones own boundaries. Ross Drakes had asked me earlier in the year if I would like to experiment with an audio system together with Richard Jenks, so we decided to make one for the Southern Guild exhibition 2013 at Museum of African Design in Johannesburg, explains Joe.

The objective was to design a unit that broke the stereotype, stacked black units with boxy speakers, of how to present sound. Ross directed and managed the process, Joe designed and made the visible parts while Richard wired up the electrical components.

Joe opted for unusual material choices and form: “Marble is ideal for a sound system as it has very little resonance, perfect for the speaker casings. The Ash was chosen due to its visual harmony with the Carrara Marble, as well as it being a responsibly managed and harvested timber source.”

On the more technical side of things a variety of factors needed to be taken into consideration - the volume of the speaker casings in relation to the output and frequencies of the drivers (the actual speakers) - in order to also ensure high quality audio.  

Getting the perfect sound is a very scientific process, and luckily for us Richard has a PHD in Physics and is a bona fide audiophile. Matching aesthetic with the science was tricky, says Joe.

Beyond the drivers (speakers) imported from Norway all other components such as the vacuum tube amplifier and pre-amp, were hardwired by Richard.

Asked about the name Sonolith, Joe jokingly says: “The name came to Richard in a dream. It was sung to him by Aretha Franklin, Freddie Mercury with a backing chorus of 2000 angels.”