AudioQuest was not simply founded as a new company; rather, its emergence was the result of a natural progression of events. When Bill Lowe announced the formation of AudioQuest in 1980, it was just a small variation of his involvement in the audio industry, which began in 1972. During his high school and early college years, Bill tried to build the best audio system possible. He assembled dozens of amplifiers, preamps and tuners from Heathkit and Dynakit kits for his classmates. Every $10 to $15 he was able to get from these devices he used to buy vinyl records or higher-end used equipment to upgrade his system.
As a college student in Oregon, Bill realized that instead of giving fellow students advice on selecting audio equipment, he should start selling it. He started his small business in 1972 selling BSR turntables and Hitachi receivers. By 1974, he began distributing Linn, Radford, Celestion and Yamaha equipment in the northwestern United States. In 1975, his small store grew into the largest retail outlet in the United States selling the legendary Linn Sondek LP12 turntables. By 1976, with college behind him, Lowe decided to fulfill his lifelong dream of moving to California. After turning over his retail business to a friend, Bill became a sales representative for several audio equipment manufacturers in Northern California, an unusually conservative market. A favorite saying among local dealers was: “If I’m not selling it yet, then I don’t need it.” It was difficult to get a single chance to show off the great equipment that Bill represented – Decca, Audionics, Koss Electrostatic, AEA, Dunlap Clarke, Celestion, etc. During trips to Southern California, Bill discovered that the local market was completely different from what which he encountered in the northern part of the state. Here in the south, the dealers’ reaction was usually completely different: “Sure, bring it all here, let’s listen!” So in 1977, Lowe moved to southern California. Unfortunately, even despite the interested attitude of dealers and the excellent quality of equipment (Cizek, Decca, RAM, Koss Electrostatic, RH Labs, PSE, Ariston, Rogers, Chartwell), the work did not bring the desired results. The truth was (and still is) that Bill simply did not know how to sell! He never became a professional in sales and did not learn how to profitably sell other people’s products.
After six years in the audio business, first as a retail store owner and then as a sales representative, Bill re-opened a custom store in Santa Monica, converting his living room into an office. By this time, he had already made a small but very important decision – to make a high-quality custom audio cable that would be sold in his store. Audio cables first appeared on the American market in 1976, when Polk Audio introduced a Japanese-made cable called the Cobra Cable. Although this high-capacitance, low-inductance cable has caused some amplifiers to self-destruct, it has significantly improved the sound of many systems. By 1978, thanks to the efforts of companies such as Polk Audio, Bob Fulton and Jonas Miller Sound, audio cables had become an essential component of the most advanced audio systems.
Since the 1960s, Bill Lowe has been interested in the benefits that improved cabling could bring to an audio system. In 1977, he purchased a spool of 12 gauge (12 AWG) network tube wire supplied by Noel Lee (who later founded Monster Cable). Bill and Noel collaborated at the time, representing each other’s product lines in different parts of California. In 1978, Bill, together with the owner of another small retail store, ordered the manufacture of a specially designed high-frequency speaker cable with a twisted pair of conductors. Today he recalls with some embarrassment this cable, which he refers to as his “original recipe.” Each core consisted of 435 conductors, made of copper of not the best quality. However, this cable was actually very good for getting started. It clearly outperformed the famous Fulton Gold cable, which was considered the standard at that time. For the next two years, Bill produced this cable and a smaller version for sale in his store only. However, soon other dealers in and around Los Angeles began purchasing this cable from Bill, and then Japanese distributors became interested in it. In 1980, Beal came to the conclusion that it was time to begin producing the cable for sale to other dealers. AudioQuest was created for this purpose.
AudioQuest’s evolution has continued throughout the company’s existence, but some basic criteria were established almost from the very beginning. These priorities were developed both empirically and on the basis of theoretical research. For example, the importance of interactions between multiple conductors—one of AudioQuest’s founding ideas—was discovered through a random experiment. In 1980, Lowe was asked by a subwoofer manufacturer to make a more powerful subwoofer cable. He suggested twisting four wires together instead of the usual two, thus increasing the overall cross-section of the cable. Bill made such a cable and listened to it.
The performance was much better than he expected! So he discovered that this 4-core configuration was significantly superior to one in which the same four cores were laid as two twisted pairs. Further experimentation led to other designs that offered additional benefits. By the fall of 1980, Bill began producing the 6-conductor LiveWire Litz Green cable, which became a new standard in the audio industry. Today, almost every AQ cable has an optimized configuration of four or more cores. Around the same time, a very significant incident happened to Bill. One of the speaker manufacturers invited him to present cables. The manufacturer himself used a proprietary 3-meter audio cable to connect the speakers. Lowe replaced it with his 7.5m “original recipe” and everyone was amazed at how much the system sounded better. Wanting to make an even bigger impression, Bill brought a pair of 3-meter cables of the same design from his car. Knowing that the rule of thumb when it comes to speaker cables is “the shorter the better,” Bill naturally expected an even more convincing result.
To everyone’s surprise, the 3-meter cables sounded worse than the 7.5-meter pair (though still much better than the original cable from another brand). Both AudioQuest cables had the same internal construction and the same thickness of clear PVC jacket. The only difference between them was the rigidity of this shell. The new pair of 3-meter cables had a softer jacket specifically designed for user comfort. This unintentional experiment proved the importance of mechanical stability, which also took its place among AudioQuest’s priorities. By the end of 1980, AudioQuest cables were distributed by 42 retail outlets in Southern California and one dealer in Denver. In January 1981, AudioQuest attended the CES international consumer electronics show in Las Vegas for the first time. A month later, AudioQuest products were already sold in Europe, Asia and most states in the United States. Over the next 20 years, Mr. Lowe continued to study the mechanism of distortion in cables. Through logical reasoning and rational improvements, a modern, extremely coherent line of audio, video and digital cables has been created. In 1987, Bill Lowe published an article he titled: “Cable Design: Theory vs. Empirical Reality.” Although each cable in the AQ line has been improved over the years, the core priorities laid out by Bill in 1987 have remained the same. Moreover, their application in practice invariably led to further successes of branded products.
In 1987, Bill began designing and manufacturing 75 ohm video and digital cables. Moreover, these were not slightly modified audio cables. The design of these cables was developed from the ground up and, although based on the same principles of minimizing distortion as audio cables, took into account the different requirements of broadband applications. Over the years, the range of video and digital cables has expanded to include a full line of “S-Video”, component and RGB video cables, cables optimized for long-distance transmission of very sensitive signals received from a satellite dish or from a high-definition digital television station (HDTV). In 1999, this entire family of cables merged into the CinemaQuest sub-brand. Although picture taken in isolation is not as emotionally compelling as sound, the ability to use a dispassionate visual test as objective evidence of superior video performance has enabled AudioQuest/CinemaQuest to achieve significant success in the Home Theater business.
For many years, AudioQuest has been the largest supplier of professional cables to the high-end audio market. AudioQuest products are sold through several hundred retail locations in the United States and in more than 60 countries around the world. Bill Lowe is especially pleased that such success was possible even despite his own insistence that objective product characteristics actually underlie the existence of the company and AudioQuest products. Many professionals in the audio world believe that you don’t have to listen to everything you sell… otherwise you might hear something that you don’t want to know about! Bill, of course, is well aware of the risk of making AudioQuest’s very existence dependent on the performance of its products. However, for him, this is the only rational way of doing business, and also the only acceptable way to combine his passion for music and high-quality equipment with the need to make money.