Bergantino Audio Systems founder and audio design pioneer Jim Bergantino looks back at his groundbreaking B|Amp – and forward towards his company’s new Forte HP head and HG cab range

Are we right in thinking you’re 18 years into Bergantino Systems now, Jim?

That’s correct. We officially launched the company in January 2001, so that would make it 18 years.

For you, when did it feel like the company was up and running?

Pretty much from the beginning. I started designing home audio speakers prior to 2001, and then more audiophile-grade speakers. I also designed some PA speakers along the way. When the opportunity came to design bass cabinets for other manufacturers prior to starting Bergantino Audio Systems, I incorporated much of what I developed and learned in the home audio and PA market into my bass cabinet designs. Right out of the gate, people were hearing things they’d never heard before, and I realised that I had a place in an industry that was ripe for someone to bring something new to the table. So I decided to switch direction, and rather than pursue the home audio designs, I got into the bass amplification world, and the rest is history, as they say. It just came to be an industry where I found a nice fit for myself, and I was able to make a difference.

Are you a musician yourself?

Not at all. When people learn during the course of our conversations that I don’t play bass, they’re shocked. They’re like, ‘You don’t play bass, and yet you design these speakers and amps to sound the way they do?’ I always joke and say, ‘Maybe that’s a good thing, because if I designed them to make me sound good, they’d probably sound like crap!’ So in some respects, I’m afraid to learn the instrument, because I’m afraid I’ll rely on the wrong thing – making me sound good – versus just designing things the way I think they should be designed. This is also why I never listened to any other manufacturer’s products. I want to stay true to my design principles and philosophies and not be influenced by others.

Tell us how you conceive a product.

I approach everything from a purely engineering perspective. By definition, engineering is identifying a problem and finding a cost-effective solution for it. What the market has turned into, in my opinion, is a solution in search of a problem. Just look at most of the newer class-D amps on the market. They’re still using the same pre-amps from ‘yesteryear’ and mating them with the latest Class D modules. Nothing new and exciting there, except power.

The B|AMP is an example of what I call a ‘solution’ to a problem that has existed since the beginning of bass amplification. No amp or speaker designer has ever paid any attention to, or considered how the amps and speakers work together. Yet together they make up the sound box of the instrument. The tone controls used on all bass amps are great for adjusting tone, but useless for EQ-ing speakers, but that’s exactly what bass players use them for. They don’t even realise that they’re actually trying to EQ their speaker even before they’re adjusting their tone. Our Profile System EQs the speaker for you with our sophisticated DSP, based on real-world acoustic measurements of our speakers, so that the tone controls are just that, tone controls, not speaker EQs.

What are your company goals?

One of the things I try to accomplish as a designer is to create products which provide a blank canvas for the player to build their tone on. A lot of companies take pride in the fact that no matter what bass you play, you’re always going to sound like their amps. That’s fine if that’s what a player wants, but my approach is that I want you to sound like you. It’s also important for me to design high value and desirable products. Products which don’t just meet the customer’s expectations, but exceed them. This is what I pride myself in.

We're fascinated by the idea of the three-dimensional sound field on the new HG cab range. Is this your innovation?

I don’t know if it’s my innovation or not. Originally I did a design for an acoustic guitar speaker after I examined how an unamplified acoustic instrument has a sound box that creates sound not just forward, but in all directions. The goal with the HG series was to try and recreate the acoustical space of the instrument, which makes it sound more natural. This design concept also loads the stage more evenly with a bass player’s sound, like the difference between a spotlight and a floodlight. The spotlight highlights everything directly in front of it, but not so much to the sides, where the floodlight spreads the light more evenly over a much wider area. Reports back from the field have confirmed that fellow musicians can actually hear the bass better on stage with the HG series of cabinets without being overpowered by it, which is very desirable and useful in a live environment.

Cabs versus amplifiers: which is harder to design?

For me, speakers are much easier to design than an amp. I pretty much know what something is going to sound like before I even draw it out. I can design a speaker literally in a day. I used to work out of the shop that built my speakers, and I could hand them a drawing in the morning and have a prototype cab that afternoon. Sometimes that day or the next day the design would be done, and it was pretty much what I expected it to sound like.

Amplifiers and electronics are a lot more entailed. There’s so much going on and a lot more parts and systems to consider, all of which have to work and fit together. In addition, our amps have a software element because of the DSP and microcontrollers we use in all our designs. The cost of developing an amp is several orders of magnitude higher than a speaker is, and much more time consuming, not to mention all the expensive certifications they have to go through.

Is amp-simulating technology a threat to traditional amps and cabs?

One might think so, but in my opinion, these simulating amps are mostly there to replicate amps that have already been designed. That’s all well and good for those who want the convenience of capturing vintage sounds without having to actually purchase or lug all the actual gear being simulated, even if it’s not quite like the original. But the reason I have dedicated so many years of my life, time, and money, not to mention blood, sweat, and tears, is to create amplification which is my vision, not someone else’s. That being said, there’s certainly a place and use for both philosophies and technologies in this industry.

Tell us about the Forte amp.

After I learned there were people who weren’t quite ready for an LCD display on an amplifier, with menus, and extended feature sets, who wanted a more familiar plug and play amplifier, I designed the Forte. What’s interesting is that people think this is an analogue amp because it looks analogue. However it still uses the same DSP and microcontroller as our B|AMP, but the interface is done in a way that makes it feel and interact with the player in a more analogue type way. And now with our new Forte HP, which means High Power, I elected to keep the more familiar analogue interface aspect of the Forte, but incorporate some of the highly desirable features from the B|AMP. Features like the VHPF, VLPF, Drive, and our latest feature, Punch. We also brought the Bluetooth footswitch technology over from the B|AMP as well. And speaking of the B|AMP, we realised early on that it was ahead of its time, being the first and only of its kind to market, even to this very day. It has gained some serious traction as players have realised not only how easy and intuitive it is to use, but how powerful a solution it is to the amplification challenges they may encounter. And being firmware updateable, it will never be obsolete. Just ask those early adopters who didn’t have to sell their original B|AMPs and buy a new one just to enjoy the ‘latest and greatest’ offerings. A perfect example of added value through innovation.

One of your new endorsers is our friend Dave Swift of Jools Holland’s band.

It was really exciting and reaffirming for me when Dave and I first had the opportunity to talk, when he first started getting onboard with the B|AMP, putting it through its paces, reading the manual and learning about its different features. Dave mentioned to me the challenges he’s had over the years in different gigging situations – and every one of his concerns was addressed in the B|AMP, with the variable hi-pass filter, variable low-pass filter, feedback filter, parametric EQs, the profiles, memory saves, and so much more.

For example, he told me ‘When we’re doing a TV show with Jools, a lot of times he’ll stop to talk to the audience, and I have to shut all the amps off because the fan might kick in and you would hear it when Jools was talking.’ I said, ‘Dave, what you do is you go into the Program Menu mode, go to the Fan Menu and turn it to Quiet, and it will just make the fan go on at a higher temperature, which it will probably never reach, so it probably won’t go on’. Who’d have thunk, right? It just goes to show. Someone like Dave, who’s had years of experience in the real world with a lot of things to deal with, now knows that the solutions to all these issues are residing right in that little box.

Dave’s a great guy as well as an accomplished musician.

Yes he is. We are excited and honoured to be working with Dave. He’s a true professional and great to talk to and get feedback from. One of the things I enjoy most about our ‘geek fest’ calls is that I can learn from a seasoned professional like Dave, and about his amplification needs, which can only help me become a better designer and amplification company.

In fact the thing I enjoy most about Dave, and all our players and customers, is they’re all great people. That’s what makes this business so inspiring to be part of. I’ve never met a more appreciative and fun group of people than I have in this industry. And I’m looking forward to meeting many more!