Valentin Kazanzhi is the CEO of Kennerton Audio, a brand of audiophile headphones based in St. Petersburg. He also manufactured and co-designed the Apos Caspian. We sat down with him recently to discuss the whole process from ideation to execution.
Apos: Hi, Valentin! First thing’s first. How did you get involved in making the Apos Caspian?
Valentin: It was an interesting project for us, because our task was not to make ordinary headphones for a certain price but to make very good headphones, of the highest class. And it is always interesting for our team to do something worthwhile, to make an honest product.
Apos: Tell us about your role in the project.
Valentin: It was difficult, but great! Our role in this project was... It's like the role of a master violinist who makes a violin for another master, for a violinist musician. It's difficult because the musician is very demanding and knows very well what he needs. And at the same time it is easy, because the craftsman understands the musician very well and knows how to make the best violin for him. And this is magical, because it results in a piece of art, which both sides are proud and happy of, rather than an ordinary consumer good.
Apos: The Caspian is modeled after the Kennerton Vali. Why this headphone?
Valentin: It's very simple. The Kennerton Vali is, in my opinion, the best dynamic Kennerton headphone! Therefore, I immediately offered them as an example, as the best we have. Especially since I had some thoughts on how this model could still be improved in the process.
Apos: It's based on the Vali, but it ended up being quite different. Sandu said that the Caspian went through a number of prototypes before the final version was reached. How did the headphone change from prototype to prototype?
Valentin: We couldn't make the final prototype right away, because every parameter had to be tested. And every step had to be confirmed. It wasn’t so easy. And without making intermediate prototypes and without testing them carefully, it was impossible to create a product that would be fully worthy to carry the Apos Caspian name. So, the first prototype had a very light sound. It was necessary to fix it and make it sound more fun. So we did that, and the second prototype had an amazing bass and sub-bass. But it was a little tiring to the ear. In the end, we made a "golden mean" with a very balanced sound and excellent performance.
Apos: Talk to me about the teamwork here. Multiple teams were working on multiple continents in the middle of a global pandemic. What was that like?
Valentin: It's our job. Of course, it was a bit more difficult because of restrictions, problems with forwarding samples, problems with the occasional absence of someone from the staff due to COVID illness. But there's no choice. We're just doing our jobs. No panic, no heroism - just calmness and responsibility.
Apos: Besides COVID, were there any other particularly difficult challenges you had to overcome during the process?
Valentin: The hardest part was the beginning. We didn't really understand what we had to do, where we had to go. We lost a lot of time because we took the wrong path first. But then it got a lot easier. Any project is an experience. And experience is priceless. So, the hardest thing was to go the wrong way in the beginning and lose time and gain experience instead.
Apos: Tell us more about going the wrong way in the beginning. What happened?
Valentin: There were quite a few interesting discoveries in the process of creating a completely new model. For example, we didn't have much experience with oval headphones before - all Kennerton models have had round cups. And as it turned out, the oval cups are much more comfortable, much more aesthetically pleasing, and much more stable in sound, as they are not as critical to the proper fit on the head.
Apos: What about the sound?
Valentin: I want to respond by quoting one of my sound engineers. After listening to the last Caspian sample before we sent it off to Sandu for testing, this engineer said, "These are the first dynamic headphones I want to have in my house!It's just orgasmic!" ( Not very censorious, I agree, but that's what he said). My opinion is about the same too - they are very cool headphones for true enjoyment. Very balanced sound with excellent resolution and full in all frequency ranges, without deception in the form of accentuation or masking of any frequency range - just full real sound, as it is and as it should be.
Apos: Haha that’s great to hear! Did this sort of sound exist in this price range before?
Valentin: There are many very good products from different manufacturers. So I will cautiously say: "There were and are quite a lot of very decent models in this price range. And they are very good! ... But it is with such a sound, and even more so, made by hand from the highest quality and expensive exclusively natural materials - there is no such thing anymore!” I'm sorry, but comparing a very beautiful wall picture from IKEA, which is mass printed in an edition of 100,000 copies, and a drawing made by the hand of a master is not quite right, is it? Apos Caspian is EXACTLY this case. It is not a mass product, it is true craft.