Halcro is a company reborn. Our review of the Halcro Eclipse Mono power amplifiers from Audio Esoterica can be seen by clicking this link. Here we interview Mike Kirkham (left above) and Dr. Peter Foster (right) who, along with Lance Hewitt, are the new owners of this famous brand, and the trio responsible for the birth of the Eclipse.
Audio Esoterica: Back in the day, Halcro was probably the most famous high-end amplifier brand in the world, but then it just vanished off the face of the earth. What happened?
Mike Kirkham: Halcro was owned by a company called MineLab, which manufactured metal detectors designed by Bruce Candy, who also designed the Halcro amplifiers. When MineLab was acquired by Codan, Codan simply decided to shelve the Halcro operation because
it didn’t regard it as the core business.
AE: Surely it would have made more commercial sense to sell off Halcro rather than just shelve it?
MK: The problem with Codan selling off Halcro was that the main reason they purchased MineLab in the first place was so they could keep Bruce Candy designing metal detectors — he was more valuable to them that way. They didn’t want him spending any time on Halcro. They did initially licence Halcro to Philip Guttentag, who was Halcro’s South African distributor, along with an option to buy the company, but this coincided with the global financial crisis, and one way or the other it all fell through.
AE: So how did it come about that almost a decade later you found out Halcro was for sale?
MK: I was helping a friend out on weekends in his record store up in the Adelaide Hills, and one
Saturday he pointed at this guy who was browsing through the records and told me that he was one of the brains behind Halcro. Apparently he was a regular customer. I introduced myself as a fan of Halcro, and it turned out to be Lance Hewitt, who was Halcro’s lead engineer and used to work alongside Bruce Candy. He told me that there was a warehouse in Adelaide that was absolutely full of Halcro inventory and that the lease was just about to run out. Mike and I ended up buying not only all the stock and inventory in the warehouse, but also the Halcro company and all its patents: We gave Lance a third share in it.
AE: So Bruce Candy is no longer part of the company?
Peter Foster: We still have access to Bruce’s inspiration, and we can call on him for guidance, but he has no ownership. In many ways it’s no different than it’s ever been. Lance and Bruce were working together before Halcro even started, and both worked together at Halcro from the very beginning. Bruce would have a crazy idea and it was Lance who would figure out how to make it work.
AE: What were the challenges involved in getting Halcro back into production?
PF: The biggest challenge was improving on the ‘dm’ series: that took us six years. The new Halcro Eclipse Mono and Eclipse Stereo amplifiers have a different sound presentation that gives them a lift in sheer musicality.
MK: After that, it was lots of small things, like the finish. It took us ages to find someone who could finish the new amplifiers to the quality we required, and still it takes him a week to paint a single pair. Then there’s the timber required for the Eclipse bases. It’s now very difficult to get slabs of wood that are large enough, so we’ve had to employ timber artisans in the Adelaide Hills to source them for us. It’s also a continuing challenge to get the high-quality components we need for the circuit boards.
AE: Are Halcro amplifiers still made in South Australia?
PF: Absolutely! Halcro amplifiers are still made right here in South Australia. In fact — and
this is sheer coincidence — they’re made in premises situated on the same road where the original Halcro amplifiers were made, at the end of which is the house where Bruce Candy lives.
AE: We saw on your website that you have distributors in more than 18 countries, but the USA is not one of them, and we would have thought the US would have been your largest potential market and therefore been the very first on your list.
MK: You’re right, the USA was Halcro’s largest market for the dm Series, and we expect that it will be the largest market for the new Eclipse. Actually we already have a US distributor lined up but in our company’s current form we’re only able to build amplifiers in limited numbers, so we have to stage our growth. We have started shipping amplifiers to distributors, and they’ve already sold a few — to existing dm88 owners — but at present we can’t build amplifiers fast enough to satisfy the demand in a market the size of the US.
AE: Did we just hear you right, that existing dm88 owners are replacing them with
PF: Yes. It’s really satisfying, because all of them tell us the new Eclipse is a significant improvement on the old dm88, and the fact that they’re buying the Eclipses to replace them is all the proof we need that we’re on the right track.
AE: What plans do you have to increase your production capacity to a point where you can meet demand from a country like the US… or China?
PF: Up until now, Halcro has been entirely financed by us personally, as well as by using the proceeds from the sale of the old stock that was languishing in the warehouse. Business is going so well that we’ll be injecting more of our own money toncrease production, but we are now looking at bringing in a suitable investor… preferably one who already has connections in the audio business.
AE: Yet despite your production limitations you’re about to introduce an Eclipse preamp and then a totally new Halcro amplifier…
MK: Eclipse is the higher end of what we’re going to do. We’re following up with the Leela power amplifier, which will be much more affordable than Eclipse, and a much more user-friendly size. The aim was to build an amplifier that’s more attainable to the wider audiophile community. The core circuitry in Leela is essentially what’s in the Eclipse, but Leela is modular, so you have a choice between different power supplies. Leela is a stereo power amplifier, but able to bridged to mono for those who prefer monoblocs, or want more power.
AE: How advanced are you towards Leela production?
PF: Other than the casework, which has yet to be finalised, we’re ready to go.
AE: So far, we’ve only heard you talk about single and two-channel amplifiers. Do you plan any multi-channel amplifiers, like the old MC series, or any signal processors like the old SSP80 or SSP100?
MK: It’s best if we stick to what we’re really passionate about, and none of us here at Halcro are really interested in multi-channel or home theatre. Halcro built its reputation with amplifiers: that’s what we do better than anyone else.
AE: What about Class-D? Bruce Candy patented and used his own Class-D circuitry, so do you have any plans to build any amps using it?
MK: Bruce’s original Lyrus Class-D circuit is better-sounding and more musical than even the newest Class-D technologies — plus we have recently upgraded it — and we’re currently negotiating with several manufacturers of active loudspeakers about replacing the Hypex modules they’re currently using with Lyrus Class-D amplifiers.
AE: Is that because the Lyrus amplifiers are superior to the Hypex modules sonically…
or measurably… or both?
MK: Let’s just say that the bottom line is that Lyrus is just very musical. It’s totally
different from all other Class-D designs, and it’s protected by patents. As for the specifications, I think that they’re important to a point but if the sound does not move you, I don’t care about the specs.
AE: Given the difficulties you’ve had to face bringing Halcro back to life, why ever did you want to do it in the first place?
PF: Because it was Halcro! Halcro is unique. Unique in its imagination of what an
amplifier is and how to push the boundaries of technology. Every other amplifier is a
variation on a theme. Then there is Halcro!