by Tham Hong Thuy
|On the job: Son (right) shows an employee how to make a speaker cabinet.
|Back to base: Son poses with his collection of woofers and tweeters which are used to make his speakers. P.K Photos.
After falling in love with loudspeakers at the age of 15, Son turned himself from a coal vendor to the owner of a well-known digital workshop. Son is now called the "King of loudspeakers" by his favourite customers. People say that wherever there is a high-quality bass, there is Son.
I met the "king" at a friend's birthday party. He was introduced as a unique designer of "loudspeaker pictures" in HCM City. Curiously enough, I came to visit him some days later at his shop, Loudspeaker AA, on Ly Nam De Street, District 10.
At first, the products seemed like exactly what their name described – pictures covering loudspeakers inside, which can be used for house decoration. I had seen this kind of pictures available everywhere in the city, so I was not particularly interested. It was not until later, when I visited Son's workshop in Binh Chanh District, when I realized how amazing they really were.
In the workshop, a world of loudspeakers opened before my very eyes: hundreds of basses of all shapes and sizes, from new to old. I could see that Son was really passionate about high-quality sound.
It all began when he was a teenage vendor, selling fruit and sometimes coal on the street. "Pushing a three-wheel cart full of fruit around the city from morning till afternoon, I was exhausted when I got home. But still, I felt eager whenever my boss allowed me to borrow his bicycle to go to Nhat Tao digital market. It was like Heaven for me," he recalls.
At the market, Son made friends with the digital mechanics who repaired old listening devices and turned them into new ones. Son wrote down carefully in a notebook what he saw the mechanics do, and gradually took some out-of-order loudspeakers home to disassemble himself. He never threw away a single part, but instead researched each component carefully, from the material used to its size, shape and original brand.
"Now I have three trunks of notes, and consider them an invaluable treasure," Son says.
"In Viet Nam, there is no university or college where you can learn about loudspeakers. The only way to learn it is from life, and every mechanic has his own secret. For example, how do you wind up copper wire to create the highest sound quality? You can use copper wire made in India. But most people today just use those made in Japan, as they are more readily available. What are the glues most impervious to heat and pressure? The answer is – oh, I can't tell you, because it's a secret of the trade – one of many that, if you don't "dive" into the trade, you'll never know.
Asked why he has such a passion for loud-speakers, Son smiles. "When you look at a bass, for example, you see only wires, wood and metal parts.... all appear lifeless, don't they? But when they are assembled, they can create the most miraculous sounds. It is a miracle – it is the secret of life."
It is this secret that inspires Son to create his unique designs. Showing me a life-sized double bass he made, Son says, "A guest from Da Nang has begged me several times to let him buy this bass for US$25,000. But it is not the best work this workshop has completed. I once designed a couple of loudspeakers that cost up to $1,5 million under commission from a guest addicted to sound like me."
Son's guests today include many singers and musicians. "Sometimes they just come to chat about sound and basses," he says. Among the guests are renowned composer Phan Huynh Dieu, Le Quang and Vietnamese musician Vu Phuong, who lives overseas.
"Sometimes I go out for a field trip to visit my guests. They are not only business partners, but also friends who share my passion," Son says.
Frequently, Son works as a free-of-charge consultant, who gives them advice on sound-related topics such as how to buy a good loudspeaker or how to assemble a bass with amplifier. He is called a "sound magician" because whenever a guest doesn't have a good system of listening devices, he drops by and just a few minutes later, the system's quality is "raised to a new level", as a customer of his remarked.
Son's love for sound has made him not only an artist, but also a business man. Son says that before he starts his own brand, he wants to build a brand name.
"From the beginning, I was successful at making loudspeakers. If I only chased profit, I could become very rich. But I would also have to sell low-quality products to customers, and listening to poor sound for me is like drinking poison. I could not do that to them."
When Son's workshop produces a subpar batch of loudspeakers, Son has to take them to the rubbish dump by van – hundreds of loudspeakers gone to waste.
"It's a pity. But there are things much more important than money, like work ethics, for example. Also, I want to build up a brand-name that customers trust. For me, selling a loudspeaker to a customer is not only a transaction for money. I also gain a friend," Son confides.
"So you must have a lot of friends," I say.
"Once I had a customer who borrowed VND10 million from the bank. He gave half to his wife and used half to take a bus to visit my shop, because he insisted on buying a couple of basses made by me. I finally decided to sell them to him without making any profit," he smiles.
But his sense of responsibility also gives Son head-aches, since the market is full of fake products bearing his brand name. Many of his customers buy fake loudspeakers and basses assuming he made them, without checking carefully to see if they are really his.
"According to research by the computer company ASUS, people often listen to music for 10 hours a day. Sound follows a person from childhood to old age. Thus, listening to sound via fake basses is like killing a man's feeling and even distorting his emotion, not to mention that it would harm his ears," Son worries.
The artist reveals to me his new project idea: to use pure and smooth sounds to help treat hospital patients. Hopefully, his dream will soon come true, so that it can benefit those in need. — VNS