Phil Jones… One Mans Quest to Build the World’s Best Bass Gear by Scott Jamar
This is a brief story of one man’s singular quest to build the world’s best gear for bassists. From his custom designed speakers, to his bass amps, pre-amps and purpose built bass headphones, Phil Jones is truly an unsung hero of the bass world.
A dear friend, Jeffrey Weber introduced me to Phil a few years ago, and to say we hit if off well is a gross understatement. Phil is a world-class audio engineer and all around great guy. Interestingly enough, his factory is just about an hour from the headquarters of the company I work for in Shenzhen China, and after two years of trying to coordinate our schedules, I was finally able to visit Phil’s factory in Dongguan. Phil graciously led my 8-hour factory tour himself. (and no, I have no affiliation with Phil Jones Bass – just love their gear)
A Bassists Wonderland
Firstly, I have to say the building is both gorgeous and impressive. It houses 3700 hard working and happy employees in a 1.2 million square foot factory. Speaking of the employees, Phil greets every one he runs across with a friendly “Hi, how are you doing?” or an “Are you ok?” to a security guard standing outside in the rain… And yeah, it rains allot here.
Getting back to the factory. Here’s a fun fact. Did you know that no bass amp manufacturer in the entire world (other than Phil Jones) make their own speakers? Not one. Not Markbass, not Ampeg, not Mesa, not SWR, not Acoustic, not Roland, not Eden, not Hartke, not GK, not even JBL anymore. Nope, they all use OEM speakers made by a small handful of companies to their specs.
And as a disclaimer, I’ve owned or used all of the above in the past 30+ years in my feeble attempt to become a mediocre bass player with delusions of adequacy.
Ok, working with an OEM might be a cost effective move, but remember, these companies have other customers, and just can’t afford to spend the enormous amounts of time, money and resources to create truly revolutionary speaker designs, lovingly tailored to the most maligned of all musicians, the bass player.
In my own not so humble, very personal opinion, if the afore mentioned companies spent more money on under the cover design than marketing, this would be a completely different story…
This is where Phil comes in. And yes, he’s insane, truly and completely off his meds, a certifiable nutter, but in a good way.
What I mean is that I have never met another award winning, world-class audio engineer/entrepreneur with the depth of knowledge, zeal and passion for all things bass related. From the composition of the wire in his coil windings (silver, btw) to the anodizing of the dust domes, (Phil nick named them “Madonna Domes”) to the acoustic modeling and strength of his cabinet designs, to the design of the screws and knobs, there is no detail or aspect too small for Phil to obsess over. Which he does as a matter of course.
I could go on, so I will.
I learned that they design and manufacture every single part to Phil’s demanding specs, and I mean everything. They buy the raw materials and go from there. I saw it all in action. Yes, Phil is definitely uber OCD when it comes to designing the coolest, most badass sounding bass gear on the planet that most bass players have never heard of.
Now let’s talk about the tools he uses. Firstly, this guy has his own anechoic chamber for testing speaker frequency curves. Let me say that again, His. Own. Freaking. Anechoic. Chamber. And it’s enormous. I think NASAs may be a bit bigger, but not by much. Here’s a pic of me in it. (Way, way, way in the back.) You could easily fit a couple of Hummers in that space and have room left over for a Tesla or two, the later of which they use as company cars. Nice.
Then there is his laser interferometer, which he uses to measure every microscopic detail of his speaker designs, long before they go into production. (And not all of them pass the gauntlet of testing, tweaking and abuse he throws at them before he lets them go into manufacturing.) And these little monsters are bullet proof. Ever accidentally punch a hole through a speaker cone? Well, with Phil’s designs, you will break your finger before it gets through the material he uses. Great for bass frequencies. (And fumbling bass players.)
There is no “B” Stock at Phil Jones Bass
Speaking of not passing QA. When walking through the cavernous factory floor, I spotted a huge pile of seemingly finished products outside in the rain. “You throw of those away?” I asked. “No, we incinerate anything that fails QA in the slightest to keep it off the secondary market. Nothing gets out of here that’s not perfect, ever.”
He then walked me through so many production lines, we got lost a few times (NOT kidding). Thousands upon thousands of speakers of all makes and sizes in varying degrees of completion. His partner, Edifier, (where he is their chief audio engineer/designer as well as CEO of PJB) is the largest speaker manufacturer in China, producing 3 million high quality speakers every month, all for the Chinese market. None ever make it to the USA however, how sad.
Handcrafted Bass Speaker Goodness
Now, for those of you who think Chinese products are inferior, well, in the case of PJB gear, that description is grossly unfair and completely inaccurate. I watched in awe as hundreds of workers carefully hand assembled and meticulously tested every single component, hand wound coil and sub assembly. Not a single robot in sight my friends.
As a point of reference, my first job out of college was as an electronic engineer working for the legendary guitar effects company, ADA Signal Processors in Berkeley California. I spent my first year after graduating as a bench tech on their factory floor, so I know what high quality manufacturing looks like. And in an industry where perception is reality, PJB is the real deal. So you need to seriously adjust your preconceived notions and uninformed thoughts on Chinese manufacturing. I’ve seen more than a few US factories that don’t come even close to the care and precision Phil’s people use in building his products.
After the tour, we made our way back to the listening room to check out Phil’s latest and greatest with his Japanese distribution partner, Jes Saito, President of Jes International, who was busy photographing and A-B testing one of Phil’s new studio bass amps.
More Than Just Bass Gear
It was also interesting to learn that Phil not only designs and manufactures incredible bass speakers and amps of all sizes, but he also offers a full line of audiophile speakers and PA gear, including monster 11’ tall 4000 watt PA systems, as well as hi-fi speakers that are 8’ tall, weigh 600 pounds each and sell for $100,000.00 a pair. (Pictured in the cover photo) His newly released headphones are nothing short of amazing. At only $100.00 retail, they easily outshine the bloviated offerings from Apple/Beats – again, another company now more focused on marketing than innovation. iPhone 7 anyone? Kill the headphone jack? – Bite me…
I was also really impressed by his studio monitors. The clarity was amazing. While listening to a Diana Krall CD, it felt like she was breathing down my neck, “but in a nice way” as Phil liked to put it. I agreed.
He also demoed a new set of NFMs (Near Field Monitors) with ribbon tweets but using CNC milled wooden horns. I thought the ones we had just heard were awesome, but with the ribbon tweets combined with the wooden horns, I felt like I was on stage getting a direct monitor feed combined with sticking my head under the lid of a baby grand. Breathtaking sound! I felt I could listen for hours at high volume without ever getting ear fatigue.
After a few hours of listening nirvana, I was then introduced to Phil’s business partner and the Founder/CEO of Edifier, Wengdong Zhang. A self-effacing and gregarious man, who is clearly enamored with Phil, with a relationship that dates back 14 years.
Phil then held court for several hours, going into minute detail of how he approaches sound, his passion for music, and multiple stories of bass players good and bad. By the time we were done, I felt like I had just attended a master course in speaker and audio design.
Prolific Does Not Come Close to Describing Phil
To describe Phil Jones as a prolific audio designer is a gross understatement.
He’s got so many projects and products in the works; it’s literally impossible to keep track of them all. Every time I turned around, he was showing me something more impressive than the last. My head was spinning most of the time I was there. This guy was Chief Designer for Boston Acoustics for many years, (he designed their Lynnfield line of audiophile speakers) and has turned down similar jobs from JBL and Samsung, for lots more money. He has a well-earned reputation being one of the best, if not the best speaker designer in the world. Google him and find out for yourself.
At his core, Phil is focused more on musicians’ needs and delivering a mind-blowing user experience than buying a personal jet. And as the CEO of a private company with no overbearing, clueless corporate masters, he gets to indulge his passion unmolested.
And indulge it he does.
Fortunately, us lonely bass players who are willing to search around for the best are the beneficiaries of his genius and generosity.
That being said, if you have the opportunity to support a comparatively small, top shelf audio manufacturer that is run by a fanatical bass aficionado, please do. You will not be disappointed.
Former wannabe bass player who sold out to corporate masters for a regular paycheck.