October 2022 | INTERVIEWS, ATOLL

We have been following them since their inception, and we are always happy to be able to have such a calm dialogue with them. Beyond the «Dubreuil brothers», it is a superb team of twelve people who make Atoll’s daily life. A few days before their 20th birthday, VUmètre went to the bay of Mont Saint-Michel to visit their new premises. Research, development, manufacturing, control, comparative listening, Atoll’s team did not hide anything from us and gave us a day to describe very meticulously the creative process of its products, from the drawing board to the auditorium. The result is a 40-minute film published on our Facebook page (, which we dedicate to the entire team of this exciting and passionate manufacturer, and an exclusive interview on a company that is really unlike any other.

20 years after your creation, what is your assessment of your activity?
Stéphane Dubreuil : First of all, we are very happy with the Atoll adventure. Let’s not forget that we started with a range of five products dedicated exclusively to amplification. And these products are still in the catalogue today. Of course, they have evolved, so has their name. But the basis was sound since they are still there and relevant. Of course, in twenty years, progress has been dazzling in terms of user interface, but the IN80, to name but a few, is still one of our best sellers. Of course, it is remote controllable, it has options. But in its original form, it still enjoys a remarkable QP ratio. The fundamentals are there.

What is the ratio of your sales in France and exports?
Emmanuel Dubreuil : 60% in France and 40% abroad. With more and more markets developing. We have very good distributors, some of whom have been working with us for more than 10 or even 15 years. It’s an evolving sector. But the most dynamic are easily identifiable as Europe and the United States. Or even Japan…
SD : … which is starting to be followed by Korea! China is developing fast. But our number one is Germany, and Europe in general.

Do you set export objectives for yourself?
ED : No, our objective is for distributors to be happy, to want to work on the brand, to invest in its development, to progress, and to work on all the ranges. In some markets, demand can be segmented.
SD : We want a distributor to work on as many products as possible to make Atoll’s potential better known. This is the case with our importer in the United States. Now our range is wide enough to cover the requirements of many customers and stores. It is interesting for us to be visible on a larger scale of products. Our best distributors are part of this philosophy.
ED : Our catalogue now allows a clear move up the range. It is therefore interesting to have a product base that is distributed from the beginning and that grows over time.

In your early days, the price of the products was very affordable. And you have regularly created more ambitious ranges, up to the 400 series, will you continue to go up?
SD : We don’t forbid ourselves anything on this field. Everything will depend on the opportunities we have in terms of the market and above all on the know-how we can develop. If tomorrow we believe that we are able to offer an amp for more than €10,000 and that it is competitive compared to what exists on the market, we would be wrong to deprive ourselves of it! But this will be done in a natural way. We have no constraints on the subject in the short term. So «wait and see».

You were the first French manufacturers to purchase a Dolby and DTS license to develop the PR5.1 audio/video preamplifier several years ago. Will you intensify your R&D in situ, rather than buying plug-ins from developers?
SD : We soon realized that we were much stronger when we had a lot of things under control internally. R & D is fundamental to being independent of certain sources of supply. So, we systematically seek to develop this way of working on all our ranges. On the CD400, for example, the mechanics are made in our company. We only buy the optical compartment. From this point of view, we are becoming more independent than many other manufacturers who have to buy semi-assembled components from subcontractors. This is a key aspect of our philosophy. We want to control as many steps as possible, both in R&D and in production. If we wanted to keep the manufacture of electronic circuits in-house, it is also for that reason. By controlling our production, we acquire know-how and experience. If you want to change a transistor or capacitor, the reaction is immediate. And it also prevents us from having large stocks of old-generation cards that are complicated to sell. This is only possible if the company’s structure allows it, but it is a big advantage.So when you develop an all-in-one, you implement this strategy in a comprehensive way….
ED : Exactly. The all-in-one is the know-how of different products that is brought together in the same product, and our strategy achieves its ultimate goal, which is to master everything in the design of a device.

Are you going to make all-in-one even more ambitious?
SD : For the moment, we already have an interesting proposal. The IN300 integrated is an all-in-one system without a network card. 
The connectivity/DAC part is very complete on this device. It can be connected to many digital sources with very high USB performance. But more generally, this approach is that of the market.

What is the sales ratio between CD and network digital sources?
ED : The distribution of Atoll’s sales is a big third on integrated amps, 30% on CD players and 10% on network players. We still sell many CD players. But network products are also more expensive. The range of CD players is globally between 500 and 1000 euros, while network products are between 1.000 and 2.000 €. But this is increasing significantly.
SD : We would have seen a much sharper decline in CD sales if we hadn’t done two things. The first is to equip them with a DAC card. In some export markets such as the USA, or Japan, we only sell players with this option. The second important point is that we have developed CD transport. And today we sell many CD transports associated with all-in-one or network drives. This is of interest to consumers who buy a product that is totally adapted to their needs and cheaper. In short, we still sell as many CD players, but in slightly different forms.

How many devices do you manufacture per year?
ED : About 4500. With a relatively high seasonality. In December and January, this can rise to 600 per month. And in July and August, it’s about 200 a month.

The manufacturing is still 100% French?
SD : Of course. This is an important aspect. Apart from what is done here, we have subcontractors for the chassis or front panels. We voluntarily adopt this approach because people are reactive. We understand each other perfectly. We do not worry about delivery times. Some of them have been following us for almost 15 years. And when we have a particular request, they help us. The only parts outside France are the CD mechanics that come from Japan, but that we buy in Germany. The main filter capacitors are from Nippon Chimical. We couldn’t find a better way ! And the same goes for the motorized volume knobs from ALPS. Finally, for power transistors, we use American IRs. Finally, the streaming modules and remote controls come from Austria.

You maintain close relationships with cable and speaker manufacturers. How does this materialize in practice?
SD : First of all we use cables for our tests. We have had the opportunity to make comparisons at trade fairs, and it is obvious that good cables make it easier to listen by removing a veil, which is very useful during development. Hence 
the interest in forging links with manufac-turers, also loudspeakers, because when you do development, you need to have a reference to know how far you can go. And if the elements we use for links remove information, we lose an opportunity to improve our electronics. Inside the devices, the cable is also treated like any other component, such as a capacitor or transistor. It is an element that sees the audio signal, so you have to judge it for what it is worth. The only way to know if better internal wiring is useful or not is to compare. For an equivalent function, with equivalent characteristics, which component works best ? This is how we proceed for transistors, capacitors, and internal wiring. Sometimes, we are very surprised, because the differences between a standard cable and a cable developed by a specialist with real know-how, even on 10 cm, are amazing. It’s quite confusing when you’re an electronics manufacturer to do that, but it’s becoming obvious that you have to take care of that aspect ! The little extra soul of a device comes from there. What makes the difference between a good product and an excellent product will depend on these details. Where the result is really most important is when the cable manufacturer’s requirements are scrupulously respected. For example, earthing, cable connection, the direction of current flow through the cable, the fact that it is not soldered but crimped… All this is important and contributes to the final result.