We live in a global economy. High-performance audio components are made in almost every country in the world. Even China has emerged as a purveyor top-shelf brands. But, what about New Zealand?
I had the pleasure to interview Mr. Brian Willoughby, Managing Director of Plinius, who just happen to be located in New Zealand. Plinius makes high-end amps, preamps, digital components, phono stages and home theater products. Plinius is a subsidiary of Contex Engineers, a specialty machining and manufacturing company. Based in Christchurch, Plinius, and the parent company, Contex Engineers, manufacturers and ships product throughout the world. New Zealand is often, and mistakenly, thought of as being part of Australia. Something that is hardly true and something any Kiwi would be very quick to correct. Despite it's size, and being about 1500 miles from Australia, New Zealand has a highly skilled, technologically advanced manufacturing effort.
Mr. Willoughby filled me in on Plinius history, "Plinius was founded in 1980 by a chap called Peter Thompson. To make things more difficult, transistors were a new technology and the quality wasn't often very high. There were also import restrictions and that made any kind of kit that was moderately expensive, very expensive." This led to the formation of about a dozen high-end manufacturers in a country with, "only three million people and seventy million sheep." Toward the end of the 1980"s import restrictions were lifted and that saw the demise of quite a few of those companies. In fact, Plinius is one of two that survived, and by far the largest.
Plinius has always been a manufacturer of transistor amps and preamps. "The strength of the company" as Willoughby puts it, " is its history. If you're going to mess up the signal you'll mess it up when you really amplify it." By the early 1990's, Plinius had a solid reputation for amps and preamps. Source components grew from that point and followed the amps and preamps. "We have young engineers working for us that can manage digital and we've gotten into the source. We think this is an important and exciting time to be an audiophile."
Plinius targets their products at a specific price point. "Right now, we recognize that for our brand to get more recognition we need an entry point that's lower than the Hautonga that we've got at the moment and those two products are being released in Munich." The Hautonga is Plinius' current entry-level integrated amp. Willoughby understands "that even a small company like Plinius that needs more volume than it's got now, the only way it will do that is with an attractive price point."
Currently the digital lineup includes the Tiki network player, the Toko digital audio and physical CD player, and the Mauri, which is a conventional CD player. Plinius' own iPad app, the Arataki controller, is available through iTunes, and controls all of these components. Tiki and Toko digital players are both capable of 192 / 24 playback and include their own built in DAC.