The Italian city of Turin has long been the home of luxury sports cars—Fiat (FCAU) and Alfa Romeo are headquartered there. So it makes sense that Adriano Marconetto, 55, one of Italy’s most successful entrepreneurs, would base his new ultra high-end audio company, YAR, in the affluent enclave. After all, YAR is selling ultra-premium, entirely bespoke audio systems—crafted entirely by hand.
Launched last November, YAR’s eponymous system includes an integrated amplifier, two loudspeakers and a stand; prices start at 250,000 euros ($272,000). YAR is billed as the ultimate audio system, offering truly unadulterated sound. Each system takes two to three months to make, and can be customized with a range of materials such as exotic hardwoods and precious metals like titanium, silver and gold. “Working daily with the best developers and suppliers in Turin, where high-end industry is part of our DNA, assures us a constant flow of technical support and ideas, as well as deep mastery in execution,” says Marconetto.
YAR asks clients to send photos and videos of where the system will reside and when it’s ready, and two YAR specialists are dispersed to anywhere in the world to install it, where they measure elements like the rapport between direct and reflected sound to position it for optimal listening. The buyer’s own signature is engraved on the system as a finishing touch.
So high-end it’s not available in stores, YAR will be sold through word of mouth and private events around the world, the company says. In addition, Marconetto and his team plan to host two potential customers a month at YAR’s headquarters for a full-day immersion in the YAR ethos.
YAR is the brainchild of Giancarlo Sopegno, a professional pianist who co-founded the company in 2015 and serves as the chief technology officer. Having spent decades as a retailer of and consultant to high-end audio manufacturers including Germany’s MBL and Japan’s Audio Tekne, Sopegno, 57, became obsessed with the idea of the ultimate music experience.
“After all these years in the industry, I wanted to create a sound system that didn’t sound like one,” he says. “It’s like recreating the sunlight: mission almost impossible. Which is why I committed to the idea.” Inspired by walks in the woods near his home outside Turin, Sopegno set out in 2011 to develop a system that could reproduce “pure sound” as found in nature.
He spent four years developing the prototype, working with Franco Savio, an electronic engineer and the brains behind the bass amplifiers of the Brooklyn-based Epifani brand (used by jazz legend Ron Carter and Rolling Stones bassist Darryl Jones) and Giacomo Satta, an expert in carbon-fiber design who has worked with Ferrari, Pagani, and loudspeaker company Sonus Faber. When the prototype was created, he reached out to Marconetto. A startup veteran whose successes include Vitaminic, a pan-European digital music platform that went public, he required a little convincing.
“I see lots of startup ideas, three or four a week usually, and on average I pick one every two or three years and totally commit myself to it,” he said over lunch in Turin in November. “The last thing I thought the world needed—or that I would get involved with—was another audio company.”
But within literally minutes of hearing what the system could do, Marconetto, an avowed music lover, immediately signed on as YAR’s CEO and cofounder. “For the first time, I was right there next to the singer and the bass player,” he says. “At that very moment I decided to start YAR.”
YAR is named after Kapustin Yar, a former rocket test site in Russia often compared to Nevada’s “Area 51” because of reputed UFO sightings. “My interest in UFOs reflects my interest in the unattainable,” Sopegno says. “People think UFOs do not exist, and that music cannot be replicated as it is in nature. But I believe they do, and that it can.”
The first YAR system was created last summer. Now Marconetto, Sopegno and their team are embarking on a world tour of sorts to get YAR in front of rarefied audiences around the globe. Selling these six-figure systems requires identifying potential customers — then immersing them in the YAR experience, giving them the opportunity to play with it and challenge it firsthand, the founders said.
In November, the YAR team flew in a handful of journalists and “influencers” as their guests (Disclosure: this writer was among them) and unveiled the system. So how did it sound? In a word: Ineffable. When Adele’s “Hello” filled the room and you closed your eyes, it was as if she were there in the flesh for a private performance. A solo by Sandro Laffranchini, first cello at Milan’s famed La Scala opera house and also in attendance, was mesmerizing: you could hear the hairs of the bow dig into the strings with every stroke, as though you were perched on the instrument’s bridge.
The system’s linchpin is arguably the amplifier, dubbed “B-yond” by the YAR team, which reproduces the harmonics—the heart and soul of audio—incomparably, thanks in part to its switched-mode power supply, reducing interference to optimize sound purity. The cofounders also point to carbon fiber, the system’s key component, as a game-changer. Used frequently in aerospace applications, another Turin industry, because of its light weight and stiffness, its high conductivity ensures YAR’s pure reproduction of sound, they say.
Designed for the new era of high-resolution audio, the system converts all formats on the market and supports all digital and analog sources, from vinyl to direct stream digital (DSD), the emerging gold standard for bona fide audiophiles.
Marconetto argues that the price is reasonable, noting other manufacturers’ systems are pricier. And in the U.S., Magico Ultimate speakers alone, for example, will run you $600,000, and that’s before you add an amplifier and cables.
So far, Marconetto and Sopegno have sold two YAR systems. Their first “listening event” took place in Paris at the World Arabian Horse Championship last November; additional stops in 2016 will include New York, Los Angeles, London, and Milan, as well as select locations in Asia, Russia, and the Middle East.
While Marconetto and Sopegno have some ideas for other audio products down the road, right now they’re entirely focused on “creating a kind of YAR club,” as Marconetto puts it. “The good systems take you to the center of the venue, the great ones to center stage,” he says. “We launched YAR so that others can live that experience. ”
Alexandra Kirkman began her writing career as an international reporter at Forbes. She writes frequently about luxury, travel and design.
Correction: The story has been updated to reflect the fact that Magico Ultimate speakers cost $600,000. An earlier version said the Magico Ultimate cost $600,000.