Above: Bernard Brien tinkering in the BIS Audio shop.
BIS Audio is a Canadian cable manufacturer owned and operated by Bernard and Michèle Brien, a husband and wife team. Launched in 1996 in Laval, Quebec (just north of Montreal), BIS Audio designs and produces well-respected cables and power bars that allow your audio and video components to reach their full potential. And musically speaking, that should mean literally more musical details and improved sound to your ears.
Above: Michèle Brien is always happy to jump on the phone and speak with music lovers.
The company prides itself on developing products of the highest quality based on the fundamental laws of physics. You won’t find any particularly exotic materials or “hocus pocus” approaches in their designs, just simple, honest science backed by a rigorous manufacturing process, quality control procedures and extensive listening sessions on all kinds of equipment.
In the spring of 2020, I had the chance to get to know Bernard and Michèle a little better and find out what makes them and their company BIS Audio tick.
Editor’s note: you will likely pick up on the French-Canadian “flavour” of the language in this article which we purposely left untouched because we feel that it gives this story true authenticity!
Suave Kajko (SK): What was the first product you ever designed and what inspired you to do it?
Michèle Brien / Bernard Brien (MB / BB): From 1996 to 2004 we had a Hi-Fi restoration business where we would completely rebuild Hi-Fi components for Quebec dealers and private customers.
We encountered a lot of old Quad and Naim gear for which there was a lack of quality interconnect cables. So, we hand-crafted all kinds of cables ourselves, for example 5 DIN to 2RCA, 4 DIN to 4 DIN, etc.
Customers were amazed with the improvements. Many testified that they could not believe that their equipment could reach such a high sound-quality level.
After that, we started receiving more and more requests for standard cables such as RCA and balanced interconnects, and speaker cables.
SK: What distinguishes a smaller manufacturer like BIS Audio from large, mass-produced cable brands?
MB / BB: Somebody once suggested: “Your slogan should be: Double the quality for half the money.”
The way we operate, we can save a lot of money and invest that in the quality of the materials and the time we take to manufacture and test the products.
We have a very simple product line-up, from entry level to high-end. For example, we do not have 20 models of RCA. We like to keep it simple. Between each model and price range in the same category, there is an easily audible difference. We spend more time on quality manufacturing than on marketing.
If we discontinue a product, we always replace it by something that is better in all aspects. Otherwise we keep it and we don’t make changes just for the sake of promoting a new product.
Every inquiry from a customer is answered personally and rapidly.
SK: For a music lover who has just assembled their first high-end music system, which cable(s) would you recommend upgrading first and why? What kind of improvements in sound can they expect by upgrading this cable? Also, in which order do you recommend music listeners to upgrade the cables in their audio system and why?
MB / BB: The job of interconnect cables is to transport a weak signal that changes rapidly in frequency and intensity. This signal is also very sensitive to Radio Frequencies (RF).
Depending on how you appreciate music, if you are very sensitive to small details, then a better interconnect between the source and the preamp should be your first step.
A good AC supply will be necessary if speed, dynamics and punch is important for you. This applies starting from your electrical panel all the way to your setup including heavily shielded AC cables and a high-quality power bar. As far as the electrical supply is concerned, it is the “fuel” that powers your equipment.
The standard AC cords supplied with audio equipment are usually of the worst kind. They are not shielded, so RF gets into the power supply, diminishes its performance and pollutes other nearby cables. The quality of the copper is usually very poor and there is too little of it. Lots of rubber, but not much wire.
The Power bar should not be the weak link. Therefore, our PowerBIS is designed around 3 main criteria: high conductivity, mechanical sturdiness for long-term use and neutral sound.
When the power bar is accompanied by an appropriately shielded AC power cord, your system gets the highest quality of electrical power distribution without restraining its performance, while preventing RF and other interferences.
We do not recommend power bars with integrated filtering/protection circuitry for your audio/video systems. Mainly because these power bars, if effective, are very expensive, and the less expensive ones usually limit the performance of the system.
We believe that a surge protection device should be installed next to your home’s electrical panel, “globally” protecting every household item including your audio/video system, without performance degradation.
Speaker cables, sound-wise, must be as invisible and as efficient as possible. The load that the amplifier must deal with is the sum of the wires plus the speaker itself. And the size of the speaker cable assembly has nothing to do with the “size” of the performance. It is the geometry and the quality of the materials that will make the difference.
All the different categories of BIS cables work in synergy. Whichever category you choose to start with, any BIS cable will demonstrate an audible improvement of your system performance.
SK: Can you tell us what audio components and speakers you use in your reference system? What sonic characteristics of these components do you enjoy?
MB / BB: In our work/home area, we have three systems. One in the listening room, one in the shop and one in the TV room. Each system serves a different purpose.
The listening room, which is not too big and where the proportions respect the near perfect ratio for acoustics, serves our personal pleasure of enjoying music.
This room is outfitted with a pair of 2.5 way/2 cubic feet BBC design speakers. The main sources are a turntable for vinyl and CD transport with a DAC hooked up to a 300 watt per channel power/preamp combo.
The main goal of this system is to allow us to listen all day long and never be disturbed by an excess of unwanted details or by listening fatigue. We just love to listen to the music and FEEL IT IN OUR SOULS!
In our shop, we use an integrated Class A amplifier connected to a pair of accurate and unforgiving monitor speakers. All types of sources can be connected to this system. It is designed to let us hear all aspects of our products. If there is something incorrect or unwanted in the sound, this system will clearly show it.
In the TV room, we use an integrated amplifier and the same type of monitor speakers as in the shop. Our source is a good quality Blu-ray player that not only plays Blu-rays but also streams services like Netflix.
We find that watching movies and downloads on this system is an interesting way to test our products because movie soundtracks are complicated since there is background noise, music and dialogue all at the same time. So, the challenge is to be able to hear everything clearly without exaggerating one layer over another. If we ever get up to answer the door, only to realize that the doorbell is coming from the soundtrack of a movie, then we know that the audio sounds as good as it possibly can 🙂
Those three systems are the starting point: in addition to these we travel to the various dealers in our home province of Quebec, which gives us access to a wide spectrum of different equipment. We also lend dealers new products so they can live with them over a longer period and share their feedback with us.
SK: As a cable designer, I’m sure that you listen to a lot of different music. What are your favourite genres of music? Rock, classical, jazz, blues, pop or other? Can you share with us 3-4 “torture” tracks that you use to test your own cable designs? Please tell us what why these tracks are challenging for audio systems to reproduce.
MB / BB: We listen to blues, jazz, classic, and classic French and American singers. One of our favourite tracks is “La vie d’artiste” from Léo Ferré’s Barclay album (530 076-6). Before the song starts, you can hear a very low level sound of Léo Ferré breathing in and after that you hear him opening his mouth. This is a very, very subtle sound. On some sound systems you don’t hear this at all. When he is singing, he is also playing piano. He has an aggressive way of playing and again on some sound systems it is just annoying, but when everything is right, he draws you right into the music!
Other albums we enjoy include:
The soundtrack to the film “The Fog of War” by Sony Pictures Classic, Orange mountain Music OMM0010, with music by Philip Glass. The whole record is a challenge for a music system because of its wide dynamic range, many layers playing at the same time, and very deep bass.
Harry Connick Jr, Chanson du vieux carré, Marsalis Music / Rounder 749460-0062 “Petite Fleur”. We love this album mainly for the bass. This cut is a very interesting interpretation of a well-known piece and it is fun to hear the texture and body of the instruments. The musicians seem to really enjoy themselves.
Trentemoller, The Last Resort, Poker Flat Recordings, tracks # 6, 8, 10 & 12.
Especially track # 10 for its bass reproduction. It is also fun to follow all kinds of little sounds that move around the scene. This is a fantastic album for parties and dancing – play it loud if you live far away from your neighbours!
Carl Orff, Carmina Burana 2 choices: Telarc DG10056-57, The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by Robert Shaw and Deutsche Grammophon 139362, authorized Carl Orff. Apart from the magnificence of the music itself, it is amazing to be able to clearly hear the words sung by the choir (instead of a congealed musical sound). Which is the case when the system is not perfectly tuned.
SK: How often do you attend live performances to update your mental reference of what live music sounds like?
BB: As a young boy, I used to visit a piano teacher at Vincent d’Indy who was in my grandmother’s family. She would take us into a soundproof room that students used for practice, where she would play some Bach, Beethoven and Mozart. Coming back home, I experienced great disappointment when I put on the record player to listen to the same music… I am sure you understand!
At this time, we don’t go out for live music as often as we would like to, but when we have a chance we go to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the Bourgie hall, where the acoustics are very good and we also go to McGill University, Pollack Hall, which is a bit smaller and perfectly suited for choir music.
We also have many friends who are musicians. We have a great satisfaction hearing them say that what they experience at our house / shop is so surprisingly close to the original sound.
SK: What’s your preferred music source – vinyl or digital, or do you listen to both?
MB / BB: We listen to both vinyl and digital and we find that when it is well recorded and well reproduced with the proper equipment, digital or vinyl provides a very satisfying result. The only thing about digital is the fact that some aspects of it – like new formats being introduced – are constantly changing. So, we find that a bit annoying.
SK: Are potential customers able to borrow BIS Audio cables to try them in their own system from local dealers? If so, why do you think this is important?
MB / BB: Trying cables is RULE #1 at BIS Audio. So, we ask our dealers to have demo cables. RULE #2: we want people to listen and test the cables in their own system by using their own ears, following a very simple test procedure.
The most important question to answer: Are you moved by what you hear?
We try to avoid discussions about technical data because sometimes people have preconceived ideas that make them reject a product before they even try it. Similar data sheets for two different cables do not guarantee the same performance. So many other details influence the sound, for example, geometry, soldering material, and so on.
SK: Do you have any new product designs that are underway? What can we expect to see from BIS Audio in the near future?
MB / BB: We are working on different projects. This is about all we can say for the moment. But we can say for sure that these will follow the same basic philosophy: “Double the quality for half the money.”
SK: It was a great pleasure getting to know you Michèle and Bernard!
To check out the BIS Audio range of products, please visit www.bisaudio.com