One of the great woes of this period in the audio industry is that we seem to be coming to the end of the Age of the Personality. The audio world used to be littered with big, bold, and sometimes completely loopy characters that made products that were touched by genius. OK, sometimes the ‘loopy’ overarched the ‘genius’, but these big characters helped shape the high-end. They are all but gone now, pushed out by legislation – no bad thing: I was once nearly killed by an amp design guru who accidentally wired the case to the live AC – and replaced by interchangable corporate types and marketing jargon.
The one last safe haven for the Audio Personality is the turntable. Vinyl has long attracted more than its fare share of characters and eccentrics, in part because it’s more of an engineering solution than an electronics project. And, it must be said, many of those personalities have created some outstanding contributions to the turntable art. Any list of such personalities should include Geoffrey Owen of Helius Designs. Back in 1983, when the impending impact of the Compact Disc had turntable makers concerned for their future, Helius Designs launched its first tonearms, the Cyalene and Orion. These innovative designs were extremely well received in some circles. However, by the mid-1990s, sales of all things LP hit a nadir, people started talking about their ‘final vinyl’ system, and Helius just fell off the map for a few years, and Owen and his company turned its attention back to the other side of the company; astronomical (and later medical) imaging. Mechanical compliance gave way to laser optics, but the passion for music and the sound it makes never quite went away, and a few years ago Helius quietly returned to making tonearms.
The market has changed during Helius’ hiatus. In the 1980s and early 1990s, it was possible to have demonstrations of different turntable, arm, and cartridge options, and buying a turntable platform and ‘swapping out’ a few arms before happening on the right one was still a thing. That doesn’t happen anymore, and most people buy their turntable and arm from the same manufacturer, at least until you get to the super-high-end level where choice is bought at great expense. So, Helius Designs had three options; become a micro-manufacturer, turning out one tonearm every few years as and when someone happens on the brand, going back to Laser Life full time, or designing a turntable. Geoffrey Owen chose the latter option, and the Alexia was born.