Tequila Don Julio 1942 Dives Into Audio Engineer Devon Turnbull’s Creative Process

The high-fidelity audio equipment artist brings Tequila Don Julio 1942 into his space to show how he creates, his way.

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Don Julio was founded on the ideals of passion and excellence. The brand began from Don Julio González’s dedication to bringing the highest quality tequila to the masses, and Tequila Don Julio 1942 continues to set the bar high for luxury tequila by prioritizing quality over quantity.

González not only strived for excellence to create the best quality tequila possible but also to constantly perfect his craft. Devon Turnbull — a streetwear designer turned high-fidelity audio engineer — shares that same commitment to creating high-quality products with an unparalleled devotion to his work.

While studying audio engineering as a university student, Devon Turnbull began using the creative pen name Ojas across a variety of disciplines including graffiti, graphic design, music, and clothing design. While his early career was rooted in fashion as co-founder of a clothing brand, Devon continued to privately craft sound systems for himself and close friends, perfecting his passion. Today, as his primary focus, Ojas builds custom Hi-Fi speakers for a discerning group of collectors including well-known audiophiles, art collectors, iconic fashion brands, hotels, and celebrity homes. Much like Tequila Don Julio 1942 has become a significant name in luxury spirits, Turnbull has also become renowned for his highly-coveted audio systems.

 

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Hypebeast and Tequila Don Julio 1942 called upon Turnbull to show off his creative process in his personal space and discussed the ways that the brand has inspired him to create without boundaries.

Hypebeast: Can you tell me a bit about who you are and what you do?

Devon Turnbull: My name is Devon Turnbull and I’m an artist and multidisciplinary creative. My primary medium is music playback equipment, so high fidelity music reproduction systems and components.

Can you walk us through your process of creating?

I think my practice is one that is evolutionary. Each piece or each new design is sort of a continuation and evolution of something I’ve either tried before or something I’ve been inspired by from somebody in the greater community of audio engineering. So it really depends on the piece or the project. But on an individual project basis — whether I’m making something that is entirely my work in an art gallery or museum or I’m just making an individual component that’s gonna go into a high-end audio system — it starts with the space and the use. Those are usually the first two things that I ask someone. I’ll ask, ‘What room is this going in? And how do you envision using this?’ Because different people listen to music in completely different ways and they listen to completely different kinds of music and there’s no perfect solution for anything in audio. There’s no one speaker that can play every kind of music better than any other speaker.

Obviously, the scale of the system has to be appropriate for the space. With that being said, most traditional people from the home audio field will probably look at a lot of my work and say that it’s totally inappropriate scale-wise because everything is much bigger than what the traditional American audio consumer has been told is gonna work. But I come from a tradition of a different kind of speaker that loads the air in the room a different way with sound. The presentation is different and therefore the equipment is different.

So you oversee the entire process, from starting and picking a room, to finish?

Generally. We’re considering a holistic experience because ultimately sound is not just a device. The whole space needs to be considered. So if we’re gonna do our thing properly, we need to know the room that things are going into and even consider the acoustic design of the room itself. There’s no speaker that can make a bad-sounding room sound good.

How long does it take you to create a system?

Almost anything I make is a community effort. If you look at one entire device, whether it’s a speaker or an amplifier or a turntable, it’s the sum of a series of components and I tend to use components that are also artisanal in the way they’re made. So anything from the capacitors, the transformers, the actual motors themselves, or the drivers are often handmade by one artisan that makes something really special. It’s a very long process in general. We can build a cabinet pretty quickly, but in order for us to secure all of the components that we need to assemble the entire thing, we usually try to give ourselves at least four months.

Don Julio is based on an ethos of quality first & foremost. How does this approach play out in your work?

When I first sat down with the Tequila Don Julio 1942 team, the overlap that I immediately knew going into the project was that our brands have a strong presence in the music world and the nightlife world. But I consider the stuff that I do in nightlife to be kind of secondary to the work that I do with really careful, intentional, high-end home audio. But when we met, it was just immediately evident that the ethos of both brands is very well aligned in that the process of developing the Tequila Don Julio 1942 is a slow approach to making something that is just relentlessly as perfect as possible. There are often times that we try to give ourselves a four-month window, but it’s not uncommon for me to be waiting for a part for around a year.

As an example, the transformers that I use in one of my pieces are all wound by one guy who’s in his 80s in Germany. I was waiting for months for a small order of them but he was not satisfied with the sound of the transformers and he felt that the material used in the cores was compromised in some way. So he told me he was going to scrap and remake that whole run of transformers. You can obviously make something for someone in a much more reasonable amount of time, but I don’t want to compromise my vision. I don’t want to compromise the sound that I’m really after by just getting the next best thing that’s available. The Tequila Don Julio 1942 product has the same uncompromised approach. Substitutions are not good enough for some of us that pour a great deal of pride into our craft.

Tell us about the speaker you’re creating in partnership with Tequila Don Julio 1942.

Yeah, the main system that we’re working on is this system here. I thought that this would be a good solution for this project because this stack of speakers is actually reconfigurable in a number of different ways. I use these same cabinets and a lot of these components in very high-end home audio but assembled like this, the presentation is more appropriate for a dance club kind environment. We can also assemble basically from here up on the ground and have a configuration that’s more appropriate for seated listening, the way we would typically listen to music in a sort of home audio environment. And then the subs — this is one half of the system. The subs can actually be stacked into a cluster of four cabinets and you even get lower bass loading with all the horn mouths scooped together like that. It seemed quite appropriate for the project where both of us are equally comfortable with a refined and serious approach.

Can you also walk us through some of the design details of the speaker?

For the Tequila Don Julio 1942 collaboration, we made a version of one of my most popular speakers that are used for the home. We did this walnut veneer and then we also made a record weight out of copper. So part of the inspiration for my approach to all of the collaborative stuff we did was really an homage to the ingredients that go into the product. For example, we made a turntable and also a tube phono preamplifier. In tube audio electronics, the enclosure is the ground plane for the circuit. It’s essentially part of the circuit. It’s something that’s often overlooked because it’s quite expensive to make the entire enclosure out of semi-precious material that is essentially an audio-grade material for the electronics. But I personally am a big fan of oxygen-free copper as a conductor. So we made the enclosure for those things out of that material. Then we just left them exposed and polished them and made them look really beautiful because I’m sort of a practitioner of ‘form follows function.’ Let’s just celebrate the things that make something sound beautiful and exhibit them aesthetically.

The art bookshelf speaker that we made, that’s available for purchase. We also made a pure copper record weight and the contours of the record weight mimic the contours of the Tequila Don Julio 1942 bottle. So if you look at all this stuff in one collection — the bottle, the record weight, the different audio products — they share a functional aesthetic, which is natural and beautiful.

Why did this partnership with Tequila Don Julio 1942 make sense for you?

I think Tequila Don Julio 1942 and I share the perspective that there are no shortcuts to quality. You have to do things right to make a really great product.

How do you want people to feel when they experience an Ojas speaker?

I design audio equipment to make music sound as natural as possible. That sounds kind of cliche and obvious, but there’s a term that we use in audio a lot, which is ‘musical.’ It’s a somewhat pretentious term, but it’s trying to convey that I want an instrument to sound like an instrument. These days, not a lot of audio equipment, especially mass consumer audio equipment, is really designed for that purpose. What’s happened over time is that product designers have put a strong emphasis on the very high highs and the very low lows so that when you walk into an audio show and you put this speaker on, you’re like, ‘Oh, there’s a lot of bass,’ and it sounds really sparkly and shiny, but what you’re really missing out on is the part of the frequency spectrum where all the instruments actually exist. It requires a little bit of intentionality to sit down and listen to music and spend some time with it to understand, ‘How does this make me feel?’ Ultimately, I just want people to appreciate great music. Hopefully, people come and hear my work and they can appreciate the arduous path that I’ve gone down to establish a sound that I’m very attracted to.

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