February 3, 2023

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

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

While studying audio engineering as a college student, Devon Turnbull began using the creative pseudonym Ojas in a variety of disciplines, including graffiti, graphic design, music and clothing design. While his early career as a co-founder of a clothing brand was rooted in fashion, Devon continued to make private sound systems for himself and close friends, perfecting his passion. Today, Ojas builds custom hi-fi loudspeakers for a discerning group of collectors, including well-known audiophiles, art collectors, iconic fashion brands, hotels and celebrity homes. Just as Tequila Don Julio 1942 has become a major name in luxury spirits, Turnbull has also become known for its coveted audio systems.

Hypebeast and Tequila Don Julio 1942 called on Turnbull to showcase his creative process in his personal space and discussed the ways the brand has inspired him to create without limits.

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

Devon Turnbull: My name is Devon Turnbull and I am 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 creation process?

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

Naturally, the scale of the system must match the space. That said, most traditional folks from the home audio world will probably look at a lot of my work and say it’s totally inappropriate in terms of scale, because everything is much bigger than what the traditional American audio consumer has been told will work. But I come from a tradition of a different kind of speaker that charges the air in the room with sound in a different way. The presentation is different and therefore also the equipment.

So you oversee the entire process, from starting and choosing a room to finishing?

Generally. We consider a holistic experience, because after all, sound is not just a device. The entire space must be taken into account. So if we want to do our thing right, we need to know the room where things are going and even consider the acoustic design of the room itself. There is no speaker that can make a bad sounding room sound good.

How long does it take you to create a system?

Almost everything I make is a community effort. When you look at one whole piece of equipment, whether it’s a speaker or an amp or a turntable, it’s the sum of a series of components and I usually use components that are also artisanal in the way they’re made. So everything from the capacitors, the transformers, the actual motors themselves, or the drivers are often handcrafted by an artisan creating something very special. It is generally a very long process. We can build a cabinet fairly quickly, but to secure all the components we need to put the whole thing together, we usually try to give ourselves at least four months.

Don Julio is founded first and foremost on an ethos of quality. How is this approach reflected in your work?

When I first sat down with the Tequila Don Julio 1942 team, the overlap I knew right away when I started the project was that our brands have a strong presence in the music and nightlife scene. But I consider the things I do in nightlife secondary to the work I do with very careful, intentional, high-quality home audio. But when we met, it was immediately clear that the ethos of both brands are very well aligned, in that the development process of the Tequila Don Julio 1942 is a slow approach to making something that is relentlessly as perfect as possible. There are often times when we try to give ourselves a four-month window, but it’s not uncommon for me to wait about a year for a part.

For example, the transformers I use in one of my pieces were all wound up by a man in his 80s in Germany. I waited months for a small order, 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 that whole line of transformers and remake it. You can, of course, make something for someone in a much more reasonable time, but I don’t want to compromise my vision. I don’t want to compromise the sound I’m really after by just getting the next best thing available. The product Tequila Don Julio 1942 has the same no-compromise approach. Replacements aren’t good enough for some of us who take a lot of pride in our craft.

Tell us about the speaker you make in collaboration with Tequila Don Julio 1942.

Yes, the main system we’re working on is this system here. I thought 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 the same cabinets and many of these components in very high end home audio, but when put together this way the presentation is more suited to a dance club type environment. We can also basically assemble on the floor from here and have a configuration that’s more suitable for seated listening, as we would normally listen to music in a sort of home audio environment. And then the subs – this is half of the system. The subwoofers can even be stacked in a cluster of four cabinets and you even get a lower bass load with all the horn mouths scooped together. It seemed very appropriate for the project where we are both equally comfortable with a sophisticated and serious approach.

Can you also show us some design details of the speaker?

For the Tequila Don Julio 1942 collaboration, we made a version of one of my most popular home speakers. We did this walnut veneer and then we also made a record weight of copper. So part of the inspiration for my approach to all the collaborative things we did was actually a tribute 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 housing is the ground plane for the circuit. It is essentially part of the circuit. It is something that is often overlooked as it is quite expensive to make the entire case out of semi-precious material which is essentially an audio grade material for the electronics. But I am personally a big fan of oxygen-free copper as a conductor. So we made the housing for those things out of that material. Then we just left them bare and polished them up and made them look really nice, because I’m kind of a practitioner of “form follows function.” Let’s just celebrate the things that make something sound beautiful and showcase them aesthetically.

The art bookshelf speaker we made is available for sale. We also made a pure copper record weight and the outline of the record weight mimics the outline of the Tequila Don Julio 1942 bottle. So when you look at all these things in one collection – the bottle, the weight of the record, the different audio products – they share a functional aesthetic, which is natural and beautiful.

Why did this collaboration with Tequila Don Julio 1942 make sense to you?

I think Tequila Don Julio 1942 and I share the view 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 pretty cliché and obvious, but there is a term we often use in audio, 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. Not much audio equipment today, 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 treble and the very low low, so that when you walk into an audio show and you turn on this speaker, you’re like, ‘Oh , there’s a lot of bass’, and it sounds really sparkling and shiny, but what you’re really missing is the part of the frequency spectrum where all the instruments actually exist. It takes a little intention to sit down and listen to music and spend some time with it to understand, “How does this make me feel?” At the end of the day, I just want people to appreciate great music. Hopefully people come to my work and can appreciate the painstaking path I’ve taken to create a sound I’m very drawn to.

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