In its 40th year of business, and on the 70th birthday of then owner/president, Bill Whitlock, the contracts were inked to sell Jensen Transformers to Radial Engineering, its biggest customer.
Entering into his 25th year of ownership, Whitlock made the determination that it was time to release control to a younger generation. Whitlock knows Radial owner/president, Peter Janis well, and over the 20-plus year relationship, Janis had asked that if Jensen was ever to be sold, he be given first consideration. Whitlock unabashedly admits that he has “strong feelings about keeping the Jensen legacy alive and untarnished,” and of Janis, that “he’s somebody that I can trust…my expectations are high.”
The late Deane Jensen founded Jensen Transformers in 1974. “Dean’s take,” tells Whitlock, “was that what was wrong with existing transformers, even the best of them back in the early seventies, was that the transformers were made by people who truly knew how to wind transformers, but none of them understood how the transformers interacted with the electronics around them.” Jensen’s designs were developed with those interactions fully considered. “I decided when Dean died, that I was going to continue the legacy,” says Whitlock, though admitting, “I didn’t know what I was getting into at the time.” After a “tough” five years, the business was turned around. “I like to think that I continued his work.”
Janis’ own experience with Jensen dates back to 1981 when a bass-playing tech co-worker produced what he described as a “long lost amulet made of pure gold,” a Jensen transformer, one of the first in Canada, that the tech built into a DIY direct box. In 1992, when Radial Engineering’s predecessor, CableTek, was founded in Vancouver, BC, Jensen transformers and Mogami cabling were the first two product lines the company imported (and they still import both today). The needs of CableTek customer, Audio Analysts, inspired the creation of the Radial JDI direct box in 1995, followed by the JDX amplifier DI—the J in both models standing for Jensen.
As a Jensen Transformers customer, Radial, along with other Jensen OEM customers, had faced some issues of consistent delivery flow. In part, says Whitlock, those issues followed a 2012 decision to bring all hands-on assembly in house as “the only way we were going to have the tight quality control that we really wanted.” Yet, he concedes, “Bringing it all in slowed production.” After evaluating alternative suppliers (“We tested everything,” says Janis.), Radial kept coming back to the Jensen parts as outperforming every alternative in terms of “sound quality, specs and noise.” Emphasizing the noise performance, Janis says the “Jensens just did a better job…they always won.”
Radial has embraced the Jensen vision, along with the challenge of turning an engineering-driven company into a sales-and-marketing-driven company without sacrificing quality. “I see so many opportunities,” says Janis. “It’s a really good challenge for us…We have to learn how to do it. We have to learn how to take a company and bring them up.” To those ends, the lease on Jensen’s Chatsworth, CA factory and headquarters has been extended, the raw parts inventory has been increased, more computing power has been added to the production, inventory and workflow analysis systems, antiquated bookkeeping systems have been brought up to date and accounting support hired with additional manufacturing personnel to be added.
Two additional “high-precision, Meteor numerical winders” have been purchased. These devices, ordered by another company but returned new to the distributor, are no longer manufactured and claimed to be more stable and precise than currently available models. One will be put into service to immediately bolster manufacturing. The other, says Janis, “is dedicated just to R&D, to start to look at ways we can improve production efficiency and intensify our efforts in new product development.” “What they do is build the world’s best transformer,” Janis proclaims. Radial, he says, is bringing to the blend its own ample experience with higher volume manufacturing, is working towards a philosophy change that doesn’t change the core of the company, towards redesigns that lead to production efficiencies and more inventory on the shelf without negatively affecting product performance,. Radial’s management personnel have visited Jensen’s factory, initiating the modernization already underway as well as long-range planning. The Jensen website will be rebuilt to be more mobile friendly, aiding clients in making onsite purchasing decisions.
Janis says he’s contacted key clients from Jensen’s OEM customer base, assuring them of a continuation of business, with more consistent supply chain performance and the possibility of future savings as manufacturing efficiencies are improved. Radial, he says, is “not being treated any differently” than any other client—there’s no reduction in the prices Radial will pay for Jensen parts, and no favoritism. It would be counter productive to proceed any other way, says Janis. “We won’t make money for a couple of years…It’s about turning it into a profitable organization that’s got long legs.”
Jensen’s non-OEM business, the ISO-MAX family of transformer based video (a new market for Radial) and audio isolation and splitter solutions, is part of the anticipated path to Jensen’s long-term health, though production efficiencies and more available inventory feeding an active sales channel. Rep firms have already been lined up to represent the line; before this move, Jensen had never had outside sales. Additional future directions could include transformers optimized for digital signal interface, per Janis. The ISO-MAX line was developed for ease of manufacturing at low volumes. Work is under way towards a revamped custom shop capable of producing higher volumes at lower cost
Whitlock has committed to staying with the company for four years, returning to “the fun part of the work” as an engineer and to the roving ambassador and educator role he embraced 20 years ago after the industry icon Neil Muncy dragged him on stage to address interface issues during an AES conference (Muncy and Whitlock were also major contributors to the June, 1995 issue of the Journal Of The Audio Engineering Society covering shields and grounding—the most requested back issue on record with individual articles are available for download and a print version available as a special publication). Janis plans to encourage Whitlock in that role, with an educational tour being planned, beginning with in-depth instruction of Radial’s sales and marketing personnel on the benefits and applications inherent in the Jensen product line.