Paul Hales: A Passion for Speakers Page 2
It's quite funny: my partner and I had gone to the 1987 CES to check it out, to see what it was all about and learn a little bit about the industry. We had elaborate room-treatment panels we had made ourselves, and we had display racks and things, and I think two days before the show started we had the room all set up. We were all ready to go, but we didn't really have any idea what having a speaker company or running a business was like. We just decided to do it.
We had a tremendous amount of interest from international people. The concept of exporting these things had never occurred to us. And people were asking us, "What's your fax number?" And we'd look at each other and say, "Fax number?" This was when faxes were $1000 or more. And people would ask for our export price sheet. "Export price sheet?"
We had full production and we fully intended to get business at the show. We just didn't anticipate worldwide business. We actually did pretty well...There were some pretty rave press writeups for us, in Hi-Fi News & Record Review, then in Stereophile.
Deutsch: What did you think you had to contribute to speaker design, given that there are all those speaker companies making such a wide variety of speakers? What did you think you had that was special, or an edge, over some of the more experienced designers and speaker companies?
Hales: Back then? I don't know. You've got to understand—the whole thing came out of a passion for making speakers. I don't think we ever stopped to think in specific terms what it was we were going to do that was different or better than the pros. It just came out of this intense energy and passion. In a sense, you must believe in yourself to have that much devotion to the task.
Deutsch: The System Two Signature had an extremely heavy, well-damped cabinet, with the crossover mounted in a separate box, also highly damped. Are the mechanical aspects foremost in your design approach?
Hales: Yes, the mechanical side of the loudspeaker has always been something that I've paid a lot of attention to. My background is in mechanical engineering. The drive-units were getting better and better, and the mechanical aspect of the speaker was not. One of the commercial designs that really influenced me in that respect was the Wilson WATT. In 1985 or '86 a pair cost $4000 or $4500, and at first people laughed at the concept. But that really showed me something. When I listened to that speaker—and it wasn't particularly my cup of tea in every regard—it truly didn't have any kind of cabinet coloration. So I paid attention to what was going on around me.
Our very first speaker, the System Two, was one of the first commercial speakers to have an extra-thick front baffle and multiple braces on the inside. There were five horizontal partitions, extra thickness, and longitudinal stiffeners on every panel. This became the Hales trademark: heavy, dense, rigid enclosure. And I followed that through in existing products as well. But I've gotten a lot smarter about how we budget the manufacturing dollar, so I'm able to create an enclosure that performs as well or better, but offers much higher value.