Paul Hales: A Passion for Speakers Page 6
Hales: Well, it didn't just happen that way. With each design, I pick up new tools and new equipment and new understanding. We were able to start with a really accurate optimum transfer function. We'd go into the listening room with the prototype, which was, from a purely objective standpoint, pretty spectacular: seamless, extended, smooth, tonally good—and just a little bit boring. I said, "Larry, watch this." I sat down and made one last little change. I'm talking tenths of a dB here—I'm not talking about completely changing the shape of transfer function.
It was like an explosion went off. All of a sudden, the speaker sounded huge. It threw this big, dynamic, open, powerful sound that sucked us right in. We just got sucked right in. It was three o'clock in the morning, and we spent the next two hours listening to music, 'til dawn.
Deutsch: In this refinement process, do you change component values or do you sometimes just change the specific components, like going to a different kind or brand of capacitor?
Hales: In the old days I did that, but now I don't. The reason is that I now have a very good handle on different components' inherent sound characters. I know what style or brand of component I want to use, and what restrictions are based on the ultimate price of the product. The wire, capacitors, binding posts, bi-wire, not bi-wire, bracing—all that stuff matters. But it matters only after you get the transfer function right. The transfer function—amplitude response and power response—overrides virtually all of those other things put together, multiplied by 10!
Deutsch: Is timbre your first criterion?
Hales: I guess you could say it's the first criterion. The power response is very important to producing involving instrumental timbre and tonal color. If I were buying a competing product for myself, and if it didn't soundstage, didn't image, I could live with that. But if the timbre is wrong, then I have difficulty enjoying the music. Fortunately, a wise designer once told me, "get the timbre right and everything else will follow." He was right. Timbre is essentially the combination of how the fundamental and all the harmonics work together and by definition; the fundamental and the harmonics cover a broad range of frequencies. So if you have something really out of whack in the transfer function, your timbre has to be out of whack too.
Deutsch: What about other components in the audio system? Don't they have to be harmonically right as well?
Hales: Absolutely. But to a lesser degree than you might think. Only because speakers tend to be more grossly inaccurate than amplifiers. Speakers vary widely from being extremely dry-sounding to overly rich, thick, and syrupy; the majority probably erring on the dry side.
Deutsch: Has the sound of your speakers changed from the beginning?
Hales: Yes and no. Originally, I wanted to make speakers that allow me to enjoy the music that I listen to. And I knew when that speaker was fun to listen to and when it wasn't. But in the early days, I couldn't tell you why. Now I can. I know what I'm shooting for.
I've also developed a way to get that musicality, whatever you want to call it—that fun-to-listen-to quality—and maximize other things, like bandwidth. In the early days my speakers were criticized for not having enough bass. Well, I don't have that problem any more. I was able to retain all the qualities I wanted, and increase the bandwidth. But I needed to learn how to do that. My philosophy before was, "Better not do it at all than do it wrong."
Deutsch: Omission is better than...
Hales: Right. Because if it ain't there, you might not miss it, but if it is there and it's in your face and it calls out to you, "Look, I'm this big problem," then sometimes it's hard to listen around that and once again get involved in the music. But my speakers do sound entirely different in that they're wider-bandwidth and perhaps tonally richer. But even the System Two, in its early days, had a certain harmonic quality about it—that tonal, timbral richness about it—despite the fact that it sounded lean and had a more forward presentation. But there was still sort of a richness about it that people really liked. That remains. But I have made a more sophisticated sort of wider-bandwidth, and perhaps more accurate, version of it. In those days, I was designing in a much different way. I had less equipment and tools, intellectual as well as physical.