Phil Muzio, Madrigal's CEO Page 2
Lander: What does that mean in relation to future Levinson-branded products?
Muzio: We're working to be compatible with every known valid technology. We don't experiment with our customers on immature technologies. Everything we've always done has been a little bit late. We didn't introduce our first Levinson digital processor until 1990, and it was after we had gained experience with Proceed processors.
Lander: You've said your product-development cycle runs up to 18 months or more. How do you know when it's time to begin work on a Levinson product that incorporates a new technologya player that will accommodate a new digital disc format, for example, or more than one new format?
Muzio: It has to be a mature design of lasting value.
Lander: Other issues?
Muzio: Pragmatic considerations. We do our own electromechanical assembly for the drawer, the servo, the loader, and everything else except the laser pickup. Who we can get that OEM part from, and when we can get it, play roles.
Lander: You just returned from Japan, where you voiced a Mark Levinson system for a new Lexus model. That's the fifth in a series of Levinson-branded music systems for Lexus vehicles. Are there pragmatic considerations behind that collaboration?
Muzio: People spend a lot more time listening to music in their automobiles than they ever thought they would. One of the satisfying results of this OEM collaboration with Lexus is that it's a great opportunity to get somebody's attention.
Lander: ...in this brave new world where, if we can believe what we hear so often these days, fewer and fewer people listen seriously to music at home.
Muzio: People will always listen to music, just like people will always read books. While we may question the general state of public education, and who's reading what and where they got it, there still is a group of kids who read. There still is a group of kids who listen to music. They listen to it in different ways than we listen. It presents to us the same challenge that has existed for years, which is getting the word out to people who don't know how much fun, how emotionally satisfying it can be, to listen to high-quality reproduction of music. Our challenge is just like it used to be years ago: We need to look for new ways to get the word out and get it to a younger audience.
The Lexus collaboration is part of the answer. Along with the Lexus opportunity, audio/video home theater is clearly one of the strong hands we have to play. It's a more current interest, and it spans a much broader age range. A home-theater experience of a Disney movie or Apocalypse Now is a compelling experiencethe audio is just as compelling as the video. We've all experienced home theater with poor audio. One with great audio is worlds apart.
Lander: You've promised that the Mark Levinson No.40 will provide the best of both the audio and video worlds. That product, which you've shown in prototype form at shows, combines an audio processor and a video processor, each in its own enclosure. It's the first Levinson unit for audio/video applications. Once it goes on sale, Mark Levinson will no longer be an audio-only brand.
Muzio: No, I don't think that would be very much fun. What we do and the way we do it does not apply just to music.
Lander: Given Levinson's traditional role as a leader in the field, what does this transition imply for home music reproduction?
Muzio: It's going to get better, because the mediums that are conveying it are getting better. There was always an argument to be made for a center channel, even back in the early days with LPs. Stereo was adopted because it was an appropriate convention for the day. If multichannel is done properly, it has the potential to provide a more convincing illusion of the original event than stereo does. There's no absolute ideal number of channels.
A lot depends on the room; one of the reasons multichannel has the potential to be significantly better than two channels is more transducers in the room. When you put more transducers in different positions in the room, acoustically it will even out a lot of the anomalies that the room creates when you have only two sources of sound. I think multichannel offers the opportunity for a wonderful musical experience in the future. It can go well beyond the point to where we've advancedand what we do with two-channel is superb today. The day is long gone when you introduced a lot of significant compromises to a two-channel reproduction experience by getting it through a multichannel system. Multichannel gives us the opportunity to take that further than we can dream. That, to us, is a lot of fun. We come in every morning, partially, because it's a lot of fun.
Lander: I would think working to create best-of-class products is a great deal of fun for your engineers.
Muzio: It's important to every single one of them. It's what they'll tell their friends about when they're having dinner with them on Saturday night.
Lander: How big is the engineering group responsible for products like the Levinson No.40?
Muzio: I like to combine the product-development engineering staff for hardware and software with the staff at Revel doing loudspeaker design and the industrial design staff. The total design group for five brands is 23 people.
Lander: Your predecessor, Sandy Berlin, was a firm believer in industrial design and took a very unusual step when he hired Dave Barson to set up an in-house department back in 1989. Does the fact that Dave is still here tell us something about your views on the subject?
Muzio: It's extremely important. We're in the entertainment business, and the entertainment we put on is in somebody's home. Typically, these people are luxury buyers, and the environment they create in their homes is very important to them.
Lander: You just referred to the five brands in what you call the Madrigal Group. Levinson, of course, came first. Sandy Berlin conceived Proceed in 1986 and introduced the first Proceed product in 1989; his strategy was to move into lower price brackets and new market sectors with itspecifically, home theaterrather than leverage the Levinson brand name and risk compromising its image. Audio Access is a 14-year-old company that has always specialized in multi-zone audio distribution equipment and was acquired by Sidney Harman. After Harman International's acquisition of Madrigal in 1995, Sidney and Sandy collaborated on Revel, a company specifically created to produce speakers that were a match for your company's electronics. The Revel factory, though, is in Northridge, California, and we're sitting in your office in Connecticut. What, exactly, is Madrigal's relationship with Revel?
Muzio: We manage all activities of that brand, just like Mark Levinson.
Lander: Your newest brand name, Madrigal Imaging, has so far been confined to a pair of video projectors, 8" and 9" CRT models. What goals did your people have in mind when they combined all these brands under one umbrella?
Muzio: We're a vertically integrated company. The mandate, today and going forward, is to design, develop, and manufacture discretely branded turnkey systems. If you look at all the ingredients here, these are the ingredients of systems.
Lander: How does the Madrigal Group's vertical integration benefit people who buy your equipment?
Muzio: We see the opportunity to increase performance and reduce complexity. Products that are designed together can perform better. We're achieving greater performance by offering a system approach. Second is interoperability and ease of use. We want to integrate the operation of the system, to take the complication out of it for the end user.
Lander: You actually manufacture most of what goes into your products.
Muzio: We feel that the optimum way to maintain the level of quality, the level of performance, and the consistency is to maintain control over the manufacturing. All products are manufactured at our facility here in Middletown or in Northridge. The only thing we outsource is PC assembly for surface-mount technologies.
Lander: You've stressed the fact that through-hole PC board assemblythe manufacture of boards employing conventional resistors, capacitors, and parts with leadsis done here. Why is that so important?
Muzio: The way you design circuit boards has an effect on the sonic performance of a product. Parts need to be laid out on boards in particular ways, which appear to be random. Designing PC boards to be manufactured in a fully [automated] way often limits sonic performance. We assemble ours so that we can combine the best characteristics of analog design with the efficiencies of semi-automatic assembly.
Lander: Is there a way for audiophiles to determine whether specific products use boards that were designed for sonic performance as opposed to manufacturing convenience?
Muzio: If someone takes the top cover off a product and sees assemblies with resistors, capacitors, and leaded parts that are laid out in a very symmetrical, corn-row manner, then nine times out of ten they have not been laid out for optimum sonic performance. They've been laid out to be built by an automatic machine.
Lander: You've had a longer, more intimate association with the Mark Levinson brand during its first 30 years than anyone else. What single word or phrase do you think most closely characterizes it? Music?
Lander: What can Stereophile readers expect in the brand's fourth decade?
Muzio: The evolution we've always been known for.