Way back in the mists of time, around 1980 to be exact, the Marantz company in Europe introduces a range of ostensibly cost-no-object solid-state electronics under the "Esotec" banner. Manufactured in Japan, but apparently designed in the USA, these ruggedly constructed components are noteworthy in that the power amplifiers are capable of being operated with the output stages running under class-A bias as well as class-B. The relatively expensive Esotec amplifiers sell in small numbers in the UKremember that this is before the rebirth of the British high endand pass into the history books. I am reminded of them, however, when I visit my friend Ivor Humphreys of Gramophone magazine at Christmas 1987; he is using a pair of the 30W mono class-A Marantz amplifiers to drive KEF R107sand making very nice sounds.
Richard Sequerra was born in 1929 and raised in various parts of the US by his mother, who worked for the Department of State. By the time he was 20, he had launched a freelance career that has since spanned a wide range of technologies. During a stint at Marantz in the 1960s, he worked with Sidney Smith on that firm's famed Marantz 10B tuner, which was sold from 1964 through 1970. Subsequent products have included the Sequerra 1 tuner and the Metronome 7 loudspeaker, originally produced by Sequerra's firm Pyramid and now hand-assembled by its creator, who offers the most recent version via his website, for less than half what it cost through retail channels when Sam Tellig praised it in the July 2007 Stereophile. Sequerra's newest transducersa self-amplified nearfield speaker and matching subwoofer designed for Internet music listeningremain in prototype form; he hopes to sell or license the designs rather than manufacture and market them himself.
Richard Vandersteen doesn't look like a typical loudspeaker designer. True, he wears glasses, but his presence suggests a longshoreman or somebody who'd be played by Gene Hackman. And sure enough, he tells you in a quasi-Dukes of Hazzard drawl that he's been a construction worker, plumber, truckdriver, and electrician. Electronics had always been a hobby, but Vandersteen formalized his understanding by working in electronics during his stint in the Air Force. Back in civilian life, Vandersteen entered into speaker manufacture, producing the "baffleless" range, at least regarding the midrange driver and tweeter, which bears his name. The speakers, particualrly the Model 2 and its variants, have become, in a decade, one of America's most respected brands, despite RV's low-profile marketing techniques. I met with Richard at the Las Vegas CES in January and asked him what had got him started in loudspeaker design.
Who the heck is this guy? Is he David Johansen, the lipstick-wearing front man of the seminal glam-rock, proto-punk New York Dolls? Is he Buster Poindexter, the pompadoured and tuxedoed "Hot, Hot, Hot" soca stylist? Is he a lounge singer? A Latin artist? Johansen is all of the above, having achieved success in each incarnation.
One of the things that fascinates me about the field of box loudspeaker design is how few original talents there are capable of designing a model from first principles. Yes, armed with the Thiele-Small papers on bass alignment, an understanding of filter theory, and a working knowledge of the OEM drive-unit field, almost anyone can, and has, come up with one commercially and sonically successful design—given a fair degree of luck. And the teams of well-trained engineers at companies like KEF, B&W, and Celestion have shown that they can produce a steady stream of affordable boxes with a high ratio of performance for the dollar. But for an individual to create more than just one good box speaker requires a modicum of genius, and genius is thin on the ground.
I'm not sure why, but people tell me things. Maybe it's because they realize I listen. They reveal themselves, sometimes in charming and unexpected ways. So I was almost prepared for my three-way conference call with the designer of the Symphonic Line Kraft 400 power amplifier, Rolf Gemein, in Germany and Indianapolis-based importer/distributor Klaus Bunge. I started by asking Rolf about his design philosophy . . .
It's not easy to get Roy Gandy to look back. "I'm not a past person, I don't reminisce," he says. "But right at this moment I'm feeling very happy. We've not quite completed the launch of a whole new range of turntables and a new range of electronics, and I'm feeling elated."
"We tried to do some work between the legs of . . .
"Ummmm . . . that sounds weird."
Rock musiciansdo they ever think about anything but sex?
Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson chuckles. He explains that what he meant to say was that he, singer-bassist Geddy Lee, and the exalted, formerly mustachioed object of Planet Earth's most fervent drummer cult, Neil Peart, were trying to write songs during a break in a recent tour.
Although the term "professional" is often used as part of model designations in consumer electronics, the actual overlap between the audiophile consumer market and the real pro market is quite small. There are speakers in common use as studio monitors that no self-respecting audiophile would want to be caught dead listening to, and the typical audiophile loudspeaker would go up in smoke if asked to pump out the kind of volume that pro application routinely demands. To a lesser extent, the same applies to amplifiers: pro is pro and consumer is consumer, and ne'er the twain shall meet.
Doug Sax is undoubtedly one of the most controversial and outspoken figures in audio. As co-founder, with Lincoln Mayorga, of Sheffield Lab, Doug pioneered the first modern direct-to-disc recording. His perfectionist methods may be controversial, but the results certainly are not: Sheffield Lab recordings are nearly universally praised by the audiophile community, while the Billboard Hot 100 always features at least one Sax-cut disc.
Siegfried Linkwitz was born in Germany in 1935. He received his electrical engineering degree from Darmstadt Technical University prior to moving to California in 1961 to work for Hewlett-Packard. During his early years in the USA, he did postgraduate work at Stanford University. For over 30 years Mr. Linkwitz has developed electronic test equipment ranging from signal generators, to network and spectrum analyzers, to microwave sweepers and instrumentation for evaluating electromagnetic compatibility.
We all know that women generally have better hearing than men and enjoy music at least as much as men do, but women are conspicuously absent from every segment of the high-end audio scene. The vast majority of high-end companies are owned by men, and any head count of female designers, retailers, reviewers, or consumers will yield a pitifully small number. High-end audio is a man's, man's, man's world.
Steve McCormack has carved out an unusual niche for himself in high-end audio. While working as a hi-fi salesman, Steve successfully modified an amplifier for a customer and promptly decided that there was a market for improving the sonic performance of other companies' products. Thus The Mod Squad was born, a company Steve and long-time partner Joyce Dudney Fleming established to offer high-end modification services.
In our September issue, I wrote about Pioneer’s excellent SP-BS22-LR loudspeaker. At just $129.99/pair (and often discounted), the SP-BS22-LR represents extraordinary value and may very well attract a wider and younger audience to true high-fidelity sound. The only thing I don’t really like about the speaker is its tongue-twister of a name. (But that’s easy to forgive. Most people can’t pronounce my name, either.)
While preparing the review, I took the opportunity to ask Andrew Jones, Pioneer’s chief engineer, a few questions about hi-fi, music, and loudspeaker design. As always, Jones was forthright and charming; his answers to my questions were often enlightening.