Kathleen (K-10) and I first met Jack Renner—Telarc's Chairman, CEO, and Chief Recording Engineer—at Iridium, a tony jazz club here in New York. He was recording Benny Golson and the Jazz Messengers doing a rousing a tribute to Art Blakey. Now what would you think a guy who's won 31 Grammys over 21 years would be doing, exactly? Maybe feet up, a cigar languidly tracing curlicues in the air while directing his minions?
Jacques Mahul is an interesting, thoughtful man. He's entirely Parisian: international, urbane, and sophisticated. During "HeeFee" '96 in Paris, Kathleen and I sat down with him and spoke about his early years as an audiophile. To accompany my review of the JMlab Utopia, We tried to find out what drives him—to make the drivers he makes today! I asked him when had it all started:
There was something odd about the clock on Jim Thiel's office wall. I didn't get it at first, other than noting that instead of the minutes being marked off at 12 five-minute intervals, Jim's clock had 24 markings. That was it: as well as the number "12" in its usual place at the top of the face, there was another "12" at the bottom, where the "6" usually is. The clock that Jim built was typical of everything this laconic loudspeaker engineer is involved in: logical, functional, and different from what anyone else in the same field does. In his cigarette-strained drawl, Jim explained that the short hand of his clock always points toward the sun: directly up at noon, directly down at midnight. That's the way a clock should be, declared Jim, and when you're in his company, it's hard to see how he could be wrong.
Audio designers may differ in their specific design approaches, but the best of them have in common a real passion for their craft. I certainly found this when I visited the Hales Design Group factory in Huntington Beach, California. Although still in his early 30s, Paul Hales has been involved in the design and manufacture of high-quality loudspeakers for almost a decade—first with the Hales Audio partnership, then with his own company, Hales Design Group. When he was just 23, an age when most people are still trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives, Paul had a speaker company and a speaker, the System Two Signature, that got a rave review in Stereophile (Vol.13 No.9, September 1990). Naturally, my first question was about beginnings...
Brilliant designs, spectacular initial success, rave reviews, explosive growth that stretches resources way beyond limits, too much attention to technology and too little to manufacturing and business practices, long hours, quality problems, conflicts between partners, and finally...
Nothing at 41 E. 62nd Street in Manhattan offers any clue as to what sort of business that takes place inside. The waiting room feels vaguely monastic: straw mats on the floor, a row of shoes near the door. Like a day spa offering acupuncture and shiatsu. There's no corporate name, no logo, no mission statement.
A clock running six and a half hours late hangs above a receptionist's unoccupied desk. An enormous white dog is asleep under framed pictures of old blues artists: Son Thomas, Etta Baker, Pernell King, Cora Fluker, Big Joe Williams.
Canadian loudspeaker company PSB International celebrated both its 25th anniversary in July and the 10th anniversary of the introduction of its Stratus series. (I review the latest version of the flagship Stratus speaker, the Gold i, elsewhere in this issue.) Started by Paul Barton and two friends in the summer of 1972, PSB Speakers was named after Paul and his high-school sweetheart Sue (now his wife). Paul & Sue Barton Speakers is now part of Lenbrook Industries, which distributes NAD, Marantz, and Bang & Olufsen in Canada, and which in turn is part of the Canadian conglomerate Lenbrook Inc.
While I was working on my review of the K-1 preamplifier, I telephonically corralled Ayre's Research Director Charlie Hansen for a midwinter afternoon's gabfest. I started by asking Charlie how he became an audiophile.
With 25 years of experience in sound recording, audio retailing, and loudspeaker design and manufacturing, Ken Kreisel has insightful things to say about just about any audio-related subject. The president of Miller & Kreisel Sound Corp. (M&K), Kreisel pioneered the satellite/subwoofer speaker concept that laid the groundwork for the home theaters of today. M&K's most recent offering—the S-150THX surround speaker system—is reviewed in this issue (see archived article).
Our interview with Hiroyasu Kondo—founder of Audio Note Japan, and a legendary figure in his own time—took place during HI-FI '96 last June at the Waldorf=Astoria. It seemed very natural; the crowd at the Show was very internationalist. Herb Reichert of Audio Note New York found us a quiet corner after lunch, and we sat down to talk.
September 1997 saw the 35th anniversary of Stereophile magazine, founded by J. Gordon Holt back in 1962. If any interview needs no introduction, this is it. My interview with Gordon was conducted around the kitchen table in Gordon's Boulder, Colorado home over a couple of cold beers. It seemed appropriate to start at the very beginning... J. Gordon Holt: I don't remember when that was.
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.
One of the characteristic traits, I have found, that defines the loudspeaker designer is that they are loners—they seem to avoid one another's company as if on purpose. But if ever you sit down with a designer, all you need to do to open him up is to ask him what he feels to be important in loudspeaker performance.