I only found out after beginning my auditioning of Mirage's M-1si loudspeakers that the film 2001, A Space Odyssey was, at practically the same instant, undergoing a brief theatrical revival in major cities around the US. I might have known. Perhaps it was the persistent Strauss melodies that rattled around in my head as I set them up. Perhaps it was the two 5'-tall monoliths that subsequently stared at me as I sat in my listening chair. For whatever reason, the M-1sis were an imposing sight, and the association with out-of-this-world events was not a difficult one to make.
It was eight years ago that I first met Aalt Jouk van den Hul. I was visiting Ortofon in Denmark, and, with a group of hi-fi journalists from all over Europe, was traveling by bus to visit the cartridge-production facility in the far south of that country. Bus journeys are not my ideal way of passing time; naturally I gravitated to the rear of the bus, where bottles of Tuborg were making their presence felt. One journalist, however—a pixieish fellow hailing from The Low Countries—resisted the blandishments of the opened bottles. Producing a sheath of black-and-white glossies from his briefcase, he announced that he had just developed the ultimate stylus profile!
Since he joined Snell Acoustics in the mid-1980s, Kevin Voecks, their chief designer (footnote 1), has been involved in the design or redesign of the entire Snell line, from the minor revision of the Type A/III (incorporation of a new tweeter), to the complete redesign of the Type C (now the CIII). Snell Acoustics is located in Massachusetts, and although Kevin spends a good deal of time there or at the measurement and analysis facilities of the Canadian National Research Council (NRC) in Ottawa, he does a great deal of his conceptual and preliminary design work, as well as his listening, in Los Angeles, where he makes his home. I visited him there last summer to gather a little insight into his background and loudspeaker design philosophy. I started by asking Kevin when had he first become interested in loudspeaker design...
It may surprise some readers to learn that all of the contributors to Stereophile do not get the chance to hear, at our leisure and in familiar circumstances, everything that passes through the magazine's portals. Not that we wouldn't like to, but there just isn't time. Nor are the logistics always right. I was therefore probably as intrigued as the average reader by LA's glowing report on the $5000/pair Mirage M-1 in the June 1989 issue. The M-1s had been on the market long enough for me to have heard them on several occasions, of course, but generally at shows and not under the best of conditions. I did get to hear them briefly at LA's later that same summer, but the hustle and bustle of a Stereophile Writers' Conference party isn't the optimum place for value judgments.
Audiophiles have long had a love-hate relationship with dipolar loudspeakers. These devices are nearly always a pain to position properly, they tend to dominate a room, and more often than not they're fussy about amplification. But when it all comes together, the best of them can make magic.
The concept of a loudspeaker with its own built-in amplification is an idea whose time should long since have come. Technically it makes a lot of sense, and in some parts of the world—not to mention professional circles—it's quite popular. But commercially, the idea has never really taken off in this country. And while the loudspeaker manufacturer should be in a better position to make the best amplifier choice, American audiophiles seem wedded to the idea of making their own amplifier/loudspeaker match.
Scratch an audiophile and, chances are, you'll find a closet Wilson Audio fan. The Wilson WATT/Puppy would probably make almost anyone's list of the most significant high-end loudspeaker designs. David Wilson first built his reputation with the custom-built WAMM loudspeaker—a monumental piece invariably included with products like the Infinity IRS, Genesis I, and Apogee Grand when the world's most awesome loudspeakers are discussed. But it was the WATT, followed by the WATT/Puppy—the latter now several generations improved over the original design—that really put the company on the high-end audio map.