Audio Odyssey: Ken Kreisel of M&K Page 2

We had our ultra-high-end audio demo room next to our audiophile-quality recording studio and disc-cutting monitoring room, so we could record something and then go next-door and listen on the best equipment available. I discovered that there was no one system that did everything well. So I set about designing a loudspeaker that recreated the sound I heard when I made my recordings. The result was the original S-1 loudspeaker, which had a narrow baffle and was vertically directional to minimize reflections off the ceiling and floor. It was the first truly high-end satellite/subwoofer system and it set the stage for the early '80s, when people started wanting to utilize that sort of system in their home theaters.

WP: Did you immediately see the applications for home theater?

KK: Although we were involved in installing screening rooms for movie-industry people during the '70s, the big change occurred in the early '80s, when Dolby Stereo was establishing itself in theaters. Multichannel wasn't new—70mm film with six discrete audio channels had been around since the '50s-but when the Dolby-encoded master tapes began being used to create videotape and laserdisc copies, people began to realize that this information was available on the software and they demanded decoders. That launched the home-theater business, and subwoofers became an important part of that. Then it just took off. The major growth in audio sales these last 10 years has been audio for video.

WP: Your speakers use multiple tweeters and woofers—why is that?

KK: Since 1978, we've focused on the concept of making vertically directional loudspeakers. I basically believe that speakers should function like large headphones; they should allow your ears to hear what the microphone "heard" without the influence of the playback room. This is the opposite of what many manufacturers seem to believe—but then, they haven't had the luxury of doing much recording.

A lot of people think that everything should sound as though you were sitting in the seventh row center of a concert hall, but I think that if the microphone was placed a foot in front of a singer, then the voice should sound as though it were coming from a foot in front of your face. Only then is a speaker re-creating true depth, as opposed to artificial depth. In that regard, I would say that the original Quad electrostatic loudspeaker, which has been around since 1955, is still one of the finest loudspeakers ever made. It has superb coherence and it's vertically directional.

Using multiple tweeters makes the speaker a vertical line source, which causes the least amount of reflection in the room. The S-150THX [reviewed in this issue] is an outgrowth of a speaker called the S-100, which used the same three-tweeter/two-midrange configuration. By shaping what the outside tweeters are doing, you control the vertical dispersion—as well as the power handling. Most speakers will not handle anything like the dynamic range of real music—you get compression, either because the speaker can't handle enough power or because its efficiency is so low it causes the amplifier to clip. So power handling and efficiency are important if you're trying to recreate the dynamics of real music; using multiple drivers increases both.

WP: M&K has embraced the THX program enthusiastically, but a lot of high-end manufacturers have remained aloof. What impresses you about the specification program?

KK: What most people don't seem to understand about THX is that they've made things very simple—they're not trying to make things complicated. They eliminate a lot of guesswork by controlling all of the sensitivity standards for the amps, processors, and speakers. If you took a system of THX components and just threw them in a room without paying attention to setup, as long as you set all the controls to zero, there's a pretty good chance that you'd get sound that wasn't too far removed from the way a dubbing stage calibrates. You could achieve that sound without THX-certified stuff, but you'd need some calibration gear for sure. That's the program's intent—to make it simple and repeatable.

WP: A lot of people accuse THX speaker systems of sounding harsh...

KK: It all depends on what you mean by harsh—most people have no way of knowing what a recording should sound like: they either like it or don't because it sounds "good." I have three philosophies: 1) Simple audio questions do not always have simple answers; 2) What's true is not new—and what's new is not always true; and 3) Just because something sounds "more real" to you does not necessarily mean that it is technically more correct. Both number one and number three apply here.