Cary Christie: from Infinity to Artison Page 2

We were also going through a recession during those years—I would say during the last four or five years. There was a tremendous growth requirement in what I call the "bread-and-butter" product—like the Infinitesimal 4, the Infinitesimal Micro, a couple of international reference lines—just a whole lot of product development. We were also trying to express ourselves in automotive; we did this with the digital amplifier again, because that's where we felt a digital amplifier would be most effective—in a car, where you need the efficiency. So there was an awful lot of high-tech development as well as just a tremendous amount of product development going on.

The Renaissance loudspeakers—our first attempt at monopolar planar radiators—came out four or five years ago, and were the first products to actually use the same driver technology that we have in the Epsilon. The midrange and the EMIT are the same drivers that we used in the Renaissance, [although] we've learned something since then as to how to use them. So there's activity going on.

There's [still] an IRS, but I think people today are more interested in smaller, more room-friendly types of products. We wanted to see if we could improve on the IRS, not just duplicate it, so what we wanted to do was develop the drivers first, then see if we could incorporate those in the Epsilon-type design, which would give IRS-type performance at a much more friendly price, and in a much more friendly size.

Norton: The last similarly priced design to the Epsilon, the IRS Beta, used the earlier drivers?

Christie: Yes, the Beta and the IRS and all the products we built in those years used the original EMIT and EMIM technology. Of course, before you do something really revolutionary, you want to take a look at your fundamental building blocks. That's what had to be done. There was a great deal of room for improvement there, and that's where the development came in. Look at the technology of the EMIM and the EMIT, as described in the technical White Paper on the Epsilon, and you'll see the sophisticated development that had to occur. We had a lot to learn before we put those things together.

Norton: So you work from the design of the drive-units first, then conceptualize the whole system, rather than starting with the system and developing the drive-units that you need for it?

Christie: No, that's not quite right. The system itself is conceptualized from the standpoint of the objective. The objective is not a product per se, but a certain number of things that the product can achieve—a good, wide, flat polar response, better power handling and dynamic capabilities, lower distortion, etc.

The drive components themselves are another objective. You define the acoustic objectives you want to achieve, which in turn define the product itself. That defines the requirements for the things which go into the product. Then you start to work on those building blocks. The monopole planar radiator has always been a design objective of ours. Once you have the building blocks, it's very easy to conceptualize what an improvement upon the Epsilon might be, and easy to conceptualize what a lower-cost version of the Epsilon might be. All of those would incorporate many of the same components that were developed for the Epsilon. If we didn't have those, the Epsilon wouldn't be possible, nor would any of the rest of it.

Norton: How do you see Home Theater as impacting the high-end loudspeaker business in general, and Infinity in particular?

95christie.250today.jpgChristie: I have a philosophy that says that accurate sound reproduction should be [just that], irrespective of the types of software that are used to generate the sound—whether you have a cannon that's going off, and whether that cannon happens to be in a movie or whether it happens to be [in] the 1812 Overture, whether it's Also Sprach Zarathustra or 2001. These things all require accurate sound-reproduction capability. The dynamics of loud music place the same requirements on the system that a movie does. I believe that, ultimately, what we're going to have is multichannel sound.

Remember in the early days, how we tried to get quad[raphonic] to happen, and we couldn't because, as an industry, we managed to confuse the public, and they decided to go out and buy golf balls? What happened is that we spent a lot of time as an industry fighting with each other and not enough time trying to sell what we do really well to the public.

With everybody going down to their local video store and renting a tape to play on their television, then finding out, "Gee, if I add more than the little 3" speaker in the bottom of my TV to this thing, it actually makes watching my movies better," then we've excited interest in the hardware development of multichannel receivers. The multichannel receiver requires more than two speakers in the house. When you put more than two speakers in the house, you have a hardware setup that allows for more than two channels of stereo. So it's kind of a different way to approach quad, if you will.

Now that you have more speakers and more amplification, and a willingness to put them in your home, you can start looking at the evolution of that into better and better multichannel sound. Ultimately, I think, we're going to benefit in a pure audio form from the Home Theater part of the business. I don't think everybody's going to have—in fact, I'm positive that only a very microscopic number of people are going to have—a real high-end, separate, dedicated [Home] Theater, with loge seats and all that stuff. Most people are going to have their living room, in which there's going to be their television and their audio system. They're going to watch movies, listen to music, entertain their friends, and they're going to have a good time. Home Theater and high-end audio will ultimately become one and the same.

Norton: Do you see dedicated Home Theater loudspeaker packages, like THX, penetrating the High End, or do you see a continued development of high-end loudspeakers which will also be used in Home Theater applications?

Christie: Some of the best sound I've ever heard from a movie has come out of my living room listening to The Abyss with the Epsilons in the front channels and some [Infinity] Moduluses in the rears.

Norton: Both speakers initially designed for high-end audio applications.

Christie: Designed for high-end applications, but it's exactly the same system that I listen to my audio on. It's the best audio I've ever heard. I don't see the dividing line. The dividing line is something that's more made up by the marketing people and by the way that we're selling this to consumers—what the consumer is able to digest in terms of buying a five-channel receiver and some small speakers. But in reality, I believe that we're going to be recording in multichannels, that all multichannel sound is going to be digital, and that HDTV, if it ever comes to pass, is going to have 5.1-channel [sound] along with the video. What people are going to have is a television set with more than two speakers. There's just a lot more vested hardware in place today than there was when we went from mono to stereo.

Norton: Then you see the interest in multichannel and/or Home Theater applications as ultimately enhancing rather than detracting from interest in classic, two-channel audio?

Christie: Absolutely. I think that ultimately it's going to give us more ability as audio designers to improve the musical experience. I think that some of the best pure-audio experiences I've had have been with a good stereo system in the front and left-minus-right ambience recovery for the rear channels—just enough so that it's barely there. It becomes a more involving experience. As we learn to fool around with these recording techniques with more than two channels available, I think you're going to find some very interesting discoveries. I think that's fun. We're adding some dimension to this thing we call "stereo."

Norton: Besides the IRS Epsilon, what new high-end designs are coming from Infinity?

Christie: The Epsilon allows for an awful lot of possibilities. The basic drive-units are there. The things that we talked about with regard to multichannel are a fairly clear indication of what I think needs to be. You can let your imagination roam from there. I don't believe that the old way of looking at the IRS—a couple of big speaker columns and a couple of screens—is going to be in Infinity's future. But certainly variations on the Epsilon, and applications toward a multichannel version of a high-end system, I think, are possible.

I think the Epsilon is a remarkable product, and it really has nothing to do with ego. I think it does things that none of our products in the past have done, and it does things more accurately than anything else in the market today. And the reason it does so is gratifying, because we had theorized that it would, and we really didn't know that it would until we got rid of the back wave off of the planar drivers. Now that we've done that, and are able to hear the nuances that are actually in the recording, it's exciting thinking about what we're going to be able to do with that.


JRT's picture

One interesting excerpt from Cary Christie's comments was his observation that, "I think that some of the best pure-audio experiences I've had have been with a good stereo system in the front, and left-minus-right ambience recovery for the rear channels—just enough so that it's barely there. It becomes a more involving experience."