Ken Kantor: Now Hear This Page 3

That's what makes a product great. It has nothing to do with its price. Other companies may argue with that, but I think they're wrong. Either they don't know how to purchase or they're trying to create a mystique around themselves.

For example, I can't think of a better tweeter than the one in the NHT 3.3—there were no cost guidelines involved in choosing it. That tweeter costs me about $14. Of course, if you just wanted to buy one, it would cost upwards of $50—maybe as much as $80. But because we can sell a lot of loudspeakers, we can buy cheaper than a smaller company. We decided to combine our music-loving mentality with big-business practices in order to produce a really high-quality product.

This is nothing new. The history of hi-fi is dominated by companies that shared the same attitude. Marantz, AR, KLH, and JBL didn't try to produce the ultimate products on earth—all they wanted to do was give the consumer something of real value. Those guys are my heroes.

I think a lot of people are afraid of high-quality stereo. They've been convinced—by snobby fans or snobby dealers—that they can't even hear differences, much less afford the good stuff.

Phillips: Unlike high-end watches or cars, for instance.

Kantor: Cars are a good analogy. Let's say you have a budget for buying a car somewhere between $30,000 and $50,000. You're going to get something pretty good. Maybe it won't be a Ferrari or a Lamborghini, but you can buy a Lexus or a BMW or a Mercedes. There are two kinds of customers who buy cars like that. One kind doesn't want to feel the road at all—everything should be smoothed out and easy to take. The other kind wants to feel every bump, to sense the texture between a smooth pavement and the rough stuff—that customer buys a sports car.

It's the same with speakers. Some customers just want every CD they have to sound musical, and that's certainly a valid engineering goal. It's just not what I'm interested in doing. I want to design speakers that tell you what's on the disc. Some people will hear them and say, "That's not very musical." That's okay. As far as I'm concerned, I did the best I could at giving you everything on that CD. If you don't like that, I'm not going to argue with you. It's as silly as arguing to a potential Lexus buyer that what they really want is a Ferrari or an NSX. That's not what they want. The owner of each would be disappointed with the other.

Phillips: Tell me about your sabbatical.

Kantor: Well, it was equal parts psychotic episode and the bravest thing I've ever done. Starting NHT was hard—anybody who's built a successful business can tell you it's like having a child. You can't just walk away when you want; you have to nurture it all the time. At one point, I just looked around and said, "I've built what I wanted to and I've got good people working here. The company's future is assured. But I need something more—what do I want in my life?"

I realized that, of all the things I'd left undone in my life, the one I could do something about was to return to music and see if I still had something to say. Maybe I couldn't go back and love all the people I'd run away from, and I sure couldn't go back and buy all the stock that I now know would be worth something—but I could go back and devote myself to my music. And I thought, in addition to exorcizing those "shoulda coulda woulda" demons, that it would be good for what I do here to see what it was like on the other side of the recording console—and not just learn it from a book, either. How does something sound playing back over my speakers when I know how it was created in the first place?

So I built a good home studio and set out to make the CD with no time limits. The company was quite good about it—mostly, I suspect, because they saw a benefit to my remaining sane.

Phillips: There's a lot of emotion evident in the CD. It's heartfelt.

Kantor: I didn't know if I'd ever get a chance to do a second, so I put everything I had into this one. Just like when we started NHT.