Paul Hales: A Passion for Speakers Page 3

Deutsch: At some point you developed the molded-concrete, baffle design.

Hales: That's right. When the first Hales Design Group product came out in 1995, we had researched several different baffle materials for two reasons: I wanted to increase the rigidity and thickness of the front baffle, which is the most critical panel of a loudspeaker enclosure, and I was also looking for something we could mold that wouldn't require the large contours to be machined. So we looked into various resins— sand-filled resins, different cements, concrete, and various formulations of those different categories. The System One Reference—the flagship model that went into production in 1993—had a machined solid Fountainhead baffle on it. Very effective. It was extremely dead and extremely heavy. The midrange/tweeter baffle was only about 18" long but 3.5" thick, and weighed 60 lbs.

It required a tremendous amount of labor, and a huge cutter to machine the contour. I thought if I could find a similar material that we could mold, that would be more cost effective. We spent about a year developing the cement material that ultimately ended up in the Concept Three and the Concept Five. It's a fiber-reinforced gypsum base that's combined with high rigidity and a reasonable amount of internal damping. The problem is, a lot of the really hard, rigid cement baffles have very little damping, so they ring just like a bell.

Deutsch: In your Revelation series, you've moved away from that kind of baffle design. Is that for reasons of economy?

Hales: Ultimately for reasons of economy. The cement was very effective but became very impractical to manufacture and very impractical to ship. A pair of Concept Fives weighs over 500 lbs—it's very impractical to ship them to Europe or Asia. It was adding an unreasonable amount of cost to the final product that the performance advantages didn't justify.

Also, we're able to create a more effective product with MDF in the Revelation series. We machine those baffles in-house, so we don't have to rely on an outside vendor—we can increase the quality control and also offer a 4" baffle in a $1700 loudspeaker. So we've been able to attain nearly all of the mechanical nonresonant and diffraction benefits of the thick, sculpted baffle and apply them in a much more efficient way.

Deutsch: What's your typical design process?

Hales: I'm always working on several designs at the same time, so it gets kind of convoluted. In the Revelation Three's case, we wanted to offer better sonic performance with more usable bandwidth—the best possible speaker you can buy at the price. At the time we developed the notion of the Revelation series, the Concept Two was $2700 a pair. And it's a floorstanding, 8" two-way.

Deutsch: You wanted to have a three-way with greater bandwidth for $500 less.

Hales: That's right. We wanted to offer a speaker that really wouldn't compromise bandwidth or quality to get the price down. It was the same goal for the Concept series. The $18,000 System One Reference and the Concept Five really had similar design philosophies, similar components, and similar sounds, but the Concept Five was about one-third the price. For the Revelation series, I said, "Okay, I've learned a lot of stuff over the last two or three years about making loudspeakers—both designing and making them. So let's apply this knowledge as intelligently as we can and create something that is some sort of new standard at the price." This was at a time when high-end audio components in general were getting more expensive. You could pay more and get less all the time. I wanted to offer the world high-end performance at a real consumer's sort of price.

Deutsch: How do you do that? I'm sure there are lots of companies who say they want to give the consumer the maximum value for the dollar at each price point.

Hales: In simple terms, it's intelligent product engineering and manufacturing. The Revelation series came together quite quickly. We conceptualized it in February 1997, and went into production on the Revelation Three, the first model, in June.

Deutsch: What are some of the things you've learned through the years about speaker design and manufacturing?

Hales: Well, one aspect of high-end component design I think often gets overlooked is how effectively the designer spends the manufacturing dollar. We could have developed a way to manufacture the Revelation Three that would have caused its retail price to be significantly higher—I spent a lot of time optimizing the way the manufacturing dollar was spent.

Deutsch: Give me an example.

Hales: Okay. First of all, you have to know what aspects of the physical product contribute most to the sound quality, and which are less efficient at utilizing the money. In other words, is paying 10 times as much for an exotic capacitor going to justify the additional expense, or can you take that money, spend it on something else, and get more sonic benefit?

Here's a perfect example: Some people commented on the fact that the Revelation Three has only one set of binding posts. My response to that is that I do indeed think that there are some benefits to be had by bi-wiring, but for this product at this price point I don't think that the additional manufacturing cost is justified by the increase in sound quality, particularly when you multiply that by the fact that the end user has to buy a separate set of loudspeaker cables. I would much rather see the end user spend twice as much on a single run to get a better-sounding cable—or, better still, spend $500 more on a CD player or an amplifier.