Paul Hales: A Passion for Speakers Page 4

The other big thing in the Revelation series is the way the speakers are manufactured. The manufacturing of the Revelation Three cabinet is extremely intelligent from the method point of view. I don't know that you can make a 40"-tall, 1"-thick MDF box with lacquered wood veneer for any less than we make ours for. One example is that the front panel and the back panel are exactly the same. The hole that the crossover panel mounts into on the back is the same as the hole in the front that the woofer fires into. So when we're making the enclosures, instead of having a setup for two different component parts, we just make one. That eliminated one whole set of manufacturing steps.

The basic concept is knowing how to spend the money. Someone else may have a speaker that costs the same amount of money. They may have spent the money intelligently, but ended up with a completely different kind of product. We even have that in our line. The Transcendence One is a speaker that's similarly priced, but it's a small, 6" two-way, and more money has been spent on the drive-units, the crossover, and the grille structure. If you do everything as intelligently as possible, you should end up way ahead. If you save a little bit here and there, you maximize the performance you get out of this dollar, and the next dollar, and the next, and they all add up. Pretty soon you've got this product that's way up here. Hopefully.

Deutsch: And people will beat a path to your door.

Hales: [laughs] Well, walking nonchalantly to the door would be just fine.

Deutsch: So in terms of the design, you start with...

Hales: ...a concept of what the product needs to be. And I have a good enough idea in my head of what things cost. I can, based on retail price, extrapolate backward...

Deutsch: You know how much you can spend.

Hales: Yes. I also know whether it's going to be a two-way or a three-way, and what class of drivers are available to be used. There's usually some kind of physical concept: 10" three-way, 12" three-way, 6" two-way, whatever it is. Then I'll start searching for drivers. I always stay up to date on available drivers, so it's not like I have to stop and re-educate myself every time I start a new product. So I already know what's out there, and I know what the vendors are like—I've been doing business with most of the big ones for years now. I'm almost able to narrow it down to specific drive-units, or at most between two or three for any one tweeter, midrange, or woofer.

For the last three or four years, all the woofers we have are designed by me, whether I get them from a European manufacturer or domestically. I don't use off-the-shelf woofers because I have a very specific way of using them. I use computer software I've written as well as commercial software. I can optimize a particular drive-unit for a particular product. So this driver search process also involves designing the low-frequency drive-unit.

We start to get the physical drive-units at the same time we do an industrial design—that was a big part of the Revelation series. We wanted to retain the diagonal sculpted grille that has now become the Hales "look." And that's expensive stuff. So I worked for quite a while on coming up with a way to maintain the appearance and dramatically reduce cost. I was eventually able to reduce the cost by orders of magnitude. I think an additional benefit is that the structure of the frame itself is so insignificant physically that it's absolutely transparent sonically. That isn't true of the old-style grilles, which were open in structure but clearly affected the sound. The new grille frame and cloth have absolutely no bearing on the sound, so the speaker sounds fantastic with the cloth in place.

I think that speakers are the only products—with the exception maybe of turntables—where the industrial design has a marked effect on performance. But coming up with an industrial design that is pleasing to the eye and is also sonically and acoustically correct is extremely difficult. And really, if you look at all the different speakers in the world, they vary widely in the way they look. I have my own set of beliefs of what's the best—shape, style, acoustical properties. We then create the industrial design that can be implemented within the cost requirements of the concept, and we build a prototype. And then, once I have the physical box and the drivers, I can begin taking measurements and fine-tuning the crossover. It goes quickly from there.

Deutsch: How does that refinement process work? When you start with the prototype, how do you know whether to change something, and how do you know what to change?