Infinity Prelude MTS loudspeaker

Sometimes you have to wonder why big corporations gobble up small speaker companies. Most such firms are built by individualist entrepreneurs chasing an elusive dream—an up-close and personal thing that is the antithesis of the corporate mentality. That's why speaker companies are so often named after the founder.

infinity1.jpgThe company builds a solid reputation and is then bought out, and for a while, momentum carries the day. But then, unless whomever is brought onboard to engineer new designs can carry the dream forward with products that are innovative yet maintain the franchise's distinctive personality, the brand slides into eventual oblivion.

When Harman International bought Infinity from Arnie Nudell and Cary Christie in the early '90s, it bought a solid brand name that was familiar to consumers outside of the specialty audio world. It bought significant, innovative technologies, including one of the first servo-controlled subwoofers, the EMIT ribbon tweeter, and the EMIM ribbon midrange unit.

It also bought a line of speakers that included the RS-1 series, one of the most well-regarded audiophile loudspeakers of the 1980s; and the flagship IRS, considered at the time of acquisition to be among the finest speakers in the world, and one guaranteed to get coverage in Playboy, The Robb Report, and other publications read by non-audiophiles. Fabio owns two pairs. I heard them when I worked for The Abso!ute Sound, and while Harry Pearson often had the bass turned up too much for my tastes, when everything was right that four-monolith giant could seem to disappear, leaving music on a symphonic scale.

Perhaps Harman felt the Infinity name alone was worth the purchase price, if only to use as an OEM brand in the then-developing and lucrative market of car audio. As a hedge against making a bad business bet, that certainly worked out in Harman's favor, but it was clear to anyone who followed the Infinity brand after the acquisition that Harman desired to maintain the line's luster.

Yet the brand name seemed to founder for a while as Infinity's speakers didn't catch fire with the core audiophile market. Then someone made the decision to carefully rebuild the Infinity franchise as a premier line of innovative loudspeakers. Serious corporate assets were invested in design talent and technology.

With the introduction of Compositions in 1995, the investment paid off. A precursor to the Prelude MTS loudspeaker under review here, the Composition Prelude PF-R (very favorably reviewed in the September 1995 Stereophile, Vol.18 No.9) was a truly original design in the Infinity tradition. It put Infinity back on the map as a serious player in the specialty audio market.

What's New?
Corporate historians will no doubt shed greater light than I have on the reasons for Infinity's rebirth, and for the brand's new place of honor in the Harman International loudspeaker holdings (which include JBL and Revel). But one factor clearly was the hiring of Dr. Floyd E. Toole as vice president of engineering.

Toole's name is familiar to most audiophiles. Among other subjects, he has conducted groundbreaking research into why loudspeakers sound the way they do, how they are measured, and how listeners perceive what they hear, all at Canada's National Research Council in Ottawa. Toole brought with him to Infinity fellow Canadian Allan Devantier, who heads Infinity's design team and is responsible for the Prelude MTS, while another of his NRC colleagues, Sean Olive, is in charge of Harman's subjective evaluation program.

A few months before Toole arrived to supervise the Prelude setup in my listening room, I was invited, along with many other audio journalists, to Harman's Long Island headquarters for a daylong seminar on the technical and perceptual dimensions of audio: how loudspeakers work, and how they interact with listening rooms. This valuable tutorial was free, along with lunch and a thorough account of the Prelude's design rationale—which, as you might have figured, dovetails quite nicely with what has been learned by Toole and others throughout a lifetime of research.

250 Crossways Park Drive
Woodbury, NY 11797
(800) 553-3332