Paul Hales: A Passion for Speakers

Audio designers may differ in their specific design approaches, but the best of them have in common a real passion for their craft. I certainly found this when I visited the Hales Design Group factory in Huntington Beach, California. Although still in his early 30s, Paul Hales has been involved in the design and manufacture of high-quality loudspeakers for almost a decade—first with the Hales Audio partnership, then with his own company, Hales Design Group. When he was just 23, an age when most people are still trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives, Paul had a speaker company and a speaker, the System Two Signature, that got a rave review in Stereophile (Vol.13 No.9, September 1990). Naturally, my first question was about beginnings...

Paul Hales: I became an audiophile when I was 12. I had a little all-in-one record player on top of an AM/FM 8-track tape thing that had broken. My father had dabbled in electronics and made attempts to fix it, then he finally said, "Why don't you go out and buy yourself a real stereo?" I had this drum set, but I had lost interest in it because I couldn't make real music just playing the drums by myself. So I sold the drum set and spent the money on a stereo...This spawned my interest in loudspeakers. When I was 16, I built my first set of loudspeakers as a high-school project. In subsequent years I built speakers for friends and family.

Deutsch: What was your first speaker like?

Hales: A company in Seattle had a big flagship model that was a five-driver, four-way design. I kind of knocked off that design. I worked up my own crossover using formulas. In the end, I had this great big speaker that weighed 150 lbs. It was such a complicated design, it could have been horrendous, but it actually came out okay. So my first project was pretty ambitious—more ambitious than the first commercial product we did.

I used to take this speaker to stereo shops in Berkeley, and it did quite well. It sounded more neutral and less colored than the speakers of the day. At that point, I was just a kid who worked hard on his project and was reasonably successful at it. Then, later, when I was finishing college, I had a choice to make. I liked speakers so much that I had to choose between trying to make speakers for a living or getting a real job. And you know what I chose.

Hales Audio, a partnership, was founded in 1985. A friend of mine and I became partners. We worked in the summers and on the weekends. It was just a little side business thing. We didn't really get serious about making commercial product until late '87 or early '88. I actually designed the first version of the System Two as an independent-study project in college.

Deutsch: And that became your first commercial product?