Audio Odyssey: Ken Kreisel of M&K

With 25 years of experience in sound recording, audio retailing, and loudspeaker design and manufacturing, Ken Kreisel has insightful things to say about just about any audio-related subject. The president of Miller & Kreisel Sound Corp. (M&K), Kreisel pioneered the satellite/subwoofer speaker concept that laid the groundwork for the home theaters of today. M&K's most recent offering—the S-150THX surround speaker system—is reviewed in this issue (see archived article).

Kreisel wasn't content to simply ship his latest offspring to Santa Fe for review; he took us up on a standing offer made to all manufacturers and arrived on my doorstep to set up the speakers While he was here, Kreisel discussed his career, THX specifications, and the joy of deep, articulate bass with such passion and enthusiasm that the Larrys Archibald and Ullman felt it a shame to keep his wisdom to ourselves. Thus, one October afternoon, I had a long conversation with Ken Kreisel for the record.

Wes Phillips: How'd you get into this business?

Ken Kreisel: Stereo has been my hobby since I was about nine years old—stereo equipment and making recordings. I met Jonas Miller in 1969, my last year of high school, and I used to bring my master tapes to his high-end audio store in Beverly Hills. Listening to them on the equipment there got me interested in audio. This was at the beginning of the high-end era—Audio Research and Mark Levinson were just starting up, and all sorts of other brands were designing their first products.

I got a part-time job with Jonas, while [I was] studying pre-med, but I got bored with school and started working full-time—and eventually became a partner. We sold the top products available at that time: Quad electrostatics and Magnaplanars, for example.

At the same time, I was also recording a lot of pipe organs. Los Angeles has a number of really interesting organs, and my goal was to reproduce the bass that I knew was on my master tapes, particularly the transient information from the low pedals. I began to research acoustics. I also got to know one of Jonas's best friends, Dr. Lester M. Field, who was the co-inventor of the traveling-wave tube (among many other inventions and patents) with John Pierce, the father of the transistor. Field's hobby was acoustics, and we experimented together a lot. In 1971, we took a trip back East and visited Harvard, MIT, and Bell Labs—all places involved with acoustical research—and it taught me a tremendous amount. That trip has influenced everything I've done since.

In 1973, Walter Becker, from Steely Dan, asked me to design a speaker system to use in mixing Pretzel Logic. That system included a new subwoofer I'd developed that had excellent transient response. Everybody fell in love with that subwoofer. All the guys in the band wanted one—and so did our customers with Quads and Magnaplanars, because they blended extremely well with those speakers. Other Quad and Maggie dealers noticed how many of those speakers we sold and wanted to know what our secret was; when we told them, they wanted to buy our new subwoofers, too. In 1974, we formed a separate corporation for manufacturing subwoofers on the second floor of our Beverly Hills store on Wilshire Boulevard.

I continued to record, and I even cut some demo records from my tapes. One day, mastering engineer Doug Sax walked into the store and heard his Missing Linc album playing on the radio. He got so excited hearing his record that I got excited too, and decided this would be a great business to be in, and that I had to start doing direct-to-disc recordings.

We recorded two direct-to-disc albums at an outside studio, which meant we had to lug all of our gear over to an empty office that was next-door to the cutting lathe—not an ideal way to work. So we bought our own Neumann lathe and set up our own operation back at the store. We'd record at night and sell hi-fi during the day.

About that time, we got our hands on some tiny loudspeakers by a company called Visonik [David]. We hooked them up with our subwoofer and everyone was amazed at how good they sounded together. The Visoniks had wonderful, clean, natural midrange and highs, and the woofer just put the frosting on the cake. We decided to build a subwoofer with a crossover built-in for those speakers—we called it the Goliath. The "David and Goliath" system marked the beginning of the modern era of small satellite speakers mated with subwoofers.