John Tchilinguirian: Energetic Speakers

Canadian speakers from such companies as Mirage, PSB, and Paradigm have acquired international reputations for offering good sound at more-than-competitive prices. The latest Canadian speaker manufacturer to hit the big time might well be Energy, which has actually been around for about 15 years, but has only recently introduced a flagship speaker. Energy's $6000/pair Veritas v2.8 earned Tom Norton's commendation for having produced one of the best sounds at the 1993 Las Vegas WCES. [TJN's review appears in this issue.—Ed.]

Energy and Mirage have quite a bit in common: both are divisions of Audio Products International (API) (footnote 1), and both are housed in the same factory in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough. Although the brands are joined at the manufacturing level, they're marketed through independent dealer networks and have separate engineering departments responsible for product development. Energy's design effort is headed by John Tchilinguirian, a not-even-thirtysomething engineer whose enthusiasm for anything involving speakers is exceeded only by his pride in the Veritas. The first question I asked him was how he got involved in speaker design.

John Tchilinguirian: It really goes back to 11 years ago. I started off in electronics. I took a technologist's course at Ryerson [Polytechnical Institute] and went for two years to day school. Then the third year I decided to get some work experience—to get out in the field and see what's really out there, and at the same time finish off my third year taking night classes.

I started off at API working at the assembly line, assembling the drivers. I built a receiver and brought it into the department so I could play my own station. Ian Paisley [API Vice President, Engineering] was losing his technician at the time and was looking for somebody to replace him. He saw the receiver and asked the supervisor who built it. He came over to me and asked if I'd like to go over to the lab and be his assistant, which obviously I was thrilled to do.

I was on the assembly line for about eight months, then went into the lab and started assembling prototypes for Ian. I learned a lot from him. Prior to that I'd had no acoustic background, but I did have a lot of electrical and electronic background. I became more and more fascinated with the acoustic end of it.

About five years ago we decided to split the engineering efforts. Where before it was more of a group effort and we would design various lines, we decided at that point that we wanted to focus on each line, with an individual responsible for the design and development of each line. This allowed us to focus, and there was some competition—a lot of good things came out of it. We collaborate every once in a while, but ultimately, my main responsibility is for Energy and Ian's is for Mirage.

Robert Deutsch: Ian told me that his input into the Veritas was minimal.

Tchilinguirian: There is collaboration of the "what-do-you-think?" type every once in a while at morning coffee, and I use him a lot for listening tests. We've also had Stefan Hlibowicki with us for the past three years. He obtained his Ph.D. in acoustics and a B.Sc. in electronics in Poland; I use him a great deal now to come up with computer programs to make my job easier at the conceptual stage—way before the listening. My whole goal is to get into the soundroom as quickly as possible.

Deutsch: How far does the program take you?

Tchilinguirian: Maybe about 15-20% of the way.

Deutsch: Only 15-20%?

Tchilinguirian: Fairly quickly, though.

Deutsch: So most of the work takes place after all the computer simulation is done: building prototypes and listening to and measuring them?

Tchilinguirian: Yes. I've been here for so long. In the past, eight or nine years ago, we did crossovers, and we would measure and tweak, measure and tweak, measure and tweak—and we would take them into the soundroom and they would sound horrible. Over the years we've gotten better and better at correlating what we measure and what we hear, but we're still quite far away from perfection—everybody is.

My whole aim is to try to narrow that gap—to do all the measurements we need, but in less time, and get into the soundroom quicker, because that's where you start making quantum leaps. Before that, it's very small steps.

I think the reason the whole engineering department works so well together is that everyone is really dedicated to paying attention to really small details that, when added together, make huge differences. A lot of times you're banging your head against the wall because of time limits and things like that, but everyone is devoted to making that little bit of difference.

Deutsch: Are these differences you're talking about audible differences as opposed to measurable differences?

Tchilinguirian: Yes, absolutely.

Deutsch: So the emphasis in the development of your designs is more on listening tests than measurements?

Tchilinguirian: Yes, and then trying to find out why it sounded better.

Deutsch: The technical reasons.

Footnote 1: In addition to their own lines (Mirage, Energy, and Sound Dynamics), API used to manufacture speakers in partnership with Arnie Nudell's and Paul McGowan's Genesis—see "Update," p.43—and does extensive OEM work as well.—John Atkinson