Tag Archives: loudspeaker

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Audiophile rating system

While answering a customer’s question about matching amps to speakers an old memory popped into my head. The industry’s effort to craft an audiophile rating system.

It was a few decades ago but back then the idea seemed promising. Within the audiophile community, we’d set up a rating system for sound quality to insulate us from the overzealous performance claims of mass market consumer audio companies. Perhaps it would be on some sort of sliding scale or points system, whatever. It really didn’t matter how the metrics worked, just that there would be some agreed upon standard of performance. Once that was decided then manufacturers could submit their products to a listening panel for review. That panel would then rate the product to be “audiophile approved” or not. This rating could apply to equipment and recordings as well.

The purpose of this rating system was simple: a means to separate the wheat from the chaff. If you go online and read the descriptions of power amplifiers, for example, everything from a $19.95 20-watt amp to actually decent sounding products all claim to be “high-performance” or “audiophile grade”. Clearly that is not true nor will it ever be true.

So, how’s a customer suppose to decide if an amplifier, CD player, preamp, recording, or loudspeaker meets some sort of minimum standard of performance? What might be helpful is a stamp of approval similar to a Michelin Star system but without the gradations. Just approved or not approved. Simple.

In the end, the idea was abandoned because of manufacturer infighting. Who would make these judgments? Who would maintain them? Wouldn’t members of the review board wield too much power over the industry? Would there be an appeals process? What if bribery got involved?

My arguments were on the flipside. Perhaps manufacturers that wanted to be approved but weren’t could be given a ratings sheet letting them know where they fell down: poor FR, flat imaging, 2-dimensional sound, too bright, too this or not enough of that. Then, their engineers could upgrade the product until it met with approval. Bingo! Better sales, better sound. Win, win.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Without design compromise

Origin stories of Infinity’s flagship loudspeaker, the IRS, have as many variations as M&Ms but this is the one I was told.

It all took place over a dinner attended by Infinity partners Cary Christie and Arnie Nudell along with their international sales manager Leon Kuby. It was Kuby who challenged Arnie to consider building a line source loudspeaker without design compromise. Nudell is reported to have scoffed at the idea saying such a speaker would be absurd, taking up most of the room and costing a king’s ransom. Over time the challenge moved from the absurd to the possible and finally to the practical.

From TAS’ Jim Hannon:

“Like Infinity’s previous flagship loudspeakers, the goal of the formidable seven-feet, six-inches-tall, four-tower, Infinity Reference Standard (IRS), introduced in 1980, was to reduce “the musical distance between the live performance and its reproduced illusion.” Its sole design objective was to “achieve the world’s highest level of musical accuracy, and to develop the new technology needed to attain that objective.” Originally conceived as a statement of what a large line-source dipole without any design compromises could achieve, the IRS attained surprising commercial success, and served as HP’s long-time reference. That alone should be enough for the IRS to reach iconic status!”

In fact, Stan and my first meeting with HP of the Absolute Sound was at a time when this very speaker was his reference. We had come to visit Harry and show off our new little phono stage, a $120 silver box about the size of a pack of English muffins that was our sole product. Harry kept promising to give the phono preamplifier an audition while we sat transfixed by the sound of the IRS—but the audition never happened. When 2 a.m. rolled around we were all tired. Stan and I went back to California the next day changed by those speakers. Our horizons had been forever extended as we witnessed what few people ever get the chance to do: be in the same room when the musical distance between a live performance and its reproduced illusion had been reduced to near nothingness.

The IRS loudspeaker system changed my life and the lives of others. It was a seminal work that deserves its place in history. It will live in permanency at our new building with its own dedicated room. Sometimes history has to be preserved so we can understand our roots.