McIntosh Loudspeaker Division Part 2
A History (1976 and up)
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XRT-22 Speaker System
By now we had gained enough experience in speaker manufacturing to start our own assembly of drivers. The first speaker was the dome upper mid-range. We used a paper dome with a cotton-phenolic surround to avoid soft dome patent conflicts with United Speaker Systems. They were first used in the new XR systems.
The XR-3, XR-5 and XR-7 replaced the ML systems and, except for a few ML-2 and 4's, were the first systems to be completely assembled at McIntosh. We purchased the cabinets from a new source. The 5", 8", 10" and 12" drivers were made to our specs by Rola-Jensen in Punxsutawney, PA. Tweeters were still supplied by Peerless. The crossovers were made by McIntosh on printed circuit boards. The fuse and light circuits from the D and N systems were added to the XR's.
More features were also added. The crossover board was plugged into a separate compartment enclosed by an aluminum box. It was accessible from the front and was covered with a thick aluminum extrusion that had a block diagram of the crossover network printed on it. The fuses were mounted on this extrusion. The front grille was hinged and could swing to the side. The walnut veneer finish was protected with a clear satin sheen plastic laminate. This provided excellent protection from water stains, cigarette burns and scratches. The red and yellow indicator lights could be easily seen at the bottom right of the cabinet. The red light was above the yellow light.
Here is a close-up of the upper portion of the XR7 system. The fuses are easily accessible on the crossover panel. The four tweeters are mounted in a circular fashion on a plastic form. Perforated metal covers are attached for protection and do not alter the response.. The upper mid-range domes are mounted on an angled form. These two assemblies help to increase dispersion when multiple drivers are used.
XR7 cabinets ready to be assembled.
At the left is a system that might have turned into the XR9, a step above the XR7. It was to have four 12” woofers, one 8” lower mid-range, four 1-1/2” upper mid-range domes and four tweeters. The domes and tweeters were also angled for better dispersion. The crossover prototype was conveniently located on the top of the cabinet for ease in making changes. I remember playing Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein” that this system could handle very well, including the strong mid-range passage. The system never made it to production
At the right is an alternate design of the XR7. By mounting all of the drivers in the same vertical line, it had the same response at the left and right sides, producing better stereo imaging. However, the system was never produced. A tripod is shown in the picture that was used to hold the microphone for acoustic tests.
An unusual feature of the XR-3, 5 and 7 was that the tops and bases were removable and could be replaced in case of damage. Also, the systems could be stacked. By removing the top from what would be the bottom system and then removing the base from what would be the top system, they could be attached and present a unified appearance. Some customers and dealers preferred this arrangement.
I was requested to provide sales literature for the XR systems. I took the pictures on my Nikkormat and a 24mm wide-angle lens. I developed and printed the pictures and then wrote all the text. The finished literature consisted of four pages in black, yellow and white. Pictures included the XR5, B&K 3347 real time analyzer, small anechoic chamber, reverberant room, B&K production curve tracer, test bench and equipment, XR5 with grille removed, and XR3, XR5 and XR7 systems. I also wrote the owner and service manuals for the XR systems. In 1977 the XR6 was added to this literature.
Fiberglass had been used as the acoustic material in the ML speakers. Fiberglass has two good characteristics. It is excellent acoustically and it will not burn. Although this is non-carcinogenic, some production people complain about handling it. We decided to change to a more acceptable material. One of the concerns about selecting a new acoustic material was combustibility. A few speaker companies used urethane pieces in their systems. Gordon Gow learned that urethane could produce poisonous cyanide gas when it burns. Several companies used Doron for acoustic material. It's a synthetic plastic cotton-like material similar to that used in pillows.
One of the reasons for concern about fire was that several amplifiers on the market could supply 30 or 40 volts of direct current to a speaker system if the output transistors fail. This high current could heat the voice coil sufficiently to ignite, particularly if the voice coil form was made of paper or other combustible materials. The main concern was for woofers as there was normally no series crossover capacitor to block the flow of DC. The resistance of the series crossover coil was typically less than one ohm and most of the heating would occur at the woofer voice coil. Gordon Gow learned that a few dealers had had an actual fire in their showroom from this cause. One salesman had thrown his cup of coffee on the speaker to put it out. Fortunately it was not due to McIntosh amplifiers or speakers. Underwriters Laboratory approval is not required for speakers.
I thought it best to show what can happen if a combustible acoustic material was used in a speaker system. Did you ever wonder how this would burn? In this test Doron was used to fill an XR-5 system and it was placed in a dirt area outside of our lab in Hillcrest. A match was attached near the center of the woofer cone and ignited, much like what would happen if the voice coil form and spider were to ignite. As a result, the fire from the cone ignited the Doron and gradually spread. The entire system eventually caught fire and was completely destroyed. Impressive! The acoustic material burned with a vengeance. The 8" speaker in the lower left corner had just fallen on the ground. You can see the 12" woofer basket outline at the bottom of the enclosure. The basket and magnet assembly later fell back into the cabinet. The fire was so hot it melted the thick aluminum extrusion covering the crossover.
Non-combustible or fire retardant acoustic material was definitely needed for a fiberglass replacement. I decided to use a wood pulp based material that was called Tufflex and required that it be treated with a fire retardant solution. Fire retardant means that the material will burn when placed in a flame but will extinguish when the flame is removed. Later, due to a dust problem, the acoustic material was changed to another fire retardant material.
McIntosh power amplifiers had protection from delivering direct current to a speaker system. The tube amplifiers were protected with the output transformer. Most of the transistor amplifiers were protected with the autoformer. One of the first direct coupled transistor power amplifiers was in the MAC1700. It was modified to protect the speaker by using a triac circuit and internal fuses that will blow in case of output transistor failure.
The XR systems not only had fire retardant acoustic material, but were also protected with a fuse. The fuse protected not only from excessive audio signal power, but also from a high DC current. The ML systems did not have fuse protection, but the McIntosh woofers all had aluminum voice coil forms and the acoustic material in the cabinets was fiberglass.
Listening and Hearing
Maurice Stereo in Tampa had need for a disco speakers, something that was very efficient. Sidney and I had visited a dealer in New Jersey that assembled disco systems for customers. He sent some on loan to us to review.
After evaluating them, I decided that we could build a system that would sound a lot better and still be reasonably efficient. Carl designed a 3” dome mid-range. At first he couldn’t find a suitable paper dome that size and we ended up experimenting with wood pulp and a blender to make some of the right shape. A screen of the right shape could be dipped onto the “slurry” and when the water drained out, lo-and-behold—a paper dome! Carl wound the voice coils for them.
The vented bass cabinets had 10” woofers and the four tweeters were made by Philips. The system worked very well and played very loud. I think 2 pairs were sent to Maurice but the system never went into production.
Visit to Canada
Sidney Corderman, Dirk Roos and I went to Ottawa in Canada to visit with Dr. Floyd Toole, Director of Acoustics Projects and tour the acoustic test facilities, including their anechoic chamber, at the National Research Council (NRC). I always brought a camera with me on trips.
We also had dinner with Floyd and his wife at their home. The house photo is courtesy of High Performance Review magazine, spring 1992. Their 12-room house was in Manotick, Ontario. It was designed and built in 1975 by Floyd and located on a 4.25-acre lot near the Ottawa River. Floyd planned the living room specifically for his audio system. This included specially selected carpeting and a low noise heating system. As an amateur woodworker, he not only did most of the work himself but also selected the hardwoods used in the house. The woods were selected for their sound reflective properties as well as for their eye appeal. The room rises three stories high to a cathederal ceiling with a clerestory window on one side from a normal 8.5-feeet on the other to break up room resonances. In 1992, Dr Floyd accepted a job at Harman International as the new vice president for acoustic development. The house sold for $525,000.
Floyd agreed to test our XR5 speaker system and the review was written up in the March issue of Audio Scene Canada. In the review, Floyd mentioned that the XR5 was “very pleasant to listen to” and that “it is a classic example of a speaker that sounds good until examined under a microscope” indicating that the measurements and the sound were not in agreement. Of course, the measurements that Floyd made were done in his anechoic chamber, which we didn’t have, and our design was done in the reverberant room, which Floyd didn’t have. After this visit, we were convinced that a full sized anechoic chamber would make a valuable addition to our acoustics lab.
As a result of Floyd’s report, Gordon Gow asked me what could be done to improve the XR5 system. I was ready with the answer. The improvement was essentially the same system but with all the drivers in the same vertical line. However, the two Peerless tweeters were replaced with a single Philips soft dome tweeter that had better response, power handling and lower distortion. We found that soft woven textile dome tweeters were far superior to metal and plastic dome tweeters. The vertical arrangement made the response equal on the left and right sides of the cabinet and this improved the stereo imaging. This was known as the XR-6.
Except for the ML-10, none of the earlier systems were symmetrical. Despite non-symmetry, management had decided not to produce a left and right hand version that would have improved imaging to a limited degree. The improvement with the XR-6 was clearly audible and all new designs followed this example. The XR16 was a later version that appeared in 1980 with a simpler cabinet and a hard-wired crossover board. It was replaced by the XR17 in 1985.
Several times in the 1970’s I was invited and accepted the opportunity to give lectures to the electrical technology students at our local Broome Community College. I described the fundamentals of designing drivers, enclosures and crossover networks. I brought several driver parts to show. This was followed by a question and answer period and I distributed some of the current McIntosh literature. It was a pleasant surprise for me years later that I have heard from a few of those students who remember my lectures.
The MQ104 Custom Environmental Equalizer and AA2 Acoustic
McIntosh Driver Production
I decided to begin assembling the woofers and mid-range speakers in addition to the 1-1/2" dome speaker. The XRT20 was the first system to use woofers and 8” mid-range speakers made by McIntosh. I was very happy to see all of the drivers made at McIntosh. I meant that we had more control over inspecting the parts as they were received. The drivers were made as needed so only a short time would pass before catching any errors, if there were any. I remember one order that came in when we were still buying 8” drivers from the outside. All 1000 pieces came with the wrong magnet and, of course, the wrong response. By making our own drivers, it was possible to make custom speaker assemblies in small quantities that a large manufacturer will not accept. It also avoided possible shipping damage of the drivers on the way to the lab.
Making our own drivers was also a good selling feature for the many visitors and dealers who toured McIntosh production. I don’t think many of them had ever seen the actual construction of a driver. The parts and methods used to assemble the drivers must have been a new learning experience for them. It also showed visitors, and even other employees, our competence and expertise to do this kind of work.
Drivers were also repaired by the production women. At the right side, two early ML woofers can be seen that needed the polyurethane surrounds replaced. These were restored using the improved polyether surrounds. In the foreground are the subassemblies for the McIntosh 035 upper mid-range drivers.
The magnetizer that we had used at plant 5 was moved to the main plant for use in production. Various parts and adhesives were purchased from well-known suppliers for the construction of the speakers. Sidney Corderman and I had visited several of the suppliers in the Chicago area. We also joined Phil Williams, the RDM representative, and toured the cone and surround manufacturing facilities in Cassville, Wisconsin.
Meanwhile, work began on Plant 4, just in front of the main plant. It was previously used for printed circuit board assembly and customer service. Prior to that, it was a privately owned bowling alley called Lucky Lanes. It had then purchased by McIntosh. Mr. McIntosh donated the alleys and automatic pin setters to Houghton College located in Upstate New York. This was a major alteration to the building. In the picture, a new double door is being installed. The clear panels were made of thick polycarbonate that was much stronger than glass.
This was to be the new listening room. It was a larger but correctly proportioned, measuring 21'-6" by 26'-6" and 8'-6" high. Construction was the same as in the plant 5 listening room. The walls defining the listening room were again concrete block. 2X4’s were spaced away from the wall by half an inch and the space between the 16 inch centers was filled with fiberglass insulation. The walls were then covered with a vinyl clad sheet rock called Durosan. This allowed the walls to move at low frequencies and absorb some of the low frequency resonances, much like a typical home construction. A durable carpet without rubber backing was cemented directly to the floor.
In October, plant 4 alterations were completed and the acoustics lab was moved from Hillcrest to the rear two thirds of the building. The view is looking west. The main plant is at the left. An addition to the main plant (center) can be seen in the background. A couple of years later, I purchased 12 acres of the wooded hill, known as High Acres, shown just above the addition. This woods was where I used to spend my lunch time almost every day, summer or winter, rain, snow or sunshine. The hike to the top and beyond was good exercise after sitting at a desk much of the day. Over the years, I found many interesting plants and fossils. I also took lots of pictures.
I was very proud and happy with our new acoustics lab. It was indeed a dream come true for what I had wanted most of my life—the means to satisfy my dedication for creating better sound. It had all of the equipment that Carl and I needed to gain even more knowledge of the real world and the truth about acoustics and loudspeakers. We made good use of it.
Here I am in my office at my work table. I preferred an incandescent, adjustable lamp for fine work. That was one of my art creations on the blue wall titled “Labels”and under it was a picture taken in my woods. I had a heater under the table as it got cold in the winter.” My main desk was on the other side of the office.
On the rear wall of my office is a print by John Pitre called “Restrictions. I found this in a print store in a New Jersey shopping mall in the early 1970s. Since then I have seen several different reproductions and it is one of the more popular prints of the time. Eventually, I bought several other prints by this fascinating artist
Although the people who commented on this print attributed a variety of meanings, Pitre explains that the rider represents all of us and the horse, Pegasus, the mythical creature of poetic inspiration is symbolic of the vehicles we choose to ride through life-our occupations, goals, loves and dreams.
The silver ropes tethering us to earth are the “restrictions” which temporarily prevent us from flying without limitations to embrace our dreams and goals.
The rider looks skyward with hope and optimism towards a vision of himself, free and unencumbered in the clouds.
Here’s a picture of the acoustics lab looking from the elevated area where the anechoic chamber is. Carl’s desk is to the right, next to my office. Way in the back, are various competitive speakers and some of our current production models. The railings in the foreground are on either side of the ramp which was used to wheel systems up to the level of the anechoic chamber entrance.
Very soon after moving to the new lab, we found the floor-to-ceiling reflections were very unacceptable, despite the carpet. The addition of acoustic tile on the ceiling eliminated this problem. An important addition to the listening room was the curtain installed along one of the long walls. It was made of pleated black grille cloth and was about 3 feet from the wall. With track lights shining on it, speaker systems could not be seen through it. The high frequency attenuation was negligible. We could do blind listening tests without knowing which speaker was playing. It was also useful for visitor demonstrations.
You can view a video of the Acoustics lab with me and Jim Carroll on youtube
The Anechoic Chamber
Tony Frontera arranged this picture of Carl and me in our new anechoic chamber. It shows the Bruel & Kjaer 3347 real time analyzer and Carl is sitting on an XD715 speaker system. Some red lights and white spot lights were used for a more dramatic effect. Dave O’Brien liked the picture but I thought it was a little “corny.” We were looking too serious. Carl was looking at the camera but I could have been looking at a bat that was flying around.
Two reverberant rooms were also constructed.
The Reverberant Rooms
The coil winder is at the left in the picture. I used a reject ML-4M cabinet to hold it and the various wires that we used. A foot switch on the floor controled the speed of the winder. A laboratory oven is in the center. Although it could have been used for baking pizza, it was needed for curing voice coils that had thermal setting cement. A precision balance is on the right. It was used to weigh speaker parts and could weigh very light items down to a milligram. In the rear behind the oven, you can see the anechoic chamber door. It was very heavy steel and required large hinges to hold it in place. I had no smoking signs posted around the lab. Carl and I didn’t smoke but I wanted to be sure the visitors didn’t either.
The laboratory tours continued as before. After showing the visitors the new facilities, I demonstrated our speakers behind the new curtains. I normally explained to the visitors what an important part visual cues play when listening. When these are removed, you concentrate more on the sound and not the size, color or brand of speaker that is playing. After playing a few musical selections, I opened the curtains and people were amazed at what they thought was playing compared to what was actually there. They usually admitted they thought the speakers were bigger, or they were much further back, etc.
There was also a question and answer period after the demonstration. Here I am explaining some of the fundamentals of crossover design.
Sometimes I set up an A-B comparison for a single visitor. A switch box was used in the audio line to switch both amplifiers and speakers. This avoided contact resistance in the speaker lines. The person was asked to pick which speaker they liked. Some listeners did not understand the purpose of the blind test. They saw it as a challenge to tell what the speaker was.
A separate room, including a much needed exhaust fan, was made for the wood working shop. Two large storage rooms were made for the numerous driver samples and parts as well as prototype systems. I had a private office, complete with door and window.
This same year, the XR14 went into production. It replaced the XR-3. Like the XR-16, the drivers were mounted in line and a single Philips soft dome tweeter was used. The XD715 was a later version and then the slanted cabinet style XR230 appeared in 1990. Design work on the XRT-20 started at plant 5 in Hillcrest and was completed in our new acoustics lab. In the new chamber we were able to verify the variables involved with the performance of the column and back it up with measurements free from room reflections. The XRT-22 is a later version with some improvements.
One day I was breaking up one of several cabinet samples from a proposed new vendor. I usually did this to check the quality of construction. Lock miter joints were required to give greater strength. The cabinet came apart fairly easily with a hammer and I discovered there was little or no glue holding the cabinet together—only the joints were holding it. I had done this in the wood cutting room. The remaining cabinets were in the front room in Plant 4. When some people came over to see the samples, I pointed out that the cabinets were not well built. There was an overhang on the front board for the cabinet sides. I was able to grab the two sides there and proceeded to tear one side off with my bare hands. It’s one of those things I could not resist doing and had to laugh at the astonished faces. It sure proved my point about no glue.
This test setup was used to measure speaker Thiele-Small parameters. It included an AC voltmeter, oscillator, frequency counter, oscilloscope and test box for the woofer. With this data, the box volume and low frequency performance could be accurately predicted.
notes on The XRT20
Speaker Wire: The History
notes on The XR19
The XR1051 series was first introduced, but development had been going on for almost two years before it was produced. Carl and I both had prototypes at home as well as units in the lab. We both did lots of listening and made many changes, backed up by anechoic and reverberant room measurements. From this work we gained even better insight into what's really important for accuracy and listening. Many customers later complimented us on the extraordinary sound of this system. A later version, the XR1052, appeared in 1986 and was essentially the same except for a new cabinet styling and minor crossover changes. The XR250 then replaced this system in 1991. The 12" passive radiator and 10" woofer were replaced with two of Carl's LD/HP low distortion 10" woofers. This was the first system to incorporate the new woofer technology.
The XL-1 bookshelf system was produced. It was the smallest of the McIntosh speaker systems and had a 1" soft dome tweeter and a 6" woofer. The basis of this system design was later to be used in the initial design of the HT-3 surround sound speaker. Later, the XL-1W bass speaker was introduced to supplement the XL-1.
My violin and bow were used in the photo for some of the XL-1 literature. They are placed on a sheet of black glass for this shot.
Here is another arranged picture that Tony took. I still think it looks a little “corny” but is sort of interesting as well. Perhaps this should be used as a Rodrigues cartoon. The speaker on its side could be called a shoe speaker, although it is supposed to be an XR1051..
The XRT 18 went into production at the end of this year. The design time was longer than usual for this system because of the vertical directivity problems we encounter with the short column. Our knowledge gained in the anechoic chamber and a computer program for column design solved the problem of vertical directionality.
notes on The XRT18
notes on The XL-1W
This year the XRT22 went into production. This was a revised version of the XRT20. The tweeter column was changed to be a single piece. The grille covers only the front of the bass cabinet instead of three sides.
notes on The XRT22
Business Magazine Article
An article was written in the January, 1987 issue of Business/New York titled “The Sweet Sounds of Binghamton: Move Over, Osaka. Some of the best stereos are made by the banks of the Susquehanna” by David W. Hollis
“Oh, it is an eclectic concert one hears. Sitting in a plain, straight-back chair in what is meant to be anyone’s living room, the recital ranges from Strauss’ ‘Explosions Polka,’ to the Beach Boys “I get Around.” It finishes with Aaron Copeland’s boastful ‘Fanfare for the Common Man.’
The music cascades from behind a black curtain where you imagine orchestras and rock stars are playing. When the music ends and you wipe the grin off your face, Roger Russell kindly shows you what’s behind the curtain: two loudspeakers. There, in a Binghamton manufacturing plant, sit just two loudspeakers.”
This is what he saw when the curtains were closed (left). There were no distractions to interfere with the listening demonstration. After hearing the depth and spaciousness of the music, it was hard to imagine what kind of speakers could be playing. The big surprise, when the curtains were opened, was only a small pair of XL-10’s. Initially, it was hard to relate what was imagined to be there compared to what was really there.
“This is, it should be explained, no ordinary business, and these are not ordinary speakers. This is McIntosh Laboratory, Inc. It makes these speakers and others developed by Russell, director of speaker research and design, and other people.
This is the stuff some audio magazines have called the best; a complete system can cost about the same as a new car, or even as much as a modest home. The company president says many people use it to experience the ‘unfettered mental exercise of music.’…….
……..An example of that kind of product updating can be found in the building just down a slight slope near the main McIntosh plant. This is home to the company’s loudspeaker research operation. Here Roger Russell and Carl VanGelder, an acoustic engineer, lead the way toward new speakers and better sound.
On a tour, VanGelder opens the door to a small room, the anechoic chamber. It looks like the name sounds; like something out of a George Lucas film. Underfoot is a grid of spring-loaded aircraft cable woven together to make a mesh-like floor with a trampoline feel. Below it—in fact, above it and on all sides as well—are large triangular wire mesh cones filled with fiberglass insulation. VanGelder says the room, which cost $250,000, creates no reflections of sound and is used in speaker research. It is, he says, the largest such anechoic chamber in the U.S. used strictly for speaker research.
Not far from it is the reverberant room, a tiled tomb of sorts which creates the opposite effect of the anechoic chamber: seemingly endless echoes. Next to it is the listening room, a large, plain room which simulates an average listening room.
Russell explains this is where the finished product is tested. ‘The speakers are placed behind the curtain so we don’t see what we’re listening to,’ he says.
The goal is to create the “depth and spaciousness” of music heard in a live performance, and do it without a time delay. The latest McIntosh step in that direction is the XRT-22, a loudspeaker on which Russell holds two patents. Briefly, instead of having two cabinets housing the speaker components, the XRT-22 has four cabinets, two per side. One cabinet contains the bass and mid-range elements, while the tweeters –all 23 of them—are stacked in a tall, vertical column. The sound: entirely realistic. The price: $6,600 a pair. It took two years to develop the XRT-22……….”
This year production began on the XD715 and XD717. These systems were later versions of the XR-14 and XR-16. The drivers were purchased from Cotron in Taiwan. The Cotron 1" soft dome tweeter was replaced with the Philips 1" soft dome tweeter in later production. These two systems were replaced in 1990 with the slanted cabinet versions, the XR230 and XR240. The new systems continued to use Cotron woofers and mids. The tweeters were Philips 1" soft domes.
About this time we purchased a TEF (time, energy and frequency) analyzer that enabled us to quickly make response measurements for different arrival times in a "waterfall" arrangement. The measurement technique of TDS (time delay spectrometry) was based on the work of Dr. Richard Heyser and was taught by Don Davis and Don Keele. Not only could we see the effect of enclosure reflections and distances versus response, but we could also see the effect of room reflections and path lengths versus response. This unit was also an important design tool used for the LS, HT and SL systems. Although the computer was primitive by today’s standards, it did the job.
Gordon Gow passed Away
In June of 1989 Gordon Gow passed away peacefully in his sleep on a Sunday afternoon. Maurice Painchaud, who was Vice President and Treasurer, took on the additional duties as president.
Everyone that knew Gordon Gow missed him. He was a knowledgeable, motivated, generous, fun-to-be-with person. He initiated McIntosh sponsored retailer sales and communication workshops. This included personnel selection, fiscal responsibility, retail management, accounting and other topics. His great desire to better understand the requirements of McIntosh retailers and consumers led to membership in the International Society for General Semantics (ISGS). With his dynamic personality and intense interest, He was soon elected to the board of directors and the office of vice president. He also initiated McIntosh sponsorship of a yearlong study at the University of Michigan to predict future behavior and lifestyles. The program proved to be of great value in the design and marketing of McIntosh products.
Gordon was devoted not only to his work but also to his family, learning and living well. He became well versed in many subjects including knowledge of wine and he even spoke some Italian. He had devoted friends in many countries. He was held in highest esteem in Japan. His reputation as an entertainer was worldwide. At a local Vestal restaurant, Gordon had a specially prepared roast beef menu called "The Gow Cut", and at a Binghamton restaurant had one called "Gow Clams."
I personally feel a very great loss as I shared many of his ideals and learned much from the examples that he set. He understood engineering and I could communicate my work easily with him. I was also a member of the International Society for General Semantics before I came to work for McIntosh and this formed an even stronger tie with him.
Carl and I began the design of the XR290 speaker system this year but it didn’t go into production until early 1992.
I'm a new age music enthusiast. I have been for many years, going back to the early years of electronic music and the Theremin. The technology of today opens the door to creativity in music that literally has no limit but the imagination of the composer. One of my favorite composers was Ray Lynch.
We often had groups of visitors that I took on tour through the acoustics lab. At the end of the tour, as usual, I demonstrated a pair of McIntosh loudspeakers. They are initially hidden behind the curtains. I played selections of different kinds of music and then opened the curtains to show the loudspeakers.
I decided to include one of Ray's pieces called The Oh of Pleasure from his album Deep Breakfast as one of the demonstration pieces. It was very appealing music and was great for demonstrating depth, spaciousness and imaging. Almost invariably someone in the group would ask what it was that I just played. Sometimes they even called me later in the day to ask what it was. This included our national sales manager, Dirk Roos, who then began using Deep Breakfast as part of his traveling demonstration. Of course, I explained to those who asked, about the interest people had in Ray's music and mentioned his other albums The Sky of Mind and No Blue Thing. As a result, many people, including employees, purchased them and also wrote to Ray about how much they enjoyed his music. Needless to say, exceptional music has a universal appeal and communicates to everyone.
By August, after finding how much interest this music generated, I wrote to Ray's wife, Kathleen, and told her what was happening at my speaker demonstrations. She had some nice thoughts about coordinating sales of McIntosh speakers and Ray's albums, which seemed like an excellent idea. I passed this on to management. Later, Kathleen sent me a book of outstanding letters from people who had written to say how much Ray's music had helped them. Since then, Ray has made another album titled Nothing Above My Shoulders But the Evening.
In August, 1990, McIntosh was purchased by Clarion of Japan for 28.6 million dollars. Clarion was a large and well-known manufacturer of car audio equipment. In Japan, McIntosh had the highest reputation for quality and excellence. Clarion expressed its firm commitment to continuing McIntosh philosophies, McIntosh policies, McIntosh management and McIntosh marketing. Also in August, key people, including me, were required to sign a two year contract with Clarion. This was to guarantee that we would remain at McIntosh and continue to do the same work we had been doing prior to the purchase. Later that year, Carl and I were directed by Mr. Shiojiri, the Clarion General Manager of McIntosh, to design our first car system in a Nissan Infiniti Q45.
Before a new garage could be constructed, management rented an unused space attached to Pronto’s Restaurant in Conklin, a few miles down the road from the main plant. There were double doors and we were able to drive the Infiniti into the building. It was not heated very well for the middle of winter (January 24, 1991) but it was a beginning. Here is Carl running the chart recorder and sound and vibration analyzer. I preferred to use random noise measurements to minimize resonances and reflections inside the car. Of course, frequency response would be altered if someone were actually sitting in the car.
I later found, when listening with woofers in the rear and tweeters in the front, that the coherence of the sound was poor, perhaps due to the great arrival time and direction difference. When both woofers and tweeters were located in the front or rear, the coherence was audibly much better. Of course, woofers in the rear had the advantage of the large volume of air in the trunk and better bass could be achieved than locating the woofers in the doors with a small volume of air.
In early January 1991, construction began on the large two-car garage at McIntosh. It was connected to the acoustics lab so that we could work on car systems with easy access to the lab. The garage was completed at the end of February 1991.
The initial Q45 design was based on our measurement of the drivers and crossovers in the reverberant room. This indicated the total energy of the system regardless of the directional properties of the drivers. When this was mentioned in a progress report to Clarion, response was very negative and we were directed to work only in the car. There was no one who I could explain the need for correlation. They were in Japan and a one-to-one dialog was not possible.
As we worked on the car system, I again concluded that this was a step backwards from creating accurate sound. Pleasing sound, of course, is very subjective and I found the sound that the Japanese Clarion people liked was not what I liked and visa-versa. Although they indicated they were pleased with the results of our first car system, the story changed later. Response measurements were not very useful in this very close and reflecting environment. Moving the microphone from left to right by the distance between the ears changed the response drastically at the mid and higher frequencies. Use of a dummy head could show similar results. It would seem that neither measurement nor listening would be the answer to pleasing a foreign market.
The next best approximation was to use electronic equalization for one arbitrary microphone location at a point in space between where the ears would be. Of course this was also arbitrary as the ear height would vary from person to person. In addition, equalization had to be used not only for low frequencies but also above 1 kHz, which is very position sensitive. At least we had maintained a controlled bass response that was not like the boomy one-note bass found in some car systems,
Although Carl and I had what we thought was pleasing sound, when the car was actually driven on the road, almost everything was lost in the road noise, despite the fact that the Infiniti had relatively low road noise. The best sound was when the car was not being driven. In the final analysis, the best solution was to have adequate tone control adjustments for the customers so they can adjust the sound to suit their individual preferences. Apparently, exaggerated, boomy bass is one of them.
Carl and I completed the design for the Infiniti Q45 prototype system and the XR290. Carl began work on design of McIntosh drivers for the car systems. I worked on documenting the XR290 for production, including the crossover layout, bill of materials, test procedures, owner's manual and service manual.
In September, Ron Fone became the new McIntosh president. He was a very different person compared to Gordon Gow. He signed a four-year contract with Clarion. Maurice Painchaud stayed on until May 1992 and then retired.
The XR250 and the LD/HP woofer went into production. Carl received a patent for his new woofer design. The XR250 became our best smaller system.
notes on The XR250 and the LD/HP woofer
The second car system we installed was in Mr. Shiojiri’s Nissan Maxima. After listening for a while, he was not happy with the sound when sitting in the rear seats. He asked us to improve the sound without any restrictions on how we would accomplish it. Carl and I decided the best place would be to put the speakers in the top of the rear seats facing to the rear. This was probably the best sound I had heard so far in a car. I could actually hear some stereo. However, when Mr. Shiojiri saw this, he said we couldn’t put the speakers there, so that was the end of that.
In February, 1992, Mr. Shiojiri assigned Carl to work exclusively on car speakers and, as a result, he no longer worked for me. The new McIntosh president, Ron Fone, made mandatory changes to all the drivers to make them be more like the competition. The appearance of the cabinets was changed for a new look and was created by an artist in Japan. Mr. Fone told me these changes would involve a sacrifice in performance. This was not in keeping with the McIntosh tradition of excellence. Imagine making the response uneven or increasing the distortion of a McIntosh amplifier just to make it look like the competition.
Mr. Fone then hired a friend of his by the name of David Smith, who was out of work, to manage speakers. David later told me he had interviewed several speaker companies but had received no offers. I suggested to Sidney Corderman, who I worked for, that my title of Director of Acoustic Research should then be changed to Engineering Assistant or Technician as long as I was consequently assigned to making cabinets and doing measurements for home speakers that I had hired Carl to do many years ago. I also requested a new job description for this lower position but these requests never materialized. The new assignment violated the agreement I had signed with Clarion that I would continue to do the work I was doing at the time the agreement was signed. The two-year agreement had not expired at this time and I am sure Fone was aware of this. I later learned that I was not the only person whose agreement had been violated by Fone. What I did not understand is why, after all of my contributions to McIntosh in the past 25 years plus having just completed the biggest and best speaker, the XR290 and the two smaller systems, the XR230 and XR250, that I would be demoted to technician with an engineering degree, a total of 35 years of experience in audio and the title of Director of Acoustic Research.
Production of the XR290 began. Cabinets were made by a friend of Mr. Fone’s in Brooklyn, NY. Fortunately, the XR290 was already scheduled for production and was not required to incorporate the new driver requirements or the 4-ohm impedance.
notes on The XR290
About Cabinet Appearance
The newly styled cabinet samples arrived from Japan for the home speaker systems. They were made of alternate vertical layers of different colored wood. These included the XRT24, XRT26 and the SL systems. Unfortunately, the acoustics of the cabinets and tapered columns were compromised by the new sizes and shapes. I no longer had a say in this. Later, the cabinets developed cracks between the layers and could not be used. The new cabinetmaker in Brooklyn, who was supplying the XR290 cabinets, made cabinets similar to the Japanese samples but without the layers of wood. Work also began on the home theater systems to complement the new line of home theater electronics.
Gordon Gow was very conservative about cabinet appearance and our first designs were made to look mostly like furniture with little consideration for the acoustics. The appearance for later designs gradually shifted towards a more traditional speaker appearance and more in favor of better sound. This began when Gordon asked me if I could improve the performance of the XR5 system. The XR5 consisted of a 12” woofer, 8” lower mid, 1-1/2” upper mid and a pair of 2-1/4” tweeters that were angled left and right. The drivers were arranged wherever they would fit. As a result, the response at the left and right sides was different, smearing the stereo image. I had been anxious to fix this since designing the earlier ML-10C system that had all the drivers in the same vertical line. Now was my chance. I created the XR6 system with the 12” woofer at the bottom, then the 8” lower mid, 1-1/2” upper mid and 1” Philips soft dome tweeter. The single tweeter also contributed to better imaging and could handle more power than the two earlier Peerless tweeters. As a result, the cabinet became taller, getting the highs more at ear level. The thinner grille also contributed to better acoustics.
Gordon was happy with the appearance. In those days, it was similar to many other systems on the market. However, cabinets were always a problem for consistency of quality, including grain matching and price was another concern. I considered myself lucky to interest Gordon in the two-piece XRT20 design that was a little radical for a conservative company. It was a happy marriage between a satisfactory appearance and good acoustics. I think Gordon realized that the home furniture style that he started with many years earlier was no longer in fashion for speaker systems and that making a system have better sound meant that the appearance had to change. He maintained that if the sound quality did not improve to keep ahead of the competition, sales would suffer and the competition would make the improvements instead.
It should be understood that loudspeaker design involves three different physical systems, mechanical, electrical and acoustical. In addition to the physical location of the drivers and cabinet shape and size, the sound of a speaker is also influenced by the room acoustics, such as dimensions, construction, furnishings and even where the speakers are located in a room. In comparison, a preamplifier or power amplifier is not affected by room acoustics, dimensions, etc. It is a simple thing to move a volume control or switches around on the front panel of a preamp without any effect on the sound. The appearance could be completely independent of performance and could be given a free hand to take on whatever form was desired.
A happy marriage of acoustics and appearance is the best of both worlds but for the new president to dictate precedence of cabinet and driver appearance over sound quality was a step backwards. I often wondered why he never came over to plant 4 to introduce himself or to be shown around our excellent facilities for research and development—all geared to create improvements in sound.
Attempts to discredit my designs and patents for column and other systems by Smith, the new speaker manager, who is no longer at McIntosh Laboratory, persist to this day and deserve a response. I have been reluctant to reveal the true story about what took place but if I don't, the truth will never be known.
In February of 1992, Mr. Fone hired a friend of his and put him in charge of speakers. One of the first things the new speaker manager did was to try to change my design of the XR290, which had just started in production. His changes made the system sound bad. His motives appeared to be recognition and control. It later occurred to me, when I learned of his motorcycle riding, that perhaps he had acquired a hearing loss in part or all of the frequency range as other motorcyclists have experienced. This in turn may have impaired his hearing ability and affected his competence to make effective listening evaluations. (See my page on Listening and Hearing). He claimed to Mr. Shiojiri, the new Japanese manager from Clarion, that he had designed the XR290 speaker system, although he had never worked for McIntosh and had no prior connection with McIntosh. When I mentioned to the Mr. Shiojiri the intent to compromise my design, the change was rejected and the integrity of XR290 was preserved. Mr. Shiojiri had the final say in these matters, even over the president of McIntosh. The XR290 continued in production unchanged from my original design for the next 10 years. Today, it is highly sought after.
Then, the new speaker manager hired a co-op student to spend weeks working on a computer program simulation that attempted to show why the XR290 and other column systems were no good. Of course, this was the same program that Carl had developed to design the XRT18 column back in 1984. Because so many improvements had been made in computers since the original program was written, the program was changed to accommodate the updated format but it included the same variables. It seemed unreasonable to me to degrade an accepted product that is in production. The report was manipulated to show only bad theoretical aspects of columns. No measurements or listening evaluations were made. The report was incorrect and ignored by both Japanese and American management.
Even in the new McIntosh book he implies that he designed the program for the XRT18 column and columns in general. In his version of the XRT18, called the XRT24, not only did he use the same crossover network for the tweeters but also the exact same crossover components and values that Carl and I had used. Yet he still claimed this was his design when it was only a different cabinet.
After I left McIntosh in December of 1992, he went on to write a paper for the Audio Engineering Society (October 1995) concluding what Carl and I already learned years before in our research . No listening evaluations whatsoever were reported in this paper or the paper written for management at the lab. He spent his time with computer models and showed a selected set of measurements. He did not make any listening tests to correlate with this theoretical work. Unfortunately, most of it did not show a relationship with how we hear and, of course, had no value but the theoretical gymnastics that filled out his presentation. He appeared to be greatly in need of recognition and not the truth of practical application for what we can hear.
The AES preprint never mentioned my name or Carl's name as the source for all of the work that he copied. Apparently he felt our work was free for the taking and that Carl and I were of no consequence. The implications were then, of course, that this was all his ideas and accomplishments. After repeated complaints to both him and the AES I finally got our names added to the paper when it was published in the journal, November 1997. It acknowledged that it was based on the work Carl and I had done many years before.
When questioned in a Stereophile interview (Stereophile May 1994, page 98) about the possible sagging of the heavy woofer cones that were facing downwards in his home theater subwoofer system, he stated, "This is not a problem." Apparently, his lack of experience in designing this kind of system created a problem resulting in higher distortion. The cones continue to sag.
Recently, in a magazine interview in Stereophile (August 2002), the ex-speaker manager claimed that I never understood how the column worked and that he had “revitalized” the McIntosh speaker line. This is not true, of course. I think it was he who did not understand my work, mainly because I did not explain to him what I had learned about column speakers over the years. He apparently spent most of his time trying to put them down.
My 1980 patents were referenced by many other companies and I received many postcards from a patent research company notifying me of the reference. My designs were received very favorably by customers and also by Okie Sugano, a very influential Japanese audio writer. My column designs won awards from Japan for the XR20, XRT 18, XRT22 and XR290. Although the sound of my designs was welcomed by Okie over the years, the changes that the speaker manager made in the new line of speakers were unacceptable in Japan. In a desperate attempt to get approval, he went to Japan with systems and crossover parts to try to adjust the sound to what might be what the Japanese would like. The “revitalization” of the speaker line that he claimed he made was apparently a failure. I learned that the new designs did not sell well and that many remained in the warehouse for several years. This could be one reason why no new designs were made for some time following his departure in 1995.
To this day, I still receive customer complaints and find design flaws about the errors and compromises that the ex-speaker manager had made in the new systems during his stay at McIntosh. Apparently the speaker manager failed to make the necessary power tests on the systems. The Seas tweeters he used had a high failure rate. This became very apparent with customers using the SL-6 system, among others. He had not learned that protection devices were essential. Fortunately, several years later, McIntosh came out with a new line of speakers called the Academy series. The metal aluminum domes were replaced by the better performing soft domes and the designs were improved over the preceding ones. Fortunately, also, a new president at McIntosh was now setting things straight again.
I now realize that Mr. Fone was probably not informed of my contributions to McIntosh in those past 25 years—that he did not want to know or care. He never introduced himself to me, although I was considered one of the key people at McIntosh. He had never visited the speaker lab until months later when the time came for a listening evaluation of a speaker. To me, this avoidance was poor management based simply on fear. It would seem he was afraid to come face to face with me knowing that he was going to replace me with his friend.
The 4-year contract for the McIntosh president was not renewed by Clarion in 1995 and Mr. Fone went on to a.d.s. The speaker manager soon followed to the same company. Fone never did sell his house in the Boston area all that time he was at McIntosh. I heard that he and his friend only lasted for a year at that company and the real reasons for leaving were not clear. It was rumored that the owners of the company let them go and one dealer had said that the employees had gathered in protest about Mr. Fone in the parking lot one day at a.d.s.
In the years following, I learned that several other people also left McIntosh because of Fone’s abrasive and unreasonable, what I can only describe as childish tantrums. This behavior included alienation of several loyal dealers that I was later in touch with. Before I left, Fone called me one day and was ranting and raving to me about a rubber ring from a speaker that was on loan from a dealer. It had been sent to Taiwan to be duplicated. Of course, I knew nothing about it as it had been done by someone in the engineering department at plant 6 because Fone wanted it duplicated. He never asked if I sent it. I got the impression that if I said the sky was blue, he would dispute it. It was not only me that had bad encounters with Fone. His favorite in meetings was to ridicule and degrade various employees in front of the others by what I now realize is termed bullying and he was in a position to get away with it. His favorite judgment for employees was “inexcusable” or “unforgivable.” The term industrial bullying is something new to me and apparently is similar to bullying in school. It seems that this is not new in the workplace.
Meanwhile, the ex-speaker manager continued to use aluminum domes at yet another company. A review in The Absolute Sound (October/November 2002) of the Snell XA Reference Loudspeaker ($25,000) had this to say: "Finally, the metal dome tweeter has a slight hint of metal sweetness below, sharpness above that is characteristic of aluminum domes, even though it's resonance is far out of the audio band, and indeed the high treble within the audio band droops a little (not a serious problem, of course)." The ex-speaker manager made no reply to this in the Manufacturer's Comments column.
Later Reflections on this Episode
One of the wonderful things about working at McIntosh and Gordon Gow was the freedom to create new designs. Of course, these designs were often to meet certain marketing requirements, such as size or price range, but the way was open for how to accomplish these goals. There were no deadlines. Other designs such as the XRT20 and XR1051 were initiated entirely by me to meet my own goals. When completed they were enthusiastically received by Gordon Gow as very marketable and went into production. It all goes to prove that rigid procedures and timetables, required by Japanese management, are not always the best way to achieve innovative designs and allow for engineering thoroughness. Of course, with freedom comes responsibility but that is not a problem for a dedicated person. As far as I know, no new patents have been awarded to McIntosh since the Japanese took over.
While at McIntosh, my designs were essentially unchanged from the finished prototypes to when they went into production, with a little help from me. How many of you have read the book "The Fountainhead" by Ayn Rand or even seen the movie? It deals with the individual versus the collective and was reminiscent of the situation at the lab starting in 1992. The new McIntosh president, Mr. Fone, wanted designs that were more mainstream and that had drivers that were like those used by other companies and cabinets that were designed without regard for good acoustics (the collective). It violated the McIntosh tradition of making the best possible sound, whether it was in electronics or loudspeakers.
I made my own car sound system back in 1960. It was a big improvement in fidelity compared to the 4" driver in the dash. The new system had better lows and highs. I used an EMI oval woofer and an Electro-Voice T35 tweeter all in a 2 cubic foot enclosure behind the back seat of my Volkswagen. Today, I have come a long way in my search for better and more accurate sound. Carl and I gained a handle on the elusive quality of reproducing imaging, depth and spaciousness that was unknown in the days of monophonic sound. Of course, this requires an adequate acoustic environment to play the speakers, such as a well designed listening room. When we were required by Clarion to work on car systems, we found that conditions in a car environment were far from ideal for accurate sound. In fact, it was not possible to reproduce concert hall sound in a car with the same accuracy. Perhaps an anechoic chamber on wheels would have been more suitable. I remember being at an Audio Engineering Society presentation of an early car stereo system. The author had the speaker enclosures located in place of the windshield, one on either side and one in the center. However, the visibility for driving wasn't so good---so much for fidelity in cars. Rule number one is---a car must be a car first and not an accurate sound system.
If fidelity cannot be achieved in car systems, then what is left? Back in 1975, I designed a system for my new Toyota Corolla It consisted of a pair of 6X9 woofers and Philips 1" soft dome tweeters. The rear of the woofers was open to the trunk. The drivers faced up and the sound bounced off of the sloping rear window. The sound was surprisingly pleasing. The sound was diffused from being reflected from the glass and the bass was strong being confined in the small space of the car interior. Of course, I had designed the system in the reverberant room to have very smooth total energy. The sound in the car was stereo sound to some degree and it was clean. It came from behind instead of the front. If I turned the volume up, it was too loud for long-time listening but stayed clean and shook the body of the car. The amplifier was six watts per channel!! Accurate imaging was not possible but it was still very pleasing. So that was the answer.
Fortunately, there was the XR290 that I had just completed. However with the new direction away from creating better sound for the home systems, the prospect for further improvements was dim. I consider the speaker systems that I designed and later that Carl and I designed to be each works unto themselves. Although they are composed of wood, glue, paper, steel, copper, cloth, plastic and other materials, It is how the materials are used that makes the difference. Carl and I found that as our lab facilities improved, we could spend up to sixty percent or more of our time measuring a new design and making adjustments without ever listening to it. We learned enough to know that each new design had to at least test reasonably in the anechoic chamber and the reverberant room or it wasn’t worth even taking it into the listening room. After that, came the more exacting part. Each system had its unique characteristics derived from the design requirements—driver size, driver complement, cabinet dimensions, price range, etc. Each system was optimized for these conditions. In the end, each system must do more than just measure good. It was only when listening and measurement were both in agreement that it was acceptable. For example: no system is absolutely smooth. Measurement was good up to a point but when choosing which of two closely matched response curves was best, listening became more important.
When the Clarion people in Japan asked me to list the steps needed to design a system and the time it would take to do each step, my answer was that it depended on what problems we ran into as the design progressed. Each system is different with its own set of characteristics to be solved. That answer was totally unacceptable but it was the truth. It’s like asking an artist what steps he takes to create a painting and how long each step will take to finish it or like asking a spelunker how long it will take to explore a new cave. Another part of speaker design was to know when the work was finished and that further effort would make no more improvements. Each system was, in a way, like a work of art. Like a painting, the artist must know when further dabbling here and there only serves to take away from his creation. Occasionally, I would try to dabble with a system that tested and sounded excellent but in the end I realized that the system was finished. So how long does it take to design a new speaker? When no significant improvements can be made! Gordon Gow once said that if you don’t do a thorough job and if all the improvements are not accomplished that could have been done, the competition will do it and you will lose sales.
Deadlines for completion of a system by the new owners could be set with no thought about what was involved and they could be much too short. This invited cutting corners and not doing a thorough job just to satisfy management. This is obviously not a satisfactory procedure. What is most frustrating is that after rushing to complete a system, the deadline is extended and the design criteria have been changed. For me, it was best to proceed at a normal pace and do a thorough job.
Roger Russell Leaves McIntosh
It became increasingly obvious that the new speaker manager did not like the provision that the sound of the speaker systems must meet my approval. That was soon taken away from me by Fone along with everything else. It was also obvious that the new speaker manager attempted to make my work as unpleasant as possible for me and it came to the point where I became concerned about the resulting stress. I knew that continued upsetting times could take its toll on me both mentally and physically and I valued my well being over a good salary. I am certain the new speaker manager had been deliberate in his actions and was overjoyed to be rid of me and yet at the same time be unable comprehend any conscience or concept of wrong. He kept trying to impress me with how much he knew and all he could do for me. He never asked if I knew anything. He even hounded me on my last afternoon at McIntosh to finish the XRT26 column system but I was busy saying goodbye to all of the friends I had made there.
So, in December of 1992, I had decided it was time to leave McIntosh. I had been there for 25 years doing the work that I like the most. It had been my home that fulfilled my passion and dedication for science, sanity and truth in audio. It had been a dream-come-true. I was very proud to initiate the line of McIntosh loudspeaker systems, improving them over the years, always with an eye to the best sound quality that can be made. I believe I had brought happiness to many people during this time, who love music and have purchased McIntosh speaker systems. Carl and I spent many enjoyable years discovering the real world of speakers and acoustics. Leaving was a very upsetting and difficult decision to make. I decided it would be best to sell the house and move away despite having no prospect of future employment. It was no surprise to find that there were no jobs available for a used speaker engineer in Florida. I was never able to find another job and I suspect age was against me, even though I had the advantage of dedication and experience with several aspects of audio over the years. Retirement was still a long way off.
When I left, I received no recognition, words of appreciation, or well wishes from any of management for my many contributions that I had accomplished for McIntosh over the years. I remember that Mr. Fone had once said that people who had been there for 25 years should get recognition. So what was I to think? I was never informed about what I had done wrong, if anything, to be reduced to technician. Some people say this happens in business where a friend is hired to take over another employee’s job. Although it is easy to understand, it can never be forgotten. Although the explanation may be obvious, reoccurring dreams disguised in various ways show that the memory still remains. Perhaps it is like the movie Forbidden Planet where monsters from the id (subconscious) emerge in dreams.
Despite all of this, if events had not taken place as they did and with the help of a few friends, I might never have created the IDS-25 speaker system ten years later. This turned out to be the most accurate of all the speakers I designed. It won high praise at several shows and demonstrations.
During my stay at McIntosh, and also while at Sonotone, I met and talked with many notable people in the audio industry. This included Ben Bauer, Rudy Bozak, Victor Brociner, Abe Cohen, Ray Dolby, Richard Dorf, Dr. Harvey Fletcher, Julian Hirsch, Larry Klein, Paul Klipsch, Dr. Harry Olson, Ed Villchur, Paul Voigt, Dan Von Recklinghausen, Bert Whyte and of course Gordon Gow and Frank McIntosh.
Also during this time, I had written several magazine articles about electronics, speaker design and speaker measurement for Popular Electronics, Radio-TV News, Electronics World, Audio Amateur and Speaker Builder. Later, I also wrote articles for audioXpress and a series of articles about mystery clocks that were published in the National Association of Watch & Clock Collector’s Bulletin.
I am pleased to see that my concept of column designs and patents continues to be used by McIntosh in the top-of-the-line speaker systems. The benefits are still recognized and used to this day. I recently wrote about My Experience With Column Systems.
Changes Are Made
Although, at first, McIntosh bought complete systems from United Speaker Systems, my objective was to build our own. In the mid 1970's. I achieved this goal and we began to make our own drivers. One of the problems in making small quantities of speaker systems was the cost. Buying drivers from the outside to custom specifications, for instance, was a problem. For a driver manufacturer that was set up to make 10,000 drivers each day, it was an annoyance to set up a production line for 500 or 1000 drivers. The order either was not accepted, the price was very high or production was delayed due to the bigger customer preference. Several times a whole order would come in out of spec because a part was changed without our approval. Then we would have to hold up production until the replacements were made and delivered. Making our own drivers avoided production delays, shipping damage and allowed unique design features to be incorporated in the designs that the big manufacturers were not interested in doing. The only driver that we didn’t make was the tweeter. The Philips soft dome tweeter was excellent. They had a completely automated production facility that could make one after the other very consistently.
The same goes for the crossover networks. It was hard to get small quantities of assembled networks and get the parts that we wanted. Instead, the manufacturers used what was best for them. Although I sampled from a couple of companies, I couldn't get the parts that would meet our specifications. I was able to initiate making our own crossovers and we assembled and tested them ourselves.
After 1992, management decided to buy as much as possible from the outside. Many of the crossovers were then made in Taiwan. The drivers became "stock" off-the-shelf items that anyone else could buy. One exception was the front plates on some of the tweeters. They had molded "McIntosh" on the front. Some woofers were bought from Vifa and some were made by Phase Tech along with some mids. This essentially eliminated speaker and crossover production by McIntosh and took away jobs for the people making them.
I understand that Mr. Fone was previously president of Acoustic Research. At that company, he not only had the parts made on the outside but also had some systems designed and produced on the outside by a Japanese company named Tonegen. According to the Mr. Fone, most speaker companies were doing this. The finished systems came in to a warehouse from Japan and were then shipped to dealers and were never seen until the customer opened them. I don't know how true this was. AR eventually had to be sold and was owned by Recoton in Lake Mary, Florida. Now they are gone.
New Driver Requirements
A aluminum dome tweeters were made mandatory by Mr. Fone and typically had a pronounced resonance around 25kHz and soft domes did not. Also, the tweeters used Ferrofluid, which had never been used in McIntosh systems prior to 1992. Several of the tweeters were known to fail due to the Ferrofluid deterioration at high power and killing the output. See a full explanation and comparison response curves about Aluminum Domes VS Soft fabric Domes. Also, see Stereophile May 1994 page 115 that reviews the McIntosh Home Theater speakers. The reviewer states: "The most visible feature is the pronounced ultrasonic ringing from the strong peak at 26kHz. This is typical of metal-dome tweeters, if slightly more pronounced than most recent examples of the breed."
The woofers and mid-ranges were changed to use cast aluminum baskets. The addition of the “wet look” laminate to the woofer cones and the new heavy rubber surrounds reduced the output of the 12” woofers by a little over 3 dB. This meant twice the power was needed to achieve the same listening level as the earlier designs. To overcome this problem the impedance for all new systems was changed to 4-ohms.
All systems manufactured prior to 1993 were 8 ohms and had an industry standard sensitivity rating of 1 watt into 8 ohms at a distance of 1 meter. Systems made after this date were 4 ohms and had a sensitivity rating of 2.83 volts into 4 ohms. This turns out to be 2 watts into 4 ohms, making them appear to have greater sensitivity. To convert to a 1-watt level, subtract 3 dB from the rated sensitivity. For example: the LS350 was a 4-ohm system rated at 89dB for 2.83 volts. This converts to the industry standard rating of 86dB for 1 watt at a distance of 1 meter.
Generally, a 4 ohm speaker will play louder on a direct coupled amplifier than an 8 ohm speaker simply because it draws twice the power with the lower impedance. A few companies have used this strategy for many years. The idea is that when a simple switch arrangement is used in a dealer store to compare different speakers, the louder one is supposed to be the one that gets the sales—and this does help.
Reducing the speaker impedance to 4 ohms does not improve the accuracy of the speaker, reduce distortion or make any other improvements. However, it does create problems for the customer. It means that the customer must purchase heavier speaker wire to maintain the same low losses compared to the earlier 8-ohm speakers. The total DC resistance of the wire must now be less than 0.4 ohms instead of 0.8 ohms. It also requires better connectors at the speaker and amplifier terminals to make the contact resistance even lower.
Excessive power to a system can cause higher distortion, crossover failure and even deform or burn out the driver voice coils. The best designs that handle higher power are ones that use multiple drivers for each frequency range. This way the power to individual drivers is a lot less compared to a single driver covering the same frequency range. The best of these designs have floor to ceiling columns such as the XRT20, XRT22 and XR290. Low distortion can be maintained even with high power input to the system.
Perhaps, as a consequence of higher power being delivered to the 4-ohm systems, the power ratings were arbitrarily increased. All earlier systems were conservatively rated for continuous music listening. My favorite test was to subject a speaker to 8-hour sessions of continuous rock music. An amplifier corresponding to the rated speaker power was driven with the Power Guard indicator red lighting about 50% of the time. Although the power ratings for the new systems had higher numbers, they should be considered as a rating only for occasional short duration peaks and not for continuous music or steady tones. This means that the power Guard indicator on a bigger amplifier should flash red very infrequently or not at all.
A response tolerance was introduced to be plus or minus so many dB. This tolerance was based on measurements made in an anechoic (reflection free) environment. While I was at McIntosh, I never specified this, as it can be misleading for the customer. A typical home environment is very different and can drastically alter the response amplitude. Frequencies below 1000Hz and particularly below 250Hz are influenced by the speaker location, room dimensions and construction. This can completely defeat a claim of plus or minus 1 or 2 dB. In some rooms response peaks and dips can be as much as 15 dB. Even mid-range and high frequency response can be altered by reflecting objects within a few feet of the speakers, including the floor and ceiling. The advertised tolerance is no indication of what the actual response will be in your home.
The LS310, LS330 and LS350 go into production. These systems were based on the XL1, XL10 and XR250 that Carl and I had designed, but incorporated the driver and cabinet changes. The cabinet assembly and finish was very good.
The new line of HT home theater speakers also went into production. These speakers were designed specifically for the home theater environment and to meet THX requirements. The new driver requirements were the same as for the LS systems.
The HT-1 had dual woofers and a short column of three-tweeters. The tweeter arrangement was used to intentionally produce a narrow vertical beam to conform to THX standards. The center tweeter was driven with an extra crossover coil in an attempt to reduce changes in response when standing or sitting. Carl and I first used the idea of different crossovers for short columns in the XRT18 speaker system.
If the HT-1 was used on its side, the tweeter board could be removed and rotated 90 degrees and reinserted to maintain the same dispersion pattern. The HT-1 had no driver protection.
The HT-2 subwoofer included two 12" woofers and a vent to enhance the 50 Hz region. The woofers faced downward and an extra cone weight was added for optimum bass. In the real world, the suspension continues to sag. I discuss this on my XL-1W page
The XRT26 goes into production. This system was still based on my patents for the XRT20 and XRT22. However, aluminum dome tweeters were used instead of the soft textile domes. A tapered width tweeter column was used instead of a constant width column. See more about our research on columns on my XRT20 and XRT22 pages. Impedance was reduced to 4 ohms instead of 8 ohms. Sensitivity was reduced to 84dB/watt/meter from 87dB/watt/meter that was for the XTR22. The woofers had heavy rubber surrounds and a shiny look coating on the cones. The new LD/HP woofer magnet structure was used.
Later, a special XRT26J was made for the Japanese market. The 12" woofers were like the original XRT22 woofers that had a polyether surround, but had the new LD/HP magnet structure. Crossover changes were also made. In addition, MQ109 and MQ109B equalizers were made specifically to compensate for the unacceptable XRT26 loudspeaker system design. Customers said the system did not sound satisfactory and the MQ109 and MQ109B were produced in an attempt to correct this problem. The equalizer had to be connected between the preamplifier and power amplifier.
The XRT24 goes into production. This system was still based on the work that Carl and I did back in 1984 on the XRT18. It had the very same separate crossovers and component values. Aluminum dome tweeters and a tapered width tweeter column were used instead of soft domes and a straight column. The column was mounted at the front of the cabinet instead of at the rear. The combination of changes resulted in poor sound reproduction. Despite the high crossover frequency of 250Hz, two 10" woofers were used facing to the rear instead of one 12" woofer facing to the front. See my XL-1W page on the problems of rear facing woofers. A forward facing 8" mid-range was used instead of a 6". Impedance was reduced to 4 ohms instead of 8 ohms. The woofers had heavy rubber surrounds and a shiny look coating on the cones. The new LD/HP woofer magnet structure was used.
Later, the unacceptable XRT24 was replaced by the XRT25 and was primarily made for the Japanese market. It was similar to the XRT24 but used a single forward facing 12" woofer instead of the two rear facing 10" woofers. This 12" woofer was like the original XRT18 woofer that had a polyether surround and the original cone, but had the new LD/HP magnet structure.
The HT-4 center channel home theater speaker was added. This was a smaller version of the HT-1 and could be placed on a TV. The system was magnetically shielded.
The SL-4 appeared this year. It was derived from the HT-4 but was vented and had a single tweeter. The SL-6 was a larger vented 3-way system that could be used in place of the HT-1 for left or right channels. The three tweeters were not on a separate removable board. It was THX approved. The SL-6 had no protection circuits and I have found several SL-6 tweeters that have failed in customer homes.
A Pentium computer was added to the speaker lab this year. The computer design programs had improved to the point where they could be useful for speaker work in the lab. Several programs were purchased such as the Linear-X (LMS and LEAP) as well as XOPT.
Ron Fone's presidency at McIntosh was ended in September of this year. Smith, the manager of the speaker division also left to join Fone at a.d.s. Sidney Corderman became temporary President. In December, Thomas Shaeffer became the new President.
The SL-1 powered subwoofer went into production. This was a vented system having a 12" LD/HP woofer and a 250 watt power amplifier. It was designed to meet THX requirements for home theater.
Pete Stethers was hired to work full time with Carl Van Gelder. Pete had previously been employed as a Rochester Institute of Technology co-op student working in the loudspeaker division at McIntosh. Carl and Pete continue with the loudspeaker research and development.
The new line of Academy home systems was introduced. This line of speakers consists of the LS 320, 340 and 360. Soft textile domes are now used in place of metal aluminum domes for this series. They perform better as our earlier research had indicated. The cabinets were well made.
is the end of my history about the McIntosh Loudspeaker Division at this time.
I hope to add more information if and when it becomes available.
For recent literature about McIntosh loudspeakers, you might check the McIntosh page.
Is this where I will end up?
Courtesy of Rodrigues
After 55 years of accumulating knowledge and experience as an audio enthusiast, my dedication for better sound was undiminished. In 2002, ten years after leaving McIntosh, I made the first prototype of my dream system. My experience with column systems and patents made this possible. I found some inexpensive drivers with adequate response that could be used to verify that my concept of a new column would work. It worked very well and an article about this prototype system was published in the November 2005 issue of audioXpress magazine. The sound was so captivating that I could not resist building an improved version with components, including drivers, having the best of technology as well as performance. Of course, it was a risk because the cost was much greater than my first construction.
Then, I realized that the improved version I had created provided greater accuracy than anything I had heard before. The concept, although somewhat radical in design, turned out to be astonishing in performance. I think Gordon Gow would have been very enthusiastic if he had been able to hear it. The accuracy in imaging, depth and spaciousness was outstanding and it provided an unprecedented coherence to the sound that was unique to my design. A second article about the revised version was in the July 2006 issue of audioXpress.
The system was shown at the 2006 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest and received excellent reviews. The room was very crowded each of the three days. The proof is in the listening and we received many complements from the attendees.
Learn about the exciting new stereo loudspeaker system
My Life in the Audio Engineering Society
I was awarded a life membership in the Audio Engineering Society this year.
a student member of the AES at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
This picture is from my 1959 graduation yearbook.
The student meetings and music sessions were very enjoyable.
In 1959 I began work as a senior engineer in the Audio Products Division at the Sonotone Corporation, in Elmsford, NY. At that time I became a full member of the AES and purchased this lapel pin.
During that time, I attended many AES conventions in New York City and that is where I first became acquainted with Julian Hirsch, Victor Brociner and Paul Voigt. I also attended several AES tours such as Consumer Union and the Bozak factory.
In 1967, I began working at McIntosh and in a few years became Director of Acoustic Research.
About This Site
Any comments, corrections, or additions are welcome.
by Roger Russell