ROBIN MARSHALL: A Modicum of Genius

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John Atkinson .....

One of the things that fascinates me about the field of box loudspeaker design is how few original talents there are capable of designing a model from first principles. Yes, armed with the Thiele-Small papers on bass alignment, an understanding of filter theory, and a working knowledge of the OEM drive-unit field, almost anyone can, and has, come up with one commercially and sonically successful design—given a fair degree of luck. And the teams of well-trained engineers at companies like KEF, B&W, and Celestion have shown that they can produce a steady stream of affordable boxes with a high ratio of performance for the dollar. But for an individual to create more than just one good box speaker requires a modicum of genius, and genius is thin on the ground.

I would put forward the names of Jim Thiel, Kevin Voecks, John Bau, and Richard Vandersteen as examples of creative US designers who can produce a succession of dynamic loudspeakers that rise above the merely excellent. In the UK, Proac's Stuart Tyler, Martin Colloms, Richard Ross of Rogers, Phil Ward (once with Mordaunt-Short), and Robin Marshall have all proved that they have the ability to square the acoustic circle on a consistently good basis.

Robin Marshall, the last-named, seems to be on the crest of a wave at present. After spending the 1970s designing good-sounding budget models to be sold under the Audiomaster brand for the British retailer KJ Leisuresound, he blossomed in the '80s, producing a number of sonically stunning speakers for Monitor Audio, including the R352, R852/MD, and R952/MD, which respectively impressed me, Tom Norton, and the Audio Cheapskate in 1988; set up his own company, Epos Acoustics, to manufacture another of his designs, the ES-14, another Cheapskate favorite; and recently became chief engineer at Mordaunt-Short. I met with Robin at the 1988 Chicago CES and asked him what had prepared him for a life at the sharp point of creative speaker design:

Robin Marshall: I was with the BBC, though not so much on loudspeaker design. If you ask an engineering graduate where he wants to go, how's he going to know? He doesn't know what the options are. The BBC therefore has a system where you can spend a short amount of time in every area of the BBC's engineering section. You could spend some time at Broadcasting House in the studio, you could then go to the design department and do a little bit, you could go to the equipment department and build things. This is a two-year contract they have. And then at the end of that, you choose which area you feel is most suited to you.

Atkinson: So an engineer entering the BBC from university would find himself very quickly acquiring a broad-based experience both behind the mixing console and in R&D.

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