SPEAKER DESIGN: Guru David Smith

Rahul Athalye (TNT-Audio ezine) writes:

TNT-Audio caught up with noted speaker designer David Smith, ex-JBL, McIntosh, KEF, Snell, and PSB. Join TNT and Speaker Dave on a journey into the heart of speaker design, its history and current trends.

Rahul Athalye (RA):Tell us about how you got started in the audio business.

David Smith (DS): It was a hobby interest when I went to college. Rather than study I would spend hours in the engineering library pouring through Audio magazine and old AES journals. My interests probably came from my Dad. He was part of the first Hi Fi hobby boom post World War II. I grew up in a house with homemade Hi Fi: a JBL D130 in a Hartley Boffle (a multi damping layer infinite baffle) with a University tweeter. A Presto turntable with a Japanese copy of the Gray tonearm, a homemade amplifier from the GE transistor manual.

After college I got a job with Essex Cletron in Cleveland, an OEM supplier of loudspeaker drivers. When they moved their engineering location from Cleveland to the Martinsville plant (later to become Harman Motive) I cast around and got a job at JBL in California. There I designed a range of home products and some important studio monitos, including the 4430 and 4435. After that, KEF in the UK, then KEF/Meridian in D.C., then McIntosh in Binghamton, followed by a/d/s/ and Snell in Boston, and most recently psb in Toronto. In the last few years so much has moved to China that there are very few firms with real engineering or product development in North America, I now work in the digital cinema field for a firm in Toronto.

RA: You have worked for both professional audio (JBL) and hi-fi (KEF) companies. How do the design goals for the pro speakers differ from those for hi-fi speakers?

DS: Pro speakers tend to be more specialized. If a customer needs to fill a 500 seat auditorium with sound, then that’s what they are going to buy, nothing short of that performance will do. Conversely, a domestic audio customer will have more latitude in what he can use and can be swayed a lot by fashion. It becomes more about appealing to their emotions (“I want it” rather than “I need it”). Both pose an interesting challenge. Pro audio generally requires achieving more acoustic output and placing reliability over everything. This may make it feel at times like you are designing Mack Trucks when you would rather be ........