Edgar Villchur didn’t set out to start a speaker company; he just wanted to license his acoustic suspension designs to other speaker companies. In the early ’50s, he shopped the concept to the biggest names in the business, but not a single one was interested. So Villchur started Acoustic Research in 1952, and his very first speaker, the AR-1, was an immediate hit. Villchur’s design strategy used the elasticity of air within a sealed cabinet to provide the restoring force for the driver, which allowed his relatively small speakers to produce deep, low-distortion bass.
Even before I heard the JBL L100 Century I knew it was going to be great. It was 1970, when hi-fi speakers all had drab cloth grilles, the L100 sported a brilliant orange "waffle" pattern grille, and when every other speaker had grey or black woofers, the L100's was white. I'll never forget the first time I heard a pair, and the big JBLs lit up my Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix LPs, it really was the ultimate "rock" speaker of the day. The L100 sold for $273 each, way too pricey for me.
Life before the first VCRs arrived in the late 1970s was pretty boring. TV watching was limited to whatever meager offerings were available at that moment from broadcast and cable TV stations. VCRs and time shifting changed all that.
Dan D'Agostino is a driven man, his all-consuming passions for sound, technology, and music made his first company, Krell Industries, the Ferrari of the high-end audio world in the 1980s. Dan plucked the Krell name from the classic sci-fi flick, "Forbidden Planet," and I'm guessing it was Dr. Morbius' line, "In times long past this planet was the home of a mighty and noble race of beings, which called themselves the Krell." that sparked D'Agostino's imagination. Dan and his wife Rondi launched the company with just one product, the KSA 100 amplifier, at the 1981 Consumer Electronics Show. In the early days the D'Agostinos worked hand to mouth, they'd build a few amps, put them in their car, drive them to a dealer, get a check, then build two more and so on.
Jim Winey didn’t set out to design a new type of speaker, just a better electrostatic speaker. He worked evenings, weekends, vacations, whenever he could starting in 1966, while he was still working for 3M as an engineer. His experiments with flexible bar magnets and Mylar led Winey to invent and patent the planar magnetic speaker.
I don’t think there’s ever been a more iconic audio ad than Maxell’s “Blown Away Guy” campaign that started in 1979. It’s the one with the hipster on the right side of the picture slouching in a massive recliner, with a table lamp and martini glass being blown away by the sound of a JBL L100 speaker on the left side of the frame. That ad sold a lot of tape over the years!
McIntosh’s MC275 may be the most famous tube amplifier in the history of high fidelity. Designed and engineered by the company’s co-founder Sidney Corderman and the McIntosh engineering team, the MC275 (2 x 75 watts per channel) was the most powerful McIntosh stereo amplifier in its day. Some say it was the Harley-Davidson of American amps, and with the big chromed chassis and exposed Gold Lion KT88 power tubes, the MC275 certainly looked the part. The retail price was $444 when the amp was introduced in 1961, and the mono version, the MC75, debuted the same year.
In the beginning there was "lamp cord." Speaker cable was something you bought off a spool at the local hardware store, but Noel Lee had a better idea: audiophile speaker cables. He had a day job at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories, where he worked as a laser-fusion engineer. In his spare time he played drums in an all-Asian country-rock band called Asian Wood.
The Nagra I was the first portable reel-to-reel recorder. Before it arrived in 1952 tape machines were so big they were housed in large trucks and the microphones could never be more than a few hundred feet away from the recorder.
LPs and 45-rpm singles remained the unchallenged music formats throughout the 1950s, 1960s, and well into the 1970s when the Compact Cassette really took off. Cassettes were more portable and didn’t suffer from scratches and surface noise issues (but tape hiss could be a problem). The cassette was also the first recordable format to garner a bona-fide, mass-market foothold.
The Onkyo TX-SV7M is said to be the first Dolby Surround A/V receiver sold in the U.S. and Canada, way back in the all-analog days of 1987. Dolby Surround was the consumer version of the theatrical Dolby Stereo format that was used in movie theaters in the 1980s. Dolby Surround soundtracks were matrix-encoded into stereo formats such as VHS tapes, Laserdiscs, etc. The TX-SV7M was a four-channel receiver, with front left, right, and two surround channel amplifiers (the surrounds were monophonic).
The Pioneer Kuro plasma display broke new ground upon its introduction in 2007 and was quickly hailed by critics and buyers as The Greatest Television Ever Made. Incredibly, as many Home Theater readers know, the Kuro line that debuted in 2007 was phased out by 2010—which proves that just because you make the best, doesn’t mean people will buy it.
Magnavox brought the first Laserdisc player, the VH-8000, to market in late 1978, but Pioneer was the company that put the format on the map. Its first player, the VP-1000, debuted in the U.S. in 1980, and later in Japan. I doubt Pioneer ever thought Laserdisc would threaten VHS and Betamax’s dominance in the mass market; Laserdisc was targeted to high-end buyers.
The Acoustical Manufacturing Company’s Quad ESL-57 was the world’s first production full-range electrostatic speaker. It debuted in 1957 when hi-fi speakers were big boxes and used moving-coil drivers, so the ESL-57’s flat-panel, downright minimalist design not only looked like a radical advance, its thin-film diaphragm’s low-distortion and lightning-fast transient response sounded truly revelatory to 1950s audiophile ears. The speaker’s introduction came not so many years after the transition from 78-RPM records to higher-fidelity LPs took place. The market was primed for a more transparent transducer technology, and Quad had the best-sounding speaker of the age.