Jump to content
The Classic Speaker Pages Discussion Forums
Steve F

AR's reason for being

Recommended Posts

It’s funny how “outsiders” view speaker companies from the 1950-1980 era: They tend to view them as altruistic entities, concerned mostly with satisfying the acoustic desires of music enthusiasts by producing speakers that faithfully and accurately replicated the sound of music, and employing state-of-the-art design and manufacturing tools to achieve that end.

The Sound was all that mattered to these companies—delivering a great sound, performance and value to the music enthusiast while delighting the hard-core audiophile.

Roy, Ed, Henry, Andy, Sandy, et al.—all that mattered to them was the deep satisfaction of producing great-sounding speakers.

Nope. Sorry.

AR, Advent, KLH, EPI, Polk, JBL, and so on and so forth were in existence to make money and provide a living for the people who worked there. They didn’t exist for your delight, enjoyment and bragging rights. The way those companies continued to exist was to sell more stuff. The way they could sell more stuff was by constantly improving their products and introducing innovative new products for the purpose of gaining a competitive advantage over the other companies in their industry.

So they could sell more stuff. Not for the satisfaction of developing the new engineering breakthrough. If you worked there, you could and did derive satisfaction within the company for a job well done, but the point was, as a VERY well-known boss I had once said, “to sell sh*t!!”

I love this forum and discussing the whys and wherefores of the various models, why they came out with that model, when they upgraded that tweeter, why that crossover frequency changed, why/when the Teak finish option was dropped. This is a fascinating hobby like no other.

But I worked inside the speaker business for a long, long time. I made the “this tweeter, not that one” decision. I argued with various bosses over, “Let’s take this baby to 45Hz, and not be satisfied with 52Hz.” I told Engineering to use the air-core choke not the iron-core choke. I negotiated with Stereo Review for the best ad rates for a package of 12 print ads in a calendar year, “and you better toss in an ad in the Buying Guide for free.”

These companies did what they did in order to sell stuff and make money, first, last and in-between. That producing a quality product was probably the most effective way to gain a competitive edge over your competition was a favorable by-product of the process.

But please remember—the 3’s deep bass advantage over other speakers was engineered into existence to sell more speakers and pay AR’s employees’ mortgages. Not to give you bragging rights. 

Steve F.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

this can be said about any product really.   I would like to think that most products at least begin with some passion from the designers and engineers. how it translates over the life of the product or the company could be studied for the rest of time I guess.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

True, it could be said to varying degrees about most consumer products.

The difference here is that unlike, say, toaster ovens or leather recliners, most audiophiles feel as if the owners/designers of audio products have a special, personal connection and regard for their customers. It's like the audiophile imbues the company with having their (the end user's) best interests and enjoyment deeply at heart, because it just matters to them (the company) so much, far beyond the regular 'we want a loyal customer' thing.

I'm just reminding everyone that that's definitely not true. Yes, we took pride in the quality and performance of our products, we enjoyed it when Stereo Review gave us a great review, but it all related back to sales. There is no "special connection." We, as hobbyists, can feel emotional and very passionate--even defensive--about these products, but everyone needs to remember not to romanticize the companies' motives. They weren't operating as non-profit organizations, existing only to raise the aesthetic sensibilities of the audio world.

Steve F.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

What intrigues me is the cost of gear these days, I flip thru a stereo magazine and I see owners or engineers proudly standing behind their creation as if to convey, we DO care about a connection, then I scroll down to find the cost of their pride is $40,000.  I dont know anybody that spends that much on a technology that was left for dead and only now has a limited re-surgance.  ( but maybe thats just my circle of friends ) or when all the reviews are for things that cost more than a car, yet are no bigger than a matchbox.   Do these guys/companies "sell more Stuff" ?  I cant imagine a stack of $40,000 items in the back of a Best Buy.  So how do they survive?   Not meant to be an argument, I am honestly intrigued by how they stay in business. They clearly arent just building widgets just to keep the machines running.  And some of these periodicals seem to exhibit the attitude that if you didnt spend $12,000 on a needle for your turntable you are not a real audiophile.  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Just like the luxury car market, the "high end" audio market operates with very high profit margins.  They don't need to sell the volume of mainstream audio to meet payroll.  Sometimes times high end audio speakers and electronics are truly better than their mainstream competition, but usually not significantly enough to justify the premium price.   Certainly only a fool and his money would ever consider buying a $12,000 stylus, but those fools do exist and there are magazines that will sell their souls promoting said stylus.  That is not to say that I have not been enamored with a $10,000 amplifier or a $20,000 pair of speakers, but like most real audiophiles, I have been able to mostly resist the temptation. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
7 hours ago, Steve F said:

It’s funny how “outsiders” view speaker companies from the 1950-1980 era: They tend to view them as altruistic entities, concerned mostly with satisfying the acoustic desires of music enthusiasts by producing speakers that faithfully and accurately replicated the sound of music, and employing state-of-the-art design and manufacturing tools to achieve that end.

The Sound was all that mattered to these companies—delivering a great sound, performance and value to the music enthusiast while delighting the hard-core audiophile.

Roy, Ed, Henry, Andy, Sandy, et al.—all that mattered to them was the deep satisfaction of producing great-sounding speakers.

Nope. Sorry.

AR, Advent, KLH, EPI, Polk, JBL, and so on and so forth were in existence to make money and provide a living for the people who worked there. They didn’t exist for your delight, enjoyment and bragging rights. The way those companies continued to exist was to sell more stuff. The way they could sell more stuff was by constantly improving their products and introducing innovative new products for the purpose of gaining a competitive advantage over the other companies in their industry.

So they could sell more stuff. Not for the satisfaction of developing the new engineering breakthrough. If you worked there, you could and did derive satisfaction within the company for a job well done, but the point was, as a VERY well-known boss I had once said, “to sell sh*t!!”

I love this forum and discussing the whys and wherefores of the various models, why they came out with that model, when they upgraded that tweeter, why that crossover frequency changed, why/when the Teak finish option was dropped. This is a fascinating hobby like no other.

But I worked inside the speaker business for a long, long time. I made the “this tweeter, not that one” decision. I argued with various bosses over, “Let’s take this baby to 45Hz, and not be satisfied with 52Hz.” I told Engineering to use the air-core choke not the iron-core choke. I negotiated with Stereo Review for the best ad rates for a package of 12 print ads in a calendar year, “and you better toss in an ad in the Buying Guide for free.”

These companies did what they did in order to sell stuff and make money, first, last and in-between. That producing a quality product was probably the most effective way to gain a competitive edge over your competition was a favorable by-product of the process.

But please remember—the 3’s deep bass advantage over other speakers was engineered into existence to sell more speakers and pay AR’s employees’ mortgages. Not to give you bragging rights. 

Steve F.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I love this post. These companies were money making enterprises and the entrepeneurs that ran them had visions of a great bottom line way more than the vision of a great product. Good old fashioned American competition. The proof is how many of these Giants eventually dropped the quality of their product way way down in order to make more profit. I've never wanted to meet my heroes because you always find out that there motives are less grand than you thought. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It should be obvious that every business exists to "sell stuff," whether the "stuff" is a physical product or a service or just information. The question is really how that business goes about doing it. Do they have an idea for a product they have passion about and decide to invest in developing and selling it because they determine (or at least believe) that there is a sufficient population of potential customers who will want to buy it, or do they determine what products a targeted population of customers will want to buy and then develop and manufacture those products whether they have passion about them or think they're garbage?

I worked a number of startups in my career. When a single person or a small group of people start a company to market a newly invented product they tend to fall into the former group, if only because they lack the necessary consumer research data to be in the latter group. As the company grows, and especially as it is acquired by a larger owner that has more resources, it tends to move toward the latter group. Some move more toward the latter than others.

The "special connection" the company has with you as its customer is that it has somehow identified you as someone who is willing to spend your money on whatever it wants to sell you. But its marketing people spend an awful lot of time and effort to convince you that that connection really is your mutual passion for performance and quality.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

7 hours ago, Steve F said:

The difference here is that unlike, say, toaster ovens or leather recliners, most audiophiles feel as if the owners/designers of audio products have a special, personal connection and regard for their customers.

quod erat demonstrandum 

ar-3a.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Reading your post and I am reminded of when I first started investing in stocks. I quickly found out the worst advice I mostly got was from  someone that was working in that particular company that I was interested in buying stocks in. The admiration of the owners is taking an excellent idea and turning into an enterprise where buyers were impressed with the products.....and workers could have a family and a mortgage.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
22 hours ago, Steve F said:

The way those companies continued to exist was to sell more stuff.

The investors don't care how any product performs, just how it contributes to profits.   RE: AR Speakers. They are one means to an end.  Don't get too attached. They will never love you back.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have to disagree with OP. I work in a major software/hardware company that has always been at the forefront of both innovation and profit margins.  It's a chicken and egg debate.  Those companies didn't get rich simply by selling shit.  They got rich by selling products on which a lot of consumers were willing to spend their hard-earned money.  Of course a company's bottom line is to stay in business which means maximizing revenue which in turn feeds more R&D, more employees to manufacture more products, etc etc.  But if they didn't manufacture desirable products, they wouldn't have achieved their goal.

I completely understand losing arguments for squeaking out a few extra Hz's because it wouldn't have been worth the cost versus the forecast revenue.  But a company also looks at the competition as input to decision making. If no other company is cranking out those few extra Hz's, there is no compelling business reason to take on the additional cost.  And in that specific case, how many consumers really would have spent the extra money for a few extra Hz's when (A) they couldn't hear the difference anyway and (B) their stereo systems were incapable of producing frequencies that low?

I am very big on bass in my stereo systems. I want to hear 40Hz coming through my subwoofer.  Between my Fisher 500-C, my AR-2Ax speakers and my Behringer DEQ2496, I get what I want. Heck, the radio alone (which is a late 60's model) sounds fantastic without additional EQ beyond the unit's bass, treble and loudness controls.

I believe there are enough, well-respected, innovating employees in these companies that are able to convince management to spend the extra bucks to squeeze out those last few Hz's.  Well that's my $.02.  Thorne

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

We should bear in mind that the OP is coming from a marketing point of view. Steve was a salesman, not a design engineer or the founder of a company.  Referring to his first post, using an air core choke will not lower bass response compared to a solid core choke. If the air core choke's attributes (a bit lower distortion at high input levels), however, can be stated in an ad in such a way as to sell more speakers, that would typically be the primary motivation for the marketing department to recommend the air core choke. In reality the odds are very low the vast majority of end users would hear the difference.

With that said, it is hard to imagine Teledyne having had the same perspective as AR founding fathers Kloss and Villchur, or, for that matter, design specialist Roy Allison.

Roy

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Although they may not realize it, the last two posters actually agree with everything I said. First, a clarification: selling 'sh*t' doesn't mean selling bad stuff or hypocritically looking the other way when you crank out mediocre gear. 'Sh*t' is just slang for 'stuff,' as in "We want to sell lots of stuff." The "stuff" is good, high-quality. The reason it's good is primarily because market forces and competition push you to make it good. That's the primary reason. The secondary reason--and it is there, no question--is that the designers/owners of the company have a passion for that kind of thing.

As for the 'this tweeter vs. that,' 'air core vs. iron core,' '47Hz vs, 52Hz' comparison, those were simply to demonstrate that I was in the middle of the most detailed decisions made on speakers, from the vantage point of a manufacturer, over a span of several decades with some of the most well-known companies in the business. Obviously, the air core vs. iron core choke doesn't affect the bass response, but there was no representation that it did. It was simply an example of the minute level I was involved in.

I was primarily in marketing and product development/Eng management (never in Sales for a speaker company, other than in-field Sales training for our dealers and company salespeople). I supervised, managed and made every manner of engineering/design/voicing decision there was to be made, after I conceived, planned and defined all the products, right down to the wall-mounting hardware. At one company, I spec'd the T-S parameters for the subwoofer drivers from our vender, and specified the internal cabinet volume and amp characteristics. Our design engineer said to me when the samples came in, "Well, ok, I guess I'll do the last 5%, but these are about the best system-matched elements I've ever seen for a family of powered subwoofers. You made my job real easy." Then I wrote every owner's manual, every ad that appeared in Stereo Review and every training manual. For well over 20 years.

My first-hand, front-row view of the US speaker industry is an interesting one. I don't mean to imply that the founders of our favorite companies didn't care about performance or that they don't care about their customers. That's not what I said. But they also didn't do what they did for the altruistic reasons that so many audiophiles/hobbyists ascribe to them. That makes me smile. That's what I was saying.

Steve F.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, Steve F said:

Although they may not realize it, the last two posters actually agree with everything I said.

Pretty clever. This sight has no transaction queue so, any two posters above your post could be said to be agreeing with you unless they explicitly stated otherwise.  You ARE a marketing guy :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 2/15/2018 at 11:29 AM, Steve F said:

It’s funny how “outsiders” view speaker companies from the 1950-1980 era: They tend to view them as altruistic entities, concerned mostly with satisfying the acoustic desires of music enthusiasts by producing speakers that faithfully and accurately replicated the sound of music, and employing state-of-the-art design and manufacturing tools to achieve that end.

The Sound was all that mattered to these companies—delivering a great sound, performance and value to the music enthusiast while delighting the hard-core audiophile.

Roy, Ed, Henry, Andy, Sandy, et al.—all that mattered to them was the deep satisfaction of producing great-sounding speakers.

Nope. Sorry.

AR, Advent, KLH, EPI, Polk, JBL, and so on and so forth were in existence to make money and provide a living for the people who worked there. They didn’t exist for your delight, enjoyment and bragging rights. The way those companies continued to exist was to sell more stuff. The way they could sell more stuff was by constantly improving their products and introducing innovative new products for the purpose of gaining a competitive advantage over the other companies in their industry.

So they could sell more stuff. Not for the satisfaction of developing the new engineering breakthrough. If you worked there, you could and did derive satisfaction within the company for a job well done, but the point was, as a VERY well-known boss I had once said, “to sell sh*t!!”

I love this forum and discussing the whys and wherefores of the various models, why they came out with that model, when they upgraded that tweeter, why that crossover frequency changed, why/when the Teak finish option was dropped. This is a fascinating hobby like no other.

But I worked inside the speaker business for a long, long time. I made the “this tweeter, not that one” decision. I argued with various bosses over, “Let’s take this baby to 45Hz, and not be satisfied with 52Hz.” I told Engineering to use the air-core choke not the iron-core choke. I negotiated with Stereo Review for the best ad rates for a package of 12 print ads in a calendar year, “and you better toss in an ad in the Buying Guide for free.”

These companies did what they did in order to sell stuff and make money, first, last and in-between. That producing a quality product was probably the most effective way to gain a competitive edge over your competition was a favorable by-product of the process.

But please remember—the 3’s deep bass advantage over other speakers was engineered into existence to sell more speakers and pay AR’s employees’ mortgages. Not to give you bragging rights. 

Steve F.

This message is sort of a curious oversimplification, but it is entertaining!  It combines the basic truth that businesses are in business to do business; i.e., make a profit.  Yes, "sell more stuff!"  Grow the business, make profitable products, etc.  This is true for all legitimate, for-profit, commercial businesses, and this point is well-taken.  Leadership in business, however, is much more than just "selling more stuff."  Contributions—which probably started off as either an altruistic endeavor or a brainstorm to make something better—have to be made to keep the company brand at the front of the line, and some companies were more successful than others at doing this sort of thing.  In the basic little field of high-fidelity loudspeakers and turntables, Acoustic Research for many years consistently stayed at the head of the field by introducing better-engineered products, customer service, durability and reliability.

But I would differ with Steve in how some businesses—including Acoustic Research but specifically excluding KLH, EPI, Advent,  BA and many others—were actually started.  I would say that AR was very different from these other companies in the way it began, but this is should be saved for another topic

In the beginning, AR's Ed Villchur made a living after WWII as a writer and teacher, but over a period of time he thought deeply about a problem in bass reproduction.  He examined and carefully quantified this problem and engineered a solution for which he obtained a patent.  He specifically did not to want to go into business with his patent and start selling "stuff" and make a living?  No!  That is exactly what he didn't want to do, and he said it many times!  He wanted to sell his patent to the big hi-fi audio companies (Altec Lansing and Bozak) or to University Sound and be done with it.  He offered to sell his patent for $10k but was willing to take $5K for it.  Just like that, but he had no intention of going into business to get some money for his invention and patent. 

Ultimately, Acoustic Research began because no one in the hi-fi business industry would buy his patent due to the well-known "not-invented-here" syndrome.  Villchur's patent was greeted with such things as... "if such a thing existed, our engineers would have already thought of that," or "what you describe is impossible" and so forth.  Partly because of this rejection, Villchur was convinced by Henry Kloss to go into business to build the new speaker themselves, mainly because Kloss had a small loft in Cambridge where he was already building and selling the Baruch-Lang corner loudspeakers.  In the summer of 1954, AR was begun in that loft.

Therefore, if any company pioneer was truly "altruistic" in the beginning, it was probably AR's Edgar Villchur.  He disliked day-to-day business, was uncomfortable with it but he adapted and became an excellent manager and leader mostly by bringing in people to the company who were honest, trustworthy and capable.  The rest is history.  This story is similar to the beginning of Hewlett-Packard in the late 1930s.  Bill Hewlett invented a better audio oscillator while an engineering student at Stanford University, and Walt Disney found out about it and wanted to buy it for the production of their new movie, Fantasia.  From that HP was born.  Bill Hewlett and David Packard continued to introduce better-engineered products over time and grew the company enormously over the next decades.

Once AR was up and running, it slowly became slowly profitable and continued to grow in the years ahead through the introduction of innovative new products.

—Tom Tyson

 

Edited by tysontom
error correction

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Great post by Tom. Many members here know this AR history far, far, far better than I do,  but I've read enough that I tend to think of Villchur as the quintessential "idea" guy, and it was Kloss who was the marketeer and nudged Ed toward ideas of entrepreneurship. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, ra.ra said:

Great post by Tom. Many members here know this AR history far, far, far better than I do,  but I've read enough that I tend to think of Villchur as the quintessential "idea" guy, and it was Kloss who was the marketeer and nudged Ed toward ideas of entrepreneurship. 

Yin & Yang, no?

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

As the owner of a company said on more than one occasion, "We're not here to save the world from bad sound!"

Any idea for a commercial product in virtually any field is brought into reality for the purpose of making a profit. The company's founder can--and should--treat people well along the way: their employees, their customers, etc. No reason not to. In fact, inexcusable not to. Villchur was undoubtedly better than 95% in this regard--AR employees were treated very well, he instituted unique service policies such as providing free replacement packaging to customers if needed and paying freight both ways for warranty returns, full testing and re-certification of repaired units, etc.

But this is all off-topic to my original post. My original post--if you re-read it--was that many audiophiles think that the owners of these various companies have as their primary concern the absolute, hobbyist-level obsession about the final sound quality as the audiophile customers themselves.

I'm simply saying no. That is a concern, but not their primary concern. Don't over-think and over-defend this. I've been there and seen it.

Steve F.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 2/17/2018 at 9:23 AM, Steve F said:

was that many audiophiles think that the owners of these various companies have as their primary concern the absolute, hobbyist-level obsession about the final sound quality as the audiophile customers themselves.

 

On 2/16/2018 at 6:20 PM, tysontom said:

which probably started off as either an altruistic endeavor or a brainstorm to make something better—

According to the Bio in Wikipedia, Edgar Villchur was an Art Historian who developed a deep interest in low distortion sound reproduction.  His earliest efforts, arising from altruistic motives to develop truer sound reproduction for the blind, focused on the two weakest links of sound systems in the early 1950s:

1.   Turntable distortion

2.    Bass frequency distortion

The “AR Reason for Being” is a result of his association with Henry Kloss. 

There exists, on the internet, enough published material by and about Edgar Villchur, to support TTyson's assertion that as long as Villchur was in charge and had no pressure from creditors or outside investors, AR would run along the track he prescribed, which had altruistic origins. 

I agree with Steve F. that once AR was exposed to the stock market its path began to veer,from Villchur’s vision of finding ways to improve sound reproduction while making a profit, toward the narrow investor’s view of improving profits by selling sound reproduction equipment.

I can’t find anything about EV’s musical preferences except his sarcastic commentary on the music of crooners and moaners but he did care about how a Beethoven Piano Sonata sounded to a blind person.

 The Piano is still the only non-powered musical instrument that can span the entire musical range of human hearing.  When Beethoven wrote his first sonata, pianos could reach down to 84 hz. When he wrote his last Sonata, pianos could reach 42hz and Beethoven made full, dynamic use of the instrument.  By 1900 Debussy was writing music for grand pianos, that could reach 27hz.

Villchur, with the AR-1, made it possible for anyone with normal hearing to experience a full range, low distortion, performance of Beethoven’s Piano works in a small living space. EDITED.

When AR took advantage of Villchur’s Acoustic Suspension principle to develop a full line of products at different price points, for a broad audience of sound enthusiasts,  it was more about long term survival and making payroll than altruism and made it difficult for him to execute a clean break with an enterprise that was built on his identity.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

As a professional musician in both operatic and instrumental roles (I.e. singer and instrument), this conversation seems to me to be a little obtuse.  Please enlighten one on any individual on this forum that works and toils in pure benevolence!?  

This role, this individual is few and far between and in most veins practices their craft in the ethereal trade.

Simply put, the vast masses purchase, pursue, imbibe, etc., for enjoyment, pleasure and satisfaction.  Music, art and any other form of entertainment is for the enjoyment of such.  And to put the singular laser focus on the point, is entirely subjective.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
11 hours ago, mister_roboto_hal said:

And to put the singular laser focus on the point, is entirely subjective.

You drop in after 9 years of silence to tell us what?  Singular focus on what point?  The thread is about why AR existed as a business.  "Welcome back to the fight!"

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Wow, has it really been that long!?  Alas, where does the time go?  Divorced, moved, remarried...sounds about right.  Anyway, my point is we all work for money.  Some are fortunate enough to do that in an industry they find highly rewarding.  

As a business, at the apex of AR, it commanded a market share that has never been equalled.  And the impact on the audio industry, much to the delight of a fortunate few, created designs that would stand the test of time.  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


×
×
  • Create New...