What ignited your interest in the high end? Did it come from the music side or the electronics side?
I would say it came from both. I became interested in audio because of my interest in music—which began in the late 60s with rock ’n’ roll, and then developed into a passion for jazz—and then I got more and more interested in high-end audio due to my basic gear-head tendencies as well as, more importantly, my desire and craving to bring myself closer to the music.
What gear made up your first high-end system?
I would say my first high-end system was a pair of KLH 9s, Futterman H3aa amplifiers, a Marantz 7C preamp, and a Transcriptor Hydraulic Reference turntable with a Decca ’arm and cartridge.
When did audio develop from a hobby to a career?
When I graduated from college I got together with Matt Polk and George Klopfer, who also graduated from Johns Hopkins, and we started Polk Audio in the proverbial garage. I suppose you could say that this led to my life’s work: 45 years of creating loudspeakers, first with Polk, then with Definitive, and now with GoldenEar. Some call me a serial entrepreneur. To me I’m just a kid from Brooklyn who has been able to pursue his dreams.
How did GoldenEar come into existence?
I left Definitive in the spring of 2009. My wife thought we were retiring, but that was not to be. I suppose that I just had more speakers that I wanted to create, and to take them to another level. I convinced my partner from GoldenEar, Don Givogue, to come out of retirement, as it wouldn’t have been possible without him. Don and I went to visit with Kathy (Gornik) at Thiel to discuss possibly buying Thiel—much as we had done with Dahlquist before starting Definitive—but decided that we were best off starting new and fresh. I remember, after meeting with Kathy, driving around the beautiful Kentucky horse country, discussing our concept for the Triton Two. We showed a mockup at CES 2010, and then demonstrated a prototype at CEDIA the following autumn.
What interesting fact or aspect about GoldenEar might surprise audiophiles?
I think that the fact that we have eight real engineers and a full-sized anechoic chamber might surprise some. Our extremely talented head of engineering, Bob Johnston, is quite rigorous in his approach to designing loudspeakers, both from a measurement as well as from a critical listening and voicing perspective and feels that an anechoic chamber is absolutely critical to his work.
How do you define the difference between hi-fi and high-end audio?
I think hi-fi is a rather general term, sort of like stereo, while high-end connotes a more serious approach to reproducing lifelike sound with great accuracy (theoretically). Some think it refers to expensive, but we consider it more of a reference to quality, and hopefully have shown that high end, while never cheap, does not have to be extraordinarily expensive.
In your view, has digital audio finally equaled or surpassed analog?
What I would say is that digital audio has finally achieved a level of quality that makes it acceptable to me. Initially, despite claims of perfect reproduction, it drilled holes in your head. Now, it has really matured into a very satisfying medium for music enjoyment. And with advances like MQA and Edgar Choueiri’s digital acoustic crosstalk cancellation device, it is really cooking! However analog, which works with the original waveforms, is still something very special.
Looking towards the future, how will high-end systems change in the next ten years or so?
There are many developments that will impact high-end audio systems. Of course streaming seems to be replacing hard media across the board. I still enjoy my silver discs and vinyl, however I am quickly finding myself in the minority. I think that the work that Dr. Choueiri is doing, based on what I heard in Munich, is something quite revelatory and a real breakthrough. Interestingly, Matt and I pioneered an acoustic interaural crosstalk cancellation system back in the 80s, and GoldenEar has a patented system in our high-end soundbars, but the acoustic implementation is a lot simpler. I expect that many really cutting-edge systems may well find Chouieri’s system de rigueur.
Going forward, what are the greatest challenges confronting the high end?
I think that the greatest challenge facing the high end is exposing new listeners to the possibilities, and creating exceptional gear that offers real value along with performance.
Outside of audio, what do you do for fun?
Anne and I listen to a lot of live music. In addition, we are art fanatics and really enjoy collecting.