Q&A with William Watkins of Watkins Stereo and Engineering

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Q&A with William Watkins of Watkins Stereo and Engineering

What ignited your interest in the high end? Did it come from the music side or the electronics side?
Both. From my earliest years growing up I can remember there always being music in the house. My father was an accomplished musician who loved music as well as its reproduction. I enjoyed listening to music and was fascinated by the glow and heat of the tube amplifiers and the loudspeakers’ mechanical ability to reproduce such beautiful sound.

What gear made up your first high-end system? 
My first high-end system consisted of an Audio Research SP-6 preamp, Threshold S-300 amplifier, Oracle Delphi turntable, with a Premier MMT ’arm, Dynavector Karat Diamond cartridge, and Roger Modjeski RM4 pre-preamp, then a pair of our Watkins WE-1 loudspeakers with Livewire Green speaker cable.

When did audio develop from a hobby to a career?
All throughout my school years I spent a lot of spare time at our audio business; you could say that I grew up there. I loved it—all the wonderful electronics and speakers to work with and listen to. But the best part was working with my father and helping him with speaker design and manufacturing. I got hooked and never left.

What was it about loudspeaker design that attracted you?
Watching my dad design them. It was physics, math, technology, art, and common sense blending together to reproduce lifelike music with an immersive three-dimensional soundstage. 

What education did you receive?
Primarily mathematics and business. But growing up in the business has been the most useful and fulfilling part of my education.

How do you define the difference between hi-fi and high-end audio?
Basically hi-fi is a matter of perspective. It can be any reproduction that is aesthetically pleasing to those who listen to anything from a basic media player to a more traditional high-quality audio system. High-end audio focuses on an accurate reproduction of live music, sonically and dimensionally, that is more immersive with feeling and emotion.

Analog or digital? Do you have a preference?
Both formats have their strengths but I still feel that analog is overall the most musically satisfying. However, digital has come a long way especially with high-rate DSD playback. 

What interesting fact or aspect about Watkins Loudspeakers might surprise audiophiles?
We are a sixty-year-old company that began at the advent of stereo, and have built and sold more than twenty-thousand loudspeakers—speakers that we take tremendous pride and effort in designing and manufacturing. In fact, our Generation Four speaker model took nine years to design.

Looking toward the future, how will high-end systems change in the next ten years or so? 
Over the past forty-plus years, I have seen changes that I never could have predicted, both for better and worse. But developments over the past few years have given me considerable hope for the future. Awareness and affordability have opened the market back up to younger generations. I hope that this trend continues because the high-end market cannot thrive by selling only ultra-expensive systems. We need the new affordable audio brands so that people can become interested and purchase an enjoyable system. This must be achieved without losing potential customers due to sticker shock. 

Going forward, what are the greatest challenges confronting the high end?
Opening the minds of young and inexperienced listeners to something better in audio enjoyment beyond smartphones and cheap home theaters. And showing them an unfamiliar form of art that is beautiful and that has been largely neglected for a generation or more.

Outside of audio, what do you do for fun? 
I enjoy my classic automobiles and I fly precision large-scale R/C aircraft.

What inspires you about your work?
Simply designing and producing something of musical beauty that we enjoy.And knowing that it enhances the lives of others.

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