Q&A with Doug Henderson of JL Audio

Q&A with Doug Henderson of JL Audio

What ignited your interest in the high end? Did it come from the music side or the electronics side? 
I always joke that my first career choice was “rock star,” but that didn’t work out. Music has been a passion for as long as I can remember; the interest in the gear followed.

What was your first high-end system?
My first true “high-end” system, back in the 1970s, was an SAE Model Nine preamp and Model Three power amp set, a pair of AR3a speakers, and a Technics SP-120 (armless version of the 1200) to which I fitted a Mayware Formula 4 tonearm and ADC cartridge. Plus a Fisher tube tuner and various cassette decks that weren’t especially distinguished. I had some magic moments with that system. I changed out the preamp for an ARC SP-3a in the late 70s…boy, was that good. Wish I saved it.

When did audio develop from a hobby to a career? 
I went to work for Dahlquist in 1983, a speaker company based on Long Island NY. That’s when I realized that I could have a career in the industry, though, as it turned out, not at Dahlquist.

What education did you receive? 
I have an English degree from the University of Virginia. The audio industry education came by osmosis from a variety of sources, including, in the early days, Jon Dahlquist, Carl Marchisotto, and Ed Woodard at Dahlquist. Saul Marantz was still around Dahlquist at the time, and it was an honor to have spent some time with him. Subsequently, I was a rep in the high-end market for 22 years before moving on to a factory position at B&W and now JL Audio. Over the years, I was privileged to know and learn from a Who’s Who of designers, including William Z. Johnson (ARC), Dan D’Agostino (D’Agostino), John Dibb, Steve Pearce and others at B&W, Bob Stuart (Meridian), right up to the present where I am thrilled to be working with Lucio Proni and the team here at JL Audio.

How do you define the difference between hi-fi and high-end audio? 
The words can seem interchangeable, but I’d like to think that high-end audio, as Harry Pearson first defined it, is about the honest pursuit of a living, breathing musical experience. Hi-fi tends to suggest something that is overcooked in the interest of sounding “spectacular,” but not necessarily real.

How would you describe the JL Audio philosophy?
I think we are all about removing constraints from reproduced sound. Our products are overbuilt, and don’t stress or compress even when taxed very hard by the content. The thing that surprises many people who have not experienced a JL Audio speaker system is that in spite of its sometimes massive physical presence, most obviously that of the Gotham, we are not looking to add something that isn’t there. Our subwoofers (and full-range systems in cars and boats) can play everything well, from delicate solo music to bombastic movie scenes. I love demo’ing our products in that sense, moving from modern bass-enhanced electronic or hip-hop music to Bill Evans’ classic Live at The Village Vanguard. We play it all extremely well.

What is the greatest misunderstanding people have about subwoofers? 
That they don’t need one? Seriously, lots of people think subwoofers are only for movies, and I think many music listeners associate them only with “boom.” But a good subwoofer can make even the best stereo system sound much better. You will discover power, scale, and space, not to mention musical content, that you didn’t even know was there. 

What interesting fact or aspect about JL Audio might surprise audiophiles? 
That we are a relatively large, diversified specialist audio company with four decades of history. We have three main businesses, mobile (car audio), marine, and home. We employ nearly 600 people in a 200,000 square foot facility in Miramar, Florida. I’m pretty sure that makes us the largest specialty audio manufacturer in the United States.

What are the greatest challenges confronting the high end in the next few years? 
Relevancy. Critically, we need to attract younger listeners. At 60 I feel like a young man at an audio show, which is not good. This can’t be just an old man’s hobby and continue to prosper. People will always enjoy music, but these days convenience trumps sound quality. High-end audio can seem very daunting with lots of decisions to be made, a potentially high degree of complexity and a real commitment to space in one’s home. We need to make it much easier and more accessible. On a positive note, with high-resolution streaming we now have an amazing intersection of performance and convenience. I think that will lead to some very exciting new products that will appeal to a younger demographic.

Outside of audio, what do you do for fun? 
I love photography and the outdoors, so I combine those.