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Q&A with Max Townshend of Townshend Audio.

Max_Townshend

What ignited your interest in high-end audio? 

At the age of ten, I was serendipitously introduced to Guglielmo Marconi’s assistant, Ernest Wishshaw. His inability to read resistor color codes meant I became a fixture in his workshop, which manufactured ultra-high-quality tube amplifiers. That’s where I first heard high-quality reproduced sound, and that pursuit has been my goal ever since. My grandmother played the piano in the cinema for silent movies. When vinyl arrived, she commissioned me to make an LP player. Music was part of our lives—jazz, pop, and classical. When American rock and roll discs landed in Australia, I converted Garrard record decks to play 33s. I’ve been building record players ever since.

 

What differentiates high-end audio from other forms of audio? 

I’m fascinated by the sound that emanates from any instrument, whether a bass drum or a violin. I was driven to find a way to replicate those subtle and complex sounds exactly. It’s not easy and has taken a lifetime, as there is so much audio housekeeping to get it just right. Audiophiles are perfectionists and are never satisfied until the music is truly convincing. Mechanically isolating all equipment is so important to getting the attack and decay correct for each and every note. To create a truly convincing sound I’ve had to revisit every component in the chain. 

 

What was your first high-end system? What year was this?

In the early seventies, I made a version of the HQD speaker system, which comprised two KEF B139 bass drivers, a pair of stacked Quad ESL-57s, and a pair of Decca Ribbon tweeters. 

 

How did Townshend Audio come about?

In 1975 I set up Townshend Audio in Sydney to market long-contact parabolic diamond styli for record players. The market was wide open, so I moved to the UK in 1978. A chance encounter with Professor Jack Dinsdale, inventor of the transformerless transistor power amplifier, led me to head up the production of his invention of the front-end damping trough, which was incorporated in the Rock Turntable and Excalibur tonearm. We made very successful amplifiers, preamplifiers, the plaster-lined Glastonbury II speakers, interconnects, and impedance-matched speaker cables. We made the first Seismic Sink isolation platform in 1989. But it was our Allegri autotransformer preamplifier that spearheaded our greatest musical playback advance. The volume control is the weakest link in the audio system, and it has taken a further ten years of development to arrive at our latest, the Allegri Reference preamplifier.

Manufacturing the entire system has been my life’s work, and I have nearly finished! There is a DAC, a universal disc player, a hybrid power amplifier, and an 18-driver focused-line-array speaker imminent. The synergy of these audio components together is a dream to hear.

 

How would you contrast the Townshend philosophy of isolation versus traditional mass-loading?

I spent the first half of my life with spikes and mass loading everywhere except the turntable. Then we tried the Seismic Sink under a CD player, and it won an award in 1991. My Italian importer tried it under his speakers and was shocked. We have now been manufacturing high-quality, very low frequency cutoff isolation. Once you have heard it you can never go back.

 

What interesting fact or aspect about Townshend might surprise audiophiles?

We were early adopters of cryogenically treated cables, which evolved into our fractal treatment of copper. We also made the first practical ribbon super- tweeters and the most effective turntable tonearm design with both isolation and active tonearm damping, plus the first 0.5dB-step, remote-controlled, fully isolated, passive autotransformer preamp (no power cord, no tubes, no transistors, and no noise). 

 

Are you surprised at the strength of analog two-channel playback?

Two-channel will always be king, offering the best playback if the mastering is well executed. It’s the audiophile’s preference for listening to classical and acoustic music. Surround sound can be great fun for movies and TV, and the mastering process is less likely to matter in the overall delivery of the performance.

 

What are the greatest challenges facing the high-end industry? 

Pushing the boundaries of audio playback requires more understanding of our art form objectively—not just hearing, but understanding through measurements. My research exposes the correlation between cable geometry and hence characteristic impedance. 

 

What do you do for fun?

Family time is precious and luckily my wonderful family shares my love and passion for music. Oh, and I love to sail.

 

What (still) inspires you about your work?

Musical truthfulness inspires me. I judge a system by the time it takes me to enter that metaphysical moment when the left and right hemispheres work together slipping you into alpha waves. It’s the nirvana we all seek. I like to share these moments with my friends. I’m happy that I have spent my life doing this.

Tags: Q&A TOWNSHEND AUDIO

By Neil Gader

Writer

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