The primary culprit for limiting sound quality in the home is the infuriating lack of standardization in both the software and hardware sides of our industry – it’s just too frustrating to use our wonderful toys! When I put on a record or CD it plays – I listen and enjoy. When I put on a DVD, I must determine the disc’s optimal encoding scheme for use on my system ...

Interview - Speaker Design

Jay O'Brian | Kevro International, Inc.

Jay O'Brian, Kevro International

The primary culprit limiting sound quality in the home is the infuriating lack of standardization in both the software and hardware sides of our industry - it's just too frustrating to use our wonderful toys! When I put on a record or CD it plays - I listen and enjoy. When I put on a DVD, I must determine the disc's optimal encoding scheme for use on my system ...

1) Monitor Audio is known for its metal driver technology called C-CAM. Just what is C-CAM?

C-CAM (Ceramic - Coated Aluminum/Magnesium) is a material used in all tweeters and upscale cone midranges and woofers found in Monitor Audio loudspeakers. Originally used in the aerospace industry for use as blades in jet engines, this alloy of aluminum and magnesium is extremely rigid and strong, yet very lightweight. A ceramic coating further adds to the driver's rigidity and provides additional damping. Driver resonance issues are inaudible, having been pushed to frequencies well above breakup modes found in more conventional tweeters and woofers. The benefits include low distortion and increased clarity.

2) Monitor Audio has just expanded the high-end portion of the lineup with a series called Platinum where you use a C-CAM ribbon tweeter. What is the advantage of this tweeter?

Ribbon tweeters have an inherent advantage over dome tweeters for the reproduction of high frequencies because the entire diaphragm is driven directly and simultaneously with no energy storage. Even the best dome tweeters must carry the added weight of the voice-coil and voice-coil former which will inhibit ultimate transient response and clarity. Earlier ribbon tweeters were made of mylar, where the voice coil is etched directly onto the ribbon. These ribbons were typically used as super-tweeters and were crossed over at higher frequencies than dome tweeters. Inexpensive ribbons used today may still be of mylar, whereas more updated ribbon tweeters tend to be made of aluminum to handle more power and operate over a wider bandwidth. Monitor Audio's C-CAM ribbon is a step-up over aluminum as the ideal material in terms of low mass, strength and rigidity. This C-CAM ribbon weighs in at only 18mg and can operate over a wide bandwidth from 2800Hz -100kHz. It's super fast, very clean and exhibits excellent dispersion characteristics.

3) I notice the woofer and midrange cones in the Platinum Series appear to be quite different as well. What's special here?

The driver cone is a sandwich made up of a honeycomb Nomex core which is then covered on either side by very thin skins of C-CAM that are only half the thickness of human hair. This structure is of very low mass, yet is 150 times more rigid than a cone made of solid aluminum. This type of composite construction is used in the aerospace industry for strength and light weight, and is found in many components used in Formula 1 racecars. Termed RDT (Rigid Diaphragm Technology), this cone is lightning fast so as to keep up with the C-CAM ribbon operating above it. This RDT driver is the musically ideal piston to get on a note and then get off it!

4) I've read that the front baffle, plinth, and midrange enclosure are made of ARC. What is ARC?

ARC (Anti-Resonant Composite) is a cast thermo-set polymer that is loaded with minerals so as to be an essentially inert home for our drivers. This material is able to be formed into a curved front baffle to minimize any diffraction issues, and is then upholstered with classy leather for both looks and added damping. The midrange enclosure is made of ARC in the form of a tapered line enclosure to minimize both resonance and standing waves, and is isolated within the cabinet by a rubber suspension.

5) How is the Platinum cabinet constructed?

The cabinet is constructed of wood veneers in multiple laminations to form a plywood shell that curves from front to back so as to minimize standing waves. A vertical pin-hole brace is placed side-to-side in order to internally connect the top, bottom, and side panels. Thru-bolts are then used to tie the front baffle, the pin-hole brace, and the back panel together as one unit. These bolts are then tightened to a specific torque so as to tune out any remaining resonances.

6) Very innovative! What further innovations do you see in the future for the audio industry?

Home entertainment is the umbrella under which audio will continue to thrive. I suspect that it will become more affordable and popular for music servers in the home, on the internet, or in your iPod to conveniently pipe music into the home. Audio sources including music, TV, movies, distributed audio, and videogames will be intertwined and converge through a single control center. Convenience and ease of use will determine popular acceptance of this integration of technologies, more so than price alone.

7) What do you think is the weak link in today's audio and home theater systems that is limiting sound quality to the listener?

Audio sound quality is significantly better today when one carefully selects music and theater system components. Still, room acoustics remains a significant variable for those with good systems. Many consumers do not know what a good system sounds like, so the inability for customers to audition a properly set up system, before it is installed in their home, remains unfortunate.

The primary culprit limiting sound quality in the home is the infuriating lack of standardization in both the software and hardware sides of our industry - it's just too frustrating to use our wonderful toys! When I put on a record or CD it plays - I listen and enjoy. When I put on a DVD, I must determine the disc's optimal encoding scheme for use on my system, the corresponding decoding parameters for my electronics, indicate that I want to play the disc, then hope that my HDMI 1.1, 1.2, or 1.3 cable will actually deliver the signal between components, and then wait through a couple commercial trailers before I can watch the damn movie! Oh, and the actor's heads are either too wide or too skinnythen there are the black bars...and now industry greed gives us HD DVD vs Blue Ray wars?? Andy Rooney could do an entire program of 60 Minutes on this mess. Our customers deserve better!

8) In your opinion, which is more important to your customerslooks and quality of construction, size, innovation, or sound quality?

Audio is no longer boy-toy time, so big ugly boxes just don't cut it. Our customers are often couples who purchase entertainment systems for their homes, and want their speakers to be attractive additions to their living rooms, or demand that they be invisible. Monitor Audio designs speakers to deliver outstanding performance, whether in-ceiling, in-wall, floor standing, on wall, or built-in, and to do it with stylish good looks. Great looking speakers and quality of construction go hand-in-hand. Certainly speaker size is a significant part of the visual equation once beauty and quality are observed. Sound quality is presumed by those who know of Monitor Audio speakers, but is more often appreciated by the customer after the system is installed. Innovation is appreciated as part of Monitor Audio's technology story.

My audio biography must surely start with my father's love of music and his influence on me. Kids never follow parental advice, but I do remember my father relaxing after work, listening to his Dixieland jazz, Ella, Louie Armstrong & Pete Fountain through his AR2, HK integrated amp, Benjamin Miracord turntable and Stanton cartridge. When he bought the second AR2 and another amp, my mother took the (rather modern day) stance of "not in my living room!". Dad proceeded to cut two openings in the wall where a hallway closet backed up to the living room, installed the AR2's on a shelf, and completed the install with grill cloth and wood frames. The first in-wall, backbox enclosed loudspeakers circa 1964! I recall a famous jazz musician once said "music is to wash away the dust of everyday life", a feeling my father still embraces.

Dad and I built my first speakers when in my teens, comprised of two Utah coaxial's from the Olsen catalog. They sounded terrible but I was proud of them! I graduated to Dynaco kits, became a campus rep for a dealer while in college, and eventually got into retail sales. I've built and modified Hafler kits, tweeked AR and Linn turntables, and dissected & revamped numerous speaker brands. Curiosity has led me to enjoy experimenting with speakers from Seas, Vifa, Peerless, Dynaudio, Audax, KEF, and Focal, among others, in both the car and home for some 40 years. Such fun! If I can spend my entire adult life being paid to play with audio toys, I'll chuckle at having fooled the world into believing it was work!

The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of HomeToys

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