On the Shoulders of Giants
Isaac Newton famously said, “If I have seen farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” While I do not confuse myself with Newton, I share his awe and respect of those who have gone before. It has been through some ability and the luck of being in the right place at the right time that I have not only stood on the shoulders of some of the most remarkable people the audio industry ever produced, but I have had the extreme privilege of rubbing shoulders and sharing meals with them. Although I was officially enrolled at MIT, my real teachers were a group of men uniquely devoted to the reproduction of sound.
My First Mentors: Gerald Landau (1919 – 2014) and Roy Allison (1927 - March 1, 2016) of Acoustic Research
In my earliest days at Tech Hifi (1964-1966), while operating out of my East Campus dorm room at MIT, I purchased my audio gear from local dealers. Shortly after I was forced off school property into commercial space, I bought out one of my suppliers, a dealer in Waltham, MA, Stereo Component Systems, Inc. and became a direct dealer for HH Scott, Dynaco, Shure, and Acoustic Research.
AR was also in Cambridge and less than a mile and a half from my store and dorm. I would drive my VW (first a bug with only the driver’s seat but shortly a bus) and pick up the speakers myself. Jerry Landau, AR’s Marketing Director, would often invite me in for some chit-chat and Roy Allison, then in charge of design and manufacturing, would join in. I thought they were just getting my opinion of the industry, but I now realize it was mentoring. I was being encouraged to follow AR’s successful approach of offering the best value in speakers available while still staying profitable. Tech opened a mail-order business to compete with the New York based business. We had the lowest prices on AR, as we had virtually no cost to get the speakers from AR. We took orders, made out the shipping forms and then ordered from AR. We would pick them up and put the labels on as we unloaded the VW and UPS would pick them up the same day! Low cost of operations, so we had low retail prices. In 1966, AR had a record-setting, 32+% of the of the domestic speaker market – Tech helped.
At one meeting, while trying out a proposed (but never published) advertisement on me, I learned about spiffs (a commission a manufacturer [but never AR] pays directly to a retail salesman for selling the manufacturer’s product). They warned that this gave the manufacturer great direct control of the sales staff. For years, we insisted Tech get these commissions to use for advertising.
Amar Bose, 1929-2013
Dr. Amar G. Bose founded Bose Corporation in 1964, the same year I started Tech Hifi in my MIT dormitory. In 1969, the Bose 901, with its groundbreaking Direct/Reflecting speaker array, was introduced. And shortly thereafter we became major Bose dealers with the $476 per pair 901 being our most popular expensive speakers.
Sandy Ruby and I attended many evening brainstorming secessions at the original small Bose factory. Although Sandy and I contributed to these meetings, we certainly learned more than we contributed. Only when Bose tried to introduce much lower priced box speakers with none of the patented Bose technology did our close relationship deteriorate. I learned a great deal from Amar that I will never forget.
Martin Gersten, 1941-2008
Marty was one of the founders of Ohm. He had been the Chief Engineer of Rectilinear Research; but had been unable to convince the owner, Morris Weiner, to license Lincoln Walsh’s technology. Tech Hifi was a big Rectilinear dealer and became a major Ohm dealer. Marty provided the training in speakers and in particular, Lincoln’s unique view of the audio transducer. I never actually got to meet Lincoln Walsh as he died before his patented design was introduced. My patents addressed some of the problems of the originals (all Marty’s designs) and he encouraged the direction my new designs were taking the Ohm speakers.
Subscribe to Ohm News & Views to get the latest posts in your inbox
2016, My Turn
As you see, I have been in this industry a long time. When I began, vinyl was not an esoteric, audiophile enthusiasm; it was the coin of the realm. There have been many changes in techniques and technology over that time and there have been many innovations and innovators in both manufacturing and marketing audio. I hope that I have been able to meaningfully teach a generation of music lovers a little about how music is reproduced and how we get closer to “reality in the home.” I am more than happy to give my shoulders for others to stand on as audio continues to evolve and provide greater fidelity and greater enjoyment.
I look forward to seeing all of you here again on the 27th
Enjoy and Good Listening!
John Strohbeen Author
John Strohbeen is the president of Ohm Speakers.