The Speaker Guru speaks: Mike Kuller

Driver Designer Questions

0. How close do you think we are to reproducing the sound of live music in the home and in what areas do we need to make the biggest improvements?
I'd say we are about maybe 70% of the way there on the best systems. The biggest gaps are in scale, the sheer movement of air, and in overall coherance of the sound from top to bottom. For what it's worth, here are my answers to the questions you posed:

1. Without giving the standard "weakest link" or "synergy" answer, what would you as the most important component?
Loudspeakers, followed closely by the room. Upgrading here will make the biggest difference to the sound quality.

2. How did you cross over from hobbyist to professional writer?
Helped found a local audio club, wrote an interesting monthly newsletter and mailed it out regularly to editors of the "underground" audio equipment review mags. Was invited to write reviews.

3. Review superlatives often give the impression of "huge gains". How do you reconcile years of "huge gains"?
Are they still that big? Not as big as they were, say 10 years ago. When you listen to a single system critically on a regular basis, small improvements can seem like "huge gains", though.

4. Is the sound often simply different and not better?
I think it is for many audiophiles trying to improve their system through upgrades. It really takes weeks (or longer) of listening to new components to truly judge their merits.

5. Do you have a clear metal image of great sound or does it require constant renewal?
Are you in AB hell? There is no substitute for listening to live, unamplified music on a regular basis if you are going to review equipment. Performing regularly in a DBT is my definition of AB hell because they mask small differences.

5a. How long does it take before your know how good a product is?
Days or weeks of listening to different music. My first impression is very often wrong.

6. What are your audition strong points and weak points, i.e., what problems do you find most difficult to pick up in listening tests? What do you "hate to admit"?
Reviewing equipment is hard, grueling work if done thoroughly and carefully, as it should be.

7. What to you think is that "special something" is that makes some systems sound so good?
Synergy - the whole being better than the sum of the individual parts. Sometimes opposing flaws. 8. How much of the process is collaborative versus on your own? About 20% was "listening panel" who verified or challenged what I heard and liked, or brought up things I missed.

8. How much of the process is collaborative versus on your own?
About 20% was "listening panel" who verified or challenged what I heard and liked, or brought up things I missed.

9. The constant evaluations and power listening must be very hard. How do you keep it fresh?
Taking breaks, not trying to do too much, setting limits. It gets hard to do that after a while. After 15 years, I retired because I got tired of listening to equipment so much and just wanted to relax and listen to music. I've not been tempted to go back.

10. What are some of the secret terms you use to lets us know the component really is not as good as it could be?
No secret terms. If I didn't like it, I would try to get out of reviewing and writing about it because then it really became hard work. If it had flaws, and everything does, I would write about them.

11. Someone recently said, "All SS amps not driven to clip sound the same". Do all SS amps sound the same?
Not even close. Those folks are using DBTs.

12. Which components are peaking in the sense that you no longer have to spend a lot to get great sound?
None really, but audio is one area where the "trickle down" theory really works. You get more for your money today than ever before.

13. When you get cornered at a party, what is the question asked most often?
Does the system at Sea Cliff really sound that good?

14. How much should we envy Sea Cliff, really?
A lot, really. HP has access to the best equipment and people to set it up and tweak it for him.

15. What is the best listening experience you have ever had (other than live)?
Sea Cliff - back in the late 1980s. More recently some of the esoteric systems at CES.

16. Without blaming engineers, where do you think the most loss in sound quality occurs, live to listener?
The best recording engineers have shown they can get us much closer to that sound than the average ones so they have to be blamed. Second is that technology needs to advance both recording and sound reproduction further.

17. Have you ever been wowed by a $500-$1000 system?
No, but I never hear a good audiophile system without finding that it does something better than mine.

18. How much in analog is really the "Zen" of analog versus true accuracy of reproduction?
The "Zen" of analogue is "musical" reproduction as opposed to technically "accurate" reproduction.

19. Will we ever find the Holy Grail in sound reproduction?
Some have - personally I've been satisfied with my system for the past few years and have no interest in upgrading. Isn't that what we're all looking for?

20. So, which is it, tubes or SS?
Tubes - somewhere in the system. The two can work together well.

21. What does the future hold for audio?
My crystal ball is a little foggy.

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Copyright Peter Jay Smith 2005 Return to