Look... starting a loudspeaker company in 2017 is not a way to "strike it rich" in business. Far from it. There's 100's of better products you could manufacture that would return 100's of times what a loudspeaker could. Heck, I could have just put the start-up funds into Bitcoin and made more money! I highly doubt you will ever buy a pair of my speakers. In fact, you will probably never even get to audition a pair. So why start a new speaker business?
First of all, I do not want to be in the loudspeaker manufacturing business. Nope. I'd rather do any multiple of other things. Now, don't get me wrong... I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE hi-end audio and I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE designing speakers and building them for myself, friends and family. But to offer my designs to the general public... no thanks, my friend. That's a tough racket. And I've read you should never make your hobby your job because the business will ruin your hobby. It becomes a "jobby".
So how did I wake up one day with a full-page ad in Stereophile and website selling my loudspeakers? Here's how...
OK, I've been designing and building and even selling custom-made loudspeakers since 1995-ish. I've worked in audio one way or the other since 1994. The last pair of speakers I had in my main system for seven long years (before my Grail T5) was a "best-of-the-best" 300 lbs., automotive painted flagship. I felt it was the best speaker I could make or even buy. It was just that good. The best drivers from ScanSpeak -- like their beryllium tweeter, $500-a-pop Mundorf silver, gold and oil capacitors in the crossover... I couldn't build a better speaker, and that's why it was in the system for seven entire years. Funny how I swore up and down it was the best speaker I've ever heard.
About five years ago... an idea popped into my head about an unusual driver array... I'll call it the Grail Array. What I was thinking of doing was finding high-resolution 4" to 5" midbass drivers that would rise a little at 2000 Hz -- so I could mount them 90-degrees off-axis and they'd be flat. Why 90-degrees off-axis? Well... I am a nut for super-wide soundstages. My thinking was if they are firing 90-degrees off-axis to the left and to the right... it would create a wider soundstage than if the drivers were all firing straight ahead at me. Kind of like an omni... but not really. Some speaker designers mount tweeters on the rear of their speakers for ambience, this is kind of the same idea I had... only with frequencies 2000 Hz and lower, and instead of on the back... I was thinking side-to-side.
I'd mount these drivers magnet to magnet, and in-phase, so their vibrations would cancel each other out. Not just in the cabinet... but even in the cones and the baskets of the drivers. This cancellation, we called Forced Null... would cancel out any vibrations and in-theory dramatically reduce distortion.
Now, in my mind's eye, I saw these drivers firing to the left and to the right with a tweeter mounted on the front baffle between them. The tweeter's voicecoil would be the same height as the voicecoils of the midbass drivers. This would (in my thoughts) create a super-wide soundstage, as well as point-source array- without the compromises found in many point source drivers on the market. The 3-driver "Grail Array" should "couple" and reproduce sound in a more lifelike manner than speakers that have a tweeter mounted several inches above the midrange.
Also, this "Grail Array" would allow me to make the front (tweeter) baffle as thin as I could make it, as we didn't need to house woofers on it as well.
And more, being I would have just one driver on it's own baffle... there would be no driver modulation. In layman's terms, the woofer's cone was not going to be re-radiating the tweeters waves- as all multi-driver baffle do. This (in my mind) was going to reduce distortion and also make the speaker's image like none-other.
Oh... and since we're talking about imaging, that super-narrow tweeter baffle is going to disappear better than most speakers I've heard. The narrower the baffle, the less reflections. The less reflections, the more the speaker disappears and doesn't attract attention to itself. I call most speakers I hear "sticky", as in the sound seems to stick to them, making them easy to point out the sound source.
But there's usually an issue with narrow baffles. First of all... speaker designers usually can't go too narrow, because there needs to be a midrange driver on the front baffle too. Well, by mounting the 5" midbass driver on the sides, that is a non-factor for us. Our cabinet measures 6" wide because that is the narrowest we could make it while still allowing the vented pole pieces of the midbass to vent properly.
Another huge drawback of narrow baffles for other speaker designers, is something called baffle-step. Basically, when you mount a woofer on a narrow baffle, there's usually a dip in the frequency response in the 400 to 700 Hz region. Speaker designers usually apply a band-aid "filter" in their crossover design called Baffle Step Compensation. Well, that may help make the speaker "measure" flatter... but it's at the expense of having all the music run through a filter to lower all the other frequencies not affected. It's like sanding out a scratch- you bring the surface down to "buff out" the scratch. Every speaker designer has their own opinions, but the best crossover is no crossover in my book... and adding a Baffle Step Compensation filter GREATLY diminishes sound quality. By mounting the woofer on a 12" wide baffle on each side of our speaker, we do not have to use any BSC filter. In fact, our crossover is so simple, it consists of three parts on the tweeter (18dB/oct) and 5 on the woofer (12dB/oct) and three of those parts are simple resistors. For non-crossover designers reading this... three parts is the absolute minimum number of parts to make an 18dB/oct crossover. It's the purest form of 3rd order filter you could make.
I digress. Back to the crazy idea of the speaker in my head. It just kept bugging me. It kept popping up. I was reading some data sheets on a new-to-market midbass driver from a well-respected OEM, and looking at the specs... I thought this would be the perfect driver for my crazy idea! So I had them make me up four of them along with two tweeters they also did for us.
Not once did I even think of making this speaker for sale to the general public. I was just messing around, thinking it probably would end up as a speaker for my second system in my family room. I designed the enclosure, designed the crossover, tuned the port and set them in my main listening room 7-feet apart... 4-feet off the rear wall... and my chair was 7-feet back.
Immediately from track 1, I was a little surprised by how well they disappeared... how wide the soundstage was, how incredible they imaged three-dimensional in height as well as depth... and the most amazing thing was the soundstage depth. Sound was coming off the rear wall... nothing from the speaker. Impressed, I pulled the speakers out more... this time 6-feet. Guess what, the sound was still coming from the back wall! So I pulled them out 7-feet and moved my seat back as well to be 7-feet from the tweeters... and even 7-feet off the back wall... the soundstage was still on the wall. I've had them as far out as 9-feet (that's all my room will allow) and the soundstage was nine-feet behind the speaker's front baffle!
I let the speakers break-in over eight weeks in my big listening room (putting my "best-of-the-best" flaships in the hallway)... and I'm not slinging you BS... my two hour listening sessions became four hour sessions. Even highly compressed (dynamically) recordings (think DR6 to DR10) became listenable because the soundstage width and especially the depth made them more "believable" and one-dimensional multi-driver slab baffle speaker designs.
When I went to put the "experimental" speakers into the family room listening room and put my flagships back into the main system... something odd happened... I was sad. When I set-up the flagships in their old positions, they felt boring, flat-dynamically... and they felt very narrow... like a horse wearing blinders. The huge bloom was gone. Sure, the flagships were articulate and could carve out every nuance buried in most recordings... but they were lacking what this crazy little "experimental" speaker had.
The funny thing, is if these flagships were retail sold, they'd be $40,000 from an average manufacturer, all the way to $60,000 to $70,000 if it were made by one of the "prestige" brands. And this little "experimental" speaker had 95% of the resolution and 200% more life, breath and overall enjoyment. The "experimental" speaker if sold to the public factory direct would get $3000. And that's when I took the plunge. I got down on one knee and asked the speaker to marry me. And that's how I ended up with a minivan, a house in the suburbs... and a website selling my experimental speaker which I ended up calling the Grail T5.
Will I sell thousands of them? Doubtful.
Will you ever buy one? Doubtful.
Will you even ever audition one? Doubtful.
So why get into the speaker business?
To run the risk of sounding like a snake oil salesman... when these $2999 Grail T5 speakers couldn't stack up to my would-be $40,000 to $70,000 flagships... or other speakers of similar price... I felt I would be doing them an injustice not at least offering them to other audiophiles who want to potentially enjoy their music to the fullest possible level. I'm already under the assumption you are not ever going to buy my speaker... so this is not a pitch... so I can say unapologetically the T5 throws such an awesome soundstage (so deep and so wide) and yet it still images with the precision of a laser beam... it would be such a shame if the only people who experienced the T5 were people who visited my family room! I don't want to be in the speaker business but the speaker's performance forced me to start the company. The only thing my little T5 doesn't have compared to the flagships is the low-end. It's in-room F3 is about 34 Hz. Anechoic F3 is 39 Hz. If you added a sub or two... this is all you would need to be happy for the rest of your audiophile life. I even wrote a small technical book about the design process of the Grail T5. The book goes into depth on Forced-Null... Omni-Point and Multi-Baffle. Those three "technologies" are what makes the Grail T5 so astonishing. The book is called "Advancements In Loudspeaker Design". You can get a copy for free at my website. I don't care if you ever buy a pair of my speakers... this is all about your reading pleasure. If you enjoyed reading this article, you'll continue your pleasure by reading my book! And it's free, so if you don't like it and think I'm a nutcase, you can have your money back.