We Ask 10 Questions For High-End
During Enjoy the Music.com's very special 25th Anniversary we're asking various high-end audio manufacturers to answer the same ten questions. Their answers may surprise you! This month we're featuring Frank Malitz, Former CEO And Co-Founder Of Bob Carver Company. Robert W. (Bob) Carver is an American designer of audio equipment based in the Pacific Northwest. Educated as a physicist and engineer, Bob found an interest in audio equipment at a young age. He applied his talent to produce numerous innovative high fidelity designs since the 1970s. He is known for designing the Phase Linear 700, at 350 Watts per channel the most powerful consumer audio amplifier available in 1972. He went on to found the Carver Corporation in 1979, Sunfire in 1994.
The Bob Carver LLC was founded in 2011, and subsequently sold to Jade Design in June, 2013. However, in December 2013, Bob Carver and Jade Design parted ways. The new owner of The Bob Carver Corporation takes pride in every piece of gear they ship.
Frank Malitz is former CEO and co-founder of the Bob Carver Company formed in December 2015. At the beginning of 2020, Mr. Malitz brought in EJ Sarmento of Wyred 4 Sound in California, and together, they formed the holding company called Glass Audio which, poetically, will specialize in tube type brands. At the same time, they acquired the exclusive rights to the Bob Carver brand and formed the new Bob Carver Corporation. EJ runs the factory and functions as president while Frank focuses on market and product development worldwide. Bob Carver remains as chief designer.
Q. What is your first memory of falling in love with music?
A. My father was an operatically trained and sang in the house every day. I was also given a small toy record player at about five years old which was amusing but everything changed later with Elvis Presley. At that point, barely six years old, music, and especially rock and roll, became my life's passion. I'm concert trained on the big horns — symphonic only, no marching bands — and I've been a working professional Chicago blues guitarist for 50 years.
Q. How did you first get introduced to high-fidelity audio gear?
A. My brother needed a job, any job, to pay for dental school. We had already developed a love for popular music and classical as well. When our mother's lady friend told my brother she could get him a part-time job at Allied Radio Corporation, the largest hi-fi dealer in the world, twice the size of their nearest competitor, my brother jumped at the chance. We already had a two cabinet, large blonde, Motorola stereo. We thought it was great. Every night, we would alternate choosing the concert for the evening. Always classical, an 18-year-old and a 14-year-old, laying on the floor in the dark, going to the special place music takes us. I remember how we discovered that if we towed in the loudspeakers, we suddenly had a soundstage. This was back in the 1960s.
So, my brother goes to work at Allied and it wasn't long before he came home talking about McIntosh, Marantz, Electro Voice, Dynaco, Eico, HH Scott, Sherwood, Fisher, Wharfedale, and even electrostatic loudspeakers! My brother was my hero, so I got a job there too. The place was so big, there were six full-time adults in the tape-recorder department alone and two part-timers-- my brother and me. We loved selling audio so much, that we outperformed, sales-wise, the full-time people! We quickly moved at the general audio sales. Little by little, the factory representatives got to know us well, knew our sales numbers despite still being college students, and showered us with gifts and cash awards. We were now part of the audio culture and would be for the rest of our lives.
The next step was to assemble a true hi-fi system, the mighty Thorens TD124 with the tonearm from Empire Scientific, a Shure brothers phono cartridge with upgraded stylus, a separate preamplifier and power amplifier from Pilot with a connecting umbilical (the preamp use the power supply in the main amp that was a tremendous idea. The somewhat dull sounding Wharfedale 60 loudspeakers (we didn't know any better and they were beautifully made) but they came with sand-filled sides and you could stand the nickel on edge and it wouldn't fall down while playing! I didn't merely become an audio enthusiast; I became a maniac for the music and for the personality of the products. What could be more beautiful than a McIntosh power amplifier to a 16-year-old in 1962?
Q. What is your favorite piece of vintage hi-fi, and why?
A. Without a doubt, the original Quad Electrostatic Loudspeaker; it changed my life. Through my 50-year career, I was to find that almost all of my favorite designers owned or still actively own that loudspeaker.
Q. When did you decide to start a high-end audio company?
A. I was confident that I could handle the endeavor, having been the founder of Onkyo USA in the spring of 1976 at 29 years old!. I launched the Integra brand two years later. Perhaps because of my enthusiasm, and the visibility accorded me by being the face of Onkyo and Integra in the United States, I began to consult for other companies — Eric Fossum brought me into Denon for consultation on tonearms and cartridges. Dr. Bruce Meyer, brought me to Stax for headphone design. I worked with John Hunter on launching Sonus Faber and REL. I was "drafted" by Acoustic Research, Apogee, Advent, and others for their respective re-launches.
So after a lifetime of introducing, marketing, and selling more brands than I can name, when Bob Carver called and asked if I wanted to launch a brand-new Bob Carver company, as his partner, I jumped at the chance. In fact, despite 17 years working with Yamaha until recently, I decided to focus on the Carver opportunity instead. It's been very exciting and very rewarding emotionally. Being associated with my old friend Bob, is not only an ego booster, but I learned an immense amount traveling the country together.
Q. What, and when, was your company's first product?
A. After Bob sold Sunfire, he tried a couple of other endeavors that were stillborn. They never became real companies, but the basic circuit design was in place. So when we launched the genuine Bob Carver company in December 2015, we had the final versions of three products — the aptly named Amazing Line Source Loudspeaker, finally finished after 10 years in development, our 350 series monoblocks and the 900 Watts, four chassis, silver seven 900 amplifiers with over 40 tubes in total!
Q. What challenges did you face during those early years?
A. How does one launch a loudspeaker that's 4.5 inches wide but 7.5 feet tall? The system has two enormous cartons for the loudspeakers, two very heavy cartons for the loudspeaker bases, another heavy carton for the outboard crossover networks, another heavy carton for the dedicated subwoofer amplifier/processor, and finally, a super heavy carton for the rather large subwoofer! That's for one speaker system. There are 160 hand soldering operations per channel. We couldn't make any money; it was too expensive to produce and the wife acceptance factor was pretty grim.
When I set up my samples at home, my wife came into our listening room and asked, "Where are these new speakers you've been talking about?" She thought the towers were the poles holding up the I-beams in the basement ceiling! That's what they looked like. The listening experience was breathtaking, but I closed the loudspeaker division on my birthday (June 20, 2020). That was our greatest challenge.
How you demonstrate this brand? The proper way would be to rent a truck and visit every high-end dealer possible, in person, setting up this enormous system, and doing the demonstration. It would mean ignoring my other businesses and the expense would be significant. So, the next greatest challenge was adding dealers without an audition! Frankly, without Bob's name on the product, none of this would be possible. We do hi-fi shows.
Q. How have your products evolved over the years?
A. Besides the loudspeaker system going away, we added an affordable stereophonic power amplifier with the longest tube warranty in the history of the industry, which is 20 times longer to 40 times longer (depending on the model) than the most famous tube type manufacturers in the world can possibly offer.
Now that we have three basic amplifiers, it's time to introduce the new integrated amplifier, the Crimson 2180i, which should start shipping by Thanksgiving, 2020.
Q. What is your company's most popular product(s)?
A. Without question, our least expensive amplifier-- the Crimson 275. As a tribute to Frank McIntosh, one of Bob Carver's heroes, we called it the 275 but it's 90 Watts per channel, with a five-year warranty including tubes, a five-second bias scheme which any child can adjust for best sound, the ability to repair defective output tubes if an impurity causes a failure, and an expected tube life of 26 years before falling out of specification. The amplifier sells for $2750. Due to its popularity, since the day it was introduced, there has been a two week to six week waiting list. Currently, it's about two to three weeks but with our new factory on board, our goal is to have same-day shipping.
The 275 proved so popular that it increased our visibility exponentially. People were wondering what happened to Bob. Not anymore. The Rolls-Royce, Aston Martin and Bentley owners club of London England, has selected our brand as being emblematic of deep tradition — almost retro — yet with the most sophisticated technology ever introduced in our niche. Our product is a tribute to the tube-based Stu Hegeman-designed Harmon Kardon Citation power amplifiers, the competing units from Marantz, both from the 1960s and the late great Frank McIntosh. Tradition is an important part of the audio design as our industry has, time and time again, shot itself in the foot by implementing complex technologies for better-measured performance while sacrificing the listening experience.
Aside from our traditional styling, manufacturing amplifiers that repair defective tubes, need no re-tubing for years, listens to the room to preserve openness and ambiance with a very large soundstage while maintaining pinpoint imaging, and finally, building everything by hand, is consistent with the philosophy of those distinguishing marques. As a direct result, we are the only audio company from the United States to be invited to the 50 year Rolls-Royce, Aston Martin, and Bentley Club anniversary celebration. The Queen of England will be paying her respects.
The Crimson 275's performance is so strong that we have been commissioned to build one (240 Volt) for the Dean of British reviewers Ken Kessler. This is not a unit provided for review. He's paying for it out of his pocket. The 275 became a cult product in Great Britain before we had a single dealer. It is indeed our most popular offering.
Q. What is your next planned product offering and its' features?
A. We have several: 1) The Crimson 2180i Integrated Amplifier featuring 180 W per channel with the ability to parallel for double power. Specially designed defeatable tone controls; a front window to the circuitry; five-year warranty including tubes; remote control; hopefully, at $4000. 2) The Crimson 2180a basic amplifier (it's the amplifier section from the 2180i) at around $3300 with the same power. 3) The Bob Carver Crimson Headphone Amplifier/preamplifier. Details to follow. 4) The Crimson Preamplifier with a phono section six years in gestation.
Our team includes possibly the best known digital audio designer in the industry. Although we are strictly analog with no digital circuitry in any of the products described thus far, we realize the necessity of not only participating in the digital world but based on Bob's history, innovating as well. I don't want to say too much right now but we are working on a tube DAC with no mass-produced DAC to avoid obsolescence. We are also studying devices that may allow us to produce hybrid amplifiers with a tube front-end based on the 350 architecture but driving a unique and unusual digitally processed solid-state output stage in excess of 800 Watts per channel. Stay tuned.
Q. What advancements do you speculate high-end audio will offer ten years from now?
A. We think there will be improvements in accessing one's library with the very best sound at the highest speed with the greatest convenience over most devices — stationary, mobile, and portable. We think it's obvious that convenience and accessibility will be key factors but all we really care about is sound, even if it means depending on another manufacturer's products for consumer convenience. If we cannot demonstrate a compelling listening experience, we have no reason to exist. We choose to leave that to Apple and Silicon Valley because we have no choice; let them provide convenience and we will provide the performance.
That leaves transducers and loudspeaker systems — the weakest links in our chain. Demonstrating the Amazing Line Source loudspeaker across the country and even in foreign lands, illuminates immediately the shortcomings of direct radiating point source loudspeakers. A true line source provides a cylindrical wave launch that emanates from negative infinity to positive infinity and that will provide you with a greater amount of immersion and envelopment than you will ever hear from a single pair of point-source loudspeakers.
Companies like Magnapan, Martin Logan, Sound lab, Sanders Sound, and others are to be congratulated for their attempts at filling your room with a soundstage, an immersive soundstage, that is almost unavailable with conventional designs. We don't expect 7.5 foot loudspeakers to proliferate. Temporarily, we often turn to multichannel systems, now including the ceiling, to create immersion and openness. That architecture cannot survive. The trophy will go to the company that provides those qualities in a holographic experience without filling a room with loudspeakers.
It's possible to do some of this electronically, even in the analog domain, but we can only tell you, we're working on that. And that's all we can say.