Interview With Phil Jones
Phil Jones has been involved in the home audio since he was thirteen years
old. Many folks know him as the man who designed and founded Acoustic Energy (AE-1 and
fame), then with Boston Acoustics for their Lynnfield speakers, followed by his most recent stint
(~1993) with founding Platinum Audio. So what is Phil's HIStory and what is he up to
now? Well, please read on...
Steven R. Rochlin: So what turned you on
Phil Jones: I guess the fact that my
father was a jazz musician, as he played saxophone in a sixteen piece bag band in
London back in 1959. When my dad was playing in the band during rehearsals I was going
around the dance floor on my tricycle and basically, I suppose, I wasn't aware of the
music at that age. Just to have a hamburger afterwards was great.
SRR: So when did you realize you wanted to
become part of the music industry?
PJ: That was very prolific.I heard
on the radio a Four Tops song "Reach Out, I'll Be There" at around 1965 and I
was fascinated by what was going on in the rhythm section. Particularly the bass. I
made up my mind at that time I wanted to get a bass guitar.
SRR: And which guitar did you get?
PJ: Well, my very first guitar I built
myself. My parents were dead against me becoming a musician. They wanted me to get a
real job. As my interests in music grew, so did my interest in sound production.
SRR: Is this when you built your first
PJ: Yeah. My first speakers were
for my bass guitar. In fact the first amplifier I got my hands on was a Leak TL-50+
which used a pair of KT88 tubes. This amp could really drive an eighteen inch woofer
to it's limits!
PJ: I built it out of necessity because I
couldn't afford to buy it.I was still in school and about fourteen years old at the
SRR: So... when did start full frequency
PJ: My first home stereo, I have to
admit, weren't my own though they were exceptional. They were made by Western Electric. Specifically
the theater models A4 horn units. I left home at the age of
seventeen because my parents were going insane.
SRR: How so.
PJ: Because of my practicing the bass at
home and rattling the house foundations! When I moved into my first apartment is when I
got my first stereo. I was very fortunate to meet a gentleman who worked for Western
Electric (Westrex as known in the UK). His name was Reg Solomon. He completely turned what
I thought about speaker upside down in the first five minutes of meeting him. If anybody
was responsible for getting into speakers it was probably Reg. During this time many
large, um, capacity theaters were closing in South Wales where I was living at the time.
Reg obtained for me a full blown speaker system which came out of the Capitol Theatre in
Cardiff. This comprised of 12 fifteen inch woofers and 6 multi-cell horns. Because the
cabinets were so huge, over seven feet tall, I wasn't able to use these in my apartment. But I did acquire a full set of Western Electric blueprints on their speaker
enclosures and built a pair of cabinets to house 2 fifteen inch drivers in each
box. I also acquired another Leak TL-50+ as I now needed a stereo pair of amplifiers
since I no longer needed them for bass guitar.
SRR: What else was in your music
reproduction system at that time.
PJ: The Leak TL-50+, with matching mono preamplifiers, the
Garrard 301 turntable with SME tonearm and a Decca London cartridge and the Western
Electric speakers whose cabinets I had built. During this time, from 1978-1980, I
wound up going to Iran and working as an electronic engineer for the Decca Navigator
Company. Working on navigation systems. A lot of these station were in remote places such
as desert islands in the Persian Gulf! While on these desert islands, six months at a
time, going insane. During this time I had build big horn speakers for outside music
reproduction for my own needs. I took over suitcases of books on loudspeakers and studied
them thoroughly. Oh, I also took over my 1970 Fender Jazz Bass which was actually illegal
in Iran during the reigning dictator at the time.
SRR: So at what point did you first start
professionally working for a speaker company?
PJ: When I came back from Iran I moved to
London and got my first job with Vitavox speaker company. Vitavox was a very old, over
sixty years, speaker company that built equivalent cinema sound system similar to Western
Electric. At Vitavox I was assisting the production manager to improve the quality of
production. The owner of the company, David Young, was the designer and he taught me
many things about speakers that you just don't get out of books. Vitavox was a rare
company in that actually made virtually every part of their speakers at that time.
They had a very extensive machine shop. So what happened from here, also being in
London, gave me the opportunity to get more involved with playing as a musician.
SRR: How many bands and gig did you wind
up doing in England at the time?
PJ: At first I was playing long ago in
bands during high school. In fact my first paid gig was October 1970 and I still
have the tape of it (laughs). I used my homemade fretless bass modeled after the
SRR: Serious, how does that gig sound to
PJ: Well, let's just say I keep that tape
under lock and key.
SRR: So it was like my first payin' gig,
PJ: Well, I enjoyed it but I don't know
about the audience.
PJ: As time progressed on here I was in
awe of the bass in the Motown sound. I realized that there was more to bass playing that I
ever thought possible. Realized that I'd have to study music seriously if I ever wanted to
get good to even copy those bass lines. So I enrolled at the Welsh Collage of Music
and Drama which was actually at the time held at Cardiff Castle. A real castle, by the
way, that's over 1,000 years old! Later the collage moved to a more modern facility. When
I enrolled there were no classes for bass guitar. So I took up classical bass. My
teacher and mentor was Earnest C. Haig. At the time he was teaching me he had been
playing the bass for over sixty years and was at one time the principle bass player with
the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. I realized just how little I knew about bass. So it
became my goal to master this instrument. I met some local jazz musicians in Cardiff
and I started playing in a jazz quintet playing both electric and upright acoustic bass.
It didn't pay the bills but it sure was some of the best music lessons I ever had!
SRR: So let's fast forward to Acoustic
Energy and how you started the company... and why.
PJ: After running a concert sound hire
company in London I was getting burnt out. So I was looking for something that would
connect me more closely with music and sound reproduction. I build a recording studio in
London. At this time I realized the importance of near field monitoring. But all commercial designs that were available in 1984 were heavily compromised in performance
in my opinion. So I started working on my own design of near field monitor. As
only was I knew how to build speakers was from parts from my previous
learnings. I was
building my own transducers! Conveniently I lived five minutes away from Rogers
loudspeakers and they were very kind and charged up the magnets on my first prototype
woofers. I worked with Elac in London who was a supplier to KEF and several prototypes
later I was satisfied with the nearfields. Many people came in and out of the studio and a
few inquired if they could buy a pair of these monitors because they felt they sounded
quite good. At this time I met a couple of businessmen who were put in touch with me from
one of my recording studio clients. This is how Acoustic Energy was born.The first
product was the AE-1 which was basically the same as the nearfield studio monitor that I
SRR: Yes, that speaker received many rave
reviews in the 'high-end' industry as well.
PJ: Well, at this stage I didn't even
know what 'high-end' audio was. Just followed my guts and passion for music.
SR: After Acoustic Energy you did a small
stint with Boston Acoustics and then decided to found Platinum Audio.
PJ: Well, let me state that I was glad
that Boston Acoustics hired me in the United States as this is where I met my wife and now
have a lovely daughter. Platinum Audio started off in the basement of my home. Although we
had investors, my wife and I worked all the hours we could and during about 3 1/2 years at
Platinum Audio I designed and brought to market over twelve models of speakers.
SRR: During this time you designed a
statement speaker which is a very large horn speaker. It seems that horn speakers are
where you started from and where you like to be.
PJ: Although I am known for a
designer of many minimonitors, I personally favor larger systems because I have
experienced in my life sound on the lager scales from my father's big band to 32kw sound
reinforcement systems that I have designed and owned. Also please keep in mind I'm a
bass player. I'd like to take a moment to thanks my many mentors such as James
Jamerson who was the bassist who with the Funk Brothers of Motown sound, Leo Fender for
developing the electric bass guitar, and James Martini better known as James B. Lansing of
SRR: Well, it's time we end all this fun
stuff up. Any last words for the readers?
PJ: Well, I can tell you speakers are in
my blood. I will be doing something but I'd like to leave it for the next interview.
SRR: Oooh, sounds promising!
PJ: It's very big, yet I just can't
discuss it right now. How about we add more to this interview when the time is
SRR: Sounds good to me! Thanks for
taking the time in sharing your soul with us.
PJ: You're most welcome.