There aren’t many brands in consumer electronics that match the 50-year legacy of Lenbrook brand PSB Speakers.
The company’s humble beginnings can be traced back to when founder and chief designer Paul Barton was still a student in school. Today, PSB Speakers is well-known for its product line that includes everything from subwoofers and in-wall speakers, to active speakers and reference-level floorstanding loudspeakers. Barton took time to reflect on his and the company’s legacy in this week’s CE Pro Podcast.
Serving as the foundation of PSB Speakers’ loudspeaker designs, which Barton has evolved over his career, has been the latest developments from the world-famous National Research Council (NRC) of Canada. Located near the capital city of Ottawa, the NRC’s luminaries are a who’s who of the audio world that in addition to Barton includes names such as Dr. Floyd Toole and Dr. Sean Olive.
Some of Barton’s current designs include the latest generation of Alpha Series products, which have met the budget and performance aspirations of home AV fans since the 1990s, as well as PSB Speakers’ new flagship Synchrony T600 floorstanding speaker and B600 bookshelf speaker.
Barton recalls his formative years as a music fan and a young musician, and how those days helped to forge the path he has followed ever since.
“Well, my background is of course in music. I am a violinist and studied it for many years [when I was young]. In conjunction with that you start to appreciate music and the way things sound. Of course, at a young age able to listen to a lot of music on a single tube Seabreeze console back in the mid- to late-’60s, and eventually graduated to some stereo equipment,” says Barton.
“Sound reproduction was very interesting, and I’m kind of a ‘take it a part, put it back together’ guy to see how it works. In conjunction with my interest and my background in music, I was able to merge those two things and ultimately came out to being a speaker designer.”
Later in the discussion, Barton notes the transition he made as a speaker designer from the days when he was just “winging it,” to his introduction to Dr. Toole, which had a major impact on the way he viewed audio components.
Back in those days, Barton continues, he remembers the original research paper on the Helmholtz Resonator was just being written, and that A. Neville Thiele and Richard H. Small of Thiele Small parameter fame were still in college. Those years were very important, because the audio industry was at the cusp of some technological leaps forward, Barton says. In turn, being able to tap into the resources offered by the NRC was immeasurable.
Boiling down some of the research the NRC was working back, Barton notes that topics, ahead of the curve at the time, addressed areas such as how humans hear and the effects of room’s acoustics and the playback of audio in small-room environments. All of that research, he says, shaped the way he designed loudspeakers, and the NRC’s ongoing research today continues to influence how he develops products.
Wrapping up the interview, Barton admits that while he does not own a crystal ball, but he believes PSB’s latest products will reflect where the home audio industry is heading.
“One of the challenges today, and I think we are meeting that challenge — I really can’t say much about products that I’m working on right now — is the products I am working on now are based on what we think the future has to hold,” he says.
“One of the things is — and I am finding it interesting and really challenging — scaling things down without too much tradeoff, [namely] sound dynamics and reproduction. With today’s technology there are things available that can really do that. As far as the future is concerned, miniaturization, industrial design and implementing it into a world where people don’t want to be bothered by wires, bothered by intricate setup or all of that sort of stuff … The future holds more simplification of operating things that perform at a very high level, but at the same time are aesthetically well integrated into the environment.”
To hear the entire conversation with PSB Speakers’ Paul Barton, download or watch the CE Pro Podcast above. Find past episodes of the CE Pro Podcast by subscribing to the CE Pro YouTube channel or our Apple and Spotify podcast feeds.