Alongside various insults, I’m frequently called something of a hi-fi visionary, who has spent most of his working life starting new companies or trying to turn failing ones around. This has meant I have tended to hop from project to project and have crammed an awful lot of variety into the past 40 years, including a short stint reviewing for hi-fi magazines during the 1980s.
Without any false modesty, I can claim to be a prolific consumer electronics designer whose products have probably won more ‘Awards’ and ‘Best Buys’ than any other designer. My career history does, in many ways, run alongside the history of the British hi-fi industry since the mid 1960s.
I was a founder-director of Cambridge Audio, Mission, and IAG, and a former Chairman of Wharfedale & Quad. I’ve designed over 400 commercially made products, including the UK’s first digitally controlled studio mixing-desk. I demonstrated the first digital FM Tuner; the world’s first two-box CD Player (the Cambridge Audio CD1), as well as award-winning amplifiers, loudspeakers and other products for companies as diverse as Rotel, Teac, Quad and B&W.
Today I undertake a limited amount of consultancy work for various companies and assist my wife who has an active Public Relations business. I have written extensively over the past 40 years and continue to bash out the odd piece by way of a hobby.
Musically I’m an unreconstructed rocker. As a teenager, I built my first guitar by visiting the local music shop every Saturday and taking surreptitious measurements of a Fender, then building a clone in the woodwork class. Over the years I’ve played in lots of bands, changing from guitar to bass to Hammond organ to saxophone. Indeed I’ve always had the ability to play almost any instrument badly. Bands led me into the recording studio where the clear sonic difference between the studio sound and the home sound got me experimenting and so led to entering the hi-fi industry. Today I maintain a collection of guitars and basses together with a couple of Hammond organs, and I play for my own relaxation. At one stage I had a collection of 41 Hammond organs and Leslie speakers, but recently I recovered my sanity and most have gone to other enthusiasts.
My dominant musical interests lie in the genre of Traffic, Hendrix, Mott the Hoople et al. I saw most of these bands playing live regularly – indeed played on the same stage in supporting bands on many occasions – so I know how they should sound.
Inevitably my musical tastes have expanded massively and include almost everything except rap. My favourite ‘new’ music is New American Weird (Joanna Newsom et al). My favourite classical material tends to be organ music, as I play the pipe organ with train-wreck tendencies, because synchronising two hands and two feet is often too much for my brain. But I like to think I have a good ear for how organs should sound.
The other type of music I just don’t get is modern jazz. I’m afraid that I find it boring and self-indulgent. Sure I can appreciate the skill in making the turnaround from a G7 chord to an unexpected Edim 13th, but emotionally it does nothing for me. Maybe you need to be American – I used to hate hi-fi shows in the United States, where almost every room would be playing jazz. My wife Angie and I used to buck the trend by playing good honest rock, followed by a hymn sung by the King’s College choir, which at least got us noticed, if not always for the best reason.
My appreciation of music comes way ahead of my interest in hi-fi, so I’d rather listen to good music on a Dansette than poor music on the finest audiophile system. I really have no time for those audiophile discs featuring unknown artists performing in a distinctly average manner. Consequently I’m quite happy to own an iPod, which is invaluable on long flights.
This section will not assist the reader in any way because I do have a habit of ‘improving’ equipment, so it isn’t always what it seems. I have several systems spread around different rooms.
One room houses a complete Quad system of my own design with a pair of ESL-989 loudspeakers and this is the system that Angie enjoys best. In the library I have a pair of Eclipse single-driver loudspeakers, driven by my own amplifier and sourced from various turntables and CD players (including an original Cambridge Audio CD1, which still sounds ridiculously good).
In two other rooms we have a variety of modern equipment, mostly from Angie’s clients, so I can play around with products from Roksan, Pro-Ject, Atlas and many others. I also have a few interesting prototypes lying around, and will say more about them once they hit the market.
Look for articles and reviews by Stan Curtis in the Annual Indexes