I can’t help but wonder what was going on in 1972 that prompted so many entrepreneurs to launch hi-fi companies that year. The two companies featured in this article—Monitor Audio and PSB Speakers—were founded in 1972. Many others were, too, and likewise have stood the test of time: The famous American brand Mark Levinson was established in 1972, as was Taiwanese speaker maker Usher. Germany’s Canton, another speaker maker, also started operating that year. NAD Electronics was born in London, England, in 1972. Then there’s Polk Audio, one of the most successful and influential speaker manufacturers of all time—Matthew Polk, George Klopfer, and Sandy Gross established that iconic brand in 1972 in Baltimore, Maryland. The legendary Japanese firm Accuphase Laboratory also began 50 years ago, and I’m sure there are many more.
Maybe the timing had something to do with the diverse and important music being produced at that time. Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon—an audiophile favorite—wasn’t released until 1973, but the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St, David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, Neil Young’s Harvest, Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick, Elton John’s Honky Château, and Lou Reed’s Transformer are just some of the great albums released in 1972. These albums have stood the test of time, too.
Or maybe it was something about those times—after all, having a great hi-fi system in your home was a status symbol in the 1970s, so the opportunity to cash in on the demand might’ve been the impetus. Then again, there may have been other reasons.
Whatever the motives for their beginnings, I’ve recently become interested in how these 50-year-old brands have chosen to celebrate this milestone—or not. The Mark Levinson brand, which is now owned by Harman, made something of it with the limited-edition ML-50 mono amplifier, which was released in January of this year. Curiously, Accuphase has been trickling out 50th-anniversary products for a couple of years now, such as 2020’s E-800 integrated amplifier. Appropriately, the E-800 outputs 50Wpc into 8 ohms. In 2021, Accuphase also introduced the C-3900 preamplifier, DC-1000 SACD player, DP-1000 digital processor, and maybe some other products I missed. I love the Accuphase brand, but jumping the gun like this has diminished the impact of a true 50-year celebration. Or maybe there’s something even more special to come before the year ends. I guess Canton released some 50th-anniversary speakers at High End 2022, which was in Munich, Germany, in May, but I missed those. I haven’t seen anything from Usher, Polk Audio, or NAD—at least not yet, or perhaps I missed those, too.
But for me, when it comes to these 50-year-old brands, Monitor Audio and PSB Speakers have made the biggest splashes in 2022 so far. The ways they’ve gone about it differ, mind you, which is why I wanted to focus on the contrasting approaches of these two companies in this article.
Paul Barton and Doug Schneider on June 1, 2022
I’ve been closer to the PSB launch, because I hosted the company’s 50th-anniversary livestream event on June 1. Right after the livestream, PSB streamed a 20-minute documentary detailing the company’s activities from 1972 until now.
I appear in that documentary, as does fellow SoundStager Gordon Brockhouse. I’m proud to be part of that short film, partly because I think PSB is an important hi-fi brand, but mostly because of the effort the company put into it—it is, by far, the best video of its type that the hi-fi industry has produced in terms of production quality and storytelling. It’s the kind of thing that truly honors a brand of PSB’s stature in the industry—and I hope it will prompt other hi-fi manufacturers to follow the Canadian company’s lead and publish their own stories.
That wasn’t all PSB did, however. One month later, on July 1—Canada’s national day—PSB released a celebratory product. The Passif 50 loudspeaker is a modern-day reboot of the Passif II loudspeaker, which was introduced in 1974. The Passif 50 is a two-way design with a 1″ tweeter, a 6.5″ midrange-woofer, and an 8″ passive radiator. It’s selling right now for $2499 per pair (all prices in USD) and will be shipping in September. The first 500 pairs purchased will come with a handwritten letter from PSB’s founder, Paul Barton, plus some gifts, which is a nice touch.
The PSB Passif 50
PSB’s 50th-anniversary activities are obviously aimed at celebrating the company’s past—and I think there are probably some good reasons for that. One is that Paul Barton is still deeply involved in the company, including in the design of every speaker produced. It’s rare to have a founder of a company around that long, let alone one that’s still hands-on. Another reason is that PSB has such a storied past, and it’s worth celebrating.
As the documentary details, Paul Barton became the first speaker designer to make use of the acoustics laboratory at Canada’s National Research Council (NRC), in 1974. He told me that he was pretty much the only one to do so until the early 1980s, which is when people from other companies started coming. From 1974 on, Barton also worked closely with Dr. Floyd Toole, an NRC research scientist at that time, who later went to work for Harman International. For those who know a bit about the history of speaker design, Toole is notable for producing the most extensive and significant body of work correlating loudspeaker measurements with listening impressions. The culmination of his early years of research was published by the NRC in the early 1980s in what was called the “green book” (it was called that simply because its cover was green). Paul Barton, and PSB in turn, benefited from that association with Toole and the NRC—as did many other Canadian speaker companies. Eventually, Toole’s work was read around the world and it helped companies from outside of Canada, too. Who wouldn’t want to celebrate that?
Monitor Audio, on the other hand, hasn’t produced a documentary video—at least not yet. But the company did launch two interesting loudspeakers to celebrate its first 50 years: the Silver 100 Limited Edition and the Concept 50, both of which were on display at this year’s High End show in Munich.
Monitor Audio Silver 100 Limited Edition
As I stated in an article in this space in June, the Silver 100 Limited Edition, which comes in a special finish called Heritage Green and is priced at $1695 per pair, points to Monitor Audio’s “ordinariness.” By that I mean it doesn’t look much different from the speakers Monitor Audio usually produces, which, in turn, look pretty much like a bazillion box-type speakers made by other companies around the world. However, I made sure to state the following disclaimer in that article: “Note that I said look ordinary. As I said on our YouTube channel, the engineering of the brand’s Silver 300 and 500 7G speakers and the resulting sound can be considered ‘world class.’” All told, the Silver 100 Limited Edition celebrates Monitor Audio’s current lineup.
The Concept 50 is a different story—it’s a strong indication of what could come from this brand, and could set it off in an entirely new design direction. This new speaker is likely to be priced anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 per pair when it’s released. It will probably be called something else when it is. As I wrote in that same June article: “The Concept 50 is proof that the company is not content to be ordinary anymore. In fact, the Concept 50 is so extraordinary in terms of its technical features and industrial design that it could catapult Monitor Audio into an entirely new category for its loudspeakers. It could also make people who have previously overlooked the company start paying attention to what’s being conjured up in Rayleigh [the company’s UK headquarters].”
Monitor Audio Concept 50
With these two speakers, it looks to me like Monitor Audio isn’t as concerned about the past as much as it is with what the company is making now, and, most importantly, will be making in the future. It’s another way to celebrate an anniversary as important as its first 50 years—it marks where the company is, but also lets the world know that there’s more to come. So I like this approach for celebration, too.
Although the biggest 50th-anniversary splashes this year have been from PSB Speakers and Monitor Audio, we’re only just over halfway through 2022. What I’m hoping is that other companies will be publicly celebrating their 50th birthdays—perhaps ones I haven’t mentioned yet—and if they do, I’ll be keenly watching how they go about it. After all, being in business for 50 years is something worth making a fuss about.
. . . Doug Schneider