Home Electronics: A Lighter Note

  • Bailey S. Barnard

Jason Lord, co-owner of the Source Audio/Video Group in Torrance, Calif., recalls the day in 1993 when he broke his back. "The casualties of big-box speakers," he says. "I just moved one of the speakers wrong and it hit me in the lower back, destroying a few of my disks. Luckily, I had some great doctors who put me back together."

Unlike their predecessors, the compact, technologically enhanced speakers of today present little threat to their users’ well-being. In fact, Lord’s speaker of choice—the 51-inch XR200 from McIntosh Laboratory, listed at $16,000 per pair—packs an incredible punch for a relatively diminutive floor-standing model. "The XR200 is absolutely monstrous, yet it is still real-estate-sensitive," Lord says. "There simply isn’t any competition at that size or price point."

McIntosh Laboratory has enjoyed kudos like this for several decades. In 1949, the Lab’s founder, Frank "Mr. Mac" McIntosh, astounded the audio industry with his company’s debut product: the 50W-1, a 50-watt amplifier capable of powering a frequency response from 20 Hz to 20 kHz with less than 1 percent distortion. "People didn’t believe it was possible," said Sidney Corderman, the longtime chief designer at McIntosh, in a 2006 interview with audio-industry journalist Ken Kessler. Two decades after the release of the 50W-1, McIntosh amplifiers further solidified the company’s place in history by driving the sound at Woodstock. To accommodate the size of the unexpectedly large crowd, the festival’s engineers rigged a last-minute sound system using 17 McIntosh amplifiers.

Today, McIntosh Laboratory is known for all of its audio components, including speakers, which entered the company’s lineup in 1970. "Our speaker business has been growing roughly 10 percent year over year," says company president Charlie Randall, who oversaw the 2007 release of the XRT2K loudspeakers. That model, priced at $100,000 per pair, can handle an incredible 2,000 watts, but it stands 7 feet tall and weighs more than 450 pounds. "The new XR200 delivers basically the same sound quality and has many of the same characteristics as the XRT2K, but in a smaller package," Randall says.

At its January debut at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the 113-pound XR200 inspired the same sense of awe among attendees that its ancestor, the 50W-1, inspired 60 years ago. "Right after the show," says Carl Van Gelder, chief engineer of the XR200, "I got an e-mail from the head of another speaker company, and his comment was, ‘Wow!’ "

The XR200 produces a frequency response from 20 Hz to 45 kHz with seven tweeters, 12 midrange drivers, and three 8-inch woofers, which account for the speaker’s striking low-end output. "These speakers present audio the way it should be presented," says Lord, "and, more importantly, they are very easy to put in a room."

McIntosh Laboratory, 607.723.3512, www.mcintoshlabs.com

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