Manufacurers I have known.... 2 Bobby Palkovic

"Some of you have privately asked me about some of the industry legends...and as I'm now old enough to be a legend too (but not one) I can talk about some of them candidly.
I'll mention one, and if you want more write me or ask me to post more anecdotes, I can do it privately or on forum."

This was my opening into my first Manufacturers I Have Known, reminicances of Jim Thiel, one of my personal heroes and ultimately a good friend.
Now, I'll turn my keen observatinal powers to one of Audiogon's favorite sons...Bobby Palkovic of Merlin fame.
In the late 1980's, I'd had an audio store in the Mecca of High End Audio in western world, Louisville, Ky, for about 7 years.
I won't metion all the products, but I had a store that mirrored many of the stores of that era.
Best selling speakers were THIEL and Magnepan--and various other brands which have since lost favor or faded.
My store was, in the mid '80's located in a three story Victorian building in downtown Louisville...and a group, gang of guys (assuming) came THROUGH THE WALL, and stole just about everything from the store--hence their moniker,
'The Hole In The Wall Gang'. That, in fact, was their M.O.

After fighting the insurance company (don't you love them), we took a few months off--recalibrated and then reopened in a walking (outdoor) Mall in Eastern Louisville.
My personal love affair with THIEL had waned some, (read sales had dropped off for THEIL) and I was looking for some magic bullitt...some product that could be 'life affirming' and sell like crazy.
This was in the day of the two CES'--one in Chicago, summer time.
I went with that Dorothy in Oz kind of 'follow the yellow brick road' enthusiasm--and it was there, that year that I met one of the industry's modern day legends. Oh, he's too humble to ever be pedalistalized (new word, thanks Ogden), but it's really true. He's a brilliant, self effacing and somewhat modest (more now than then) kind of guy who credits Czech Beer for some of his designs--but I'm ahead of myself.
That show, as I recalled was well attended and we were still in the caccoon of audio nirvana in terms of business potential. Remember, some of the 'Boomers' were only 24 years old at this time.
Anyway, with no particular agenda, I wandered in to a room in which this handsome young fella was wearing a Tux, standing next to speakers that were taller than him--with some supporting lit that showed wizzards and other wizzardly stuff. What impressed me though, was the Tux and the Champagne which was in the back of the room...being iced for any and everyone who showed up.
On display in the main room was the Merlin 4B. Bobby was there to meet and greet and really demo for anyone who was interested.
He immediately put me at ease--we talked briefly, he found out who I was and quickly went into his sales/info pitch.
I was impressed with both him AND his product--not the cosmetics, because back then the 60 odd inch tall 4B's were foam covered, very man friendly products, and sort of antithetical to THIEL which was, in general terms 'wife friendly' having beautiful wooden cabinets of all kinds.
I immediatley liked the voicing and sound staging of the Merlins...they were very large, and had a D'Appilito configuration of drivers, 2 8" 2 4" flanking a tweeter.
The rear of the cabinet had controls for the drivers outputs, kind of burried within the foam. These were NOT sophistocated looking, but were very musical and really, really DYNAMIC too. Sound staging was very good as I recall--and the balance was to my liking.
These guys, back then sold for $3K, which would convert to $5753.22 in 2011 Dollars, thanks to Tom's Inflation Calculator.
Perspective, the Quad ESL 63's were also $3K.
After talking for quite a while, it became obvious that Mr. Palkovic was not only a good designer, but a likable guy to sit in a bar with and have a drink or 17.
We talked about his core theology and he said..."I don't like the THIEL's...they're bright and annoying sounding...they compress dynamics...they don't sound like music to me...but if you like them, that's great...NEXT!
What became obvious to me, was that Bobby not only knew how to voice loudspeakers, but he also knew how to 'voice' a takeaway--sales slang for, "I don't really need your business, but hey, we can be friends." I don't think that, given Bob's large brain and hard to read approach, that most of you should volunteer to play poker with this guy.
After several hours of visit...Bob convinced me to spend $8K ($15,341.92 in today's dollars) on an opening order.
I asked, less enthusiastically about the 1B, 2B, 3B and such, his other speakers, and he dismissed me quickly, "Oh Hell Larry, they all sound alike." I was sold AND smitten with his products, AND Bobby.
This started a 23 year acquaintence with Bobby--which is still casually alive.
I sold a lot of Merlins over the next few years--basically until THIEL realized my shift in allegiance and brought me back to the THIEL Train.
During my association with Bobby, I met his friend Paul, who was importer for Gryphon...easily the best preamp I'd ever, ever hard up to that time, AND the most beautiful.
I brought on Gryphons Line Stage Preamp and sold 11 of the 13 brought in to the US in 1988/89.
Knowing Bob over the years has been interesting. He decided, I suppose some time shortly after the 'huge speaker' era, that people want smaller speakers in their homes. He also decided that hallucenogenic Czech beer was not in his long term interest.
Of an effort to help my friend Joe (mention him often, he's a blind, incredibly intelligent audiophile from Louisville and great friend) get his speaker rebuilt after a lightening strike, completely rebuilt the crossovers, replaced drivers and such, while being tutored by a more than patient and helpful Bobby Palkovic.

When the story of Audio is written, Bobby Palkovic will go down in the annuls of history as a great designer, funny, self effacing, and humble guy who really, really knows how to treat customers, whether they're end users OR Dealers.

Hope you enjoy this inside look #2.

Good listening,

Larry, thanks for the sharing your personal experiences about Bobby. I am
one of those folks who wanted smaller speakers without too much sacrifice
in bass, and not knowing anything about electronics, it seems that we can
thank Bobby's brain for figuring out that you could do electronically, with
the BAM, what you need a 3rd and larger driver to do - and maintain the
coherence of a two-way speaker. So he made the VSMs, which
have had very long run, with many satisfied customers, and still running
strong - overtime they just get incrementally better as he sorts out and
rings out the last bit of performance from one "simple" design
idea. Unlike some companies that come out with a different speaker every
two years, with new breakthroughs, Bobby does it his way, make one or two
speakers and make them as good as possible - that approach has worked
for him, and I always look forward to what he will come up with next to
make the VSM even better, even when you think the wall has been hit. Now,
when is that subwoofer coming out:)

Others that take a similar approach - constant perfection of the original
idea? Ralph Karsten, Richard Vandersteen, Ken Stevens, Roger Modjeski,
Mike Sanders.....
What always struck me about Bobby, other than the accolades I put in my post...his core decency as a person--which manifests itself in his business, as the willingness to be unfailingly helpful...make upgrades available at reasonable prices--and to be so generous with his time with everyone.
He's a real treasure for any audiophile who loves music as much as the 'hobby' of collecting gear and tweaking knobs.

Good listening.
God have mercy...please disregard all the typoes, er typeoues, know what I mean.

I don't have Merlin speakers and I can't see a point in time in the future when I will. It's not that I don't like how they sound, but rather I'm extremely pleased with the sound from my current speakers that I'm not even remotely inclined to make a change.

However, I've met Bobby a few times at shows and he is a very gracious person and quite knowledgeable about his craft. When I reflect back on the rooms at shows I attend Booby's room always makes my top 5 list. The sound is consistently that good.

Thanks a lot for this post. Bobby is indeed a fine person and a master at his craft. And he takes great care of his customers. I have his TSM-mmi's and when I first received them, I was impressed by how lovingly they were crafted and packed. He takes enormous pride in his work and it shows in the end result. Buy one of his products and you become, as he puts it, "a member of the family."
I agree. When I talk to Bobby, I always get the feeling of somebody who really loves music and what he does. Ralph of Atmasphere is another guy who even though I have never met him, strikes me in a similar way. I get a feeling that both of their products would work well together.
I'm certain they would...Bobby is such a 'tube lover of the first order' (as am I) that his designs always do well with our vacuum filled, (hmmm how can vacuum 'fill' anything), little buddies.

Nice commen Tz...

Good listening,

OTL and VSMs - made for each other:)

I have had a few dealings with Bobby and he is a class act. One particular situation Bobby came thru as promised. He makes great speakers and I wish him continued success.
Agree with Lrsky, et. al. I'm just a regular guy. Certainly not one of his well-healed or well-known customers. But I've always been treated as if I were important to him as a customer and a person. He's always gone the extra mile for me.
Now, where do I get some of the hallucinogenic Czech beer?
Start with Pilsner Urquell; of you make it past that.....
live in a distant country, a atlantic city Atlantic looking to Africa, I bought a couple of merlin tsm mme seven years ago, and saw the amabiliade and reliability of this person(Bob), then bought a pair of Melin vsm mxe and now I did upgrade to master Bam , I do not need to talk about how fantastic merlins speakers are , because it is already public domain, but I want to say is how much is important have people like Bob in this hobby, never seen him personally, but it's like I met him always . Thanks bob
I met Ralph Karsten in St Paul over many yrs ago at a high end stereo store just as his ma1's where coming to life.
I was very new to the world of high end audio and did not know anything about tubes period.
He talked with me for about 20 minutes and it gave me a picture of what he strives for in his designs.He never slammed any of my equipment at the time or even pushed his gear down my thoat to make a sale;it was just one of the best days in audio I have ever had and always remembered.
It seems to this day that whenever Ralph answers a thread he is never slamming a person or trying to make a sale;this is the one characteristic of him that I seem to remember best;almost like he is a audiophile first and then a designer/manufacturer second;just a super nice person to meet.
Anyone meet the elusive Roger Modjeski face to face? With hour + conversations I feel I have, but rarely goes to shows, so.... I can tell you if Roger ever wrote a book on High-end B.S. it would be a lot fun to read and argue about. He is fascianting to talk to, when you can get him on the phone.
I can think of another designer/manufacturer that kind of falls in to what Pubul57 mentions would be Stan Klyne;I have had a couple of very interesting conversations with him when I owned a 6lx3p pre amp and was getting information on the cartridge loading in the phono section of this fantastic pre amplifier.
I've sat in Roger Modjeski's living room a couple times. Once we just chatted about a number of things but I guess I really pressed one of his buttons when I queried him as to why he was using zip cord for speaker cables. Roger then proceeded to explain in great detail why I shouldn't be wasting my money on expensive cabling and gave the basic ingredients on what makes up what he termed a very seviceable interconnect.

The second time he and Kavi Alexander were evaluating the first iteration of his new electrostatic speakers. Roger got his start working for Harold Beveridge. While we listened Roger gave a really good history lesson that day on the Beveridge design philosophy and what he took away from that experience.

He's a no-nonsense type who knows what he's doing, unconventional as it may seem to some. Roger's the type that's not afraid to look at a text book circuit and think outside the box to come up with something that seemingly defies science, but in reality just takes it to another level. I don't know anyone else who gets more power out of his tubes, or builds quieter amps. Not to mention Roger wrote his own software that he uses to test tubes and along with Andy Bowman is one of the few who knows how to thoroughly tests tubes.

Oh and so you don't get the wrong impression Roger is quite entertaining as well.
Very entertaining, and a real BRAIN:) I suspect John Dunlavy was a similar type of straight shooter - I suspect him and Roger read the same science on cables.
BobbyP is a class act. Has always gone out of his way to entertain any question that I may have and actually encourages you to call him to speak person-to-person. It's near impossible to find that kind of service nowadays; not to mention character.
To all,
I didn't mention the special conversations that Bobby and I had during this period of time as I became a Merlin dealer, because getting to know someone of his intelligence and sensitivity enriches ones life...he is, as everyone says, special--and so much so, that he never acts as if he is. Down to earth, a man's man, who makes everyone around him feel good about doing business with him...Having been in audio for more than 30 years, he always struck me as totally comforable with either end of the or sales/customer relations. These are very disparate 'gifts' to posess both...and Bobby walks through relationships completely at ease with his customers, always, taking great care of everyone along the way. I never ONE TIME had an issue with anything MERLIN that wasn't taken care of matter how seemingly insignificant.
My enduring admiration goes out to of the reasons he was so high up in my list of the Manufacturers I have known.

Good listening,
Clio09 when Roger was talking about speaker cable can you summarize on what he discussed with you?I seem to remember Ralph of Atmasphere mentioning using a simple cable such as fulton brown/gold which did not break the bank and I ran the brown for several years.
Rleff, besides what Clio9 will say about Roger;s comments, you might also want to google -" John Dunlavy Speaker Cable" very interesting perspective from a scientifically centered audiophile that perhaps spoke truth to "power".
Dunlavy's design prowess is NOT in question...
His doubting of speaker cables, and connects, is very much in question.
I have on hundreds of occassions done ABA testing for cables of all stripes...the results have always proved to be consistent.
When I read about designers who doubt these results I'm confused as to their experiences.
I went through all of the doubter's phases...and ended with the phase that rests in the, 'easily quantifiable and predictable categories...'
This is saying that I've submitted, surrendered to listening tests which 'test' the veracity and consistency of audiophiles who claim to hear consistant and quantifyable differences in cables and interconnects.

This doesn't make me right or unique--it only makes ME secure in my selections.

Over the years, I've liked, Kimber Kable, John Tucker's Cables...disliked MIT Cables (finding them to be colored) and disliking Audioquest...hashy and nasty sounding for my taste. Cardas, though respected sounds, like a more 'romantic version' of MIT...the same balance, but with a better 'PR', person describing.

Cables are tough...and very, very important...

Good listening,
One of the best vendors in the Hi-End. Driven to perfect his designs, honorable, hard working and a good sense of humor. Customer service, well he wrote the book IMO!

I have to get to Rocky Mountain and catch up with him this year.
jim, try and come.
should be fun.
will have the master vsm, the dual mono dual ops master bam and the master rc's there. 99% sure the amp will be the gran fila from sonum. it is supposed to spectacular and the system will be wired with my clear.
could be memorable.
and thanks to all for these wonderful comments.
larry, yes its been a long time and much has changed, mostly for the better :-).
Bobby is a very nice guy and one of the great designers. The Merlins are so balanced and musical that you really have to appreciate his exceptional talent. He is truly a very gifted designer.
Bobby is responsible for the above quotes IMHO.A good man and a damn good designer as the Men of Merlin have testified,cheers,B
Rleff, so as not to totally detract from this fine thread about Bobby P. Please email me offline and I will explain.

If I didn't have to spend money on equipment, I'd have a great room too,

The only time I had a problem with Bobby was when he said the ASR Emitter I wanted wasn't a good match. I tried to kill myself with string and paper mâché but decided it wasn't worth the trouble and got the Fila' instead.
NOW, there's a new amp he brings to our attention. Not cool man, not cool.
The Gran Fila will be interesting. More power, but more tubes - a tradeoff perhaps. The Merlin VSMs with the Fila sounded pretty darn good with its 30 watts and two output tubes per channel. If you can double [?] the power without sacrifice that would be a good thing and useable with more speakers.
Atmasphere beater. Would you switch?
Nope. Can't beat OTL with VSMs (or other speakers that can be well driven by tubes and OTLs in particular) IMHO more triode tubes running Class A is a better tradeoff that having to use a transformer:)
Bobby has pics of the new amp. It looks bigger than the SE.
Must be, more tubes, bigger transformers, more watts. Not as "cute"
as the SE, but luxurious. With both pentode and triode settings, I'm sure it will
bring something new to the table for Ars Sonum aficionados:)
The new "Gran Filarmonia".
Still get the Error 404 message when trying to view. Anyone else have the same problem?
paul if you want to see a pic i can send it to you.
i had the same problem.
I guess my PC is over-clocked for higher performance...and to open links:). To me, it's love at first sight(talking about the "Gran").
Yes, that would be cool. So do I have it right that it will have pentode and triode settings? 30 watts triode should be able to make the VSMs sing (loud if you want).
paul, 60 watts pentode with 40 class a. 30 watts triode and 20 watts triode class a.
pic is on its way to you personally.
Looks beautiful, where did I put my wallet:)
Oozes sex appeal doesn't it?
Another thing about 'the Bobster'.
When I was rebuilding my friend's loudspeakers that had been hit by lightening, and Bob was 'talking me through it' (with incredible patience)...I remember how stunned I was at the finish work, and level of parts that he was using for his crossovers.
Anyone buying a pair of Merlins is getting first rate build quality AND parts--that, and an industry icon, hand crafting them...Bob is on the inside of every speaker he sends out. They're a real reflection of what he thinks music sounds like AND he does a great deal of the hand work personally. What's that worth?
Many years ago we had this kind of craftsmanship in Italy when a guy named Stradivarius was building violins--nowadays they're collectors items.
Just sayin'

Good listening,
Bobby is one of the greatest designers of high end speakers and a very decent person as well. His speakers are so musical and well balanced you have to really admire his talent.
Bobby Palkovic. RIP.
Thanks for reviving this thread egidius and thank you, Larry for writing it originally. Bobby was a great designer, AND a great salesman. I say that second part with the utmost respect for someone who could evaluate your wants and needs and did the best he could to get you there. Even if it meant saying no. We all will miss him, I know that the next time I go to a show there will be a hole in it. IMO, the VSMs will be remembered like the Vandy 2s. A very solid design, that was comNiTinually improved over many years and always made music.