The Hub: E. T. , in your home?
Many brands are driven more by marketing than by engineering; in cars, think Saturn. I will take an uncharacteristically diplomatic path by not mentioning names in the audio world. Other brands are clearly driven by engineering rather than marketing; think pre-SUV Porsche or pre-GM SAAB, and in audio, Bruce Thigpen's Eminent Technology, amongst several others.
Products from such companies exemplify the principles and philosophies of their designers and are designed to fill a genuine need, not just fill a niche in a product line, or to force owners to trade in for the new model. Models tend to run for a long time, and may go through a number of improvements while looking largely the same. I have no idea how long Richard Vandersteen's been making his Model 2, but Bruce has been making the ET LFT-8 speakers for 20 years now. The LFT-16 speakers listed for sale here
are relative newbies, having only been made since 2005.
I've commented several times on how small is the world of the high end, and how often you'll see the same names mentioned in a variety of contexts and connections. As we go through a brief history of ET below, you'll see how many different companies Bruce has touched. You can also read a more detailed 25 year history on his company's website
As an audiophile college student in 1975, Bruce Thigpen encountered air-bearings in a physics lab, and got the idea of building an air-bearing tonearm. Seeking a source for air-bearings, Bruce met engineer-machinist Lew Eckhart, also an audiophile, who had developed an air-bearing turntable. In time, Bruce convinced Eckhart that the 'table could be sold, and it was briefly marketed by Infinity as the Infinity Air Bearing Turntable (seen here
) . FWIW, in my 35 years as a certifiable turntable geek, I've never seen one of these babies in the flesh/metal. Want.
Infinity was bought, and the project was killed. Manufacture was taken over by a Tallahassee company, the Wayne H. Coloney Company, and Bruce became lead engineer. In 1982 Coloney went bankrupt, and the remaining inventory was bought and rebranded Maplenoll. Several Maplenoll models of varying complexity and reliability followed, and meanwhile, Bruce founded Eminent Technology. (Further muddying the audio family tree, some Maplenoll DNA can be seen in Walker 'tables today, revised, tweaked and improved to a fare-thee-well.)
ET's first product was, not surprisingly, an air-bearing tonearm. The ET Model One Tonearm resembled the Infinity/Coloney tonearms, with tweaked geometry. The improved ET-2 appeared in 1985, co-designed by the late Edison Price, and Bruce continued work on a push-pull magnetic planar technology he called the Linear Field Transducer (LFT, nomenclature which still appears on all his speakers). The LFT-3 and LFT-4 were the first commercial products, and both were full-range planar magnetics. The hybrid LFT-8 appeared in 1989, and is still in production, although greatly improved with higher-strength neodymium magnets.
Bruce's influence in the audio world extends well beyond ET. One of his several patents is for a vacuum record hold-down mechanism as utilized by SOTA, and the LFT technology has been licensed and marketed under the brand-names Monsoon, Songstrix and Level 9. Tweaked versions of those drivers appear in speakers from AV123 and VMPS.
Of all Bruce's magic-tricks, my favorite is the Thigpen Rotary Woofer, the TRW-17. Looking for all the world like a cross between an ancient Chevy radiator fan and the prop from a P-51 Mustang, the TRW-17 has been called "the ONLY Subwoofer" by reviewer-analyst J. Peter Moncrieff in this review
, due to its ability to cleanly produce output close to DC. It's a fascinating design whose mode of operation was not intuitively understandable to me. After reading Peter's lengthy analysis, and a half-hour tutorial from Bruce himself, I thiink I get it.
The Eminent Technology works are located in Tallahassee, Florida. As one who lives farther south along the Florida Gulf coast, I generally think of Tallahassee as a less-sweltering part of Florida. That was not the case when I visited Bruce this August; a metal-framed building in ANY part of Florida is not a good place to be in August, and as fate would have it, the facility's A/C had just bit the dust. As sheets of sweat threatened to blind me, Bruce calmly and coolly (!) explained the workings of the Rotary Woofer.
Standard woofers have a constant radiating area. In order to reproduce really low bass, cone woofers usually require greater excursion, and as anyone who has read the papers of Paul Klipsch can tell you, the greater the excursion, the greater the FM distortion.
Bruce approaches the production of low bass from another direction: the radiating area of the Rotary Woofer actually INCREASES as frequency decreases, by means of adjusting the pitch of the blades, as with an airplane's propellor ( don't think it's a coincidence that Bruce is a pilot). A drawback of the TRW-17 is that it has to be custom-installed, with some attention paid to the rear loading. Bruce says the volume of an average small bathroom works well for that purpose, but I wouldn't want to be in the shower while "Dafos" was being played!
The ET website shows several TRW-17 installations, including churches, where the Rotary Woofer produces output comparable to a 64-foot pipe. It's amazing stuff, and I can't wait to see a few more gigabuck home installations utilizing the TRW-17. It sure beats building brick-and-cement horns into your basement.
Bruce hasn't offered any sneak previews of ET products yet to come, but it's good to know that he's out there, bringing his unique perspective to the audio world, and offering high-value/low-hype products. Now, Bruce, one question: I have this low-rider project; will the trunk of my '63 Impala be big enough to back load a TRW-17? Just askin'....