Edgar Villchur revolutionized sound reproduction several times.
I admire anyone who, based upon reflection and research, throws away conventional wisdom, returns to first principles, and invents something totally new. In the world of sound reproduction, Edgar Villchur did this throughout his life.
In the 1960s, when I first became interested in “hi-fi”, a small company called Acoustic Research (founded by Villchur) was toppling established “truths”, and the companies whose products relied upon those “truths”. The only AR (Acoustic Research) product that I could afford was their brilliantly simple yet effective AR XA turntable. I lusted after a set of AR-3 speakers but they were beyond my budget.
Back in the early 1950s, Villchur thought about the function of the then-popular large bass-reflex and folded horn speaker systems. He thought, “What if I just remove the ‘spring’ that’s part of every loudspeaker, and mount the unsprung loudspeaker in a sealed box: the air within the box will provide a ‘spring’ with an almost linear force/distance curve”. It worked. The design came to be called “acoustic suspension”. They required powerful amplifiers to drive them because they were inefficient, but they were very compact and sounded great.
Over the next two decades, all major loudspeaker manufacturers gradually changed from mechanical to acoustic suspension. At first they did so under license to AR, paying royalties to use the principles of Villchur’s patent. When the Electro-Voice Company refused to pay the royalties, AR sued them for patent infringement. Electro-Voice countersued, claiming prior art in the form of a mention of an air spring in a different system. The ensuing lawsuit resulted in the loss of the patent for Acoustic Research, a decision which Villchur chose not to appeal. In an interview about the case, Villchur says that he knew the judge’s decision to void the patent was incorrect, but that he felt he had better things to do than to spend his life in litigation. He cited the example of Edwin Howard Armstrong, the inventor of FM radio, whose patent was rendered unprofitable through the actions of RCA. Armstrong spent years unsuccessfully fighting that injustice, and eventually committed suicide. Villchur decided not to contest the loss of his loudspeaker patent, but rather to move on and continue improving the quality of high fidelity equipment.
– From edgarvillchur.com
When I began to shop for a record turntable in 1966, conventional wisdom said that turntables had to be massive affairs so that their inertia would make them immune to vibrations. The really good turntables weighed dozens of pounds and cost over $500. Mr. Villchur instead said, “the only movement that’s a concern is relative movement between turntable platter and tonearm”. Using this idea, he invented the AR XA Turntable, which was light, and retailed for only $79.00. It also performed better than most of the more expensive turntables. Beneath the turntable deck was a rigid cast aluminum T-shaped girder that tied the turntable’s axle bearing to the tonearm’s pivot bearing. This girder was lightly sprung and damped with foam. He used a low-mass synchronous (“clock”) motor that was rigidly mounted to the base to drive the turntable through a lightweight rubber belt (which isolated the tonearm/platter assembly from motor vibrations). It was simple and sweet. Again, Villchur’s design upset the apple cart.
I lost interest in “hi-fi” and lost track of Mr. Villchur. I understand that he went on to revolutionize the hearing aid industry. Read all about him on edgarvillchur.com.
Edgar Villchur died in October at the age of 94, at his home in Woodstock, New York.