This article was written by Sander Roscoe Wolff and featured on Positive-Feedback's website. To read the original over at Positive-Feedback, click the link at the bottom of this post!
Jonathan and Kevin Couch - Founders of Heavenly Soundworks
After three years of intensive development, Heavenly Soundworks will, for the first time, be presenting their FIVE17 active speaker system to the public. They will be exhibiting at T.H.E. Show, which is taking place in Long Beach, CA from June 11 through 13, at the Hilton Long Beach Hotel. They'll be in room 308.
I had the opportunity to speak with the father and son team, Kevin and Jonathan Couch, about their history with music, and how they came to develop the FIVE17.
What was listening to music like as you were growing up?
Jonathan: For me, I was listening to music as far back as I can remember. The strongest memories I have are music playing in the background in our house through my dad's large Advent speakers. Also, he had a system set up in the garage, and I can remember late nights as a teenager working in the garage, always with music. There are some albums that I'll play to this day that bring me back to our house and those stacked Advents playing.
Kevin: Rock'n'Roll Records. Always having to buy my own stereo equipment growing up. My parents weren't into it, so I was always buying used/vintage gear, until my cousin came back from the air force with a full on component system. That introduced me to HiFi at the age of 13.
Did either of you play music, either in school/church, or in bands?
Jonathan: I played guitar starting when I was around 8 years old and continued through high school.
Kevin: I was the first kid to bring a boom box to high school. I was introducing my high school to new music. Over the summer I would visit my cousin in Chicago, they would play rock music over the radio before it made it to the St. Louis market. I would bring it home and introduce it to everyone. That was the extent of my music playing.
What was it that moved you from a music listening enthusiast to becoming an "audiophile"?
Jonathan: We just love music. I don't think we've made that transition. It's always been more about the music listening experience than about the gear. When we started building speakers the end goal was always that experience. We've gotten more into "critical" listening on our journey as loudspeaker manufacturers. Our goal has always been to create the best loudspeaker we possibly can. Because of the active design of our speakers, and the fine tuning that we are capable of with DSP, that has made us more critical as well.
Kevin, where you started with speaker design?
Kevin: The interest for me started back at 13, wanting to achieve the performance that matched my cousins component system. At that time and into my early 20s, I couldn't afford the high end equipment, which got me into DIY. I bought every loudspeaker design and building book I could find. This was before speaker design computer programs were around, so you had to do all the math on paper. I spent years designing speakers on paper, but I enjoyed it. Fast forward, about 10 years ago we both started getting more serious about building our own speakers. One of the things that we started finding out was that speaker driver specs were not always accurate.
About 3 years ago, we decided to start Heavenly Soundworks and develop the best loudspeaker we could. Not too long into that journey we decided to investigate an active speaker system. We invested in some equipment to better measure the speaker drivers so we had a better understanding of what we were building around. It all starts at the drivers.
What was it that moved you toward an active design?
Jonathan: That was my fault. Basically, the level of perfection that we were after was not possible using traditional passive crossovers technology. I brought up the idea that we should investigate going with an active system and, from there, the research and learning started over.
Kevin: ...or where the madness began. There was a significant learning curve. We tested quite a number of amplifiers and DSP systems. We landed on a great system by Hypex, out of the Netherlands. Once we got past the learning curve and were comfortable in the active environment, we're not going back! The design freedom afforded by an active system allows us to fix so many tiny little irregularities in drivers. No driver is perfect but, through the DSP, we can make it very close.
What does the DSP system do, exactly?
Kevin: We take great drivers and make them even better. The DSP system basically makes little tweaks, every little anomaly in a driver's output can be fixed. We should note that we start with the best drivers that we can source. That way, there are less things that we need to fix through the DSP. In a perfect world, a driver would output its frequency range in a consistent manner, but no driver does that perfectly. With DSP we can get them very close.
Why did you decide to include passive drivers in the design?
Kevin: What they provide is bass extension, similar to what a port would do, but without port problems such as chuffing. When you really crank up a ported speaker, the ports will start to produce sound (not the music). Passives are kind of a hybrid between a closed box and a ported box. It's a sealed system that acts like a ported system, best of both worlds. It's more expensive than ported, but performs better.
Was the design simply form following function?
Jonathan: My background is in Industrial Design, so "Form follows Function" is very accurate. The way our loudspeaker development works is that my dad will start by developing an initial design (which drivers, enclosure style/size, amplifier power, etc.) and he builds prototypes to prove out the concept from an audio performance standpoint. Once the design meets the sound/performance expectations then I take over.
One of the things we like to say is "Sound made Beautifully." It starts with the sound. There are very specific dimensional specs that he will provide to me that I can work with. Then, it's a matter of creating something that is both beautiful and functional. I have years of experience in design, but also in design for manufacturing. My job is not only to make it look good, but also to create something that we can duplicate. We also wanted to stand out from the crowd a little bit. We could have made a cheaper cabinet that is easier to manufacture, but that wasn't for us.
What were the challenges of entering the audiophile market?
Jonathan: A global pandemic. In a way, it's actually been a blessing. We've learned a lot while we've been stuck inside. We've been able to perfect our systems so much more than had we shown them off at last year's canceled trade shows.
Kevin: We're still in that process. When Heavenly Soundworks was still just an idea, we decided that we'd create the best thing that we can. Miraculously, we created something that went above our early expectations. Now, we couldn't help but share it with the market.
Jonathan: T.H.E. Show, coming up in June, will be the first time we get the chance to get in front of the Audiophile community. We're looking forward to it and the challenges that come next!
You've got the TEN10 and TEN13 floor-standing speakers in development. Will you have prototypes at T.H.E. Show?
Jonathan: We're a little on the fence on that one. We've got others that are very close to ready, but we'd also like to properly showcase our first product which is the FIVE17. We don't want to steal any thunder from the FIVE17.
What kinds of music will you be using to showcase the speakers?
Jonathan: We've got a playlist with many different genres. We are planning on using Roon, if the internet is strong enough, will have access to Qobuz and Tidal in case anyone has a specific request.
When people sit down to listen, what should they look for?
Jonathan: An authentic reproduction of the original performance. Some may be surprised by the bass response, how low and clear they go. Also that they fill the room like a much larger speaker.
Kevin: We're looking to have the best sounding room at the show! A lot of people are selling speakers with a specific sound signature. Ours are not done that way. They are based on science and the pursuit of perfection.
Are there any incentives for customers to buy at the show?
Jonathan: The list price is $10,000 for a pair, and $1000 for the matching stands. We will have special show pricing available to attendees, and several sets will be on hand and available for purchase.
To read the above interview over at Positive-Feedback click this link.