EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH KEVIN SCOTT OF LIVING VOICE/DEFINITIVE AUDIO

 

An interesting read and exclusive to Mono and Stereo. Step into the unique and highly differentiated world of Living Voice and Definitive Audio through the eyes, ears, and mind of one and only Kevin Scott...

What ignited your interest? 

Music.

What was your first system? 

My first hi-fi system was an ITT field tape recorder, with a 100 watt EL34 guitar 7 amp' and  a pair of pretty substantial Celestian stage monitors. This would be 1975 I guess.  

Who or what were your inspirations? 

There were many but I was certainly inspired by the original Peter Snell speaker designs. He could extract astonishing musical performance from the most modest of ingredients. This taught me that it wasn't what you had, but how you used what you had that mattered. 

What about high-end set up?

I have an issue with the term high-end, it is not a term that I particularly like, although of course I understand what it is supposed to mean. It has an air of being rooted in materials rather than performance. To me high-end, or what I prefer to call 'high performance audio', is all about being able to capture the musical performance with everything this entails.

How did it all start? 

Like most things in life, an interest grew into a passion, which turned into a profession. Initially, against the grain of how hi-fi was traditionally sold, I was championing the idea of the 'complete system concept'. As well trodden as this term is, it is still so true that a system should be greater than the sum of its parts. Great components do not make for great systems. This is still a problem today. So many systems consist of components chosen on their individual merit (or their merits in the eyes of reviewers). A hifi dealership should not be about commodity trading, it should be about providing guidance based on experience, and with a music centred disposition. So, one thing led to another and I started Definitive Audio in 1987. 

How did you choose the name Definitive Audio? 

Definitive Audio seemed like a great name to me. It is a name that quite simply, "does what it says on the tin". 

What sets Definitive Audio apart from the competition? 

Well going back to the Peter Snell story, it is a Definitive Audio maxim that it’s not what you’ve got that counts, it’s what you do with it that matters. We have a vision of how music can be revealed in all of its glory and we choose all of our components to that end. We have collated a portfolio of equipment that is most appropriate across a variety budgets and domestic considerations. So it is a question of selecting the most appropriate pieces of equipment according to an individuals musical goals. What we do has never been about representing a portfolio of commercial commodities, we simply strive for the best musical performance standards and we aim high.  We are vigilant in avoiding any design dogmas when it comes to selecting the best constituent parts. Ultimately what we want is to find something with exceptional musical strengths.


How did Living Voice fit in to all of this? 

Back in the day, loudspeakers were the weakest link in my retail / consultancy portfolio and to my mind they were the weakest link in the hifi chain generally. At that time the average loudspeaker sensitivity was in the mid 80's, something that stifles dynamic range, natural contrast, and colours in music. They may measure well, but they sound emasculated. A double wammy with these low sensitivity loudspeakers of the day was that they precluded the use of Class A valve amplifiers. So I decided to study loudspeaker design and follow my own instincts and my own path. I wanted a truly amplifier friendly load with a Class A friendly sensitivity. These objective qualities, I believed, would manifest an easy and extensive dynamic range with more tonal colours and contrasts, as well as believable natural scale -the fundamental building blocks of music. 

What was the first Living Voice loudspeaker? 

The first Living Voice loudspeaker was the Air Partner 3-way pure horn loudspeaker, launched at the Heathrow show in 1992. It was the first of its kind as far as I am aware, and it inspired many others to follow - just look at the number of horn loudspeakers on the market today. 

How did you choose the name Living Voice? 

It is an anglicised version of Vitavox - a company I had been working with closely - and in particular David and Neil Young who are the sons of the Vitavox founder, Leonard Young. David was the design brains of the company, and he was responsible for the remarkable S2 mid range compression driver and the 157  bass drivers - both of which were used in the Air Partner.   

What is the difference between audiophile and music lover? 

An audiophile listens to sound and sound quality differences between pieces of equipment. A music lover listens to music and needs the musical language not just to make sense, but to have an authentic, artistic believability. Maybe this is why musicians are bemused by audiophiles. I hasten to add that I do not think of myself as an audiophile. 

Do you have a reference system?

No - there are many paths to heaven. and any one of them can bring the musical joy you are seeking. Obviously we are particularly fond of combining the brands that we have chosen because that's the reason we have chosen them. If there is a gap or a requirement anywhere, we fill it. 

What makes a great system? 

Artful combinations that always reference musical values. 

How do you select items for your Definitive Audio portfolio? 

Our portfolio of brands has slowly evolved over time. A great company can sometimes be the people not strictly the products they produce. The products are an expression of people that make them. I could change my name to Roger Federer but I still couldn’t play tennis. All of the brands we have chosen are designed by people with a deep understanding of what they do, and set performance benchmarks, in our opinion. 

What is the difference between your entry Living Voice entry line and epic Vox Olympian? 

Size and money. :-)

What is the story behind the Vox Olympian name? 

We think it is a good fit as it both describes the performance qualities that it delivers as well as being an accurate description of the monumental effort and time that it took to develop. 

What is the difference between the Vox Olympian and Vox Palladian? 

The Vox Olympian has an uber luxury finish and a myriad of jewellery quality finishing and details - this in a Ruhlmann-esk vein - all married to uber performance. The Palladian shares 98% of its design DNA with the Olympian, except in a more straight forward European aesthetic. Call it mid century modern; clean and unornamented and immaculately finished.  

What sets Living Voice apart from the competition? 

Well firstly the loudspeakers are not designed by committee, and neither are they designed by the accounts department. The styling must be subject to the performance and never the other way around, so with our Living Voice 'form' always follows 'function'. Something that cannot be said for many marketing led commercial brands.

Is live orchestral musical the ultimate test for loudspeaker performance?

Yes it is!

Would you say that the DNA is carried across the complete Living Voice range of speakers? 

The commonality of the DNA between the smallest Living Voice loudspeaker and the biggest speaker is in the musical sphere, and although we have chosen completely different technological approaches to a common problem they have a strikingly similar musical value system. It’s about the soul, or the gestalt - whatever you want to call it - of the music. That's what leads the way, it is the guiding light.  

What are your musical  references when designing a product? 

Too many to mention. Music is a broad church and a system needs to deliver to every congregation and transcend on all bases. I use a variety of complex, demanding and artistically substantial programme material, as this is the most revealing and illuminating as well as the most testing. Music that touches the human soul as well as music that makes you dance. 

What is the importance of the crossover? 

Apart from the choice of the drive units the crossover is the loudspeaker. It is remarkable how little currency this gets. The crossover is the big deal. For instance, take the same drivers and cabinets (also a big deal in themselves), and you can easily create 100 different loudspeaker designs with profoundly different musical values, simply through how you steer the behaviour with the crossover. It is a highly complex world which is the make or break of a design. The crossover controls pretty much everything from the tonal balance, the integration, the phase coherence, the time coherence, the bandwidth, to the depth of field. And it is the determining controller of impedance characteristic, frequency response, off axis performance, amplifier compatibility, power handling. Everything. It is the software that makes the computer work. The crossover is the DNA. 

How do you voice your Living Voice loudspeakers? 

I use a subjective, iterative, development methodology. Objective measurements and computer modelling are valuable tools, but they can only take you part of the way. Using subjective methods, and hopefully a well tuned musical sensibility, value judgements can be made about what constitutes 'right' and 'natural'.

How about built in parts? 

There are endless components in the market place that can be used to great effect. Yes some are better than others, but it is about the appropriateness of use. Whether we like it or not all components have a character to a greater or lesser degree. These are the ingredients at the chefs disposal, some of which you need to grow yourself. So for our loudspeakers we have some proprietary capacitors and resistors made for us by specialists to meet our needs. 

Do you build anything in house? 

We design and wind our own inductors in house. 

What drivers are you using? 

I use Vitavox and Scanspeak. They are made for us for the most part. And TAD. 

There are many new materials being used for loudspeaker enclosures but you're sticking to wood. Can you kindly elaborate why? 

All cabinet materials store energy and then release it later. One common approach, which we do not adopt, is to make the cabinet as inert as possible. This approach doesn’t work for me, I find that it robs the music of all natural life and vibrancy. We have tried other inert cabinet materials and they all seem to suck the life and vitality out of the music. The cabinet material is a vital ingredient and something that is an intrinsic part of recreating a living, breathing, musical performance. Just because a cabinet material doesn’t add something, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t take something away. The cabinet material needs to be benign and sympathetic to the behaviour of the drive units. It is about energy management - not energy elimination.

What is your philosophy when it comes to the proper bass performance? 

Mainly I am looking for appropriate weight and timbre combined with perfect time arrival - not so easy. When it is right the musical story telling makes complete sense and the musical performance is contextualised.  

Tube vs solid state? 

With most amplifiers there is a trade off between strengths and weaknesses. My most memorable musical experiences have always involved directly heated triode amplification. That's not to say that all directly heated triode amplifiers are good, they aren't, but the best are transcendent. There are certain performance virtues that valve amplifiers struggle to realise. And these are the performance virtues that solid state amplifiers find easy to realise. I think what we have today is designers from both camps approaching a common middle ground more closely that they were just a decade ago. I think designers of valve amplifiers find it harder to get the timing right and the bandwidth wide, whilst solid state amplifier designers find it hard to realise tonal colours and dynamic range. 


Would you say that a designers' love and passion for music is reflected in their products?

Absolutely, if the the designer has a highly developed musical sensibility and the skills required to make the right value judgments, the musical performance will transcend sound quality.

Analogue vs digital?

There are better and worse analogue components, and there are  better worse digital components. Just because it’s a valve amplifier doesn't mean it’s good, and just because it’s a solid state amplifier doesn't mean it’s bad. Just because it's a record player doesn't mean it's good, and the same is true for digital. 

What kind of music do you put on at the end or in the middle of the day? 

I have a significant and expanding collection of contemporary and classical music. It could be jazz, Indian classical, technology driven music.... Whatever the mood takes me. I listen to a vast array of music for a lot of the time.   

Made in England. Is it important?

No - I don't think it has any bearing at all. 

What does the future hold for Living Voice and Definitive Audio? 

Lots of promise I hope. It's a big old world and I can't think of anyone I have met yet who doesn't love music.