Eugene Patronis: Sound Master
Dr. Eugene Patronis is a professor emeritus in the School of Physics at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. He continues to enjoy a long a distinguished career as an educator, author, and inventor in the fields of audio and acoustics.
EP: The basic transduction process is the same, whether you're talking about compression drivers, woofers, midrange drivers. Of course, electrostatic loudspeakers were a departure. Amazingly enough, Rice and Kellogg investigated electrostatic loudspeakers themselves. What they were comparing were armature-driver type loudspeakers — which were some of the earliest types, pre-dating what Rice and Kellogg did — and voice-coil driven loudspeakers, the design that Rice and Kellogg ultimately settled on. But all the advances have been incremental ones.
Now there have been some novel designs that have been introduced that had some success. For example, Tom Danley and his servo-drive woofer was a completely novel arrangement as far as the drive mechanism was concerned. He was using a motor that has a rotary drive, but translated that into a linear drive. But he was still using basic cones to move air.
PRO AV: Don Davis's book is called, “If Bad Sound Were Fatal, Audio Would Be the Leading Cause of Death.” With all the knowledge there is about audio, why do you think there are still so many bad sounding systems out there today?
EP: Part of it is that lots of people are attracted to sound as a career. Many people think they're acoustical experts simply because they have ears. For example, with smaller churches, there's always the “brother-in-law” effect [where members claim to know a “sound expert” who will work for free].
[Also] people lack a basic audio education sometimes. Whereas, on the other hand, some people are educated beyond their intelligence level. Both aspects can be a source of difficulty. Actually, professional audio is not that old as a field — we're still a relatively young industry. Don Davis [who founded Syn-Aud-Con in 1972] really pioneered the idea of trying to educate people on a broad scale with regards to the fundamentals of sound reinforcement.
PRO AV: What is the biggest audio- or acoustics-related misconception or myth you often encounter?
EP: One of the current problems that I see is that people overlook some of the sound system design fundamentals, and say, “We've got all these digital signal processing, we can always cure the problems by just throwing enough electronics at it.”
My philosophy is that putting the final touches on the system in terms of equalization and so forth is possible only if you've got a good, sound, fundamental system to begin with. Processing can make a good system into an excellent one, but it will never make a poor system into one that is even moderately acceptable.