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Refining Form to Function: A Painstaking Process

It all started sometime around the turn of the century when many of my friends and clients were so strongly requesting a small speaker that would give the same sonic signature as my larger speakers.

Pelonis Signature Series Model 42 Active Monitoring System

It all started sometime around the turn of the century when many of my friends and clients were so strongly requesting a small speaker that would give the same sonic signature as my larger speakers. The first speaker in my line was the PSS215AW, a 4-way, high-definition system that really caught a lot of people off guard. This was first time for many that the near field speakers got put away and the mains became, well, the mains. This is not a bad thing, but it is a little difficult to carry around cabinets the size of a couple of small refrigerators.

Over the years, I progressively designed speakers that were more compact and usable in more varied situations. By around 2004-5, I was finishing up the PSS 110. This 10 system is designed to satisfy nearto mid-field monitoring needs and in some cases, with the addition of the matched subwoofer, the PSS 112, they function as mains. I felt like I had answered the call for a system that had similar sonic characteristics to my larger systems that could be carried from room to room. Well, although it’s true they can be carried, it is a little like moving a couple of Vox AC 15s and a pedal board (the matched amplifier). We guitar players are pretty accustomed to that, but still.

OK, OK…I get it. You still want a system that’s smaller, lighter but still deep, rich, detailed, non-fatiguing, etc. No problem! Ha, ha! Steve Jobs added to the pressure when he came out with an entertainment center (iPod Nano) the size of a book of matches. So the journey continued from that point (around 2005). What was really driving me was the idea of a speaker I could take from hotel to hotel and pair next to my MacBook Pro, and get some real work done.

With that being the inspiration, I set my sights on a speaker that would give the Apple Store something real as well as serve my pro audio friends in the studios. So, the idea of a system that would sit on the desk and angle up to maintain optimum listener/ speaker relations was the very first design criteria. A point source was, of course, my first and only idea since I knew that if a speaker were to serve so many masters, it would not only live on a desk but also on stands at ear level and over a video monitor or on a meter bridge. With point-source drivers, you can place them diagonally and the time domain information stays consistent, which translates regardless of what angle you are listening from.

Now came the technical quest for a driver that would produce ultra-fine detail, an amplifier and processor that sounded like a true Hi-Fi amp but would run cool and be relatively small and lightweight. I had been working with a small MOSFET module that sounds remarkable but it runs a little hot, creating a heat-sink issue. I had also been working with a DSP engine that finally satisfied me but was a little large. I tested numerous drivers from all over the world. I ended up with a 4.5-inch driver with coaxial tweeter from my old friends, Tannoy. Tannoy and I have been working together for decades. We complement each other quite nicely. I then had a driver, an amp and DSP from the best-sounding available components.

I spent about a year voicing a prototype until it sounded the way I wanted. At that point I worked with it in my studio for several months, I realized I was really onto something. Now I had to find a way to get this quality in a system that could be built in quantity and come in at a price that the masses could handle (a goal was to give a similar experience to the guys who couldn’t afford the space or the price tag of my other systems).

Auditioning potential engineering partners and technologies for the amplification and DSP, became a twoplus year process. I found my current partners by playing them what I had; they were stunned. Having developed systems for 30 years, they could not believe what they were hearing. The challenge was to develop something that was as good but could be affordably produced in volume.

When comparing amplifier modules it became apparent that if we were going to do this right, we needed a true A/B system. The guys built a rig that looks like something out of a Frankenstein movie. It’s a large switch that can be configured to compare any combination of individual components. We could listen to the same drivers being fed by the same amp and only switch the DSP, or only switching the amp while maintaining the DSP in use, or in any combination imaginable.

We learned that I was using an amplifier that was hard to beat. We listened to all of the usual Class-D topologies. Most of them were panned within seconds (what a heart-sinking experience!). We finally found an amp that was hard to tell from my reference design. It took a bit of tweaking to reach that goal, but we got there.

When evaluating DSP we went back and forth for months, A to D, D to A, A/B ing forever. After building up the custom analog front end and putting all the pieces together, we had actually exceeded the task of matching what my prototype design. We beat it.

The Model 42 has been making life more productive, enjoyable and, well, easier for many, including myself. What I hear over and over is that it is the “go-to speaker.” It is a true highdefinition system in a class of its own.

Chris Pelonis heads the firm Pelonis Sound and Acoustics, specialists in consulting and design work in acoustics, ergonomics and professional audio tools.

Pelonis Sound and Acoustics

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