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GENIUS! #21: Dave Martin and the ‘Philishave’

The twin-driver MH212 was the first ever dedicated cone midrange horn

The late Dave Martin will be best remembered for kick-starting the modular, horn-loaded revolution – heralding a new era in sound reinforcement after a generation of WEM columns.

Believing that bands could deliver a better audience experience at ever-increasing capacity venues, Martin’s early inspiration came from seeing the RCA W folded-horn cinema cabs when Iron Butterfly first toured with them. Because they measured seven feet high and weighed 500lbs they didn’t want to pay the return freight back, and so the system was sold to British rock band Yes.

The Australian rethought the folded-horn concept and produced his famous 215 Mk1 (2 x 15”) bass cab, which was later transformed into the iconic 115 (1 x 15”), he quipped, “by sawing it in half.” The bass crossed over into Vitavox horns with JBL2482 compression drivers around 500Hz.

Martin’s horn-loaded systems proved to be a big step up from the earlier direct radiator columns, which couldn’t keep pace with the demands of the emerging progressive scene. With early adopters including Pink Floyd, ELP and The Who, Martin bins and horns joined rock royalty through the ‘progressive’ era of the early-to-mid 70s.

Yet Dave Martin’s most iconic product was arguably the legendary MH212 ‘Philishave’ – so named because of its resemblance to the Philips electric razor of the time. And the band that put it on the map was Supertramp – one of a number of bands who had been seeking more power in the vocal midrange region.

So how did it come about? The design brief was to develop a mid-range device that was compact, loud and crossed over into the HF horn well above 800Hz. Initial designs using ATC 12” direct radiators in the MR212 twin-angled mid and MR312 ‘threepenny bit’ were less efficient than the horn-loaded bass and HF sections and didn’t go much above 800Hz. Martin’s imaginative solution was to look to the compression driver principle to increase efficiency and extend frequency response upwards by matching a speaker diaphragm to a smaller throat by means of a phase plug.

Introduced in 1978, the twin-driver MH212 was the first ever dedicated cone midrange horn, and with the 115 or 215 Mk2 bass bins and HF2M treble horn completed the modular system. The name ‘Philishave’ resonated louder than the components from which it was made – and quickly became an industry standard around the globe.

Another pioneering principle that Dave Martin adopted was to stack the bass, mids and highs in separate columns. The 1980 Dire Straits tour in Italy was a perfect example of the science of stacking, with the Philishaves and horns arranged in columns to throw further – a forerunner of line array thinking, while for the Free Mandela concert at Wembley stadium in 1988, seen in over 40 countries, Concert Sound fielded a colossal 98 x 215 Mk2 bins, 60 Philishaves and over 60 HF horns plus JBL bullets.

And so with his early mission fulfilled, the heritage and pedigree have been handed down to subsequent generations of development engineers within the company, and the quest to achieve the same pioneering excellence through innovation remains intact. For these are truly legacy systems, and to this day, Dave Martin’s horn-loading philosophy continues to be a key principle in the touring products of Martin Audio, the company he founded in Covent Garden in 1971.

Hail to the boffins! Genius! is all about celebrating those clever people whose inventions have transformed the world of professional audio. Mailed out with the February print edition of PSNEurope, the 36-page supplement is also available to read in handy digital-edition form. Read it online, or download as a PDF, at