Sound & Visionary: Bob Carver

Considered "audio's Einstein" by many, Bob Carver is probably the most revered designer/engineer in A/V today. Founder of three legendary companies - Phase Linear, Carver Corporation, and Sunfire - he's known for such innovations as Sonic Holography, demand-regulated amplifiers, and tiny, powerful subwoofers. As you'll find out below, he's currently working on making subs even smaller.

When the home theater craze first started, did you think it was a fad? No. I really thought it was the thing of the future. I remember seeing Star Wars at a drive-in, and even though there was one tiny speaker in the car I knew that it was in Dolby Surround. I was mesmerized. Then I went and saw Star Wars in a theater and it was stunning. I remember thinking, "Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could have this in our homes?" Of course, at that time, Dolby's system was basically a matrix setup similar to Dynaquad, so I went home, put on a movie, hooked up my Dynaquad box and, lo and behold, I had Dolby Surround. I knew then that it wouldn't be long before there'd be Dolby Surround processors on the market that would be very simple matrix machines.

Has the advent of flat-panel TVs caused people to forget about the pure side of audio? No. As a matter of fact, the advent of surround sound in home theater has put an emphasis on audio quality that was there all along, but was marginalized before then to a small group of dedicated purists. Now, enormous engineering talent, research, and money have been poured into audio, and it's getting better and better as time goes on. We have high-quality speakers today that would have cost at least 10 times more 15 years ago. So, you could easily come to the conclusion that purist audio has taken a back seat to something very commercial - surround sound. But that's not the case. Surround sound can create a big and beautiful acoustic space we can all envelop ourselves in and become part of.

Are you basically a two-channel audio guy, or do you have a completely tricked-out home theater? My private passion is two-channel stereo - but with a difference. My system uses a stereo signal, but it's played back through a surround sound setup that takes those two channels and recombines them and codes them and decodes them, if you will, into a sense of space that completely surrounds me. I go to theaters to watch movies because I have a living room that's not really suited for a big-screen TV - it's more suited for a piano in the corner. I listen to music through a multichannel surround system I manufacture, but usually the source is two channels using the processing and coding - and that is a lovely experience because it's more three-dimensional to me than a 5.1-channel encoded system for a movie soundtrack.

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