North Creek Music Systems began in 1991, conceptually as a source of unique, ultra-high quality loudspeaker components and kits for the hobbyist community and OEM markets. In the early planning stage, North Creek was going to stock a wide range of drivers, capacitors, resistors, coils and the like, to try to serve every aspect of the hobbyist community. In the development of the business plan, however, it became obvious that stocking a lot of parts meant stocking the best of what was available for the most demanding clientele, as well as filling the shelves with lesser components essentially to fill the gaps.
Therefore, a decision was made early on that North Creek would stock only the best of the best, even though it left gaps in the product line, and to serve those clients who were concerned with exceptional performance and lasting quality regardless of cost.
I still remember the day when I first penned the words that became and remain our company credo:
We believe that enduring quality is the most significant virtue of any product.
We have unwaiverably stuck to this philosophy throughout the history of this company.
So, in the beginning, we had a very limited product line - Sprague capacitors, Ohmite resistors, 12 and 14 gauge coils, and a few drivers from Vifa and Scan-Speak. At that time we were the only company distributing mil grade resistors and capacitors to the audio market (everyone else was supplying consumer-grade parts). We were also the only domestic supplier of 12 gauge inductors, and, I believe, were and remain the only company in history that actually spent serious research time developing inductors that sound good. Vifa was popular, but Scan-Speak was a tiny company and virtually unheard of. None the less, North Creek developed a kind of cult following and we began to grow and evolve.
In 1992, we released our first Scan-Speak loudspeaker kit, the Essence. The Essence used the 18W/8544 woofer and the old D2905/9000 tweeter, and had a dynamic low end, superb midrange and a wonderful treble. In 1993 we followed the Essence with the original Rhythm, another great rock & roll speaker with a beautiful midrange and wonderful top end. These were funny days in high end audio because the CD players still sounded pretty bad but no one wanted to admit it, and the Scan Speak '9000 tweeter, with its sweet, rolled off top end, made them sound pretty good. We sung the praises of the '9000 to the tune of thousands of catalogs mailed to Speaker Builder subscribers, and it became popular with a lot of builders and designers (such as Lynn Olsen and his Ariel speaker) and made its way into many commercial systems. We sold a lot of Essences and Rhythms and a ton more crossovers for people who already had the drivers. The Rhythm has since become the most widely copied loudspeaker in history. (please not the historical link may not work on all browsers).
1993 also marked the development of the Sprague Ultra-Cap, along with the new 9300 tweeter from Scan-Speak. These events are unrelated in the grand scheme of things but they go hand-in-hand with us. The 9300 had flat frequency response, which made CD players sound bright, but the Ultra-Cap was so smooth and sweet on top it complemented the CD-'9300 combination perfectly. That year our inductor machine was upgraded to make 10 gauge coils, the first 10 gauge inductors ever produced for loudspeaker applications. We were blown away by their clean open midrange and incredible low end resolution. So by the end of 1993 we had upgraded the Essence and Rhythm to the '9300 tweeter, Sprague Ultra-Cap, and 10 gauge Music Coils, and the "Unlimited" versions of our loudspeaker kits were born.
Also in 1993 I completed and published the first edition of the Cabinet Handbook. This was the first writing I'd done since my research days with Acoustic Research, and it felt pretty good to put a bit of my knowledge and observations on paper and distribute it far and wide. I can still say the Cabinet Handbook is the best book ever written on the subject of loudspeaker cabinet construction simply because it is the only book on the subject… and most people who read it carefully find it invaluable. The technology of the Handbook has also found its way into many commercial designs. It is now common to see loudspeakers built with Baltic birch plywood, multiple, aperiodic internal braces, super-thick fronts, damping compounds, etc. Back in '93 those things were pretty rare.
Our last major development in 1993 was the production of the B&W Matrix 801 and 802 Series II Crossover Upgrades. These were "Unlimited" versions of the stock B&W networks. To many, this represented the ultimate marriage of large scale and cottage industry technologies. The 801's are the largest selling high end loudspeaker in history, the drivers and cabinets were superbly manufactured, and our crossover networks made them sing like no one had heard before. Many people felt the B&W 801 with the North Creek Crossover was the best sounding loudspeaker available in its day. We did not sell a lot of them but they gained quite a bit of appreciation in the audio community - B&W routinely recommend them as an upgrade path and had a set installed in the main listening room of their Boston recording studio.
In 1994 we moved to new, much larger facilities in Old Forge, NY. The new building had a large listening room which served dual purposes as a design facility for North Creek and my consulting business (most of the time) and a show room (weekends). This was my first experience with retail, and it brought an entire new sense of appreciation for those extraordinary souls dedicated to floor sales. It quickly became evident while a few visitors were serious customers that came a good way to seriously listen to, evaluate, and buy our loudspeakers, the majority really had no intention of buying from the outset. Many just wanted to drink fresh ground coffee, hear some good equipment and talk about loudspeakers and audio in general for the day, while others just wanted a look around my lab and, if possible, to get some good, free advise. It put me in a difficult position because the way we maintain North Creek's technological edge is though knowledge, and most of my knowledge, and everything in my lab, is proprietary, and, of course, I was quite accustomed to charging for my advice. Lastly, as our margin is nowhere near the 100% markup (50 points) of most dealers, we could not afford the retail space and time and effort required to make and keep it a sound business venture. Therefore, by the end of 1994 it was determined that retail part of our business was unsuccessful, and we closed the show room.
Our loudspeaker component business continued to thrive, however, and in 1995 we released our first full color catalog. We mailed 10,000 catalogs to Speaker Builder subscribers and other hobbyists from our list, and to the speaker builder community we became a household name.
The fall of 1995 marked the release of the Borealis Project, a two way with the '9300 and the new Scan-Speak 18W/8546. This was a new type of product because, while it was a complete loudspeaker, it was shipped with the crossover unassembled and with the schematic and plans. 12,000 Borealis brochures were mailed, complete with a four page technological description of the new Scan-Speak SD-1 motor structure. This was the time before Wilson Audio, Audio Artistry, Montana, etc. were using Scan-Speak, and they were still a relatively unknown driver manufacturer. We sold a lot of Borealis kits, a lot more parts and crossovers, and did wonders for the popularity of Scan-Speak.
1995 also marked the development of the Syrinx Film and Foil cap, a 1uF 600V capacitor we developed in collaboration with Sprague electronics as a bypass cap. This cap was designed specifically for use with the Scan-Speak D2905/9300 tweeter, to bypass the new generation of film-and-foil caps. Essentially, we found the tonal balance of these new caps to be too bright for the '9300 when used with CD players, so we developed a cap to adjust the overall balance. This allowed us to bring in the Hovland film-and-foil capacitors, and we started using the Hovland caps bypassed by a 1uF Crescendo cap with the '9300. The sound was just unreal.
Late in 1995, Sprague was purchased by United ChemiCom, and the Sprague film capacitor factory was purchased by an investment group of former Sprague engineering and marketing personnel. In early 1996, North Creek forged a distribution agreement with the new company as their exclusive distributor of specialized film capacitors to the audio industry. Then, working closely with their engineering team, the Zen metallized polypropylene and Harmony Ultra-Bypass capacitors were developed. Later that year we co-developed a family of film-foil caps voiced at the perfect mates for the new Scan-Speak tweeters, and the Crescendo capacitors were born.
During the same period we came to a similar distribution agreement with Ohmite and began having our resistors custom wound.
Also in 1996 our inductor manufacturing system was upgraded again, including the purchase of a (very expensive) industrial vacuum chamber for inductor curing. We then began to produce 8 gauge inductors, making us the world's only manufacturer of 8 gauge coils for the audio industry.
Mid-1996 marked the re-release of the Rhythm loudspeaker project, now with the Scan-Speak 18W/8545 woofers and the new D2905/9900 Revelator tweeter. Many capacitor combinations were tried to maximize the performance of the Revelator, and eventually Cascade Bypassing with Crescendo capacitors was developed. Indeed, the Revelator and cascaded Crescendo capacitors is the most synergistic combination we have heard to date. We mailed 30,000 Rhythm brochures to the subscribers of Speaker Builder, Glass Audio, and Audio Amateur, as well as everyone on our list, and we made a lot of speakers. The Scan Speak ‘9900 was, and still is, the best sounding silk dome tweeter ever made.
By the end of 1996 the emphasis of the company began to change from a supplier of loudspeaker components and kits for the hobbyist community to an OEM supplier of coils, capacitors, and resistors, and by early 1997 OEM sales became the dominant part of our business. Many small (and a few large) high end loudspeaker manufacturers began to use North Creek components in their best systems, and we consistently see our customers' products recommended by the subjective press, awarded "Best Sound", etc. It has been good for us and good for the industry as a whole.
1997 marked the debut of our Web Site. It was pretty clunky back then but it still exposed us to an enormous number of speaker builders, both in North America and overseas. We have made every effort to keep it simple, fast loading and easy to maneuver. Our products continue to develop loyal customers, and today we supply loudspeaker manufacturers and hobbyists in the USA, Canada, Australia, Brazil, Japan, Malaysia, Korea, Italy and Great Britain, to name a few.
In 1998, Ohmite was purchased from US Phillips by an independent investment group. Immediate changes in their manufacturing and distribution policies resulted in frequent out-of-stock conditions and extremely long lead times. So after much debate and a little soul searching, in late 1998 we began researching the possibility of bringing in alternative line of power resistors that were equal to the Ohmite's in sound quality, but were easier to obtain. After auditioning the "best" resistors from over 20 manufacturers in the US, Canada, Europe and Japan, some of which were quite good but none of which would capture both the clarity and harmonic correctness of the Ohmite, it was apparent that we would have to have a resistor custom made. By mid 1999, we had discovered a tiny US firm that could manufacture a resistor exactly to our specifications, that was equal to the Ohmite's in sound quality, offered slightly higher power handling (10.2 Watts), were U.S. Military certified, and had one quarter the lead time. So in late we 1999 we began taking delivery of the NORTH power resistors.
Also in 1999 we began working with Lee Taylor, a craftsman who manufactures cabinets for some of the most exclusive loudspeaker companies in the world. He is a finishing expert and is well known for making many of the "show sample" cabinets at CES and the Stereophile shows. He began supplying cabinets for the Rhythm and Borealis loudspeakers in April, 2000, the Okara II in 2001 and the Vision series in 2002. Photos of Lee's cabinets can be downloaded via our Lee Taylor Page.
August 2000 marked the release of the Okara II loudspeaker system (now retired), a tiny speaker featuring the Vifa P13 and Scan-Speak 9500. I do not mind saying that the Okara II was the most difficult loudspeaker I have ever designed. The placement constraints and size requirements made the perfect balance of low frequency punch and a liquid midrange almost impossible to obtain. The speaker was in my small listening room for over two years, and it was not until May 2000 that the design was completed. Made specifically for near wall, mantle piece or bookshelf placement in smaller rooms, the Okara II can deliver a convincing bass line and fabulous sound stage with as little as 30 watts of amplifier power. It is not picky about vertical placement, toe in or electronics, and performs beautifully in small and mid-sized listening rooms. Like its larger siblings, the Okara II has rapidly become one of the most imitated loudspeakers in history. At right is an Okara II - D28/2, courtesy of Lee Taylor and Co. Over 3000 pair of the Okara II’s were sold before it was retired in 2011. (The historical link to the Okara II may not work on modern browsers.)
July 2001 marked the release of the Vision Signature monitor loudspeaker, after 18 months in the lab. The Vision Signature was designed from its inception to be the ultimate monitor loudspeaker for home theater systems. We actually invented a new low frequency tuning technology (MAPD loading) that simplifies mating the monitor to a subwoofer. The Visions offer high sensitivity, very easy to drive, magnetically shielded, smooth and incredibly dynamic. Although not a full range loudspeaker, from 70 Hz up it is quite possibly the most musically natural loudspeaker ever made. It may even be the world's first "perfect" AV loudspeaker. The Vision was replaced by the Big Kat in 2008.
2001 was the tenth year of North Creek. It was a bit of a milestone; of the 300 or so loudspeaker companies in the U.S. today, only one in ten was in business ten years ago, and most likely only one in ten will still be doing business ten years from now. We intend to be one of them. Looking back on the original goals of the company, it is a apparent that we have not compromised our product line or our integrity anywhere along the way.
2001 was the year of driver research. It began by examining the requirements for exceptional home theater loudspeakers, and determined the requirements for a family of drivers all intended for acoustic suspension and aperiodic applications. Most notable was the development of the Poseidon subwoofer driver and amplifier, a combination that in the proper acoustic suspension cabinet reproduces dynamic, clean bass to 23 Hz, can play at very high volume levels, and mates easily with most satellites. We took delivery of the first Poseidon production run in mid 2002.
The second major development was the design of the North D25-06S silk-dome tweeter. This was actually an ongoing project from late 2000, and was completed in October of 2001. The North D25-06S is the first tweeter in history designed specifically for cabinets from six to ten inches in width, with its frequency response deliberately contoured to compensate for small aberrations created by the boundary conditions - that is, the North D25-06S was designed to be used in the real world. It has a wonderful, sweet, detailed character typical of silk domes, without a touch sibilant emphasis or hardness. It is also the easiest tweeter to cross over this designer is aware of. The North D25-06S became available in August of 2002 and was retired in 2010.
In September of 2002, our capacitor manufacturing was upgraded including a custom-made ultra-low-flux silver solder for attaching the radius-soldered stranded leads. Our Zen and Crescendo capacitors have the lowest ESR of any film caps on the market.
At left is the Okara II, Borealis and Rhythm Towers from the NY Stereophile Show
In September 2003, we became a factory authorized distributor of Aurum Cantus Ribbon Tweeters, one of only two authorized distributors in North America. Of all the ribbons we have tested over the years, only the Aurum Cantus units compare with the original Apogee ribbons I was working with in the early '90's. November 2003 marked the debut of the North Manifest loudspeaker system (now retired), featuring custom Scan-Speak woofers and the G1 and G2si ribbons from Aurum Cantus. The photo at right is the Manifest in Zebrawood, courtesy of Lee Taylor and Company.
In November of 2003 we introduced the North D28 silk dome tweeter. By borrowing the unique Faraday Sleeve motor technology of the Leviathan subwoofer, MAPD loading from our Vision loudspeaker, and frequency response contouring from the North D25, the North D28 has the lowest distortion of any dome tweeter this designer has ever measured, requires only the simplest of crossovers, and has an exceptional 92dB sensitivity.
In December 2003, we released the Thunder subwoofer module. Designed to be used alone or stacked as a subwoofer super tower, the Thunder features the Peerless XLS 12" long throw woofer and passive radiator and the North Poseidon amplifier, in a cabinet optimized for both excursion and bass extension. The Thunder can break 105dB at 20Hz, while consuming barely one square foot of floor space. Adding to our subwoofer family was the smaller, sealed box Poseidon.
January 2004 marked the debut of the North Catamount, a medium sized full-range tower directly descended from a Rhythm father and Vision mother, whom were secretly meeting under the amber glow of SET amplification. The Catamount was constructed with custom Scan-Speak 5" woofers and a choice of either the North D28 or Scan Speak Revelator tweeter. With high sensitivity, ultra-stable impedance and great bass to 35 Hz it is the ultimate MTM for SET and other valve amplifiers. This was the first tube-dedicated loudspeaker designed by North Creek, specific to 8-Ohm taps, and is capable of extraordinary performance in mid-sized listening rooms with as little as 3 Watts of amplifier power. The Catamount is not intended for transistor amplification. The Catamount was retired in 2011.
In March of 2004, our Rhythm and Borealis family of loudspeakers was upgraded to the same, custom Scan-Speak woofer we developed for the North Manifest, and the Scan-Speak D2905/9500 versions upgraded to the North D28-06S. The '9500 "Classic" versions are considered semi-retired and available only on a custom order basis.
June 2004 marked the release of the North Creek Echo (Historical link) micro-monitor loudspeaker kit. Also designed for near-wall placement, the Echo is a great speaker for the first-time builder and perfect for small venues, bedrooms and dorm rooms, or, as the name implies, as high performance AV surrounds. By the end of 2005 the Echo family had grown to include and MTM center channel and MTM mini-tower mains. This kit was also supplied to several high school shop classes as an educational tool, precisely at cost. Over 1000 pair of Echos were built before being retired in 2008.
In early 2005 we developed an innovative approach to coil manufacturing which involves our unique Tension-Free Winding method, deep vacuum impregnation and a special bonding fluid that penetrates the coil to full saturation. We are proud to say that North Creek now manufactures the ugliest, as well as the best sounding, coils on the market.
In June 2005 we began carrying the SEAS EXCEL line of 7" magnesium cone woofers, and introduced the new Pegasus and Prometheus Reference Loudspeakers . The Pegasus and Prometheus are two-channel specific loudspeakers for use with the finest electronics; the Prometheus HO/T takes the Ribbon Hybrid concept one step farther with a High Output / Tube specific version. Both were retired in 2011. At right is a Pegasus in Lee Taylor Sapele.
In 2007, as our direction of growth moves toward the home theater custom installation industry and interest in the Advanced Ribbon Technologies 1.1 Ribbon In-wall, North Creek Music Systems Inc. became a proud member of CEDIA. North Creek debuted the Advanced Ribbon Technologies in-wall ribbons at the CEDIA show in Denver, September 2007, followed by the Rocky Mountain AudioFest that October, and will show the entire system at CEDIA Denver in September 2008.
In May, 2008, North Creek released its first new loudspeaker kit in three years, the Full Range Near Wall Specific Tower. A direct descendent from the legendary Kitty Kat Revelator, the Big Kat takes our Near Wall Specific family of loudspeakers to an entirely new level.
Beginning in 2009, our new ribbon research led to entirely new generation of full range ribbon loudspeakers, the Fibonacci Transducer. Read more about it at www.FibonacciTechnologies.com .
In 2012, after a fire burned the entire North Creek building to the ground, we relocated to the perpetual spring of northern Arizona. We began producing loudspeakers, ribbons and custom wound inductors again in October of 2012.
North Creek Music Systems continues to grow and evolve. We continue to improve our products and our manufacturing facilities, and we continue to emphasize natural sound and enduring quality as the cornerstones of our business.
So, who am I? My name is George E. Short III, and I am the president and owner of North Creek Music Systems. I started this company in 1991 with a lot of good ideas and a few great connection. But perhaps I should discuss my background:
I was born in the early sixties in Rochester, NY, and began building my own loudspeakers when I was 15. There was actually a substantial speaker building group in Rochester at that time, as the Rochester Institute of Technology provided an endless stream of speaker builders, and a small shop called The Speaker Place supplied us with SEAS, Phillips and Peerless drivers. I still have the first pair of speakers I built - a two way with an eight inch woofer and a horn tweeter. I was didn't know anything about crossover design back then (and there were no books on the subject) so I learned the hard way - by changing components and listening. Of course, all I listened to was 70's Rock (Yes, Rush, Genesis) so I was always designing for the best Rock sound.
In 1980 I heard my first high end system - a Bang& Olufsen turntable and Dennon electronics driving a pair of Dahlquist DQ-10's, playing Pink Floyd The Wall. It wasn't loud because the DQ-10's didn't play that loud, but the sound was unbelievable! I spent the next break building new cabinets for a four way loudspeaker and a subwoofer with all Peerless drivers.
In 1981-83 I was a student of Electrical Engineering at Virginia Tech, and I came across a catalog from SpeakerLab in Washington. SpeakerLab was the source for loudspeaker components and kits in those days, and they produced a great catalog and some excellent loudspeaker kits. The Speakerlab Super Seven was one of the best Rock & Roll loudspeakers available in its day. They also published a book on loudspeaker design that was full of information for vented box alignments, alignment jamming, crossover design, etc. I also found a Dynaudio catalog and a copy of Martin Colloms' "High Performance Loudspeakers" in the library. That's when I began to get seriously interested.
By 1984 I had changed my major to Physics and was building loudspeakers on a regular basis - Vifa two ways, Morel two ways, Dynaudio three ways, etc. I sold some and gave some away and still have a few pair. I obtained my first piece of measurement equipment - an equalizer with a built in spectrum analyzer and hand held measurement microphone. I also began to study the details of loudspeaker design from a mathematical standpoint, thinking in terms of diffraction loss, transfer functions and acoustic slopes. Crossover network design became (and remains) my fascination, as the most difficult and critical part of loudspeaker system design.
In 1986 I graduated from Virginia Tech with a Bachelors of Science in Physics, minors in Mathematics and Environmental and Urban Studies. I was accepted to their Graduate School, where I continued my education in Applied Physics.
In 1987 I began a yearlong independent study in electro-acoustics. This was an unusual field as Acoustics had long been replaced by Quantum Mechanics as the usual course of study, and finding a professor who was skilled in Electroacoustics and willing to teach it was difficult. I was very lucky that my advisor, Dr. Diane Hoffman, recommended me to Dr. Paul Zweifel. Professor Zweifel is an expert in Nuclear Reactor physics, and his text is the standard for those who study the subject. He was also one of the few who was knowledgeable in the field of electroacoustics. For the curious, my text books were Dr. Joseph Merhaut's "Theory of Electro Acoustics", the classic "Acoustics" by Leo Berneak, and the first two publications of the Audio Engineering Society entitled "Loudspeakers". I also had the complete set of Speaker Builder magazines, and kept up with current developments with the Audio Engineering Society..
During that period I was designing with Dynaudio and Morel woofers, and became fascinated with the operation of the Dynaudio Variovent. There was nothing published on how to use the Variovent, or aperiodic damping in general, so for my Master's Project I undertook the subject. I spent eight months doing both theoretical and lab work, and eventually developed the mathematical foundation of aperiodic damping that was consistent with my lab results. The mathematical model correctly predicted the relationship of system Q and the changes in impulse and frequency response and correlated it with the effect on resonance frequency and the impedance curve. A method of measuring all parameters directly from the impedance curve was also devised. The culmination of this work was published as my Master's Thesis, "The Aperiodically Damped Loudspeaker System", for the successful defense of which I was awarded a Masters of Science in Applied Physics.
Also of note in graduate school was my second year of study of Quantum Mechanics under Professor Luke Mo. Professor Mo was a contributor to the team awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1989.
In 1988, I joined the engineering team of Teledyne Acoustic Research (AR). AR at this time was the world's fifth largest loudspeaker manufacturer, and had a formidable engineering and research and development team. To put it in perspective, the desk I was given was formerly the desk of Andy Lewis (Signet, Apogee, B&W, now the Global Sales Manager of Truextent), and before his it was Ken Kantor's (founder of NHT, Tymphany). One of my fellow engineers was John Buzzotti (Advent, Boston Acoustics, now with EAW), a skilled woofer designer who loved deep bass, and who is rumoured to be the man who designed the NHT 1259. The mechanical engineer was Richard Juszczyszyn (now with Tivoli), the Chief Engineer was Mark Nazar (Apogee Acoustics, Boston Acoustics, Kwanasia), and the Vice President of Engineering was Alex deKoster (Polk Audio, Apple). I also had the privilege of working with Ron Generau, who developed the Sig Tech Digital Equilizer, the first product that would measure room response and correct for early reflections as well as frequency response variations in the loudspeaker. We called it AR-EQ in those days. The president of the company was Burke Mathis, who was the former owner of Pacific Stereo and the brother of Curtis Mathis. He succeeded Ron Fone, who has since been the president of Tara Video, Apogee Acoustics and, most recently, Macintosh Labs. Before him was Abe Hoffman, who along with Roy Allison later created Allison Acoustics. The company was founded by Edgar Vilchur and Henry Kloss.
My duties at AR included crossover design and loudspeaker system design as well as research in cabinet vibration, cone materials and cone shape. I was also part of the group that brought the excellent, Dave Berriman designed AR Spirit line of loudspeakers into the US from AR's UK facilities. This was a fascinating project because the Spirit line was to be upgraded for the US and Asian markets without being redesigned, essentially limiting changes to cabinet materials and crossover component upgrades. Here I had the opportunity to directly compare the sound of one capacitor to another, one coil to another, etc. The difference in sound between film cap brands, dielectrics, air and iron core coils, and bi-wiring vs. single wiring, were significant and obvious to the entire listening panel. The line was much improved (although considerably more expensive) and became moderately successful in the US and abroad.
In 1990 I joined the engineering team of Apogee Acoustics, where I was again working under Mark Nazar. Apogee at this time was perhaps the single most influential loudspeaker manufacturers in the world, and company President Jason Bloom a celebrity in audiophile circles. The Apogee Scintilla was the world's first One Ohm loudspeaker, with marvelous sound. The need for amplifiers that could drive that loudspeaker led to a design revolution in the amplifier industry. Sadly, Jason passed away in June of 2003.
I did crossover network and ribbon transducer design for Apogee, and it was perhaps the single most valuable experience I have ever had. Every product we manufactured was listed in Stereophile Magazine's "Recommended Components", including the most expensive loudspeaker in Class A and the lowest priced loudspeaker ever to make it into Class B. Products that I was on the design team of were also reviewed and recommended in The Absolute Sound, The Inner Ear, Hi Fi News and Record Review, and Audio Magazine. The first speaker I worked on there also won "Loudspeaker of the Year" in Australia. I will never forget the feeling of being part of the design team that put products on the covers of Stereophile and Hi Fi News and Record Review in successive months.
Designing for a leading loudspeaker manufacturer is a challenging job. One has to be open minded, forgetting market hype and honestly evaluating the sound of each crossover component as well as the overall system. Every aspect of each design was critiqued by a listening panel of serious audiophiles, and products were compared with directly competitive products of other manufactures. The end result was that every product we released was felt by 100% of our listening panel to be significantly superior to that offered by our competitors. It was tough, especially when cost was an object, but we made some great sounding loudspeakers.
In 1991 I started North Creek Music Systems.
More about me…
Well, occasionally I hear "is all you do is design speakers?", hence this section.
It would be really nice if I could spend more time doing loudspeaker design, which is my first love and certainly what I would spend more time doing if the days were a little longer. But my other passions are: spending time with my beautiful wife Hilary, mountain biking, hiking, renovating distressed real estate and practicing golf. The cross country mountain bike is Litespeed Unicoi Flextail (my 1999 Gary Fisher Big Sur finally retired after six great years). The downhill bike is a 1995 Trek Y-11. All have been optimized for riding the endless deer trails, creek beds and abandoned logging roads the wind everywhere through the six million acres of the Adirondack Park, which many of us who are lucky enough to live here year 'round refer to as the "back yard". The quality of biking has improved so much in the Park in the last decade that the area received the cover article in the March 2003 issue of Bike Magazine, "New York - The Best Trails you have Never Ridden". I was lucky enough to co-host the editor and photographers of Bike for a guided tour of the extremely difficult Remsen Falls trail. A magnificent photo of yours truly and a few friends appears on page 56 of Bike…. seven miles from the nearest road, way out of cell phone range and peddling in the snow.
Over the years, my love for mountain biking and the great outdoors has evolved into a passion for mapping and clearing the unmarked and long forgotten logging trails that defined the early industry in the Adironcacks (before it became the world's largest protected wilderness). Through the years, the most accessible trails have become favorite hiking and biking routes for both natives and tourists, and in 2005 many became officially marked and published as part of the Old Forge area trail network. While living in Old Forge, on most summer days after work I could be found somewhere in the woods along with my bike, GPS, emergency first aid kit, and on a good day, my wife.
I practice golf on the irons range a few times a week but only play perhaps twice a month. I have found there is no substitute for practice, and no point in playing golf poorly. Denial in golf gets one no where.
I also love to cook, particularly grilling and rolling sushi, and found considerable parallels between cooking and loudspeaker design. Specifically, 1) a simple recipe with the best ingredients is generally better than a complicated recipe with the best ingredients; 2) using the same recipe, the better the ingredients, the better the dish; 3) there are significant differences between the flavor of "identical" ingredients, just like there are significant differences in the sound of "identical" coils, capacitors, and resistors that come from different manufacturers. Also like crossover parts, I have learned that most people can sense and appreciate the subtle differences between a good meal and a great one, while others will deny there are any differences at all without ever tasting the food.
In January 2012 the fire destroyed the North Creek factory in New York, closing North Creek for a year. Saying “Farewell!” to the endless winters of the Adironcacks, we relocated to red rocks of Northern Arizona.
My feelings on audio in general
I still love two channel, and appreciate the rare luxury of sitting down and listening to few of my favorite CD's, with my eyes closed and a glass of good Cognac. I also love Home Theater, especially in surround sound with the subwoofers cranking, ice cold Svedka and sushi. But in my opinion the two are separate forms of entertainment, and I have separate rooms for each. I feel two channel is much more intimate, and far more demanding of both the equipment and the audience. So I don't mid saying that until late 2001, the retail price of any North Creek loudspeaker was far more than the entire value of my home theater system.
Also, I don't feel the art of loudspeaker design has evolved much over the past decade. Even with excellent CAD software and very affordable and accurate measurement equipment, there is still no substitute more extensive listening - literally months and months of it. There is a reason North Creek releases only one or two loudspeakers a year, and the reason is that it takes that long in the listening room to get to know and fully evaluate the "long term" sound of a loudspeaker system. Anyone doing it faster is rushing. The time I spend listening to and optimizing our loudspeakers has lead to 100% customer satisfaction rate, and has also made North Creek the most well reviewed factory-direct loudspeaker manufacturer it the world.
Computer-aided design has also spawned an enormous number of loudspeakers that have superb measurable performance, but could really use more time in the designers' listening rooms. I say this because the great majority of loudspeakers I hear today simply don't sound very good, all of their technical merits aside. Part of this is a continuing trend towards "brightness" - somehow, this has become mis-equated with "detail", and even a few of the most golden-eared reviewers have recommended loudspeakers that are unlistenably bright, on the basis of the "exceptional detail". Another fault is the seemingly endless proliferation of poor sounding class D, G and H amplifiers mated to small bandpass subwoofers, which have made deep "one-note" bass affordable, but good clean bass a vanishing commodity. Anyone seriously shopping for a subwoofer should realize that the laws of physics have not changed in quite a while, and there is still no substitute for a big woofer in a big box with a very good amplifier. On last factor is the appearance of an endless supply of truly dreadful sounding, but very cheap metallized capacitors. Today, the engineer with a budget who cares about sound quality will use the best film-foils in their system; the engineer who doesn't care will use the cheapest metallized units regardless of how they sound. The mid-priced but very good sounding metallized caps are seeing less and less use, even in systems that can afford them and would benefit significantly from a few dollars in parts upgrades.
Likewise, I have found that many of the latest generation of audio equipment designers are very computer simulation and measurement savvy, but do not spend nearly enough time listening to and fine tuning the products they design. That is to say, I have found many of today's designers are very well qualified to do the work they do, but they are not serious audiophiles. This is not limited to loudspeaker designers; it is audio equipment in general. I freely admit that I became very turned off about the direction High End Audio began to take in the mid 1990's, and which continues today. There appears to be a plethora of beautifully made processors, pre-amplifiers and amplifiers with spectacular custom cast heat sinks and half inch thick machined face panels and all sorts of other ancillary features that make these products very expensive (in some cases, ridiculously so) and that sound.... eh... OK. Certainly most would benefit from $100 less heat sink cost and $30 more in top notch coupling caps. Likewise, CD transports, D/A Converters, speaker cables and of course loudspeakers have been marketed with all sorts of made up features and secretive technologies with mythical benefits. To me, this is just hype, and wasting breath (and money) on hype really turns me off.
North Creek continues to stay the course. I have been fortunate to be able to make a living while spending more than two decades researching what makes a loudspeaker sound better, with particular emphasis on crossover network components. It has been an education with quite a few eye openers, a lot of unsolved mysteries, a few unproven theories, and one or two breakthroughs. During this period, I have accumulated a fair amount of knowledge about the subtleties of crossover component design and construction (most of which is proprietary), as well as developed some expertise in component applications. I am confident to say the drivers and crossover parts we carry today are better than those we stocked five years ago, a lot better than ten years ago, and significantly better than those available elsewhere.
There is a difference. One good listen is all it takes.
About our choices in speaker building….
It has been interesting to observe and participate in of the evolution of loudspeaker design and the art of speaker building over the last two and a half decades.
In the old days (that is, before the 80's) there were a lot of speaker builders, a lot of suppliers, and very little information. The old issues of Audio and Stereo Review were filled with ads of driver suppliers, but even the best of them were hard pressed to provide little more than the basic Theile-Small parameters - most just specced "nominal impedance 8 Ohms". A frequency response graph was rare and treasured; complete motor specs, distortion curves, and detailed impedance data were unheard of.
Likewise, the crossover component supply consisted largely of US Military surplus capacitors, a few values of surplus sand cast resistors, and inductors of 18 gauge or finer wire. There was no high-end internal wiring, solder or binding posts. I still feel it was amazing that hobbyists and small companies could produce decent sounding loudspeakers with so little to go on, but even then there were a few out there.
This of course changed in the 80's. The major European driver manufacturers (Dynaudio, SEAS, Phillips, KEF, AUDAX) began supplying some of their drivers with complete specs, and it was not long before one could order a Madisound or SpeakerLab catalog, Martin Colloms "High Performance Loudspeakers", and "Speaker Builder Magazine", pour over graphs and specs endlessly to make the best driver choices, and eventually decipher enough information to sketch a system and get started.
I built a lot of systems, and I also built a lot of cabinets for the same systems (sealed, vented, passive radiator, transmission lines), and because I have a scientific background I had faith that what little information available in the books of the day was correct. So I spent days and months and in the end almost three decades wondering why some speaker sounded better than others, and why a few were wonderful while others were not-so-good, when according to the math they should all be the same and should all sound equally great.
Eventually I borrowed some measurement equipment. Then came a few eye-openers…
The Theile-Small parameters quoted by most manufacturers are usually pretty far off.
Frequency response curves are taken from a perfect prototype under ideal conditions in an anechoic
The crossover equations don't work.
The key to good sound is good crossover design and good crossover parts.
This was the most important period of my hobby, because I came to understand the most significant cornerstone of good loudspeaker design:
One has to be brutally honest with one's self about the sound of one's loudspeakers.
I realized that the graphs were only sort-of correct and the specs were only kind-of close and the conditions for standard crossover equations were not quite the same as real crossovers, and that some drivers and some crossover parts sounded better than others. At that point I began to abandon the traditional avenues of engineering in favor of designing by subjective evaluation - that is, I learned to trust my ears.
It could have ended there, and loudspeaker design could have remained my hobby while I pursued a career in Solid State Physics or Genetic Engineering or some other really cool, high-paying field. This probably would have been the case were it not for the inception of the Voice Coil Newsletter, an industry-only publication that contained valuable information for sources, materials, news, and… employment want-ads. I was beginning my second year of graduate school, and until that point it had never occurred to me that one could have a career as a professional loudspeaker designer.
I was lucky. I had a great advisor (Dr. Diane Hoffman), an understanding and demanding professor (Dr. Paul Zweifel), and an unlimited and now unbridled curiosity about the process of loudspeaker design. With the hope of a future, I decided pursue an advanced degree in electroacoustics and make loudspeaker design my career.
I had the privilege of working for two very different companies; very big Acoustic Research and very small Apogee Acoustics. Both were fine places to work and I will value the experiences and friendships forever.
In the end of 1991 I started North Creek Music Systems, and the fundamental concept of the company was to supply the speaker builder hobbyist with not only the best sounding parts available, but also to supply the parts and the information the serious speaker builder really needed.
To this end, North Creek was the first loudspeaker company to offer custom wound large gauge inductors, 1% tolerance power resistors - the most important aspect of crossover pair matching, and to provide capacitors in pairs that are guaranteed matched to each other. This is much more important than the actual capacitor value, although ours rarely run more than 3% away from the base line.
North Creek was the only driver distributor to publish production driver specifications and curves, even though they are generally very different than those quoted by the manufacturer. We call them "True Specs". North Creek thoroughly tests 100% of the drivers we stock, and provide them in hand matched pairs or quads with curves. No one else does this. The only way to get a great sound stage and tight focus is to have a pair of speakers where the frequency response is matched as close as possible
Lastly, we build our crossovers with the components that we have found to sound the best, cost no object, hype free. This is important. We do not use any of the "hyped" capacitor brands because we feel our Zen and Crescendo caps sound better. Likewise with North resistors. We do not sell copper foil inductors (even though we have had the ability to manufacture them since 1995) simply because they do not sound as good as our tension-free wire-wounds.
There is a lot of hype out there. I made a business decision long ago not to distribute those crossover components that were high on hype but do not sound as good as ours, even though jumping on the band wagon would definitely increase North Creek's sales and bottom line.
All these years later, I still evaluate crossover components the same way. I burn them in, hook them up and listen very closely for a long time. And I trust my ears.
George E. Short III, President
North Creek Music Systems