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2018 CT Hall of Fame: Edgar Villchur

The Consumer Technology Hall of Fame honors visionaries who have made a significant impact on the consumer technology industry. These leaders and entrepreneurs have laid the foundation for the technologies, products, services and apps that are improving lives around the world.

Edgar Villchur will be inducted along with 13 other industry leaders at an awards dinner on Wednesday evening, November 7, at Capitale in New York City. i3 magazine highlights this prestigious class. Please join us for the awards dinner as we celebrate this extraordinary group of honorees. Register now!

Edgar Villchur, Inventor, Acoustic Suspension Speaker

There is arguably not a more important innovator in the development of modern consumer sound reproduction than Edgar Villchur. He invented and patented the acoustic suspension speaker, which became the basis for nearly all loudspeakers that followed, and founded Acoustic Research to sell them. Villchur also invented the direct-radiator tweeter, one of the first dome tweeters, the independent suspension turntable, and technology used in nearly every hearing aid sold.

Edgar Marion Villchur was born in Manhattan on May 28, 1917, the only child of Russian emigres Mark, an editor of a Russian-language newspaper, and Mariam, a biologist. He earned both his undergraduate and his master's degree in art history from the City College of New York in 1939. The following year, Villchur was drafted into the Army Air Corps, where he trained as an electronics technician and was made responsible for his squadron's radio operations in the Pacific, rising to captain.

After the war, Villchur opened a radio shop in Greenwich Village, repairing and building custom hi-fi sets, taught the first college course in sound reproduction at New York University, and married Rosemary Shafer, with whom he had two children. He also worked for the American Foundation for the Blind, inventing a turntable that automatically dropped the tone arm slowly onto a record, a technology he later added to AR turntables.

The Villchurs then moved to Woodstock, NY, in 1952. At the time, "hi-fi" speakers were huge boxes in order to effectively reproduce bass, with open backs because speaker designers discounted the effect of the cabinet. Villchur began tinkering with smaller, closed-back designs in his basement workshop, replacing the nonlinear mechanical spring with a linear air cushion to reduce distortion. He built a prototype from a plywood box, and his wife, a draftswoman during the war, sewed the pattern for the flexible surround out of mattress ticking.

Speaking to his acoustics class at NYU in spring 1954, he hinted at his ideas being more effective for producing bass. One student, Henry Kloss, stayed after class, eager to learn more. Student and teacher perfected the design, which received a patent in 1956. Villchur tried unsuccessfully to license the technology, but speaker makers thought the design impossible. So Villchur founded Acoustic Research in Kloss' Cambridge, MA, loft, and the pair produced the AR-1, introduced at the New York Audio Show in 1954, along with its successor, the lower-priced AR-2, in 1956.

The AR-3 combined both acoustic suspension and his new direct-radiator tweeter, patented in 1959, would later be displayed at the Smithsonian Institution's Information Age exhibit. In 1961, he invented the independent suspension turntable that reduced skipping, motor noise and vibration. The smaller AR-4 in 1964 was a hit with college students.

Villchur promoted his new speakers by sponsoring "live versus recorded" concerts around the country. A string quartet would alternately play a piece of music, or mime it to their own recording played through the AR speakers, with listeners rarely able to detect a difference.

Sales soared; by the mid-1960s, AR had captured nearly a third of the home speaker market. Competing speaker brands finally begun licensing Villchur's design – including Kloss, who left AR in 1957 to found KLH – then copying them, and a new market for smaller home speakers was born.

Villchur was president of AR, known for its progressive employment and liberal repair policies along with star-studded ads, until 1967 when he sold the company. He then founded the Foundation for Hearing Aid Research, and developed a prototype of the multichannel compression hearing aid. But he purposely didn't patent the design, altruistically allowing hearing aid makers to widely deploy the design that has become the industry standard.

CTA Staff