The Art & Science of Audio & Video

Eugene Patronis

Eugene Patronis; Not only one of the most influential but intriguing men in audio.

Sound Master

Eugene Patronis’ life-long passion for audio and acoustics was born in the projectionist booth at a movie theater.
Publication date: January 1, 2008
By Mark Mayfield

DR. EUGENE PATRONIS IS A PROFESSOR Emeritus in the School of Physics at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. He continues to enjoy a long a distinguished career as an educator, author, and inventor in the fields of audio and acoustics. In 2000, he was honored with the TEF Heyser Award, which recognizes individuals who have made a significant contribution to the field of acoustical design and/or measurement by utilizing Richard Heyser’s patents in Time Delay Spectrometry (TDS). He is also co-author with Don Davis of “Sound System Engineering, Third Edition.”

PRO AV: What do you consider the greatest invention in the history of audio?

EP: It is something that we all have — the ear. But aside from that, thinking of man-made inventions, the thing that’s most fundamental in terms of sound reproduction is the loudspeaker. And, the thing that has stood the test of time more than any other component that’s employed in audio has been the fundamental loudspeaker design by [Chester] Rice and [Edward] Kellogg, but that, of course, is directed purely toward reproduction. There are many components in audio that are absolutely essential toward completing the entire picture.

PRO AV: What are some of the highlights of your career, and who influenced you along the way?

EP: My career started in high school, during World War II. I became a motion picture projectionist in a local theater when I was 12 years old, so I came in contact with some of the theater service engineers, mostly Altec people. I spent my spare time between reel changes in the booth studying everything I could get my hands on with the regard to the technology I was surrounded by. I learned what I could from the service engineers, but I was mostly self-taught.

After going to Georgia Tech, I was fortunate to encounter some very dedicated teachers including J. Elmer Rhodes and Lemuel Wily. These gentlemen were reinforcing all of the physics I had been exposed to in the motion picture projection booth.

Even though my specialty was originally nuclear physics, I was doing experimental physics because I had a good solid background in electronics. But acoustics has always been a favorite of mine because of my early exposure working in the theater. When some of the research activity in nuclear physics started losing funding, I decided to start my own acoustics program at Georgia Tech in the School of Physics.

PRO AV: Do you agree that there have been few, if any, real innovations in the area of loudspeaker design since the days of Rice and Kellogg in the mid 1920s?

EP: Yes, I agree with that. Modern day loudspeakers make use of more exotic materials than Rice and Kellogg’s original work. The big improvements, in terms of loudspeaker manufacturing, have been improvements in adhesives. We now have adhesives that not only have a lot more “adhesion” and longevity, but they can also maintain that over a much wider range of temperature.

PRO AV: What kinds of incremental improvements have you seen in loudspeaker types?

EP: The basic transduction process is the same, whether you’re talking about compression drivers, woofers, midrange drivers. Of course, electrostatic loudspeakers were a departure. Amazingly enough, Rice and Kellogg investigated electrostatic loudspeakers themselves. What they were comparing were armature-driver type loudspeakers — which were some of the earliest types, pre-dating what Rice and Kellogg did — and voice-coil driven loudspeakers, the design that Rice and Kellogg ultimately settled on. But all the advances have been incremental ones.

Now there have been some novel designs that have been introduced that had some success. For example, Tom Danley and his servo-drive woofer was a completely novel arrangement as far as the drive mechanism was concerned. He was using a motor that has a rotary drive, but translated that into a linear drive. But he was still using basic cones to move air.

PRO AV: Don Davis’s book is called, “If Bad Sound Were Fatal, Audio Would Be the Leading Cause of Death.” With all the knowledge there is about audio, why do you think there are still so many bad sounding systems out there today?

EP: Part of it is that lots of people are attracted to sound as a career. Many people think they’re acoustical experts simply because they have ears. For example, with smaller churches, there’s always the “brother-in-law” effect [where members claim to know a “sound expert” who will work for free].

[Also] people lack a basic audio education sometimes. Whereas, on the other hand, some people are educated beyond their intelligence level. Both aspects can be a source of difficulty. Actually, professional audio is not that old as a field — we’re still a relatively young industry. Don Davis [who founded Syn-Aud-Con in 1972] really pioneered the idea of trying to educate people on a broad scale with regards to the fundamentals of sound reinforcement.

PRO AV: What is the biggest audio- or acoustics-related misconception or myth you often encounter?

EP: One of the current problems that I see is that people overlook some of the sound system design fundamentals, and say, “We’ve got all these digital signal processing, we can always cure the problems by just throwing enough electronics at it.”

My philosophy is that putting the final touches on the system in terms of equalization and so forth is possible only if you’ve got a good, sound, fundamental system to begin with. Processing can make a good system into an excellent one, but it will never make a poor system into one that is even moderately acceptable.


March 2, 2008 - Posted by | Pioneers in Audio | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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