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    Administrator Keith_W's Avatar
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    Jun 2006
    Mont Albert, Victoria

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    I had the idea of interviewing several Australian hi-fi industry figures to post on Planet Audio. I am sure I am not the only one who is curious about what drives these guys and what they think about the state of Australian hi-fi. I selected my questions to get an idea of who Greg Osborn is, and what he thinks about various aspects of hi-fi.

    Greg Osborn is the founder and manufacturer of Osborn Loudspeakers, which have gained a bit of a following on this forum. This made me think that he would be a good candidate to be interviewed first. Yes, it was MY idea, not Drizt's!

    As you can see, Greg (like most others in the industry) is opinionated and at times controversial. You may agree or disagree with him, but there is no doubt that his approach has met with some success. Anyway, on with the interview.

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    Greg Osborn</div>

    Q: Hello Greg, and thank you for participating in this interview. Could you tell me more about yourself, and how you came to found Osborn Loudspeakers?
    A: Around 22 years ago I was a keen audiophile, slowly building up my system. A friend started importing Focal drivers for hobbyists and plans for kit speakers. He also sold Goldmund Dialogue speakers at $12,000 a pair, and that was when that was a lot of money. They used Focal drivers. I made a kit speaker following their directions. It was a 2 way book shelf, and it was quite good. I started to experiment with it and made it a lot better. This kept improving and became the Titan. So, enthused by my success I made a similar speaker to the Goldmunds, using identical drivers. They had sealed their crossovers so I had to start from scratch. For ages, they were pretty ordinary, but slowly they evolved to be a lot better than the Goldmunds.

    I then decided to make my own design and bought the best tweeter, mid and bass driver they offered and after a year of experimenting mine were pretty amazing and better than the Goldmunds and better than my Klipsch Klipschorns which were worth over 10 grand back then. These were the Mark 1 Epitome. People came here and were blown away and asked me to make them a pair. I made 150 pairs in my carport, cutting them out on my Triton Saw bench and hand veneering them. Then I wanted to go to the CES in Vegas, so I got my present cabinet maker to make some boxes and he has made over 2500 pairs since. I have never advertised, but word of mouth has speakers in 18 countries now and several multi millionaire customers and 2 billionaires.

    <div align="center">[attachmentid=1640]
    Osborn Titan</div>

    Q: What type of music do you listen to?
    A: I listen mainly to orchestral, instrumental and vocal music. I seek the least possible processing and natural instruments over electronic. We have seasons tickets to the MSO. I avoid concerts at stadiums and places with large PA systems, but if someone is at the concert hall and not over amplified, we are off. Many people (most) do not base their idea of good sound on real music. They base it on a Hi Fi sound that they like. When they hear real music, they are disappointed as it is not as "realistic" as their Hi Fi (word used loosely). Real music is alive, it is exciting, it has amazing timbre and depth. Most stereo systems do not capture this, They are cold and clinical with unnatural dynamics. Interesting, but not real.

    Q: That is a nice vintage Rolls-Royce that you have. What are your other passions?
    A: It is a 1984 Bentley Mulsanne Turbo. That was a bit of an impulse buy after walking along the Shannon's Auction cars 2 years ago at the Motor Show. It is a Long Wheel Base and they only ever made 18 cars in LWB Turbo. In 1984 it cost the same as 24 Commodores, thankfully now they are a lot less, but a new model of mine is 690 grand. Apart from the car, I also collect brass bells and antique silver.

    Q: What do you think should be the most important characteristic of a loudspeaker?
    A speaker is no diferent to any other component. It should give a sound as close as it possible to the original performance, performed in the original space. If it doesn't, then it isn't Hi Fi, its stereo. A speaker should have a big sound with wide soundstage and sounds pinpointed within that 3D soundstage. It should have explosive dynamics, if required as the original performance sounded. If there is a 6dB difference between the triangle and the cannon in the 1812 Overture, then it isn't real.

    Q: What other speakers have impressed you the most, and why?
    A: That is difficult as I have heard surprisingly few. Most speakers have a small and constricted soundstage, which does not impress me. I have done 14 overseas shows and have heard a lot of the world's "top" speakers and have been surprisingly unimpressed. The Wilson Grand Slams were OK, but for a quarter of a million dollars, they should be, but I have had several people buy Monuments after listening to them, as they are surprisingly better. That is the unanimous opinion so far, including Peter Moncreiff from IAR in LA, possibly the most respected reviewer in the US who rated the Grand Monument as unsurpassed by any speaker, and the Epitomes as "virtually the mythically perfect speaker." He told me they were the only speakers he had ever heard that when he went to a concert, he thought "this is what I hear at home". This was reinforced by Martin De Wulf from Bound for Sound. I have heard the better Ambience models, when properly driven, sound quite remarkable at low level. I heard some big German Physics that were good, but way too expensive and some horribly expensive NHT that sounded surprisingly similar to the Epitome, but not as dynamic.

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    The Osborn Interludes are a popular speaker on Planet Audio</div>

    Q: You have chosen to operate out of home. Have you considered a retail presence in other parts of Australia?
    A: I did have some, but the problem is that everything becomes so expensive. I only gave retailers a 40% mark up, where others give 80 to 120%, therefore they were not pushed anywhere near as hard. I used to do most of the deliveries, so I spoke to the customers, and all told me that my speakers were only played when they had rejected everything else and were about to leave. Some started to make their own speakers, or import them, so mine were not played in the same system, or if they were, things were disconnected or out of phase, so I took them back. I sell a lot interstate as I give an unconditional 30 day return and I will pay the freight back. I do this all over the world and I have never had anything back.

    I chose to work from home as that makes it an interest and not a job. I spent 30 years going to work and don't want to do it again. Work gets in the way of life, and life is too short. Here, I can stop and start as I feel like it and as soon as people go, I'm knocked off. If you have a sign on the door saying 9 - 5, then that is what you have to do. I come and go as I please. Life is good. Also overheads are nearly 0, so I can be so cheap. If my speakers were made by B&W or others, and retailed. they would be 5 times the price

    Q: Do you have a preference for amplification, and why? How are your speakers designed to take advantage of this amplification?
    A: No. Pretty well all my design work was done on quality solid state gear. I borrowed and tried many amps, solid state and tube. I never really liked any of them much across the range. I was a solid state person for a long time. I brought home: Audio Research, Sonic Frontiers, Cary, Macintosh, several Chinese, Classe, Krell, Mark Levinson, all the Australian amps, nothing did much for me.

    I did do several overseas shows with Ian Robinson from Redgum. As stuff go, his is pretty good, but when I heard the Consonance and Audio Aero in the US, I was blown away and bought some for myself. Then my customers were blown away and wanted me to get them some. After several times doing that, I thought, why not apply for the agency. I have my 39th order arriving from Consonance this week and there is usually 10 to 40 items in each shipment. Because of the way I sell, I sell at usually between 1/3 and 1/2 what it costs anywhere else in the world which makes it a screaming bargain, as they are still a bargain at that.

    The speakers are very revealing and will sound like what you drive them with. A big solid state amp will give explosive dynamics and awesome attack, not realistic as music doesn't sound that way, but if you want impressive, then that is what you get. Most valve amps have limited dynamics, a thick wooly poorly controlled bass and a rolled off top, but a nice smooth mid. The Consonance and Audio Aero are not like this and are great right across the range. The solid state amps I have are great against the opposition, but when people hear them against the tubes, I can't sell solid state.

    Q: Your comment on your valve amplifiers is very interesting. It does appear that your speakers would be very valve friendly, with nominal impedances of around 5-6 Ohm for all of them and sensitivities of at least 90dB/W/m. How would you respond to critics who charge that valve amplifiers have unacceptably high measured distortion?
    As a rule of thumb, the better an amplifier measures, the worse it sounds. There are many ways to get an amplifier to measure well, you can go all out, like Halcro, or you can put in feedback and other strangling things to make it measure well, but sound horrible. Some years ago Absolute sound compared a $30,000 Jardis 200 with a $99 Akai. The specifications of the Akai were hundreds of times better than the Jardis, but the Jardis sounded fantastic and the Akai was crap. Whenter the THD is .00000000001% or 1% is pretty irrelevant as these levels are pretty well inaudible. Removing a problem is only satisfactory as long as it does not cause other much bigger ones. A speaker has a distortion level between 3 and 5% or more. The amplifier distortion is negligible. I don't care how an amplifier works, as long as it sounds good. Some people like attack and dynamics and any amount of other things over outright musicality. Thats fine. There are numerous amps to cater for everyone. My speakers sound the way the amp does, so they appeal to both camps. If people don't like my prefered sound, I am not offended. Same with cars, boats, religion, etcetera. I used to love small, rough, zippy cars, Now I like big, comfortable powerful ones. I used to like stereo that knocked the house down. Now I prefer musicality. To each their own. We all go through many phases as we grow older.

    Q: What components do you use on your speaker, crossover network, and internal cabling? Can you tell me more about your cabinet construction?
    A: When I made my first cabinets, they were the usual 19mm MDF. When I perfected the design, I stripped them and lined them with my lead/felt sandwich and was stunned at the sound difference. I made several like that, but it was difficult, hazardous, unpleasant, hard and expensive, so I tried 32mm cabinets and very extensive and heavy bracing. The sound was the same as the lined ones, so that is what I still do. The Reference models are lead lined as well. The difference is no where near as dramatic as it was, but there is still a worthwhile improvement in focus, solidarity and imaging. I use Hovland Musicaps, they are expensive, but the best. I hand wind all my inductors. The crossover in the Epitome weighs 9Kg and in the Monument 20 Kg. Most other speakers would be under 1 Kg. This is one of the reason for the big sound and explosive dynamics.

    Q: Why did you choose Focal drivers? What advantages do they offer?
    A: I think they are astonishing. They are very difficult to get to sound right and many people discount them for this reason. I have tried many other drivers and have about 6 grand worth of other drivers here. I have managed to get them to sound good, but not as good. Maybe it is the drivers, or maybe I just fell on the right setup for the Focal and can't find it for the others. But then I have not heard other people prefer too many other speakers. My success rate of people coming here who are going to buy speakers is way over 90% and closer to 100%. Most of these have looked at everything else. I have had a lot of people upgrade from $50,000 to $150,000 speakers to a pair of mine from $3500 to $6500.

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    Osborn Monuments - note the wide baffle</div>

    Q: Your speakers have a very wide baffle. What do you think of the debate between narrow baffle and wide baffle speakers?
    A: Many people taper the baffle to make it as narrow as possible as the size of the drivers decrease, this gives a fragmented and disjointed soundstage. A narrow baffle is better, but you can't be narrow unless the drivers are small, so you get a small, thin, but nice soundstage. The design of my cabinets and grills means that edge diffractions and reflections are not a problem, so my soundstages are huge and precise. Putting sound absorbing foam and such things gives a narrow sweet spot and a dulled sound. My Mk 1 Epitome had it, but I put out an upgrade kit to take it off, which a huge improvement.

    Many manufactures put thing on or in their product that the market thinks highly of, for one reason or another, regardless of how they effect the performance as it makes them easier to sell. I have seen many people say, I listened to "so and so speaker" it sounded terrible, but everyone says its great, so I bought it. Silly people. I have even had people sell my speakers and buy much more expensive, but much lesser sounding speakers because their friends had not heard of them, and they were not impressed when they heard how little they had paid for them. The admit they sound crap, but their friends are now impressed. Silly people.

    <div align="center">[attachmentid=1642]
    A pair of politically incorrect Osborn Epitomes</div>

    Q: What do you think is unique about Osborn loudspeakers?
    A: They go against the trend of politically correct and wife friendly speakers, where you get neatness and hide away factor and sound "nice" in elevator music standards. They are big, heavy and intrusive. They give a huge and 3D sound. They bring the missing excitement back to the music. Go and listen to a big Jazz band, unamplified and listen close up. You will quickly realize what a sorry imitation most stereo systems are. Also astonishing value for money. Most people could not buy the components and make a pair for what I charge. Other speakers cost between 4 and 5 times their build cost because of all the costs and profits along the way from factory to you.

    Q: What would you regard as your greatest accomplishment to date?
    A: I would say having the Sultan of Brunei's audio adviser chose them over everything else in the world, and rating them as well above all other speakers he had heard, when he listened to what was available up to a half million US dollars. Replacing a pair costing US$100,000 with a pair of mine costing Aus$6000, and hearing the Sultan was delighted with the improvement.

    Having Peter Moncreiff rate the Grand Monument above all other speakers was also nice.

    Having Secrets of Home Theatre and High Fidelity, the world's larges Internet Hi Fi Mag, go around the 1500 display rooms at the CES looking for an outstanding Reference speaker for the Mag, and choosing the Eclipse from the whole lot, then rating it the best tower speaker they had ever heard.

    Having Bound for Sound Magazine chose the Epitomes as the run away winner of their 2 year, world wide, search for the best possible speaker.

    Q: Tell me more about the recognition that your speakers have received.
    A: I have never bothered getting a review in an Australian Magazine. None do reviews. All give good comments after you pay them, That is why nothing is ever criticized. If they have no credibility, then I am not interested. Most people don't realise, but the switched on ones do. All my reviews have been by US and Canadian Mags who do not take or do not demand advertising. I tell them straight up that I don't advertise and won't in the future. That way they say what they think, and if they don't like something, they say so. Then it has credibility..

    Thank you Greg, for your time. I wish you future success in your business.
    Attached Images
    Front end: Playback Designs MPS-5, Micro-Seiki BL99V, MA505 Mk2, Lyra Dorian, Denon 103D, RCM Sensor Phono Stage. Amplification: Cary SLP-05 pre, Cary CAD-211AE, SGR EL30S power. Speakers: Acapella High Violon, JL Audio F110 subwoofer pair. Pictures here
    FOR SALE: Micro-Seiki turntable and tonearm, DEQX HDP-3

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