Harman International, Courtesy Arnold Wolf


The list of products in "A Remarkable Legacy" cannot be considered complete without proper acknowledgment of the individuals who contributed in whole or in significant part to the creation of each of the named products. Some of the design considerations behind these product developments may be of interest as well.

(visually identical to SE408S)
Harman International, Courtesy Arnold Wolf

The emergence of JBL's consumer electronics in the mid 1960s was a remarkable effort spearheaded by Bart Locanthi. His theoretical work using analog computer modeling led to state-of-the-art circuitry designs, including the highly innovative "T-Circuit" configuration. The chief project engineer was Lamont Seitz, ably assisted by George Noritake. It was Noritake who did much of the mechanical design work as well as both the electronic and mechanical drafting for the products, while concurrently completing his studies in electrical engineering. After Seitz and Locanthi left the company, Noritake was placed in charge of electronic design and development. Typical of Seitz's and Noritake's contributions was the die cast aluminum faceplate/chassis for the SE408S Transducer Energizer. Originally designed to be mounted in a cutout on the back of the loudspeaker enclosure, the casting served as a heat sink as well as the structural support for the electronic components mounted to the inside of the casting. In the later free-standing version (the SE400S), the casting served the same purpose while also forming the rear panel. The visual concept was the work of Arnold Wolf and the realization of the complex mechanical and thermal details of the casting was accomplished by the JBL team under Locanthi's guidance.

Harman International, Courtesy Arnold Wolf

One of the unique features of the Transducer Energizer concept was the use of a plug-in circuit board to tailor the amplifier's output characteristics to the requirements of a particular transducer system operating in a specific acoustical enclosure. When installed in the SE408S application, the unit was integrally mounted to the enclosure with the special circuit board concealed from view. In the SE400S configuration it was considered desirable -- especially in the sales environment -- to make the designation of the installed circuit board clearly visible. This requirement resulted in the smoked window on the front of the unit. The aperture appears nearly black until power is applied and the label on the circuit board is illuminated.

The same group was responsible for the SG520. In addition to its outstanding performance specifications, the Graphic Controller was considered noteworthy for its ergonomic (human factors) design, which was devised by Arnold Wolf as part of his industrial design responsibility. The use of slide potentiometers for continuous controls suggested intuitive operation: the vertical tone controls would either boost or cut the response from a neutral center position; the volume would be raised with upward movement; and the horizontal balance control would favor either the right or left channel by adjustment toward the desired side. Signal source and mode selection was accomplished with illuminated pushbuttons. Unlike rotary switches, the pushbutton bank allowed the user to select the desired operation without having to pass through intermediary positions. The hinged door at the bottom of the facepanel served to conceal a variety of less-frequently-used controls and features. To remove the usual tangle of connecting cables from view at the back of the unit the rear panel was recessed and a secondary sliding panel introduced to hide the visual confusion.

JBL L88 Nova
Harman International, Courtesy Arnold Wolf

The origin of the L88 Nova requires some historical background. When the project assignment was given to the Wolf office, the simple two-way system immediately suggested that the external design might be made to more clearly express the internal functional elements. The idea of a round grille echoing the form of the low-frequency transducer had seldom been tried before, and when it was, public acceptance did not follow. Two notable examples of this Bauhaus-based approach were an equipment cabinet for Herman Miller (manufactured from 1949 to 1954) by George Nelson and, in 1956, a stunning bass-reflex enclosure for Stephens Tru-Sonic designed by Charles Eames. Neither one was very successful.

Given this history, it took a good deal of persuasion to convince JBL management that the time might finally have arrived for another highly contemporary effort. While acceding, the company hedged its bet by simultaneously offering the L88-1 Cortina, which was the same system with an all-cloth grille. The systems proved quite popular, with the Nova doing at least as well as its plain Jane cousin, until they were eclipsed by the introduction of the L100 Century.

The highly unusual treatment of the L88 was the work of Robert Onodera of the Wolf office. The grille's space division between a natural walnut square enclosing a roundel of fabric and an adjacent rectangular grille area in front of the high frequency driver was conceived to be a two-dimensional graphic statement. To achieve this feeling, it was necessary to extend the sides of the grille out to each of the edges of the enclosure, with as little separation between the grille face and the sides of the box as possible. This proved to be quite tricky. The solution was to bevel the edges of the structural grille inward at 45 degrees so that it would nest into a reciprocal 45 degree angle machined into the surrounding edges of the enclosure. The round grille cloth insert was kept in the same plane as the walnut face by using a circular sub-frame derived from the 17th century technology of an embroidery hoop.

The Lancer 55, with its stretched-fabric sculptural grille and gray glass top, was entirely the work of Douglas Warner (while he was still Wolf's associate). Later, operating from his own office, Warner designed the L45 Flair, the L200 Studio Master, the Decade series (L16, L26, and L36), the molded plastic Prima series and many other products created in the 1970s.

2000 Arnold Wolf