It’s never easy writing obituaries about people in your own industry. It gets harder when you knew them, and harder still when it’s someone like Max Townshend, who died on December 31st, 2021 aged 78. It’s not just that Max was a friend, but he had the ability to be a friend to almost everyone he met. A natural and colourful raconteur, there was no ‘popping round to see Max’; a visit to Max Townshend’s place was ten straight hours of talking, laughing, and watching the ever-enquiring mind of an engineer at work.
Max Townshend began his professional career in Australia, working on a diverse range of engineering projects that might notionally seem unconnected with audio, such as anti-submarine reconnaissance instrumentation for the Royal Australian Air Force and developing filter systems for oil drilling. The basis of such projects would continue to shape projects in high-performance audio in his later career (the design of high-sensitivity electronics blends well with the design of preamplifiers and the need for vibration isolation in these projects equates well to the Seismic Sink and subsequent audio designs).
His passion for audio led Max to establish Townshend Audio in 1975, initially to market parabolic diamond styli under the Elite brand. However, his engineering savvy quickly drove Max to look to the front-end damping tonearm trough concepts first suggested by Professor Jack Dinsdale (Cranfield University, Dundee University), which helped in designing the original Rock turntable and arm. Max moved Townshend Audio to the UK in 1978 and continued to innovate and pioneer new designs in all aspects of audio.
Max’s innovations included the plaster-lined Glastonbury loudspeakers, which are commonly considered to be one of the few loudspeakers that truly ‘nailed’ the ported loudspeaker. He also pioneered the use of cryogenic treatment in cable design and his next-generation Fractal treatment took that concept to its ultimate degree. His Allegri+ and Allegri Reference passive autotransformer preamps are considered some of the best preamplifiers currently available, his ribbon supertweeters remain an extremely popular upgrade to many existing speaker designs, and his Seismic line of platforms, podiums and pods have proved extremely popular since their initial launch in 1989. Max was designing new products to the very last, including a revised version of the Glastonbury; the eighteen-driver, time-aligned Glastonbury TOR loudspeaker.
It’s easy to think of Max Townshend in terms of a series of ‘firsts’ in the audio industry, but to those in the industry and those interested in audio, Max’s passion for all things shone through. He was famously loquacious, but never a bore. He was a polymath, capable of both holding strong opinions and always willing to listen to counterarguments. Max also wasn’t the sort of person who ‘holds court’ or tries to dominate a conversation, but if you asked him a question, you could easily lose an hour or more while he spoke at length on the subject. And most of the time, what he would discuss would be predicated on more than mere opinion. Perhaps his Australian background never quite left him, as he was a fine exponent of ‘Mateship’.
There is a generation of post-war engineers and designers who are the technology equivalent of ‘stick and rudder’ men. They learned their craft through drawing boards, slide rules and hard prototyping. This gave them a unique ability to go beyond narrow preset notions of product design to come up with concepts that challenge the norms. And Max was one of those guys. Engineer, raconteur, bon viveur, and all-round ‘sound’ guy, those of us who spent time with Max Townshend will find his absence to be a profound hole in our lives. He will be sorely missed and our thoughts go out to his family and friends.
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