I don’t think anyone in the world could have predicted that a 1974 meeting between Paul Barton, founder of PSB speakers, and Dr. Floyd Toole, a research scientist at Canada’s National Research Council, would change the way loudspeakers, headphones, and soundbars are designed—not just in Canada but globally.

The meeting came about at the suggestion of Ian G. Masters, then editor of Audio Scene Canada, an enthusiast magazine that has long since ceased publication. Toole, keen to share highlights from his acoustics research with the wider audience outside the scientific sphere, was a regular contributor to the magazine—its star contributor, one might say. Barton, who founded PSB in 1972, was advertising in the magazine at the time. During a lunch meeting with Masters one day, Barton expounded at length on his loudspeaker design philosophy. Masters was duly impressed and suggested that he contact Toole.

Barton Masters ToolePaul Barton, Ian G. Masters, and Floyd Toole

Following Masters’s advice, Barton called Toole, and the two arranged to meet at the NRC’s main campus in Ottawa. According to Barton, he and Toole hit it off the moment they met. Both men were steeped in the pursuit of perfection in sound reproduction, and a fruitful professional collaboration soon developed between them. Before long, the two became fast friends too. And the rest, as they say, is history. A history worth celebrating, especially on this July 1, Canada Day.

I recounted some of that history in a February editorial entitled “Canada’s NRC: A Forthcoming Look at Its Role in the Advancement of Canadian Loudspeaker Design”: how I first met Paul Barton, in 1999, and how the SoundStage! Network began measuring loudspeakers at NRC. As I mention in that article, we are currently working on a documentary film (and associated YouTube videos) on the NRC story.

Getting the band back together

An important character in the NRC story is Ian Colquhoun, founder of Axiom Audio. I had interviewed Colquhoun for the NRC documentary some time before the February editorial was published. When Axiom began operations, in 1980, Colquhoun was designing his speakers mostly by ear, he told me. That radically changed when he met Toole, about a year later. After my editorial was published, Colquhoun and I began talking about how great it would be “to get the band back together,” as he put it.

That year, 1980, was a turning point for me too: that’s when I bought a pair of PSB New Avante loudspeakers, the culmination of PSB’s years of R&D at the NRC, and discovered that I am an audiophile. SoundStage! Network, not yet in the offing, would arise in due course from this nascent passion of mine and desire to share it with others.

Lake of BaysLake of Bays

Colquhoun and I hatched a plan for a get-together from June 14 to 16 at the Lumina resort, located on Lake of Bays, near the western entrance of Algonquin Park, in the heart of Ontario’s cottage country. Lumina is just down the road from Axiom’s head office and factory, where in addition to Axiom loudspeakers, products from two other Canadian brands that Colquhoun now owns are also manufactured: Bryston loudspeakers and electronics and Magnum Dynalab electronics. The Lumina resort, some four hours away from Ottawa, where Toole and I reside, and just over three hours from Toronto, where many other invitees hale from, was an ideal location.

Our guests of honor would be Toole and his wife, Anne, and we wanted to invite as many of Toole’s former colleagues and associates as we could find. But we also thought it would be a good idea to open the doors to the newer generation of loudspeaker designers, people whose work has been influenced by Toole but who never had the chance to meet him.

Barton Masters TooleFloyd reuniting with former NRC technician Rene St. Denis

When we told Toole about our plans, he was skeptical about the level of interest such a gathering could generate—Toole has not taken his celebrity too seriously and remains surprisingly modest. But Colquhoun and I were confident that the turnout would be strong. I was sure of it as soon as I started emailing people: responses arrived quickly, and all but a few who had prior commitments for that weekend wrote they’d be happy to attend, about 20 invitees in all.

Free-form agenda: from the good old days to a brave new future

In the days leading up to the event, several attendees wrote to ask about the agenda. Colquhoun and I had decided that there should be no agenda. We felt that this assembly of like-minded people, many of whom being well-acquainted with one another, some having been work or research associates, albeit decades ago, needed no formal agenda. This meeting would create its own free-form agenda. And it did. In fact, it was everything Colquhoun and I had hoped it would be. Those two days were filled with smiles and laughter, cheery chatter, and convivial conversation. People indulged in reminiscing about the good old days—Toole, Barton, and Colquhoun were recollecting events from the 1970s and ’80s as if they occurred yesterday—and engaged in discussions about projects they are currently working on.

One notable project is a fourth edition of Toole’s landmark book, Sound Reproduction: The Acoustics and Psychoacoustics of Loudspeakers and Rooms, an insightful treatise distilled from more than 50 years of research. Due for release in 2025, the new edition goes far beyond a few revisions and updates; it’s almost a complete rewrite. Floyd Toole is well into his 80s, but he is as passionate now about sharing his knowledge as he has always been.

Allan DevantierAllan Devantier being interviewed

Another endeavor that was talked about was Samsung’s soundbar development. Allan Devantier, who now heads the Samsung Audio Lab in suburban Los Angeles, worked for Camber, a now-defunct Canadian brand, before being lured to Southern California by Toole to work for Harman International. Samsung is now the market leader in soundbar sales, Devantier proudly proclaimed during a group dinner, crediting much of this success to improvements in their sonic performance. The Samsung Audio Lab has an anechoic chamber similar to the one at NRC, and Devantier’s group uses the testing methodology pioneered by Toole. I found this really interesting, because most of Toole’s research centered on hi-fi speakers and, later, multichannel setups (i.e., home theaters), including subwoofers. Soundbars are a different kettle of fish; they have become popular only in the last ten years. But Toole’s findings, Devantier said, apply equally well to soundbars. Who would’ve thought that 50 years ago?


Several young designers were flocking around Toole, avidly picking his brain, dipping into his wealth of knowledge. I’d hoped to see that. Among them were Andrew Welker, formerly head designer for Mirage (which was part of Audio Products International before that firm was sold to Klipsch), now with Colquhoun’s three brands; Oleg Bogdonov (API, Pioneer, Paradigm, Elac); Martyn Miller (API, Paradigm, GoldenEar); and John Stewart (Paradigm, Pioneer, Apple, Dolby Laboratories).

DesignersFloyd Toole, Martyn Miller, Oleg Bogdanov, John Stewart, and Andrew Welker

My 13-year-old son, Chris, was also present in this event. As it happened, he too was angling for some insights. One evening, while Barton was musing out loud about the past, present, and future of speaker design—Barton works tirelessly on speaker designs to this day—he turned to me and said obliquely, “you know, I brought more than one fishing rod . . .” I myself don’t much care for fishing, but I knew Chris would be keen to learn to fish. I asked, “Will you take and teach my son?” Barton was delighted. “Tell him to meet me on the dock tomorrow morning, I’ll be there at 8 a.m.”

Chris met Barton on the dock at eight o’clock sharp, where he received a thorough indoctrination in the art of baiting a hook and casting. Astonishingly, they caught a fish on the first cast. It was their only catch of the morning, but that did not in any way dampen their spirits.

Paul and ChrisPaul and Chris with their first and only fish

When I bought those New Avante speakers back in 1980, if someone had told me that 44 years later Paul Barton himself would be teaching my future 13-year-old son to fish, I would have laughed.

Looking ahead

Of course, I would have laughed even more if someone had told me in 1974, after that lunch meeting Paul Barton had with Ian Masters and his subsequent meeting with Floyd Toole, that half a century later I’d be hosting an event at a lakeshore resort with both Barton and Toole. But somehow that’s exactly what happened, and it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. From the positive vibes I sensed during the event and from the feedback I received from guests afterward, it was a resounding success. Floyd Toole appeared quite speechless, at times, during that weekend and was still deeply moved when he wrote to me about it later. It was everything Colquhoun and I hoped for and then some.

Anne and IanIan Colquhoun with Floyd’s wife, Anne, about to take a scenic drive

As the weekend drew to a close and people began saying their goodbyes, it didn’t feel like an ending; it felt like a beginning. It felt even more so when some guests suggested we should stage such an event annually. But my own feeling was that this celebratory event was so successful because it was so special, something that could not be replicated. Nonetheless, the positive atmosphere that permeated this event was an eye opener. It demonstrated a genuine openness among industry leaders, if not a desire, to share their insights and enthusiasm and suggested that similar events, perhaps ones that celebrate the future of the hi-fi industry as much as its past, would likely be met with equal success. Those I’ve intimated these thoughts to wholeheartedly agreed—Barton and Colquhoun certainly did, having witnessed how readily companies cooperated during the NRC heyday and how this cooperation benefited everyone.

Suffice it to say that planning has already begun for a second such event, and more may follow. From my point of view, anything conducive to the sharing of ideas among designers and engineers, that fosters a cooperative spirit in the industry, will ultimately be rewarding for everyone who loves audio.

. . . Doug Schneider