This example was purchased by the present owner from Allan Markoff, a sound engineer and designer for the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, 1969. Markoff, the owner of a local hi-fi shop in Middleton, New York, was just 24 when he was approached by Michael Lang and Stan Goldstein to help create a sound system from scratch for their outdoor festival. Lang and Goldstein pitched the idea as a concert for a crowd of 50,000-100,000, and Markoff though they were “nuts”—it is estimated that nearly 500,000 people attended Woodstock that year. Nevertheless, the young sound engineer accepted the job and selected the components for a brilliantly successful system, one that absolutely blasted sound over Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm where the festival was held. 

A Curtain of Sound

The JBL Paragon Speaker

© Harman International

Introduced in 1957, the iconic JBL D44000 Paragon speaker spans nearly nine feet and required over 100 man-hours to construct. The most expensive speaker on the market at the time of its launch (the equivalent of more than $15,000 in today’s terms), the Paragon was discontinued in 1983 giving it the longest production run of any JBL product. For the design, industrial designer Arnold Wolf elaborated on a concept outlined by music engineer and stereophonic sound pioneer, Richard Ranger. Based on the premise that sound waves could be reflected against curved surfaces to create a wide, uniform sound, Ranger conceived of a complex, multi-plane system of curved refractor panels and sloping channels housed within a wood cabinet. JBL brought in designer Arnold Wolf to improve upon the rather imposing and unattractive prototype, and after several tense months of difficult collaboration, the Paragon was born. 

The JBL Ranger Radial Refraction System

an excerpt from an essay by Richard Ranger

...only along this axis of symmetry that the two speakers have consistently equal effect. As soon as the listener moves off axis, the speaker toward which he moves takes predominance. Sound intensity decreases rapidly with distance and the more distant speaker quickly loses out to the nearer.

This can be avoided by projecting the sound from each speaker against a curved surface which acts as a convex lens for the sound and directs it more strongly to the side opposite the speaker than it does to its own side. The convex refractor thus eliminates the sharp axis of symmetry where the slightest movement of the listener is so disturbing.

In the listening area in front of the integrated speaker system, the energy from the two stereo channels builds up a full front of sound which can readily be appreciated by more than one person. So the axis of symmetry no longer exerts its unstable equilibrium on the critical listener.

The term "unstable equilibrium" is not mere whimsy. In stereo reproduction, it is customary for the soloist to appear in the center. Then, certain sections of the accompanying music are positioned right or left; but it is most important that wherever they are, they STAY THERE. Uncertain movement of the apparent sound source gives a very queasy feeling.

Once it became possible to hold monaural sound to the center, it was found that with regular stereo everything fell into its proper place...A whole curtain of sound was opened up.