Max Townshend passed away on the last day of 2021, aged 78. I’d like to add my voice to the many tributes that are currently being paid to Max, who was a friend, a client, a hi-fi icon and a genuine inspiration to so many of us in the audio world.
Originally from Australia, Max set up Townshend Audio in Sydney in 1975, moving it to the UK in 1978. Whenever I worked with Max over the years, I always found it a bit tricky to succinctly answer the question ‘What exactly does Townshend do?’.
Perhaps a decent answer might have been that he invents stuff that no-one else has thought of, that some folks might initially dismiss, but that those who know their hi-fi are pretty soon blown away by. Or, as Jason Kennedy writes in The Ear, “Townshend was the greatest innovator of his generation” and “like the Dalai Llama of hi-fi, always seeking the truth with a twinkle in his eye.”
“It’s easy to think of Max Townshend in terms of a series of ‘firsts’ in the audio industry,” Alan Sircom writes in A Personal Tribute in Hi-Fi Plus. He goes on to prove his point with a run-through of some of Max’s most prized innovations…
“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.”
Before any of those, of course, was the iconic Rock turntable featuring a pioneering tonearm and cartridge damping system which David Price rightly describes as “a true advance in high-end turntable art.” (In Memoriam, Max Townshend, Stereonet.com).
Max’s personality was at least as prominent a feature in the audio world as were his expertise and his capacity for innovation. In fact, if not for that personality, many of Townshend’s innovations may not have become the worldwide successes they did, since Max would invariably have to push through some initial resistance to get them to market, as is often the way when you create something that rather breaks the mould. I mean, imagine launching the Seismic line in 1989. 1989! It’s taken many in the audio industry until quite recently to really get that isolation is a major deal in sound quality and to be willing to invest in doing something about it. Thankfully, Max was more a brilliant conversationalist than a salesman, the difference being that yes, he could talk (boy, could he talk!), yes, he was persuasive (boy, was he ever!) but he could just as easily listen and be open to a wide variety of divergent points of view. So to argue with Max was actually kind of a pleasure since you’d go away feeling heard and respected, as well as having learned a heck of a lot (he also had the knack of explaining extremely complex concepts in relatively simple terms without ever making you feel talked down to).
To quote David Price again, Max was “an inveterate fiddler, experimenter, developer and thinker.” He was always interesting and interested, which meant that no two conversations with him were ever the same. He was also an unashamed bon viveur, therefore many of those conversations took place late into the night over a good meal and fair few glasses of excellent wine – which always helps!
Max was a real grafter, too – that kind of never-ending grafting that people who are truly passionate and curious about something just can’t help but keep at, and so he was working on a number of design projects right up to his death. It is heartening, then, to read on Townshend Audio’s Facebook page that, “We [Max’s family] will work tirelessly on the fulfilment of these and present them to the audio community. Our aim is to ensure that his legacy continues and most importantly we will pursue his passion – constantly striving for the best possible music experience.”
I offer my heartfelt sympathy to Max’s family, and my appreciation to the team at Townshend Audio for their dedication to carrying forward Max’s legacy.
I couldn’t help smiling when I read Alan Sircom’s words in his Personal Tribute in Hi-Fi Plus: “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.” I can testify to that. I tried ‘popping round’ to Max’s place many times and, more often that not, it was the following day by the time I left. Those were precious times and I shall carry them with me. Rest in peace, Max.