Max Townshend died on the last day of 2021 and will be missed by an awful lot of people. He had been in the hi-fi business since 1975, setting up Townshend Audio in Australia before moving it to the UK three years later. Initially Max marketed Elite cartridges, the first to feature a parabolic stylus and one of the first to make MCs that had a line contact stylus. It was his next move that put the Townshend name on the map, Max got involved with Jack Dinsdale at the Cranfield Institute of Technology who had developed a turntable with a damping trough next to the headshell of a tonearm in order to eliminate vibration in the cartridge. This lead to the Townshend Rock, arguably the most radical turntable of the eighties and one that remained in production for over three decades. It went through numerous iterations but retained the idea that damping was the way to eliminate distortion in vinyl replay. It remains the best system I have heard for extracting bass from a viny record. The picture at top shows all the versions of the Rock with Max and Jack Dinsdale on the right.
Max went on to develop low impedance Isolda speaker cables (named because: ‘I solder’) that started out as multiple coaxial strands but evolved into ribbon form and defies conventional thinking by having unusually high capacitance, yet performs better than the vast majority of stranded cables. These were significantly enhanced when Townshend discovered the benefits of cryogenic treatment on copper, a technique that has proved extremely popular in the cable making world and beyond, and one he regretted not keeping to himself.
Max also did a lot of work with loudspeakers, using the same steel casework with gypsum construction found in the Rock to make high mass speakers that culminated in the mighty Sir Galahad line array. This featured numerous metal Jordan drivers alongside ribbon tweeters and like the Rock produced some of the finest bass on the planet. I was fortunate enough to enjoy the Sir Galahads on many happy occasion’s in John Bamford’s fabulous listening room, it was always a thrilling experience.
By now it may be apparent that Townshend was not the sort of person to develop a product, put it into production and concentrate on selling it. In truth the last part of this arrangement was never his strongpoint, what he did however was to be constantly working on ways to make better audio equipment, he had an incredibly enquiring mind and a ability to explain complicated ideas to mere mortals like myself that was inspiring. It was this constant investigation that lead to the Allegri passive preamplifier, the first to employ auto transformers to match impedances between source and amplifier and the most transparent example of its kind in my experience, especially when refined to Allegri Reference status a few years later. Then there’s super tweeters and seismic isolation, the list goes on and proves that Townshend was the greatest innovator of his generation.
I spent many happy hours with Max, listening to his system and his ideas about many things including how to turn a Pioneer DVD player into a killer CD spinner, which if his own version was anything to go by was far from an idle boast. But it’s his deep knowledge of our subject and kindness that I will miss the most, Max was like the Dalai Llama of hi-fi, always seeking the truth with a twinkle in his eye. My thoughts are with his family and friends.