Henry Kloss, at 72; pioneer in audio, video electronics
By Michael J. Bailey and Fred Kaplan, Globe Staff, 2/6/2001
Henry Kloss, one of the great tinkerers of the 20th century and a pioneer in hi-fi and home-theater electronics, died in Cambridge Thursday of a subdural hematoma. He was 72.
Mr. Kloss had a hand in inventing much of what we now take for granted in consumer hardware: bookshelf speakers, Dolby tape decks, tabletop radios, and large-screen televisions. He founded Acoustic Research, Advent, and KLH - three firms most responsible, in their days, for bringing stereo high-fidelity to the masses - and, later, Cambridge SoundWorks, which not only advanced the new technology of surround sound but emerged as one of the leading retailers of high-end stereos in New England.
''For one person to start four of the most significant high-end companies of his lifetime is just staggering,'' Robert Harley, editor-in-chief of The Absolute Sound magazine, said yesterday.
Yet it was not entrepreneurial acumen that distinguished Mr. Kloss. It was his tinkering talent.
After dropping out of Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the early 1950s, Mr. Kloss helped his mentor, Edgar Villchur, create the acoustic-suspension loudspeaker, which used air in a small sealed cabinet to help reproduce sounds more purely.
''Before that,'' explained Michael Fremer, contributing editor to Stereophile magazine, ''if you wanted to get bass out of a speaker, you needed something the size of a refrigerator.''
Mr. Kloss set up shop with Villchur in an abandoned furniture factory in East Cambridge. They called their company Acoustic Research and set out to mass-produce their new type of speaker.
The AR-1W, as it was called, was so revolutionary that they had a hard time, at first, selling it to stores. ''The dealers couldn't believe such good bass was coming out of a small box,'' Fremer said. ''They thought it was a hoax, some kind of trick.''
Mr. Kloss split off to start KLH in 1957, and his work began attracting a cult-like following among audiophiles. With the KLH Model Eleven, he created the first portable stereo - a turntable and stereo speakers built into a small suitcase. The system allowed youths, captivated by the new sound of rock 'n' roll, to get premium audio quality at a low price.
At KLH, he also designed the Model Eight, the first high-quality tabletop radio and now a collector's item, as well as the Model Seven bookshelf speaker, seen by many as the first affordable, truly high-quality stereo loudspeaker.
His successes with these products prompted many in the industry to consider Cambridge as the birthplace of high fidelity.
Mr. Kloss turned his sights to television, even though he disdained its prominence in American culture and the contents of network programming. He referred to TV as ''that demeaning little box'' in a 1981 interview with The Boston Globe.
What Mr. Kloss enjoyed were movies, and he sought to replicate the movie-house experience in the American living room. The result was Advent Corp.
The centerpiece of the firm was the Nova Beam, the first large-screen projection television. Harley said, ''He had the idea of linking high-quality audio and high-quality video, which is to say he invented home theater - about 25 years ahead of time.''
The TV did not sell well. This was well before the era of high-definition, satellite broadcasting and DVDs. The telecasts and VHS tapes of their day did not look so good when blown up to the size of Mr. Kloss' 7-foot wide screen.
While at Advent, Mr. Kloss also built the first cassette deck to incorporate the noise-reduction system developed by Ray Dolby. ''That transformed cassette tapes - which were invented to record voices - into a musical medium,'' Fremer said. ''That changed everything. It brought pretty good sound to millions of people.
''This typified Henry Kloss' aim in life - to provide high-quality sound and high-quality design at affordable prices,'' he said.
Mr. Kloss was ousted from Advent in a corporate power struggle and formed Kloss Video Corp., where he tried to advance his vision of large-screen televisions. But his work was detoured by the emergence of giant Japanese electronics firms, which made large-screen TVs in a single unit rather than as a projector-and-screen.
In the late 1980s, Mr. Kloss founded Cambridge Soundworks. The company was set up with an unusual business model: selling audio equipment by mail-order. By offering high-end speakers sound unheard and sight unseen, the firm was banking on Mr. Kloss' reputation among audiophiles.
The company thrived and was expanded into a retail enterprise. Mr. Kloss sold it in 1997.
Mr. Kloss leaves two daughters, Margot Rothmann of Avon, Conn., and Jennifer Hummel of Dedham; a son, David, of Andover; and seven grandchildren.
Funeral services are private.
This story ran on page B7 of the Boston Globe on 2/6/2001.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.