If a Mount Rushmore-type monument is ever created for the audio industry, Cary Christie’s likeness will likely be sculpted into Hi-Fi Mountain. Indeed, the industry owes him a lot. His list of industry firsts includes: electrostatic speaker, an adjustable-length soundbar, servo-controlled subwoofer, affordable high-performance planar speaker, electromagnetic induction tweeter, speaker using neodymium magnet, Class D amplifier, and high-compliance tone arm for turntables. Yes — Christie had a hand in creating all those pieces of equipment that many integrators probably take for granted today.
A Navy brat growing up, Christie spent his high school years in Hawaii, mostly surfing and playing guitar occasionally. In the late 1960s, he moved to Southern California to attend UCLA and was working three jobs on the side.
“My goal was to be a high-paid beach bum. But I looked around and I couldn’t find any jobs that were listed under high- paying beach bum,” he chuckles. At the same time, Christie was pursuing his hobbies of learning to fly airplanes and making loudspeakers.
“I started fiddling around with electrostatics for fun because they were interesting and relatively cheap to make. When you don’t have money, you can’t afford to buy expensive audio. So what do you do? You make it yourself,” he recalls.
During that time, Christie wandered into a small hi-fi shop in Woodland Hills, and it was there he had a chance encounter with another customer Arnie Nudell. Nudell and his colleague John Ulrick were both working for defense contractor Litton Industries and experimenting on their own with a speaker design.
“They had come up with the idea to measure the feedback from the woofer and then differentiate the information with the input signal and put the transducer in the feedback loop for making bass. And that was the origin of the world’s first servo-controlled subwoofer,” remarks Christie, who was soon helping them design the speaker cabinet and the electrostats.
Thus, Infinity Systems was incorporated in 1968, with Christie as CEO and co-founder. The first speakers were $2,000 and the trio sold them out of that same hi-fi store.
“As a reference, a Porsche cost $3,000 in those days, so it was an expensive system to say the least,” comments Christie, who was literally building electrostatics on the dining room table of his apartment at that time.
He continued tinkering with electrostats, even using some technology he adapted from a waterbed heater, to reduce the size of the diaphragm but still improve the performance by 12dB to 15dB. All that experimentation eventually led to the launch of the affordable Infinity 2000, a $600 speaker with a hybrid woofer for the midrange and a line array of electrostats.
“At one point we were selling 10,000 of those per month,” says Christie.
From there, the inventions just kept rolling, including the use rare earth magnets, originally samarium cobalt, and later the first company to ever use neodymium magnets. Later, the company developed the first Class D amplifier and the lightweight Black Widow tone arm for turntables.
“My entire career has been a combination of guys doing what they want to do, and having enough of an idea about how to improve something that could add value,” he says. “What I have been working on my entire career is creating high performance that ‘disappears’ and appeals to the senses, both sight and sound.”
That guiding principle is one reason Christie cites his two heroes as Jules Verne and Gene Roddenberry.
“Verne invented the nuclear power submarine before they even existed. Gene Roddenberry invented the holodeck in ‘Star Trek’ … we are at the point now where we can actually create the holodeck from an audio perspective with immersive audio, and we are close from a video perspective,” he muses.
Over the years, Infinity was sold a number of times, and Christie remained at the company for over a quarter-century, including a decade after it was sold to Harman.
In the mid-1990s, he was recruited by a long since Henry Kloss-less Acoustic Research (then owned by accessories mega brand compiler Recoton) to create some magic for the stagnating company. There, he created a line of soundbar products dubbed the Phantom Series that came out under the AR brand name, just before Recoton went bankrupt.
But that offering set the foundation for the creation of Artison in 2003, a mostly speaker company dedicated to bringing old hi-fi know how to the world of home theater.
His ideas and reputation caught the attention of emerging CE power player Savant about 10 years later when it bought Artison and wisely insisted Christie stick around as CTO/chief audio officer.