The Story of Paul Barton
October 22, 2018
The Story of Paul Barton: How a Small-town Canadian Shaped the Speaker Industry
Established in the small, agricultural market community of St. Jacobs, Ontario, PSB Speakers has been designing some of Canada’s most highly-rated, performance hi-fi and home theatre speakers and headphones since 1972. Over the last 46 years, PSB Speakers has earned itself a worldwide reputation for delivering dynamic, natural sound and continues to be celebrated with various accolades from today’s leading audio critics. While today’s modern Bluetooth speakers and online brands may get their start in bustling overseas metropolises or by venture backed funding, PSB Speakers was formed in an unassuming shed by a young Canadian with a passion for sound. His name is Paul Barton.
As a young boy, Barton quickly fell in love with music and started taking private violin lessons when he was seven-years-old. Recognizing his son’s passion for music, Barton’s father began building him a violin of his own, and when Barton turned 11 he was given a custom-made violin based on the Stradivarius design. Barton soon began performing at small festivals and even became a member of the National Youth Orchestra of Canada. Unknowingly to Barton it was his father’s craftsmanship and care that would set him on a creative path of his own.
While Barton was passionate about playing the violin, he also became interested in making audio recordings. “Music playback really intrigued me, so I made a conscious decision when I was in my mid-teens to go into music reproduction,” Barton told Stereophile magazine in 1997. Once again it was his father who helped fuel this passion. “My father had a Bell and Howell mono 7” reel-to-reel tape recorder, and I would take every opportunity I could to make recordings.”
Around the time that Barton decided to go to university for music reproduction, he met his then-girlfriend, Sue. It was also at this time that Barton had a life-changing idea. While sitting in his grade 11 geography class, a class he shared with Sue, Barton designed the first logo for PSB. It was then Barton realized he wanted to design speakers, and by the time the summer of 1972 rolled around Barton was developing loudspeakers for local university students. Although it started in his father’s shed, the seeds for PSB Speakers had been planted. The company soon had a factory open in St. Jacobs where Paul surrounded himself with a great team of music lovers to help build an iconic Canadian audio brand.
A combination of his and Sue’s initials, PSB Speakers’ first full-range speaker arrived in 1973. Named the PSB Beta II, the speaker would prove to be Barton’s first attempt at a flagship model. While that year proved to be a turning point in Barton’s career, the following year would be even more monumental.
In 1974, Barton’s work caught the attention of a writer named Ian Mellows. Mellows was impressed that a Canadian company was taking hi-fi seriously and he suggested that Barton venture out to Ottawa to meet with another man by the name of Dr. Floyd Toole. Toole was working at the National Research Council (NRC), utilizing their specialized anechoic chamber. Toole quickly took Barton under his wing and Barton started making regular visits, using the NRC’s facility to test his loudspeakers. It was also the year that Paul and Sue married.
Four years later PSB introduced the Summit 9 and Summit 11, replacing the Beta II as PSB’s flagship series. It was around this time that Barton and Sue welcomed their first daughter, Nicole. As his family continued to grow so did Barton’s company. From 1980 to 1985, PSB Speakers would continue to add new speakers to its growing line, including PSB’s first passive subwoofer, the PSB Subwoofer 1.
Even after all his accomplishments Barton knew there was more room to expand. The PSB team longed to create a true flagship series for PSB and expand beyond the Canadian marketplace in a serious way, so in 1985 PSB Speakers partnered with The Lenbrook Group. Founded in 1978, The Lenbrook Group would handle the international distribution and marketing for PSB. “When the relationship between myself and Lenbrook occurred, it was the first chance I had to develop a flagship,” said Barton in an interview with Stereophile. That flagship series would become known as Stratus, arguably one of the most popular speaker designs of all-time. A year after cementing his relationship with Lenbrook, Barton welcomed his second daughter, Keara.
As the 1980s ended, PSB decided to add another series known as Alpha. Released in 1991, PSB’s Alpha Series became a world recognized iconic speaker that truly represented what budget hi fi was all about, thereby cementing PSB’s reputation for making audiophile performance accessible for all. PSB would continue to release other models throughout the 1990s, culminating with PSB’s first foray into custom sound, which included in-wall and in-ceiling speakers. By this time Barton was firmly established as the “Dean of Canadian speaker design” and he led and mentored the PSB design team to achievements in being able to deliver performance in speaker systems that didn’t cost a fortune – this is Barton’s true legacy.
In 2008, PSB Speakers launched its Imagine Series, which featured innovative cabinet construction that delivered natural and accurate sound, ultimately redefining how a loudspeaker should sound.
Four years later PSB would expand into new territory with the release of its M4U Series, it’s first-ever line of high-performance headphones. Throughout his time testing at the NRC, Barton and the PSB team had developed an innovative advance in headphone design that Paul called RoomFeel™. Created to transfer the sound of a listening to great speakers in a listening room into headphones, something Paul and the team believed in wholeheartedly, RoomFeel added a special quality and performance which led to an outstanding 1st product success for the PSB M4U 2, PSB’s first performance headphone. Since then, PSB Speaker has gained positive notoriety in a challenging category amidst tremendous competition from larger companies.
The RoomFeel innovation would eventually weave its way into headphone products from NAD Electronics, and most recently into PSB’s first wireless headphone, the PSB M4U 8.
For all his success and acclaim, Barton’s original mission for PSB remains the same: to deliver true-to-nature-sound. Whether it be PSB’s loudspeakers, subwoofers, or headphones, each product is meticulously tested by Barton and his team in order to ensure that it delivers music the way it was meant to be heard. Although he may be the founder of one of the world’s most revered speaker companies, Barton is still that same young man from St. Jacobs, tinkering away in his lab, and now mentoring others in pursuit of that high end sound at accessible price. That is Paul Barton’s legacy and that’s what the three letters, PSB, truly stands for.
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