Each and every person involved with Playback Designs is first and foremost a lover of music. Without this appreciation no company involved in either high-end audio or the professional recording industry can truly measure how good the products are that they are bringing to market.
Sure, we measure each and every unit that we ship, but the most important step is the final listening session that occurs just prior to packaging the unit for shipment.
We believe that Playback Designs’ systems represent the finest audio playback in the world for the finest listening system in the world… your ears!
The year was 1959 and twin sons were born to the Tinn household. This was also a very important year because Arthur Tinn purchased his first high-end audio system. Once his boys were old enough (2 years old, or so), Arthur started dragging them to stereo stores all over New York. One of his sons, Jonathan, really took on his father’s passion for music. Whether it was visiting Lincoln Center, The Filmore East or various Jazz venues, Jonathan’s father made sure he was exposed to all kinds of music.
During his childhood and throughout his teens, Jonathan always had a terrific sound system. His love of music helped him find his way to becoming a club DJ in New York even before he was old enough to be legally admitted. He continued to work for many years in the New York club scene as one of the most sought after DJ’s. Even while attending college, Jonathan found a way to stay involved with music, continuing to work in dance clubs and also getting involved with booking many top artists where he worked.
After moving to Oregon in 1992, Jonathan had an advertising business which he had great success with until its sale in late 1994. Deciding to take some time off did not last long, Jonathan’s passion for music and audio equipment drew him into the audio business. He partnered with Chambers Audio and opened a very successful location in Portland, Oregon. After a few years, he was contacted by his friend Kurt who suggested he contact Tenor Audio, a company who was starting to produce an amplifier that he was hearing good things about, to talk about distribution in the United States. Jonathan formed Blue Light Audio, a distribution company, and essentially brought Tenor Audio to market and helped them to become world renowned.
Also during this time a small cable manufacturer out of Oregon asked him to help out their marketing efforts which he did with great success. At one point there was almost a four month backorder on the production of speaker cables and interconnects.
During CES 2002, Jonathan put together a room which was called by Jonathan Valin of The Absolute Sound as “the best stereo system I’ve ever heard at a trade show. In fact, it may be the best stereo system I’ve heard, period.” The importance of this show for Jonathan was it marked the date he decided to start developing a new line of loudspeakers called Evolution Acoustics. The five and a half year project started moving in fast forward when Jonathan brought in Kevin Malmgren as a partner in April 2007 and six months later the speakers were ready for market. Evolution Acoustics has set a new paradigm among the elite of high-end loudspeakers.
One day in 2003, while visiting David Robinson of Positive Feedback Online, Jonathan heard a wonderful digital to analog converter which he was told had its roots in the pro audio world but had never been marketed to consumers. It was the EMM Labs DAC6 with a Phillips SACD 1000 which was modified to output to the EMM Labs DAC. Recognizing how special it was, Jonathan immediately contacted EMM Labs and became it’s distributor. Within a short time EMM Labs became recognized as one of the world’s best digital devices. Backorders of over six months were not unusual. EMM labs could not keep up with all of the sales. It was at this time that Jonathan and Andreas, who was responsible for the digital designs at EMM Labs, met.
After many years Tenor Audio decided to go in another direction and parted ways with Blue Light Audio. During a conversation with John Marks of Stereophile, it was suggested that Jonathan contact a “brilliant guy” from Switzerland who had a magnificent prototype amplifier that he had heard. Jonathan contacted Hervé Deletraz of darTZeel and a business bond and friendship were formed. darTZeel very quickly climbed to the top of the list for serious audiophiles looking for the finest amplifiers and preamplifiers available.
In late October of 2005, EMM Labs asked Jonathan to become their Vice President of Global Sales and Marketing. He did so and stayed with them until February of 2007. During his time with EMM Labs he was instumental in helping create a number of products by EMM Labs including the DCC2, CDSD, DCC2SE, CDSDSE and CDSA.
Following Andreas Koch’s departure from EMM Labs, he and Jonathan Tinn formed Playback Designs, which reviewers, mastering labs and discerning listeners quickly recognized as a company taking a huge step forward in the creation, design and engineering of digital audio equipment which surpasses anything previously produced.
Andreas Koch got his start working for Studer ReVox in Switzerland back in 1982. It was his task to build the world’s first fully asynchronous digital audio sample rate converter, patent granted in 1984. Also, in 1984, he designed one of the first filter banks for digital audio. 512 banks were used to perform digital noise reduction for old recordings. Some of the same ideas were used later in audio compression algorithms such as MP3, AC-3 and others.
Following his accomplishments at Studer Revox, he went to work with Dolby Labs in San Francisco. In 1985 he built all the digital signal processing of the AC-1 encoder and decoder (delta modulator). This was a professional digital audio
compression scheme used for television transmission. It was Dolby’s first digital audio product and was sold quite successfully. In 1986 he built the hardware for the very first incarnation of what is today the widely used AC-3 compression algorithm.
In 1987 Studer ReVox in Switzerland required his return. Andreas managed the development of a professional digital audio tape recorder which was a 48-channel DASH format on 1/2 inch tape. For the next two years he was involved in the market and technology research for hard disk (PC) recording in professional applications. This job required visiting many high profile recording studios worldwide which helped to establish his solid base in this industry.
Andreas continued his great work in Switzerland until his transfer to Studer Editech in Menlo Park, CA, in 1989, where he was tasked to manage a group of engineers designing the ultimate hard disc recorder for professional post production applications, launched “Dyaxis” in 1992 which is still used today. The user interface was so revolutionary that it was copied by many competing products still produced today.
In 1993 Sony in Florida needed his services. He oversaw product development for professional audio products and launched various mixing consoles. Sony recognized Andreas’ great successes and asked him to relocate to San Francisco in 1997 where he started and managed the development for the world’s first 8-channel DSD recording / editing / mixing machine. “Sonoma” is still used today in studios throughout the world and has been used for most SACD releases. He designed all the digital parts of A/D and D/A converters that helped establish DSD as a superior sounding audio format in SACD. He followed that up by expanding the Sonoma to 32-channels of DSD on a single PC. Andreas also participated in all standardization committees for SACD in conjuntion with Philips.
During 2003 Andreas decided to go into business for himself as an independent contract engineer. For the next four years he designed all of the digital componentry, algorithms and architecture for EMM Labs digital audio products; professional and audiophile. He designed and implemented various revolutionary algorithms for sample rate conversion (SRC), as can only be expected from one of the original inventors of SRC. He also developed a discrete D/A converter and unique architecture for clock management from digital audio transmission inputs.
In 2008, Playback Designs, formed by Andreas Koch and Jonathan Tinn, launched an integrated SACD/CD player with a variety of digital inputs that incorporates all the experience, knowledge and algorithms Andreas gathered and developed over the last 25 years, right from the onset of digital audio.
The analog stage of the Playback Designs products were developed by Bert Gerlach, a young German engineer. He is not only an audiophile with years of listening experience in several recording studios, but being a musician himself he also brings lots of enthusiasm to his work with audio products. After his medical studies, which gave him a deep insight into the human anatomy, including the functionality of the ear and its analyzing part that we call the brain, he received a diploma in electrical engineering – together a perfect combination for building high end audio gear.
In 2004, working together with Andreas Koch for the first time during his semester as an intern, he embarked on creating a digital format converter. After finishing his studies in 2005 he started building his own products, foremost the analog pre-amplifier Puralio, which he showed at the High-End show in Munich in 2007. As a lucky coincidence, Andreas Koch also visited this show and became enamored with the impressive sound of the Puralio. Once Andreas and Jonathan decided to start Playback Designs, Andreas brought in Bert to design an analog output stage for what would become the Playback Designs 5 Series.
With its discrete filtering and discrete output stage without any chips or OP-amps Bert’s analog circuitry fits well into the discrete architecture of the 5-series D/A converter. By carefully selecting each individual component Bert has total control over each single parameter of the analog signal processing path which utilizes his CCB technology (constant current biasing) developed for the Puralio. The extremely high bandwidth and zero-phase design far beyond the audible range reveal all aspects coming from the digital domain giving the Playback Designs products tremendous image and richness of detail. With its low output impedance the highly neutral sounding amplifier can drive all kinds of wires, therefore minimizing the influence of cable characteristics on the sonic performance.
Special care is taken in the linear analog power supply which is totally isolated, giving the four symmetrical output stages the “3-dimensional” characteristics. Bert also did the layout of the ceramic analog circuit board while paying special attention to creating the shortest possible signal paths.