Parmenter Sound Fat Boy Speakers Spark Memories

February 22, 2016
3 mins read

BACK IN MID-2006, I’d just started working with the small team at TONE Magazine. I’d always had a strong interest in music and hi-fi, which made sense given that I’d grown up with a set of Lowther single cone speakers in the family home since I was about six years old.

Over the years, I’d heard quite a few good audio systems, most notably a Halcro/Infinity demo at The Listening Post in Hamilton not long before starting the job, but all in all, it was safe to say that the high-end and I weren’t too intimately acquainted.

WD-Parmenter-FB-newIn my first week in the role, I’d visited a bunch of the existing advertisers, especially the bigger players in the consumer electronics space, but what I really wanted to do was to get some time with the audio distributors and their products.

One of my first road trips in my rickety MG company car was Muriwai on Auckland’s West Coast, to see Jason Parmenter of Parmenter Sound. According to a phone conversation, he had some rather special speakers in situ that he’d developed himself.

I arrived to a warm welcome and a good cup of coffee. As we chatted, Jason showed me some of the gear he had set up in his house, but a short while later, we headed to his downstairs listening room where he had his Fat Boy speakers set up.

They are indeed some of the fattest speakers I’d ever seen (and remain so to this day) – close to a couple hundred kilos (each!!) of hand-made purposefulness. At the time, I recall they were running a 15-inch Altec woofer in that enormously wide front baffle, along with the massive horn-loaded TAD compression driver. The quality of the construction was superb, and as someone who’s always had a thing for laminated wood, I thought they looked fantastic. I can’t for the life of me remember the full details of the amps (LAMM I think), or the digital source (pretty convinced it was an EMM Labs SACD player) but I vividly remember the Simon Yorke turntable.

WD-Parmenter-FB-new-2More to the point, I still remember being more than a little stunned when Jason cued up Hugh Masekela’s ‘Stimela’ on vinyl. The sound had everything I’d imagined the high-end should have – presence, detail, scale and enough power and dynamics to make the music seem almost real. We listened to a bunch of other music that morning, but that initial exposure to the Fat Boys became one of the absolute hi-fi benchmarks I established in those early days at TONE, and set me firmly on the upgrade path from my own humble system to something much more capable. I bought the album with ‘Stimela’ on it the same day, and have used that track as a reference track ever since – thanks for the intro Jason!

I’ve heard the Fat Boys over and over since 2006, each time with changes that made them sound even bigger and better. And I just heard from Jason that he’s got them set up in a whole new configuration, which I’d love to hear but I’m currently on the other side of the Tasman Sea, and not in NZ, so that will have to wait.

But for the edification of Witchdoctor readers, here’s a look at the system as it currently stands. Jason says:

“I have set up a two-way active amplifier system matched with our Parmenter Fat Boy loudspeakers using the Pass Laboratories XVR-1 electronic crossover. The Pass Labs XA160.8 mono block amplifiers are being used to drive the TAD 1601A and the Pass Labs XA30.8 stereo amplifier to power the TAD 4001 horn drivers.

WD-Parmenter-FB-new-3My reference audio system was sounding the best it ever has last night, Leonard Cohen was right there in my room. I could not be happier with the Pass Labs XVR1 and how it has matched with my Pass Labs amplifiers and TAD drivers… Wow is all I can say and a huge thank you to Kent English / Nelson Pass & the Pass Labs team for designing and building such incredible audio products.

Active crossovers always require the use of power amplifiers for each output band. Thus a two-way active crossover needs two amplifiers—one each for the woofer and tweeter. This means that an active crossover based system will often cost more than a passive crossover based system. Despite the cost and complication disadvantages, active crossovers provide the following advantages over passive ones:

  • A frequency response independent of the dynamic changes in a driver’s electrical characteristics.
  • Typically, the possibility of an easy way to vary or fine tune each frequency band to the specific drivers used. Examples would be crossover slope, filter type (eg, Bessel, Butterworth, etc), relative levels.
  • Better isolation of each driver from signals handled by other drivers, thus reducing intermodulation distortion and overdriving
  • The power amplifiers are directly connected to the speaker drivers, thereby maximizing amplifier damping control of the speaker voice coil, reducing consequences of dynamic changes in driver electrical characteristics, all of which are likely to improve the transient response of the system.
  • Reduction in power amplifier output requirement. With no energy being lost in passive components, amplifier requirements are reduced considerably (up to half in some cases) and potentially increasing sound quality”.

I’m sure it sounds as good as it looks in the pictures. The more I think about it, the more I’d like to hear this system in action again a decade since I first heard it. Maybe a trip back home isn’t such a bad idea. ASHLEY KRAMER


  1. Just some further info from one of the WD team. Editor Gary Steel had this to say:

    “I went out with Ash one time to check out the Fat Boys and Jason put on this incredible sounding track that I thought was going to blow my head off. It turned out to be by Tiki Taane, an artist I wouldn’t have given the time of day (or a second thought) until I heard it like that. Proof that good hi-fi can change your perspective, or at least show up a great sound engineering job”.

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