WOODSTOCK, NY–Edgar Villchur, a renowned inventor whose wide-ranging work included breakthroughs in hearing aid technology, died at his home here on Monday, October 17, at the age of 94.
Villchur, who was also a prominent educator, writer, and philanthropist, revolutionized the field of high-fidelity equipment with his 1954 invention of the acoustic suspension loudspeaker. This loudspeaker provided better bass response than was previously possible, while radically reducing the size of the cabinet. He received a patent for that invention as well as for the dome tweeter, which greatly improved the ability of loudspeakers to reproduce accurate high-end sounds. His AR-3 speaker is on display in the Smithsonian Institute’s Information Age Exhibit in Washington, DC.
For these and other inventions in audio engineering, Hi-Fi News ranked him first on its list of the 50 “Most Important Audio Pioneers,” published in 2006.
WW II CHANGED HIS LIFE’S COURSE
Villchur, who was born May 28, 1917, in Manhattan to Russian immigrants, received his master’s degree from City College in art history, and was headed for a career as a scenic designer. World War II changed those plans, and he was trained in maintenance and repair of radios, radar, and other equipment. He was stationed in New Guinea, where he rose to the rank of captain and was in charge of the electronic equipment for his Army squadron. Later, he served in the Philippines and on Okinawa.
After the war, he opened a shop in Greenwich Village, where he repaired radios and built custom home high-fidelity sets. He continued to educate himself in the area of audio engineering, taking night courses in mathematics and engineering. After submitting an article to Audio Engineering magazine (later renamed Audio), he was asked to write a regular column. He also taught a course in his special area of interest, Reproduction of Sound, at the night school at New York University. He wrote three books and over 150 articles on acoustics and sound reproduction, including two articles written at the age of 90.
A PROGRESSIVE BUSINESSMAN
Although Villchur considered himself a scientist and a researcher, he was very successful as a businessman. As president of Acoustic Research, Inc. (AR) from 1952 to 1967, he was known for progressive employment practices and innovative advertising techniques. AR, which manufactured high-fidelity loudspeakers, turntables, and other stereo components of his design, followed equal-opportunity employment practices, and employees received health insurance and profit sharing—benefits that were highly unusual in any but the largest firms in the 1950s and 1960s.
The company was also known for its liberal repair policies, fixing most products for free no matter how old they were, and in general providing excellent customer service. AR’s advertising was distinct from the sensationalistic ads of its competitors, instead concentrating on technical information, reviews by impartial critics, and endorsements from well-known musicians and other personalities who actually used Acoustic Research components.
In 1967, Villchur sold AR to Teledyne, and went back to working as a researcher. He chose the field of hearing aids, since he felt that there was considerable room for improvement in these devices. He spent several years investigating the problem in his home laboratory in Woodstock, NY.
By 1973, he had come up with multichannel compression, a revolutionary concept in hearing aid design. Rather than apply for a patent, he decided to publish his findings and make them available to anyone who wanted to use them. ReSound, a hearing aid company in California, worked with Villchur to produce a compression hearing aid. Over the next two decades, his design became the industry standard for hearing aids.
Villchur was also deeply involved with Etymotic Research. In a tribute to the man he called “my best friend,” Mead Killion, founder and president of Etymotic, said, “Eddie’s support made Etymotic Research possible.” While Villchur’s investment in Etymotic proved highly successful, Killion still maintains, “I could never repay his business, scientific, editorial, and personal counsel. For that, he expected us to pay it forward, which I have tried to do.”
Villchur lived in Woodstock from 1952 until his death. Music and art were very important to him, and he served on the boards of Maverick Concerts and of the Woodstock Artists’ Association for many years. He was a friend, advisor, and benefactor to countless organizations and individuals in the community.
He is survived by his wife of 66 years, Rosemary (Romy) Villchur; his son, Mark Villchur of Boston; his daughter, Miriam Villchur Berg, of Woodstock; and many devoted friends who considered themselves, and were considered by him, members of his family.
He was a great philanthropist, and supported many local organizations, including Family of Woodstock, the Woodstock Emergency Rescue Squad, the Woodstock Fire Department, the Woodstock Library, Maverick Concerts, and the Woodstock Artists Association and Museum. Donations in his name can be made to any of those organizations.
The preceding obituary was based primarily on information provided by Edgar Villchur’s daughter. For more about him, see this week’s post by Marshall Chasin at Hear the Music, read the Wikipedia article on him, go to his personal web site <edgarvillchur.com>, or read the obituary in the October 18 New York Times.