altVale Dr Albert Neville Thiele OAM

Just days before we went to press, I learned that Neville Thiele had passed away on October 1, aged 91. I knew he had been not well for some time, because plans for him to attend last year’s hi-fi show in Melbourne were shelved because he was not well enough to travel. I, and others, had been hoping he would be well enough to attend this year’s Sydney show, but it was not to be. One of his oldest industry friends, Ron Cooper, of AudioSound Laboratories, told me that he and his wife Jan had visited Neville and his wife Lexie during his illness, at which time he and Neville had continued their usual technical discussions. ‘Although his body was failing, his mind was as sharp as ever,’ Cooper told me. Neville’s sharp mind and propensity for hard work were legendary. Frank Hinton, of Grover Notting, said that he had first-hand experience of Thiele’s skills when he designed the filters now used in many Grover Notting loudspeakers. ‘His energy and enthusiasm were boundless and he was 88 years of age when this work was performed: his mind was razor-sharp. He consistently encouraged and took particular pleasure in the achievements of our project, relishing news of progress, such was his positive demeanour.’

Needless to say, tributes from professional organisations have been flooding in. The Australian Screen Sound Guild said: ‘The ASSG would like to acknowledge the passing of an audio giant. Every day, anybody working with a speaker system has the benefit of the Thiele-Small calculations that revolutionised speaker technology.’ The Australian Commercial Entertainment Technology Association issued a statement that concluded: ‘Neville was a hero to some and an inspiration to many. He spent his life in research and development, and very few could match his accomplishments in creating and improving audio/visual entertainment and industrial technologies. Those who knew Neville would agree his disposition was under-stated; he was innately modest and generous. He was a husband, a father, and a friend and a mentor to many. It is indeed true Neville, you will be sadly missed, but be assured, never forgotten.’

Richard (Dick) Small, with whom Neville he developed the Thiele/Small parameters, said ‘Neville was also a wonderful friend and mentor to many of us in the audio field, and just a wonderful, generous and loving human being. We are blessed to have known him, and he will be sorely missed.’

Neville had a long association with the Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning at the University of Sydney, where he taught a course in loudspeaker design, as a part of the graduate program in audio and acoustics and in 2008 he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Science in Architecture (honoris causa). Densil Cabrera, head of the Audio and Acoustics program, said that although his lectures were not easy, he was a great inspiration to his students, in both coursework and research, as well as to the staff. ‘I fondly remember my time with Neville,’ he said. ‘It was a great honour to work with Neville—someone whose name was known and revered by everyone in his field around the world—and who was charming, engaging and humble. Difficult theory was balanced by anecdotes from Neville’s long and varied career in audio. (He) was one of the most influential figures in audio, and is best known for his role in the development of the ‘Thiele-Small parameters’. As a consequence, virtually every loudspeaker in the world has a specification sheet with these parameters.’ Glenn Leembruggen, of Acoustic Directions, who delivered the citation when Thiele was awarded the Peter Barnett Award by The Institute of Acoustics (UK) said, ‘Neville holds a special place for me. His work provided the basis for Dick Small’s loudspeaker work, and in turn Dick Small mentored me and introduced me to the world of electro-acoustic consulting. In later years, Neville did a wonderful analysis for me of passive second-order all-pass filters, and we taught together at Sydney University.’

I sometimes had occasion to consult Neville about technical matters and always found him to be unfailingly helpful and kind, though he would always call a spade a spade. I recall when I once sent him my own description of how a particularly unusual loudspeaker design feature worked, prior to committing it to print, he replied: ‘I agree with you that what it uses is a subsidiary Helmholz resonator, but my explanation of its purpose is a little simpler than yours.’  Needless to say, I used Neville’s far better description of the feature rather than my own!  # greg borrowman