The History Of Hartley Loudspeakers

Founded in 1927, by H.A. Hartley in London, England, Hartley coined the phrase "high fidelity". This was a noteworthy beginning for a company who would innovate and change the face of the loudspeaker industry forever.

Hartley, with engineer P.K. Turner and ideas from Barker, Voigt, and Olson set out to manufacture speakers, preamps, amps and to establish an association with record players and phono cartridges. Most noted were the speakers – the model 215 full-range driver and an ingenious cabinet design called the Boffle. The Boffle (a cross between box and baffle) was the world's first attempt at acoustically eliminating the driver's rear wave. The inside was a series of panels with acoustic materials stretched over frames that had descending and ascending center holes.

Hartley became an exporter and in 1949 opened an office/installation facility in New York City owned and operated by Robert Schmetterer. With the assistance of Piers Powell, a noted writer for The London Times, the New York office set up retail and distribution channels throughout the USA. A prominent New York cabinet designer was retained to help innovate elegant furniture to house the Hartley drivers.

As the U.S. distributor was flourishing, founder H.A. Hartley decided to sell the rights to the company but maintain a working relationship with the U.S. facility. In 1953, Hartley Products Corp. of New York (the new American company) was established, owned and operated by Robert Schmetterer. The decision was made to manufacture speakers ONLY. However, Hartley Products Corp. was appointed the the first U.S. distributor of Ferrograph (mono) reel-to-reel tape recorders.

In 1958 H.A. Hartley published his most famous book, "The Audio Design Handbook". This book covered aspects of acoustics, electronic technology (tubes), speaker and cabinet design to name some of the many topics.

A few years later a most important association was established – the retaining Dr. Harold Luth, a scientist extraordinaire with a background in a number of disciplines: physics, acoustics and chemistry. His expertise led to the development of the world's first synthetic cone material, a unique control system, "magnetic suspension," and one of the first true coaxial speakers. Patents were soon forthcoming in the early 1960's. In 1967, the younger Richard Schmetterer joined the firm as Vice President and soon began designing drivers, enclosures and crossovers. Some 40 plus years later, Hartley Loudspeakers, Inc. is still hand-crafting speaker drivers with the same integrity of years past and is supplying the U.S. and international markets as well.

By the late 1960s, Hartley was a well-known name in the audio industry. Their electronics were mostly forgotten by then, and the company's own loudspeaker system (drive-units plus a cabinet) designs didn't made a lasting impression on much of anyone. But Hartley's drivers were a hit with audio tinkerers and sound-reinforcement specialists alike, and their promotional materials from that era leave little doubt that Hartley had a younger audience in their sights than their competitors did. AR had Miles Davis and Bose had Jonathan Livingston Seagull, but Hartley had the hippest ads and brochures of all: high-contrast black-and-white photos with lots of text, written with technical authority and dry wit in fairly equal measures. Volkswagen made history with ads like that — and so, in a smaller way, did Hartley.

But as the years wore on, and as magazines such as Stereo Review and High Fidelity began sucking the life out of our hobby by promoting the quest for good sound as little more than a numbers game—one in which a new breed of mass-market manufacturers had a built-in advantage—it became clear that the hi-fi industry could no longer continue as it was, and that most American companies would have to choose between shrinking and selling out. Hartley chose the former path, and, under the direction of Richard Schmetterer, who took over from his father in 1978, the company began to trim its product line. In 1986, the company moved away from the New York metropolitan area to a smaller manufacturing and sales facility in Wilmington, North Carolina, with Richard Schmetterer still at the helm.

We spoke to Richard Schmetterer in January 2021, who informed us that Hartley Loudspeakers Inc, ceased production around 2015.