Ask Ron Sutherland about beauty and his mind travels to the tall grass prairie in the flint hills of Kansas. In those flowing waves of tall grass, Ron sees the elegant patterns of life. The purity of simplicity and the essence of design.
Ron grew up on a small farm in Missouri. There he learned how to dream up projects and somehow find the resources to build them. That became the template for his engineering. First, a crystal clear, perfect and uncompromised image in the mind, every deal in sharp focus. Followed by countless prototypes, all built step-by-step in his mind. Once the mental prototyping was perfected, it was time for a reality check in the shop. Since all the design and mental prototyping was in Ron’s mind, he also had to develop craftsmanship to express the mental images.
After high-school, Sutherland attended Drury College in Springfield, MO. There, his good grades and passion for Physics, won him keys to the building and 24/7 access to the laser optics lab. He saw a sublime beauty in the continuity of Physics, seamlessly connecting all areas of the physical world.
Following the bachelor’s degree in Physics, Ron moved on to the University of Kansas. For his Master’s project, Sutherland designed and built a stereo preamplifier that used digital logic to automatically control its functions. The volume controls were touch plates, with a digital volume display. There was even automatic input selection.
One afternoon Ron bicycled out to Kief’s stereo store. There his appetite for high-end audio was kindled. A deal was struck with store manager Gayle Sanders. In exchange for gear, Ron would help Gayle build an electrostatic speaker. Soon, almost all evenings were split between Gayle’s basement shop and Ron’s access to a machine shop. Using their middle names ( Gayle Martin Sanders and Ronald Logan Sutherland) they began Martin-Logan Ltd. After years of struggle, Martin-Logan was built into a very successful company.
Sutherland began to miss the independence that was so much his nature. He then started Sutherland Engineering, Inc with his brother John. They began doing contract manufacturing; one of its clients was Martin-Logan. With the profits from manufacturing, Ron would retreat to his office to explore amplifier design concepts. After a few years, he emerged from the office with the first Sutherland Engineering audio product. At a price of $20,000, the C-1000 was a coveted possession in the Asian market.