We Ask 10 Questions For High-End
During Enjoy the Music.com's very special 25th Anniversary we're asking various high-end audio manufacturers to answer the same ten questions. Their answers may surprise you! This month we're featuring Holger Mueller, DDD Manufactur GmbH (German Physiks) company founder and CEO. According to the company, "Speaking as a lover of music, there is one special moment of realization. An event which one remembers for the rest of one's life, which touches the soul and inspires a lifetime in the quest for better sound reproduction I had this moment in the mid 1970s, when I was in New York for business and heard for the first time the Ohm-F loudspeakers with the Walsh omni-directional driver. The tonal and dynamic weaknesses of this driver were undeniable, but what I heard, I had previously only ever dreamed of. The Ohm-F made the entire room the sound stage and I became part of the recording. Even today I get goose bumps when I think about it."
"In the late 1980s a coincidence brought me together with Peter Dicks. The German inventor had developed his own version of the Walsh driver: the DDD driver. Although it was in all respects better than the Walsh driver, it was not yet perfect. Having the New York experience still vividly in my mind, I decided to set up a new hi-fi business. Over a period of several years we undertook a rigorous
program of development to make the DDD driver into a commercial product. Since then, the DDD driver has been getting better and better. Exceptional loudspeaker designs have emerged that are
recognized worldwide for their excellence. What they all have in common is the clear, expansive sound that captivated me in New York all those years ago – only now it is even better."
Q. What is your first memory of falling in love with music?
A. This happened in the early 1970s when I went to my first classical music concert. Until then I had not been particularly interested in music and I didn't really know much about the music that was going to be played at the concert. They played a number of pieces of chamber music by composers including Mozart and Beethoven. Hearing live classical music for the first time was a revelation. I was fascinated by the interplay between the various instruments and how the composer used this to create different feelings and textures. The complex tonal characteristics of each instrument and the way the players manipulated the dynamics was like nothing I had heard before. I was completely drawn in to the music and felt emotionally involved and uplifted.
With my interest fired, I visited the ballet and heard Swan Lake and The Magic Flute.
Shortly afterwards, I was listening to some classical music on a hi-fi system in someone's home and after my earlier experiences at the live performances, I was shocked at how bad the sound was in comparison. This was when I decided that I would make my own loudspeaker. I understood that it wasn't enough just to have good bass, or good midrange or good treble, I had to be able to convey the emotional involvement and excitement that I experienced at the concerts and this is what has motivated me in every product that I have produced.
Q. How did you first get introduced to high-fidelity audio gear?
A. My introduction to real high-end audio occurred in the mid 1970s, when I was in New York for business and heard for the first time the Ohm-F loudspeakers with the Walsh omni-directional driver. The tonal and dynamic weaknesses of this driver were undeniable, but what I heard, I had previously only ever dreamed of. The Ohm-F made the entire room the sound stage and I became part of the recording. Even today I get goose bumps when I think about it.
Q. What is your favorite piece of vintage hi-fi, and why?
A. It is hard to choose one product on its own, so I have to give you my top three:
Kenwood L-07D Turntable: I think this is a masterpiece of design. An excellent turntable with a sophisticated tone arm. There is no excess, or voodoo. It was a very good sounding combination, for a very fair price.
RABOX Loudspeaker: This was a simple German design that that I regarded as the most musical and natural sounding loudspeaker of its time.
Accuphase P400 Class A Power Amplifier: A very warm and natural sounding amplifier. In my opinion, in its time, it was one of the best designed and best sounding amplifiers. Hearing it combined with their C230 preamplifier was for me a revelation. I fell in love with this combination when I first heard it with the Rabox loudspeakers.
Q. When did you decide to start a high-end audio company?
A. Because of my long interest in loudspeakers, in the early 1980s I decided to start my own loudspeaker company. This was called Mainhattan Acustik and was based in Frankfurt in Germany. We made a range of products:
· Complete loudspeakers under the Mainhattan Acustik name.
· Drivers for other audiophile brands, including some very well-known US makers.
· We supplied drivers to a major German car maker.
· We made loudspeaker design software that ran on Microsoft DOS. This was used by some big loudspeaker companies and we sold over 30,000 copies around the world.
My move into serious high-end audio came in the early 1990s, when I was still running Mainhattan Acustik and I met Peter Dicks, the designer of the DDD driver that all German Physiks loudspeakers use. It was inspired by the Walsh driver that was used on the iconic Ohm F loudspeakers that I mentioned earlier. I loved these loudspeakers as they were so musical. Unfortunately, because of the limitations of the technology that the original designer, Lincoln Walsh, had to work with, the design was not able to deliver its full potential. It was quite fragile and prone to structural failure and it suffered from low sensitivity.
Peter also had a fascination with the Walsh driver and had spent several years producing a detailed computer model of the Walsh design. With this he was able to see what was required to make a successful wide bandwidth omni-directional driver. It wasn't quite that simple. He had to make a large number of prototype drivers and use these to progressively refine his computer model, until he got to the point where the model accurately predicted the way that a real driver would behave. The culmination of this work was a very interesting prototype. It was superficially similar to the Walsh driver, but it was much smaller and instead of a diaphragm made in three sections using aluminum and paper, the DDD driver used a one-piece diaphragm made from titanium foil 1/1000 of an inch thick. (0.025mm). We would later replace the titanium foil diaphragm with one made from carbon fiber.
The original titanium foil diaphragm DDD driver.
It was immediately obvious to me that the DDD driver had tremendous potential. It just needed refining to turn it into a commercial product.
We worked together on this for about two years. I then decided to wind up Mainhattan Acustik and start a new company, DDD Manufactur GmbH. This was dedicated to making loudspeakers using our new DDD driver and which were marketed under the German Physiks brand.
Q. What, and when, was your company's first product?
A. The first German Physiks loudspeaker was the Borderland Mk I and it was released in 1992. It used a floor standing octagonal-section cabinet, with a single titanium foil diaphragm DDD driver on the top, a similar arrangement to the current version, but the bass system was totally different: two 20 cm woofers in an isobaric arrangement.
German Physiks Borderland Mk I loudspeaker
Q. What challenges did you face during those early years?
A. When we started, because there were very few omni-directional loudspeakers on the market, customers didn't really understand the idea behind them, or the benefits that they potentially offered. Audiophiles are very conservative as to how they think a loudspeaker should look. They expect a squarish sort of cabinet, with conventional (pistonic) drivers on the front. Often, the fact that we were so different made people unwilling to take us seriously. However, once we got them to sit down and listen, most peoples' initial prejudices went away.
The way our DDD driver works is quite different to a conventional driver and mathematically it is very much more complicated, though it can in fact be explained fairly simple terms. However, peoples' preconceptions about loudspeakers would make it harder to get this across. For example, they would look at our Borderland with the DDD driver on the top of the cabinet and think it was just a conventional driver with a slightly odd shaped diaphragm, that had been mounted facing downwards. We had to be patient and keep explaining.
It has taken a lot of work over the years by us at shows and by our dealers in their showrooms, to raise customers' awareness of our approach to omni-directional loudspeakers; to get them to them understand their potential benefits and understand what is special about the German Physiks DDD driver. Being persistent has paid off, but we realize that this is an ongoing process.
Q. How have your products evolved over the years?
A. Our loudspeakers continue to use the DDD driver, but this has been considerably refined over the years. The original titanium foil diaphragm DDD driver has been replaced by a design that uses a carbon fibre diaphragm. This has a wider frequency response at both ends, a better dynamic response and it is very resistant to physical abuse. Being resistant to physical abuse doesn't make it sound better, but if you have small children, it could save you a lot of money and heartache.
We have also done a lot of work on improving our crossover designs. You can hear this if you compare our current entry level Unlimited Ultimate model with its first incarnation, the Limited 11. They both use the same drivers and the same cabinet. Only the crossover is different, with the current design offering significant improvements in bass extension, imaging and resolution.
We have also started to widen our product range. In 2018 we introduced our Emperor range of very high-end electronics. This presently comprises a preamplifier, a stereo power amplifier, integrated amplifier – this uses the pre and stereo power amplifier electronics combined into one chassis, a mono power amplifier and a digital crossover. Due to demand from our distributor in China, we will also produce a CD player. CDs are still very popular in this market.
German Physiks Emperor preamplifier and Emperor Stereo power amplifier.
In addition, we have revived our Pion cable brand. In the early days of the company we manufactured power cables and power conditioners under this brand. These were quite popular in a number of markets, but we had to put them on hold when we became very busy with our loudspeakers.
The first new Pion product is our N3 ZF power cable, which was introduced last year. This has a unique conductor design that acts as a high frequency noise filter. This has been a bit of a slow burn, but sales are increasing, as more and more people try it out. Later we will introduce loudspeaker and interconnect cables, as well as power filter products.
Q. What is your company's most popular product(s)?
A. Our most popular product is the German Physiks Borderland Mk IV loudspeaker. Our first product in 1992 was the Borderland Mk I, and the Borderland has remained our best-selling product through each revision. The current version uses a single carbon fibre DDD driver mounted on top of an octagonal-section, floor standing cabinet. Using an octagonal-section cabinet makes the individual panels smaller and therefore much stiffer than the larger panels on an equivalent square-section cabinet would be. This helps to create a very inert structure, with minimal resonances. The DDD driver covers almost the entire audio range on its own – 24,000Hz down to 190Hz – which gives very good coherence. It also avoids the need for a cross-over point in the midrange, which is where our hearing is most sensitive and which pretty much all conventional loudspeaker designs must have. The very low end is handled by a downward firing 12-inch driver in the bass of the cabinet.
This is a product I am especially proud of. It has an uncanny ability to draw you in to the performance. We always have a pair of these set up in the listening room at our factory and when I am feeling a bit stressed at work, I will go down and listen to them. I find it a surprisingly therapeutic experience.
German Physiks Borderland Mk IV.
Q. What is your next planned product offering and its' features?
A. We are working on a number of new products, but because of the corona virus we are rethinking the order in which these will be launched.
We will have a new version of our flag-ship Gaudi loudspeaker. This will use the moveable four DDD driver array used in the previous version, but it will have a completely new bass system, building on work done on the current Emperor design. It will be designed for tri-amping and will be supplied with our DSP-X digital crossover.
We will release interconnect and loudspeaker cables and power conditioners under our Pion brand.
We will have an active loudspeaker with a DSP based crossover, room-correction and a streaming facility.
In addition, we have plans for lower cost loudspeakers, not using the DDD driver and a range of lower cost electronics. The electronics are mostly complete and we just have to come up with a design for a nice-looking chassis. Both ranges will feature streaming products. We haven't decided whether these will be marketed under the German Physiks brand, or whether we will revive our Mainhattan Acustik brand.
The most important thing for me is that all of these products will be manufactured in Germany. We have always followed this policy. Whilst it does not allow for the cost savings that manufacturing overseas can bring, it does allow us to maintain a consistently high level of quality and I believe that this has been an important part of our success. Being just a few hours by car from all of our key suppliers allows us to meet them face to face on a regular basis. This is invaluable when the problems that you inevitably experience in manufacturing occur. It also allows for stronger relationships to be built and these are the foundation of a successful business.
Q. What advancements do you speculate high-end audio will offer ten years from now?
A. I think we will see more active loudspeakers with advanced DSP room correction and streaming. We need to bring more people into the high-end audio market and for this to happen, ease of use and convenience will be key – as well as cost. This will be facilitated by improvements in power device, amplifier design and digital technology. I think that for these new customers, it will be important for loudspeakers to be able to visually blend into their room, rather than stand out as most audiophile loudspeakers do, so aesthetics will also be very important.