Articles for Audiophiles by Steve Deckert
AUDIO PAPER #028
DESIGN'S IN WOOD
by Steve Deckert Sept 2003
I thought it might be neat to give people a sense of where our speakers come from and the people behind them. It all starts with four people; Paul Nibbelin, Dave Lancaster, Bob Ziegler and myself. For each of us speaker design is something we have been doing for a long time. We each love working with wood or electronics. We have long chapters in our lives as independent contractors doing everything from remodeling restaurants to building houses and custom furniture. We're all skilled craftsman with that Wilbur & Wright inventive spirit and we dearly love making things.
I started this company building and selling speaker cabinets and reconing speakers. It went on line in 1996. During the years prior to this we had accomplished a terrific amount of R&D and developed a number of novel speaker designs along the way. There came a point where in the quest for perfect sound our speakers got so good the amplifiers became the obvious weak link. My focus shifted at that point, because without better amplification I could not tell how good the speakers actually were.
This amplification in the end turned out to be the Zen Triodes. Since these amps were low power all of the speaker designs we have previously done are of little use to us now. Of course ever since the first Zen Triode amp, we have been trying to duplicate it's sound in a high power package that would work on any speaker. Now 8 years later I am certain it can't be done.
In fact, it is for a multitude of good reasons proving to be far more practice to focus on high efficiency speakers rather than higher power amps. And this is what we're doing by developing loudspeakers that will work with a couple watts. Most of the things we will be doing will be available in both finished and kit versions with measured drawings for those who want to build from scratch.
My role in all of this is to come up with the designs and build and test the prototypes. I do this at my shop at home. I've been at it for close to 20 years now. This is always one of my favorite times. Old clothes, mismatched socks, 6 inches of sawdust on the floor and no distractions! I do my best work in this state. There is something about working with wood, using your hands to create things and letting your mind run free that keeps guys like me balanced. If I just solder amps and talk on the phone for 6 months I start to get out of whack. The sawdust is therapeutic.
The ideas for many of the designs come when Paul and I are working together. During the creative standpoint we compliment each other nicely.
It was Paul who actually started this fever for high fidelity one day when he asked me to build a pair of 28 cubic foot folded horns for his garage system because he didn't want his wife to see him building them. He had some plan to make a drum stage in the garage with them so she wouldn't notice.
A great example of having more minds on a project is the Radial Loudspeakers. My years of work on that were mostly a solo project. When I arrived at the RL-1 and showed it at the VSAC in Washington, I thought I was done with it. Seemingly never satisfied I was listening to them one day trying to improve the sound when Paul showed up and in less then 10 minutes came up with the concept for the RL-2 which was nothing shy of pure genius, because it worked.
Another important element in the process is Dave Lancaster. We can all hear, but another set of good ears never hurts, especially when the person has owned everything worth listening to between 1968 and 1988. Those were the golden years of hi-fi. Dave is a master tech who has also owned and repaired almost every guitar amp ever built. He came to work with me when the Zen amps started selling and has built over 1000 of the little buggers since that time!
The three of us have a Thursday night ritual where after work we get together in our studio and sponsor a free jam session where musicians in the area can come and play just for fun. Sometimes 20 people will show up, many times it will be just us and our friends.
The most recent addition to this creative group is Bob Ziegler. Bob is a world class cabinet maker who builds exotic custom furniture and like us, has a real passion for building loudspeakers. Our paths crossed when a customer brought me one of our cabinet designs that he had Bob build for him. I was so blown away with the precision of Bobs work that I shut down our tiny production cabinet shop and had him start building all of our speakers.
When I have a speaker design completed and prototyped I send it over to Bob who builds a production prototype and all the jigs that will be needed to manufacture the speaker. A formatable speaker designer himself, we inspire each other and are always happy to call out the weaknesses in each others work ; )
So with us it is just about exploring different designs and tasting the different possibilities. We all like low to moderate power tube amplification and higher efficiency speakers so that is the only prerequisite for these designs. Obviously most companies would commit to what they think is the best type of speaker design, make three of four sizes of it at different price points and focus a great deal of effort on marketing it. For Decware speakers are an exploration into our amplifiers that create many perspectives, so we wouldn't want a line of the same kind of designs but rather a large variety the represent a wide range of possibilities. It helps us hear our amplifiers during the design process and afterwards.