Music Machines | part two

The design as artwork and intellectual challenge


To the first part of this article

Summary and moral in few lines of part one: the design of whatever machine, for example a machine to record or to reproduce music, begins with the definition of the design objectives. Scales of values organize these objectives. The values, as well as the choice of means and modalities to reach the objectives, reflect the personality of the designers. And of the companies. The so-called market niches should not blur: the buyers of an Alfa Romeo, at least once, would never get a Volvo.


My goodness! I seem more optimistic than Roberto Rocchi, the immune carrier of optimism. Great designers may have found big companies. Or they have been hired and motivated by great personalities. If and when the companies become adult, if the info patterns that have generated revolutionary, innovative or simply successful products allow it, usually, these companies are run by marketing operators. Or, if it works, by Product Managers.


There is nothing wrong with it, though. It is just that an “adult” corporate shape hardly ever produces authentic innovation, since the priority goes to the protection of the company itself.

After Grouchy Smurf “Me, I don’t like Bower & Wilkins". And to avoid immediately any polemic, “I don’t like it” for sentimental reasons, jointly with admiration and respect.


The facts trace back to more than thirty years ago. I was eighteen, and with the majority, I was up to a “huge” birthday present. Reasonably, I should have asked for a second-hand economy car to conquer the freedom. Nevertheless, I asked for a pair of used Dahlquist DQ-10 loudspeakers, and my parents pleased me. Obviously, I could have always used my mom’s car in the afternoons and after dinner…


I really loved my pair of DQ-10. It took me thirty years to own a couple of systems that could delete the regret of having sold that loudspeakers system. But this is another story and I will tell you more some other time. It took thirty years to darken the memory of those lonely and pensive evenings spent in the nice living room along with the Genesis. Along with the LaSalle Quartet: by the way, while performing an Alban Berg’s piece – included in a Deutsche Grammophon LP slipcase - I found out a damn vibration due to the loss of the fixing of the midrange cone. Along with the Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante and a lot of jazz: Monk, Evans, Davis and Coltrane above all…


The magic stopped all of a sudden on a long afternoon that I spent at the fabulous Boni Pansini’s showroom in Bari: once there was Auditorium3. I made a tight comparison between “my” DQ-10 loudspeakers and the “awful” Bower & Wilkins DM6. “Awful” not for their aesthetic appearance, but for having made a massacre of my mythic DQ-10 and right in front of my ears!


Several years later, the Dahlquist DQ-10 speaker still have a mythological status among entire populations of audiophiles. Different stuff for the DM6. And the reason is deeply human and due to situations linked to the game of the symbolic structures. Game that deserves a careful analysis. The Dahlquist DQ-10 had an astounding debut. It had been designed by an unknown Jon Dahlquist, an aero-spatial engineer, who helped the NASA in designing the Apollo Lunar Module (LM) that landed on the moon. One of the men with the obsessive neurosis of designing the perfect loudspeaker. The only man, still very young, who convinced a mature Saul Marantz to became his partner. Saul, the man who, just a couple of years before, had given up to Superscope Inc. the rights to acquire Marantz high-fidelity audio products: a brand already known worldwide.


Jon had designed a loudspeaker aesthetically very similar to the legendary Quad 57. It had such a transparent sound that, at its debut at the New York Hi-Fi Show, was necessary to put a label saying: "This Is Not An Electrostatic Loudspeaker". The other products of the firm were insignificant in comparison and, in the ‘80s, a serious car accident restrained Jon from continuing his research.


Therefore, the DQ-10 faced the same fate as Jimi Hendrix, Marilyn Monroe and, more recently, Amy Winehouse did: it popped off still young at the peak of success and before having shown its limits, throughout intense comparisons, was overcome by the competitors. Its impact was formidable. In 1974, Dave Wilson started to work on his loudspeakers. He modified his pair of DQ-10 making them unrecognizable. Who knows the DQ-10 and the first Wilsons, WAMM and WATT, will be able to piece easily together a part of the genealogy of these speakers, whose basic ideas reflect the experience of the DQ-10 knowledge. More of what has been described by Ken Kessler, who told us how much Dave was in love with the Klipschorn system of his neighbour.


Because also the loudspeakers have genealogies. The DQ-10 had its own muse: the Quad 57 from which, technically, it detached itself. It did not become old and it died without any heirs. Perfect, for a myth.

Bower & Wilkins had already created a legend prior to the DM6: the DM 70 Continental, a European electrostatic-dynamic hybrid while, on the other side of the ocean, there was the Infinity Servo-Statik 1. With respect to the Continental, the DM6 seemed like a return to the traditionalism, with the cones and the domes. The DM6 was the poised daughter of a revolutionary mother that gave birth to the 801 which, deeply evolved and so many times modified, still today represents the framework of the offer of the English firm. The DM6 not only did not die young, but it was daughter and became mother and grandmother! Respectable, forgettable. B&W did not stop to innovate as demonstrated by the B&W 800 Matrix and, most of all, by the legendary and absurd Nautilus. Yes, the Nautilus, “brainchild” of the visionary Laurence Dickie, who founded in South Africa the Vivid Audio after the refusal to work for an already adult B&W. Look at one picture of the Giya G1 and then compare it with the Nautilus, as already done before with the DQ-10 and the first Wilsons… A fully developed company finds a lot of difficulties to “dare”, to innovate and to produce its revolutions likewise the apparently mad artisans/artists who, maybe, will never “made it big”, but somehow can show the way.


Focusing on objects often unknown but “extreme” or, as the North Americans say, "bleeding edge" or "leading edge". Selecting them and dedicate a lot of attention to their interface and tweak can get nearly unique listening experiences. Just listen to believe it. Something that often the shops and showrooms cannot afford because they have to refer, necessarily and justifiably, to the market. A market that has to be considered more hypothetical than real.


So it seems that, sometimes, innovation does not rhyme with production, most of all speaking of large numbers… even if it agrees with evolution, which is – ‘round these parts – what we like most. At the next article.




2 out of 4 - To the third part of the article

by Angelo N. M.
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