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Keith Aschenbrenner
I sent Keith a few questions on the SoloVox and received a very detailed response. I'm including a fair amount of that response here because I think it's worth reading in its entirety.

On the history of the relationship with Bernard Salabert and PHY-HP
Perhaps you know that I was the first distribution partner for Bernard Salabert of PHY-HP. I became acquainted with him through a visit to my shop of Jean Marie Piel, chief editor of the magazine Diapason in Paris; Richard Faust, formerly journalist of Das Ohr; and Alain Choukroun, my dealer in Paris. The reason for their visit was partially to introduce us to each other because we were both using bronze as an important material at different junctures of our hifi chains which was a novelty at the time and unpopular, even ridiculous. This now dates back almost 10 years ago.

You must know that I spent a long, long period of searching and researching single wide-range speakers, including the nightmare of love/hate with Lowthers. With the material available in the market at the time (we used Triangle for our L'Audiophile models, Japanese Roine speakers for our TQWTs), we had a more "modern" interpretation of what wide-range speakers used to be in the forties and fifties. The vintage units (not the Saba green cones and related radio stuff) like Siemens Klangfilm and WE 755 for example were hard to find. eBay didn't exist yet. And it would have not made any sense to make unique speakers for the "usual" test and review-oriented consumers. As a professional, one needs to have serial production, assure warranties, all the general safety items for the life of the unit. Collectors don't care about that but dealers and clients do.

Bernard made a unit in a way that could be properly described as the continuity of what Radio France was using in the fifties and sixties for their broadcast purposes wide-range units. He worked at and was educated by the really old French company Supravox. When he founded his own company, of course he continued to use paper cones, voice coil, magnet and irons in a traditional way. Recognizing our opportunities with this transducer, I ordered a first batch of units. I still have my very first units with serial numbers below 20.

This unit is -- let's call it the standard unit -- for DIY and OEM and distributors. We made the very first speaker prototypes with this driver in different concepts, from closed to open baffles. At that time Bernard had mounted the units in thick Medite TQWT cabinets (Medite was already a very common material at that time). The Shindo Latour and our Marsannay speakers were made of relatively thin spruce plywood which gave inspiration to him and his future OEMs and distributors.

On the Rondo and SoloVox
Before our Rondo design came to the market at the end of 1999 (we introduced it first to Jean Marie Piel in his home during a very long night on his Shindo electronics in comparison to the resident Altec Duplex), we spent one and a half years of R&D on structurally different designs to create this loudspeaker. Recognizing again how important the relation of a speaker driver and its cabinet was to our design targets, I begged Bernard in my position as his associate to make a driver for me which otherwise would be described as inferior to the standard version but would perfectly match the specific parameters of the resonant Rondo cabinet. There are a lot of different treatments and tricks to manipulate transducers and I think the one chosen is perfect for the Rondo.

Rondo. This loudspeaker has found a lot of friends in the industry and the design language of its shape is now well known. I documented the introductions of the other models in a chronology on my website. The problem with the Rondo in usual environments is that potential clients seldom have the space and acoustical treatments to fully enjoy its abilities. To be 2 meters away from a wall is not easily managed in the usual European living quarters. To have almost nothing behind the speaker is another limitation with the Rondo concept. Personally I don't care; I'm merely interested in what's possible which led me to Verdier, to Shindo and all my other products. Because of the high expense and retail of the Rondo, we did however try to work out a loudspeaker that would be less complicated to build and easier to place.

Continuing to keep positive resonant parts in the enclosure, you see on the SoloVox different panels of different sizes, differently mounted and angled so that the cabinet is a mixture between an open baffle and a resonant thin-walled design. With the 'horny' waveguide shape in the rear, you can be closer to a wall without getting too many reflections which in general make open baffles less easy to place. Personally, I want to have the backwards radiating energies not destroyed/absorbed but returned/reflected by the rear wall to mix with the front information of the speaker and to build the complete sonic picture. If this is managed by excellent placement in a good room, the speakers become almost non-existent.

According to this view, infinite baffles are not my cup of tea. With the different drivers I had at hand, I recognized that what SoloVox required was not the same as what fit the Rondo. You will see for example a treatment on the surround which lacks on the Rondo and of course this treatment already alters certain driver parameters. Roland Kraft of Image Hifi who wrote about the SoloVox first received two different drivers to explain my goals. He expressed his astonishment at my chosen solutions.

The different panels of the cabinet are made from beech plywood, a processed wood wherein you can count the thin layers of veneer that are glued into shape. Prototyping was a bit easier than for the Rondo but the speaker still took a year from first drawings to finished product. We made the inner bent panels movable to find the best placement, we glued them, we fixed them with screws but the current solution proved best in the end.

I performed my tests always under the steady condition to use Shindo gear as the source for the speaker. I do not care if it works 100% with anything else. But I take a lot of care that it works well with Shindo and our other related products, especially with the lower budget Shindos.

When you see the photo album on our website -- and it's just select snap shots of a few of the many things we created over the years -- you realize that most of our previous speakers were large. Recognizing after several years of demonstrating Shindo gear that clients who were willing to accept such large systems were relatively few -- again, this was 15 years ago and we were alone and swimming against the mainstream -- we had to find a solution for smaller budgets and go into serial production to become fit for being reviewed by journalists. No journalist in the world except perhaps for the Japanese would have had the courage to write about a unique installation which is for sale also as a piece of art. For a picture or a piece of furniture or a handcrafted car, it presented no problem - but it did for audio at least then.

For this reason, our most important target was to find less expensive solutions to represent our way of listening within the characteristics provided by our components. There were no suitable drivers on the market and we did not want to revisit the Lowthers. Bernard arrived just in time. [For a second look at the unique PHY drivers but employing their dual-concentric units, I will visit the Ocellia loudspeaker factory in France later this year to sample their speaker models and select one for review - Ed.]

Comments on the review
It's a great custom of 6moons to allow producers or distributors to comment on their reviews. I guess this is a good moment to do so. Michael did a great job. Reading about his endeavours to find the best placement for the SoloVox, I felt simultaneously uncomfortable and happy because taking proper care (or not) means life or death for a product. Reading about his efforts made me want to provide some further insights about why we chose the open baffle route.

The review is accompanied by some pictures of our photo album. They show how we were coming from pretty traditional methods of speaker building - thick wood, big rigid enclosures heavily damped. Experience showed that these were difficult to integrate in our client's living rooms so we needed to search for alternatives. The PHY driver with its particular characteristics arrived just in time. Of course our first projects with it were all the traditional and classical interpretations of speaker design. Naturally, we also made cabinets in TQWT and ported configurations. And we played with different tweeters. Yet our very first session with this driver was in a small open-backed cube. Through all the obvious limitations imposed by this small cube, we heard something then that we hadn't before from any of the traditional enclosures.

Thus began the baffle way. I don't remember how many different designs we built. There were so many that I lost track. Some of them were given to DIYers via schematics on our German website. It was enlightening to observe how the different enclosures perfumed reproduced tones. Sometimes it was in fact hard to believe that this was the same driver. Another surprise realization was that the driver never telegraphed qualitative limitations of potential, except perhaps in Physics at the frequency extremes which is expected with a 21cm diameter unit. Another remarkable fact became how revealing this driver was of the front end. It told us a lot about the components which called for a tweeter. Perhaps it's the extraordinary quality of the Shindo preamps that provide the necessary brilliancy where normally one would need a tweeter. We worked with tweeters as mentioned but it wasn't perfect. The loss in coherence was not compensated for by satisfying treble while tweeters which did integrate were not able to serve the desired brilliance - except for one or two vintage units which we of course couldn't use for formal production.

Our conclusion became that this unit would not reveal its full potential in a ported or TQWT enclosure. No matter what size we chose, certain peaks and negative interactions between driver and enclosure were either not satisfactorily eliminated or the speaker became damped to death instead. The unit provides so much energy to the front and rear that a different approach became necessary. Our designs were all experimental. We never knew ahead of time what they would result in. Especially the Appassionata crafted from piano wood was a real adventure. After that came the Rondo. After all this work, we feel that any of these designs can be understood as different translations of a core concept but for different purposes. The intimacy of voices, the natural presentation of instruments coaxed from the SoloVox is sometimes breathtaking. The Rondo is a bit less impetuous but provides more body - poetry as our French dealer calls it. We love him for that. But after all is said and done, it's essentially the same drive unit!

Our conclusion after all these years is that it's an illusion to believe a common speaker could be a Jack of all trades. Superiority exists only in specifications. It's another illusion to believe that it's possible to build a neutral speaker - whatever that means. Accepting this fact frees us to focus on the beauty of tone and the general credibility of the music, not just the soundstage or other popular audiophile targets. Reading reviews, no matter whether in Germany or elsewhere, we see mostly the same expressions and terminology to describe a product. Where it becomes interesting is when journalists suddenly leave the common road to no longer reference the impressive treble quality or the blacker-than-black lows but rather, when they start writing about feelings, emotions, relaxation, when we read about the silence between the notes - when they realize that they did not care at all about audio aspects and simply got lost in music. That is what we love to read.

Thank you Michael, and sorry that you had to move your room around so much. And thanks to Srajan for the second review on A23. Thanks also to the readers who spent the time to follow another story about a German micro manufacturer.

Keith Aschenbrenner