Audio Physic Virgo loudspeaker Who the heck is Audio Physic?

Sidebar 3: Who the heck is Audio Physic?

Audio Physic President Joachim Gerhard is 38 years old and has been an audiophile for about 20 years. His hi-fi passion started out as a friendly competition with some friends about who had the best system. At the time, Gerhard had a big Tannoy horn, one friend had the Koss Model IV electrostat, and the another friend had the Ohm F.

Even then, Gerhard was struck by the basic dilemma that he's been working on ever since: how to overcome the seemingly insurmountable conflict between achieving musicality, pace, rhythm, and drive on the one hand, and soundstaging, detail, and transparency on the other. Gerhard didn't want to sacrifice one for the other. But even though he certainly didn't skimp on the hardware he used (big Levinsons and the like), hi-fi technology just wasn't advanced enough at that time to fulfill his yearnings.

Gerhard went to university to study electronics and design, in an attempt to balance the science-oriented and creative sides of his personality. At the same time, he had a hi-fi shop in which he sold mainly high-end stuff. He recalls this as the time when he learned that sound is not the only thing that matters in hi-fi products; customers also have to like the look and feel of products before they're willing to pay for expensive gear. Gerhard also did development work for a speaker-kit company, where he learned a lot about drivers and crossovers.

After leaving the university, Gerhard sold the shop, moved to Frankfurt, and worked for a company that made industrial plasma generators for etching and sputtering. In his spare time he collected material for a book he intended to write about loudspeakers. In 1985, Gerhard went on a walk with the two friends mentioned above, Willi Hegener and Hartmut Janssen, in the rural surroundings of his home in the Sauerland region (which is located smack in the middle of Germany and which produces a type of people famous for their single-mindedness—or blockheadedness, if you prefer). This walk generated the impulse to turn their theoretical knowledge about loudspeakers into a product. Hence the birth of Audio Physic.

"Small is beautiful" was his basic idea: a small enclosure doesn't much get in the way of the frequencies you need to reproduce music; a small woofer is easier to match to a tweeter; placing the two drive-units close to each other will minimize phase difficulties and maximize homogeneity. The first version of the Audio Physic Tempo was very much an audiophile minimonitor in the classic vein.

The speaker was not a complete success. It was basically a fine speaker, but the tonal balance was way too bright. Final voicing had been done on Gerhard's home system, the source of which was a Goldmund Studio turntable, Fidelity Research arm, and van den Hul-tuned EMT cartridge—a combination that had prodigious bass output. With more normal sources, the speaker sounded undernourished. (Lesson: Never rely on just one system when designing loudspeakers—unless you want your speaker to work only in just such a system. Audio Physic now has a listening panel of about 10 people who are consulted before a new model is put into production. Joachim Gerhard reserves the right to veto any decision by this panel, however—he wants to be able to personally stand behind the sound of any product Audio Physic makes.)

The Tempo was revised repeatedly in subsequent years and slowly started to sell in more reasonable numbers. Gerhard still had his job at the plasma-equipment company and was running both Audio Physic and the hi-fi shop on the side. If you get the impression that this man has more energy than most, you're right. Gerhard can party late into the night and still work efficiently in the morning.

In 1988, Audio Physic brought out the floorstanding, full-range, three-way Avanti loudspeaker, which had a very small frontal area (the first "minimonitor with integrated subwoofer," to my knowledge; it started a trend that continues to grow). The woofers were located at the bottom of the cabinet on the left and right side walls, so the energies that are put into the cabinet will cancel out to a large extent. The Avanti speaker was very successful right from the start, really putting the company on the map. It established what has been the Audio Physic "house style" ever since: speakers with living-room-friendly dimensions, impeccable finishes, and true audiophile sound quality.

In 1989, Gerhard quit his job in Frankfurt, returned to his Sauerland home, and ran Audio Physic full-time. In 1992, Gerhard amicably bought out his partner, Willi Hegener (who was called to work for his family business), and now runs the company alone.

About the same time, Audio Physic started to move sideways a bit and import electronics and source components into Germany—most prominently the Lyra range of cartridges and the Forsell products. An unfortunate side effect was that Gerhard was spreading himself a little thin, with distribution, customer service, and research and development each demanding full attention. As a result, he now has decided to concentrate more on his own products.

Audio Physic has also hired a new development engineer, Bernd Theiss (footnote 1). Theiss's first project was the Terra subwoofer, which is intended to be a universal product for the entire Audio Physic range. The Terra is an active design (featuring two 10' woofers with 300W of on-board amplification) carefully calculated for optimal operation in or near room corners (this location alone adds about 9dB efficiency at 20Hz).

Footnote 1: Under the auspices of Professor Malcolm Omar Hawksford, Theiss will be doing an external Ph.D. thesis at Essex University, UK, on three-dimensional audio.