Around holidays we’re privileged with more luxury of time for the readings. Here is another addition to personal insight into the companies and people behind. Matej Isak brings another Mono & Stereo interview. This time with David Counsell of dc10audio. Enjoy…
I was exposed to hi-fi at an early age by my older brother and became completely obsessed by it. I don’t even really know why, as I was not interested in music at this age, but the hi-fi gear itself became one of my obsessions. I produced the first dc10 speaker in the late 1970s. I was 15 then and living in beautiful Northern California. The original dc10 speaker was a pyramid-shaped tower loudspeaker made of high-end plywood with a sort of folded horn-venting tweeter on the top. This multi-driver speaker used the power of the pyramid and internal aerodynamics to produce big open sound with huge natural bass, and as today, all the drivers ported through the horn. I eventually sourced the cabinets with a local cabinet builder and within a year had two hi-fi shops as “dealers.” I had a few interesting customers too, including the manager of a well-know hi-fi superstore in Sacramento called Pacific Stereo. From that sale came another sale to a representative from a famous speaker brand from Northridge, California.
The end for dc10 came as quickly as its success: The home building boom of the late 70s meant an end to my cabinet shop’s help. In 2008, during the financial meltdown, I decided to start building loudspeakers again after my nearly 40-year break, and dc10audio was born. I spent nearly a year or so designing the first new loudspeakers and during this time, I avoided any and all audio publications as I did not want to be influenced by what was new and amazing in hi-fi. I produced the first model, the Instrument 7, in solid African Sapele in late 2009. Today we have eight different models and have sold pairs all over the world.
dc10audio’s solid tone-wood horns
L’instrument floor standing loudspeaker in American walnut with American cherry horns
Why the name?
DC for David Counsell, 10 a nice number, plus I have always had a great interest in aerodynamics, and as you know dc10 was an infamous airplane built by McDonnell Douglass. Finally, dc stands for Direct Current, which in a way fits what we do with loudspeakers.
When did you get “hooked” to the music and hi-fi?
In truth I was hooked on hi-fi before I was hooked on music. My brother, 12 years my senior, was an avid audiophile and aficionado of classical music. The pictures of my brother’s Tandberg reel-to-reel and Marantz amplifiers were cemented into my head as a little boy, and I was totally corrupted forever.
What made you move into creating speakers?
Absolute desire to innovate something new for sound and music.
Berlin R in vintage African zebra wood
What was your entry to high-end industry?
I started working in the luxury watch and jewelry industry in my early 20s,became a gemologist and studied watchmaking mechanical design for timepieces in the USA and Switzerland. The last years of my watch and jewelry career were operating my own luxury retailer.
Would you consider yourself as an audiophile?
Would I answer “yes” if I am terminally obsessed with hi-fi gear, music, and evaluation of both?
Who/what were your inspirations (products and people), that made and still make the biggest impact on you?
First, the majesty of nature and all her design. Second, the artists of all ages who make things more beautiful -- from music to architecture, great paintings, mechanical innovations, words of poetry. All creators of true art.
Kindly list all of the present products from dc10audio?
For stand-mount speakers, we have the Berlin II Mini, its big brother Berlin R, and the beastly Briton II. Our floor-standing models include Kabuki, the L’Instrument series, and our over-the-top statement loudspeaker, the Gottenburg Odin.
Would you say that dc10audio products share the same recognizable sound across the range?
Absolutely. This was completely clear with the launch of Kabuki, which has a totally different horn style and look but still uses the same proprietary horn loading. The entire range has an open dynamic sound with a big, fast bottom end with un-truncated detail.
Please elaborate more on your top of the range dc10audio speakers.
The Gottenburg Odin, which is our most expensive loudspeaker, I designed after spending some time going to the symphony -- in particular, the Santa Fe Symphony, which played in a small auditorium. I wondered how our loudspeakers, or any loudspeaker, would sound on that small stage without the 80-plus musicians. The best I could imagine was too small, too slow, and without the sonic scale or correct bass… The flagship Gottenburg is designed to come close and is designed around an in-house modified 31.5” 800mm Fostex wide-band woofer, which is made for us in matched pairs (normally they are made one unit at a time to sell as single drivers) -- I believe that we are the only manufacture they have done this for. The Gottenburg was designed to really capture big symphonic music with the kind of tectonic bass of the symphony but without the air pumping and distorting of small woofers. This unique driver will play down to 15Hz while using only 2.5mm of X-max, and all the way up to 2500Hz and beyond… imagine how the mid-band will sound -- much like an electrostat, only more natural. Gottenburg’s design and craftsmanship really make it a statement loudspeaker and, unlike many other high-dollar systems, the Gottenburg will require very little power to drive. It is designed for reference-quality tube systems -- 6 watts will deliver huge detailed sound.
Please tell us more about your unique internal design?
Every dc10audio loudspeaker employs our proprietary internal or internal/external tonewood resonator. This is used instead of damping and while this system damps the cabinet, it also returns backwave energy out of the horn. The effect is bigger bass, better efficiency, and correct tone with a deeper sonic texture.
Why do you think dc10audio products are beloved by many audiophiles?
Actually, I don’t think we are known by many audiophiles. We have done very little advertising and even if they have heard of dc10audio, few have actually had the chance to listen to our loudspeakers.
How did you manage to get recognised so quickly?
Word of mouth. Our collectors are quite passionate about telling their audiophile friends about us. We have also leveraged Facebook a bit, which really has created some extra momentum. Lastly, I think people really notice horn speakers, as they do visually stand out.
Would you say that even your entry range can perform very well with the state-of-the-art products from other manufacturers?
Yes, even our smallest monitor, the Berlin mini, plays nearly true full range in a nice small package. If you have more room, a larger speaker will go lower and play louder with better sonic slam with fewer watts while keeping high resolution detail.
Kabuki in Norway (photo courtesy of Hagto Audio)
Can you kindly tell us more about your view of “the real sound.”
Real sound to me is sound without truncation -- low in distortion, and dimensional, with some tooth -- something you can feel. It’s live sounding and expansive.
What would be the ultimate high-end audio design?
Big tube mono block amplifiers with vintage tubes -- a Girrard 301 turntable and a pair of 30” full-range drivers utilizing field coil motors… Just dreaming.
Any plans to introduce any new line of products outside of speakers?
We have a line of tube amplifiers that we hope to launch next year.
How important is the right room setting for ultimate reproduction?
As of yet, we have used zero room treatment for any shows or even our own sound testing studio, but I’m learning that this is very important. At a show a few years back Peter Ledermann from Soundsmith said that he loved our sound but that in a particular chair in the room, there was absolutely no bass at all, while the rest of the room was slamming the low Hz. He was right, this was some strange black magic to me indeed.
What product of yours are you most proud of?
All of them mostly, but lately the Kabuki. I designed Kabuki on paper and it looked great to me. It looked new and unique and was a horn that did not look like a horn. But I started to lose faith that it could actually be built effectively without years of trial and error. Even shops with high-tech C-N-C lathes seemed confused at how to build Kabuki -- especially the solid wood parts. It was Steve Ozelton, our shop manager and boy genius, who figured out how to build Kabuki without any C-N-C machines at all, and he built the first pairs by hand, with special jigs and his own alien brain. This guy can figure anything out with wood -- and possibly spacecraft -- we’ll see… We are so lucky to have him on our team. Kabuki’s manufacture will change a bit as some parts will be produced with C-N-C machining going forward, to help us keep up with demand.
Do you produce everything in-house?
Mostly. We build all our own cabinets. All fine woodworking is done in-house -- the wood horns and phase plugs. Most of our drivers are modified in-house -- for example we replace brass, aluminum and plastic phase plugs with ones turned of solid tonewood; tweeters have their aluminum bezels replaced with tonewood; we’ve replaced some magnets with AlNiCo motors on some drivers and re-doped others.
Can we hear your thoughts about tubes vs transistors?
For me it’s like this: If I am listening to vinyl, I want all tubes and a completely analog system without question! If my source is digital, either can be great, but I still give a slight edge to tubes. This might be just a romantic idea, but I’m a romantic: I like vintage cars and the sound of tubes and how they look with the lights off.
What would you say sets dc10audio above other manufacturers?
New acoustic innovations. Thus far we only produce true bass-horn loudspeakers, all which have a bass horn-loaded tweeter or driver. It looks like we break a bunch of steadfast rules about loudspeaker design, and the results have been surprisingly good.
Would you say that one’s love for music is reflected in his product?
Yes, it is this same passion that is usually the driving force for innovation, and for me, I love the engineering -- the music comes afterward, like a treat!
Prices can go quite high within high-end. Where is the borderline between luxury and real high-end?
I don’t know how to answer this, but I know if you are hand-making items of limited production and using skilled artisans to do the work, the prices will be quite high.
There is the high-end and ultra high-end. What is the difference in your view?
Ultra high-end’s goal should be to try to sound as good as live or the actual performance… if not even a tiny bit better. In other words, ultra high-end’s goal should be to produce products that actually eclipse the performance. Is this possible? Maybe. I think ultra high-end products should be endowed with a timeless intrinsic value -- something you keep and pass on to your children.
Are high prices a must for some of the top-class products?
I think the buyers of luxury items demand luxury quality, and this is both rare and expensive today. So the bottom line is, yes, they go hand in hand. Otherwise you must exploit the workers and designers, and that to some is cheating.
Does form follow function in dc10audio?
Always. Even the pretty wood horns have several jobs to do. We don’t have time to design pretty structures that don’t deliver performance as well.
Is classic music the top-most test material for state-of-the-art reproduction?
Yes, yes, and yes! Classical is most important to me, and its dynamic range is the most difficult to reproduce. Its instruments can be identified. Jazz and jazz vocals are right up there too.
dc10audio philosophy in loudspeaker design?
Our goal is aesthetic appeal first, but the sound is ultimately the highest priority.
Kabuki’s dual resonator system
Would you say that high quality is more affordable today, or do you have to pay premium price for best components and sound?
The world seems to have a new “calculator” lately. Everything is so very expensive. Top systems are as costly as a home. It’s hard to get your head around this sometimes.
Where does usual hi-fi stop and high-end come in for you?
Hi-fi focuses on mass production and relevant profit structures, with advertising to the mass market built in to the products. The high-end market is much more limited in production and speed of production and is not likely advertised like a normal hi-fi brand.
What is the definitive goal of dc10audio audio?
Quite simply, to produce the finest sounding high-efficiency loudspeakers in the world.
What do you see the future of audio and dc10audio in it?
The future is to preserve the nearly religious sanctity of fine music for generations to come. I believe this music culture is intrinsic to humanity: it’s vital, it is a priority.
Who are your musical inspirations?
God, I am choking on this one… How much time do I have?
Is it possible to achieve concert feeling within high-end audio?
Yes! This is where horns come in -- they are able to convey this live sound. Horns are the king of sonic energy and dynamics.
Is there a place for mystics in audio or simply good and great engineering?
Once you experience a sound node, you know for sure that mystics are a part of it.
What is the difference between audiophile and music lover?
What does a music lover gain with ownership of one of your products?
They’ll discover new details in the recordings they thought they knew. They’ll hear a new sort of energy and dynamics from the music.
Who would you say typical dc10audio customers are?
Audiophiles with mid-range to expensive tube systems looking to improve their overall sound experience, often in the dynamics and bass department -- this is where I feel we really shine!
Life is short. I hope we can keep our passion for music and the toys of sound reproduction right where they belong -- as one of the priorities of living.