There are two types of loudspeaker designer: those that come up with a loudspeaker design and create a whole company around it, and those who take a more ‘hired gun’ approach. Often, the skill set of the founder limits the scale of the operation – not many can design an excellent loudspeaker, market it, sell it, and run a company simultaneously – so the canny ones employ a managing director to run the business side. The ‘hired gun’ speaker designer is usually employed by different brands over a career span or works as a consultant to different brands; the latter is the rarest variety in my experience. Examples include Robin Marshall (who founded Epos but went on to work for several British and American companies) and Andrew Jones (who started at KEF but has gone on to design for TAD and ELAC among others). Karl-Heinz Fink is perhaps unique in that he has feet in both camps; his design consultancy has designed great loudspeakers for many manufacturers (often hidden under the cloak of a Non-Disclosure Agreement), but Fink is also running a fast-growing loudspeaker-making business in its own right.
The first Fink Team product unveiled to the world was the WM-4, which appeared in Ken Ishiwata’s Marantz demonstration room at the Munich High End a couple of years ago. That was the second incarnation of a WM-3 made specifically for Ken – he and Karl-Heinz seem to get along rather well. The WM-4 is a huge loudspeaker with a 15-inch paper bass driver in the bottom half and two BMR midrange units flanking a ribbon tweeter in the top section. It is naturally costly as well and such is Fink’s reputation that its appearance prompted requests for a more affordable and easily accommodated alternative.
The Fink Team Borg was the response; this shares the stealth styling of the WM-4 in a cabinet that while still in the large class is far more manageable. The Borg was launched at the 2018 High-End show but had only recently reached these shores. Mine came in a highly distinctive and beautiful finish with the two-tone combination of matt black baffle and dark Zebrano veneered rear section. The driver unit choice is pretty radical, combining a 10.25-inch paper bass driver with a massive Air Motion Transformer (AMT) tweeter, which is not something you see every day; the last speaker I saw that had anything like this combination appeared decades ago. A bass driver of this size has minimal midrange capability, so the tweeter is more of a mid cum HF unit; the crossover point is down at 1.6kHz which is crazy low for a two-way. However, it’s also below (most of) the midband where the ear is most sensitive.
I asked Karl-Heinz why he had gone for such an extreme driver combination and got the following response: “A multiway speaker is always a compromise because no crossover path is perfect. Best phase integration means a slight loss of acoustic power around the crossover region; perfect acoustic power can give you some strange behaviour on or off-axis. The theoretical best crossover with a 6dB slope does not work in real life, because the total behaviour of the electrical filter and acoustical filter have to be combined and as a driver is already a 2nd order bandpass on its own; you cannot win with first-order crossovers. Best solution: no crossover, but that has other problems. Which brings us back to two-way and that is what we did. It was a challenge. The tweeter only decided to work with the woofer after we added a passive all-pass filter to the crossover. The speaker has nice off-axis behaviour, and that makes it easy (sort of) to place in different rooms.”