This one’s a little different because Fink Audio Consulting and Karl-Heinz Fink are not so much ‘maker’ as ‘gun for hire’. Well, almost: the company does make the Finkteam WM-4 loudspeaker (see below) and more recently announced the Borg loudspeaker, but the company remains primarily a design studio of loudspeakers for a surprising number of brands. His designs include models for Tannoy, Mission, Naim, and Q-Acoustics, but many of the big names in European home and car audio have quietly called upon Karl-Heinz and his team. As a consequence, the small design studio in Essen, Germany is a hotbed of creativity and objectivity. Each room in the labyrinthine office houses cutting-edge design and measurement instrumentation, and there can’t be many freelance loudspeakers who have their own anechoic chamber. We spoke to Karl-Heinz about his background, the design team, and the future of Fink. Then we got to hear the Finkteam WM-4, in the place where it was designed.
With the benefit of 20:20 hindsight, our date of visit was probably not the best. Influenza was moving through the Fink office, and where there is usually a bristling community of designers huddled over CAD/CAM programs, or operating one of the many test, measurement, or prototyping machines liberally dotted around the plant. Instead we got empty workstations and abandoned coffee cups. There were a few exceptions...
In another way, however, this didn’t matter. There are always people at workstations in every factory or facility. What really impresses about Fink – the man, the design team, and even the loudspeaker brand – is the degree of thoroughness that goes into everything. A loudspeaker designer for hire could be a guy with a good head for numbers, a good pair of ears, and copies of Autodesk and Spice on his computer. Fink has its own anechoic chamber, runs a full Klippel test facility, an extraordinarily well-engineered listening room, state-of-the-art modelling software, and – ‘flu notwithstanding – a team of experts capable of working on every aspect of modern audio transducer design and implementation.
It isn’t hard to see where this attention to detail stems from. Karl-Heinz Fink is all about the details. Like many in the audio business, he shares common man-gadget passions; watches, cameras, guitars, pens, etc. But for many these are casual interests. ‘Casual’ does not exist in the Fink lexicon: an hour in his company, and I know more about the history of the cartridge (both ‘phono’ and ‘ink’) than I thought possible. His affable, gentle-giant demeanour and seemingly laid-back lifestyle belies an information-sponge, steel trap of a mind.
Like many designers in audio, Karl-Heinz Fink’s route into the business was through being an enthusiast. In his teens, Fink built a number of audio electronics and loudspeaker projects and was a confirmed DIY-er. Like many who take DIY project building seriously, he migrated from cookbooks and plans to designing his own loudspeakers. But unlike many of his peers in Germany at the time, he was more impressed by British loudspeaker designs than German ones.