There are very few family businesses in audio. Brands rarely pass down father to son; they either disappear, or get bought out by a larger interest. Sometimes the next generation becomes more of a figurehead than an important part of the company. That’s not how it was with Manuel Podszus of Zellaton audio, and grandson of founder Dr Emil Podszus. He has continued to develop and continue the Zellaton concepts down to today.
Podszus (the grandfather) began working on loudspeaker drive units back in the early 1930s, back when electrical recording and replay were still in their infancy. Materials science of the 1930s was in its infancy too; materials we take for granted today, like PVC and polystyrene, were at the forefront of technological development at the time, and inter-war Germany was one of the great centres of excellence in plastics development. In this period of intense development, Dr Emil Podszus set himself the task of improving the performance of loudspeaker units, both in terms of high-performance audio, and the more pressing issue of loudspeakers within telephones.
His solution was to make a drive unit that coupled a very light diaphragm with a carefully optimised foam substrate, to produce a loudspeaker with the speed and stiffness required for audio reproduction. The difficulty faced with this design – it transpired – was that it doesn’t ‘scale’ well. Where pioneering plastics technologists in the 1930s quickly found a way to mass-produce their materials, the need to create a foam substrate of varying size across the driver meant Emil Podszus’ design remained essentially a bespoke design that could only be produced in tiny numbers. A very high performance design, undoubtedly, but one that precluded being supplied to the audio mass market. This kept the Podszus name out of the mainstream audio world, but the Zellaton brand that came out of this technology was resilient. Dr Emil handed the concepts down to his son Kurt, who then subsequently passed the baton down to his son Manuel. Beyond Zellaton, variants of the driver in Podszus-Görlich and Micro Precision guise have ‘form’ in the high-end, most notably as the drivers for the original – and extremely highly respected – Ensemble bookshelf loudspeakers.