German Physiks Borderland MK IV Loudspeaker

Ah, Germany. Home of Bavarian pretzels, Pilsner beer, finely crafted watches, and some of the best stereo equipment to grace an eardrum. Based in Maintal, in the State of Hesse, German Physiks approaches speaker design by rejecting the accepted solutions. GP’s chief designer Holger Mueller’s goal was to recreate live music by utilizing a driver resembling a point source, with the goal of conveying as much of the signal as possible while avoiding multi-driver incoherence, phase and time misalignment, and crossover issues. In other words, to create a wonderfully complex solution by Keeping It Simple, Stupid! 

A little history is in order. In 1978, purely as an academic exercise as he was not involved in the audio industry at the time, a German engineer named Peter Dicks decided to investigate the Walsh speaker (then being manufactured by Ohm Acoustics). He produced a computer model of the Walsh driver, which enabled him to see how it could be improved. After spending several years refining his model, he produced a series of working prototypes, which  he showed to a number of European loudspeaker makers. None of them displayed any interest. 

In the early 1990s, Peter showed the design to Holger Mueller, who was running a company in Frankfurt, Germany, called Mainhattan Acustik, making loudspeaker systems and also drivers for OEM use. Customers for his drivers included one very well-known U.S. high-end loudspeaker manufacturer and also one of the big German car manufacturers. Mueller had been a fan of the Ohm F and its Walsh driver and saw potential in the design that Peter presented. He then spent two years working together with Peter to produce a commercial product, and this became the Dicks Dipole Driver. The DDD used a cone made from 0.001″ (0.025mm) thick titanium foil. Mueller started a new company to produce loudspeakers using this driver, and in 1992 the firm launched its first product, the German Physiks Borderland Mk I. 

The DDD, used in all German Physiks designs, has been considerably refined over the years, and now uses a cone made from carbon fiber. Sonically the titanium DDD driver was extremely good, but the cone was also extremely fragile and difficult to manufacture. The current carbon-fiber DDD will resist a large amount of physical abuse and offers a wider frequency response than the titanium version.

Interestingly, Maintal is only a 13-minute drive from Hanau, Germany, the birthplace of Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm, creators of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales. I’m not sure what they have in the water in this region, but it has clearly resulted in some serious out-of-the-box thinking! 

The DDD resembles a very long pistonic driver mounted vertically. Although it operates pistonically at low frequencies, the majority of its nearly seven-octave range is generated through bending-wave and modal radiation. This is facilitated by the driver’s very low moving mass (less than three grams) and the extreme flexibility of its carbon-fiber cone. The outside of the driver cone is exposed and radiates in 360 degrees, with the magnet (generating around 1.2 Tesla of magnetic induction) housed at the apex, and the cone’s throat playing into a fixed-volume sealed enclosure. This design results in an incredibly wide frequency response of 190Hz to 24kHz from a stunningly small area of radiation, which stays phase-linear throughout its entire operating range. Its engineering complexity belies its simple appearance; the single DDD essentially functions acoustically as a four-driver system. 

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