I was very lucky to make it over to Munich this year in what is undoubtedly the best show in the calendar. More than ever there were more new manufacturers as well as the traditional names we have heard over the years. Fink Audio are one of the newer names in the street, though their work is probably more well-known than they would let you know. This is a company best known for acoustic evaluation, involved in the creation of loudspeakers for other brands, who hire them because of their expertise, experience and excellent in-house simulation and measurement facilities. Whilst loudspeaker brands might not admit to using their skills, Fink also create speakers under their own name, notably the MW 4 speaker a year ago.

Fink is led by Karl-Heinz Fink, a team who have just developed a more affordable loudspeaker than the WM-4, though at a cost of €24,000 a pair in standard finishes still put it still at the higher end of the market. The 2018 Munich show had loudspeakers at a great range of prices, shapes and sizes, some of which were over a hundred thousand Euros, making this a reasonable price for what lies inside. The coffin-looking loudspeaker from the Fink Team is called the ‘Borg’. Whilst the tennis player with the same name might still be able to lob a few aces, Fink also hope this, based on the WM-4, will also be a top shot and net them reviews and sales. That speaker, with a large bass, two mids and tweeter at €65,000 was introduced at HIGH END 2017 in Munich last year as a successor to their WM-2 and WM-3. 

The 52kg Borg uses a large 10.25” bass/mid paper cone, though it is 4 ¾” smaller than in the WM-4, and an AMT (air motion transformer) 25µm pleated Kapton diaphragm for the top frequencies as in the earlier model. The two drivers have a crossover frequency of 1600Hz, outside of that critical 3kHz area essential for vocals and violins to sound natural. Listening to the speaker in the press-day it was easy to hear that the crossover is very carefully designed and showed no peaks or troughs, creating a very pleasant and human sound-stage. Fink felt that smaller 2-way systems sound anaemic after hearing a ‘10 incher’, and certainly this was a powerful performer, and with a slow roll off from mid to high. Karl Heinz Fink was eager to show off this new loudspeaker to those at the press show. There are a lot of similarities with the bass driver used in the WM-4; a low hysteresis surround, and a large three-inch voice coil. The ability to control sound and with ample power handling from the light stiff paper cone could well find its way into recording studios where the sound engineer might not be quite so gentle as the average semi-detached house owner wanting to stay friends with their neighbour. The bass/mid includes an aluminium shorting ring on the centre pole and a die-cast aluminium chassis which is fully vented for low air speed, as is the voice coil former, both reducing distortion and compression and operating at a very low thermal compression.

The tweeter is an Air Motion Transformer (AMT) operating according to the principles developed by its inventor Oskar Heil. This was developed and manufactured in-house by Mundorf with the assistance of the Fink Team. As in the WM-4 it has a strong 25μm-thick pleated Kapton diaphragm with 50μm aluminium strips. This material was chosen as it has extremely good internal damping, resulting in particularly low distortion. A special etching process was developed to produce it and the design configuration optimised through extensive in-house listening. Frequency response exceeds 30,000Hz, and its almost constant impedance not only creates a flatter response but also means a simplified crossover design, also essential for accurate sound.

Many will know that I am not actually a fan of complicated 18dB/24dB/octave 3rd/4th order crossover designs, and the crossover here is 4th order acoustic Linkwitz-Riley with a time delay addition between LF and HF, which worked really well for this skeptical reviewer. As the bass /mid is so large a lower crossover point is likely to be needed and the Borg has a lower than average crossover frequency of 1600Hz, requiring a larger AMT driver with a 6464mm2 surface area as ideal.

Even with a great crossover, including Mundorf resistors the chances are that your room will not be perfect and the Fink Team were aware that theirs (and any, for that matter) loudspeaker will need some assistance. Hence the aim was to produce a loudspeaker able to integrate with its surroundings, and therefore the unit has four clever switches at the rear to alter elements to maximise the sound in your listening room. Firstly there is a three position control to allows a degree of adaptation to suit different amplifier damping factors The first setting is the standard setting for transistor amplifiers with good damping factor.  The second is used with amplifiers having a lower damping factor, such as older amplifiers and in rooms that have low frequency problems. The third setting is for use with tube amplifiers.

The other three controls at the rear of each speaker work as tone controls; the mid +/- control operating between 300-2,000Hz allows the position of the virtual stage can be changed from back behind the speakers to closer to the listener. It can also compensate for more, or less, lively rooms.

The Presence control at 2.5kHz can be changed to adapt to characteristics in the source, cable and amplification. The “+” setting is ideal for softer setups, with the opposite for brighter sounding systems.

Finally, the High +/- control changes the tweeter levels to balance the duo.

Coupled with all this is a cleverly designed port unit, which was shown for all to see in the press release. One big problem in porting is resonance at low frequency and they have reduced this with a damping material. If you understand how pipes in cathedral organs work you will know they have their own specific resonance frequency. I remember in my youth improving the porting in my Spendor BC1 by replacing the “hole” with a cut-up paint roller; that hairy damping material on the outside of the tube really did control the bass!

As well as possible resonances from the port, loudspeaker cabinets themselves have structural resonances which can very audible.  FinkTeam take this aspect of loudspeaker performance very seriously, aiming to reduce colouration and time smear resulting in an improved stereo image focus, and ultimately low or null listener fatigue.

That coffin-shape has been a feature of their design in the past and important part of their design philosophy. Fink claim to reduce the the resonance amplitude to below audibility.  They achieve this using a multilayer construction that combines multi-thickness MDF panels with a damping layer whose internal friction converts vibration into heat. That conservation of energy law I grew up learning in science lessons at school says that ‘nothing can be created or destroyed only transferred or transformed’, hence it is converted into heat. In creating the ideal cabinet, the FinkTeam developed algorithms to help ensure ideal material thicknesses to achieve the best results, but they noted even with the cabinet opening to mount the mid/bass driver there was still some unwanted vibration, and whilst almost invisible to the touch test it was obvious under the laser scanner. So, a solid metal ring behind the driver mounting solved this problem and hence increase the signal to noise ratio. Those cabinets are made in house.

As well as hearing the speakers at the show, we were honoured to have Marantz Europe’s brand ambassador, the flamboyantly dressed Ken Ishiwata, to join in the review to discuss his love of the company’s loudspeakers.] Indeed, he heard an early prototype (it was known internally as ‘the washing machine’, hence the initials “WM” on their earlier incarnations) and asked them to create a properly finished version that he could use to demonstrate his electronic designs, which became the WM-3. For me the highlight of this well delivered press review was ken’s unexpected arrival, and the demonstrations illustrated not only a flat and natural response (only slightly marred by a peak of standing waves from where I was sitting at around 120Hz from the room) but also very low distortion allowing instruments to sing to their full and with excellent decay. Their saviour might well be the ability to position for the speaker where you want them to be in your room, tweaking it all from the controls on the rear.

Janine Elliot

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