Karl-Heinz Fink is the man behind Fink Team and the fantastic Borg loudspeaker we reviewed here. In this interview, he talks to Stuart Smith about his background, his designs and more.

Karl-Heinz Fink

HP: Can you tell readers a little about your background and how this led you to an interest in audio?

KHF: Audio started as a hobby and a sort of accident. I was on my way to visit a very early sort of HiFi Discounter in Duisburg, couldn’t find it, but instead ended up in one of the most famous High-End shops in Germany, named Audio Forum (later maker of the Acapella horn speakers). I immediately got hooked and visited them as often as possible. After a while, I was ready to buy my first speakers but asked if I could also make my own design. To my surprise, the answer was “Yes” and so I left the shop with a pair of KEF B139 woofers, Peerless midranges and Isophon tweeters. I started with a huge transmission line and never stopped making speakers. But it was only a hobby in those times, as I had a proper job as a surveyor. Years later, I got the opportunity to run a shop for loudspeaker DIY and I was crazy enough to leave my safe job to help other people making speakers.

HP: Obviously great sound reproduction is a priority, but when engineering a new loudspeaker how do you approach the project?

KHF: Nowadays, a lot of the design can be simulated before we drill the first hole or switch on the soldering iron. Industrial design comes first, as this is a very important part of the product and the drive units will be constructed around it – not like in the old days, when existing drivers dictated the cabinet dimensions. In addition, the cabinet construction gets simulated to minimise cabinet vibration and after all that has been done, the speaker ends up in the anechoic chamber to start with the crossover. We try to get as far as possible with measurements before starting listening. Let me give you an example. Before we got deeply into the cabinet vibration problems, we often had bad results in the listening room when starting the voicing – even with the best drivers and a good crossover. It was the cabinet that often enough made our life complicated and we ended up voicing “around” those problems. Today, we simulate the cabinet, scan the final one with a laser vibrometer and so, there is no bad surprise in the listening room and we can concentrate on the final voicing and we have to make less compromises.

HP: Sonically, what are you looking for from a loudspeaker and do you rely on measurements or your ears when fine-tuning a loudspeaker?

KHF: Measurements are important, as they help us to stay on the right track. Yes, one can voice a speaker around some “problems” in the design, but I prefer all the things out of the way that we can cover with measurements. That gives us more time for listening and fine-tuning. I don’t go to classical concerts every week to calibrate my ear….I go to concerts, but that’s normally Blues or Rock and that can teach you what timing means. Tonal balance, I do like I feel it should be. There is no other choice, as we have so many different recordings and I want as many recordings as possible to sound good on our speakers. So, if it feels good to me, I leave it.

HP: What inspired you to create your prototype WM-3 loudspeaker that was demonstrated at Munich 2016 and how was it received?

KHF: We had those speakers as an internal reference and fun speaker, but it was never planned to produce it. Ken Ishiwata of MARANTZ, who was a good friend, a mentor, and supporter to me, asked if we could do a nicer looking pair for him to demonstrate his new amplifier in Munich and so we made the WM3. The reacting was very positive and we had orders without even knowing a price for the beast.

HP: Following the prototype WM-3 came the commercial product the WM-4, can you tell readers a little about the process of refining the WM-3 to a commercial loudspeaker?

KHF: We more of less had to do anything from scratch. In the WM3, the woofer was a sample we had sitting around, the midrange was assembled in an old Dynaudio basket and the AMT was a leftover from an ELAC project. We had to design a new woofer, making a tool for the midrange and work with Mundorf on a tweeter that would work and do a new crossover. So it’s all-new more or less.

HP: The second loudspeaker from Fink is the Borg (which Hifi Pig awarded our Outstanding Product award), how did this project come about?

KHF: Steve Harris, who was part of the team in the beginning thought it would be a good idea to do a 2-way with a big woofer. He had the Japanese market in mind and I found it interesting to marry a 10” woofer with an AMT. There are not many 2-way speakers with 10” around and there is a reason for that. The tweeter needed some serious rework to go down to 1600Hz with low distortion and a 10” woofer that could go up to 3kHz is also not a standard solution. The crossover is very special, but I had managed it before, so I was confident it could be done.

HP: The Borg uses a 10” bass driver as opposed to a 15” bass driver in the WM-4, do you think this brings compromises, or indeed any benefits, and if so, what are these?

KHF: WM-4 needs a big room to work and not everybody got such a big room. The Borg is a lot easier to integrate into smaller setups and we can use them in standard hotel rooms. If you have the space, WM-4 does offers a bottom end dynamic that is not easy to ignore.

HP: Both your loudspeakers use AMT for the higher frequencies, what benefits do you feel the AMT brings to the loudspeaker and were there any issues in integrating it into the loudspeakers?

KHF: AMT drivers have a large radiating area and that’s why they sound sort of easy with very good resolution. They often sound detached from the woofers/midrange and it takes some tricks in the crossover to adapt them to the woofer. The AMT principle is still unexplored. The inventor did not do a lot during the period the patent did protect the AMT and now, that the principle is free, only a few people are working on it.

HP: Borg has a uniquely shaped cabinet, whose aesthetics do split opinion, can you tell readers a little about how the design came about and what benefits you feel it brings to the sound of the speaker?

KHF: The design of the speaker was done by Kieron Dunk, who is in this business as long as I am, designing very successful speakers for Mission, Infinity, Q-Acoustics, and many others. I gave him a page out of a book (Harry F. Olson) with pictures of cabinet shapes offering the flattest response curve and that was the start of Borg. I also asked for a design that was a statement and he did that very well. I definitely didn’t want a speaker that was looking like many others.

HP: Unusually Borg allows users to fine-tune the loudspeaker in four different parameters, what do you think the inclusion of these brings to the speaker and how well have they been received?

KHF: These controls can help to fine-tune the system. But there is a story behind it. We normally work in a team for listening and the reason is that every listener has his personal set of priorities in his mind and by finding a compromise between all of us, there is a big chance that many people will like it. So Walter Fuchs is our classical music guy and he has his special Pavarotti track for defining the depth of the stage. He likes it more backward, but I like it more forward. In a normal project, we find a compromise, but in Borg, you can have it both by changing the mid control one step. Or you got a set of cables with a slight emphasis on the higher mid-band to boost the resolution. That can get a bit over the top, so you take out presence one notch to compensate. Or you change the damping to adapt to the amplifier you got. Not big jumps, but useful tools for fine-tuning. However, to be honest, not many people use the settings and stay with what I like most. Good choice!

HP: Fink Team have previewed a smaller standmount loudspeaker called Kim, can you tell us a little more about this project?

KHF: Kim is another 2-way with AMT, but in a smaller package and sitting relatively low on the floor. It’s a bit like we did speakers in the past and the reason for it is that it’s again easier to integrate, as the speakers blend into the rest of the furniture. You can read more about KIM by following this link. 

HP: You recently acquired the well-known EPOS brand, what are your plans for the brand going forward?

KHF: EPOS was always very special and the founder, Robin Marshall, as a clever guy. So whatever we will bring to market, should be more than just another speaker with EPOS logo. We are working already on some ideas, but the Corona problem pushed it all back a bit. I’m even working on a sort of Transmission Line! I gave up Transmission Lines many years ago, but nowadays, we have simulation tools and so we can try tricks we have learned in the last few years to make a Transmission Line work well. But so far, it’s not finished. I’m also doing some studies on Metal domes…. EPOS did use them in the past. What really surprised me was the positive reaction we got from old EPOS distributors. They are waiting to restart again.

HP: You have a deep interest in blues music, who are your favourite artists and why?

KHF: There are many I like – not easy to answer. I found it into the Blues with Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. I bought a record with both on the special deal table of a record store when I was 16 or so. I took it, because it was cheap and I discovered a music that did really touch me. I still like this kind of Folk Blues with artist like Mississippi John Hurt, Son House and many others I did never see live, because I was too young when they came over to Europe. I saw B.B. King many times and even had a chance to meet him in person. He was a great guy. When I was reading his autobiography, I listened to the music he was talking about on Spotify (that was before Tidal) and that was a great experience. My last concert Big Daddy Wilson, who adds some Soul elements to the Blues and the concert before was Bernhard Allison, son of Luther Allison.

HP: Do you play an instrument yourself?

KHF: Sort off….I do a bit of guitar, but not good enough to be honest. Would love to play more and better, but time is really limited.

HP: Other than engineering and music reproduction, what are your other passions in life?

KHF: I got a few hobbies. Taking photos is one, but not a lot is happening right now as you can imagine. I have a collection of vintage lenses that I adapt to modern Cameras to add character to the shots. Right now, I’m rebuilding a few vintage guitar amps. All tube of course. It’s really relaxing to move from my desk to my personal workspace and switch on the soldering iron.

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