Dave Dlugos has been around the internet for some time. He’s been providing the DIY community with lots of help and inspiration the whole time. His sites include www.t-linespeakers.org, a site specializing in both factory built and DIY transmission line loudspeakers and derivatives, and www.planet10-hifi.com, his commercial site. He’s also been busy at www.frugalhorn.com ,(providing many free, well drawn box plans for some of the loudspeaker drivers he sells), and www.planetsofta.com (where he sells many new and used items including vintage drivers whilst his partner sells sewing patterns, craft items, and book—all of it on ebay). Dave also sells computer stuff, and does some computer consulting.
Part of the planet_10 philosophy seems to be recycling, and helping to reduce our impact on the planet. Somehow this guy seems like the kind of person I’d like to be—but simply don’t have the time to become. I have no idea how many calories a day that Dave takes in, but I imagine it’s quite a few—something has to power him to the over achieving Energizer Bunny that he must be. I have never met Dave, nor talked to him on the telephone prior to doing this interview. This interview was an email interview, that is questions were posed via email. Responses were emailed back. A telephone conversation followed up this exchange to add more of a personal sense of style and help me to ensure I portray his energy and passion in a realistic and credible way. So here goes:
HFR-Dave, you’ve been around the internet for some time, but how and when did you get started in audio?
DD-I guess when my parents bought the Silvertone flipdown stereo. When I was 12 I tore it apart, built new speaker boxes for the drivers – double-wall construction with wood recycled from a mandarin orange crate. I recently found one of those (pack-ratism runs in the family) and it also was “veneered”and had grill cloth (orange burlap). About 6 years ago, for a 1st from scratch tube amp build I used the amp out of that Silvertone as a starting point. That story can be seen in the 5-buck amp story on the TL-site.
I really got going after a a summer working as a swim instructor (when I was 16) allowed me to buy my own stereo.
Later at university I got into DIYing speakers in a big way. I still have a set of EPI microTower clones from the early days. By the last year of university I was working at a TV/hifi store (which gave access to drivers – including some repair spares that would have otherwise been unobtainiun) and we were building speakers inspired by Radford TLs, and playing with things like Jordan-Watts & a set of Lowther PM6a. Those last sounded pretty poor in their particle board Acousta boxes driven by a Dynaco SCA80 (one of the worst amps of all time).
HFR-Have you ever worked in the audio field? If so, when and where?
DD-Not counting now, the last year university I worked part-time at the above-mentioned TV/appliance/hifi store in Edmonton. That turned full-time after graduation. I was in charge of the hifi room, and we did sell some interesting stuff… it only lasted until mid summer, when the boss & I decided we weren’t going to get along any more. I phoned around to the hifi people I knew & the Grado rep got me an interview at a little hifi shop in Victoria, I drove out to the coast, had my interview, and then was headed back to Alberta to move west… in less than the space of a week a set of events marked a big turn of events. I worked at Sound Hounds for about 5 years, we turned the place into one of the best “little” hifi stores in North America, and I learned an awful lot. I also got to meet a lot of interesting people – Ross Walker, Julian Vereker, Ivor Tiefenbraun, and John Greenbank to name a few. John was to have a pivotal role in my philosophy when it comes to building speakers.
While there I was the go to guy for kit speakers. I sold hundreds & hundred of primarily Kef & Audax drivers. We also sold Fried kits and some of my design ideas for tweaking his kits later showed up in his product line.
After I left Sound Hounds I tried to make a go in pro audio, and designed a lot of my own PA speakers, but that was impoverishing and I turned to computers in 1984 for livelihood.
You can still find me at Sound Hounds most Fridays for the regular coffee-klatch where regulars get together and chat & see what’s new.
HFR-Your education and computer expertise may have led you down a more mainstream career path. How did you mould that into (perhaps) an alternative career? What was the motivation?
DD-I loved music & was fascinated by hifi… I considered 4 years at university (Honours BSc in Statistical Mathematics – would have been a pure math degree except for having to choose between an 8:30 AM class & one just after lunch :^) as a continuation of high school. I never had a career path, I just went with where my life took me. Money was never a big goal, learning, enjoying what I was doing, and challenging myself were. At U of A, I first got introduced to computers (ALGOLW with punch cards on a System 360) and when I was working at Sound Hounds I continued taking math, computing science, & engineering courses. Synchronistically I was taking an advanced math course in sampling theory when Sony’s CD white paper came thru the store… at that time I said they’d have to get the sampling rate up at least 4x before it would challenge analogue… as good as CDs sound today, that still seems prophetic with 192-384 KHz sampling showing just how far you do have to go to rival a good vinyl spinner.
HFR-You’ve had an internet presence for some time now. When did you get a start with the internet community? What was your first serious foray into on-line activity?
DD-I guess I got my 1st email account in the early 90s, joined the basslist in the mid to late 90s. The TL site started as a convenient way to ask some questions & show some pictures (& exercise my then new web server & a piece of freebie web authoring software I had gotten at a MacWorld Expo in San Francisco), In 1999 when I went to the AES conference in NY my roommate was a JoeList member,,, reading some of the posts got me interested in tube DIY and I joined that list. The TL site grew & grew and I started running across the occasional DIY forum because I would get a referral URL from my web server. That got me involved in a number of audio forums, which continues to the present.
HFR-How did you get started with the www.t-linespeakers.org site and how did that evolve into www.planetsofta.com , www.planet10-hifi.com and www.frugal-horn.com?
DD-Oops got ahead of you there. The TL site got started as part of my activity on the bassList. planetsofta is our eBay entity. I needed to sell some of my hifi kit and when I went to get an eBay name planet10 was already taken (seems a software guy in the US was inspired by the same movie when it came choosing a company name). So I took planet10, and an earlier companies name (SofTA CodeWorks) and came up with something quick. My wife really got the eBay selling going. But after the collapse of a start-up I was involved in, I had to find a quick way to generate some cash (I was loath to go back to sitting in front of other people’s computers and making them work – I would have made more money but it wasn’t fulfilling), I had all these old speakers laying around because I had been buying old tube consoles to use as donors in a quest to learn to build tube amps. One of my 1st auctions was a set of Isophon tweeters and they sold for almost $100!! At that point I realized I could make money recycling old hifi and since then I have learned that amongst the junk there are an awful lot of speakers deserving of better boxes (I’ve burned a lot of old speaker carcasses – probably into the thousands).
planet10-hifi came about in an evolutionary fashion too… because of the TL site Chris (my partner) contacted me because he wanted to build some TLs, Chris had worked at a different hifi store when I worked at Sound Hounds & he worked briefly at Sound Hounds after I left so we knew each other but we hadn’t been in contact for 10 or 15 years, since listening to some of my home-brew speaker systems. Chris works at a cabinet making facility with an obscene amount of cool woodworking kit and was good at making cabinets but didn’t have a great handle on the design aspects, Out of that meeting grew a symbiotic relationship that grew into planet10-hifi. Chris was already making custom cabinets for people (and is WAY better at it than i), so we merged that into our activities, and a quest to tweak the venerable RS 40-1197 lead to our 1st product – phase plugs. When it was becoming clear that used hfii was getting pretty mined out I made the conscious decision to try to make a go of planet10-hifi as my main income source. As well as the more visible stuff like phase plugs, select drivers, and more speaker products (custom builds & flat-paks for the DIYer), there is also a consulting end. I am farming out my talent for drawing. design & web work to other small (mostly DIY oriented) businesses. I was always good at drawing, and I was in on the ground floor of using computers as a drawing & design tool – we were doing desktop publishing a year before the term was invented and helped beta test the 1st (and later) versions of Page-Maker & Photoshop (and others), I got my 1st copy of the CAD program I used when the MacPlus was the premier Apple computer). My attitude is that, with DIY growing at a faster pace than any other facet of the industry, the better all the little guys do, and the bet- ter they look, the better we all do, since every successful DIY support entity helps legitimize the niche,and helps ensure that a DIYer ends up with something good (and becomes an addict and helps create more addicts ;^) The true path to being a frugal-phile(tm) is that you need to build at least part of your hifi yourself. planet10-hifi’s mission is to help make that easier with a greater chance of success. We’d also like to pay the bills, but don’t expect to get rich. frugal-horn.com got started because people were getting the open-source frugal-horn project it my commercial stuff… so along with Scott Lingdren’s Spawns, Ron Clarke’s horns, Bob Hayes’ Dalek, and Steve Cresswell’s Metronomes, we put together a separate site as a repository of modern horn designs–Martin King played a pivotal role as well since his ground breaking speaker simulation software aided in the development and refinement in many of the designs. There is still a lot of work to do on the site, but it has to happen when I can squeeze some time from bill paying work.
HFR-Your commercial site includes drivers, and custom enclosures. The emphasis seems to be on single or full-range drivers. How did you come to this way of thinking? A personal epiphany?
DD-Exactly. Like many in this game, over a period of 10-15 years, I had cobbled together had a fairly expensive system, Linn, Naim, Acoustats, active woofers, etc. (this system can be seen on the TL site). I had to take the Naims out for recapping. By this time Chris & I had built a couple of pairs of Bert Doppenberg’s ML-Voigts with some Radio Shack 40-1197s I had bought on eBay & a “dumpster diver” EL84 SE amp I had picked up for next to nothing, so a “temporary replacement system” wasn’t hard to throw together.
The (by now not so) big surprise of course was I found that I was listening to and enjoying music (and video) a lot more. That was a bit of a turning point as far as the system complexity is concerned; the whole hifi went on eBay piece by piece and it has been a journey of discovery since.
It actually wasn’t a big step to single drivers because I had a philosophy of mostly full-range since my Sound Hounds days (inspired by local music lovers Mark Levinson-like system based around stacked Quad 57s). This philosophy centred around a speaker that did most of the work in the critical telephone/voice range with no XOs, with assistance at the bottom and top if necessary, very gentle filter slopes, and actively powered bass drivers. .
Full-range drivers may not be the be-all and end-all in speakers, but when you throw a tight budget into the mix, there is nothing that will beat them for musical enjoyment. And they can easily be supplemented with a woofer or super-tweeter or both – gets you right back to that mostly full-range system. My attitude these days is that you have to be able to listen to and enjoy the midrange all by itself. And for a lot of people that is enough.
It is also fun to be in the full-range business. The “rediscovery” that an amp (whether solid or “hollow” state) has a better chance of sounding really good the smaller & simpler it is (and easier for the DIYer to get right), has lead to a dramatic resurgence in interest in full range speakers because of their efficiency and benign load. We are starting to see modern full ranges eclipse the state of the art as it existed before the big left turn made following the invention of the transistor, and there is more choice now that there has been for the last 40-50 years.
HFR-Your “Fonkens” are quite interesting (and beautiful to look ast as well). What led you to revisit the “Onken” style of vented cabinets?
DD-A great example of synchronicity. I first encountered an onken in an Audax project booklet in the late 70s, and immediately realized that its biggest asset was the way the vents acted as a an incredibly well braced cabinet wall. Even earlier I had been exposed to aperiodic enclosures from the builder that had turned me onto Radfords. This was further reinforced by Bud Fried’s Model R & Q. So that has all been sitting in the back of my head for some 30-40 years. When CSS brought out the FR125S, we played with a lot of standard sealed / vented and even some TL and bi-pole designs. The driver showed so much promise and flexibility that I was tasked to come out with a unique enclosure for it.
The stuff sitting in my head, a recent realization that aperiodic boxes were a way to deal with T/S parameters being curves not scalars, my favourite page in Olson’s Acoustics (the one with the graphs of the affect of box shape on diffraction) and inspired by how much I liked the look of Tony Gee’s Solo 103, the mini Onken for the FR125s literally came in a flash… it took a while to work out all the design and production details, but we think the results speak for themselves.
Chris & I still preferred the more efficient Fostex FE127e, particularly with the small tube amps we were using, and Chris asked, “can we put the FE127 in the miniOnken?” Turns out that except for some changes in the size of the port spacers it works really well.
The Fonken is a near aperiodic enclosure that provides balanced response from about the mid 50s up to about 15k Hz with no crossovers. It likes small amps with highish output impedance like SETs, a whole new wave of single-ended SS amps, and the new small digital amps. It does really well with any sort of vocals, jazz, and simpler classical music. Its limits with other music are how loud a single 4” cone can play, and even then it can be used as an extended midrange for a true full-spectrum system.
The advent of home theatre has made the subwoofer an accepted piece of kit and even a modest tweeter can give more than acceptable performance if crossed over in the 12-20k range you’d need – and the crossover can be a single capacitor. Or you could start with a set of BiFonkens…“Meet the Fonkens”
The bipolar version points out that the Fonken has spawned a number of other enclosures that use the same bass tuning concept but serve different sets of user needs. For instance the 1st of the Mark II version of the Fonken floor-stander is just being finished, and since the Fonken is a fiddly box to make we have come up with a simpler to build rectangular box with classic golden ratio proportions. All the plans for these are or will be available on the site for non-commercial use.
HFR-Where do you see the DIY hobby going in the next few years? What about audio in general?
DD-DIY will continue to grow leaps & bounds, and not just audio, DIY everything. People are getting tired of cookie cutter products and are more & more appreciating the satisfaction of building something themselves. The internet is an essential enabler of this. No longer do you have to have the guy or girl down the street to mentor you, you can climb into the chair in front of your computer and have access to people’s experience around the world, including more & more luminaries, For instance, Nelson Pass’ participation in one if the forums I am involved in played a pivotal role in it reaching critical mass.
On top of that we have a traditional hifi where prices are getting higher & higher so the appeal of saving a whole lot of money by making it yourself becomes even more appealing.
Furthermore, theIinternet has been responsible for the re-invention of the mom & pop business. There is a steadily growing number of small support businesses operated by enthusiasts who can add the value to your purchase that a big box store can’t and who wouldn’t exist if the internet did not provide a world-wide marketplace.
Audio in general? I could go on forever… let me pick just one. The iPod will be a huge boon to audio. 1st it is bringing music to a lot of people. 2nd it is establishing the beginnings of a whole new way of distributing music. 3rd it is the harbinger of whole new world of innovative ways to get music playing. Already having the music on your computer to get it on your iPod is ensuring the computer as source and more & more choice in USB & Firewire DACs are enabling us to get music out to the rest of our kit at a quality level that can rival much more expensive digital players. Sure they are mostly only crappy MP3s at the moment, but growing Internet bandwidth driven by the need to distribute video will enable the distribution of lossless music in reasonable time-frames… and every person who loves quality hifi has to make an effort to expose iPod users to the quality difference lossless makes. Enough of them will hear the difference to ensure a market for quality music reproduction kit for as long as we can see – and that means continuing development and growth in audio – we will see the dinosaurs die off thou, we are witnessing evolution in action today. This last point about kids recognizing quality when they hear it was really driven home just recently. I got an iPod for Christmas and it as only ever seen apple lossless files. One of the kids at the computer shop I work part time at (I have computer clients that will never let me quit completely) has an iPod shuffle – lousy lossy files only… it only took him seconds to recognize the
quality difference, which gives great hope for the future. The real future of audio lies with the kids, not us old guys – we can only mentor, they will drive the market.
HFR-How do you think planet10-hifi will fit into the changing “reality” of audio?
DD-planet10-hifi only exists because of the new realities of audio. We are small & agile and will continue to surf the market as it grows & morphs. We are also working to play what role we can to drive the changes by participating in the general community far beyond our commercial interests and with the consulting end where we help others to be successful. With open source stuff like frugal-horn.com, and by publishing the designs of everything we make, as well as a broad range of other proven designs we work to increase the DIYers chances of completing a successful project – and one successful project usually leads to more. In the near term we are excited about flat-pak production. We hope that these make DIY speakers accessible to many more people – the goal is to make it possible for someone to make their own speakers, with as little as just glue, packing tape, screwdriver & soldering iron.
A few words from Chris (Bobiak):
As Dave’s mostly silent partner (unless you count forum posts), I’d like to add some comments of my own.
Firstly, there are many similarities and differences in the audio journey that finds us on our current path. We have both been playing around in this game for over 30 yrs, my first piece of “audio” gear was a germanium crystal radio and earpiece set in the late 50’s – I still have vivid memories of listening late at night to live broadcasts of local hockey and lacrosse games. While my interest in sports has long since faded, the early habit of nocturnal listening and viewing hasn’t. My first DIY speaker project was a pair of 6×9 car radio speakers on a small corner mounted OB in my bedroom, powered by a Noresco “Consolette” (hey that was my 1st electronics & source too/ dave), paid for with “savings” from paper route and allowance for chores. (remember when you had to “earn” your allowance?)
Fast forward through high school, graduation, marriage, employment in several audio retailers during the big boom of the mid – late 70’s and the attendant exposure to the latest audio gear by a variety of mainstream and lesser known upstart companies. Of course this also granted the dubious benefit of access to “employee purchase” at dealer wholesale cost, or sometimes even promotionally lower prices. Ask my wife if that was any benefit – I was definitely a kid in a candy store, and lost count over the number of system “upgrades” and changes made along the way. In hindsight, it’s easy to see that much of this was pure novelty, but harder to determine when ennui set in.
After 25yrs of playing around with combinations too numerous (and pointless) to list, I ended up with a Lynn system that remained unchanged for almost 10yrs, and actively listened to it less than my car radio – indeed for several years, the only time I used it at all was to play records for my kids (ah the joys of “Sharon Lois & Bram”), and record cassettes for my car deck.
Dave & I had been free-floating in the audio cosmos for sometime, and it was thanks to the Internet that our paths converged.
Some Final Thoughts
I had been lurking and surfing around when I stumbled across Lynn Olsen’s “Ariel” project, and after following the yellow brick road for a few weeks and viewing the galleries of work by DIYers, I thought presumptuously, “I could do something like that!” (I had the same sort of thoughts when I spotted the Ariel and Me2 speakers on the Internet) Except that after reading about Lynn’s struggle to get the XO to his satisfaction, tallying the net parts cost of the complete system, and not to mention the complexity of the actual enclosure itself, I decided to postpone that particular build. I was however still intrigued by the idea of a TL as opposed to sealed or conventional BR. (at this time I had not yet been seduced by the siren song of tubes and FR/horns)
Well of course, at the time, a search on the Internet for transmission line loudspeaker took one directly to Dave’s site. Given the lack of sufficient momentum and a specific trajectory on my part, the effect of gravity took over, and I’ve been a part of the planet10 constellation ever since. (some of my best listening memories are of DCM Timeframe loudspeakers, classified as a TL, If I remember correctly)
I’d be the first to acknowledge my math and technical acumen are substantially limited compared to Dave’s, and would consider my contributions to be more intuitive and aesthetic. However, like many greybeards and DIYers, I have some very strong opinion most particularly about what I like, and when to forget about the theory, price tags and subjective measurements, and just suspend to the disbelief and “enjoy the show”. (this too has been my journey back to audio….I never really left, but certainly had gotten tired of the effort required to enjoy. I have always believed good sound need not be expensive)
At any price, audio reproduction is about balancing compromises, there is no single “best approach” the acceptable result can vary significantly based on each individual’s situation. My personal experience also indicates that changes in expectations and acceptance are inevitable . For now I’m quite emotionally satisfied with the performance of small, room friendly “almost” full range speaker systems, driven by low powered tube amps. (it’s pretty amazing how important WAF and SOAF significant other acceptance factor—have become in keeping the peace in many homes, and creating an equal opportunity for listening enjoyment. If the whole family can’t enjoy the system.)
The fact that in addition to getting decent sound for less than the sales tax on the interconnects & speaker cabling on some systems demoed by the local dealer, I can handcraft them to my own aesthetic is what DIY is all about.
The interesting thing I notice about these two guys is the fact that they have shared a similar road to perfection” as I have, in audio that is. I too had worked in a small shop, done a few DIY things, got interested in Lynne Olson’s Ariels and Me2’s. A few years ago, I would never have tought to try too much. I still don’t as I have proven very efficient at destroying too many good pieces over the years because “inquiring minds want to know”. Dave (during our telephone conversation), had commented that there are some other things in the works and that him and Chris have been doing some research into amplifiers. Does this mean they’ll have their own , ready-for prime-time commercial amp out any time soon? Probably not, they also have been exploring possible alignments or associations with other like-minded small manufacturers. And that is a good thing. For the purist or those seeking high value, high performing, carefully designed and built hifi equipment, the resurgence of DIY audio and creative, small manufacturers seem ideally suited. And a sense of community (as Dave stated) is possible, even within a small “niche” of the audio hobby.
A couple of other things that struck me about Dave, we do share a common belief that good audio need not cost a lot of money. Almost everyone can hear the difference quality makes. Everybody, given a chance prefer esthetically pleasing things. Tactile feel is important to some of us. And quality speaks for it self. I can assure you that minus a few “glitches” in manufacturing, the Fonkens are a beautifully made product. They ooze quality. The beauty of the enclosure cannot be overstated enough. Would I do things differently? Probably not if I had the same skill set that both Dave and Chris have combined. I have more theoretical than practical skills, and I am always amazed at the quality of items and design that many on the DIY type sites demonstrate, as well as those presented by small scale custom manufacturers.