|March 2000 |
in a name? This can become a question of considerable
merit -- especially when your parents have immortalized
you as Volkmar Drübbisch and your company’s
nôme-de-guerre becomes pARTicular
Contemporary Design. An initial rough translation
might equate this with "an obviously Germanic
fellow with an equally apparent and rather insistent
mission statement of doing things his own way."
that you’ve astutely divined the "how" and "who," the "what" still remains
elusive. What actually does Herr Drübbisch do in such particular but artistic
To answer that question is precisely
the purpose of this article. Let’s first take a closer look at the actual
man behind the company. Don’t consider this a detour or cheat by skipping
ahead. It’s a package deal. It’s a colorful journey that surprisingly
ends with audio. With a name as precisely chosen as particular Contemporary Design,
it’s obvious that the man’s personality and history must be inextricably
intertwined with his company and its products or services. Some background should
prove pertinent to understanding the "whatever," all the better. Furthermore,
this perspective coincides with my personal motive to introduce to you some of
the people of our industry whom you’re unlikely to personally meet, whether
in the ads or on the retail floor of your favorite dealer. Our industry harbors
some very unique fugitives from diverse disciplines who often have some astounding
and complex backgrounds. Their stories are not often told. That’s sad. A
product is only as unique as its maker. So then…
Drübbisch, born 1963, is raised in Cologne and indelibly patterned by what he
today calls "city impact." It’s perhaps not surprising that his residence
since 1991 has been San Francisco. Many Germans consider it the most European
and sophisticated of all American cities. Sitting comfortably in his downtown
apartment after a very satisfying meal he invited me to just down the street minutes
ago, Volkmar shows me an obviously deeply cherished woodcarving to kick off the
interview. It’s one of his few remaining mementos of his grandfather.
The Elder Drübbisch had craftily used his Russian internment as prisoner of war
to literally sharpen his woodworking skills, not with a dull knife but a junk-metal
edge. Even though he passes away by the time the youngster turns 14, the stern,
well-rounded amateur woodworker of considerable ingenuity instills in his protégé
a strong sense of accomplishment. This must be earned by hard work alone. Careful
attention to detail is mandatory. Doling out praise rarely but fairly, this exacting
treatment stimulates in the adolescent a growing commitment to consistently push
And push Volkmar
will, forever onward. Called to army duty right out of high school, he signs up
to become an emergency medical technician. In his own words, he thrives on the
responsibilities involved with life-and-death decision-making. Predictably, he
soon becomes disenchanted with the rank-and-file mentality of military regulations.
Volkmar’s fuse is slow to blow. When it eventually does though, it erupts
in grand style. Yours truly, expatriate German-to-the-bone, feels entitled and
amused to call this explosion typically Teutonic in character. Our subject,
upon surveying his options, proceeds to exercise our famously thick-headed and
peculiar self-righteousness and elevates it over what would have been infinitely
more practical and self-serving.
Private Drübbisch files for civil
disobedience after he completes his 15 months of mandatory army recruitment!
In other words, he could have just quietly taken the exit and be done. It merely
involves ad infinitum attendance of two weeks per year of ongoing NATO
training to stay abreast of new rescue techniques and equipment. His belated and
public act of defiance does put an end to that, but it forces him in turn to serve
yet another seven months to complete the required total of 22 months for CD. Such
can be the consequences if you speak your mind. To this day, Volkmar is rather
stubborn about being forthright and direct and admits that it occasionally gets
him in conflict with those who would practice less honest "diplomacy." Just my
kind of guy -- a bit difficult in the best what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of
Still in Germany, he works
as a paramedic in an area known for notoriously severe car and motorcycle accidents.
His paramedic expertise advances him to be in charge of and respond to 911 rescue
calls. Two years later, the now 23-year-old sets his sights onto a very desirable
post with the Medical University of Hannover. The position referred to is part
of a Search & Rescue helicopter team that specializes in airborne extraction
and in-flight administration of serious traffic accidents. When, despite his openly
acknowledged professional acumen, his application is turned down purely because
of age -- generally accepted applicants are 30 or older, which makes him an intolerable
overachiever -- he continues perplexed and miffed as a paramedic on 911 emergency
calls. Simultaneously, he teaches emergency medicine at the school of nursing
for another year. But the mental gears are clicking, deciding upon the next course
of action. He soon enrolls in what is to become an 11-semester commitment of pharmaceutical
studies at the Braunschweig Technical University.
is his wont, Big Brother then inconveniently intervenes with the dreaded recall
to CD duty. Because of his previous training, Volkmar is now stationed as pharmacist
in a clinical pharmacy. With little surprise to the reader but much consternation
and frustration to our subject, his prior five years of laboriously accumulated
know-how are neither appreciated, recognized nor prove themselves at all useful
in an atmosphere dominated by "proper" medical doctors. As if pharmacists weren’t
qualified. More grist for the mill.
A 1989 visit to the US now plants
the seeds that will eventually detour his entire medical career and bring us full-circle
to audio, in case you doubted. For now though, Volkmar embarks on a nine-week
motorcycle Enduro trip with a friend that introduces him to most of the mid-Western
states. A chance encounter with a wealthy couple in Death Valley results in a
house-sitting invitation to their massive estate in the Bay area. A particular
suggestion ensues that’s aimed at maximizing Volkmar’s prior education
whilst transcending his pent-up frustrations with its inherent applicability.
He follows the invitation of the vice chair of the School of Pharmacy at the famed
University of California in San Francisco. He clearly aims at an enrollment in
their Scientific Research Program even though consummation will be another two
years in the future when he concludes his final studies in Deutschland.
on schedule in 1991, he takes stock of his possessions and sells off his handmade
furniture, motorcycle and considerable audio-gear collection in Germany. He is
prepared to weather what is naturally a non-paying assignment in one of the most
prestigious of US campuses for his chosen field -- the pharmaceutical department
of the UCSF. The project he’s been accepted for is scheduled for one semester
only. It is to continue previous participants’ studies in molecular biology
that have not yet concluded in satisfactory results.
the optimist -- or perhaps rightfully sure of his abilities -- Volkmar negotiates
a challenging contract: If he successfully completes the assignment within the
allotted time frame, his status will be changed to full-time hired staff. When
his professor accepts this unlikely scenario, Drübbisch gets to work and completes
the project within the first half of the allotted time frame. He is hired
in accordance with the agreement and spends the next five years in charge of training
newcomers while directing and managing the lab. He now works on the underlying
biochemistry and molecular biology of opiate tolerance and dependency. As any
serious scientist with an ongoing position at a major university is required to,
Herr Drübbisch’s research findings are routinely published in international
publications. This allows him to eventually obtain his immigration papers, the
famous green card, which is green only with the envy of those still waiting for
I have followed this
impressive evolution of Volkmar’s medical career with keen concentration
so far. I’m nonetheless puzzled at this moment at how all this relates to
the reason for my being here. After all, I’ve dispatched myself to San Francisco
as your ever-intrepid SoundStage! correspondent hot on the heels of newsworthy
audio/video-related stories and as-yet-secret products and procedures.
Prescribe me a
pill, Volkmar. Am I dreaming or am I in the right place?
reply to my informal joke cuts right to the bone of the matter. Volkmar thrives
on the daily rewards and personal satisfaction of work well done. His protracted
gig at the UCSF drives home the need for consistent publishing to obtain the necessary
grant funding. Publishing is directly contingent on newsworthy results that are
dependent on successfully setting up fortuitous parameters at the onset of a research
project. Otherwise you might end up with a full semester’s work of dead
ends. The results? No published white papers, that’s what; no funds to continue,
no personal satisfaction, no control-in-your-own-hands. All this is deeply frustrating
for a can-do kind of guy with a sharply delineated sense of self and reward. His
deeply ingrained, perhaps inherited, need to excel is left starving, hungry to
produce, to get his hands dirty with work that begins in the early morning with
raw parts and transforms by day’s end into concrete results that bear only
a minor semblance to the raw materials involved. Maybe his blue-collar beginnings
in his grandfather’s workshop are making themselves felt now, putting into
sharp relief his present-day existence as an over-trained, eminently capable but
deep down frustrated researcher-cum-pharmacist-cum-ex-paramedic.
follow the prompting of his muse -- or the silent voice of his forefather -- the
now 32-year old signs up for evening machine-shop classes at a junior college.
He soon obtains certification in five levels of construction welding. Thinking
back, he reckons the financial outlay for this line of training amounted to $40.00.
Good things often don’t cost a lot if you know where to look.
intrinsic advice of this last sentence sends Volkmar on a hunt looking, but he’s
not entirely sure where. He’s ready to rebuild his stereo system that he
sold to finance his first semester in the States. Damn, though, if he can find
an audio rack that fulfills his European sense of aesthetics and offers the functionality
he demands. Ever resourceful, he determines that the annual Consumer Electronics
Show in Las Vegas will be the place where he will surely hit upon what he wants.
After all, this show is the biggest, most important industry event in the world
and assembles the international who’s who of audio/video under the roofs
of one single spot.
Two CES shows
later --1995 and 1996 -- as well as having visited countless retailers, Volkmar
has prudently assessed everything the market has to offer. He is convinced beyond
a doubt now that he needs to build his own audio furniture. He’s taken stock
of all existing lines and models. Still, he hasn’t chanced upon anything
he’d settle on for his own place, never mind expect friends or acquaintances
to purchase and take home.
the 1997 CES, Volkmar submits his now famous Ypsilon rack to the annual Engineering
and Design contest judges. He promptly walks away with top honors in his field.
Only a minor fly in the ointment keeps flapping its noisy wings -- in order to
accept the award, he must be an actual exhibitor at the show. Because the space
reservation clock has advanced to five minutes to twelve by the time the winners
are announced, not a single rooms is left. Calamity. Stress. Sad ending.
Grandfather’s two key dictates of willpower and determination
must have rung in the Drübbisch belfry loud and clear by now. He proceeds unflustered
and serene. He follows up on a suggestion by Los Angeles retailer David Weinhardt
of Ambrosia Audio/Video to contact Geoff Poor of Balanced Audio Technology. BAT
just happens to be looking for a hi-tech rack to complement their CES display.
Their own challenge is that it has to accommodate their unusually deep amplifiers.
Volkmar is contracted to build a custom version of his Ypsilon design and thereby
turns joint exhibitor with the start-up electronics manufacturer. He now is entitled
to accept the award for his very first audio/video furniture design. This he does
in January of 1997 with a well-deserved sense of accomplishment. He sells the
rights to his design with a mass-manufacturing exclusive to the well-known Lovan
Corporation of Malaysia and purchases a 70-foot teak yacht with cash, on which
he now lives docked at the most exclusive pier of Sausalito.
again. True to form and never one to rest on his laurels lest they gather dust
-- or worse, actually disintegrate into from-dust-we-come-to-dust-we-must-return
entropy -- Volkmar follows his first CES with a Design & Innovations Award
in both 1998 and 1999. This unprecedented triple winning streak nevertheless excludes
the designer from a CES-sponsored workshop billed as "Audio Furniture - The Forgotten
Component." Company principals of established furniture-manufacturing firms are
invited to the open-mike format. He isn’t. Never one to dull his opinions
with platitudes, Volkmar expresses disappointment with this incident. Despite
obvious peer recognition as embodied by three consecutive awards, this overt oversight
rankles him for various reasons. As part of a San Francisco-based designer association,
he relishes the mutual exposure and dialogue with gifted colleagues. He also feels
strongly about his abilities to contribute to the industry at large to everyone’s
benefit. However, both a dialogue of the two-way kind and actual hands-on interaction
require inclusion and free cooperation between all players involved if
the state of the art in audio/video furniture is to truly get advanced.
examples of his expanding ambitions, Drübbisch cites five completed loudspeaker
models for which he fashioned the industrial design and look. There’s also
a pending bid to revamp the external appearance of a high-profile electronics
line. He is actively soliciting further offers to broaden his current furniture
focus and apply his creativity in all areas of the audio/video industry. His take
on "endless black boxes of monotone sameness" mirrors my sentiments precisely.
I dare say most if not all consumers and end-users would agree if polled.
Rather than entrusting manufacture
of his designs to others and thereby defeating the purpose of creating particular
in the first place, every single rack, stand and support that make up the current
line are entirely hand-fabricated by the designer. He estimates his 1999 sales
volume to have been about 100 units. Basic math tells us that this equals one
finished and packaged, ship-ready rack every three days throughout the year, come
rain or come shine. It’s fair to say Volkmar Drübbisch keeps his candle
burning, especially on long rainy days. Sunny days may see him flying his beloved
hang-glider high above the western cliffs of the city. Early mornings routinely
see him running the streets in beat-up workout threads to ignite the body electric.
His growth as a business is documented by the growth of his dealer network. From
seven dealers in his first year, he expands to 18 by year two and 32 by year three.
His original workshop, perfectly in sync with the American archetype, is his garage
with a proud square footage of 250. He’s moved thrice since and upgraded
to the current 1600-square-foot shop, each move doubling usable workspace over
the previous one.
Asked how the
dealers respond to his novel, suspension-based designs and their ultra-modern,
uptown appearance, Volkmar reveals that many US dealers seem at first ill prepared
to sell upscale furniture at all. They regard it as merely an accessory to make
their electronics look good, akin to the humble beginnings of cables and power
cords when all cables sounded alike -- just plug them in and go. Dealers appear
to act as though just because the particular designs are beautiful and different,
they ought to sell themselves. With European indignity and a minor mode of intolerance
-- a diminished ninth perhaps -- he expresses dismay that the United States, world
leader in so many affairs, severely trails European design trends by about ten
years. This leads to a concomitant lack of sophistication and experience by retailers
and consumers alike. He observes that this trend is only slowly beginning "to
catch up." Being of Germanic descent myself and thus suitably inclined to occasional
bouts of arrogance, I have to basically agree with his assessment. It isn’t
arrogance either. Europeans do have a major edge in design, and not just in our
industry. A quick cyber stroll through Euro speaker or amp manufacturer’s
websites proves the point. Nobody can look at Bow Technologies, Burmester, mbl,
Sonus Faber or Unison Research equipment, secretly compare notes with equivalent
US marquees and not come to similar conclusions. Maybe this Drübbischer Deutschländer
in our midst should be pulled back into active duty no matter how outspokenly
he’d resist. But rather than waste his talent on the army again, this time
he might contribute his particular ideas to US-based manufacturers to "get with
with contempt at $40,000 audio systems housed in $400 Circuit City racks. Furniture
indeed is the forgotten component of audio systems -- the fifth wheel,
the ugly duckling. He claims stands need to be recognized as fully active
components. Though I’m at first skeptical -- hey John, check out my new
stand; dude, it sounds way better than yours -- I’ve since heard the error
of my ways. I’ve purchased Volkmar’s most basic stand, called, fittingly,
the Basis. I did so purely because I liked its looks. I hate to admit it but bloody
damn if my system doesn’t sound significantly better than it did
before. It used to be situated on a perfectly stable, very dense and well-designed
Chinese-style rosewood table, with components appropriately de-coupled by spikes.
Now I’m beginning to sound just like the audio voodoo sycophants I so love
to torment. Volkmar warns that replacing my wooden shelves with acrylic ones and
going for the full Ypsilon suspension would make an even more drastic improvement.
This is seriously alarming. I was perfectly prepared to spend money on appearances’
sake alone, maintaining a saint’s aloofness from all claims or even concerns
over how positively or otherwise the audio performance might be affected. Serves
me right that in my shallowness I now not only have to contend with a bitchin’
audio rack but have to suffer mightily improved sonics to boot. Life can be so
cruel. At least my wife shares in the punishment. She hears it too. Happiness
Here’s our informal
"who-is-particularly-hip" list of exhibitors at CES 2000 who used Volkmar's racks:
Art Audio, BAT, Jeff Rowland, Meadowlark Audio, the Levinson/Madrigal/Revel conglomerate,
Soliloquy Loudspeaker Company and Wisdom Audio. They all either own particular
stands or have made prior loan arrangements for the show. Reviewers who have caught
on to his designs are Chip Stern and Brian Damkroger of Stereophile.
that I’m all worked up, I want to make Drübbisch sweat. I want to know what
goes into the actual manufacture of a stand -- a blow-by-blow, elbow-grease itinerary.
for any particular rack begins as 1000-1500 pounds of truck-delivered raw metal,
both aluminum and steel, and usually in 20' lengths. All this must first be received
and signed off. This unloading and stacking of heavy and unwieldy parts in the
shop is the one task that Volkmar dreads, but it keeps him fit. The procedure
then calls for 1/32"-tolerance size cutting, deburring, drilling and tapping of
holes, beveling, cleaning, two-sided welding, grinding, paint prep, powder coating
and re-tapping of all holes -- never mind cutting and sanding of support boards
or all the tedious steps that go into packaging. It's one short sentence, but
as our red-hot, in-flagranti photos prove (they were shot while Volkmar was plying
his trade in his San Francisco shop), there's a whole lotta grinding going down
at the Drübbisch plant. I do my best work after dark -- isn’t that how the
refrain of that song has it?
All racks feature
easy assembly and disassembly; a modular flexibility to accommodate the ever-changing
componentry of the dedicated music lover; the use of dissimilar metals, woods,
rubbers and composites to absorb various resonances; partial or complete suspension
to minimize or avoid floor-induced vibrational contamination; stunning contemporary
looks; and upgradability to more complex designs. As an example of the last feature,
the Basis rack I bought can be reconfigured into a Novus rack simply by adding
the external frame, flipping the rear supports upside down and threading them
into the frame. By subtracting an H-bar from the Basis rack, it can become a dedicated
mono amp stand with the simple addition of the machined aluminum cones with adjustable
To familiarize yourselves
with the complete line outside of the new designs featured in this article, log
onto http://www.particular.com/ to learn more about
this unique line of audio/video furniture. Like me, you might realize that how
we support our electronics not only can affect our marriage -- very positively
if you’re particular enough -- but also maximizes the rather substantial
financial investment most of us have made into our cherished audio systems over
the years. Audio racks are not a mere accessory. They are an active component
and need to be thought of as such. Whether this or that particular or not-so-particular
design floats your boat is not the point. You should first investigate and then
validate this entire issue for yourself.
you can’t refuse, let me give you my opinion undiluted: Stands do not
all sound alike. Going through the list of about 40 high-end manufacturers
who have used the Drübbisch stands time and again at trade shows, it seems that
most of them feel these stands are the most neutral ones in the biz. Neutral?
Yes, for crying out loud, apparently stands have a sound all their own.
There, I’ve said it. I’m disgusted. You can shoot me now. Just say
a prayer for yet another soul getting more deeply involved with his hobby than
can possibly be good for him.
From the Great Beyond. Oh damn, you missed.
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