Armand van Ommeren
4854 CG Bavel
KvK Breda 20064173
Wharfedale is een beroemd luidsprekermerk dat werd opgericht en geleid door Gilbert A. Briggs die goede relaties had met vrijwel alle audiopioniers in Engeland, de bakermat van goed geluid. Briggs heeft er vele boeken over geschreven - hij was een geïnspireerd auteur - die wellicht gedateerd maar zeker niet achterhaald zijn. Het ware te wensen dat velen die zich met audio bezighouden die boeken eens gingen (her)lezen, het zou zeker aan het inzicht bijdragen. Vandaar dat ik zo nu en dan wat hoofdstukken uit die boeken op de site plaats, maar zeker ookom de nagedachtenis aan deze bijzondere audioman en pianoliefhebber levend te houden. Armand van Ommeren
Briggs - P.J. Walker
But you see we have to admit that Peter Walker is a very inventive fellow. He added a ribbon speaker to his bass enclosure, and followed on with the first-ever full range push pull electrostatic speaker to see the light of a commercial day. (How I have survived as a speaker maker in the face of such competition I can never understand.) A much closer association between us began when I telephoned P.J.W. in 1954 and invited him to take on the pickup and amplifier side of a demonstration in the Royal Festival Hall, to which he rather reluctantly agreed. I soon discovered that he is a perfectionist, but I readily admit that his high standards stood us in good stead at this and many subsequent live v. recorded demonstrations. I think that the main reason why we were able to work together – a long with John Collinson – at these events was that we generally agreed about what was good in reproduction both musically and acoustically. In short, we all had about the same amount of cloth in our ears.
It is often said that there is honour among thieves, and I can cite an incident which proves that this also applies to audio manufacturers. After the first R.F.H. demonstration I suggested to Mr. Walker that he might derive some benefit by mentioning in his adverts that Quad II amplifiers had been used. He replied that we had booked the hall and footed the bill and he did not think it right that his firm should try directly to make capital out of it. A nice point, from which he never departed. I was most interested to note that Mr. Walker's ideas about business and about technical prediction of loudspeaker performance, and concentration on such problems, are very similar to those of Mr. Klipsch. But I think they both underrate their business ability. As a matter of fact, I have had a few business sessions with P.J.W. and have found him a very hard nut to crack. (I never actually succeeded in cracking him.) The truth is, of course, that you cannot succeed in a one-man business without a measure of commercial acumen; how big the business becomes then depends on where your ambitions lay and what really interests you. Some people prefer a healthy-looking balance sheet to a beautiful or theoretically perfect product. Personally, I like them both, especially when they come together.
Finally, I need hardly say that P.J.W. is very musical, and currently plays the flute in an orchestra in Huntingdon. I have suggested several times that we should make a flute and piano record together and startle the natives at an audio fair by performing in person, even using E.S.L. speakers if necessary. But P.J. always turns me down. (Unfortunately he has heard me at the piano but I have never heard him play the flute!) But lets listen to P.J.W. Himself:
My first contact with audio began at the age of six, when in our sitting room there was a small circular table on which hung five or six lorgnette ear-pieces. My mother would use the telephone and ask to be connected to some concert hall, after which we would all sit round in a small circle and listen to a sound which I suppose was music. The instrument was called an Electrophone, and was connected to the telephone service. Shortly after the above service was put into operation, some men came to take the equipment away. I remember asking my father why. “There is a new thing called wireless”, he said. This was in 1922 when the B.B.C. started and the telephone concert service stopped.
My next contact with radio – or “the wireless” as it was known in 1926 – was when I struggled along with thousands of others to build a Cossor Melodymaker. There followed many other homemade sets, and I remember these activities being quite profitable at school, where I produced crystal sets in matchboxes for which I was paid usually 2s. 6d. each, headphones extra at about 15s. Od. My whole training at school and immediately after was based on the assumption that I would enter my father's business in wholesale hardware, which he had built up from nothing, and it was his dearest wish that the firm should be carried on by his only son. To turn down a business which by now was becoming very lucrative was quite unthinkable. I did not reveal my doubts to my father. I duly left school and set to work to become a “business man”. I failed dismally; I tried selling wood screws in Birmingham – Now our wood screws were virtually identical with those of our competitors-prices and discounts too were the same. I could think of no reason why anyone should buy from us instead of the opposition.
I was no born business man and even after 25 years of operating my own business I still make no claims to business ability although fortunately I have picked up a sort of instinct, which enables me to detect most propositions which are commercially unsound. Thus in a negative sort of way, I have been able to avoid the pitfalls which beset many small businesses. The climax came in 1934. After an abortive call on an ironmonger in Holborn I was walking down Kingsway past the G.E.C. and on an impulse turned in and asked for a job, and got it.
My father had provided me with an education “on the science side” and this, together with my amateur experience, was a start. I attended evening classes and studied at home and in little more than a year I had founded Acoustical Manufacturing Company. Paradoxically, it was my naive business sense that made me start on my own. I had left the G.E.C. and was working for a firm manufacturing amplifiers. I had just completed a simple installation costing about £30 and reasoned that since the parts cost around £10, I had only to start on my own, make an amplifier on Monday, sell it on a Tuesday and enjoy the rest of the week on the £20 profit.
As can be expected, the next few years were very much touch and go. There was no hardship because I was single, with no responsibilities, living at home. If there was no profit it mattered little because playing in a dance band during the evenings, brought me in a few pounds each week. The £200 father gave me to start soon dwindled to zero. I suppose I could have asked for more but pride and all that prevented it. Looking back, I am sure that if I had started with £20,000 it would have gone just as surely and probably with some overshoot resulting in a serious situation. I have seen several men start in business with a good capital and consequently with grandiose schemes to go with it. When they failed they failed completely. My way was safe-heads I win-tails I don't loose (much). My future wife joined the business soon after it started. Her job included many a trip down Farringdon Road in London to buy valves – one set at a time. Those days had their high spots – an order was an occasion for celebration; the employment of our first assistant, the move to larger premises (a shed 14 ft. x 8 ft.) were major events.
We were always optimistic. We even applied to go on the approved list of Post Office contractors, and were told that an inspector would visit us to inspect the “factory”. The total equipment consisted of a very old oscilloscope, a breadboard oscillator, a universal meter and one electric hand drill. We spent the best part of a day polishing up the equipment in preparation for the important visitor. He was very kind and inspected each of the four items in all seriousness with no trace of what he must have thought. We were left with the feeling that, although we were not accepted, this was almost the fault of the Post Office. Slowly – very slowly – we progressed. I toured the country calling on dealers, with a 30 watt battery-operated amplifier. Every order meant more to us than those dealers will ever know. If any of them should still remember let me thank them now.
Two events were destined to have a profound effect on me. I had come to know Voigt and his pioneer work in his studio workshop at Sydenham. I had also attended a series of lectures by Dr. McClachlan on loudspeaker design. A love of music and Voigt's demonstrations fired the imagination and showed the artistic satisfaction obtainable from loudspeaker design. McClachlan's lectures revealed the fascinating intellectual problems involved in the physics of the subject. I had not then the skill, the money, the equipment or the leisure to battle with such a subject, but I resolved that if the opportunity ever occurred this was the problem I would tackle. The development of high quality reproduction was not commercially practicable before the war, and there was little opportunity to attend to such a subject during the war years. Immediately after the war, however, it appeared that high fidelity was commercially feasible though probably not very lucrative. For good or ill, we decided gradually to drop the public address side and concentrate on high quality domestic reproduction.
Many people have said to me how fortunate it must be to have a job and a hobby which are one and the same. It is, in fact, a double edged weapon. Though fascinating, technical problems are with you all your waking hours including, very often, most of the night. When you try to read the daily paper you inevitably finish up by scribbling little circuit diagrams and figures all round the edge, not having read a single word. This cannot go on very long before you are not only a bore to friends and family, but also a threat to your own health. This is something with which one has to come to terms.
On the other hand, I am certain that a 9 to 5 approach, however good the engineer, will rarely, if ever, break new ground. The engineer confronted with a small part of a circuit to design will review the four or five known methods, select that which is most suitable for the application and incorporate it. This is quite logical and sound. If, however, there are to be any new developments there must also be a continual nagging in the back of the mind “Is there not some better way?” This nagging has to be extremely concentrated and if it is so concentrated it becomes impossible to switch on and off at will.
It is common knowledge that the high fidelity industry has grown enormously since the war. We were extremely fortunate, therefore, in being already in the industry before the rush started. One is swept along with the tide as it were. By 1952, my firm was of sufficient size to enable me to delegate nearly all management and departmental responsibilities; in fact, shed myself of all those aspects of business which did not appeal to me. This is not as easy as it may sound. After many years of doing things in a certain way, it is extremely difficult to sit back and watch people doing them in a different way. However, by showing great restraint myself, and being fortunate in having a first class team, all has been well.
Being relieved of the day to day operation of business, I have been able to devote most of the last eight years to the development of Electrostatic loudspeakers; the realization of an ambition which started nearly a quarter of a century ago. Electrostatic loudspeakers are a subject on which it would be unwise to dwell unduly in a book edited by Gilbert A. Briggs. It suffices to say here that I believe it to be the best long term line of investigation if a fundamental improvement in reproduction is to be achieved. The project is capable of a theoretically predictable solution. However, available materials and practicable limitations make its realisation extremely difficult. The work is both fascinating, absorbing and rewarding.
There have been many relaxing diversions during recent years. The concerts of G.A.B. gave us plenty to worry about but also a store of pleasant memories as well. Because of the hobby interest shown by most of the smaller firms there is an element of friendship between competitors rare and refreshing to find in industry. Many of our foreign agents have become personal friends over the years so that we have entertained most nationalities at home – not to business dinners, but as friends with common interests.
In relaxation, apart from local orchestral activities and listening to records. I indulge in sailing-dinghy racing most weekends. It is impossible to beat a competitor round the mark and think of loudspeakers at the same time.