History of the Brick

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After publishing my story of the VPI Brick my friend, John Hunter, CEO of REL Acoustics, sent me this history I hadn't previously known.

"So let me add a little personal history that illuminates from whence this idea sprang as, by pure happenstance, I was present when the demonstration that led to this product took place at our retail store DB Audio in Berkeley. CA.

The year was 1980, I was a newly minted high end salesman being exposed to all manner of new ideas and having my mind blown weekly by new learnings—it was a turning point year, an inflection point in my own life and a time where the high end was beginning to coalesce into that landscape with which we are now familiar.

After hours, Doug Blackwell and Willy Herman, who owned DB Audio, had arranged for a demo of a newish line of electronics from Sony by one of the Japanese engineers responsible for the line. We were a Sony Audio Labs dealer, their pur sang--ne plus ultra range.

A side bar observation, when Sony truly decides to attack an issue, they have enough engineering horsepower to decimate the competition. They just choose to do so infrequently presumably because there’s simply not enough money in the high end to matter to a balance sheet as large as theirs.

So this incredibly passionate Japanese engineer whose name I never learned proceeds to drag out prototypes of what years later would become their Esprit line of uber high end products. They sounded brilliant, if slightly out of balance in that way that really promising approaches needing the final fettling do. These moments those of us who have been doing this for a long time come to recognize; it is the technical equivalent of being allowed to be backstage at dress rehearsal for Springsteen when he decides to try out a new song no one has ever heard before. If you have ever been there, it brings chills when you recognize the brilliance of the concept trusting that the final smoothing and shaping will occur. But you got a glimpse of genius in process.

About halfway through this demo, our Japanese engineer asks if we have anything small but dense and heavy. We look throughout the store and the closest thing we can identify is a KEF 101 monitor—the better LS 3/5a (man I going to get hate mail for that). He gestures for me to bring it and places it over the power supply of these Class D amps. Willy's and Doug’s reactions were significant and they began excitedly discussing what they were hearing. I was outside of the sound field listening from behind the speakers putting on and taking off the KEF 101 so the sonic effect was minimal. Eventually, they asked me to sit in and many of the benefits that accrued to the production VPi Brick were immediately obvious; lucidity, clarity, spatial separation of instruments in space were all improved along with a reduction in upper midrange clang on brass instruments. As importantly, we could clearly observe this effect repeatedly. Removing the KEF resulted in less magic, putting it back on restored the effect.

In further conversations through our translator from Sony America, the engineer revealed that they used small plates of steel of a high purity as it had the added advantage of focusing the e field of power transformers and the effects we had heard would be much improved. The next day, Doug called Harry Weisfeld at VPi, for whom we were a dealer and told him of our experience and talked him into building a sample. The first one he sent us weighed about half a pound, something had gotten lost in translation. Four additional photo’s later and what we all came to know and love as “The Brick” had arrived. Doug and I did the bulk of the critical listening and Doug would then provide feedback to Harry. Harry asked us what we wanted as compensation for the design idea and Doug asked simply for the letters DB to be placed on the product, the number 5 signifying the 5th version in development.

And that is the real story behind the development of the VPi DB-5 and how this little gem came into being. You can thank Sony and DB Audio for that little gem.

Funny world we live in."

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Paul McGowan

Founder & CEO

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