VANDERSTEEN: Richard Vandersteen: Keep on Truckin’ – by Ken Kessler

First published in 1988

Richard Vandersteen doesn't look like a typical loudspeaker designer. True, he wears glasses, but his presence suggests a longshoreman or somebody who'd be played by Gene Hackman. And sure enough, he tells you in a quasi-Dukes of Hazzard drawl that he's been a construction worker, plumber, truckdriver, and electrician. Electronics had always been a hobby, but Vandersteen formalized his understanding by working in electronics during his stint in the Air Force. Back in civilian life, Vandersteen entered into speaker manufacture, producing the "baffleless" range, at least regarding the midrange driver and tweeter, which bears his name. The speakers, particualrly the Model 2 and its variants, have become, in a decade, one of America's most respected brands, despite RV's low-profile marketing techniques. I met with Richard at the Las Vegas CES in January and asked him what had got him started in loudspeaker design.Richard Vandersteen: I came up with this idea for a speaker without a baffle in 1972, and started building them for people in our local area. A high-end store opened up nearby in Visalia, California, and they said "Let's take these things to Chicago." It was 1977. I said "Where?" because I didn't know of the Consumer Electronics Show. I took vacation time from my job, met something like 30 dealers and got 200 orders for about 250 pairs. I went back, told the boss I gotta quit, gotta find a building, because we were doing it in the garage and it was too small for that. That's how it started.

Ken Kessler: What inspired you to throw away the baffle for the mid and treble drive-units?

Vandersteen: In some of the experiments in the early designs, we were flush-mounting drivers, and I was sealing them in with silicone. My wife has a favorite record which has a saxophone on it—it was stolen, I don't remember what it was—but it was one of her favorite records and I used it a lot for testing. I'd blown a midrange and had no more new drivers, so to make sure it was still working without all of the problem of removing the silicone, which was very difficult to get out, I just laid the .....

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