Make : Are Audio
Film : Mark Bennett
In 25 words or less describe who you are, where you’re located and what you make.
We are Clark & Molly Blumenstein of Blumenstein Audio. Clark designs and together we build high efficiency, single driver speakers out of our wood shop in West Seattle, Washington.
What made you want to be a maker?
Molly : My late grandfather and mom were woodworkers, and I spent a lot of time in my mom’s wood shop watching her work on furniture she made to fill our home, so there’s definitely a warm childhood association. Beyond that, being a maker chose me. When I met and married Clark, the business began to take off, so I left my job at a local bookshop to help him keep up with the work. As time went on, I began to work more and more in the shop alongside handling the orders, shipping, and customer service.
Clark : I can go back to age 7, watching my grandpa in horror as he beat the living shit out of things with his hammer, making sounds that were probably way too loud for my young ears to bear. The merely “rough finished” objet’s d’art he was making were only meant to solve whatever problem he had right then and there. He only sought to solve just the problem at hand and he refused to go any further with any of his handiwork, no matter the protests of my grandma.
Even though he was an accomplished engineer, he was someone who would probably be radically opposed to the modern cult of design. He had a saying: “Dry up boy and just put the damn saw in the wood!” Meaning: don’t choke at the starting line. Just start building, and see where the project/design takes itself, and thereby takes you.
And oh, where his life took him! Remembering his stories as a bridge builder, cable splicer (by hand), salvage diver (many of his buddies died of decompression sickess), the stories of his feats of superhuman strength—when I heard them as a kid and even now when I think back to them as a 30-year-old have made a deep impact on me and what I have come to expect from my own body - which is alot.
However, there was another side to him - eventually he served as vice president of the Southern Association of independant (mom and pop) hardware stores back in the 80’s before Home Depot came along and flattened the entire paradigm. It was his profound intelligence and philosophical, even handed, and compassionate approach to life and to others during this time of loss that got me to realize that a life revolving around tools isn’t just for dumb brutes. There is much more work to be done for those who make, than to just make.
As I’ve grown older and entirely out of my rambunctious years as a teenager, misappropriating my talents at ”getting things to go faster,” and now running a business that revolves around making a speaker cone physically track the movements of music, and therefore culture, more quickly, calmly and assuredly, and to help put our customers in front of this wondrous experience as easily, inexpensively, and as excitedly as possible, I see now that a life as a professional builder can stretch me as a man in many other ways, especially in the challenges that I face during my hours outside of the shop.
We are all tempted to see ourselves and our own work in the context of others around us. As I see it, so many things we use in our day to day lives are over-thought and under-built. Plain and simple. And it needs to change! Neil Young has a great song about this: “Piece of Crap.” And I’ll let him rock out on my behalf.
My Grandpa had another great saying: A deal that isn’t good for everyone won’t be good for anyone for long…” In this way, the massive and absolutely unsustainable divide that exists between those who make, those who love, and those who think, ultimately serves no one - EXCEPT - to stretch us all to the point that the laws of nature eventually do balance us back out.
After a decade in the speaker industry, I know now that I cannot just get by from making a “design” that is good with “materials” that are good. The extreme attention to build quality from our woodshop that we run day in, day out, accounts for 95% of the sound quality we are getting from our designs. I could use the same parts, make them look just as good, but assembled a different way by a robot that possesses just a fraction of the sensory feedback that we humans can posses as master craftspeople and get a flat, boring, and inconsistent sound quality out of everything we make no matter what its made out of or how good the computer models say it should sound like.
So at whatever level technology has meandered its way into my production/design processes, I always remind myself to keep my heart (not just my brain) at the top of that food chain, just like the Orca speakers we make, lest I automate myself out of my own job.
So in conclusion, it is my goal as a maker to set a good example as I hike that uphill path to restore balance between my hands, heart, and head by applying my full self to my work. I know it’s the right way for me to live because I am challenged and absolutely humiliated every single day by this work even after all these years.
In whatever way we have available to us in our daily lives, we ought strive for balance in ourselves, and with others, and seek humiliation and the humble mindset that follows as often as possible.
Why should people support your business/products?
Supporting products made by people who care about what they make is a way to fight the tyranny of low quality that infiltrates so much of our lives. We build our speakers to last a lifetime and longer, using non-toxic materials and creating very little waste. We’re able to do this because we make each speaker one at a time; every cabinet we make gets the same care and attention as the one before it.
It’s important to also recognize how much of an addition to our lives music is, and high quality music reproduction is an art form. So much thought and care is put into the recording of a song and so many people are listening to that same song on equipment that isn’t delivering the full intended experience. We put that same thought and care into the sound of our speakers, which we consider musical instruments like any other.
One of our favorite things to hear from our customers is when they tell us they’ve rediscovered a long-cherished album and have heard lines in the recording they never knew were there before.
Favorite product that you make?
The Orca Subwoofer, which was designed to compliment the Orca Fullrange, our most popular model. One or two Orca Subs adds an extra depth to the range and tone of an Orca sound system. Plus, it’s a bigger cabinet so you get more of that beautiful bamboo!
List five of your favorite tools.
1) bright work lights
2) the stubby screwdriver that fits into the palm of my hand
3) Tried & True linseed oil and beeswax finish
4) my shop apron with lots of pockets
5) and the tape dispenser for getting the speakers shipped out quickly
1) My grandpa’s old Estwing hammer
2) Festool drill/drivers
3) Pace soldering iron
4) LDP Skateboard, which taught me ambidexterity
5) Deulin’ dual Mirka sanders, one for each hand
(photographs from Blumenstein Audio)