For six years, Clark and Molly Blumenstein of Blumenstein Audio (blumensteinaudio.com) have pumped out sharp-looking and crazy-powerful speakers and found fans around the globe, with little more than wood, glue, a strong environmental conscience, and an artist’s ear for high quality—all from their West Seattle garage workshop. Here's how they do it.

1. The mahogany sheen of an Orca is the result of a natural linseed oil and beeswax finish. The Blumensteins only use nontoxic materials, the last wish of Clark’s mentor, Terry Cain of Walla Walla. Cain passed away in 2006 at age 47, and had blamed the harmful materials he was exposed to throughout his career as a cabinetmaker for his failing health.

2. Clark’s designs are driven by what he calls a “continual quest for quality.” A proud artisan, he estimates he’s trashed thousands of variations on his current design, which uses glue—not screws or other metal fasteners—to hold it all together, allowing for minimal interference with the sound projected.

3. Clark doesn’t currently make the drivers for his speakers—they come from another manufacturer he’d rather not name—but he probably could, thanks to a postcollegiate apprenticeship in Japan with renowned manufacturer Feastrex. The only Westerner in a hamlet of 200, he hardly spoke a word to anyone during his three months there: “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

4. The Blumensteins have sold 200 pairs of speakers in the past year, matching the previous five-year total. They’ve shipped to all seven continents, including Antarctica, where a friend of a friend was working the telescope at the South Pole Observatory. Molly, who heads up marketing and sales, attributes the company’s growth to glowing word of mouth.

5. At the end of production, Clark finally uses a screwdriver—but just to tune the acoustic system by adjusting the four screws that join the driver to the cabinet. He trained his ear as a music history major at Whitman College, where his senior project was a DIY clavichord kit.

 

Published: February 2013