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Don Naples, A Profile, by Lory Hawley

Lory Hawley | Published on 2/19/2023

Don Naples

I have been a member of the SFAF since last year. As a neophyte, interviewing some of the industry veterans seemed like a great way for me to dive into the culture and knowledge base that this collection of audiophiles represents.  And, since I’ve volunteered to contribute to the Muse from time to time, I’ve been thinking about how it would be a great way for me to learn about some of these folks by reaching out to them to find out a bit about who they are, and how they became involved in their part of the world of audio. In doing so, I also thought I might perhaps glean some interesting tidbits that others would also enjoy reading about.

Though my goals are modest; almost philosophical; I’m looking for such intangibles as how to listen better, how to evaluate if I’m getting the best out of my system, and whether there are glaring errors in my acoustics I’m not aware of, rather than learning all the minutia of the technical specs of preamps, amps, turntables and so on. What I didn’t realize, was that while pursuing my goals I was going to be meeting some of the people within our audiophile group who have historical significance and stature in the industry at large. What a privilege!

One such member is Don Naples, a delightful member I became intrigued with during an SFAF zoom call. He was charming and extremely knowledgeable and seemed to have the respect of the other members on the call. I reached out to him later and asked if he would be willing to share a bit about who he is, and what he has been involved with for an article for the Muse. He graciously agreed.

As fate would have it, I knew almost nothing about his world of Linkwitz speakers and the woodworking craft and manufacturing skills he brought to them. So, this was also a learning opportunity for me to become familiar with open baffle dipole speakers, so that I could at least be somewhat conversant with Don.

I asked Don to write a bit about his biography, as I feel these are the elements that shape who we are and the interests that compel us, and then to write about his meeting and ensuing friendship with Siegfried Linkwitz the engineer who developed the DIY, open baffle dipole speakers that some of our members proudly own.

I’ll let Don take it from here in his own words.

“My start in woodworking began when I had a woodshop course in fifth grade. That school was in Cedar Grove, New Jersey, and was very forward thinking. I also learned to throw the discus (full size) in 5th grade. and won a gold medal. I have never heard of another school teaching those skills at such a young age. By the time I reached high school, I was machining parts on a metal lathe for use in the manufacture of luxury class aluminum boats. That was a business my father started and he needed special rollers for shaping chines, splash guards, and keels.
My professional career was in the computer industry. I started working on solid state digital computers in the Navy (1961 to 1966) where I was trained on the operation and maintenance of the computers used for launching Polaris missiles. After my service, I worked for GE at the Space Technology Center in King of Prussia, PA mostly on military satellites.

I had been an audiophile since 1958 when I first heard my cousin’s University speakers driven by a Scott amplifier. After I left the Navy, I purchased a pair of Braun speakers and built a Scott amp to drive them. I wanted better high frequency performance so I answered an advertisement that listed some tweeters for sale. They were the high frequency horns used in the A7-500 Voice of The Theater speakers. I then built a pair of the VOT speakers. I also recorded my neighbor’s band They were later signed with Capital Records.

My next build was replacing the gigantic Altec speakers with JBL S-8 Studio Monitors. Their performance surpassed what I heard on the Altec speakers. I was happy with their sound until I heard the Magnapan MG-IIIA speakers. The dipole sound is open and avoids the resonance of the cabinets heard with box speakers. That was fine until we decided to move and my wife said those speakers are not going in our new (moving from a home built in 1887 to one built in 1895) house’s living room. I had to get something smaller so chose Wilson Watt/Puppies. She said “Those are the ugliest speakers. They look like trash cans.” They were smaller so I kept them but my wife was not happy.

In 2003 I started a company, Wood Artistry, LLC, manufacturing a high quality sharpening system to be used by woodworkers who wanted really sharp tools but wanted to avoid the labor intensive water stone process. The system could sharpen to finer than one micron. (An 8000 grit water stone is 1.2 microns.)

Patented Lap-Sharp sharpening system

18” Square

Carbide Trammel Tools w/ pencil holder

Brass Square

Mathieson Panel Plane and .0005 thickness shavings of Tiger Maple

In 2004 my cousin asked me to recommend a speaker he could build that would out perform his AR – LST-2 speakers. We both looked for designs and he found the Linkwitz Orion speakers.

I contacted Siegfried Linkwitz to see where I could hear the speakers. He invited me to his home. I arrived at 10AM and thought I would be there for two hours. I left at 6PM and purchased the circuit boards needed to make the active crossover. I then sold my speakers, Cello Duet 350 amplifier, and built my first Orion speakers. My cousin came from New York and we built his version of Orion speakers. They were based on a Stickley design so were more complex than the standard Orion speakers. In order to match his Stickley craftsman furniture we made his enclosures, which he designed, out of quarter sawn white oak.
A local gourmet chef tried to build a pair of Orion speakers but failed in making the crossover so I fixed his errors and got his system running.

I then called Siegfried and told him I would be glad to help if someone needed assistance in making their version of the speakers. Siegfried did not want to again get into manufacturing as his last venture with Audio Artistry had failed and he lost money. He asked if I would make the speakers for those who did not have time, ability, tools, or interest in making the speakers.

Over the next ten years, I manufactured, demonstrated at trade shows, and shipped Orion speakers all over the world. It surprised me that people many times had not heard the speakers but read about them and ordered Orion or Pluto speakers and sometimes included subwoofers that I also built.

Being an accomplished woodworker, allowed me to enhance the custom aspect of the speakers by adding figured woods, book matching baffle panels, and often trimming them with Macassar Ebony. The speakers evolved from Orion 3 to Orion 4. The woofer mounting design changed from an H frame design to a W frame. Jon Atkinson awarded us a Best in Show award at the 2014 AXPONA show in Atlanta. The Orion 4 was more complex design which was difficult for many who wanted to build their own speakers. I designed the construction of these to make them more durable when shipping. Siegfried then developed the LX-521 speakers. They were easier for the DIY people to build.

Steam Bent Honduras mahogany with Varnish finish

Bubinga with Quilted Maple Baffle Panels




Figured Bubinga Honduras mahogany

Jatoba with matching Thor subwoofers

Plutos in cherry with subwoofers

Pluto Amplifier module. Has one 120 watt and one 60 watt channel per module

I retired and sold Wood Artistry, LLC in 2015. Siegfried continued the development of the LX-521 speakers and showed them at a few shows. He passed the technical specifications to Dr. Frank Brenner who continues the development of the speakers and manufactures the reference version (non-DIY) in Germany. Siegfried died in September of 2018.

As a member of Bay Area Woodworkers and later Sonoma County Woodworkers, I have made presentations in the US and Australia on sharpening woodworking tools, use of hand planes, steam bending wood, and Vacuum Bag Veneering. These skills were often used in the manufacturing of speakers and well as other projects. I also manufactured a variety of specialized hand tools that were designed by John De Marchi.”

During our conversations, Don mentioned to me that he worked with beautiful exotic woods and made over 100 speaker enclosures which sold all over the world, to such countries as Russia, Iceland and South Africa.

I asked Don if Linkwitz speakers were suitable for the kind of audio system a beginner might put together. He said Linkwitz speakers are not really for the casual listener. They require studied set-up. An active crossover divides the audio signals for each driver to be powered by its own amplifier. Also, the speakers sit out in the room usually about three feet and prefer lively, bright acoustics without sound treatments. However, Don mentioned that what they provide is a remarkable listening experience; very transparent and three dimensional, and because they are dipole, they radiate sound both forwards and back.

I suggested to Don that he would make a great salesman and he filled me in on his sales career background before he started his own company. He worked for Ampex and then Infortrend, a Taiwan company that made RAID controllers and RAID storage arrays. As with Ampex, he was their top OEM salesperson. He was always tops in his field in sales because he was grounded in the products and could speak with engineers at their level not the guy selling a watch on the street he remarked with a touch of pride.

When Don was manufacturing and selling Linkwitz speakers, he began traveling with Siegfried to audio shows in order to introduce the audio world to these revolutionary speakers. He is still going to the shows to this day, and is now assisting Dr. Frank Brenner in demonstrating the Linkwitz speakers for Dr. Brenner’s German based Linkwitz speaker company.
Don will be showing The LX-521.4 Ref speakers at T.H.E. Show in Costa Mesa from June 9 to 11 2023 in the Bristol 1 room.

Don Naples and Siegfried Linkwitz introducing Orion-4 at AXPONA in Atlanta 2014

(Many of you may remember our SFAS Meeting Room at Hilltop in Richmond where Don graciously lent us a pair of Orion-4 speakers for several years and facilitated powering them with Three Pass Labs Stereo amplifiers. The combination was glorious. - ed.)

Further reading:
Michael Fremer, A Visit With Loudspeaker Designer/Innovator  Siegfried Linkwitz