This year after the High End show, Maier Shadi of The Audio Salon in Santa Monica and I rented a car and drove a circuitous route from Munich to Vienna. Sure, the Autobahn is alluring, but in a less than high performance rental car, it's just a touch more than fun. I'm not complaining though.
The real reasons for our journey were first, to visit the prestigious 83 year old German car tuner and manufacturer Ruf, in Pfaffenhausen. The company has a great story, great people, and its high performance cars are revered the world over. Second, we really connected with Robert Mayr of HiFi rack manufacturer FalkenOhr at the show, and gladly accepted his invitation to visit the facility where his racks are hand crafted in Kircham, Austria. Robert is a really nice guy, who I came to admire not only for his rack designs but his desire to produce only a reasonably limited number of racks each year. Robert doesn't want to churn out 500 racks each year. He prefers to keep his business smaller, more controlled, and less stressful. That's admirable in my book.
Ruf Automobile GmbH, Pfaffenhausen, Germany
After navigating us down the wrong way of a one-way street and nearly directing us onto the sidewalk while driving out of Munich, it was time to set my sights on some real high performance cars at Ruf in Pfaffenhausen, Germany. Alois Ruf Sr. started the company in 1939 as a service garage for cars, and expanding with a gas station in 1949. Talk about humble beginnings. By 1975 Alois Ruf Jr. had his first Ruf-enhanced Porsche.
Over the years Ruf turned a single service station into high performance car powerhouse, setting records for the fastest production car in the world (1987 Ruf CTR 211 mph) and the fastest road-legal production car in the world (1995 Ruf CTR2 217 mph). Even those who aren't into high performance cars, like they are high performance audio, can see this is a serious company that competes on the global stage.
As we entered the main Ruf building, I had fairly low expectations. I figured an employee would give us the nickel tour and see us on our way, through the gift shop of course. In reality, the whole experience was absolutely unforgettable.
As I looked at the car engine in the lobby, someone approached me with an outstretched hand and said, "Hello, I'm Estonia Ruf, it's nice to meet you." Wow, that blew my mind. Estonia run the company with Alois Ruf Jr. She graciously came out to greet us and introduce us to Nina, the person who'd take us on an expansive tour of every nook and cranny on the Ruf compound.
Nina brought us through the shop where cars were being worked on, the amazing analog dynamometer, the paint shop, and even across the street where some major restorations were taking place. Ruf has amazing craftsmen who use everything from the newest tools, to old English wheels when creating the perfect piece for a priceless automobile. I really wish I could've shot photos of the entire experience, but I respectfully obeyed the No Photography signs that adorned shop entrance doors. The main reason for the photography ban is out of respect for customer privacy. That, I understand completely.
After walking around the buildings, Alois Jr. and Estonia greeted us, for what I assumed would be a nice handshake and goodbye. One thing led to another, and soon Maier, I, Nina, Estonia, and Alois were all sitting in the office talking about music! Alois purchased his first album, Getz/Gilberto by João Gilberto and Stan Getz, for 11 Deutschmarks, back in the day. None of his friends at the time appreciated the magic of that album and the music that still holds up to this day. Alois is still taken by this album after all these years. I quietly said some of the lyrics to So Danco Samba under my breath, while we were talking, and Alois finished the lyric for me!
In one of those moments where reality is stranger than fiction, Maier Shadi went to the rental car and returned with the Supersense Master Cut lacquer edition of Getz/Gilberto, with instant photos, notes from the cutting engineer, notes from the recording engineer, and all the luxurious packaging for which these Master Cuts are known. It was such a treat to sit with everyone while Alois and Estonia paged through the artwork and talked about the power of music and specifically how good this album is, even after nearly 60 years.
Meeting good people like the Rufs is what life is all about for me. Before I knew it, they were talking about the birth of their daughter here in Minnesota, a snow storm, and the inability of Alois to make it here in time for the birth because of the weather. It was a story many Minnesotan's know very well, but to share it with with Estonia (from Venezuela) and Alois (from Germany), in their office 4,500 miles from home, was really a connecting moment.
Another moment that really solidified how much I like Estonia and Alois, was when an employee was talking to us about some Ruf parts that could be ordered. He had nothing but the best things to say about Ruf as a company and more importantly the Rufs as people. Estonia and Alois really take care of their employees. Everyone loves working there, for good reason.
As the day was winding down and rain about to start falling, Alois appeared from out of nowhere in a yellow Ruf CTR Anniversary model. The car has 700 horsepower and 649 lb feet of torque. "Hop in, we're going for a ride before the road gets too wet." I tried to say no, it wasn't necessary, etc... Fortunately, Maier Shadi told me it was a must and that Alois was a professional at driving these cars on these roads.
HOLY $#!+!!!!!! I nearly peed my pants as Alois hugged the corners, hit the apex, and stepped on the gas! What an amazing ride! If one of my friends would've been driving, I would've been scared out of my mind. With Alois behind the wheel, I felt 99% exhilaration, with a tiny tinge of OMG. The sound of the engine as he turned a corner and hit the gas, my uncontrollable excitement as he cut over the center line to hit another corner correctly, and the continuing conversation about parts of Minnesota, while driving, made for an unforgettable experience.
Not only did I feel lucky to be given a ride in a CTR Anniversary by Alois Ruf, I felt honored. The Rufs had no obligation to treat us so well, but did so anyway.
Next stop, Austria.
Alois Ruf Jr., Estonia Ruf, Me, Maier Shadi
Alois Ruf Jr. and I, as our ride in the CTR Anniversary began.
Click the first video to see part of the ride and the second for my reaction after the ride.
FalkenOhr Kircham, Austria
Our journey continued out of Germany and into neighboring Austria, to meet with Robert Mayr of HiFi rack manufacturer FalkenOhr. I'm very happy to have stumbled across his booth at the Munich High End show. I wasn't looking for racks, I'd never heard of FalkenOhr, and I would've walked right by if Maier Shadi hadn't pointed out the products as something at which we needed to look. A couple days were driving through the small winding roads of Kircham, Austria, on the way to the SFK factory. SFK is a the company that FalkenOhr works with to fabricate the racks to Robert's specifications. I was very impressed by the fine Austrian craftsmanship of the new building, the FalkenOhr products, and other products being manufacturer at SFK. This was a top notch facility in a serene little Austrian town.
Robert walked us through the creation of his products, from his CAD designs, to real wood veneer selection (the Macassar is stunning!), to shelf configuration, to product assembly (all products ship fully assembled), and finally crating for shipment. While SFK is a reasonably sized shop, the FalkenOhr area is pretty small. This is indicative of Robert's desire to remain a boutique operation, catering to his customers (through dealers), and being close to the final installation when possible. Soon after our factory visit, Robert said he'd be traveling to Normandie to assist with an installation. He gets great satisfaction seeing his products in real systems and seeing the enjoyment people have when everything is setup and the music is playing.
After a thorough tour of SFK, including some amazingly huge CNC machines, we traveled to local audio dealer HiFi Studio. I love visiting HiFi dealers around the world. It's a chance to see new products, but most of all meet new people who share my passion for good music and good sound. HiFi Studio had a FalkenOhr rack on display in one of its many demonstration rooms. The specific rack on display was black and contains a coating that Robert says will hold up extremely well under normal use. Based on what I saw, I'd say it holds up extremely well under heavy abnormal use, but Robert isn't the type of guy to make grandiose promises. If he sold a 100 Watt amplifier, he'd likely say it's a solid 75 Watts just to be safe.
Overall, I'm really happy that we stopped to see Robert, see where is products are made by talented Austrian craftsmen, and to spend some time with a local HiFi dealer. To be honest, this type of visit is much more fruitful and fulfilling than a busy HiFi show. Perhaps I need to go on a road trip every year, to visit dealers and manufacturers in specific geographic areas. I have a big smile just thinking about about the fun to be had.
The outside view of SFK, looking at the building, and opposite the building. Also, a view from the desk on which I had a tea while talking with Robert Mayr. Absolutely beautiful.
Inside SFK where the FalkenOhr products are made.
A really nice SFK foosball table and wood frame bikes made in the same factory as the FalkenOhr racks.
Inside HiFi Studio, and the opposing view outside the store, and a neighboring store.
High performance automobiles and high performance audio racks, both created by talented craftsmen, in small quantities, for discerning customers. Ruf cars and FalkenOhr racks are of course praiseworthy, but even more so are the people behind the products. Estonia and Alois Ruf rolled out the red carpet and even took us for a ride in the Ruf CTR Anniversary. Great people I hope to see again sooner rather than later.
Robert Mayr of FalkenOhr was also a gracious host. He opened up his designs for us to see all the fine details and ask whatever questions came to mind. I wish we could've spent more time with Robert in Kircham, but it was getting late and we had to venture on to our final destination, Vienna. I look forward to seeing Robert at the Munich show next year for sure.