The David Lucas SHOCKWAVE Electrostatic Subwoofer

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The advertisement was compelling. For only $99 one could be privy to: "The rarest of audio secrets, the secret of the century revealed in a limited-edition manual of only 500 copies personally signed by David Lucas". Month after month the advert appeared in the pages of Audio Amateur and Speaker Builder magazines. Designed to tantalize it didn't take long for me to convince myself that unless I acted quickly, demand would surely see the last of what I imagined to be an ever diminishing pile of manuals sold off, leaving me with no chance of being one of the exalted few to know the 'secret'.
So, being gullible by nature, I wasted little time in counting out my pennies before rushing off a cheque to David Lucas.

David Lucas SHOCKWAVE poly envelope

A few days later a large brown envelope arrived in the mail.
Barely able to contain my excitement I anxiously ripped it open. Inside I found a thank you note from Sales Manager Tim Kelly, a few discount coupons for other ESL (electrostatic loudspeaker) related items carried by David Lucas, the licence agreement, and last but not least a large poly envelope with a string-tie closure sealed by a label exhorting me to read the licence agreement before opening.

After a quick glance at the licence agreement I broke the seal to reveal the contents of the poly envelope. Inside I found a 27 page 8½x11" sized manual, glued to page 13 of the manual was a 6x9" manilla envelope containing:

David Lucas SHOCKWAVE envelope contents

  • Five small pieces of coloured cardboard - blue, green, orange, red and yellow, glued together as per the photograph. Apparently this is the "precision hand-made model" promised in the advertisement.
  • A small piece of black perforated metal with strips of plastic glued to it - described as a model of a completed ESL element.
  • A tiny piece of dark coloured foam. Supposedly an example of the type of foam to be used for "spacer dots" to separate the diaphragm from the perforated metal frame.
  • A slightly larger piece of light coloured foam provided as a sample of the type of foam that is used to space the individual ESL panels from one another.

The better part of the manual, a full 18 pages, consists of an introductory section devoted to a non-mathematical description of the theory behind the speaker. This does make for interesting reading, however, I am in no position to judge the technical accuracy of these notes.

Following on from the introduction are the three pages of the manual actually dedicated to the construction of the speaker. Unfortunately, these already spartan construction notes are further reduced by the half-page devoted to a trivially simple block diagram illustrating how the speakers are wired to an amplifier. This is disappointing, as I expect that the construction notes are what led most purchasers to shell out their hard-earned cash.

The last section of the manual consists of a list of a few hundred references spread over four pages. With an almost complete lack of detail, the list is not very useful and seems to be designed more to impress than inform.

Finally, glued to the last page of the manual is the actual construction diagram - if one could call it that. This is printed in black ink on a shiny reflective foil which makes it very difficult to read unless the light is just right. Presumably this is an attempt at copy protection, which is actually rather pointless, as the diagram, which is completely devoid of dimensions, is so simple that it can easily be redrawn in minutes by anyone with a pencil and ruler.

Conclusion


Is the SHOCKWAVE limited-edition manual a complete rip-off?
Perhaps, but I don't think it was initially intended as such.

Although, it most certainly doesn't live up to the hype as advertised, far from it, and I very much doubt that anyone has actually built a working SHOCKWAVE, not even David Lucas himself, which would account for the complete lack of photographs in both the manual and any advertising material.

Instead, what I think happened, was that the product was released prematurely, possibly to meet an already agreed to advertising commitment, or more likely because Lucas found himself unable to deliver a finished working example decided to release the manual any way to capitalise on the work already done.

As to value for money? Absolutely not.

Anyone interested in building an ESL would be far better off purchasing one of a number of books on the topic such as the excellent
  The Electrostatic Loudspeaker Design Cookbook by Roger R. Sanders
or the older but still relevant
  Electrostatic Loudspeaker: Design and Construction by Ronald Wagner
Either of which, for a lot less money than the SHOCKWAVE manual, give better and more detailed discussions of the design, theory, operation and construction of electrostatic speakers including practical examples.

Now you can judge for yourself. Here for your viewing pleasure, the secret that the audio world has been waiting for, the holy grail of loudspeaker design can be downloaded here:

download the Shockwave manual here