pl | en


finite elemente | CEO

Luis Fernandes | Am Heimekesberg 11
33106 Paderborn | Germany


The FINITE ELEMENT METHOD (FEM) is a numerical method for solving problems of engineering and mathematical physics. Typical problem areas of interest include structural analysis, heat transfer, fluid flow, mass transport and electromagnetic potential. The analytical solution of these problems generally requires the solution to boundary value problems for partial differential equations.

r Luis Fernandes, the current CEO of the German company called FINITE ELEMENTE, adds that it is a numerical calculation method used in the field of mechanical engineering and it basically means the division of a body into several “finite elements“ which are used for the calculation of mechanical stresses. So, the name of the company and its philosophy speak for themselves. He also says that “every new product has a scientific background paired with a strong passion for music” in the development phase.

Luis Fernandes at the High End 2018 exhibition

finite elemente is a German company that was set up in 1996. For almost 20 years, it was been a role-model and point of reference for other manufacturers who have been aiming to fight vibrations (the finite elemente company consistently uses lowercase and capital letters in their company names, so, in this case, as it is an interview, I will be using the following spelling: ‘finite elemente’, ‘pagode’, ‘modul’ ‘CERA’, etc.).

I have been connected with this company for years, as I use its products – feet under the Leben CS-300 (Special Edition) amplifier and the Ancient Audio AIR V-edition player, while the very beautiful Pagode Edition Master Reference anti-vibration rack is the pride of my system. What is more, I have tested a lot of the company products and, from time to time, I take out two “resonators” out of my cupboard – flat discs that are placed on the top panel of devices in order to minimize their vibrations.

The company used to be world-famous and top journalists of the audio world would make use of its offer, e.g. Michael Fremer from the “Stereophile” magazine and others. However, something broke down in the machine and the company quickly faded, and then disappeared from the market. So, when I saw a modest rack with feet from the CERA series during the High End 2018 exhibition in Munich and, next to it, a smiling man that I had seen in some old photographs, I almost jumped up in joy (to tell you the truth, I tripped over my own feet, because I was leaving that room, but let’s say that I jumped up…).

The pagode Edition rack right after being placed in my room

The person standing next to the rack was Mr Luis Fernandes, one of the finite elemente company founders. The recently conducted interview below is a simple consequence of the meeting, but not the only one. You will soon be able to make yourselves familiar with an article in “High Fidelity”, regarding technologies used by the pagode edition and read about new versions of the CERA feet. And now let me invite you to a tour of the history of the fascinating company.

WOJCIECH PACUŁA: Please tell us a few words about yourself.
LUIS FERNANDES: I studied to become a professional translator. I worked in the profession between 1988 and 1997, before founding finite elemente at the end of 1996, together with my former partner Bernd Brockhoff. Thanks to this, my passion for music ever since, as well as my passion for high-quality sound since the early 1980s, found their way from a hobby to a profession.

Since 1973, I have been collecting LPs, hoping that the “black gold” never goes out of style (it doesn’t seem so, however). So, the analogue is my passion and also the way I listen to music. When it comes to sound evaluation, naturalness and homogeneity paired with the finest detail and emotional content in reproduced music are my focus.

I also accompanied the founding of the Audio Physic company and watched it develop in the following years. Audio Physic was located near my place and I also worked for them at the end of the 1980s, assembling the initial 25 pairs of the first Avanti model. At the beginning of the 1990s, I worked as a sales representative for them in Switzerland and Portugal (where I was born), besides my work as a translator. During that time, I also did some sales work for Forsell, selling their turntables in Portugal, too, which gave me a lot of “analogue” experience. My work for Audio Physic also led to several international contacts, which I used later, having founded finite elemente.

In this way, we have approached the key question: how did it all start?
The founding of finite elemente was preceded by the development of a rack system for my former partner, for his private use. Earlier, he placed his DNM amplification and Mission CD player on a self-designed metal-sheet wall rack which was modern-looking, but awful-sounding.

My ideas and audio experience combined with his technical skills led to a design that was similar to the later pagode system to a very high degree. Solid maple wood frames were already used there, attached with spikes to lateral T-shaped aluminium profiles which constitute the characteristic key feature of all pagode racks. The shelves were made of ordinary MDF, so it was nothing special. In comparison to later freestanding pagode racks, this “prototype” was held by two struts in front of a wall, while aluminium pillars stood on spikes. Starting with this, we developed freestanding versions that formed the first generation of the pagode series.

How exactly did the finite elemente story begin? I mean – when, where, who?
finite elemente started as a small company way back in November 1996, in a German town called Bestwig, in the rural region of the so-called “Sauerland“ (meaning “sour land”), located halfway between the cities of Dortmund and Kassel, 200 km north of Frankfurt, to be even more precise. The Sauerland region is known for its countless hills and a lot of forests. The Sauerland is also famous as a big producer of Christmas trees that are also exported to a lot of countries.

A view of Bestwig, photo by Stefan Didam – Schmallenberg |

The company was founded by me – Luis Fernandez and Bernd Brockhoff, the first being a music and high-end lover, the latter – a mountain biker and music listener. From 1996 to 2006, I ran the operative business, cooperating in Germany with sales representatives and building up the export business due to my numerous contacts gained throughout the years in the audio industry. From 2006 to 2012, my business partner Brockhoff worked for the company on a full-time basis.

Until the beginning of 2001, I managed everything from the purchase of materials, the assembly of racks and marketing, to shipping and sales supervision, just to name a few areas of my activity. The first two employees joined the company in 2001, followed by more employees, thanks to the positive development of the company on the market. By mid 2012, there were already 12 employees plus the two owners handling the company business activities.

What was your goal?
The company goal was to improve the sound of audio systems at the very basis, focusing on equipment supports. At that time, two main categories of such products dominated the audio world. On the one hand, there were sonically optimized racks with modest to ugly looks. On the other hand, one could buy nice-looking furniture with low or no acoustic potential. Therefore, the main goal was to establish a functional classic design that would both offer natural sound and attractive living room-friendly looks.

So, our marketing slogan at that time was: “form follows music” (which, by the way, is currently being re-used by the Japanese company Technics to promote their re-vitalized SL1200 turntable...). This means that looks were strongly determined by functional requirements, according to Louis Sullivan’s dictum derived from the early 20th-century architecture: “form follows function”.

How did it develop, i.e. what were the first products and what came next?
Our first product was the pagode rack system, first in its basic version with only one T-shaped side pillar (in its second generation it was called the Signature model), followed by a sturdier version for heavier components, i.e. the “Master Reference” with two side pillars, at that time still without the sound-improving “Resonator Technology”.

The pagode HD12 Master Reference model

In 1999, finite elemente started scientific cooperation with the University of Applied Sciences in Dortmund, which culminated in the second generation of the “Master Reference” series incorporating the “Resonator Technology”. It is based on simple physics and assumes that every material or object is a kind of a resonator. In order to let audio components operate in a resonance-free environment, it is vital to have equipment supports that behave like that.

So, it was possible to significantly improve the already resonance-resistant construction of the first generation pagode Master Reference racks by using so-called “resonators”, i.e. metal rods that oscillate at particular frequencies, determined via measurements meticulously conducted at the laboratories of the University in Dortmund. These metal rods were implemented in the shelf-carrying frames. In this way, the pagode “Master Reference” racks offered a resonance-neutral basis for components placed on them.

Based on our specific experience regarding the resonance behaviour of rack systems, in 1999 we launched the second rack model in the history of finite elemente – the “Spider”. We avoided the use of shelves by offering a simple framework, which, thanks to the elimination of additional materials, gave us the possibility of resonance control. The concept of the low material-usage ratio of this modular system was later copied by the Swedish manufacturer Solidtech which, by the way, can be seen as a company honouring finite elemente’s earlier approach. In 2000, the basic Signature pagode model also became part of the company’s portfolio, offering a sturdier construction compared to its predecessor.

Ceraball foot – one can see a ceramic ball and two pieces that it separates.

The pagode Signature E14 model

In 2003, products from the CERA series joined the company portfolio one by one, starting with the Cerabase classic and Ceraball models. The reason behind this was the desire to improve the sonic behaviour of audio components placed on pagode racks. As the construction of our racks, especially the “Master Reference” series, minimized the resonance level, the shelves as well as the whole construction were able to absorb resonance energy generated in audio components. So, we thought that the principle of coupling rather than decoupling was the way to go.

Transporting resonance energy from audio components to the shelves follows the physical principle of energy conservation, which means that you can transform energy, but cannot eliminate or generate it in such a system. As the rack shelves are resonance-poor, they can take oscillating energy transferred from components by changing it into heat, due to their absorbing structure.

Products from the CERA series offer an effective method for doing that, by combining two materials that feature high sound velocities: stainless steel and ceramic balls, the former characterized by high and the latter – even higher speed of sound propagation. Of course, the same principle also applies to the construction of a rack itself or loudspeakers, when placed on the floor using CERA interfaces. In most cases, floors also have an absorbing effect, which means that they can also take resonance energy coming from objects that are placed on them.

In cooperation with the University of Applied Sciences in Dortmund, we developed the “Resonator” as a complementary product to absorb resonance energy when placed on the top panel of components. Here, a specifically designed star-shaped metal element treated by a special damping material served as a resonance transformer, converting mechanical energy into thermal energy and thus soothing the acoustic influence of undamped housings – mainly top panels of components – on sound.

The pagode Edition Master Reference model

In 2008, a new version of the “Master Reference” series, i.e. the “Edition series”, was developed. It was characterized by more modern-looking “edgy” frames, but still used the “Resonator technology” as the mainstay of finite elemente philosophy. Additionally, several colour options were added to the pagode programme, which had exclusively been using solid maple wood as the basic material for the wooden parts.

Finally, in 2011, finite elemente’s search for the ultimate resonance-controlled rack culminated in the development of the Emperor equipment support series. It featured an active resonance control system using highly sophisticated control electronics. The electronics was developed in cooperation with the Fraunhofer Institute for Structural Durability and System Reliability located in the German city of Darmstadt and manufactured by the German company Trigon Audio.

This “next-step design” featured aluminium foam shelves which incorporated (1) a system of sensors to measure their resonance behaviour and (2) actuators to produce “counter-resonances” (vibrations of the same amplitude but in the counter phase – Editor’s note) in order to neutralize sound-impairing resonances. This state-of-the-art concept outlined the importance of equipment supports as a vital element in an audio system.

Apart from the audio industry, finite elemente also tried to gain a foothold in the area of living room furniture by first developing design-oriented racks like “Segment X” and “Levelplus”, later followed by the high-class modular furniture system “modul”, offering several features to invisibly install house audio components, while the materials applied were optimized for audio use.

To make the furniture system complete, an integrated 3.1 speaker system was added to the modul range, featuring in-house developed main and centre speakers, as well as an active subwoofer. For high-end use, a semi-active floorstanding speaker, the “modul LS”, was designed both to match the furniture and to offer real high-end sonic qualities, later followed by the passive speaker version “model XP”.

The Hohrizontal 51 shelf/soundbar/docking station

This evolution led to the birth of the “Hohrizontal 51” soundbar which incorporated an iPod-docking sound system in a high-quality wall shelf, available in attractive modern high-gloss colours and walnut veneer. Intended as a “bridge” between the worlds of audio and furniture, the “Hohrizontal 51” received several important design awards, including the renowned “Red Dot Award” in 2011 in the “Best of the Best” category.

How would you summarize the evolution of finite elemente products over all those years?
As I have already said, our main goal was the design of a resonance-neutral rack system, which we finally reached with the pagode models of the second generation – the Master Reference and the Edition. Since then, we have paid special attention to the constant improvement of manufacturing quality which was (and is) extremely important for sonic behaviour on a constantly high level.

The key feature of the pagode series is its timeless classic design paired with its high-grade sonic qualities. So, why change the running team? We only improved its sonic outcome even further with the help of the CERA products. At this point, I would like to stop and exclude the Emperor rack system from the story. Why? On the one hand, it marked the pinnacle of rack design. On the other hand, its price reached a level that made any comparisons impossible.

Summarizing, what are the key technologies developed and used by the pagode edition?
As for the racks, we basically used two technologies, one being the “Resonator Technology” of the pagode series, the other – the “Active Resonance Control” of the Emperor series. Another technological mainstay was the ceramic ball coupling technology of the CERA products. I would also mention the “Resonator” here as a complementary product.

The Resonator Technology in the 2007 company catalogue

What was the peak in the history of finite elemente?
The peak came in the year 2000 with the launch of the inexpensive “Spider” rack together with the significantly sonically improved pagode models of the second generation, accompanied by the growing awareness of customers, distributors, dealers and press of the importance of sonically optimized rack systems. Another smaller peak came with the launch of the CERA products which rooted finite elemente more firmly in the audio sector.

And now – a question that I have kept almost to the end – one that most of our readers who have ever used finite elemente products would like to know the answer to: why did the company disappear from the market a few years ago? Please be honest…
Our company went bankrupt in the middle of 2012, due to simply not having followed the well-known rule: “Cobbler, stick to your trade!” This means that we wanted too much in too short time, in sectors where we had no expertise, namely the iPod docking world business, the furniture business and the speaker business. My former partner’s motto was to sell one million pieces, earning one euro per piece and therefore becoming a millionaire. He did not understand that this isn’t the whole truth...

A frame of a shelf from the pagode Edition Master Reference series

Finally, besides exploring unknown business territories with all their problems and constantly loosing financial ground, it was the “Hohrizontal 51” soundboard that eventually broke our neck. Unfortunately, at that time I lost half of my shares, due to my former partner investing more money in the company. So, I ended up with only owning 25% of the company, which significantly limited my influence on the bad direction the company was taking.

After our bankruptcy in 2012, the remains of the company were bought by Paul Sander who managed to keep things more or less running, until also applying for insolvency in September 2016. During these years, I wasn’t with finite elemente anymore.

So, how did you come back to finite elemente?
At the beginning of 2017, I was contacted by Werner Möhring, a former sales representative of ours. He asked me if I would join the company again if he bought the remains of the “second” finite elemente. I first rejected the proposal and started to work as an export manager for Audio Physic again. However, after he and Stefan Köpf of Ascendo bought the name and virtual remains of finite elemente at the end of 2017, they approached me again in spring that year. This time I said “yes” and joined the company to re-launch the key products: the pagode and CERA.

What are your plans?
Our plans are to establish the finite elemente brand on the markets again, first re-launching the renowned CERA products, followed by the worldwide acclaimed pagode racks happen during summer 2019. At the moment, we are rebuilding our worldwide distributorship and our German dealership.

Our main goal is to keep to the products that we know a lot about and to avoid products we know little about. In the near future, there will also be some additional accessory products on our offer, e.g. component platforms, so we will focus on classic products from the audio world.

Thank you very much for the talk!
My pleasure. I hope “High Fidelity” readers will keep their fingers crossed for us!