Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Audible Drugs – Valvozepam or Tubalkaloides for the Addict

Hello to everybody in new 2017!

From time to time I will try to publish this year some new articles within my blog when there are some interesting topics about vintage audio are comming up. I hope to publish another "deep interest"-interview with Michael Fountain, son of Guy R. Fountain, founder of the Tannoy Company in the early 1930ties of the last century. I am looking forward to publish this in spring time with some unknown insights into the design and development of the famous Tannoy Dual Concentric Loudspeakers.

Typical GEC KT66 from late 1960ties production

For today I am resuming my expedition into beam- and power- (pentode/tetrode-)tubes of the 6L6 family in order to find valuable replacements for classic KT66 tubes, the by far the best sounding power output tube of this type, unsurpassed from any modern replacement. All members of this family show up with amost identical electrical operating points and might differ sometimes in heater consumtion and all around construction details, but are more or less compatible, but may need adaption of their socket. The british GEC KT66 is the crowning archivement of the golden age of tube amplification, so it is today the most sought after power output tube for the standard push pull amplifier types. These "Kinkless Beam Tetrodes" have been used with loads of classical tube amps, independant if we are talking about audio-, pa- or guitaramps. Within 20 years world wide sales through the internet and ebay the actual price range for original GEC NOS tubes has been sky rocketed through the roof and in particular guitar players seem to pay any price to make their amps sing. But as well in the audio world the original tubes are famous for their incredible sound opportunities, never matched by any modern replacement in audible terms. This might explain that a quad of four NOS GEC tubes is priced beyond the 1000 $ line, no question that it will explode into the 2000 or 3000 $ range within the next years, when they get even more scarce. This market mechanism can be observed for decades when looking to the price development of the legendary original Western Electric 300B tubes from all different production times between 1930 and 1988. This might give an idea for the coming future of vintage audio tubes. No question, vacuum tube business is getting comparable with drug dealing, in terms of profit and as well in dealer attitudes, but it is still legal?! Valvozepam, Tubalcaloide, who has the one and only pulp?

How can it be, that since 30 years of business in reproduction and replication of tubes made in China, Russia and from former East European Countries, which are sold for a fraction of the price of the original vintage tubes, – fabricted with all modern knowledge, sometimes at the original production machines, – not even one tube did match the standard industrial production quality of the business back in the 1950ties? And to be honest, not one of these tubes matches the magic, refinement, spacousness and natural dynamic atttudes of the vintage originals. You can get two new quartets of chinese replica KT66's (looking totally identical in physical terms), for the price of one single used original tube? What is the true hidden secret of the industrial age of the 1940ties technology, if it can not be transfered into todays production process in China or somewere else?
People pay tremendous amounts to get the original GEC tubes after they have evaluated modern substitudes, because not one of the modern reissues matches 50% of the tone coming with the "drug-like" originals.

Today I want to publish some of my experience with other vintage tubes, which show up with a rare quality range and ability to replace the phantastic soundung GEC KT66 into a seemless matching sound texture with only very little restriktions. The only difference is in common the mechanical matching of the tube socket. For this reason there is already a commercial solution, if you want to use a "tube-socket-adapter" to match your original octal socket, these are available for amost any tube and their dedicated socket from a dealer in Taiwan selling these on Ebay for about 20 bucks per piece.

GEC KT8c from 1940ties production with blacked anode plates and ceramic B5 socket

The first tube which I want to present today as a "better than original" replacement for the GEC KT66, the second world war production GEC KT8 or KT8c. The "C" marks the ceramic socket, where the standart KT8 tube shows up the a classic bakelite socket. The tube is equipped with a widely used 5-pin Euro socket or more internationally spoken, a B-5 socket. Additionally this tube is equipped with a anode cap on top of the shoulder shaped glass envelope. This tube is extremely similar in construction and internal design to be found in the first "coke-bottled-VT75 tube", the forerunner of the standard KT66/CV1075 as known today. These KT8 tubes have  been made as british answer to the US-american 807 beam tetrode for the use in plate modulated RF-amplifiers. But the KT8 failed the aimed quality in particular in the 125MHz operation target comparing the american 807, which was already a standard in this type of application in these days. This fault is our luck today, the KT8's are still available in a small amounts as NOS tubes from several british tube stockists (Langrex, Colomor, Billington, etc.) for about 60 EUR a piece. Their hf-fault does not matter in the audio range and so for that amount you will get a wonderfully made vintage tube, which ressembles the MOV/GEC KT66 originals in more than perfect matters for audio use. These tubes are all little gems soundwise within standard 6L6-applications, like in push-pull audio or guitar amplifiers  and match the lengendary first "coke-bottled- KT66 made by Mullard-Osram-Valve-Company, indicated by the legendary oval etching at the glass. These first KT66 tubes are exorbitant rare and they are together with the Western Electric 350B's the most sought after type of all 6L6's, reflected in their actual prices at 800-1000 $US per tube.

One GEC KT8 and one KT8'c with Taiwan socket adapters to match the classic octal socket

Another very good option to replace the KT66's are the exceptional cheap NOS 807 tubes equipped with a another tube socket, made by a wide variation of different manufacturers. These tubes do sound all around very close to the before described KT8 tubes, but are cheap as peanuts and they are available in big amounts. Out there are as well NOS Russian types from the 1950ties, but I don't have any personal experience with these. The 807's are as well beam tetrodes like the KT8's and they do sound phantastic as well. A little bit different in the general sound attitude, but as well very refined, detailed and show up with exceptional natural dynamics, light years better than any modern replacement. The experimental intended user might be interested into a british loctal 5B/254M tube type made by the famous STC (Standard Telephone Company). This small glass enveloped tube is a direct replacement for the 807 tubes with a loctal socket and they are cheap. But there are no ready made adapters available from the Taiwanese supply on Ebay, here the adapters have to be self made.

Two different NOS 807 tubes with octal adapter sockets

STC 5B254M tube with loctal socket, here the interested needs to make own adapters
in order to match the 807-replacment to any other socket type.

All these vintage tubes show up properties only vintage tubes come along with: finest micro detailed resolution, open refinement and fast translucent sound structures with exceptional natural dynamic attitudes, together with a today unknown sweetness in tonality. These 10 to 20$-tubes make any modern 6L6-replica sound like a audio diet or degrade them to placebos for the addict.
If you are planning to substitude in your vintage gear your 6L6-type tubes with vintage equivalents like the here shown tubes, you must first check your actual limits of heater currents in your amp. The filament current might differ within different tube types and make sure that your amp will not be set to swallow or even more will get damaged by increased heater currents!

I might continue the series about tube rolling with some Bendix 6889 tubes or some 5881 tube types of different origin. Anyway they will be at the payable side of life and do compliment the here shown tube line very well.

Read on soon,

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

30 Years of Revelation VII – The Resume

Hello fo everybody reading on in my blog.

When I temporally did end last year this series of articles with an interview with Keith Aschenbrenner, I did hope that my time in Hong Kong will extend my knowledge about the Asian audio culture, but it didn't come out as I expected. My time in Hong Kong did not deepen my insight into Asian audio practice, this city seem to be focused generally into other values and times. So I will try to continue where I did take a brake and deliver now the resume.

As already in several former articles stated, Japanese aficionados were in a foremost stage the founders of the vintage audio culture with more than 40 years of extensive practice. Japan was the pioneering Asian country of electronic mass products in the 1960ties. Their typical cultural behavior in a tireless seek of perfection have forced a trailblazing economical success at a global scale. This success entailed on the other opposing hand an incomparable range of handmade specialist audio products employing a stage of expertise incomparable to second. Enabled by the respectful highest degree of mastermind culture in order to find the last and tiniest compromising aspect in a given audio playback system.
Japan was followed by the Korean economic and cultural catch up, where audio enthusiasts did try to follow as well in the same fields of expertise. Almost time contemporaneous attended by some exclusive audio entrepreneurs in Europe (F, I, GB, D) while in the same time almost completely ignored in the motherland of its technical origin the US, only noticed by a handful of radical enthusiasts (NY Triode Gang).

Today the situation is more comprehensible. The Japanese movement laid once the track for a highly sophisticated organised replica industry of former unavailable vintage equipment made at Chinas working bench. Focused to form a advanced reproduction process copying original products from the US-brand Western Electric and their subcontractors, aimed to be an economic business for luxury needs. Today almost any necessary product for a highly collectible and advanced historic cinema set up is available from several Asian companies directly from the storage shelf. All products are made as faithful precise replica of the vintage original or even made as a revised product. When the interest into historical products started in the early 1970ties, the most Japanese forerunners needed years or even decades to find out about things and important interrelations; and of course first they needed to find the vintage products for a first hand personal evaluation. Modern Chinese production processes in combination with Japanese and Korean supervisisional knowledge about the original products and their inherent qualities, have made possible a reissue production line of such quality level.

The typical Western Labo Co. set up.

Companies like Line Magnetic, PandC, Western Labo, Victor, Kanno, GIP, Wu, etc. are all courting the same small group of customers, who are willing to spend a 50 to 100k amount (for a start) into a catalog of seamless dedicated replica products based on the 1930ties WE-cinema-sound-systems with all-time favorite repeating same components:

1. large wide band horn transducers (WE 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 21, 22 /A replicas or similar other horns)
2. large open baffle or dipole low frequency extension cabinets (incorporating TA4181, Lansing 15AX FC or other similar Jensen FC replica speakers or even arrays of them) with more or less
3. the same tweeter (WE 597/A).
4. Up to personal taste of the customer and available room for the dedicated listening space, different amplifier conceptions are available to match perfectly (here legend started with 300B tubes). Several replicas from Western Electric originated amplifier designs, like WE 89A, 91A , 121A up to completed cinema racks (WE41A) featuring 211 and 805 PPP tube amplifiers are repetitively copied for a common sales strategy.
Any legendary WE-transformer from history is reproduced already, rewound to original cores (171A, 618A/B, etc.) rigged out at electro junkjards in mainland China. Of course on sale are replicas of all typical dedicated power supply designs, like Tungar, Selenium or tube regulated are offered for a authentic completeness and aural superiority. If you only take the aural distinction of tungar low voltage power supplies to the fields coils of the 597/555 drivers in mind, it is almost a sensational effect on itself. Once aural internalized you will not do without anymore...
Every vintage exceptional product you might need for such a sophisticated sound texture is on sale by now,  – you don't need to research anymore for yourself, no more need to find experienced knowledge,  nor there is a need of building diy skills for absolutely unavailable products.  – You just need money and a dealer of your trust. Google will do the rest...

WE91A replica with original WE cores by PandC

GIP 12A horn replica with  GIP 555/A receiver GIP 597A tweeter 
A incredible speciality of Western Labo in Japan is the improved 21A horn design,
with 84 x 79cm opening and a good 40 cm longer development, the 21A is
the almost perfect match for wide band operation in typical living room sized environments.
It is extending the lower frequency end of the 22A to useable 150 Hz and since its longer
development up to 6000 Hz at its physical end of performance (with 555/A receivers).
It seems to be almost global consensus within a experienced community, that such historic given arrangements with Western Electric inspired remakes are the state of the audio art today. Of course they mark the top of any audio desire, since the originals never have been available to a private market, the most components were even in their professional time only available as a rent product.
To my own references from 30 years with vintage tube based audio equipment, I must state these wide band horn installations with 555 receivers are unsurpassed in any audible discipline. When absolute refinement in tonal realism, dynamic distribution and natural audio perception is to be aimed, there is nothing coming even close. Period!
Any paper cone based loudspeaking unit made through such 70 years of history, independent of its magnetic technology, does not have the slightest chance, in physical and as well in audible terms to match the sparkling naturalness of tonal resolution of these first wide band horn loudspeakers. If you have got the matching amplifying devices, you will be rewarded with unparalleled obsessive attitudes.

Line Magnetic LM555 mounted at LM22A horn

These qualities of wide frequency horns seem to have widely established in global scale. Those users with elaborated listening experience prefer loudspeaker concepts without limiting enclosure types. In audio history different design conceptions did establish in order to use the backward radiated waves of the cone to extend the total low frequency energy; like backloaded horn enclosures, enclosures with conducted port or reflex enclosure types. But even with large sized and damped sealed enclosure types unwanted energies together with unfavorable effects to the cone are always present. All this common used concepts are more or less a hefty compromise to a quality intended lf-response. The open baffle concepts from the early beginning show up with a tremendously improved performance and by far with lowest negative side effects to the sound structure. They are fast and open, they are room covering, but not very efficient in terms of radiated energy, for adjustment you might add cone size for improved efficiency. If you don't have the room for such a huge installations with large woofer (arrays), you better should forget about a historical cinema installation for your own.

A typical Western Electric cinema based installation shows up with properties unknown to ordinary commercial audio products. Because of their time related technology, they were once constructed with a main focus to optimize the acoustic-physical efficiency in mind. They are aimed to overcome the typical limitations of 1930ties audio performance, i.e. limited power output of the existing amplifying devices. They needed to perform in cinema halls with seats for several thousand people. So arrays of extra efficient horn speakers, have been for a long time the only technical solution to  succeed with a handful of watts of output power. The physical approach intended to resolve the best possible loudness energy ratio together with the best audibility to a given output power. The early ingenious solutions incorporated highly efficient mechanical transmission systems to couple the electro dynamic movement/energy of a small scaled coil to a maximal amount of air. Customized to different tasks, i.e. long low frequency or short high frequency waves were different treated. The low frequency drivers are in a foremost stage the graves for the supplied energy. The size of the radiating  cone decides about its lowest transmitted frequency, its physical weight determines the necessary electrical energy input. As everybody knows the size of the baffle limits physically the longest wave where the radiated wave parts from both sides of the cone distinguish each other. With a funnel like shown here from WesternLabo a particular part of the radiated frequency will be transmitted to better ratio, here it might be 1:1,5 for frequencies upper 100hz. With a 18'' woofer such a system brings a certain lot of air into movement, much more than the driver alone.
When you look at the immense ratio of the wide band horn development between opening and mouth you will find a ratio of one to several thousand. This system covers not only the most important and delicate frequency range, it determines decisively the tonal character of the whole installation. The extremely light weight diaphragm/driver mechanism 555 is designed to cover a frequency range of 100 to 7000 hz. The mounted horn development (like WE15a 100-3000hz, WE22a 250-6000hz) with its limiting parameters decides if such a horn can cover the complete range of the human voice or just the range of a  common trombone. The immense mechanical amplifying ratio of the horn development animates additionally a huge amount of moved air into the sound structure, a tremendous lot more than modern small scaled based speaker systems will do. I believe the amount of  animated air is the most typical and shaping effect for their incomparable sound structure.
This rarely iluminated aspect is to my personal experience the most important reason for the unique sensation of trueness and natural scaled instrumentation. To my perception this effect creates a fundamental physical difference into the final soundstage, a extra spacious and defined stage of sound. As well the listening ability is a lot easier at the ear than with small scaled drivers with long stroke radiated wavefronts, known from typical hifi speakers, but as well from professional studio monitors. Even here, when the overall sound structure might be extremely similar in tonality, the physical definition of the projected sound stage is completely different. The loss of air between instruments is a remarkable criteria.

A typical Western Labo set up in detail

Today ownership is not anymore a challenge, it is just a question of money and room. If you can accept to spend 2 to 4 K $US for shipping costs from Asia to Europe or into the US, you can order such complete sets directly from several Asian homepages. Certain manufacturers and companies are selling more or less the same replicas in similar qualities and confusingly same appearances for more or less similar price ranges.
Alternatively in Europe if you are adventurous and gifted with hand craft you can ask for some custom made support for the woodwork here ore here with additional options for necessary decided equipment. For all others it might better get in physical contact first with your more or less locally operating drug dealer. There you can get some real impression of these favourite products, of course coming along with additional charges but as well guarantees. In Germany you will be perfectly served by a institution and pioneer for such questions: Keith Aschenbrenner from Auditorium 23. Together with a highly extended amplifier range from Shindo-Labs and some unique own products like LM-based speaker designs, unique stepup-transformers, tonearms and cables, you will be opposed with several Line Magnetic components from the here shown classic WE-replica-speaker-portfolio. Within the American continent there will be Jonathan Halpern‘s associated network of tone import dealers would be happy to do serve a similar request for the interested aficionado.

GIP 7331 with TA4181 and GIP 597 and GIP403A with 594A. The dipole enclosure for the 18'' field coil low frequency radiator

The resume is sobering, after 80 years of audio development (?!) and certain stages of redefinition of state in audio technologies, like its included 30 years of digitalization of the music signal and by now the superior panacea of digital signal shaping with its benefits for consumer claims and applications, the earliest beginning technology has never been matched in overall performed quality again.
The first wide band receiver unit, the WE555A is by far the best sounding compression speaker mechanism for wide band use ever made and will be the central component in such a set up. It is the key component and performs by far better than any of his technically glorified successors. The simplicity of such a acoustic principle, the small lightweight diaphragm acting as wide band unit, mechanically amplified by a carefully designed exponential horn development to cover the widest possible frequency range (again WE 12/13/14/15/16/22/A) is by far the most delicate, refined, fast, naturally detailed and dynamic loudspeaker principle ever made. The WE597/A is its perfect hf-extending companion for the best high frequency response money can buy, as its lower end counterpart the 18'' TA4181 FC driver will perfectly round up the lower end. Such sets are a extreme statement of input and as well a challenge for the performed music material.

The most enthusiasts of such sets are hardcore analog addicts with a deep conviction about the supremacy of vinyl. For my own conviction and belief I must state here again, that just such incomparable qualities of the here described sets have shown myself the first time in my life the limitations of vintage analog recordings stored on vinyl. For a long time I did ignore completely the outstanding qualities of modern digital recordings (past 2000), – it may not be too influential, if you put five-figure euro sums in first released vintage vinyl jazz records – you must suffer from a disease well spread in such circles. In order to feed my own hardcore analog addiction before 2010 such first releases of vinyl  from the golden age were the only acceptable program material. Personal wrong interpretations of unlimited varying recording qualities in terms of broad tonalities, captured dynamics and refinement of resolution did confirm my completely wrong interpretation of richness and realism. The exceptional smooth, refined and natural response of such historic horn installations with its incomparable amounts of balanced micro textured informations, showed me first how wrongly I did misinterpret the typical inherent variations of vintage recorded vinyl. This experience made a completely new evaluation of digitally recorded music for me five years ago possible again. I had made my basic experiences with digital music at the beginning of the 1990ties. Mainly justified by transcriped CD's from originally analog recorded music, I decided to ignore for the next 20 years the digital medium completely. These early cd releases showed not only limited sound qualities, they showed on top like any other step of reproduction as well a even greater limitation of the widely varying analog originals. Such limitations are completely absent with actually completely digital produced program material (past 2000). The digital source is now on par with the best recordings on vinyl and the best thing about is that the tremendous differences between recordings known from analog times are almost obsolete.

SPU Gold in a SME3012 on Platine Verdier, for 20 years my gospel to audio heaven.

With this final part about the last 30 years of audio history I have reached as well at a end of my planned blog activities. Sometimes when I think back and talk to my self, it reminds me to my youth when I did listen to my Grandpa. I feel quite similar now when talking about such exalting audio sets like he did permanently refer about his deep affection by two world wars, a topic nobody liked to follow 20 years later... Being poised by such extravagant and room expansive audio installations, I feel in a similar situation. In particular when I see my students happily using Bose's bluetooth speakers with their mobile phones... And they are right, the Bose Soundlink mini is a exceptional milestone in history of audio, quasi the physical complementary product for today of the here shown Western Electric installations, but equally breathtaking impressive for what it is. If you are thinking instead of Western Electric horns about downsizing your former hifi life, this product might be your future...


Friday, 29 April 2016

Western Electric in Hong Kong  – A visit at Mr. Wu's workshop

Hello to everybody reading on,

finally it did happen and I got one of my contacts working in Hong Kong. I did meet with Mr. Western Electric of Hong Kong, better known as Mr. Wu.
In these days of mobile internet any business address is available at a fingertip, in particular here in HK, where the people run crazy with mobile web. Everybody is permanently online with a minimum of two cell phones at once, independent of age, just to prevent not to miss any incoming message. In these days businesses are getting rare without a web page or a email address. When Google will provide any information worldwide on a fingertip, you need to accept that there are still some people existing which are hiding to such digital ease. If you want to meet Mr. Wu, you need to know somebody who might be able to give you his physical address. He does not have a business card, a web page or a any other registered form. There is neither a telephone book in Hong Kong, nor other options to find the location of his company – wonderfully out timed.

Wu is located at the very end of the 荃灣線 -line (Tsuen Wan Line) of Hong Kongs MTR (Mass-Train-Railway/Subway) in a remote industrial area. With other words, just another 300 m distance and you will match the western end the urbanized territory of this megacity. It is a 30 minute foot walk from the subway station through warehouses and fabrication units, when you will end up in a place of nowhere. A 30 level warehouse with a entrance corridor of 100 meter length and maybe 500 stainless steel mailboxes at the wall. At the 4th floor, at unit L in the remote dark end, round the corner, a very little workshop is hidden, secured with extremely rigid and solid locks. Just  lettered with a tiny golden "Western Electric"-sticker at a metal sliding door.
To here loads of Japanese and Korean audio enthusiast did pilgrimage in order to get some of his famous Western Electric Amps. That's the way to do it and it is the only way to meet him, bring a trolley for the long way back, – no Paypal.

Hong Kong's Mr. "Western Electric" – Wu

His workshop is so small that three persons are blocking each other already in movement, so one needs to get outside, to get space for the two others. I would estimate, may be 15 square meters for two sections in one room, where the storage shelf will be the dividing wall to the heavy metal work bench.

Mr. Wu is a extremely warm, nice and simpathetic man, he doesn't speak any word of English, but he laughs a lot for compensation. He did originally work as an electrical engineer for a Chinese Company. When this company did move back to China mainland, he decided to set up his self employment and started to restore vintage Western Electric amplifiers like the 91A or the 124's and their variants and derivates. The rising interest in the growing asian vintage audio markets pushed him fast into the position, that he needed to find other resources for original vintage amps and unreplaceable spares. So he decided to make replicas of famous Western Electric -transformers using original WE cores, -amp parts, covers and bodies in order to reissue the original designs and their matching to the original specifications. He found lots of vintage Western Electric military and telephone equipment, originally sold as rubbish from US Government to China to get rid of the metal trash in the 1970ties. He did work out that some of this trashed transformers were made with identical iron cores than many famous audio transformers like the legendary old WE 171A (the output transformer of the WE91A), the 618A/B input device or several others dependent designs. As a main idea of his business he rewinds these vintage WE- cores and this gives hime the opportunity to build up amplifiers with almost identical attitudes than the rare vintage originals. Original is a funny word, the western meaning is unknown to the asian culture.

Some of his power amplifiers, on top the 124's, in the middle the 91A, beside some
kits for different layouted preamps

In the western world we have a completely different understanding of "originality" than in Asia. The foremost asian countries like Japan, Korea and China do practice a cultural tradition since more than 1000 years, which is called Shanzhai. Shanzhai means a permanent improvement through copying the best, practiced with art, skills and as well with commercial products (a well known problem, where the western copyright ends in its own set limits). In such basic tradition any product can be optimized when ressembled with all necessary improvements supplied.

So Mr. Wu did start to make replicas of famous WE-amps, like the WE 91A, the WE 124A's, at the beginning mainly directed to Japanese customers. Later the Koreans got as well interested, as some Hong Kong residents together with some people from the western world got supplied by him. All his transformers, a wide choice of input-, stepup-, interstage- and output transformers, create a fundamental base for a wide spread range of different pre- and power amplifiers. He orientates the finish as well to the rare and obsolete vintage originals in designs in color and built quality. His famous preamp line, featuring the direct heated WE-tennisball tubes (from the 100 and 200 DHT line), has been discontinued for several problems with vintage tube stock. Now Wu just offers kits for different preamp designs including all necessary transformers and body parts for the interested, of course in WE-gray.

The rewinding gauge, the central work space

Heavy metal workshop for body work, actual 2,5 sqm space.  .

Storage shelf for ready made WE-amplifiers of different dedication.
This is Mr. Wu's set for the demonstration, a set of his legendary preamps driving two
driver amps, ending into power triode booster amps, able to bring
30 watts to his Heathkit speakers, all strictly separated into two monophonic rails.

One patient waiting for service to complete the demonstration set up for stereo.

It is already time again that lots of audio enthusiast will visit Munich for the coming High-End-Show soon. You can be safe about the fact, that you won't see any product from Wu there. This typical battle for attention of techno audio addicts or the all around "bling-bling"-audio from mainland China will be there. But refined intimate made products with a sustainability like the here shown products you will not find at such events anymore.

For this you might need to get into the old-school habit of a real personal visit to this unique place. If you are interested into Mr. Wu's audio creations, you need somebody to bring you there or you will need a precise description to find him in Hong Kong, I will be able to provide such.

Read on soon, Volker

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Extending my last Posting

Hello to everybody,

I know that my blog is hardly neglected since I am in Hongkong. But to be honest it is extremely difficult to find issues about vintage hifi products here. To me it seems to be a hermetic sealed community, which has some interest into such things, but no interest to get in contact with foreign people.  Hongkong, a city tremendously believing into the future with a hard limited affinity to history, is not the place for such themes.

So I visited again my "friend" at the flea market in Sham Shui Po, who everyday sits there and assembles his own tube amps made from vintage parts. Last weeks he has got a new sets of WE input transformers with a ratio of 1:10. When I was there he installed a pair into his standard tube amp. After perfect matching he did play for me some some classical piano music, – I was sitting in the perfect hot spot of his speakers at his stand, and I was very surprised about the sound coming from his Japanese speakers from the 1970ties (maybe Sansui or similar). Maybe it was as well because of his open stand, without any side walls, but it did sound extremely balanced and natural.

A little late round the next corner I did have the chance to listen to another set with Uesugi brothers preamp and some Japanese vintage mono tube power amps in combination with some quite ordinary JBL speakers of the 1970ties. No, not the well known 4000 series of studio designs, some more ordinary floor standing three way units with 12'' woofer and particle board enclosure. This set was not even able to bring half the authenticity and life of the flea market set up  into performance. I would expect for 10 times the money...

Last not least I would like to get you some idea of the situation here about hifi. Just look at this image it will tell another story for the analoge enthusiast. But to be honest, I did find a record store in town, – with exactly the same new high end releases known from Europe, and that of course for the same amount of money.

Stay on, I will com back quite soon and maybe I will bring another interesting entry?


Monday, 14 March 2016

My First Hong Kong Post

Hello to everybody,

reading here. Before I came to Hong Kong I did try to use several sources to get some personal contact to the extremely vivid Hong Kong vintage audio scene. I would estimate that almost 70% of world wide vintage audio products sold at the platform Ebay since 2000 did strand in Hong Kong. I follow since the early 2000nd years at the Review33 platform such activities with fascination. So I do know quite well what was going on here. I could verify the most interesting figures of the scene over the years within this forum. Beside this scene several people in Europe did mention important people living in Hong Kong to me, which I needed definitely to meet...  So I started already a year ago to establish contact lines using email, forum mail, etc.. Some of them I did try to contact several times. At the end of the day I had not even one response when I left Germany two weeks ago. It was absolutely frustrating for me coming here and not to be able to get in contact with some of the interesting figures living here. So if here no coincidence will happen, I will not be able to report about this interesting scene here within my blog.

Today I went to a market in Sham Shui Po, a very typical Hong Hong street market were lot of things for every day needs are sold. Clothes, vegetables, meat, animals, short the well known market offers. At one very far end this market shifted suddenly to some sort of flee market with a tiny couple of stands selling typical flea market goods. Suddenly I did realize in my canthus some tubes on top of a case, designated with a golden relief inscription 6SN7.

I made a side step into that stand. There was a man sitting and welding tube amplifiers together from used parts. Actually he had a 300b amplifier on the bench equipped with Audio Note output transformers driven by EF37A tubes, – well,  not the worst topology.

Vintage tubes, paper caps good transformers and a matching diagram are good choices to start audio romance...

With a second look I could realize that he had a whole bunch of Chinese output transformers from the 1960ties lying around. These were looking extremely well made, almost identical to early Tango or Tamura iron with porcelain perls as isolators and Copper cans. These types were Shanghai brand 9K PP primary and 4/8/15 ohms at the secondary with a power output of 20 watts. These were really nice looking. I did try to get in contact with the guy. Unfortunately this ended like always here, the guy did not speak the slightest word of english. But I persistently did try on to communicate with him, since somebody else came and tried to support his friend. This man was able to difference the words yes and no in English. It took a whole while till I realized to take a pen and paper and I did write down some unmistakable synonyms like Western Electric, WE15A, WE91A or LeakTL12.1. Reading such words opened the mind of this guy, he did realize that I exactly did understand what he is doing. I gave him my blog address and told him to come back after he might have informed what I am doing here.

Being in Hong Kong now for two weeks I have learned that this city rejects any sort of history. The most architecture is new, all historical has been demolished and resembled with modern buildings by the Chinese Government. Of course they have an interest to make the British time forgotten. I cannot imagine anything older than this period to be desired by typical Hong Kong inhabitants today. If you walk through the streets you will not see private cars older than two years, everybody has always the newest smartphone, mostly two, computer and all architecture rejects any historical form. It seems to be fact, that history is a strange smell for the Hong Kong Chinese. I have never before seen people acting so deeply history forgot than here.

Read on soon, Volker

Monday, 1 February 2016

The TrueFi Tannoy Enclosure – The Manufacture

Hello to everybody,

continuing reading here in the new year 2016. So I will start with a new article about my Tannoy speaker design. Still I cannot believe how exceptional these speakers in such a cabinet design do work out, even after two years of every day use I do not miss anything. People who know standard alnico versions from Tannoys classic or prestige range (mostly with reflex designs and a more or less too small scale volume) do not have a close perception of what this speaker is able to do. Almost refined and rich textured invisibility with fast transient response, due to its dipole design, combined with finest detailed natural musical resolution show a stage of musical completeness, tannoy normally are not known for. The typical bold, hardly textured and more than rich sound of historical Tannoy speakers, has been improved to a before unknown level for such 15-inch speaker. They remind me a lot more to the typical cinema horn installations with their impressive refinements in micro acoustic terms. Of course such a speaker is not able to show the same degree of micro acustic resolution, its physically handicapped to do so, but you never will ask for anything missing. A exceptional homogeneity, hard to obtain with such complex horn installations, has indeed more affinity to small scale full range speakers, but with a much improved dynamic ability. So these speakers do mark a full unique alternative option in size, living room ability and performed quality, last not least seen from the money point of view. The only natural predator in this league might be Voice of the Cinema-types of speakers, which would be from certain points no alternative for me...

The by now first manufactured samples are finished and are in deliver to their new owners. I have spend a good amount of time of the last year to find refinements for the production and manufacture process. The front loaded dipole enclosure is some sort of ultimate cabinet for the 15-inch Tannoy Dual Concentric speaker with the 15 ohm hard edged version of cone, i.e. Monitor Black, Silver, Red and Gold with 8 ohms. Almost any detail of my prototype cabinets got improved for the series production.
The most problematic detail is still the curved front horn extension. It is made from solid layers of 3 mm mahogany veneers, each glued to the next within a specially made press form, to a final thickness of 18 mm solid wood. Mahogany wood is a ideal material, since it is grown in long strong fibers, which will be bendable in a perfect way and will give the necessary elastic stiffness for preferred sound values. I still hope that FSC certified tropical wood is not only a placebo for the conscience of the consumer and will give some extended sort of sustainability.

Different stained fronts are available to customer requests

 The front of this speaker design is exceptional important design feature, since it is acting as a relevant extension of both different speaker units. The HF-compression part will be extended to lower frequencies, since the LF-cone will be supported in the important lower mid frequencies of 400 to 1000 hz. In the same time the fronts are acting as frontal part of the well known h-dipol design (original WE 7331), they need to mount mechanically the more than 10 kg heavy Dual Concentric speaker to the enclosure with all known advantages and problems. This is a highly delicate question to solve and one main issue bringing vintage alnico equipped Tannoy speaker enclosures into a refined singing mode. Within a misunderstanding of this little detail lots of generations of Tannoy speakers from last 40 years didn't reach their inherent built world class smooth expression.
The open back needs to be completely lined with 10 mm woolen felt in order to minimize direct reflections inside the cabinet, the extension cases are lined with low density boards. These extension cabinets are just movable only for transportation reasons to keep the enclosure sizes small.

Here shown with slightly stained and oiled oak veneer for the main corpus and dark brown
stained color for the extension enclosure in the back.

All veneers are thick types of minimum 2mm thickness to give the enclosures a robust surface
and a solid wood appearance since they are made from lumber core plywood, the best sounding
wooden boards for speaker enclosures.

Listening to these Tannoys shows a well expected improvement in the naturalness and liquidity of the  typical tonal impression, comparing these with my plywood cabinets. The coniferous solid wood inside sounds better articulated with less resonant edges in the tonal accuracy. They will improve within the next month even more, when they get played in, a process known well from a typical wooden musical instruments.

10 mm woolen felt is my preferred damping material inside enclosures, in order to minimize
reflections inside cabinets. pine strives of 10mm thickness add some controlled strength to
cabinets. These are arranged in proportions of the the "Golden Cut" to find the best dispersed
reconance distribution.

I was almost shocked when I did refurbish the first pairs of chassis with original "recone kits" supplied by Lockwood Audio. These typical preassembled units (paper cone with surrounds, centering unit and voice coil) don't make a lot of problems to the experienced and get perfectly installed into the well known chassis of the dual concentric loudspeakers. It struck me down when I did a first listening test after the reconing process, I was save about the fact that both high frequency units are defunctional. Even if I did measure them before, I stopped the listening test and reopened the tweeter for a second inspection. I was quite save that the didn't work by listening. But I was wrong, the paper cone was absolutely not able to perform its dedicated frequency ends, i.e. the lower frequencies below 150 hz, as it could not resolute the frequencies above 500 hz. So these units over roared with 200 to 500 hz frequency parts so loud, that it was impossible to hear the hf unit or some lower bass.

Variants of the enclosure in different stained color and again with retractable back.
This option needs a precise felt gasket between outer and inner case-

After almost 4 hours of first playing the music started to open up and was already sounding in a way which did remind me a bit to the typical Tannoy sound. After 50 hours play from radio they started to sound quite well, still with a reserve of resolution of 5 % to match. It will show in future, I think it  will need another good 100 to 200 hours till they will show their best attitudes.
As well the cabinets itself need a extensiv cuing in process very similar to wooden musical instruments. At the very early beginning they don't sound refined. Quite edgy and inharmonious in their musical behavior within the first hours, they start to brake in after eight hours play of music. After another 20 hours play in time, they show some first musical insight and convince with some first harmony distribution. I expect them after 100 hours playing time to reach their final exceptional transparency and harmony in a stage, where thy are already acoustically invisible. This process seem to be very similar to the run in process of wooden instruments. Interesting, normally when you build a speaker one time, you can not realize such effects. But if you listen to a new sample of your well known speaker, you are able to observe even the smallest changes.

The crossovers are made from copper foil inductors and oil-paper capacitors and solid 2mm copper wire. They have got a metal housing, close in design to the original crossovers known from the legendary Tannoy Monitor Silver and Reds. So I have spared no effort to take care about any technical but as well optical detail to match the original or better standard these speakers were known for. I think it might be a pleasure for the future customer to see how much attention has given into any detail of these speakers. Details which haven't been seen for more than 50 years from commercial sold speakers, even if they were manufactured in low amounts. I did try to make one of the best loudspeakers in history even better and keep its almost legendary standards to the highest possible level. Like several other recently issued remakes from history, like the LineMagnetic series of speakers or the Western Electric 15A horn replicas from Aldo in Italy, I try to manage a similar idea of reissuing with a main interest to a before unavailable quality with vintage Tannoy speakers. I am happy to present with such speaker a stage of improvements, which was never available before, nor it can be found in in their current own pricy legacy releases known as "Prestige Series".

Fresh reconed chassis are looking like new

Of course they have got the TrueFi logo
I prefer felt gaskets like known from the early Monitor Silver, better than the later
introduced high density foam in black or white (shown in one image above),
known from Monitor Red, Gold or HPD.

These speakers are available to order as complete loudspeakers equipped with refurbished Red units or can be alternatively equipped with own speakers from the Tannoy Monitor Silver, Red or Gold line. They can be made with different veneer types as they can be customized in several details on request.

It's always good to have some spare Reds in house, you never know what will
happen...As well some spare recone kits might give safety.

Sizes and technical informations:
95cm high to 60cm wide, with a minimum of 65cm depth variable extendable between 45 to 80cm.
Made from 18mm lumber core plywood, veneered with 2mm furniture veneers.
Funnel made from solid mahogany 3mm veneers.
All used solid wood from coniferus sorts between 1.5 to 6 cm strength.
Soft rubber rollers integrated in the base.
Total weight 52 kg each equipped with speaker and crossover.

Read on soon,

Thursday, 24 December 2015

30 Years of Revelation V – Culture of Listening

Hello to everybody,

reading on this series of articles. First I did try to explain the Japanese findings of the 1970ties, later than their introduction into the European audio culture through Jean Hiraga with the Maison de L'Audiophile in Paris through the 1980 years in my last article. So I will try today to show some sort of its aftermath as gateway into the following decade of the 1990ties.

Reading history from today shows clearly that the lessons of delight opened different paths for some forthcoming into the future of the early 1990ties. Based on technical outmoded principles of the  wired age, i.e. the tube amplified music perception with historic analogue appliances like record players, tape recorders and horn speaker systems, created a new spearhead as some sort of niche culture for the general audio business. For the affluent, interested and well propertied audio aficionado tube sound with vinyl based program sources got the "must have". After three decades of audio culture aimed to be principled by "higher faster further-values", some sort of wear out of attraction of such was obvious.

The End of purely technical Verification "Ècole L'Audiophile"

A manifesting of a completely different appreciation of audio handling took slowly place for a specialized minority of audio enthusiasts. Maison de L'Audiophile did learn us to question any detail in a audio chain as necessary option. We did learn to trust as well our human senses and to interpret datasheets as questionable relicts of an era of well trust. Far offside commercial consumer hifi products, but as well independent from written theoretical superiority, we did learn that precisely defined physical and mechanical relevant execution processes will lead to exceptional valued audible differences. We did learn about human psycho-acoustic properties and our individual digestion preferences. As we did learn finally a basic distinct of natural harmonic integrity within the audible sensation to be the outstanding reference for a peripherally and complete appropriation of music.

"Tube rolling" somewhere in Honkong today. Shown here with a pair of WE124 replica tube amps in front of a pair of Telefunken V69 amps flanked by a pair of Goodsell Williamson Amps. 

In the early 1990ties a important position took place in audio business in Europe. Keith Aschenbrenner of Auditorium 23  integrated at his beginning some major findings of Maison de L'Audiophile into his own business model of an audio shop He distributed several of their products, kits, their magazine and brought several other related processes into force. One example: the "Platine Verdier"record player, which never would have seen commercial success, if Keith wouldn't have given a initial push with the first order for a small manufactured series (read at his web page about).
But furthermore Keith Aschenbrenner played a immense role within Germany and Europe with his open minded and and well educated understanding of audio perception. He acted as a wide spreading  communicative platform for the ideas coming from the Maison. This knowledge made him curious about its origin in Japan. So it didn't take a long time to find some contact to some of the major figures over there. His early contact to Ken Shindo and his long time friendship with him for almost 25 years, gave him the chance to get some insight into his Japanese hidden soul, knowledge and his understandings. Ken Shindo was of one of Japans foremost audio masters from the early 1970ties. So each of his products keeps a exquisite developed stage of own trueness in its heart and keeps a naturally delighted soul inside, both incomparable to any other tube based amplifier design realized in history. Deeply involved into such quality Keith got to be a staunched distributer of Shindo's Sound Creator products from the early 1990ties on. The products gave him the opportunity to set up precisely dedicated and refined components, which work in a chained addition with a higher degree of synergetic attitude  than ordinary well made tube amplifiers. His deep insight into Ken Shindos fundamental different understanding of relational knowledge about harmonic distribution inside audio related products gave him a chance to create analogical orientated ideas for his own products. Here a complete loudspeaker line must be reminded, mainly based on a juxtapositioned understanding of the functionality of the enclosure. Based at the historical role model of the classic open cased "radio receiver" or Volksempfänger of the 1930ties, he did establish a complete line of more or less resonant wideband speakers with dipole enclosure types. Here the enclosure mostly works as mild support of the typical 8-inch wide band speaker in order give some low frequency support, a very similar introduction of this problem comparing musical instruments.

Interview with Keith Aschenbrenner

For a translation from German language into English please use Google translator or a similar software:

TrueFi: Mitte der achtziger Jahre bist Du zusammen mit Norbert Gütte das erste Mal mit 300B-Verstärkern und Hornsystemen der frühen Kinotechnik bei ersten Besuchen des französischen Maison de L’Audiophile in Paris in Berührung gekommen. Diese auch damals schon altehrwürdige Technik wurde durch Jean Hiraga seinerzeit erstmalig außerhalb Japans in Europa nach ihrem Niedergang in den 1940er Jahren wieder präsentiert.
Die eigentliche Wiederentdeckung war zuvor bereits in den frühen 1970er Jahren in Japan geschehen, wo Jean Hiraga damals gelebt hatte. Riesengroße mechanisch schallführende Hornsysteme mit leistungsschwachen Röhrenverstärkern der Initialgeneration wurden von ihm dann in den 1980ern in Paris bei den jährlichen Vorführungen eingesetzt. Diese Techniken bemühten Prinzipien aus der Frühzeit öffentlicher Aufführungspraxis der 1930er Jahre. Solche Vorführungen fielen in eine Zeit, da die gängige Audiotechnik bereits ihren technischen Zenit auch hinsichtlich ihrer Verbreitung flächendeckend erreicht hatte. Was genau hat Dich an dieser alten Technik faszinieren können?

Keith Aschenbrenner: Ich kaufte und sammelte damals die Hefte von L'Audiophile – auch fast alle der sehr frühen Hefte – war damals mit dem deutschen Vertrieb von Focal partnerschaftlich verbunden, Jaques Mahul war Autor für L'Audiophile, einige seiner Bauvorschläge für Lautsprecher waren in den Heften appliziert. Passend dazu gab es die fertigen Geräte der “Les Réalisations de L’Audiophile“ in Frankreich. Das war die Zeit von 20 Watt Hiraga, Kaneda DC1, Le Tube, Geräte die ab etwa 1983 auch in Deutschland angeboten wurden, Kurt Hecker hatte sich um den Vertrieb bemüht. Ich war von der Struktur des A23 immer an den DIY-Konzepten der L'Audiophile-Hefte interessiert und so kam es über eine ganze Zeit zu einer Zusammenarbeit zwischen K. Hecker und A23 – einige der Lautsprecher für Messen und Ausstellungen wurden von A23 gefertigt – z.B. Petite Audiophile mit Fostex FE 103 S, auch als Kit mit allen nötigen Hilfsmitteln von uns angeboten. So kannte man die Leute aus der Mannschaft von L’Audiophile, Philipp Viboud, Jean Hiraga, William Walter, Gerard Chretien, besuchte deren frühe Vorführungen in Paris und bekam mit deren musikalischen Events einen eigenen Schlüssel “umgedreht“, wusste, für mich geht es nur so, kaum anders. In dieser Zeit besuchte auch Norbert Gütte A23 und seine erstaunlichen holzhandwerklichen Eigenschaften ermöglichten – so zielgerichtet auf Hifi – uns zu besprechen, wie man die konzeptionelle Idee L'Audiophile nach Deutschland bringen könnte. Das war Mitte der 1980er Jahre. Aus dem Umstand, dass sich die “Realisations" und K. Hecker vertrieblich trennten entstand unsere Zusammenarbeit mit der “Maison“ und wir hatten als Vertrieb plötzlich in der Hand, wovon ich Anfang der 80er nur leise zu träumen wagte. Es war die Zeit, in der bei den “Realisations“ die JH 50 entstand und etwas früher, doch fast parallel in der “Maison“, die 8 Watt Le Monstre Endstufe, Nemesis, VT 52 und 300 B – wir hatten damit sozusagen vertriebstechnisch freie Hand für alle DIY-Konzepte der “Maison de L'Audiophile“. Die damaligen Vorführungen waren entlang der Onken 360 L, der VOTT, der ersten WE15 A (Mono) Konzepte (in einem Kino in der Nähe der Place Pigalle) mit Kaneda 50 W oder JH 50, mit Nemesis- oder 300 B-Verstärkern, aktiv in drei Wegen über 300 B und VT 52, oder einwegig Stereo/JH 50 mit Doppelonken, 15 A, Onken 500-Horn und Onken Tweeter immer wieder so musikalisch spannend, so in die Musik führend, so unvermittelt nahe, dass dies zum Schlüsselerlebnis wurde.
Es ist die Arbeit der beteiligten Personen, es ist “Edition Frequence“ mit der Herausgabe einer Publikation entlang genau dieser Ideen, es ist Jean Hiraga, der so viele der Ideen und Arbeiten japanischer Enthusiasten nach Frankreich brachte und damit natürlich auch in den europäischen Raum. Entscheidend war, dass die Leute eben auch vorführten, was sie als Bau- oder Kaufvorschläge in den Heften vorstellten, man sich über diese klanglichen Eigenschaften im “Klaren“ sein konnte – wenn man, wie schon oben gesagt, den passenden Schlüssel dafür in sich hatte. Für mich gab es da kein zurück…. eine Voice war mir vielleicht lieber als ein Onken, ein Mono WE15 A “erwischte“ mich mehr als ein vollaktives Doppelonken-System – aber das waren persönliche “Befindlichkeiten“, weniger ein Einteilen in besser und schlechter. Klar wurde immer wieder: Wenn gute 3-5 Watt wirklich ausreichen, dann leisten die richtigen Lautsprecher daran etwas Besonderes.

T: In der Zeit zwischen 1985 und 1995, wurden nicht nur ganz allgemein wieder neu Röhrenverstärker beachtet, sondern in erheblicher Breite erfuhren historische technische Errungenschaften wie Hornlautsprecher, Breitbänder, frühe Movingcoil-Systeme auch wieder mehr Zuwendung. Du hast daran auch nicht unerheblich mitgewirkt, diese zuvor als rückständig verpönten Techniken wieder zu rehabilitieren. Über viele Jahre hast Du Lautsprechersysteme angeboten, die mit Breitbändern bestückt, das aus frühen Röhrenradios bekannte Prinzip des Dipolgehäuses nutzten. Worin sahst Du dabei die elementar eigenen Qualitäten solcher Produkte, die im HiFi-Vokabular von „höher-schneller-weiter“ (z.B. einer JBL DD55000 Everest) und monatlichen „Überreferenzen“ das genau gegenüberliegende Ende des Bewertungskanons zu markieren vermochten? Also deutlich weniger als mehr, was war das Mehr für Dich?
KA: Richard Faust, Journalist von “Das Ohr“, schrieb 1989 seinen Bericht “Wo find ich in Deutschland eine Mono-Triode?“ Ich schmücke mich sicher nicht mit fremden Federn mit der Annahme, einer der ersten in D gewesen zu sein, der single ended Trioden-Röhrenverstärker wieder ans Licht geholt hat, die Bausätze von L 'Audiophile machten das möglich. Das geschah aber tatsächlich nicht aus rein kommerziellen Erwägungen, Verstärker wie diese waren damals zu exotisch als dass man hoffen durfte, die Hifi-Welt würde eine 180-Grad-Drehung spielend hinlegen. Und so war es auch. Die oben erwähnte JH 50 mit ihren gut 40 Watt hatte es da schon etwas leichter angenommen zu werden – um sich an vielen falschen Lautsprechern letztendlich den Ruf stehlen zu lassen.
Lautsprecher mussten damals schmal und hoch sein – “Tall Boys“ – da passten wir mit unseren VOTs nicht ins Bild. Da uns mit den gegebenen Verstärkern und Lautsprechern aber klar war, dass es keine monatlichen Überreferenzen geben kann, macht es Sinn, sich auf weniger spektakuläre aber langlebigere Qualitäten zu besinnen und das war für uns mit den “alten“ Konzepten gegeben. Es war uns bewusst, uns damit in einer Nische zu befinden mit limitiertem Markt, aber das war für uns so in Ordnung.
Was war das Mehr für mich? Diese Anlagen reproduzieren Musik auf völlig andere Weise als wir es bis dato kennen gelernt hatten. Es hat mich umgehauen, als ich in einer der legendären Vorführung von L’Audiophile in kleinen Theatern in Paris zum ersten Mal das 15A WE-Horn hörte. Es war faszinierend zu erleben, wie zart und intim, auf der anderen Seite kraftvoll und energisch ein solches System zu spielen in der Lage war. Das Entstehen und Verklingen eines Tons passiert auf gänzlich andere Weise über solche Systeme als mit herkömmlichem, gewohntem HIFI. Sie ziehen einen auf eine Weise in die Musik, wie man es von modernen Anlagen allzuoft nicht erfährt. Gut 25 Jahre nach L 'Audiophile finde ich es großartig, dass seit einigen Jahren Mr. Chung auf der High End in München einem großen Publikum die Möglichkeit gibt, solch alte Systeme aus seiner Sammlung einmal zu hören, die aus dem Beginn des Tonfilms stammen und heute noch in der Lage sind, ob ihrer Qualitäten zu verblüffen. Ich bedaure dabei leise, dass der Focus oft mehr darauf gerichtet ist, welche Dynamik sie in punkto Lautstärke zu leisten in der Lage sind und weniger, wie subtil und feinzeichnend sie auch sein können. Sicher ist es immer noch leichter so zu überzeugen; auch wir hatten in unserer L 'Audiophile-Zeit heftige Musikbeispiele, um die immer wieder auftauchende Frage “sind 3 Watt denn genug?“ zu zerstreuen.
Jean Marie Piel, ein sehr renommierter französischer Musikjournalist und früher Mitautor von L'Audiophile, schrieb einmal im Editorial der Zeitschrift “Diapason“ ein Essay mit dem Titel ”Eine Frage der Nuancen“: “Unseren Entwicklern sollte zu denken geben, dass die fruchtvollste Dynamik die ist, die sich auf die Stille zu bewegt statt auf den Lärm.“
Und genau da setzten eben diese alten Hifi-Hilfsmittel so gut an, da kann ein SPU A verbindlich abtasten, ein langer Arm Tugenden zeigen, ein guter MC-Trafo seine Qualität ausspielen, eine Röhrenvorstufe tatsächlich wahrhaftig klingen, ein Röhren-Kleinleistungsverstärker seine Größe zeigen.

T: Die Verstärker und Schallwandler der lange verschwundenen Unternehmen Western Electric, Klangfilm, Zeiss-Ikon, RCA etc. waren auch damals längst auch nicht mehr einfach zu finden und erwerben. So stiess auch in Europa die Maison de L’Audiophile ganz nach japanischem Vorbild eine Welle von Nachbaumassnahmen klassischer historischer Verstärker und Lautsprecher an. Die französischen 300B-Legend Verstärker waren dazu ein erster Schritt und damit auch ein Weg, die Qualitäten von Single-Ended-Konzepten auch einem breiteren Publikum und auch als Bausatz zugänglich zu machen. Wie schwierig war es damals quasi als „Falschfahrer“ gegen einen komplementär ausgerichteten kommerziellen Markt gegenzusteuern?
KA: Der Ausdruck “Falschfahrer“ trifft es ziemlich gut. Wir wurden nicht einfach betrachtet als Typen, die es halt für sich und die, die es auch so mögen, lediglich anders machen. Die Reaktionen waren teilweise schon als feindselig zu bezeichnen. Nachdem in “Das Ohr“ erste Artikel erschienen waren, gerieten wir in den Focus einer größeren Öffentlichkeit. Die Fachpresse beklagte, dass wir ja nicht einmal die HiFi-DIN-Norm 45500 einhalten würden und bezeichnete uns mit unseren 5-Watt-Verstärkern als Scharlatane. Zu unseren Hornlautsprechern formten die Fachmänner ihre Hände vor dem Mund zur Tüte und tröteten ”Hörner verfärben“. Wir erzählen ein wenig unseres Werdegangs auf unserer Website in den “Innenansichten“, “Außenansichten“ und “Kommentaren“. Gut, daran hat sich vieles geändert….. manch einer, der damals „spinnefeind“ war, schwört heute ohne Erinnerung an frühere eigene Statements auf genau solche Hilfsmittel zur Musikwiedegabe und “Röhre“ ist seit Jahren Trumpf. Die Gegensteuerung kam aber eher von den Mitbewerbern, die sich zu uns in die Nische begaben, erst wenige, dann viele. Heute ist der Markt unüberschaubar groß – die 300 B hat Gattungsbegrifflichkeit bekommen – im Nichtbesitzen von originalen WE 300 B’s und gegebener Vergleichbarkeit ist solche Verwaschung verständlich.

Rondo - A 23 Speaker with PHY Salabert

T: Erfolgreichster Deiner wirkungsgradoptimierten Breitbandlautsprecherkonzepte war dann später die „Rondo“, die geformt und gebaut wie ein Saiteninstrument, also wie eine Gitarre; oder auch die „Provence“, die gebaut wie ein Schlaginstrument den Treiber jeweils auf unnachahmliche Art unterschiedlich ergänzen konnten. Beides wurde dann mit einfachen Radiolautsprechern ausgerüstet zigfach kopiert. Trotzdem konnten selbst diese einfachen Nachbauten die grundsätzliche Idee einer „umfänglich harmonischen und weniger technisch vordergründigen Musikdarstellung“ zur weiteren Verbreitung verhelfen. Du bist auch Überzeugungstäter, zusammen mit einem entwickelten Sendungsbewustsein ist das ein Erfolgsrezept das sich wie ein roter Faden durch Dein Leben zieht. Niemand im Land hat sich dermassen deutlich für eine sensible und entwickelte Hörkultur eingesetzt und auch nachhaltig durchgesetzt, nicht zuletzt auch mit eigenen Interessen. Würdest Du von einem Kultur des entwickelteren Hörens reden wollen?
KA: Ich bin sicher als Überzeugungstäter wahrgenommen worden; richtiger ist, dass all unsere Produkte in erster Linie für uns selbst entstanden sind. Aus Ideen, die man hatte und umsetzte zu einem einzigen Zweck: Um es zu wissen und daraus zu lernen, um Rückschlüsse zu ziehen. Das Projekt mit Rondo zog sich über fast 2 Jahre hin und hätte auch im Nichts enden können. Es gab Rückschläge und es entstanden etliche Prototypen – ganz sicher mehr als die Kopierer je aufzuweisen haben, hatten sie ja unsere „endgültige“ Umsetzung vor Augen. Diejenigen, die teilweise in Serien das Gehäuse kopierten und mit aus geschredderten Radios gerupften Chassis bestückten, haben gar nicht verstanden, worum es bei dem Konzept ging, sonst wären sie es anders angegangen. Und “erfolgreich“ bleibt ein schwieriges Wort...
Mein sogenanntes “Sendungsbewusstsein“ speiste sich immer aus der Verantwortung gegenüber den Herstellern, die mir ihre Produkte anvertraut haben, ausnahmslos kleine Familienunternehmen, Jean Constant Verdier, Ken Shindo, Bernard Salabert etc…ihnen durch unachtsame Herangehensweise nichts kaputt zu machen war mir wichtig. Und meine eigenen Produkte habe ich immer nur als “Accessoires“ betrachtet. Die A 23 Lautsprecherkabel gibt es seit 25 Jahre fast unverändert, ebenso die Trafos für Denon 103 und Ortofon, die NF-Kabel auch schon seit etlichen Jahren. Ich habe diese Produkte nie großartig werblich ausgelobt, die weltweite Akzeptanz freut mich dennoch, besonders die Tatsache, dass auch Ken Shindo meine LS-Kabel für seine Vorführungen benutzte.

Shindo Labs Show room, from Hifi Choice 8/1991

T: Anfang der 1990er Jahre konzentriertest Du Dich auf genau diese Verstärker von ShindoLabs. Unmittelbar danach begannst Du diese als Vertrieb außerhalb Japans in Deutschland zu etablieren und nahmst gleichermassen Abschied von den früheren Konzepten. Welche Überzeugung hat Dich zu diesen Geräten geführt? Zu diesem Zeitpunkt war die Rückbesinnung auf frühe Technologien in Japan bereits über zwanzig Jahre vertieft worden, das Niveau dieser Beschäftigung dort und deren Resultate zeitgemäss entwickelte Produkte ergänzend zu historischen einzusetzen ist bis heute absolut maßstabsetzend. Wie kam es dazu Verbindungen in die dortige Szene zu führenden Figuren dort zu suchen und damit Geräte zu importieren, die hierzulande völlig unbekannt waren?
KA: Ausschlaggebend für meine Orientierung nach Japan waren die sich abzeichnenden Veränderungen bei L’Audiophile. Der Verlag war verkauft worden und es war unsicher, wie sich das weiter entwickeln würde. Die Rahmenbedingungen hatten sich stark verändert, Lectron wurde verkauft, Maison L'Audiophile von William Walter übernommen.
Ich bezog schon sehr lange japanische, sehr spezielle Audio Magazine. Die dort gezeigten Artikel, bzw. Fotos, waren für mich äußerst spannend, Bilderhefte, quasi Hifi-Mangas – wer kann schon japanisch? Ich sah Insertionen japanischer Firmen, war von den Geräten einer kleinen Firma namens Shindo Laboratory fasziniert, der Art der Präsentation, den dekorierten Accessoires: Garrard- und EMT Studiolaufwerk, Studer CD-Player, Altec Hörner, Tannoy Chassis, Siemens Lautsprecher… das war mir bekannt, war meine Welt, ich fühlte mich zu Hause und beschloss, diese Leute zu kontaktieren. Das Internet bestand noch nicht, ein schlichtes Fax wollte ich auch nicht senden und so schickte ich ein altmodisches Anschreiben auf die Reise. Es dauerte lange, bis ich Antwort erhielt, ich lud Ken Shindo nach Deutschland ein und der Rest ist Geschichte.

from Shindo Labs Flyer

T: Wenn man sich die Geschichte der von Ken Shindo entwickelten Verstärker ansieht, dann ist augenfällig, das er von Beginn an, also seit Ende der 1970er Jahre Verstärker um bestimmte Röhren herumgebaut zu haben scheint. Ist es so, dass er die Fähigkeiten und Eigenschaften bestimmter Röhren als entscheidenden Ausgangspunkt für seine Entwicklungen benutzt hat und somit die umgebende Schaltung als deren unterstützendes Transportvehikel verstanden hat? Oder wie würdest  Du Ken Shindos Ideen und seine Ziele beschreiben?
KA: Shindo hat zu einer Zeit begonnen Geräte zur Musikwiedergabe zu bauen, da der hiesige Markt noch nicht wusste, dass der Röhre per se nochmals soviel Bedeutung zuteil werden würde. In den frühen 70er Jahren fing er an Geräte anzubieten, die es zudem (und da sind wir wieder beim Anfang dieses Interviews) in zwei Versionen gab, als Bausatz und als von Shindo aufgebautes Fertiggerät. Teilweise farblich verschiedene Gehäuse unterschieden Kit zu Fertigprodukt. Was ich lange nicht wusste: Vor seiner Zeit als Hersteller war er Anbieter für historische Bauteile – historisch aus heutiger Sicht, damals durchaus noch Teile aus Tagesproduktion.
Seine Geräte waren immer davon getragen, aus Röhrentypen nicht hierarchisch das Beste zu machen, sondern eher z.B. einer Siemens Ed oder WE 300 Wesentliches zu entnehmen, so ist auch zu verstehen, dass es z.B. von E2d über F2a kleine bis große Push-Pull Leistung gibt, um dann mit WE 421 PP in einem System zu bauen, zu 349 A in PP mit kaum 8 Watt, auch EL 34 zu verwenden - sozusagen jeder dieser Röhren Eigenschaften zu entnehmen, die über die bekannten, zugesicherten hinaus gehen… Erstaunlich, aber seine Geräte schaffen es, versöhnlich ein paar Stunden KT 88 PP/Triode hören zu können, um dann z.B. an eine PX 25 zu gehen und zu sagen: Ja, auch das ist Shindo-Klang.

T: Eine einzigartige Audiokultur mit ureigensten Kriterien und Maßstäben, höchstem Anspruch an Musikwiedergabe und deren Eigenständigkeit konnte sich in Japan als Wesensmerkmal einer elitären Gemeinde neben einem Massenmarkt mit konventionellen HiFi-Ansprüchen fest etablieren. Ken Shindos Produkte waren und sind ein repräsentativer Teil dieser unvergleichlichen Kultur, die eigentlich von jeher von aussen betrachtet hermetisch verschlossen wirkte. Und auch durch das Internet hat sich daran nur wenig geändert, Kultur und Sprache/Schriftzeichen stellen zusätzliche Hindernisse dar. Ich glaube zu wissen, das der regelmässige Kontakt und Austausch mit Ken Shindo Dein Verständnis vom Hören ganz allgemein, das von Audio-Komponenten und deren Eigenschaften grundlegend verändert hat. Wärest Du in der Lage einige Erfahrungen auszuführen?
KA: Na ja, ohne die sog. „École L'Audiophile“, ohne diese oben genannten Schlüsselerlebnisse, wäre ein Zugang zu Shindo und seinen Herangehensweisen auch nicht einfach gewesen, aber es stimmt, die Sprache, die Kultur, die nicht vorhandene sprachliche Kommunikationsebene durch das Fehlen einer gemeinsamen Sprache, machte es nicht leicht. Wir haben damals viel gezeichnet, piktogrammartige Lösungen für die Kommunikation gefunden, manchmal machte er bei Besuchen komplette Eingriffe an seinen Geräten, Änderungen die im Ergebnis verwunderten, bestätigten, wie sehr er sich zu dieser Zeit mit dem Ausprobieren weiterer Schaltungszüge beschäftigte. Shindo war keiner der Hersteller, der sich mit dem einen gelungenen Gerät zufrieden zurücklehnte und von da an viele hunderte solcher Modell gleich und gleicher baute…. Mich erinnert sein Schaffen mehr an Vincent van Goghs Sonnenblumenbilder, immer wieder Sonnenblumen, und doch jedesmal so faszinierend anders, neu, bekannt und unbekannt zugleich…. Mit all dem Bauteilebestand, dem Röhrenbestand, den Trafos, die er zur Verfügung hatte….. es war zu Shindos besten Zeiten wie Überfluss an Ölfarben. Und Leinwand. Und Rahmen. Bei den aktuellen Preisen könnte er heute alleine vom Verkauf der Bauteile gut leben, die er Zeit seines Lebens verbaute, alleine der Röhren – und würde dennoch seine Geräte bauen. Auch konnte er aus einem Erfahrungsschatz schöpfen, den man in Europa kaum noch findet; er hatte nie aufgehört, Röhrenverstärker zu bauen, selbst in der Zeit nicht, als aus Japan die prestigeträchtigsten Transistorgeräte nach Europa kamen.
Er hatte Einblicke in Geschichte und Zusammenhänge der renommierten Hersteller einer Zeit, auf die man lächelnd als obsolet zurückblickte: Western Electric, Siemens, Westrex… Manche Ideen, die in unsere Produkte einflossen, resultieren aus Anregungen von ihm, z.B. den Einsatz bestimmter Bronze an den richtigen Stellen. Was in Deutschland wie immer reflexartig zu Spott führte: Glockenbronze! Und heute? Auch die wohldosierte Resonanz bei Lautsprechern war eine Anregung von ihm. Rondo hat von dieser Denke profitiert, eine dünnwandige Voice ebenfalls, umgekehrt hat uns gefreut, dass er damals seine Lautsprecher Lafite so sehr an Rondo anlehnte, nachdem er hier sie hier gehört hat. Nach asiatischer Lesart war das ein großes Kompliment für unseren Entwurf.

T: Inzwischen haben Dir äußere Bedingungen wie die RoHs-Konformitätsregelung die Möglichkeit genommen solcherart hochwertig handgefertigte Geräte hierzulande zu vertreiben. So warst Du der Schlüssel-Komponenten Deines wohlgewählten Portfolios beraubt und musstest Dich komplett neu ausrichten. Wie geht so etwas überhaupt, wenn gleichwertiger Ersatz nicht zu bekommen ist?
KA: Es stimmt. Mit dem Verlust der Elektronik konnten wir unseren Kettengedanken nicht fortsetzen. Wir konnten mit den vorhandenen Geräten noch vorführen, worauf es uns ankam und wie sich die einzelnen Komponenten vom Laufwerk über Tonabnehmer, Kabel, Verstärker bis zum Lautsprecher als Gesamtanlage darstellen. Um Ersatz habe ich mich nie bemüht. Im Laufe der Jahre waren immer wieder Kunden zu uns gekommen, die ihre Geräte an unseren Lautsprechern hören wollten, was mir die Gelegenheit bot, unterschiedlichste Elektronik zu erleben, mit der ich sonst gar nicht in Kontakt gekommen wäre. Es war nichts dabei, was mich so reizte, mich um den Vertrieb zu bemühen. Ich wurde oft gefragt, ob es nicht doch Ersatz gäbe für Shindo. Ich hatte zu Zeiten unserer Vertriebstätigkeit immer wieder gesagt, dass es für mich zu Shindo keine Alternative gäbe, ich wäre doch unglaubwürdig, würde ich nun einfach irgendetwas anderes aus dem Regal ziehen, im Wissen, dass die Endlichkeit der großen Zeit alter Bauteile durch Rohs eingeläutet ist. DIY-Leute können da freier arbeiten, Gutes erreichen, aber als „In-Verkehr-Bringer“ hat man sich an gegebene Regeln zu halten.

T: Du vertreibst nun mit LineMagnetic-Lautsprechern präzise gefertigte Kopien alter Western Electric Systeme und erschließt damit einer kleinen elitären Gemeinde die Möglichkeiten derer unvergleichlichen Musikwiedergabe, an die noch vor wenigen Jahren niemand gedacht hätte. Vehement Groß, unglaublich aufwendig, entsprechend teuer, komplex und rückwärtsgewandt stellen diese Systeme das genaue Gegenteil von Universalität und Pflegeleichtigkeit dar – und das in einer Zeit in der eine junge Generation für das Musikhören weder Räume, Geräte noch Trägermedien benötigt. Siehst Du da Zusammenhänge?
KA: Ich habe mich um LM-Lautsprecher bemüht, weil diese Replikate mir ermöglichen, Lautsprecher-Konzepte zu bauen, die ich immer auch selbst besessen habe, aber mangels allgemeiner Verfügbarkeit nicht in Serie bauen konnte. LM war der erste Anbieter von WE 555 Kopien, gut gemacht zudem. Es gibt in Japan und Korea mittlerweile Alternativen zu den chinesischen Replikaten, aber man muss auch das Preisgefüge im Auge behalten. In einem Fertiglautsprecher verbaut ist das ein immenser Kostenaufwand, ich kenne kaum andere Hersteller, die mit derartig teurer Bestückung hantieren. Mit unserer Lautsprecher-Linie sprechen wir in erster Linie den amerikanischen Markt an, wo Shindo-Geräte noch verkauft werden können – und damit die ideale Kombination bilden.
Und es ist halt spannend nach PHY mit Provence, Appassionata, Rondo als Breitbandkonzepten wieder mal anders zu arbeiten, den anderen Anforderungen der LM Chassis andere Antworten zu geben, zu erproben was geht.
Ich glaube nicht, dass die von Dir angesprochene Gruppe der i-Generation sich mit derjenigen, die sich von unseren Konzepten angezogen fühlt, überschneidet. Oder… das eine muss das andere nicht ausschließen. Was wir aber öfter erleben, ist das Erstaunen der i-Generation über die klangliche Darstellung solcher “vintage“ Anlagen. Aber ich zweifle nicht daran, dass wir eine aussterbende Spezies sind. Und: Die, die am spontansten mit DIY-Konzepten bei LM-Ideen dabei waren, waren im übrigen die “uralten“ Freunde aus der L‘Audiophile-Zeit in den 80ern, von denen Du ja einige persönlich kennst.

T: Auch in Japan ist das Interesse an solcherart aufwendigen Gerätschaften zum Musikhören inzwischen stark rückläufig. Es ist nicht zu übersehen das dies auch eine Generationenfrage ist. Ein Wachstumsmarkt mag eventuell noch der amerikanische sein, der deutlich später als andere sich für solcherart Geräte geöffnet hat. Auch in China sind die Wachstumszahlen für HiFi auch wieder rückläufig, nachdem vermutlich in Hongkong der umsatzstärkste Markt der vergangenen Jahre zu beobachten war. Siehst Du noch Möglichkeiten für eine weitere Entwicklung in qualitativer Hinsicht?
KA: Den Liebhabern von Röhrenverstärkern, mit passenden Lautsprechern, den bekannten Armen und Systemen an Laufwerken von EMT, Neumann, Garrard, Thorens ist über die Jahre das Hobby, die Leidenschaft dazu, nicht abhanden gekommen, die Beschreibungen von Anlagen in den Sonderheften von Stereo-Sound belegen das.
Aber natürlich sind das alles Leute, deren Lebensumstände es zulassen solche Installationen auch zu benutzen, wir reden nicht von Leuten mit kleinen Wohnungen in den engen Zentren der großen Städte. Und natürlich werden in einem Land, in dem man so früh anfing zu sammeln, was erst heute weltweit als sammelnswert gilt, die Altersstrukturen solche Sammlungen sprengen. Vieles, was heute in Japan zu verkaufen ist, geht nach Korea, in die anderen asiatischen Länder, ist meist “Vererbtes“, das neue Besitzer findet. Amerika hat die eigene Geschichte in Fortschritt und Suche nach Moderne immer schnell vergessen, High End-Audio in USA war immer etwas anders als in Japan, welche Entwicklungen die eigene Historie dort haben wird, ist schwer zu sagen. Der Markt in HK ist mir nicht bekannt, er wirkt von außen betrachtet sehr vielfältig; von Mr. Wu mit seinen WE-Nachbauten bis zu deutschen Tidal-Lautsprechern findet alles seine Abnehmer.
Qualität kann heute mehr als früher nur durch Absatz entstehen. Hersteller, z.B. Psvane oder LM, müssen für ihre Produkte auch Abnehmer finden. In Zeiten, in denen das äußere Erscheinungsbild einer Anlage oft wichtiger ist als deren “qualitative Werte“, kann ich nicht sagen wie sich was wie durchsetzen wird. Wenn, wie oben gesagt, das Erbe der Alten an die “Mittelalten“ verkauft wird, dauert es noch lange, bis bei den Jungen ankommt was die Eigenschaften alter Hifi-Konzepte ausmacht. Ob das für's Bestehen von Qualität reicht…. ich weiß es nicht. Ich rede hier aber nur von dem mich interessierenden sehr spezialisierten Markt, nicht von den allgemeinen Entwicklungen mit den gegebenen Techniken aktueller Zeit.

T: Heutzutage implodiert auch noch der neben Downloadplattformen übriggebliebene Markt für Tonträger im Monatsabo der Streaming-Cloud. Vermutlich wird sich sogar die gute alte Vinylschallplatte noch am nachhaltigsten gegenüber diesen Entwicklung als Nischenprodukt behaupten können. Mit dieser Art des besitzlosen Audiokonsums geht ein weiterer Verlust individueller und authentischer Musikaneignung einher. Schon in wenigen Jahren werden all die wundervollen Geräte obsolet geworden sein, die das Hören unserer Generation so nachhaltig geprägt haben. Wie gehst Du damit um?
KA: Ich finde das bedauerlich, werde es aber nicht ändern können. Aber vielleicht dreht sich ja der Wind auch wieder mal, so wie zur Zeit ein zunehmendes Interesse für die Konzepte von WE, Vitavox, Lansing, Siemens etc. entstanden ist. Hier ist das Web sicher befruchtend, Informationen vor 30 Jahren waren Kopien von Kopien, heute findet sich fast alles zum Download – der selben Technik mit der man auch Musiktitel über den Computer hören kann….. Obsolet? Shindo-Geräte werden schon heute gerne aufbewahrt, gesammelt, erfreulich für die Besitzer dieser Geräte. Vielleicht dreht sich das irgendwann ähnlich dem Oldtimer-Mark, wer weiss.

Keith ich danke Dir für das Gespräch.

I wish everybody a nice christmas holiday break and a happy new year. Read on next year, Volker