Friday, 28 February 2014

Incredible close to Music I – The System Matching

Hello again to all interested reading this blog. Today I want to continue with the series of posts dedicated to extraordinary audio transducing systems. I am going to present here in my blog some unique stereo systems, which I do personally know very well and which I do prefer a far way about others. I started this series almost a year ago with Klaus' Tannoy Autograph based system, which needs to be followed by some final posts about his professional tube amplifiers.

Today I want to report about a system, were the amplifying chain is completely relying to the qualities of one of the most important tube amplifier designers of our time, the shortly passed away Ken Shindo. Tube electronics of this master are designed as single components in technical terms, but their major effect will be shown when matched together to a chain. A tremendous advantage above the most other tube components is their complementary characteristic of higher order of musicality within this match. A chain of amplifying devices (transformers, components, tubes, cables and their technical principles together with mechanical details) create additional physical abilities and psychoacoustical effects. Here the summary of harmonies, dynamic details and musicality in general make a completely different reception of music possible. Every audio chain does, with tube components it appears in a advanced stage, but only a handful designers do take care about the importance of matching effects. Ken Shindo was one of the few, who was able to create sound systems, which have the ability to keep the inherent structure of music in a comprehensible flow. Almost close to the listening at natural instruments, his amplifiers make this sort of listening ease to one main sensation and criteria, independent of its technical implementation.

Platine Verdier with Shindo Mersault tonearm and Shindo Cartridge mounted with
A23 bell bronze base, next to Shindo Monbrison preamplifier
(most underrated extra: the Fissler pressure cooking seal to damp the light weight platter)

As seen, the today bespoken type of components it is not of foremost importance, but for the sake of completeness, I will list them up. I did listen to a Arome step up transformer at a Monbrison preamplifier and a set of Shindo WE 300b monophonic power amps. All components were equipped with vintage original tubes from Western Electric or RCA. As main program sources vinyl long playing records via a Platine Verdier record player was used with a 12'' Shindo tonearm and a Shindo modified Ortofon SPU pick up system. All components have been chosen lined up in their design by its creator to bring out a refined tonal expression, were technical performance will be almost forgotten.

Shindo 300b Mono amplifier

The other alternative program source was a digital music player system, based on a Mac-Mini and a RME Dac, purely non Shindo orientated, till its analogue signal insertion into the Monbrison line preamp section.

"Die Bank" as heavy wooden shelf system with air suspended feet, inside the digital
streaming client with RME Dac does not create any dissent comparing the
300b tube amplifier underneath
Of course the Platine Verdier as major source has a tremendous impact to the creation of the overall sound. Like any other analogue component in the beginning of a audio chain (pick up, tonearm, step up transformer), the record player is a major sound creating component, like a true natural instrument. Anything wrong, loose or missing can not be compensated later on, anything to prominent will be amplified to further dominance. The unique heavy (50 kg) magnet bearing player was born in 1979 as an prototype of its designer Jean Constant Verdier. A resulting summary design from the former production of a classic sub chassis player "Era", which was very similar in principle to the classic Thorens TD150 or its Linn derivate LP12. In the first step the "Platine Verdier" was a concept shown in the french hifi magazine "L'Audiophile" intended to be a diy instruction. The magazine was run (from 1977 to 1995) by another major figure of the audio world, Jean Hiraga. He formally reintroduced the merits of a direct heated triodes in power tube amplifiers and their technical history to the non japanese western world in the late 1970ties. In Japan enthusiasts had been using and collecting vintage audio treasuries since the 1960ties. In the early 1970ties some groups organized shoot outs about vintage tubes and their dedicated amplifier designs in order to find out about their aural differences, Mr. Hiraga was one of driving figures there, before he left Japan for living in Paris with his presents from Japan. With his book "Initiation aux amplis a tubes" he prepared the ground for a very special interest, which is still growing, even when it had its peak some years ago in a time, when hardware less music was not the main issue in audio. In "Maison de L'Audiophile" in Paris a small group of audio enthusiasts made regulary demonstrations in little cinemas with their own amplifier kits (300B), Onken enclosures with Sato MF-horn installations, Altec HF-horns  and of course Jean Constant Verdiers turntable. I do remember one of the demonstrations in Paris of the late 1980ties, which was as one of my major initial experiences leading into my own long and winding way to Fi.

Installation at Maison de la L'Audiophile in Paris in the 1980ties
Coming back to my matter of concern a time of 25 years has passed by and almost all the time I do know Mike, who's set up is in the center of discussion today. I can remember a lot of different components in his room, almost like in a hifi store, when I met him the first time. He was already well connected to several ideas of Jean Hiraga/L'Audiophile through Auditorium 23, a german outside post for similar ideas and distribution of some of their products in these days, run by Keith Aschenbrenner. He is the most  driving figure in Germany for music reproduction without compromise til today, more about his ideas in other posts. From the outside the interested (infected) group of aficionados connected to A 23 looked a bit like a religious conspiracy circle with dogmatic theories, than a loose group of people which share common interests in a complex funny hobby.

Mike used a lead battery operated phono equalizer together with different tube preamps and a sheer uncountable amount of different tube and transistor power amplifiers for alternative testing. He worked beside several Thorens 124 at a record player concept, which was basically made from three different sized lathe chucks, one hold the main bearing for the heavy platter, one kept the motor unit and one to hold the SME 3012/II with outside fixed Isoda cabling and a lead housed Denon DL103 cartridge, the hole installation was set in a sand filled wooden box of 100 kg, just to recall some of the ideas coming from France these days. He already had ordered the legendary Partridge Transformers TH4663 through La Maison de l'Audiophile for building his own pair of legacy 300b single ended amplifiers with the WE310 as driver tube.
Many components have passed through over that time, for example only to name the loudspeakers was a whole lot. Seriously it started after some ordinary hifi speakers from the british 1970ties school with  Lowther drivers and with Audiovector enclosures at the end of this lane (front- and backloaded horn). Followed by Salabert PHP drivers in different types of enclosure types, mostly open baffles. Both speakers are full range 8 inch speakers, which were used from a basic underlying theory, that a crossover less, small scaled single driver does show the fewest errors and the best homogenious sound… Every theory is only as good as its successful contradictory idea.

Line Magnetic LM22A/555W field coil receiver unit
Today after more than twenty years later we are looking not only to the opposite design principle of  loudspeakers with three or more devided frequency paths per side. We are looking back into the history of audio design, when professional audio transducers were designed to fill cinemas and theaters with low power tube amplifier systems with reasonable sound. A time, when companies like Western Electric, RCA, Jensen, Klangfilm and others layed the pioneering ground for a century of audio engineering with exceptional efficient design ideas and perfectly crafted products for professional dedication. Today the food chain has already turned around and the sheer power of 1000 class g watts can be archived in a shoe box sized enclosure together with a room equalizing computer and a loudspeaker to form a almost errorless measuring system.

The need for room filling horn enclosures with heater like radiations from 6 watts tube amplifiers is based on pure luxury, but not at fundamental demands. For this reason several asian ( japanese, korean and chinese) companies do fill the gap of demand, created by the rarity of the original collector items with very close made reproductions for the every day use. Western Electric like amplifiers are made with original spare parts since decades as their transformers are wound on original WE iron cores by asian enterprises. A chinese specialist from HK, Mr. Wu and the japanese company P&G in Tokyo are highly specialized in that field. The US american government had sold ships full with industrial junk and waste in the early 1970ties to China in order to get rid of it. Tons of military, telephone and other equipment gathered near Guangzhou, were it formed the largest spare part junk yard for the Western Electric audio aficionados in history.
Not only the amplifiers but as well WE Speakers, drivers, their parts and a diverse range of horn funnels are made as perfect reproductions mainly in Asia. GIP company is a well known since decades in Japan or Line Magnetic now in China are doing replicas of original Western Electric horn assemblies and drivers with a high degree to the authentic originals. Single WE horn funnels as perfect replicas are made in Italy and Korea with a lot of empathy. All this enterprises exist since the originals have completely disappeared to collectors hands (mainly in Asia) and are even with real money not anymore available. In the closely past years real clashes were apparent in several internet forums, were interest holders of both lines are fighting about sovereignty of quality against each other.

Line Magnetic LM555W field coil receiver

To me as an WE outsider it looks to be a pure academic question, how important the differences might be? Who will have the option to compare, with personal experience, such systems side by side for superiority? Nobody, not even Mr. Janukovitch had beside his collection of russian and chinese state limousines, the Lincolns and Mercedes' to compare originality, even if in this case the performance differences might been more than prominent.
To me the question about such horn installations is absolutely not a question of originality. For me it is in the foremost stage a question of properties such incomparable designs will have to offer. For me the principal design values are dependent, for example a horn design itself, its shape, its lengths comparing its development, its used materials and its therefor resulting resonances, its physical abilities, its electrical efficiency, its usable frequency range and finally its ability to bring me emotionally into the music event – and make me to forget any theory about.
From this point of view it does not interest, if it is branded with WE22A or LM22A, if their physical appearance is almost identical. The Line Magnetic clones are as close as it can be by material match and built quality. But their biggest advance, their unrestricted availability in new made reproduceable amounts, made possible, that even I will have a chance to listen to their unbelievable fantastic sound properties.

Coming back to my main intention, I want to write about a unique audio set up with the listed loudspeaker transducer installation. A Line Magnetic LM22A medium frequency horn with LM 555W field coil driver, expanded a with a LM 597 Tweeter and a pair of Klangfilm KL405 woofers to complete the installation in a WE design influenced low frequency dipole enclosure. To make a short cut to the late end of this series of articles, this set up is one of the most musical inherent systems I have heard so far with the best natural response I do know. Within the following articles I will try to explain why it is and why it is not possible just to spend money to get it.

Read on soon, Volker