Friday, 6 June 2014

Incredible close to music V – The Ear of the Holder

Hello to everybody,

after the series of articles about the Line Magnetic products which are made to resemble modern equivalents of the extremely rare vintage Western Electric products from the 1930ties, like the WE555 receiver, the WE 22A horn unit, the WE 597A telephone, extended with the TA7331 dipole like enclosure, the feedback to this articles was more than resonant. I have got some requests from interested people worldwide into such setups, but as well from users of similar equipment. My series of articles was introduced to take care about the incredible rareness of such fine performing chains in the audio world and to find bases why it is so difficult. Within these first articles I did try to describe an aural rarity, were natural tonality, refined resolution of detailed micro dynamics together with almost realistic dynamics, form the base for listening ease as a sort of harmonic presentation. Reading the feedbacks on the one hand and my own long time experience with audio sets at the other hand, it seems to be extremely difficult for others to find such a level of performance. Almost every mail which reached me during that time, described difficulties or even a real lot of problems with similar sets to the far extreme impossibility to make it work in a reasonable way. How can this be?

The Line Magnetic LM22A/555W/597 with dipole enclosure here shown is the speaker combination which has impressed me most within my 30 years with audio, by far. How can it be, that a similar set up somewhere in the world does not seem to work at all? How can it be, that this combination of the most transparent audio response, with the fastest and most harmonic medium frequency response I personally do know, will not work together with some of the best triode amplifiers available today? How can it be that a similar set with digital dsp and active amplification is not able to show any harmonic content, being far away from musical insight, even with such a technical implementation will allow so much more "advantages"? Only a few questions are quoted here to show the catalogue of contradictions, but they all point to the same basic problems. It is a damned task to bring a highly complex audio chain into advanced mode.

Platine Verdier Turntable with Shindo Merseult tonearm and dedicated Shindo pickup

In todays audio world we are looking back to almost 80 years of technical "advancement". A actual professional studio monitor with integrated dsp and 800 watts power amp can perform with a tremendous advancement, just by its own. The audible difference to the former named Line Magnetic set driven by extremely refined tube gear in terms of quality difference is small, if namable. Of course tubes and such ha huge medium frequency horn adds some extras to the final performance, due to their special physical forming of the signal.
I know that I will open a new "barrel" with that thesis, but some sort of discussion seem to be on need about compability. It looks that for the most people the actual active studio monitor might be the better solution, it is a lot smaller, cheaper and causes less responsibility to set it up with a decisive ear. With a highly variable chain of different components and accessories, in particular with vintage or similar tube gear, the mismatch is a inevitable program, but it guarantees a good cash flow for this business. Widely varying impedances, highly different sound performances of varying brands, components and accessories, create a infinitive wide field of scopes. So almost everybody well experienced with the variety of such mismatches, keeps on running to plug components by "try and error", sometimes for years, decades or even a whole lifetime.

Double page spread from japanese audio magazine showing a installation with two WE16a/WE597 and two LF-baffles

Another typical and inevitable problem is the abstraction, generated by the human brain in comparison with audible impressions. Since generations the typical "blind listening test" brings out surprising results, showing that a lot of people do hear what they expect from what they see. The same trick happens with what they believe to know. I only have met a very few people, which are able to trust their listening impression and are able to difference out what they hear and how they feel with it. Another problem is the high rate of forgetfulness of the human ear in order to transcribe impressions and emotions from one set to another for comparing reasons.
A continuous experience with natural music performance with nonamplified performed instruments, like world-, jazz- or classical-music is a perfect school for the ear to internalize the fine differences. If you just rely to electrical amplified, mixed and performed music program, it will be difficult to work out the character of natural tonality. The regular experience will create a sense for the finer details and the atmosphere of micro dynamics, as they are a important part of a natural impression.

The rare gift or skill of true listening ability is absolutely necessary to bring a complex audio chain into  improved stage of performance, since the educated human ear can be the most refined instrument for detecting any errors in a final sound stage of audio performance. 

Since three or more decades some payable measuring equipment is available to support the listening impressions with technical evaluated data and printed graphs as visual equivalent. To my understanding such a equipment just can help to confirm the subjectiveness of impressions, but true relying to such technologies brings the most people out of the track. Furthermore digital DSP with its virtual cockpit of possibilities will add extra options to be disguised and finally spoil any remnants of naturalness. Of course the proponents of such technology will reply that aural coherence without measurement is just some sort of illusion ...
It might be fact that the foremost crowd of audio aficionados will cut into two contradictive groups, the one relying to the logic interning of technology and the other group hardly believing to the superiority of the human senses. Manifested knowledge vs. "fishing in the dark", the jin and jang of mankind.

I think the most people reading here do know what I want to explain. I have spend almost 10 years till I found my first real anchor in my audio chain. In my case it was the Platine Verdier turntable, from were almost everything else in my chain got evaluated further on. Now after 25 years I have found some components (or made them) which might work out together in a improved way. I never have counted all the energy, money and time to find out about and even today I am far from save within every component I do use. But independent from components I did learn within that 25 years to listen – it was a expensive lesson.

LM22A/555W/597 on top of a TA7331 influenced dipole enclosure

So if you are interested to get one of the most expressive speakers ever, a Western Electric original like WE13/15/16, a Line Magnetic replica or a Sato horn array, you need to be save that you will be able to tame these exceptional magnifying glasses into musical performance. They can be "hell or heaven"at once, just another component can be responsible either or. These horns can show a tremendous perfect insight into the music with naturalness and perfectly refined harmony, as they can dramatically explain any imperfection with impertinence and sustainability.

When Mike did start his journey with his LM set he did absolutely not know where the train will stop or how long the trip will be. With his own words he did state, that he was several times at a point within this four years to give up and sell the set. He did not know anymore further or even back, he luckily had his close friend Hans, who tried on his own and could push him back into lane. Today both are absolutely happy with what they did work out: "the first time in 30 years that we have got a system working".

The most relevant findings from this process were:

1. The Shindo chain takes a tremendous part of such incomparable matching qualities. It is the perfect impedance matching of the different amplifying stages, their exceptional tonal coherence from the pick up trough the arm, over the matching input transformer, followed by the RIAA stage and perfectly conducted from the line stage (output transformer coupled) to the power amplifier. Here the typical warm, refined and full bodied sound of the WE 300b directly heated triode in perfect implementation is a significant part of the final result.

2. The Line Magnetic LM22 horn is set with a 6 db crossover to the range from 300 hz to 6000 hz, the LM597 is set with a 6db filter above till its physical limit. The dipole enclosure uses two Siemens KL405 units in parallel to get a better efficiency with 4 ohms comparing the horns, this makes the autoformer redundant. The crossover is set with 6 db filter at 300 hz. This is another most important feature for the aural superiority, since it will let the woofers play beyond the 1000 hz range. Even if they are not very loud here, they do bring a important subliminal support of the LM22a into business. I did listen to them separate and it is fascinating that they act almost a bit like a full range speaker, as a result of the property that the KL405 is normally used as full range unit as solely speaker for the tone of a film projector.

3. The room treatment brings out a very musical damped room with conducted reflections to make such a degree of performance possible. Even when the horns do peak the radiation in direction of their mouse, the treatment helps a lot to keep the wandering reflections in control and make therefore a foremost listening of the directly radiated waves possible.

4. It is Mikes and Hans ability to work out the complete panel of properties combined with a true sense to avoid almost all deformations coming by, created by the rare opportunity to tune such a set for improved demands. They restless tried to question every aspect again and again. So he shortly did reevaluate again a DSP with active amplifying devices for each unit, just to make sure, that the decision from 2011 to ban this technic from his setup, was the right one. He did come back to analogue filtering with 6 db crossover a second time, now completely convinced that a DSP might create perfect measurements, but is no solution if harmonic audible structures and homogenousity are the requested values for the final sound. As Mike tried to resemble the Shindo 300b amps with other tube amps of exceptional quality to find alternatives for rocketing tube costs. As well here he has to complain, that there is no real alternative for him in sight. He relies completely to the typical aural skills of the original WE 300b tubes and exceptional abilities of his Shindo amps. In some restless sort both guys always try to find better solutions, at the moment they will not be happy since they have tried the last big mystery for such a installation, a selenium rectified or a historical tungar power supply for the field coils of the LM speakers. Since the beginning of this year I do tell them, that there might be other options to spend time, energy and money with than some further audio tweaks, like sailing, food …

Passive crosser for the medium-high frequency path show impressive simplicity

Dipole enclosure with Siemens Kl405 woofers underneath the LM597 telephone

I now have had several chances over short period of time to inspect Mikes set in almost every detail. I can agree that there is no part or component to be changed without impunity. The receipt follows on the foot with some sort of deformation if you try. This audio set impresses with a absolute uniqueness of balance, a incomparable performance with tube audio components and horn speakers. I would be interested to learn about another set at the same degree somewhere realized, but with different components to widen my horizon. ...

Read on soon, Volker

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