Monday, 5 October 2015

30 Years of Revelation I

Next year it will be the 30's anniversary of "direct heated triode amplification rediscovery". Thanks to
Jean Hiraga, who did publish formerly unknown ideas about exceptional audio technologies in Paris 1986 the first time outside Japan. Beside loudspeakers, record players, tonearms and class a amplifiers his contribution had a main interest into vintage triode amplifiers. So Europe did learn  about the unique sound qualities of the DHT triode 300b after its fall into oblivion long times ago. His input was based on personal made first hand experiences living in Japan in the 1970ties. Over there he was integral part of a huge an vivid audio-scene, mainly confirmed from a unlimited research about superior audible qualities.

Hiraga at shootout at Tokyo Audio Fair 1972

In Japan the sense for qualities and historical role models is traditionally extremely sophisticated, independent of its business, so it does in audio. A long time before the originators did realize their own heritage, the Japanese have had collected what has been exemplary to their understanding.
They organized already in the 1970ties shootouts with vintage and diy made tube amplifiers and coupled them to a wide array of dedicated speakers. This process ended up in almost religious relationships to vintage products from Western Electric, Altec, RCA, Klangfilm, Tannoy, Triad, UTC and lot more others. Hiraga back in Europe organized to share his experiences at several platforms, in real life performances and with certain media of the french audio scene.
In a first step he concentrated on a handy formula: direct heated triode amplification with 300b triodes, manageable preamplifiers with phonostages and small scale efficient speakers. La Maison de L'Audiophile distributed excellent kit amplifiers built on topology of the famous WE 91A to bring the old superiority to new customers in the heart of Europe. These "300b- Legend" mono blocks have been equipped with superior Partridge output transformers, which made them to extraordinary examples of such design topology.  In the following years Hiraga published books about the history of tube amplification and vintage speaker design. So he prepared the ground for a completely different understanding of audio performance. He managed to align our interest to unknown facts and sensations of low power tube amplification and high efficient loudspeaker transducers. While the hifi mass market followed on its commercial mainstream to audible inefficiency based on cheapest wattage.

1986 first release

With La Maison de L'Audiophile he and a group of french audio nuts like J.C. Verdier, William Walther and others tried to establish such a completely different understanding of audible sensation, highly based on a so far unknown physical listening experience of a exceptional rich textured reality of harmonies.
Mainly realized with almost unobtainable products like the WE15A horns, they tried to institute modern equivalents for such obsolete products, like the new build Sato horns. These are a historic intended interpretations designed in Japan based on WE designs, but realized with available drivers and materials like from Altec or Yamaha to match similar specifics. The Sato wide frequency horn got extended with a sand filled doghouse sized low frequency reflex enclosure (Onken W). The french did publish original schematics for completion and drawings within their own magazine and produced other components like record players made with the same sense of avoiding any compromise. Their intention was like in Japan to bring audio playback to a before unknown level of quality. Remember, even the first drawings of the Platine Verdier got published here, as the player itself got a standard within all  their demonstrations in Espace Kiron... However, for those born with ears and working experience search, such giant installations have been a incomparable revelation of audio inauguration.

Sato horn installation with Onken four cell MF horn, Onken HF and Onken W LF enclosures in 1992.

Even in mother country of the legendary 300B tube it did took almost another decade before Joe Roberts followed its own historical roots when he published his article about the WE91A amplifiers in his Sound Practice Magazine, not before 1992. He combined the famous amplifier with Western Electrics smallest sized full range speaker made, the 8 inch paper cone design WE 755A in a open baffle enclosure. A completely different approach than in Paris but still a emotional expressive contented realization of aural superiority. But even such relatively cheap and room friendly realizations of listening sensation, took a while to built school in the US only a handful of aficionados did follow up. In Europe a broad movement started with small size full range speakers, mainly rescued from radio console units. Ending up in baffles or finally in resonant supporting enclosures build like traditional string instruments. Matching partners for vintage tube amplifiers such concepts have been for lots of people the first personal step to find into another audible reality beyond the common known strategies.

WE91A from a Japanese collector

Back into the early nineties it took a further while but even in wider terms tube amplified audio did act as a landslip for the saturated audio business. Tubes got widely fashionable and in particular  "cool looking" large bottled early DHT triodes like the WE 300B manifested some opposite distinction to the completely otherwise equalized market of indifferent interchangeable mass audio products. Other segmentation shifted to home cinema applications with dolby surround intentions. multi room realizations connected to dozens of speakers ...
In such a atmosphere tubes have made one major promise, they lead the interest back from a general functional overload and -kill as selling argument, back to a pure basic argument: the listenable sound quality.

Panacea of a commercial audio dream, the common audio amplifier a decade ago.

This was the floor on which DHT and SE established a completely opposite understanding of sound formation and articulation, a understanding of naturalness and realism, already some sort of a antithesis of the common audio thesis. Less was suddenly more, six watts of power output competed winning in a sudden with 250 watts and a similar amount of knobs at a black box.

Almost everybody I do know tried in the first half of the 1990ties a single ended triode amplifier. After been deeply involved into ordinary push-pull designs, the "single ended tube amplifier" was the thing to have. Companies like Audio-Note (GB), Audio Innovations, Cary Audio or Raphael Audio tried to fill this fast growing requests in Europe in the early nineties with diy kits and completed amps. Japanese designs from Shindo, Kondo or Uchida did set easily the pace, since other long term in Japan established brands like Morikawa, Sound Explorer, Sanei, TamaSound or Okaya never entered the western world. The transformers from Tango, Tamura or Hashimoto reached cult status and are beyond doubt.

A original WE 300B with yellow printed base.

But now after 30 years is the question: Were are all these amps gone? I do personally not know more than a handful of audio nuts which do still use a 300b amplifier in their actual set ups.
Lots of people use so called "digital amps" to create fully active three or four way amplifier arrays within DSP units to overcome the typical inherent problems of complex horn systems. Here the digital promises of improvements within several aspects of the technical sound structure (i.e. phasing, time alignments, room compensation, etc.) seem to overtake the elaborated human sensitive trained expertise of listening ability.
Others have come back to classic push-pull tube amps or do use more or less power horse transistor amplification to drive their needs. What is the reason? Does the single ended triode amplifier not feature enough control?

Today a period of 30 years summarizes a exceptional knowledge base and degree of experience through the distribution in the "world wide web".  Never before it was so easy to realize a complex setup, including wide band horn systems with precisely matching tube amplification. All components are available throughout the web (almost any WE horn development is available as exact copy, (13A, 14A, 15A, 16A, 22A, the Sato formula, several modern Japanese  designs like Goto, etc.). If you know what you are looking for, just order it.
You might be able to combine it with perfectly reproduced new Western Electric amplifiers made from vintage original parts, newly wound transformers to original iron cores and specifications, looking like new stock from Western or Northern Electric, but made in Japan or China. You just order it, 4000 EUR the pair in Japan, for half the amount you can get made the same from China.
If you need a matching low frequency enclosure like the WE 7331 dipole or a Onken type, just download the schematics from the web and find a carpenter for realization if you don't mind. Today everything has got so easy comparing the beginning in the 1970ties, you just need some money for your project...
WE 91A clone from China

Some Japanese DHT SE amps from the last two decades are showing up from time to time at Ebay and are hardly competing with cheap Chinese chrome traps. All these wonderfully hand made amplifers which never entered the western world are available very cheap, since the owners are becoming extinct and don't have descendants...A real bargain for those who know about. Sometime the transformers alone will cost even more second hand than the completely made amplifiers.

One of the speaker concepts designed by Maison de L'Audiophile thirty years ago, here realized
by Norbert G├╝tte from LignoLab in  technical perfection.

I have the hope that a smaller growing community of aficionados is still interested enough to keep the exchange about technologies, design features, components, ideas and ideals alive. I am still in hope that even some of the younger generation "without hardware" will unplug their earphones in order to share a more natural authentic experience of music articulation.
After this start I will continue about the history of fidelity with some articles about exceptional speaker designs which keep a similar orientated community alive. After my reports about the LineMagnetic Horns a year ago, I will try to present some competing products from other makers. And of course I will try to show alternative concepts, what I already did with my own Tannoy front loaded dipole enclosure. The Sato horn will be present, as the "Voice of the Theater A7" are in such a pool, other designs will follow...

Read on soon, Volker

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