Sunday, 28 April 2013

My long and winding way with vintage Tannoy speakers

One day (around 1996) I got a phone call and the guy who bought my GRF Rectangulars was on the line. He still was very happy with the speakers, he told me that he had sprayed them with black paint like piano laquer. I thought "what a brilliant idea" and I did just fall into thoughts about other peoples very different ideas of taste, their education, social background and their general turns, when a word like a lightning called me back into the telephone call: Tannoy Monitor Red. He did ask me if I were still looking for a pair of Monitor Reds? He really said M o n i t o r  R e d ! He told me that he just had aquired several pairs of 12'' speakers from the austrian broadcast, but does not have an idea to use them. So he did remember, that I was looking for a pair, which he now offered to me.
Five days later I had a pair of the rare speakers in my hands. It took me a hour and they had been screwed into the Chatsworth cabinets, which were originally designed with a volume of 69 liters for the 12'' chassis. In one minute I had forgotten about the former 10'' Monitor Golds with their lack of low frequency volume. These never could make me forget that they originally are made for near field monitoring use. In this special set up they are good, but listening to them with more distance they show their limits. But now I liked immediatly the larger 16 Ohm version better than anything else I had owned from Tannoy till that time. The 12'' Monitor Reds have a extremely well balanced tonality with very good dynamics, due their lightweight paper cone and lighter voice coil. The crossover makes the lf-cone playing as fullrange speaker, which is very different from any later 12'' successor in the Tannoy line. The sensitivity is as well a bit higher, I would expect a minimum of 3 db and the dynamic abilities are very good for a twelve inch speaker. Due to a lighter voice coil and their impedance shift to 16 Ohms it makes a noticeable difference to the later types in dynamic disciplines. The 12'' Monitor Red has a better accentuated middle tonality and a improved high frequency dispersion of finest resolution. Some of this effects might be a result of the more simple crossover design with oil caps and better inductors than the later types. As a result the speaker seem to have less phase shifts within its tonal spectrum and a more liquid presentation.

Pair of Monitor Red 12'' 

In combination with my excellent power amplifiers, the legenday Leak TL12 point one and my Platine Verdier turntable fitted with SME 3012/II and SPU I had got a extremely musical, dynamic and warm playing set up. To me the 12'' Monitor Reds were the ultimate Tannoy speakers at that time. For me they  bettered the 15'' version with a improved tonality in the important middle frequencies, as well the elegant slim cabinets can be placed in the most rooms without problems (waf).

My Chatsworth cabinets had been all the time in quite rough condition, they were functional but not very nice to look at. So I decided to rebuild them with new made cabinets. I did use almost the same sizes but made them 5 cm deeper and 5 cm taller. I orientated my plans at the original Tannoy drawings from the seventies for their enclosures like the Arden, Berkley, Cheviot, Devon, etc.. My new cabinets were made from 21mm multiplex hardwood for the frame. The baffle construction was double layered to improve the rigidity were the speaker is mounted, so it added to 45mm plywood there. Heavy bracing with 5 cm solid wood rods supported the strength of the construction. When the cabinets had been finished I directly realized that they had almost the double weight of my former Chatsworths, … a good sign?!.
I lined the speakers like the original Tannoy enclosures from the 1960ties with heavy stuffed pillows at all framing sides in order the damp the inner reflections. I did use bed cloth heavily filled with rough nature lamb wool for that reason. I did screw the baffle and the back panel with 16 screws each to the inner frame, the speakers had been screwed through with nuts to the baffle.
Than the first listening test... It ended up completely disasterous. All the musical behavior, the middle tonal balance, the finesse of the high frequencies were shifted into a harsh, edgy and superficial presentation with a booming bass bump at the lowest end. I could not identify my former speaker in any detail. I was completely frustrated after all that work. I did try to do everything as best possible solution. Unfortunately this first experience happened at a late evening, so I did build the chassis back into the Chatsworth cabinets and had a chance to listen how good they are.

Baffle double strenght 45mm plywood and pillow damping with bitumen underneath after original drawing from 1970ties enclosures

On the next day I went to the wood dealer in order to cut two new baffles from 12mm lightweight plywood. This material was originally used by Tannoy for their older cabinets. Like all well known speaker manufacturers of the vintage era, Altec, JBL, Stephens, EV, etc., Tannoy used in the fifties thin plywood (12-16mm with only 5 layers) made from northen woods, like pine for their enclosure constructions. Tannoy changed that design not before the 1974ties enclosures encountered the market, all of them were reflex constructions made from MDF particle boards with heavy internal rugging boards, after the typical measuring tests for that decade.

I just did cut the wholes for the chassis with a jig saw into the material, nothing asthetically advanced – just functional. I mounted the speakers from the backwarded side with ordinary wood screws – not to tight – on to the baffles. I replaced as well the back panels with the 12mm plywood. From my former cabinets now only the heavy frame did exist anymore.
Now it sounded very good, all the substancial hardening of the most frequencies was gone, the tonal harmony was back and dominated the sound qualities of these enclosures. It sounded a bit different than the old cabinets, almost in every frequency but with a better tonal resolution. They had kept the important musical homogeneity and its important tonal balance of the Chatsworths.
This new enclosures were constructed like a guitar or other wooden musical instruments and used the resonant capacities of the body as support for the presentation, rather than beeing a dead piece of furniture. All books from the 1970ties into the eighties about speaker enclosures did pronounce the property of resonance freeness as the most basic lesson.
Now I did learn my first real lesson about cabinet making and tonal harmonies of wooden materials in combination with heavy low qt drivers, like the early Tannoys. For me this was a very important basic lesson on which I could build up in the coming future, when I planned to make cabinets for such speakers.

The slightly enlarged (89 l) cabinets on basis of the Chatsworths here shown in final stage with earlier 12'' Monitor Silver speaker.

To my taste the smallest possible cabinet with good results using Tannoy speakers.

Read on soon, Volker

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

My early fascination with vintage tube amplified audio systems

My own experiences around vintage tube audio components started in the late 1980ties. At this time I stayed frequently in London, most of the time in an apartment of a friend. The next underground station from there which I always used, was Edgeware Road Station. There in a little side street was shop located which had stacked old british amplifiers in its window up to the ceiling. The most of them were colored with golden paint, some as well were grey. This was my first contact to Leak and Quad tube amplifiers, a brand I did remember from my youth with very unusual designed components with orange and brown colors in very small enclosures.

One Leak TL12+ amplifier (1987)

Every time when I was in London I visited this store again and looked completely fascinated to Leak Stereo 20's or TL12+'s in its window display. In these days (1987) a unit did cost 85 £, the latter mono units costed around 60 £ (with vintage tubes, unbelievable from todays post ebay perspectives). After my third visit I decided: "Next time when you are there, you are buying one of this amplifiers". So I did do. As well I did buy a pair of Rogers LS3/5a, which had a famous reputation in these days, because they did stand extensivly for a complete newer generation of speaker designs originated by the BBC in the 1970ties. As I did not know anything about tube amplifiers and efficiency matching, of course I got completely guided wrong (like the most people).

In order to improve the sound quality of my new system I bought a Meridian CD player to match. I did not like the sound at all, it was very straight forward, with a main issues at the middle frequencies. I came from a very lean 1970ties Yamaha receiver. To me the sheer detailed resolution of the Leaks was a very forcing challenge. Some people did advice me to get a tube preamp to soften the overall sound. I had read in London hifi magazines about Croft preamps, but unfortunatly I was actually not in London and my impatience did not allow any delay. So I did buy a german tube preamplifier, sold as a kit. I did not have any knowledge in assembling tube amps, so this was going to be a very basic experience. I did like doing it and I had fun to get it work. Shortly after that project I started to restore my Leak amplifiers. I learned a lot from a friend of mine, who was some sort of professional expert in this field, as well from Peter Quortrup whom I did visit once in Brighton. I was so fascinated by the old Leak amplifiers, that I mostly bought another next model when I was in London (I got several ST 20, TL12+, TL25+, TL10.1, ST60 and the Quads, but even than I could not afford the legendary TL12.1). So I restored step by step all amplifiers myself, I learned to get them to work smoothly, to set working points, to use the right components, mostly vintage parts like carbon comp resistors, as well to use paper in oil capacitors, the right wires and learned to get more of the vintage stuff from the specialized dealers in London. I had already realized how good this old amps were, better than almost anything else available now (more about that topic soon). New hobbies create new contacts, so I did meet more and more people with similiar interests and similiar equipment. 

Leak TL12.1 

I learned that the Japanese were already long term customers for years in London and just only wanted mint components, as well did the koreans and that the italians were the most interested in Europe into vintage hifi in these days. After a while I did know every resource in London to find the right things. I bought as well on fleamarkets and later in other cities in the UK.

One day my friend asked me to bring a pair of Tannoy speakers from London for him, called HPD. I never had heard from these before. I asked my dealers in London and had to learn that these speakers are as well collector items in the asian markets and there where quite expensive. So I brought a pair of ruined15' HPD's back and had to pay 120 £ (japanese customers would not have bought these). When I came back my friend had already aquainted a pair of good 12'' Tannoys Cheviots in Germany. The 15'' HPD had the typical detoriated surrounds and next time in London I visited Lockwood Audio, a specialist on Tannoy service and spare parts to buy a so called 'recone kit' for 185 £, which I found very expensive. When my friend had his HPD's reconed, he brought the Cheviots to my place and said: listen.
I did. First time in my life I was able to listen to a adult sized speaker and a compression HF horn. It fitted so perfectly into my musical taste of jazz music and its typical instruments, like trompets and saxes, that I could not believe how realistic these got reproduced. As well the lower middle tones and the all around dynamics seemed to be from a different planet, comparing them to modern small  scale living room friendly two way concepts of that time. After two weeks of extremely pleasured listening, my friend came and took the Tannoys back. When I switched to my Rogers dwarf coffins, I did not want to life anymore. I had to accept, that I got completely adicted to Tannoy speakers and their unique qualities. 

It took me exactly two weeks off drugs to find a pair of 15'' Monitor Golds with crossovers offered by a guy nearby. He was very undetermined to sell his pair. He had bought the speakers once and never had used them properly nor did he have any idea what to do with them. I exchanged them to a pair of Leak amps from my collection. The next day they were lying down on the floor in their dedicated card board crates and were playing my favorite music instead the miniature speakers. What I could hear I did almost like better than the Rogers could perform (a typical case of complete addiction, because of its nonsense- Of course are the LS3/5a are extremely good speakers, but for a tube amp?). Now I needed enclosures for the Monitor Golds. My friend had got copies of original drawings from Tannoy showing some well known enclosures of their history, the GRF rectangular, the Autograph and the GRF professional. All three were really huge sized cabinets and all three were back loaded horn concepts. With 1.80 meter and alternative 1.50 meter height the latter two were out of dicussion.

OK, I was adventurous and decided to build myself the GRF rectangulars, the by far smallest of this three cabinets with 1.10 meter height. It took me two weeks time of woodwork, 600 german marks on material and as a result I had this speakers standing in my living room, where there was now no more size to have any living ...?

Tannoy Monitor Golds 15'' in GRF rectangular cabinets, 1993

This was going to be a first real trial with classic speakers and backloaded horn enclosures. Horns had a very poor reputation, they were called colored and intransparent in general, I didn't like these any better. What I could hear, did not even remind me to the lovely Cheviots. It had a big lower mid boost (of course, the back loaded horn is a lot to small and to short to work in the lowest regions). I soon had added pillows to damp the horn systems (around 100-200Hz). From today view it has to be said, that the room was a lot to small to get them properly set up, so these GRF's had a foreseen end. I got the chance to exchange my heavy plinth Garrard 401 with 12'' Ortofon tonearm, which I did not like either against two pairs of Tannoy IIILZ. These early nearfield monitors were the complete opposite of the GRF's, in size and as well in sound terms. They fitted physically in horizontal position on top of the GRF's without extending the width. They had almost no bass, but wonderfully controlled mids (thanks to the 3'' voice coil) and the already well known HF-horn with a smooth resolution of finest details. Within my next London trip I got a pair of Chatsworth cabinets (predecessors of the Cheviot) from Lockwood Audio where I did install the 10'' Tannoy chassis from the IILZ. I lived with these small floorstanding speakers quite well for some years, but always had the impression that they never could perform like the bigger brothers in term of LF dynamics. I took the rare chance, when it came up by coincidence, to sell the GRF's 1996 to somebody who really liked them a lot. I now concentrated my search on finding 12'' chassis, this time it should be the rare red version instead of golden ones, but in pre-ebay times the supply in Germany was limited to almost zero.
In the meanwhile I did know several people with Tannoy speakers. There was a clear dedication towards the pre 1978 chassis with alnico magnets. Some had speakers from the last serious generation before the company got sold, called HPD's (1974-78) like Berkeleys, Ardens and Cheviots, others had some of the predecessor Golds in Lancaster, Chatsworth or IIILZ cabinets (1967-1974). And even others had actual speakers from the reissued prestige series, the RHR, the Canterbury and the famous Westminster Royal as a side effect of a very clever operating hifi dealer nearby bought for serious money. But I did not know one person with rare and famous Monitor Reds (1958-1967).

One of the most famous power tubes in history, the british KT 66

I did not know at that early stage that Tannoy speakers would accompany me the most of my life. 

Read on soon the long way to the Autograph speakers, Volker

Sunday, 14 April 2013

SME Conversion shown on a rare 3009 MK1 tonearm

This assembly guideline is written by SKFong on his experience using the kit. The basic kit set comprises: 

1. Tone arm wand and extension for counterweights. 
2. Balsa wood for damping the arm wand 
3. Two M2 screws and one nut (earth wire) for fixing the saddle
4. a steel saddle 
5. One 60mm long M3 screw and silicon damped extension tube
6. Extension cap 

The basic kit might have been customized with:
7. Main counterweights either 220g or 160g and a end cap to fix the wayrod and to position the
8. Rider weight
9. You will need tone arm wires with the correct length for a 12 inch tone arm (42 cm). You will also need a ground wire of the same length if you do not use the ground connector from the 3009. You will need to colour code the wires with different coloured markers or heat shrink sleeves.

The kit upgrades the SME 3009 models up to the 3009 Improved to function as SME 3012 with the heavy arm wand and counterweight system of SME 3012 Mk1.

Shown is a conversion with a rare 3009 MK1 to a 3012 MK1

Dis-assembling the 3009 tone arm

You will need all the components from the 3009 tone arm, except for the arm wand, the extension, and the counterweights. Unsolder the internal tone arm wires and ground wire from the tone arm out put. Remove the 2 screws securing the yoke head and remove the yoke head. The 3009 arm wand may now be removed. Pull the 5 wires out through the pillar carefully if you intend to keep the tone arm wires. Now remove the cartridge socket, saddle and the ground wire connector from the arm wand. You may now want to clean all the parts from the 3009 tone arm. 

Assembling the 3012 tone arm

Step 1: Internal tone arm wires  
This part is written assuming that you will not want to use the ground wire connector. If your new tone arm wires are not colour coded you may want to attach suitable coloured  fine heat shrink sleeves at both ends of the 4 wires, or in the case of silk insulated wires, use coloured markers. However this is not mandatory as you can identify the correct wires using a meter and head shell with SME convention cartridge leads during final assembly. Lay the 4 tone arm and ground wires in the channel cut in the balsa wood and press in the two small pieces of wood to hold the wires in the channel. Estimate the length of the wires that need to protrude from the balsa wood to reach the cartridge socket. You can tie the 5 wires in a knot approximately 50 mm from the cartridge socket. Tie the wires at both ends with thread.

Push the balsa wood damping with axial turns into the straight end of the tonearm wand. When it is completely pushed in, use a pencil of small diameter with its blunt end to push the wood till the first whole for the bridge (image). Make sure that all wires will not get damaged and when finished try if they can be moved forward and backward.

If you use colour coded wires make sure you identify the coloured wire to the correct pin. (lower drawing)

Caution: Mount a fully cabled head shell to act as a heat sink during soldering. Use a soldering iron of low wattage (7 watts recommended) and do not solder for longer than 3 seconds for each pin.

After soldering, slide the plastic sleeves over each pin. Now strip off about 10 mm of insulation of the ground wire. Align the screw holes of the cartridge socket and the arm wand. Hold the exposed end of the ground wire on the body of the cartridge socket as you push it into the arm wand so that the wire is press fitted between the cartridge socket and arm tube. Secure the cartridge socket with the screw.  At the other end of the arm wand, thread the 5 wires through the large hole beneath where the saddle will be mounted. Take the rubber grommet from the 3009, thread the 5 wires through it and insert the grommet onto the hole. You may want to tape the 5 wires onto the arm tube body as you carry on the assembly.

Check the bearing and polish the marks if neccessary

Step 2: Mounting the saddle  
It is assumed that you are not using the ground wire connector. It might be helpful at this stage to tape or bind the arm wand on to a piece of wood, and clamp the wood on a table so that the arm wand is not easily moved. The holes to insert the saddle screws should face up. Take the saddle from the 3009 and place it on the arm wand. Align the 2 holes on the saddle with the corresponding 2 holes on the arm wand. Grip the M2 nut with a pair of tweezers through open end of the arm wand and hold it beneath the hole nearer the cartridge end. Turn the M2 screw into the nut. A few attempts may be needed before you succeed to secure the screw. Useful tip: Tie the saddle in position with a rubber band or adhesive tape, and to hold the tweezers closed with rubber band/tape. You can then concentrate on holding the nut in position. The step is similar if you are using the ground connector from the 3009. Grip it with tweezers and hold it beneath the hole nearer the cartridge end. Insert the original SME saddle screw (thread size is not M2 metrical) and secure it. Thread the ground wire through the grommet and set the rubber grommet into the hole. (In this case of course you need not have a ground wire press fitted with the cartridge socket.)  

Step 3: Fitting the arm wand extension   
Turn the M3 X 60 screw until its end is roughly in line with the end of the extension tube. Further insertion of the screw too far beyond this point makes it difficult to insert the silicon rubber into the arm wand as the silicon core becomes harder to compress.  The extension is attached to the arm wand with a disc. The disc has an M3 screw hole in the centre and an M2 screw hole on its circumference. Take a long M3 screw (30 mm or so) and turn it into the M3 hole on the disc. Insert the disc into he arm wand and align the M2 screw hole with the second hole of the saddle. Secure the saddle and disc with the M2 screw. Turn the M2 screw till it contacts the M3, then loosen the M2 screw a little. 
It might be helpfull to use a lttle bit of highly concentrated liquid soap to to push the silicon rubber damping sandwich into the extension tube. Stop when the rubber will end out of the extension tube at a lenght of 12mm. Take the long M3 screw and turn it from thr open end side into the rubber. Stop at 75% of its lenght. Hold the extension tube, use again a bit of soap and push the silicon rubber into the arm wand. Stop when a ring of silicon rubber between 0.5 and 1 mm wide separates the arm wand from the extension. Now turn the M3 screw until it engages the thread in the ring. You might wait till the liquid soap has dried out and you might use a drop of cyclanat glue to fix the silicon rubber to the extension tube. Cap the open end of the extension. Make sure you press the cap in fully.

Step 5: Fitting the tone arm  
Re-assemble the pillar, control bracket, base and base assembly of the tone arm. Also fit the cueing bridge below the saddle. Push the 4 tone arm and ground wires into the hole at the centre of the pillar. When the wires emerge from the bottom, gently pull the wires as you seat the saddle knife edge on the yoke. Place the yoke head over the knife edge and yoke, and secure it with the two screws. Identify the correct tone arm wires for Left, Left earth, Right and Right earth and solder them to the respective output (upper drawing). Finally solder the ground wire to the ground lug. Slide on the screen can. You may now install the tone arm onto your turntable. After mounting the tone arm, fit the counterweights. You need to use the wayrod from the 3009.

SME 3009 MK1 has been succesfully converted into 12'' version

I have to mention that a conversion from 3009 MK1 might have a problem, the original headshell socket of the earliest type does not fit the new tonearm wand without modification. If you want to do such a conversion, be prepared to adapt a difference of 0.5mm in diameter to clamp the too small socket

Monday, 8 April 2013

The Turntable, Part 1 – the magnet bearing

I have been using SME tonearms since 25 years in combination with several different turntables. I had mostly SME 3009/II and 3012/II models, but as well Ortofon RMG309 or Fidelity Research FR66 installed on Transcriptor, Thorens, Linn and Garrard turntables, the latter with long 12'' versions. I had Garrard models 401 and 301, followed by a Thorens TD 124. For this player and the Garrards I did build several plinths. First laminated blocks from particle board, later massive hardwood and further on natural stones. I did try to improve the bearings, implied balls, added plattermass, but I never could reach a grade of smoothness I was looking for. Or let me say it with other words: The idler wheel players never exited the level of technical sound reproducers towards a more or less invisible component. They were able to transport lots of dynamics, big soundstages and a brilliant projection of details; – they made me bopping my feet – but I was searching a deeper insight into the music. Qualities like timing, homogenity, fluidity and air are equally important than acurate tonal balance, loudness and dynamics. The latter three are always on main discourse when traditional hifi components are compared. The others are more common when real musical instruments get in discussion.
At that point I did like the lightweight subchassis players like the LP12 more, because of a smoother soundstage with better homogenity and better balanced music integrity. Precise ac generators like the Linn Lingo and similiar concepts help a lot here to improve the dynamics of this lightweight champions. I missed the extra dynamics and giant soundstage of the "big papas", but could live better with the small scale version.

In 1996 I owned a Platine Verdier. It changed my hifi experience completely. Never before I had heard something like this. The music did fluid with a never before heard tranquility and homogeneity, almost natural timing and a sheer unbelievable portions of air and space between all instruments. Together with real instrumental bodied dynamics the overall soundstage was completely absend of any hardening effects. I was sitting speechless in front of my stereo and played one record after the other and could swear not having heard one of these before.
The Verdier closes the gap between the powerfull attributes and dynamics of the heavy players with a unknown smoothness, finesse and the musical homogenity of the best subchassis players. The magnetic isolated 15kg-platter in combination with isolated string motor and 30kg mass for plinth and magnets brings this uncomparable combination. This player has been discussed in almost any serious hifi magazine, some made reviews about it. Its not on me now to do it again.

With the Verdier it is very simple, you get it, you hear it and you never will give it away. May be that is the reason they are not seen second hand. I know almost 15 people who have one, some even have two, but none has sold his in the last 20 years. May be it is time for the next oil change...?

Read on soon, Volker

Saturday, 6 April 2013

SME Conversion Part 3 – The First Test – Tonearm Conversion of Classic SME Tonearms

When I got the finalized weights from the galvanizing company I had the tonearm wands from Switzerland already here. I took a 3012/II with typically exhausted rubber damping in the extension tube and made a complete conversion with the new parts. I was happy that all wholes and connection points did join perfectly the vintage parts. Within three hours I had changed the wand to a stainless steel version. I had implemented a new wooden damping piece, drafted a new set of cables and finally installed a new silicone rubber damper in the extension tube. I did clean all mechanical parts, inspected the knives and the pillar bearings and soldered the cables to the headshell socket (extremely difficult operation, more about this step in a own post soon) and to the basic connector and reinstalled the tonearm at my turntable.

In combination with a Ortofon SPU in its original headshell (32 g), the 55mm long wayrod from the 3012/II I could not balance my 220 g weight to zero. The weight is to heavy. In that moment I did realize that I did copy the original weight from the very first version. This first weight was made for the first SPU with built in transformer, which was heavier than 32 g. The later transformerless versions did need a lighter balancing weight, which I had seen sometimes. I asked a friend of mine who had this weight to measure it and immediatly I did ring Mr. Kuhs to order a second set of weights with 160 g mass. It took me another two month till the smaller weight was finished to match the other weights. Now I could balance my SPU perfectly and I could listen to the converted SME for first time. It was a very pleasing first impression and I was satisfied that the new arm improved in almost any discipline the aluminium version.

Next step was to convert a second 3012/II with pure silver wires (0.1 mm solid silver 4N) to be able to compare it with the existing one with inner OFC copper cables. I did the conversion with the solid silver wires, which are so hard to come by. In the image you see at left the silver wire with silk insulation, right some teflon insulated silvered copper litz. It took me two years in research to find a manufacturer for the solid silver wire in 0.1 mm strenght and with silk insulation. To my knowledge I do not know any other maker of tonearms who uses solid wires. From my long term experiences with tube amplifier construction I learned that solid core connections always sounds a lot better than the same material as litz. So it was a must for me to find the thin solid silver wire to improve the SME further on. I do like the solid silver cable a lot better than other inner cables I did test. But the main improvement comes in comparison with my Ortofon SPU Gold. It is a limited edition of the late eighties from Ortofon for the japanese market with silver coils instead of the cordinary copper coils. Here the silver armature of the Gold can show a lot of improvement over the standart SPU. If I use all the way silver wire interconnects from tonearm to step up transformer on to the preamp the silver brings is a hughe advantage. I would recomend the inner silver wires to everybody with a phono equalisation of high resolution abilities, the improvement is tremendous. Here the silver wired step up transformers from Lundahl with the AG ending in the name will complete to perfection at the predeamphasis stage.

Read on soon, Volker

Friday, 5 April 2013

SME Conversion Part 2 – The Production – Tonearm Conversion of Classic SME Tonearms

After the test bendings of the tonearm wand have been inspected closely and one tube got succesfully  installed to a SME 3009/II, I had to buy the final amount of steel tubes for my project. These got send to Switzerland in order to produce the edition of 12'' tonearm wands for my kit. It took two month and I got the finalized tubes.

I used the time of the wand production to find a company to produce the dedicated weights. With my research through the web I found a cnc milling company with a quite informative web portal located in a town called Velbert. This town is not far from here and was once in the heavy industrialized Germany one of the foremost places for steel production supplying companies like the searched milling purposes. I had a very nice contact with one of the head manager Mr. Kuhs at the telephone of a cnc milling company. A week later I drove my car into direction of Velbert to have a first appointment at a milling company which is since 120 years in business. My gps sended me to a industrial park with lots of very modern buildings like storage facilities etc., but I was unable to locate a company I imagined as a old steel production site. I expected a old brick building and almost handpainted Types at the roof. Nothing like that was around. Finally I parked my car in front of a very modern steel/glass facade building in order to ask where the searched milling company might be. In the electronically shifted doors there was a laserprinter sheet of paper taped with the name of the milling company. A young and very unconventionally looking guy in his mid twenties opened the door and presented me with handshake as owner of the company, served me at a little bar in the entrance area an espresso and asked me to wait for Mr. Kuhs. I did expect a lot but not what I already saw. Mr. Kuhs was very nice man around 45 years old, suited with frayed jeans, t-shirt and sneakers, as well very interested into vintage hifi. He made a complete guidance throughout the company facilities. I saw a huge hall were may be five people did work, but at least 20 10m long cnc milling machines were installed. It was not either greasy nor dirty in there. At the end of all machines every minute a small milled piece of metal fall down in a container. I did ask before three different sized companies for a offer of compromize. The by far best offer was 50% cheaper than the next. Mr. Kuhs explained me about typical homework of the last years for German companies to be still competetive in the globalized production chain.

I learned a lot at this day and we made a contract to produce all neccessary weights for my tonearm kit. First the heavy 220 g weight with typical end cap and the long rider weight was milled from brass, together with the cap for the end tube and the inner part to fix the end tube with the main tube from stainless steel. Before I left I asked Mr. Kuhs if he might know a galvanizing company to go for the matte chrome surface. He answered he knows of course lot of companies, but he will not be able to do one recommendation. "The most do bad jobs", he said "and the rest is unreliable. You never will get what you asked for and it will be completely out of time. If you can live with all problems you will get one company named!" For that day I left the site and noticed on my way out the Porsche Cayenne in the foremost parking position and next to it a Audi Q7. I thought, that I might know who will drive these cars.

So what should I do, I did not have any other chance? When all weights had been milled, I picked them up and brought them to the named galvanizing company, which was just 2 km away. I showed them the original weight from SME to get them an idea about the final finish. Even troughout all production years of SME, they must have changed some times the galvanizing supplier, because I have a lots of different galvanized weights from SME. Today it is going more difficult, because of strict EU-regulations about the amount of the nickel component in this process, the today results are always a bit less glossy than the original weights. They tried to do their best to adapt their results to the vintage parts. Have a look at the photo to see the big new 220 g weight and end cap in comparison to the the vintage small add-on-riderweight and the vintage endcap. As well good to be seen is the different diameter between the MK1 weights and the later weights.

Follow on, Volker

Thursday, 4 April 2013

SME Conversion Part 1 – The Arm Wand – Tonearm Conversion of Classic SME Tonearms

The early SME has so much better dynamics and improved trackability with the SPU that it seems to be in a own class. So I decided in 2006 to try to find a company which might be able to produce stainless steel arm tubes with 0.5 mm material thickness in order to make a limited amount this unique qualities accessible to a wider community of vinyl lovers. I thought it might be quite easy to find somebody who can bend the tubes exactly like the originals and than only has to drill some wholes into the tube. Almost every classic SME tonearm than could be converted to the rare unsurpassed quality of the almost unobtainable MK1 type.

I thought. But reality learned me quickly how difficult it is today in globalized Europe to find a manufacturer able to do such a easy looking job. It took me half a year on research to find a company able to bend small tubes precisely. After unsatisfying test results from different companies in Germany, I had to search again and again. All samples which were made had one comon argument: poor craftmanship with lots of tolerances and unacceptable tolerances. Finally in Switzerland I found a company which is specialized in the production of medical probes. Their main business was bending stainless steel tubes in diameters between 0.4 to 10.0 mm for several probe types to closest tolerances. A inquiery through email ended up two days later in a telephone call where a friendly man with nice swiss accent made me hope that they can do the job to my high specifications. They even had a 9.5 mm stainless steel tube in storage (with 0.2 mm material strenght) in small amounts available for some tests. A thicker walled tube had been difficult to come by, one manufacturer offered me a special production with minimum of 300 m to take with a price of 25$ for the meter, just for the tubes!
The test bendings in Switzerland ended up in a desaster. They tried to bend the 0.2mm material tubes cold, as well glowing, filled or open, bursted tubes came outThey dehardened the steel first and tried to bend again without any usable result. The only available 9.5 mm tubes had been to thin to bend. After a year I gave up the project, the banking crises started and I did store my ideas in the shelf "good ideas, but not realized".

In 2011 I found just by accident a supplier of tubes who was able to sell 9.5 mm stainless steel tubes with 0.5 mm wall thickness. And this company was round the corner and open to sell any amount I did need. So I bought two meters of it first and send them to the swiss company to make a second set test bendings possible. This time it came out to be perfectly usefull for my projected tonearm wands with closest tolerances and a perfect finish of the surface. So the old idea was newly born to make the MK1 tube as a conversion kit available.

Read on soon, Volker