Wednesday, 25 November 2015

30 Years of Revelation IV

Hello to everybody following,

today I want to illuminate the distribution process of decisive Japanese findings within the 1970ties described in my last article.

La Maison de L'Audiophile

14, Rue de Belfort (Foto: N.Gütte)

A small group of audio aficionados gathering under the name La Maison de L'Audiophile in Paris deserves the honor of publishing first the Japanese research results. Jean Hiraga and several other figures, like head Gerard Chretien, William Walter, Philippe Viboud and several more published audio tweaks, conceptions and recipes about unusual audio ideas with a foremost intention to open up a window for new interests into quality based do-it-yourself made audio. Before these days High Fidelity has got widely saturated with Japanese mass products of similar quality and many people were looking for different inspirations as its result.
One major field in audio never got occupied by Japanese products in Europe, – speakers. Here in a foremost dimension British and US-American makes like Lowther, Tannoy, Kef, Wharfdale, Jordan Watts, Altec, Jensen, Electrovoice, JBL and some more, had already established a DIY kit idea. Since finished cabinets were a costly factor of market pricing, they sold their established speakers as well as kits within the 1970ties. From that point of view a DIY-mentality broke ground and here Maison de L'Audiophile established in incomparable ways a highly improved level of self built quality with serious, reliable and substantial manuals for Europe.
The general abundance and wide spread saturation with everyday products wasn't already common these days in Europe, so several people kept their investments low for such less essential things like audio products, for those the diy idea was a essential solution to stay in competition. No wonder that such concepts did work out again, was it so that at the beginning of the golden age of commercial audio production in the late 1950ties several US-American brands had marketed already their products as well as kit products, like the well known Dynaco, Eico and Heathkit tube amps.
With Maison de L'Audiophile in Paris the most complete field of investigations and informations about audio in general terms found a home for the enthusiast. They published construction differences, design variations, material research and its physical evaluations in their central magazine publication L'Audiophile. They additionally published drawings and schematics of amplifiers, speakers, enclosures and crossovers and construction details, which was noticed as a welcome enrichment, even when they were published in French language. And even more important, as a exceptional addition they performed such ideas within real life auditions. They caused history with what they did, Keith Aschenbrenner from Auditorium 23 as contemporary eye witness, did name it right on point:  Ecole L'Audiophile. 

Some excerpts from the magazine:


 Nouvelle Revue du Son No. 156, 1992

Central figure, as already described in my first part of this article series, was Jean Hiraga, a half Japanese and half French born person. His in Japan deeply verified experiences with Japans self contained audio culture showed completely incomparable detailed aspects, insights and conceptual unusual ideas. This knowledge advantage has been as well his base of his head start as audio journalist in France. He acted like a wide spread collecting reservoir for before unknown informations outside its origin and a rich treasury tank of incomparable informations. He did refer about amplifier designers, -topologies, speakers, drivers, components, transistors, tubes, PSUs and speaker enclosures (i.e. Anzai SRPP in 1977, WE 300b in 1979, recherché de Ms. Iwata in 1982, Onken LF enclosures - Koizumi in 1977, etc.) in a time when nobody else outside Japan did take care about such ideas. The Western Electric single ended triode 300B for example, the preferred tube driving efficient horn speakers in Japan, was in these days almost unknown in Europe (STC 4300B was its British made replacement) or completely forgotten about. When he did publish his first articles about Anzai's single ended 300b amplifier in 1979, even in its original intended culture in the US, the technology was completely forgotten about. It took another five years even in Paris till the ground was ready prepared for a wider public to understanding what it was meant to be, when he again tried to show the exceptional qualities of this technology in 1985. In the homeland of its technical heritage in the US,  it needed another seven years till Joe Roberts in Sound Practice Magazine in 1992 took public care about this tube and its dedicated amplification concepts, just 20 years after Japanese audio gourmants did value these products to be absolute cult.

Hiraga designed transistor amplifiers (Foto. N.Gütte)

Selection of tube amplifiers at Maison de L'Audiophile's public auditions for performance. (Foto: N.Gütte)

Hiraga made a living as eloquent author for audio magazines (Revue du Son, L'Audiophile), such position did help him to release his own amplifier lines branded as Hiraga, JH, Lectron and similar products marketed throughout the Maison de L'Audiophile. The later well known amplifiers like Legend 300B, Monster 8W, Némésis and LeTube are examples of his enterprises. It was him all the same to feature as well active multichanel driven systems with typical transistor power amplification from his friend Akihiko Kaneta, at the same time evaluating finest sound differences of vintage direct heated triode tubes like VT52, AD1,  RE604, R120, PX4, 211 or 801.
Maison de L'Audiophile referred about vintage speakers, tube amplifier history and design variations, transistor topologies, power supply technologies; but as well about psychological aspects of music perception, physical preferences for recording or ethical preferences of brain constitution for best listening abilities, always targeted to quality aspects without a clear commercial designation.
(Chapeau! What wonderful times without neoliberalism market distinction of our today culture...)

Their attitude to perform such findings in real auditions gave the interested a chance for a real personal impression of their featured design researches. So tube amplifier technologies, speaker enclosure designs variants, record player conceptions (don't forget the Platine Verdier was always present for their public audio performances), comparisons of recording and storage technologies could be personally verified. They performed with original Western Electric 15A wide frequency horns and combined them with Onken low frequency support enclosures within little cinemas in the 1980ties and driven by SE 300b amplification. Some years later they completed to a similar built, but physically smaller realized Sato horns with mixed active multichannel transistor and tube amplification. These guys rolled the European red carpet for a forgotten, or better said a new old listening culture, which made single ended tube amplified music reception with 300b tubes to what is grown today. (More than 10 different modern copies of these tubes are today made in China, Russia and elsewhere, this fact will show the result of such pioneering enterprise.) And don't forget about my former explanation (part II) about Japanese hedonism, the French culture is as well not a developing country in such hedonistic terms...
Within their yearly public performances in cinemas they have brought a remarkable range of efficient speaker conceptions to life. They started at the beginning with than actual hifi concepts from Focal and Fostex, the early small scaled Petite L'Audiophile for private users, over the real US classics with alnico magnet equipped Altec's Voice of the Cinema A7 to original WE15A's. They followed such ideas about huge speaker installations based on M. Eijiro Koizumis Onken enclosure designs and dedicated horns and drivers from Japan. If you ever will have a chance to listen to such sort of Sato/Onken installation with active powered four way amplification designed by Kaneta, you will notice a dynamic ability and performance realism, were 99% of other equipment cannot compete with. The 1970ties and 80ties have been as well a peak time when physical reliable approved knowledge made the definition of truth in audio. And so it was a time that resonant side effects were completely separated as unwanted in theory and praxis. Concrete walled enlosure designs, or as minimum preventive action, sand filled double wall designs, have been favored above the known historic technically simpler realizations with plywood enclosures or boards (Western Electric and Klangfilm used in the 1930 to -40ties large baffle boards or folded dipole designs).

WE15A with Dauphin-Horn and Onken W-LF-enclosure with Westrex Acoustilens 20 80 driver
with passive four way crossover at audition in cinema Espace Kiron (Foto: N.Gütte)

Always on stage: the Platine Verdier here shown with Maisons standard tonearm SME 3012 with outside lead cabling and   Autographe prepre amplifier with Taitsu coupling capacitors in the underneath, on top at the rca contacts a Maki prepre with orange Shizuki capacitors and 2SK170 transistor. (Foto: N.Gütte)

If you can imagine how complicated it is to realize such shown double walled enclosure types with sand filling, just imagine their form and size, you might understand the effort and its unbelievable amount of handcrafted input to succeed. It was intended to overcome any inherent resonances for final improvements of audible superiority as result. Such giant installations never could be successful market products, but in terms of audible superiority, these guys wanted to set the pace in the western world. The 300b tubes from that time on, as their dedicated Western Electric 89 and 91 amplifiers have grown legend in the world and got to be the crowning achievement of tube audio history in the meanwhile.

But even the Maison de L'Audiophile has got history by now. After several failures it did finally close its doors in 2010. Ironically in parallel a wider interest in global scale (with the knowledge distribution of the WWW ) has grown to such early horn installations. This particular interest corresponds to the rising market of several replicas of Western Electric horn designs, like the WE15A, WE22A, WE13A, WE16A, mainly made in asian countries.
But the Onken and Sato loudspeaker concepts, which have been widely featured by Maison de L'Audiophile, still don't have been rediscovered by a wider public interest, only some intrepid connoisseurs did realize these as home made products, there is not one commercial company which did take care about such ideas.

Not quite...

"The year is 2015 AD. Gaul is entirely occupied by Western Electric and its modern copies. Well, not entirely... One small place of indomitable Gauls still hold out against the invaders. And life is not easy for the legions..."

Norbert Gütte is a eyewitness of the Maison de L'Audiophile and visited some of their auditions in Paris, which created a general change of his understanding about audio performance. I thought it would be a good idea to interview him about this time. He is a woodworker with exceptional skills, but on the other hand he is as well a person who does want to create huge theories about such things. So he didn't want to make an interview and responded to my basic questions about the importancy of facts, influences and standards, which shifted his ideas in these early days in Paris with the simple words: "Just more real, thats it"

Gütte did realize Voice of the Theater A7 (with wings) enclosures for his personal use in 1987 after his visit in Paris

Another realization of VotT A7 in 1998 for a customer

Norbert Gütte founder of LignoLab was one of the early followers of such idiosyncratic loudspeaker conceptions. He visited in the 1980ties some of the public performances by Maison de L'Audiophile together with Keith Aschenbrenner. He realized that these speakers and dedicated sets were to be exceptional well matches of his audio conception in mind. He told me that he always wanted to realize for more than twenty years such complex systems with double walled sand filled enclosures for a wider audience. A lot of people know him for the perfection of woodwork he did manufacture with Auditorium 23 and its loudspeaker range, like the well known Rondo, Solovox or Provence. All named for a completely opposite understanding and technical realization of the enclosure function and discipline. These were designed to use a mild support of the enclosures resonant properties as extension of their full range drivers (PHY Salabert) harmonies and tonalities, in a way only acoustical instruments can show up with as to be these speakers typical unique qualities.

360l Onken LF-enclosure with pneumatic decoupled
sand filled Four Cell Horn (Onken design realized by Lignolab) and JBL HF-unit 

Norbert Gütte offers with LignoLab a full line of loudspeakers dedicated to the estate of Maison de L'Audiophile conceptions and their authentic heritage in actual form. The above shown 360l Onken enclosure is combined with a precisely pneumatic decoupled and sand filled Lignolab four-cell-horn for the upper mids and JBL 075 ring radiator with bronze horn extension for the hf-range. Such a speaker is seen in terms of the Ecole L'Audiophile as a medium sized concept for people with limited room preferences! Güttes realized manufacturing and finishing quality of such speaker line is dramaticly improved, such perfection was never before available.

Pneumatic decoupled construction to isolate the Sato horn from LF-resonances. 

Norbert Gütte himself didn't want to compromise his own audio set with room restrictions. He himself prefers the largest installation known from these early days in Paris, because of its uncomparable dynamic attitude. A combination of a sand filled Onken W cabinet, featuring two 15'' drivers together with a sand filled Satohorn of roughly one square meter opening for the lower medium frequency range and a additional sand filled Lignolab 4C-500SF (Four-Cell) -Horn for the upper mid frequencies, both pneumatic decoupled from the lf-enclosure. Additionally extended for highest-frequencies with the same JBL ring radiator, supplied with his own bronze horn extension for a tremendous improved harmonic radiation. All components are mechanically isolated with his complex low frequency decoupling damper system, adjustable for different weights and size. This system is absolute unique in efficient elimination of resonant effects and there is no other product like this worldwide.

Of course he performes for his customers with a maximized regard to authenticy. As with Maison de L'Audiophile he uses a Platine Verdier turntable with magnetic isolated platter for his demonstrations, a long SME 3012 tonearm with outside fixed thick cabling and Denon DL103 cartridge with his own supplied bronze case. In difference to the parisian performances in history Gütte introduces additionally different pneumatic isolated component racks and systems to improve his active four way Kaneta amplifier system and different program sources to maximum refinement.

Pneumatic decoupled JBL HF-unit with bronze horn extension

Such a Onken-Sato-installation has a quite good space preference 1.13 x 0.87 meter for the footprint and a solid 2.45m height for the final position. (Other people need space for their car collection, their yachting or their planes....)
A small scale edition comparing such installation ist the sand filled double walled Altec Voice of the Theater A7 enclosure, again combined with sand filled Lignolab 4C-500SF (Four-Cell) -Horn and JBL ring radiator, both pneumatic decoupled from the LF-enclosure.

And last not least there are some other components showing some influences of Maison de L'Audiophile. He uses a fully active driven four way Kaneta amplifiers with modern technology DSP instead of analog crossovers to find control about these monster speakers.
If you are interested to follow such classic but improved installations with the most perfect finished enclosures money can buy, than you should give Norbert from LignoLab a ring. And of course in french tradition like in the early days in Paris, he is using a Platine Verdier with outside cabled SME 3012 and Denon DL103, but not with lead housing like in Paris, instead a bronze housing will be his standard. Bronze, why bronze? That is another article following...

Read on soon, Volker

Note: All black and white reproductions (if not otherwise declared) shown with respect to the archive of the magazine L'Audiophile, Paris, France.

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