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Saturday, September 15, 2012

Meeting (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's) Little Prince in person... at Serge Schmidlin's place

... also if "little" he's not... he's a giant, actually... and still a Prince of taste and kindness and bon vivre, a truly sincere, open-minded and both young and passionate, old-timey gentleman.

I'll tell you a story, folks... and it's not "once upon a time" stuff, indeed...

I recently contacted dr. Serge Schmidlin and we arranged a meeting at his place in the beautiful surroundings of Geneve, in Vaud, Switzerland.

Serge is living and heading his humanly-sized and managed enterprise from a small village midway from Lausanne and Geneve with beautiful countryside just a short walk from his home and clear, fresh air and heart-whelming views of the lake, Monte Bianco and the Alps and Jura mountains, rich of trees and right pace living... but on the highways:-)))

I arrived quite early in the morning after driving through Simplon Pass in the night - coming from Milan where I had a dinner with my friends Gabriele and Silvia and after attending to "Top Audio 2012" fair in the afternoon - enjoying some classical music and every moment of the dawn and the sun pink-coloured, snow-capped alpine peaks and the right amount of traffic around Lausanne, and... wow! Montreux, Vevey, Nyon and the lake and vineyards and the beautiful houses uphill.

A dream... I love Switzerland!

I had a truly royal breakfast with fresh "pain au fois du bois" and four different homemade marmalades and milk and cereals... after such a stop I was in nice shape to ring the door-bell at Serge's.

Wore a fresh shirt in the parking - you know, wishing to look less bleached after the long trip in the night... and, hey, I was at Prince's house and presence - and I was ready... all ears and open-mind-and-soul-mode:-)

The Prince:-)... Serge opened the door and invited me to enter: an easy, elegant, witty soft-spoken gentleman who - after several working experiences - choose his "heart-filled path" and, since 2000, is still walking in awe on it, experimenting and building and learning and improving, trial & error, illuministic and illuminated as he can be, a visionary unafraid of world, detractors and market sirens and dogmas, yet a scientist and not a voodoo wannabe!

Not an easy task, Serge, indeed.

We chatted a little in the lobby and in the garden with the company of his b/w cat, a true signorina, and the empathy and true passion poured and passed freely between us while conversating.

He politely asked to me to shut off my mobile phone, which I left in the bag, on a chair, at first floor of his beautiful home.

He explained that the mega and tera-hertz frequencies involved and the bad influence of these necessary but unhealthy phones are really poisonous for his audio fully battery-operated rig and environment... also guests who kept their mobiles on-board, in a trouser pocket or something, resulted in audibly polluting his music room... also when asked to leave their mobiles on a shelf, due to body absorbed radiations?!?

Then he invited me in his studio where ALL his reference and work-in-progress gears and turntable and Rubanoid speakers and subs are... the studio/auditorium is quite small in size - better would say - "right" sized, as the VERY best systems I appreciated in the last years ALL are playing in normally sized rooms... but Klaus' 100 square meters auditorium in Koln:-), of course!

The system was already ON and we began our listening session with some Jonathan Faralli's percussions - hey, we're both aquainted with Jean Hiraga-san and his disks:-))) - some "Appendice alla Perfezione" by Salvatore Sciarrino and the richness of harmonics coming from those little and larger bells and the impression that my (ear) tinnitus was hit by a real sized and playing-in-the-room instrument was breathtaking.

We continued with several other music genres and the sound was, again and again, very, very natural, with noise level among the lowest I ever experienced and on this pure silence notes were blossoming and surprising with superb variety and with such a trueness in decay and weight and overall beauty and rightness... double bass, piano, vocal, everything was well "here".

The above music was coming from still a work-in-progress, yet flawlessly sounding SD-card reader, a 32GB card widely used in our camera and video gears was used, much more stable re. temperature and weather changes than disks and other digital storage media.

The "thing", ugly in appearance, using Serge's proprietary newly developed, hand-wound "toroidal core", silver wire transformers, fed by a Lithium battery-pack with an impressive load of caps was far more "revolutionary", better "evolutionary":-) as the 1V needed to feed the SD reader was simply given by properly charged caps!

Yes, folks... Serge, who's following the noble heritage of Jean Hiraga and his automotive battery powered Le Monstre 8W Class A solid state amplifier, was able to further emancipate and fight AC gremlins and shortcomings even further... the sun-cell operated charger was giving the life and power to Lithium battery-pack and to the caps!

Nothing, NOTHING but some battery chargers, well unused during listening session, is connected to a wall mains receptacle... zut!

This stylish, noble and no-compromising approach was... is it worth the effort?

What I heard yesterday represents the Zenith - my personal and maybe, to a broader/broadest/universal extent - of the detailing and "rightness" of reproduced sounds and music at home.

Period or not... when we changed to analog source and the always battery-operated large turntable, using an heavily modified Jelco 12 inches arm with an heavily modified, naked Denon DL 103R - both used for their pluses and for down-to-earth reasons of replicability as easily obtainable on the market items... something happened.

The headshell was also an home-brewed plywood and wood sheet Leonardo da Vinci-like gizmo, on same vein than Kimura-san's and his RS-1 rotary arm and RS-3 headshell, where the "rotary" attitude was given by wood elastic properties on lateral and horizontal plane.

Nice and intriguing.

I brought with me some discs... solo lute, double bass... I won't annoy you with titles... my usual music of choice, at home, in my studio with Gotorama:-)

Serge was lamenting about the stress the vinyls got while travelling by car, the different climate and the altitude - you know, Simplon Pass is 2005 m on sea-level and it was +20 degrees Celsius in Milan the day before and -1 degree Celsius on Simplon's... at about 3 A.M.:-)

Before placing the EMI disc on the turntable plywood platter (yes!), he briefly de-magnetized it on a large Dr. Mabuse-looking machine... indeed, not static was his fear, but magnetization, as, he explained, the percentage of nickel - usually contained in disc-stampers - left on vinyls, also after years from pressing at record plant, is someway unfriendly working against tracking and MC cartridge and music.

Serge is always, ALWAYS very careful and respectful of materials and their character and working processes, romantic, yet scientific in approach: he's a chemist Phd and his mind still works by finding an explanation and a formula to the world facts... but his mind is also wisely attracted by mysteries and untold.

He told he sort-of had to forget the books and proceed on the path some German omeophatists and Nikolas Tesla and others in different fields did... trial & error is the way to go and, how Serge often quotes: "...on ne voit bien qu'avec le coeur, l'essentiel reste invisible pour les yeux."... again taken by Antoine de St. Exupery.

We placed the EMI Reflexe original pressing of Anthony Bailes recorded in Sion in mid Seventies by master "tonmeister" Dipl. Ing. Johann-Nikolaus Matthes and...

... both Serge and myself jaws dropped as the crazy, CRAZY load of ambient noises at music background invested us like a tsunami!

My system is also great on this and DL 103 was average vs. my hot-rod, cherry picked Lumiere DST and Garrardzilla etc.

Nonetheless, Rubanoid's speakers with their Japanese coffee-colour handmade paper and gorgeous wood short horns simply disappeared and became the time and sound and air bubble where maestro Bailes performed his seldom heard lute music; the growling low notes and the music arrived straight at our hearts in a truly seldom heard way!

Serge was impressed by recording quality... myself was, still I am, impressed by the way such a (weird) system sounded so lively and transparent and life-like.

The sound is - like a Goto-based (Reinhard's, Klaus' and my own...) and few other systems I'm aware of - properly feeding a room like only real instruments do... but without the Mylar-diaphragms based small or larger electrostatics and planars around, from beloved ESL 57 and Stax F81 to larger, expensive planar speakers... where all music keep - don't wish to offend anyone:-))) - an annoying "plastic" sonic footprint and a paper-wall like soundstage with a someway "fake" soundstage depth and a coldness which keep "music" and "soul" apart.

Serge said something both amusing and true, also true for virtually all (good) paper speakers: "How can paper sound like metal?",  speaking about the Sciarrino's bells and triangles and percussions...

I wouldn't have quoted such a sentence, more an enthusiastic exclamation while listening and enjoying than a scientific claim or doubt... yet, the Lapalissian shaded obviousity:-) turned out as a truth...

Yes, Serge... strange indeed this happens... it happens with a Saba Green old trusty humble, nice speaker, with a Goodman's Axiom 80, with an Oleg Rullit's wideband speaker or a (good) old Altec's... only, with your awesome Rubanoid's and battery-operated system and silver & white cotton cables and hand wound transformers and polished wooden cabinets... well, how can I say, the "metal" you humbly, almost childishly:-) quoted isn't an ordinary metal,  an industrial alloy or something, Serge...

It's purest gold.

Thanks for great hosting and... has been a genuine life highlight, a true pleasure meeting you in person.

Last but not least, I find it necessary to underline that the (low-fi) quality of ugly pixes I attached is inversely proportional to the quality of sound I experienced and enjoyed:-)

1 comment:

hb said...

Yes. Battery power. From my recent experiences, I am willing to accept that this is the way.
I am looking forward to listen to Joachim Gerhard's +/- 12V amplifiers he did for my battery system.