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Friday, October 30, 2009

Wood or where the music begins

I always loved wood, also when not a musical instrument, yet!
A couple of questions: I own a classical guitar made in '70s by an italian luthier M.° Roberto Lanaro, using an old, 40 years or more (it belonged to his father, also a prominent luthier, who only made violins, violas and cellos) Male Red Spruce from Paneveggio Forest in Northern Italy, near Trento and Bozen, maybe 100 kms as crow fly from Austria.

I then had a chance to buy an interesting book made by Forest Patrol Wood Experts and I learned Stradivari and Guarneri and Amati, and also Mattio Goffriller with his viola da gamba made in Venice, all back in 1600 and 1700 were good customers of the Paneveggio Forest and its musical trees... copies of old invoices, handwritten and so on... very intriguing!
Also, of some interest, a note on the same book... why only Paneveggio and not a couple of forests apart, 50 km from there?

The trick, I read, seems to be in the extreme steepness on mountains where Spruces grow and the lacking of direct sun in the forest... more the steep and less sun, more the tree grows straight with its fiber long and the climate, without too severe hot/sunny-cold/shadow changes gives wood an unique molecular structure.
Sounds intriguing, isn't it?!?! A luthiery workshop and a nice, little wood museum still exist in Paneveggio, after 400 years and it's still VERY well managed!!!
WOW... I love these topics and revamping old, almost lost knowledges... as you point out, BEWARE of getting too modern... the great heritage of our Fathers is in THEIR TIME... they consumed eyes, hands, minds in speculating and tryng, by trial and error, writing endlessly with humble pencils in humble copy-books miles of thoughts, observations, sketches and drawings... but TIME was their richness!
So, let me better explain... I just had a phone conversation with my Luthier, Roberto Lanaro from Padua, Italy - and he explained to me something I was checking in my two Wood Books - Steno Giulini - Il Legno Nostro Vecchio Amico - Ed. Berben and Tecnologia del Legno by Norberto Marchi - Marsilio Editori, unfortunately, in Italian only.

First of all, let me better clarify and translate from italian the meaning of "Male" - in italian it translates into "Maschio", like "Female" stands for "Femmina"... BUT in tonewoods, especially spruces (Epicea) which are hermaphrodites (the two sex in same body-they self-reproduce them) - Olives have male and female sexes, BTW - the better translation to the italian Maschio, is that silk-screened/translucent shadowed effect, the well-known and unfortunately not ALWAYS appreciated feature that only better, TRUE tonewoods have!
Mr. Lanaro explained to me few minutes ago that, all the times he went to Val di Fiemme or Paneveggio or Val Visdende (Carnia - Italy), the elder, sometimes retired (knowledge by experience!) "Maresciallo Capo", a Chief-In Charge for tonewoods logging, get an appointement with luthiers willing to choose the VERY BEST, accordingly expensive (but NOT so hideously in comparison with normal logs... again it's the TIME needed for such a picky choice the very best woods...) and the appointment is ALWAYS done considering Lunar Calendar, not busyness or weather!!! ... humbly, without any shame at all... that's it, period! No computers, ah?!?!?

... but let's go to explain the "Maschio"... a small say 5 x 5 cm, max 10 x 10 cm window is made on trees bark, looking for a sort-of zig-zagging texture and it's done AFTER a visual, outer inspection to, at least, try to individuate His Majesty the Tonetree... very seldom the expert eyes of Men well knowing their art and skill fail! When they see the "silky zig-zag" on the white/pale yellow tree pulp, they shout: "E' maschio!" ("It's male!")... only a small percentage has this, and, with other parameters, give to spruce a Stradivari's grade tonewood status... but, as Adirondack well teach, so-so aesthetically woods, are often MUCH BETTER than perfect narrow grain woods.

Roberto Lanaro told me that in a forest, say with... 100.000 Red Spruces (MORE here below on names...) ONLY 1000 ARE TONEWOODS GRADE trees, and a tonewood tree doesn't necessarily have tonewood character in its descendants!!!
Hey, let's wake up: TREES ARE LIVING CREATURES! Call me nut, but it happened I hugged a tree, a nice one or smart or in a special landscape position... it's a GREAT, little emotion, having this romantic feeling and, most of all, doing it because you feel it GOOD! It created Earth Brotherhood... without shame.
Many, many, MANY times, commercial made guitars are using simply spruce, with NO tone producing special features at all! AA, AAA... are sometimes only visual appearance ratings, but they're not saying all!

Oven dried woods... the elastic quality sooo important in tone producing get lost!
Beside a great deal of Silver (or White) Spruce (Abies Pectinata or Abies Alba) forests do exists in North-Eastern Italy, in Italian tradition, the better tone woods come from two species of Red Spruce (Picea Excelsa or Picea Alba)... but the one, the REAL one is called Red Spruce (Picea Nocciuolo).
In Germany and Austria they call it "Haselfichte" - the only to bear, by tradition, the surname of "Klangholz", "Resonanzholz" and "Tonholz": as I found in my books, Feuerstein and Greyerz (a Swiss, BTW) quoted it in early '900.
In Germany and Austria, they also call it "Steinfichte" ("Rocky Spruce"), because centuries ago, they noticed that the better, rare samplers giving special tonewoods, were in the steeper parts of forests, near rockies in very difficult (for men) to reach places (jumps and projecting rocks and the like) - it sounds like "trees of character", isn't it?!?!
In val di Fiemme they also call by tradition "Noseler".

Re. "presswood" build-up, from my readings, I learned that more than steepness, the TRUE stress to trees are one-way, constant winds and, to a larger extent, snow weight! As you, as a passionate trekker, well know, the narrower and steeper the valley, the less snow you'll find...
That's it... it would be a pleasure to have a wood-trip with you... I live 100 km, as crow flies, from Paneveggio...

Furthermore: the concept of "terroir" in French wine-making is an absolutely correct comparison for tonewoods... a vineyard half a mile from another produces a completely, COMPLETELY different grape and thus, wine, in the same "Domaine"! The rains bring different elements if the ground is steeper or less so... IMO, everything it's Natural, is Different and not standardized.

Quality in tone capabilities is a very complex matter: a superb Santa Cruz acoustic was made of a fallen tree laying for years in the water... I'm 120 percent sure and confident of its quality, in sound and building... but let me point out that a dead tree laying for years is not, properly "aging", sound-wise.
It's only a log, a large, huge log which is aging... it's SO different from carefully quarter-sawn woods, carefully stored in airy environment, with controlled humidity... FOR YEARS!

If you remember, when the great Ervin Somogyi lost his house and workshop in those wild fires along California's shores, years ago... he was SOOO sad because he lost his woods, carefully dried and well kept for many years... this was his estate.
... I apologize for being, someway, so fussy... but I find a straightforwarded approach useful for we all Music, Guitars and Woods lovers.

Re. the best area for tonewood trees... my reference says, in fact: over 1900 m altitude... Willi or Henk should go deeper at their convenience, on THIS very matter with old, well-informed loggers or luthiers... and for what concerns bearclaw and hazelworms... pls forgive me for, at least, smiling on this... I know the little sentence was ironic, too... sure, anyway, that spruce figuring is CLEARLY related to sound qualities and it seems it is someway concerned to "some" sort of external factor (not necessarily a "stress") - i.e. the several already pointed out by Henk, Willi, myself and anyone will be going deeper ahead on this fascinating 3d.
... after better reading my sources, I also found some more interesting details, maybe worth some consideration... Stradivari before aging the spruce, and well before carving, gave to bare woods several washing in plain water and in "prepared" water - maybe some sort of salts - to someway crystallize cells, frozen "some" elastic character or feature of a given wood, BEFORE aging... is anyone doing the same today, or "oven religion" is the only Faith?
Some Strad's wood debris have also been scrutinized and observed in laboratories, founding embarassing, unbelievable cells structures, like looking at fossil-wood, but still elastic and "live".

I know I'm playing - as always - a romantic role: where would be guitar making handcrafting art today if anyone would be ONLY using hand tools (Enrico Bottelli or Boaz Elkayam do that...) and every instrument would be done as "The Very Last Instrument" a Luthier had the chance to do, in this Life?!?!
Maybe, as usually, the Great Masters simply applied this so simple trick, so simple to be so difficult to their art.

Trentino is the area where Paneveggio lays; Trento province is very large, spreading from Garda Lake to South Tyrol... Ladino speaking people is in some little and quite far away areas, from Passo Broccon/Val Sugana to Carnia (Friuli region)... but Paneveggio is definitely in Dolomiti area, and the most beautiful, on the VERY same par than over Cortina or Val Badia, maybe better... at dawn the mountains colours are... FANTASTIC! Purple, orange, red, rose... WOW! I'll follow by bike only paved road, but, then, by feet I'll trek in paths to reach the better spots... and I'll try to talk to people...

I recently ordered a new classical guitar from Enrico Bottelli (Brazilian Rosewood/Dalbergia Nigra and Haselfichte) which I'll be able to play in 18 months or so... and, by chance, he told me this morning that the Austrian or Italian Figured Red Spruce "Maschiato/Maschio/Nocciuolo/Steinfichte/Haselfichte", THE ONE... I know you got it ... well, it's the MOST requested by his customers worldwide... I've been someway surprised... is there a new phenomenon or fashion in guitar-making or the old which turns new? Is it the same for steel-strung?
He told me the Austrian's is harder, with an extremely various, quite dark, tonal palette and Italian's a little softer (and lighter), BUT louder and more trebles-rich...

After about 300 km biking up and down Prealpi and Dolomiti mountains, I finally met the person in-charge for luthiery wood in Paneveggio, receiving every year luthiers from Japan, USA and Europe, ALL on Stradivarius path Maresciallo Zuglian is young BUT absolutely well informed and the little Wood Museum is still better than I remembered... a well-packed library concerning wood and luthiery in french, italian, english, german, japanese and samplers to get nut!

A very interesting place: we discussed in deep spruce harvesting, wood types and species (he confirmed that Picea Excelsa has dozens varieties...) BUT the Haselfichte and Steinfichte are really HERE and well booked by best luthiers worldwide from the previous year... but STOP talking and let's speak pixes...
Due to my primitiveness in pasting and hosting procedures, I herewith add some liner notes to the previous pixes...

A foreword to pixes:

- a sampler of "Haselfichte" how the loggers see it, at under-the-bark inspection... the "hasel/nocciuolo" is called, in italian "indentatura" (trad. "maschiatura").
- A quartesawn full Haselfichte log
- zig-zagging growing-rings in same log, Maresciallo Zuglian's finger pointing to the zig-zagging
- yours truly (Stefano) in biker-mode (w. iPod) in front of Wood Museum at Paneveggio
- a Paneveggio lanscape from 1900 m or so altitude
- last snow, with last 2200 m spruces
- Pale di San Martino from Passo Rolle (1984 m) - they looks soooo nice, Aconcagua-like...
- another landscape of Paneveggio/Val Venegia Forest

The forest is giving 12.000 cubic-metres per year, BUT only 6.600 are lumbered and logged - the Resonanzholz is only 20 cubic metres per year, Haselfichte are 0,5 c.m. per year... the total wood in the whole Forest is an hefty 600.000 cubic-metres!!!
A final, IMHO, word to "Haselfichte": Maresciallo Zuglian compared this VERY feature to "freckes" in men and women... not an illness but a Ireland it's fairly common, in Tunisia a rarity... you can find 50 "Haselfichte" in 1000 square metres and none in a whole forest! Nice, isn't it? Nothing related to stress, snow, winds, whatever... period!?!

Hope you'll enjoy story as I did in biking, shooting, talking to locals and learning about these fascinating topics.

Wood... a living material without whom almost no music would exists.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Roman did it again: one of his very best posts ever!

Bass horns, hypes and what really matters in sound reproduction

This man is really - this my sincere opinion - making more for the advancement of audio art than the 98,9 percent of audio buffs and gurus of whole Web, period.

Money and audio are like Devil vs. Holy Water... judging an audio system from its cost is awfully wrong!

Again: bass horns hypes - i.e. 16 hz from a, say, 3 meter mouth/6 meters long bass horn is hype... says nothing: it's an exercise.... in building and concept... a mind game.

Sometimes, maybe most of the times, the result could be more flawed than a LS3/5A properly tuned and optimized in a given room... but also a close friend may be in troubles - fearful to someway offend the owner of such a behemoth - in saying the truth - i.e. hinting to some "aural hassles"... the cost, you know... money, again, the enemy of our passion.

Unfortunately, people get trapped in very down-to-Earth facts - i.e. cost, first, and the often sincere involvement in the very task of going - at any cost - lower than, say, 30 hertz -2 db... it's utterly dangerous to say a brand new Ferrari is a noisy, uneasy, stiff car, you know! Same may happen for concrete horns...

... BUT an orchestra is - and will always be - a different stuff, ALWAYS!

I realized this few hours ago, during a chat with my friend Georges from Athens... more than a close friend of mine, he's the owner of one of the best sounding 4 ways horn systems I'm aware of... he recently attended to three symphonic concerts in a week and... well, he almost had blood from his nose and tears in his eyes, at the moving, amazing, yet so embarassingly easy sound of a full orchestra.

We can spend ZILLIONS bucks on our systems, BUT we'll always find the real orchestra vs. reproduced one like truer vs. a copy, more or less, but still a copy... this due to several gestalt-like matters: the uniqueness of event, being with other people, the strength and power of the real sound, yet easy, the sexy scent of the lady seated near to you... down to wearing a tuxedo and a black-tie;-)

It's scientifically proven black-ties helps and enhances musical enjoyment!

Seriously: it's like water... from our tap or from a mighty waterfall... water, just, ol' trusty, friendly H2O...

... better enjoying the "sense", the meaning of music... not saying I'm giving up in getting the most emotions I can from my audio system... but 120 percent sure the waterfall will always - emotionally - win vs. tap water!

Thanks Roman, thanks Georges...

An Audio Exhibition on Oct. 30th/31st and Nov. 1st in Athens - Greece

Το Avclub με χαρά ανακοινώνει

στα μέλη του Σωματείου "Λέσχη Φίλων Εικόνας Ήχου και Μουσικής", αλλά και στα μέλη του avclub forum

την συμμετοχή του στην HiEnd Show 2009

που θα διεξαχθεί στις 30-31 Οκτώβρη και 1 Νοέμβρη
στο ξενοδοχείο Athens Imperial που βρίσκεται στην πλατεία Καραϊσκάκη.

Η συμμετοχή του Avclub για τρίτη συνεχή χρονιά στη σημαντική αυτή εκδήλωση του χώρου του audio video θα μας δώσει την ευκαιρία να παρουσιάσουμε στο ευρύτερο κοινό τις δραστηριότητές μας και την προσφορά μας στην άρτια ενημέρωση των φίλων των οπτικοακουστικών χόμπυ.

Ήδη έχουν αρχίσει οι ετοιμασίες γιά μιά σημαντική παρουσία.

δωρεάν διάθεση προσκλήσεων για τα μέλη του Avclub με κατέβασμα της από το αντίστοιχο banner της Κεντρικής μας σελίδας

Η οργανωτική επιτροπή ήδη δίνει αγώνα για να σας υποδεχθεί και να σας εκπλήξει ευχάριστα.
Ελάτε να γνωριστούμε και από κοντά.

Τα μέλη της διοργανωτικής επιτροπής

Happy Listenings to Georges, Manolis, Panos, Kostas, Kostas and all the Greek friends.

La Folia by Gregorio Paniagua on Harmonia Mundi

If a perfect record exists, this is "La Folia" by Gregorio Paniagua and his ensemble.

Rivers of ink have been spent on this record since its issue in early '70s: the Land Rover sound, the bells, the toy weapons shots... a dream and a nightmare for every audio columnist and reviewer and for every audiophile worldwide.

The recordist, monsieur Jean-Francois Pontefract, masterfully recorded it somewhere in the quiet French countryside, in an old church (the bells...)... various birds singing and crickets are well audible throughout the whole recording...

During the magnificient bell sound, these birds are someway disturbed and their singing and screaming is beautifully intervowen with the bells...

Sitar, vihuelas, tablas, big frame drums, flutes and recorders with some jokes with "sifflets" and other weird percussions and objects are played along the disc...

Yesterday evening, after a very long, difficult day, I had an "in toto" listening to a disk of this very recording in Gotorama... still using the Radford HD-250 with the Just Quality CD-player... can't imagine a cheapest audio chain... yet the sound, the final musical result was AWESOME: not the ultimate in harmonic and details retrival, but AWESOME in dynamics and timbric correctness!

My dog, as myself, at ignition sound of the Land Rover, so true in dimensions and trueness - like a Model 88 appeared between my speakers - were SO surprised... Chicco woofed and myself... had goosebumps;-)

Every sound, musical or a noise recorded in this Harmonia Mundi's production is so vivid, so fulgid and amazingly beautiful... maybe it's not the most moving music, as the "Folia" melody recorded and re-re-recorded as it was played during a period of time spanning several centuries is not a musical peak in itself, nonetheless, the Paniaguas' with Pontefract's support were able to blissfully pass the joyous musical atmosphere of the gathering which happened in that June of 36 years ago...

... and we - the listeners - are still able to hear when the recording happened: some tracks are recorded at noon, some others in the evening, as it's clearly audible from the difference in outer church noises, as captured by the microphones - i.e. more crickets sounds and less birds singing.

A masterpiece... if, like myself, you hadn't a listen in years to this, it's well worth undusting the disc and enjoy.

Monday, October 26, 2009

WJAAS - Italian tour for Imai-san & Audio Tekne or a (Lorenzo) Zen experience

As promised, in time like a Shinkansen, Imai-san arrived at Schio, Northern Italy, hosted by the great, witty, classy Lorenzo Zen.

He introduced Audio Tekne's products to the press people last Saturday, 23rd - he talked about building quality, prices and - how he often does - about a paragon with zest-like, after a storm, crystal clear mountains view and the sound of music through an Imai-san's audio system.

Zen, "de facto";-)))

Meeting Imai-san, this time with the support of a professional, Japanese/Italian translator, have been a pleasure, a relaxing one, after some communication stress during my japanese trip.

The systems presented at Zen's place were the top-of-the-line carbon-block made "bookshelf" with a beautiful ALE tweeter and the mid-sized "big" speakers-system with a square Tractrix mid-horn, a three ways system, all using A.L.E.'s drivers.

Carbon-block turntable, amps and preamps were present, as were the two importers: one for accessories (carbon block, cables, headshells, disc clamps, cartridges) and one for the full-line of amps and ancillary electronics and turntables...

The sound from both system was, like I already appreciated in the past, very pleasant, true and understated in his almost naked, algid naturalness: not shouted, but - also at normal listening levels - very understandable, I'd say...

The dynamics from a piano-solo were right, with a shiny single-notes character, while the recording was sort-of slightly "down-scaling" the grand-piano size... that's what was on the disc and what I heard.

Nonetheless, a nice, NICE experience...

The sad thing is that the newspapers giving an echo to this very event, were claiming about the "most expensive system in the world"... not an hinting to building quality, audio aesthetic and philosophy behind these products and the like.

Must also add this: with "that" price-tag, you're not buying a piece of gear, but the vision and dream of an artisan: you want it, you pay for it. Same as an Aston Martin DB6 or a Lamborghini Gallardo.

No further comment needed...

The romantic, passionate Lorenzo Zen - fortunately - made all the referring to Music he was able to do.

Clever... or, better, "Bravo!"

Thursday, October 22, 2009

... further considerations about MC transformers... (from a chatting with Steve Clarke)

Please allow me to play the romantic role in this serious, technical matter... you already know, from previous chatting, my "ear-first" approach... I'm unfortunately too low tech-headed to use a different approach and consider the MC-trannies listening and swapping a very interesting and enriching experience in itself... BUT, how do you explain that, also using a given tailored, correct transformer matching, same ratio, almost same shielding, external size and materials... THEY ALL SOUND VERY DIFFERENT? WHY?!?

The great Walt Bender, one of my fave audio scholars ever, explains this as a cause of the copper AWG used - so important, tension used in winding - VERY important, core shape, size and material - a big transformer doesn't sound big, like a miniature doesn't sound limited or too little and vice-versa... so, again, it's not a matter of Sowter, Lundhal, Bent, Uesugi, Western Electric, Beyer, RCA, UTC, Peerless or JS, names mean NOTHING, only but care and knowledge used are paramount... IME, usually: the older, the better... because in the Hey-Days they used to care... every detail was carefully worked out and techeads proudly wore white uniforms... only trained, experienced personell was used for cleverly wind up the top of the line audio and studio gears... a little gizmo was SO important in the whole, final quality of - i.e. an Ampex 350 or an MR 70 tape-recorders, costing like an apartament, back in the '60s... also the 20-20.000 hz dogma isn't saying all!

How do you explain that, for example, WE 618-B, Peerless 4611 and Peerless 4685, three VERY old - almost 50 years old design and manufacture - trannies, despite being maybe a little noisy (hissy), are the MOST MUSICAL I ever listened to?

When I try to describe their sound, I compare the listening to the music played in an old wooden room, where music is emerging from a rich, fat, "greasy" noise-floor, not an anechoic electronic desert - common in some modern boutique MC-trannies - i.e. - Ortofon, Fidelity Research et al. - BUT an humus-like, solid background, harmonically rich and detailed, yet very pleasant, ear and music-friendly... Solid Air, would say the late John Martyn...

The above MC-transformers are not forgiving, rounded, or worst, bandwidth limited... only different and to my ears and in my system, always the best sounding - I 'm a musician and concert-goer, so I know a violin is different from a viola - BUT I saw a friend, an audiophile with scarce concert-going background, saying: "WOW... this violin is SO muddy!" and... we were listening to Maestro Uto Ughi in Bach's Solos played on a Stradivarius... I was amazed, but also I was aware my friend never really experienced a "real violin" before!

So: the task is obtaining true-to-life music at home... nothing more, nothing less... not an easy task.

... enough material to speculate and to think about, isn't it?

P.S. - a grateful, sincere "THANKS!" to Joseph Esmilla for his invaluable, superb site, his so kind support when asked for and tons of hints on MC-transformers, etc.

Western Electric 618-A/B

... from DIY Forum discussion board "The Lab":

"Be warned, as with anything this expensive, there are fakes out there, fakes that would fool an experienced WE dealer at a long glance.

The official reference data says it has a mag shield, but no reference to an electrostatic shield.
30/250/600 : 25K
total DCR 214:2680
average of 19 HY inductance on low winding
30-15K rated response

I have seen DCR measurements of 9.9/213/(222 total) : 1145/1642/(2k78 total) for the windings.
Also seen 9.6/202/(212 total) : 1100/1530/(2k63 total)

There is a secondary center tap that I only see used in one amp for PP operation. All other examples use the full winding SE.

I've heard from some old timers who worked at the WE plant here that it was an extremely difficult wind, by all accounts."

This once quite cheap mic-trannies, now much sought-after for MC-phono cartridges, are among the VERY best sounding with low impedance moving coils cartridges.

Prices are reaching higher and higher peaks... only, worth repeating: beware of fakes, relabelled, artificially aged replicas.

Some past auctions...

A correctly priced WE 618B on Ebay

... and another hideously priced WE 618B on Ebay

... and a recent - still going on, actually - one...

WE 618A in a beautiful custom case

Is it worth the risk (of fakes or shorted/damaged units), hassle, cost, etc.? Cannot say...

... what I say is I wish to everyone loving beautiful sound to find a pair for cheap...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Harman's managed Studer or the end of Swiss quality manufacturing?

An interesting blog

No comment... but as a proud owner and user of Studer's and Revox' gears since my boyhood I don't feel too confortable reading this.

... more Thomas Mayer's stuffs...

Thomas just sent to me these pixes of his own phono/LCR preamp using the sought-after Telefunken EC 8020, this time using Tango-clones' LCR modules (I guess made in The Netherlands)..

A Mondrian-like beautiful piece of audio gear, indeed... also 120 percent sure sounding amazing.

People need more of these...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Horns around the World (2)

I found today - while having my almost daily read to Romy the Cat's forum last posts - this nice pix, something which reminds me about the pixes my wife took last January during her travel to Cambodia and Laos - i.e. - some young monks grooving around a battery-fed amp using a battered, yet cool horn speaker... Horns around the World

There is something ancient, amusing, eroic, proud - despite the basic environment - almost epic... something which hints about brotherhood in music, sense of surreal or something... also if the picture itself could be used for less romantic meanings, it's still - in its self-explanatory completness - purer than any chatting.

I like it...

Monday, October 19, 2009

Thomas Mayer's preamp: almost finished...

... quite impressive pictures... also with the still missing wooden cabinets and non definitive input selector and TVC-knobs (I'm preparing something weird for these!)

Does audio smell?

Definitely, yes!

Last Saturday my old, trusty Marantz 7C's volume control gave up, after 42 years of untired, faithful service.

Fortunately, I found on Ebay a N.O.S. spare-part - an Allen-Bradley's "Type J" 500Kohm carbon-film double pot and, most important, on the very same day of the failure... not for cheap, BUT, hey... the very same as used in my 7C preamp, not a shitty (China) made and sounding plastic-foil pot.

In the meantime, waiting for the spare-part arrival, I connected to my speakers, an old, yet perfectly kept Radford HD-250 integrated amp.

Sound was not bad for such an "El Cheapo", old glory stuff... it worked for about 4 hours on Saturday and about twice yesterday, Sunday.

When I entered in my music room, I was caught by a new, strange smell... oh, oh... ;-)

Not the usual smell of vinyl, carton disc-covers, books paper, the vibes deadening black bituminous material on Goto's horns and some plants & earth good wet, miniature jungle-like smell... not only... a new smell was here.

I realized in few seconds the Radford, at working temperature, was heating the room, filling it with its inner components smell, like a sweating "man at work".

The HD-250's Partridge's transformer with its resin, copper and glues, plus the caps and the old resistors slightly warmed inside the amp chassis... all this was blending in a pleasant, yet "industrial" parfume... "Eau de Radford";-)))

Furthermore, like a perfect audio lunatic... yes, I did it... I smelled ALL my audio gears... the Partrdige's 300B with paper-in-oil smelled slightly of wood only, the Marantz 7C and the Revox G-36 had a VERY similar tubes/carbon resistors and old Bumble Bee's caps... a sweet, old-timey dusty, warm cork/tobacco-like smell.

The Studer A-730 disk player, the Studer B-67 and the Telefunken M-15A open-reels, all these pro gears have a similar olfattive "modern" footprint... maybe the Siemens' caps and the rubber belts or the oil in some motors or rotating parts...

The Philips and Bang & Olufsen CD players have a mostly electrical quality - i.e. like slightly "baked wire" mixed with a "baked plastic", not the best of essences, almost an android fart;-)

The EMT 930st has a strong oil-smell with some (pulley) warm rubber notes... the Garrard 301/Shindo smells only of warm (pulley) rubber.

Last but not least, the Goto speakers are a true symphony for the nose... dust;-))), as usual, and the bitumen, a mix between rubber, a swamp (sic!) and a Latakia tobacco & wet-tarmac scent;-)

It's a very power-plant, Metropolis' hinting kind-of smell, an industrial-with-a soul nose experience... like these gears own a soul.

Going lunatic, completely nut?

Maybe the "polenta & funghi" (wild mushrooms and corn-cream), last evening at dinner...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

6-year-old boy floats away in balloon aircraft

"From Associated Press
October 15, 2009 2:46 PM EDT

FORT COLLINS, Colorado - A 6-year-old boy climbed into a homemade balloon aircraft and floated away Thursday, forcing officials to scramble to figure out how to rescue the boy.

Live footage from a local TV helicopter showed the balloon gliding quickly through the air.

Larimer County sheriff's spokeswoman Eloise Campanella says the device, which is shaped like a flying saucer, has the potential to rise to 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). Sheriff's officials last saw the device floating south of Milliken, which is about 40 miles (64 kilometers) north of Denver.

Campanella says the 6-year-old climbed into the access door and was in the airborne device.

FAA spokesman Mike Fergus says the agency has been notified and it was unclear whether traffic controllers had picked it up on radar."

I sincerely hope nobody will be hurted, but... a little, poetic short-trousers Munchausen-like story?!?

(written at a later date)

... no, nothing like this... the young rebel was hidden in the garage!

What a pity;-)

Casting out Nines - Analog vs. digital & speakers vs. headphones or the sound of air

It possibly happened to everyone, out there... sometimes our music-system sounds below par after the last gathering with friends, the evening before...

Great enjoyment, involving sound few hours before and then... a distorting ghetto blaster today!

My very own quality proofing is, like for everyone, related to some specific records, but also to a sort-of feeling - i.e. if a disk sounds MUCH better than same disc when played on my turntable... oh, oh... there is something wrong.

Yes, it's old stuff... digital vs. analog... hardcore lovers for both formats and media, BUT, nonetheless, a good vinyl is usually - and far more - more natural, right to the ears and involving than a good disk.

It happened many times... wrong platter mat, VTA, cartridge/arm matching, MC transformer, plinth material, armbase material, cables, feedback from vibes, out-of-phase mains plugs, etc... down to air humidity variations;-)

The sound coming from a turntable has so many mind-boggling variants I'm sweating only to think to them all;-)

I'm not saying I'm "using" digital format to reach, via-fiddling and fine-tuning the analog rig, the same sound coming from disk... but I'm sure saying a bell rings and gives a direction in correcting things.

Trying to make it clearer, the sound - a real, low frequency sounding, air column - of a pump coming from an ancient organ in an old church in an arly '60s Deutsche Gramophone's or in Mark Levinson's superb organ recordings discs own a richness and true-to-life character hard to be beaten when the turntable (and whole system) is "right" you simply can't be wrong.

It's like all the above mentioned possible shortcomings be able to cancel or damage the most important, yet delicate, fragile shades of life, the subtleties in sound and ambient debrises still "here" in the recording, which give or not this very breathe of trueness to any music reproduction at home, approaching the sense of being fooled, surprised, moved like during a real performance.

Gestalt topics, more than audio... this reminds me to "21 grams", the 2003 movie with Sean Penn and Naomi Watts about the (possible) weight of the soul... metaphysical more than science, here too, but, I swear, after educating your sense - i.e. knowing what to look for (listen to) - the lacking or presence of "air" and better details in a recording it's something everyone is able to feel.

Same happens with the following... try to listen to a record you know and like with a good quality earphones and then re-try to listen to the same recording through your speakers: the more differences you'll find and recognize, the more you'll have to work on SEVERAL aspects and levels at your music system.

Apart the body/couch vibes, the headphones are, usually, maybe most of the times, winning on speakers as overall better musical and audio experience.

The more you go ahead in your search for quality, the more this gap becomes narrow, almost non-existing.

Nothing new under the sun, pals... but both the above are true musical/audio "casting out nines" proofs, so cheap, yet simple to seems silly, don't you?!?!

The Analog Dept.

Look at this very picture, actually a self-portrait of Steve Clarke: he's the Admin and man behind "The Analog Dept" great site fully devoted to audio, and, most of all, analog (vinyl, open reel tape, cartridges, turntables, etc...).

He passionately and untireless manages this very site keeping in good order the load of pictures and texts concerning audio and related at home, which people from virtually every continent send to him, editing this mess in a readable, entertaining, pleasant, classy format. A truly worth reading.

Always humble and positive, Steve's kindness is immense.

A friend.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Her Majesty the Mighty 851 - Triode's Triode - Thomas Mayer's new project

Thomas Mayer is at work, in parallel with my own WE 437/LCR/801A preamp and other projects for other friends (for example a 10Y driving a 300B amp...), with a one-of-a-kind super-power amp based on one of the most exotic and mighty triodes ever built...

A tube whose size and data-sheet is able to give fearful shivers to any DIYer worldwide...

Thomas, like Daniele (High Tension) Ansaloni, is among the few able to respectfully manage such a monster...

Here below follows some Thomas' writing on the matter... a quite technical dissertation, with the management of soft-start to tame the HUGE thirst of power this very tube needs and the like.

A very intriguing niche topic from a braveheart builder I'm proud to know.

"I'm actually in the process of planning and building an amplifier with the 851 triode. It will be a design with two towers, one housing the amp and one for the power supply.

The amp tower will consist of 2 subchassis, the bottom one carrying the output transformer and last LC-filter stage for the 851 B+. The upper chassis will hold dirver stage, bias adjustment and DC-filament filters.
The 851 will be mounted vertically between those two chassis.

I choose the 211 as driver which will be transformer coupled to the 851. Autput transformer is a Lundahl 1688 PP which will be parafeed coupled.
The amp will be adjustable so that the smalle 849 can also be used.

Power supply will consist of 3 subchassis: One for the DC supplies (both the 211 and 851 will be DC heated with a LCL filter arrangement). next is one for the HV supplies, separate bridge rectifiers with 4 866As each for the 851 and 211. Last is the chassis for bias supply.

I just finished design of an on/off sequencer which will turn the amp on in 7 steps:

1. rectifier filaments
2. triode filaments
3. bias supply
4. driver B+ soft start
5. driver B+ full on
6. 851 B+ soft start
7. amp full on.

The amp will be switched off in reverse order. Sequencer control is done in analog fashion with relais and RC timeconstants.

B+ will be adjustable in 6 steps to allow various op point settings.

I plan to monitor everything with vintage style panel meters:

211 filament voltage and current
851 filament voltage and current
211 and 851 B+ plate volatges and currents
Bias voltage

All power transformers and chokes are custom made and are already available except for a few. Especially the chokes for the 851 filaments are huge, about 10kgs each.

Construction of the amps will progress over the next 3-6 months. If you are interested I will post pictures as things are progressin.


The amp will consist of 4 chassis, separate amplifiers and power supply for each channel. The amplifier section will consist of two chassis vertically arranged above each other. The 851 tube will be placed in between them. Driver tube 211 and interstage transformer Tango NC 20 on top.

The chassis will be made out of wooden frames with metal plates on top and bottom. The 4 towers will be 40 by 40 cm and about 1 m high each. (ndt - YES: ONE METER TALL!)
The power supply rack will consist of 3 sub chassis: HV supply holding 8 866A tubes arranged in a cricle, filament supplies and bias supply.

The sequencer is done in analog fashion, mainly with relays. The time delays are obtained by LM317s with an RC timeconstant at the adjust pins. The time between the steps can be adjusted by resistors. The turn off sequence is independent from the turn on sequence and is done in pure passive fashion, also settable by resistors. At the end of the turn off sequence the circuit switches itself off, so it does not need any stand by power.

The sequencer provides trigger signals for each step which can be used for example to control the soft start of orher circuits. In parallel for each of the power supplies the mains for the various supply transformers is already switched by realys directly on the sequencer.

I also included 6 independent sense inputs which can be used to monitor filament and bias voltages. Is any of those not present, the amp will shut down. Also over current conditions can be checked.

I designed a PCB for the sequencer which is currently been manufactured. I expect to get it next week.

Another important feature is the high voltage soft start. I will place a TV damper tube in the ground return of the 866A rectifier bridge. When the HV AC is applied to the bridge, the TV dampers heater is turned on at the same time. Once the TV damper is fully conducting, it will be bypassed by a relay and turned off. For this the softstart circuit receives trigger signals from the sequencer.

Next ist a selector for different high voltage secondary taps of the power transformer. So the tube can be run at lower voltages as well. I found special high voltage relays. To avoid accidental switching of the high voltage taps while the amp is on, I added some protection circuitry. The HV selector is connected to the sequencer. At turn on it reads out the selector switch at step two the selection is stored. And at step three the selection circuit gets disconnected from the rotary switch. Again old fashion style with relays only.

For Softstart and HV selection also PCBs have been designed and are also expected from the manufacturer next week."

WOW! Have a look to the pixes, please... Gary Kaufmann with an 851 (Ed Sawyer's) in hand(s)... better in arms, and Thomas comparing 851, 849 and... the "smaller", at left side, not an ECC83, BUT a 211!!!