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Sound Practices Magazine Online!
Sound Practices Magazine Online!
Casual Reactions
Who made me? Everybody's talking... I think it is art.
Article By Herb Reichert, Audio Note NYC
From Sound Practices Issue 10, Winter 1995

 

Casual Reactions... I think it is art by Herb Reichert

 

Who Made Me?
Reckon me this Sound Practices readers. "Who in world of audio fringe persons am I writing for?" The editor is not deep into  market research and Joyce just says they get letters from a "broad spectrum". So who in audio hell is reading this and what are they really interested in? My best guess is that you guys are really smart (or at least hard working), really love music and are probably more than a little eccentric. In any event, let me start by thanking you and SP for giving me the opportunity to learn to write and practice my shaving on someone else's beard.

I don't know your faces, I have never been in your basements, so I just write about my  own experiences, hoping there is something that I have done or learned that will inspire  others to action. A lot of audio writers hope to educate and opinionate their readers. Me?  I would rather see some action. I want to see people finish an article, then get up and do SOMETHING! Try something new and learn from the experiment. I do not believe I can teach anybody anything. What I can do is suggest actions and experiments that might lead the reader to his own discoveries. For me, learning to write is about learning how I can be of service.

You may not realize this, but SP is maybe the most esoteric magazine in the world. Directly heated triodes, bright emitters, dull emitters, Tractrix horns, big chunks of air-gapped ceramic leaf steel, paper in oil condensers, ion-transfer capacitors, beeeeeeeee serious! Try to talk to some new fashionable acquaintance about this stuff. They be pulling their hat down and putting up their hood and crossing the street next time they see you. This is a very serious problem. So, let me tell you about how YOU changed the history of audio and while you may be a little weird you can sleep peacefully with the thought that you contributed to an important cultural change.

 

Everybody's Talking...
Single-ended triodes and horns five years ago I couldn't give them away. Ten years ago even J.C. Morrison was laughing. Joe Roberts was selling Krell and Gordon Rankin was designing mainframe computers. To say things have changed is an understatement. SP readers have changed the history of audio. For the first time ever, an industry has been transformed from the bottom up. A true revolution of the hi-fl proletariat.

In this case, the revolution started in basements of the audio poor and is now on the tables of manufacturers' boardrooms. Manufacturers did not invent SE triodes as the latest and greatest ploy to extract your savings. Reviewers did not "call" for a change. How come nobody in the audio mainstream 'noticed' what was going on in Japan for the last 20 years? All the big guys like Krell, Audio Research, CJ, etc. go to Japan every year for the trade shows. Did any of them come back and say, "Hey, you won't believe what I heard?" There was an audio 'cold war'.

That is how this single-ended triode "new dawn" began. A few western culture music lovers with open minds heard (or heard about) Japanese style 'ultra-fl' systems and built their own and the concept spread one  record at a time, one music lover at a time. Up from the basements and into the living  rooms. About two years ago I swore I could hear men all over America yelling at each other, "Yeeow! This is amazing. You are telling me this is 5 watts? No feedback? You're nuts! If you build another amp, can I buy this one from you?"

Peter Qvortrup and Jean Hiraga were the early Western pioneers of SE amps and efficient speakers in the UK and Europe. Later, Herb Reichert, Dennis Had and Gordon Rankin started manufacturing SE 300B amps in the U.S. And the whole time, the entrenched giants of the market were laughing about it at the same time, you guys, the SP readers, started soldering and sawing and demonstrating the 'new way' to so many people on a local scale that the mainstream press had no choice but to notice.

Now, Carver Corporation makes high power solid-state amps with the "soul of a 9 watt triode" and Jadis makes SE 300B amps. Think about it. What many of you discovered for yourselves alone at night has affected the thinking and products of an industry giant like Carver... and this is just getting started!

The most amazing aspect of this is the WHY it happened not the HOW. Nothing in the history of American hi-fi is nearly so radical as this triode/horn revolution. You see, this is NOT A "RETRO" MOVEMENT. Before Ongaku no company ever sold a directly-heated, single-ended triode product in the American high-end market. Sansui and Pioneer sold economy-model single-ended receivers in the 1960s and Brook sold 2A3 push-pull amps in the fifties and that is it folks. The Western Electric gear was lease-only and went into theaters. As far as American music lovers sitting in front of SE triode amps listening to recorded music, you are the beginning.

 

Sound Practices Issue 10

 

The mainstream reviewers who are in a last minute scramble to get hip about SE triodes are hooking these flea powered amps to stupid, slow, long excursion, low impedance speakers and saying they are "nice and sweet and pretty" but maybe "not too accurate". WRONG! These amps are lightspeed fast and trace signals like super race cars. A well-designed single-ended amp is so much more accurate than its hi-fi ancestors it is shameful! What you are getting with these amps is gobs more information. More leading edge definition. More harmonic development. More color and texture.

The reason people are so taken when they live with a quality SE design is these amps do not lose the vibratory life force of the music. These amps recover a breathy sort of energy that pressurizes the room, even with small speakers. You know the effect, when you put the tonearm down on the record  and you can feel the room pressurize even  before the orchestra starts playing. This is  the magic of the triode horn experience. The triode thing is not about fun or nostalgia it is about heartbeat, rhythm and intensity. It is about music that LIVES.

Here is the real joke. I predict that by the end of 1996 you will see the big backlash. The old guard, royalist, solid-state feedback rammer jammers will be engaged in a slam campaign. Instead of looking ahead, being creative, and trying to enhance musical culture in the home, they will be defending the technological monarchy. I am predicting a real war of concepts. The big tube companies like CJ and Audio Research will bring out 300B amps, because they have no choice. There a no more quality 6550s or EL-34s and there are few new engineering concepts to apply to this technology (in 1995).

The solid-state guys will have to make some serious 'kick ass thumping' power amps because they know that this is the one and only thing they might have over triodes forget finesse, we got the slam! The nearsighted speaker manufacturers will be going Chapter 11 (as usual) and the reviewers that hooked their wagons to the wrong horses will be looking for new day jobs.

 

I Think It Is Art
Triodes and horns are capturing the imagination because they let us like music again and because they are beautiful to look at. Personally, I would pay $20 just to see a picture of an all-out Japanese horn system. Check out Ikeda's system on the horn speaker home page! What fantastic shapes! Boxes and panels can never excite the sculptural aesthetic like a horn. An EL-34 will never touch a 300B or 211 tube for cachet. Transistors look boring. Triodes look Frankenstein wild. They will never make a coffee table picture book of solid-state amps or box speakers. They make them for triodes. The simple SE circuit schematics are also beautiful. SE circuit design is not about damage control and error correction, it is about preserving the ecology of the music signal. Make it more and more simple and use better and better parts.

Pioneers in single-ended amp design seek to preserve the 'continuousness' of the music. They work to rid music reproduction of the mechanical and the electronic artifact. I am convinced that most of us had let high-end audio distract us from the structure of the music and the inspiration of the performance. The single-ended amps of today are only the beginning. The door is open just a crack and I believe that you people, the brave radical ones, who read this magazine are the ones who opened the door. Thank you all for getting up from your chairs and doing something important. When the history of 20th century audio is written you can say you were there at the front line.

 

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