Vacuum Tube Valley
Vacuum Tube Valley is a beautifully published and illustrated magazine, and deeply aware of the long and distinguished history of vacuum tubes. The editor, Charlie Kittleson, wisely avoids the SE vs PP religious war that has divided the vacuum-tube enthusiasts, and seriously compares well-restored "Golden Age" equipment with modern DIY enthusiast efforts. But the real glory of the magazine are the superb vacuum-tube retrospectives ... 2A3, 845, 300B, 6SN7, 6L6, and all the "classics." You may not agree with some of the subjective preferences of the writers (par for the course in audio writing), but there's no argument about the historical research or the quality of the artwork.
Disclaimer: I wrote the previous paragraph back in the last century, before Charlie offered me the job as Technical Editor of the magazine (no, I wasn't brown-nosing with the previous piece, I've been a subscriber since the first issue). I still feel that way about the magazine - and maybe one of these years Charlie will start publishing again (the current issue is about two years late). However, he still has ample stocks of the first two year's issues - if I were you, I'd buy the complete set while he still has them. This magazine is the English-language equivalent of "MJ" - 'nuff said, OK?
Audio Amateur Publishing
PO Box 576
Peterborough, NH, 03458-0576
(603) 924-9464 Voice
(603) 924-9467 Fax
Glass Audio, Speaker Builder, and (solid-state) Audio Electronics are now one magazine, audioXpress, a magazine aimed at the entire hi-fi builder/enthusiast community. This takes us full circle right back to the classic DIY magazine of the early Seventies, Audio Amateur, and by the same publisher, Ed Dell. That makes it 30-plus years that Mr. Dell has enriched the audio community with articles from the leading designers in audio ... Erno Borbeley, Joe D'Appolito, Vance Dickason, Nelson Pass, Eric Barbour, Reg Williamson, Nobu Shiseido, and many others.
The Audio Amateur magazines are excellent resources for information on new and old circuits and speaker designs. For direct-heated triode fans, check out the Nobu Shiseido articles in Vols. 6-1 and 9-3 of Glass Audio; his side comments on using the singing voice as a reference standard are worthy of close examination and re-reading. All of the Norman Crowhurst reprints are of exceptional merit and a must-read for anyone who cares about good electronic design. Yours truly appears in Vol. 9-4 of Glass Audio, discussing the harmonic spectra of different amplifier topologies and their relationship to the sonic character of the amplifier.
Old Colony Sound Lab
305 Union Street PO Box 243
Peterborough, NH, 03458-0243
(603) 924-6371 Voice
(603) 924-6526 Voice
(603) 924-9467 Fax
If the Ariel website is above your head, do yourself a big favor and please buy a copy of Vance Dickason's "Loudspeaker Design Cookbook" from Old Colony Sound (BKAA2-V). By the time you understand the material in Vance's book, the contents of the Ariel page (which is intended for advanced builders only) will become much clearer. If you are ambitious, get Martin Colloms' book "High Perfomance Loudspeakers" (BKW1). If you plan to design your own speakers from scratch, get the full set of AES Anthologies, Volumes One through Four (BKAS1/1, 1/2, 1/3, 1/4). This material is not optional for serious speaker designers.
Speaker design takes years of dedicated study, and is not the kind of thing that can be answered in an e-mail response. Sorry, it can't be done! You wouldn't expect to learn UNIX in a single e-mail, would you? Well, high-quality speaker design is every bit as complex as UNIX device driver code. The Ariel Web page describes only one possibility; thousands more are possible. Your chances for lasting satisfaction with do-it-yourself speakers are far greater once you understand how they work. This takes more than a theoretical understanding; it requires measurement tools, the know-how to use them, and a sonic familiarity with the sound of live, unamplified instruments.
In addition to books, Old Colony also carries a wide range of audio items (like the essential ProSonus Studio Reference CD, US$69.95, CDSA1) and many kits for projects published in Audio Amateur, Glass Audio, and Speaker Builder magazines. They also carry the IMP and LAUD speaker test software, which are the right low-cost measurement solutions if you are serious about designing and building speakers for yourself. Why guess the response of the speaker if you can measure it accurately with a PC and a sound card?
Positive Feedback Magazine
A Journal of High-End Audio
This is the place where the complete series of the "Soul of Sound" articles first saw the light of day. PF has writers and editors covering all aspects of the high-end, ultra-fi, and recording industries. As a result of this editorial approach and the spirit of co-operation within the PF community, it has a broader reach than the "big two" audio magazines, and covers design, philosophy, reviews, recordings, and just about anything interesting and/or funny. PF has no "party line", so don't expect the writers to all agree with each other ... as one of the PF editors myself, I know for a fact they don't!
North Creek Music Systems
Main Street, PO Box 1120
Old Forge, NY, 13420
(315) 369-2500 Fax/Voice
North Creek is now offering the Ariel and ME2 in kit form, as well as top-quality parts for building your own projects. They offer the Zen metallized polypropylene, the Harmony 625V 1.0uF polypropylene, and the Crescendo film-and-foil polypropylene capacitors, as well as Ohmite 1% non-inductive wirewound resistors, 10, 12, and 14 gauge high-purity air-core inductors, and the best of the drivers from the Vifa and Scan-Speak driver line.
The George Short-designed projects offered in the catalog are similar in build quality and refinement to high-end systems selling for $5,000 to $12,000 retail, and have interesting little details rarely seen in commercial offerings.
Madisound Speaker Components
8608 University Green
Madison, WI, 53744-4283
(608) 831-3433 Voice
(608) 831-3771 Fax
I can't emphasis enough that the Ariel and ME2 are extremely advanced projects that demand the best associated components. If all you have is a transistor amp, the Ariels and ME2 are not really the best choice. If you've never built a "difficult" speaker before, don't even think about building them!
That's where a good outfit like Madisound comes in. Their kits are well-designed, easy to build, and sound good with transistor electronics. Not only that, the folks in Wisconsin are friendly, have detailed spec sheets for the very wide range of drivers they carry, and offer an extensive range of ready-to-build kits.
Want to combine XYZ woofer with an ABC tweeter - don't ask me - ask Madisound! They have an excellent crossover-design service for a very modest charge. And don't kid yourself you can fake a crossover without a sophisticated measurement system: you can't. It takes serious instrumentation and computer analysis to even get the crossover in the ballpark. Without that, the money you spend on fancy drivers is wasted - for that matter, expensive and exotic drivers actually have rougher response than the drivers in the Ariel, and demand a more complex and sophisticated crossover that's precisely matched to the drivers. Madisound will sell you the drivers, and take care of the most difficult aspect of speaker design for you.
Last but not least, Madisound also has the many other bits-n-pieces needed for a complete loudspeaker, including Deflex damping pads for the interior of the loudspeaker cabinet. The FTP-able Madisound BBS has many public-domain and shareware programs for loudspeaker design.
Interesting items for European builders, with a fascinating selection of specialty Scan-Speak drivers. It is the first place I heard of the D2905/9500 and 9700 tweeter, and is also the home of a custom Scan-Speak 18W carbon-fiber midbass with a 11 ohm impedance, specifically intended for use in parallel-connected pairs.
To visit these goodies, click on the Website shown above, then navigate over to the left frame, scroll down, and click on "Chassis". That should get you to the full Scan-Speak driver line. The A.O.S. Studio 90 looks like a very good update of a classic speaker, the TDL 90. Anyone that's ever heard an IMF or TDL speaker knows the unique qualities of transmission-line bass. TDL bass combined with Scan-Speak mid and treble should be something to hear.
Michael Percy Audio
Michael specializes in the hard-to-get parts that appear in the most exotic audiophile and ultra-fi equipment in the world. Want to get Yamamura wire, Rel-Cap polystyrenes, Black Gate carbon-fiber electrolytics, Caddock and Mills resistors, and Deflex damping pads? It's all here.
Ekornes of Norway
(At better furniture stores)
Hey, stop slouching in that couch! You've devoted all that time, money, and energy getting your hi-fi to sound good, so why not relax and enjoy it? Besides, if you're physically tense, your hearing won't be as attentive and pleasurable (really true, folks).
The Stressless chairs are to a sofa or ordinary chair what ultra-fi system is to home theater. All I need to do is get a review sample for a (very extended) in-home review, and I've got it made.
Interesting Ultra-Fi Sites
AVVT Vacuum Tubes
Alesa Vaic is one of the pioneers of the direct-heated triode (DHT) revolution, introducing the VV30B in the early Nineties. The VV30B, an enhanced version of the classic Western Electric 300B, was the first new-design DHT in more than 50 years. There are now several companies making modern versions of the 2A3 and 300B, such as KR, JJ Electronics, Svetlana, and the Chinese vendors, but AVVT continues to revive extremely rare and desirable DHT's (antique mesh-plates and European classics), as well as creating entirely new designs such as the AV5, AV8, and AV20.
The photo shows the AVVT mesh-plate 2A3 that is the talk of the ultra-fi folks. Nobody really knows why, but mesh-plate tubes sound different than identical tubes with solid plates. (Electrons rebounding off the solid plates and affecting the space charge around the grid? Who knows?) In any event, in addition to novel and very interesting tubes, the site itself is out of the ordinary, and covers circuits, hard-to-find parts, various discussions about the ultra-fi world, and has links to diverse parts of the Net. Well worth a visit and an extended browse.
This website is a shrine to the remarkable all-transformer-coupled amplifiers of Sakuma-san. Check out the "300B push-pull/300B push-pull end Pre-Main Amplifier" - this is a mono integrated amplifier with a built-in RIAA section. You think the the picture is surprising? Check out the schematic! This confection was featured in Japan's largest audio magazine in June 1988.
Way back in 1977, the editor of MJ magazine had the courage to open the pages of Japan's leading audiophile magazine to a designer who said "Farewell to Theory." Click here to find out more about the Sakuma philosophy.
Well, true, Thom Mackris is my neighbor and hifi pal, but that doesn't change the fact he makes a damn good turntable - which sounds especially stunning with the Schroeder Reference and Tri-Planar arms, and the ZYX Universe and Dynavector VX-1s cartridges. Before you shell out a lot of money, buy a ticket on Frontier Airlines and come visit us in Boulder, Colorado. (Actually, we're neighbors in a little town called Erie, about 15 miles east of Boulder, and 25 miles north of Denver.)
Since going to the European Triode Festival and hearing Christian Rintelen's EMT930, and more recently, the turntable that Thom makes, I've had my eyes opened about the real high-end. That's why I'm strongly recommending a personal audition when it comes to making a serious decision - trust me, the reviewers don't know what they're talking about, and the folks in the Internet forums are worse, although at least they don't have the conflict-of-interest issues that plagues all the magazine and audio-review Internet sites.
Why am I dissing these folks, who might be nice guys personally? Well, I've met them, and heard their systems in their own homes. I can tell you right now that the best systems in the world are not in the homes of reviewers - they're in the homes of extreme DIY enthusiasts, some of who live right here in Northern Colorado. In this area alone, I've heard two of the best systems I've heard anywhere - and the only off-the-shelf components in one of these systems are Thom's turntable and the Schroeder Reference tonearm. Everything else is custom-made for that system, down to the audio transformers themselves. Christian Rintelen's system in Zurich is similar - all custom made, and far above any commercial hifi system you can find in any store.
That's just how it is - naturally, review magazines hardly want to publicize this, for the simple reason that advertising pays for 70 to 90% of the operating cost of the magazine. By the way, I don't blame the manufacturers for this situation - they know better than anyone that bad reviews can make or break o product - or even an entire company - and that the magazines see themselves as gatekeepers for the industry. As Reagan said, "Trust, but Verify". Before you spend, take a little vacation to Colorado, or wherever that component of interest is made. Listen for yourself, and be ready to be surprised.
Anthony Gallo Acoustics
I heard the A'Diva Ti at the last Rocky Mountain Festival, and was impressed how good they are. I don't much care for "mainstream" speakers - especially those aimed at the home theatre market - but the A'Diva Ti's sounded sweet, open and musical on a mid-price Chinese tube amp - and at a very competitive price, too. The sonics were easily in the $2000 to $3000/pr class, and Mr. Gallo did a terrific job calming down the metallic coloration that you hear from dome tweeters made from these materials.
As far as I can tell from talking to Anthony Gallo, the paper is cross-damping the titanium, while at the same time extending the HF response well beyond what a straight paper cone can do. As a result, they don't sound like metal-domes at all - just very good paper cones, with a sonic character like the fabled Peerless HFC225 or the Bozak paper/aluminum tweeter of years gone by. No crossover of course, except for the subwoofer, which you can buy from Gallo or build yourself.
People who are members of the single-driver religion - yes, I'm talking to you, Lowther and Fostex fans - should give these little guys a listen with a good tube amp. They're really too good for most home-theater receivers, and deserve better. I know I'd take them over any Fostex any day of the week.
Transmission Line Loudspeakers
These folks in Canada make some interesting TL loudspeakers - haven't heard them, but they look promising. I'm always a fan of TL speakers - the bass has a quality that's quite different than conventional closed or vented boxes, and I feel is more musical in character.
The Speaker Building Page
This attractive one-stop site provides numerous speaker kits, plans, driver specs, interviews, and construction articles. The author has gone the extra mile and used the powerful CLIO system (similar to MLSSA) to measure an interesting variety of sample drivers. Speaker systems designed around the advanced magnesium-cone Seas Excel drivers can be found here as well.
The Center for Reiki Training
Reiki is what I do when I'm not fooling around with audio. Having grown up in Japan and Hong Kong (1956 to 1966), I find science, engineering, and mysticism are all part of the spectrum of experience.
© 1996 to 2006 Lynn Olson.