LISTENER APRIL/2001

KING TONE'S ASCENSION

"I WOULD RATHER HAVE A TEA CUP OF TONE
THAN AN OCEAN OF POWER"
BUDDHA


Be a Beacon
of Beaudacity

In my sophomore year of high school a heroic male archetype emerged in my young horny male soul; I wanted to be a master-debater, because nothing is more pleasureful; nothing tests a man's mettle better than wrestling with another man's mind… in a public forum…according to the Greeks. So I joined the Lynbrook High School Debating Society, to learn how to become a master-debater. I wanted to be just like Daniel Webster who debated the Devil, and won.

The fires for this skill burned so intensely in my loins that every day, after school, after milk and cookies, and reading Playboy, I would lock my self in the bathroom and practice master-debating. My passion for master-debating continued into college, and into the audio industry. My well earned reputation as "The Audio Master-Debater" explains why so many manufacturers, audio savant, and designers, are terrified of me. Have you noticed that when I walk into a room the promoters of "accuracy/neutrality" jabberwocky run and hide under their expensive equipment racks?

Oprah, can you feel my pain because no one will accept my challenges? My last serious debate occurred in early 1980s, with Bob Carver, in Stereophile…and the subject was…"Can a solid state amp ever sound like a tube amp?". Guess who won?. Oh, woe is unchallenged poor me; why wont anyone in the audio arts debate me, when in every other field of "male art", like hot rods, motorcycles, beer drinking, bowling, deer hunting, or bass fishing, there is vigorous debate over aesthetics? I will even handicap myself by tying my silver plated tongue behind my back. Please, someone take up the challenge, and play with me. Nothing invigorates art and politics better than a vigorous debate!

THE GUILDMEISTER OF THE TRIODE GUILD'S BIAS SETTING

I recently cruised a well known audio company's web site that claimed they had finally made "the big breakthrough" and created a solid state amplifier that had the sonic virtues of a tube amplifier. Why, over the last thirty years, have so many manufacturers of sand based amps made this claim, while I have never encountered one tube amp manufacturer who boasted that their amp sounded like a transistor amp? I can think of no other industry where the "vintage technology" sets the higher standard by which the "newer and better" is judged, except, cars, motorcycles, boats, musical instruments, liquor/wine, and art.

Why is there a literal "flood" of tube gear in the all digital pro-audio industry? Why is it so hard to find one web site devoted to the artification of sand based amps?

PARADOX PAUSE: "What is the unique sound of a tube amplifier?", is a very complex question, because this question hits the big "audio evaluation paradox" bullseye…and is impossible to answer simply because there are so many complex elements…because to answer this question, with integrity, we must connect an input, a bunch of cables, a speaker, and use this gaggle of gizmos in a room. It is impossible to ascribe a "sound personality" just to an amplifier, (or for that matter, any single component) because every element of our evaluation system is interacting and contributing their unique personality/distortion to the creation of the aural matrix we are evaluating.

To make matters even more aggravating…are we talking about a push/pull pentode, OTL, or, directly heated triode single-ended, amp…all of which create very different aural matrixes….and what is the circuit? So what is the defining characteristic of a tube amplifier, that is so alluring?. The answer is…… (fill in the blank for $1 million). YET…Oh glorious paradox of musical consciousness…the answer is obvious to those who know…like Stradivarius. Guanari, Les Paul, the Steinway brothers, you and me, and tens of thousands of gifted listeners all over the world…and Harry Olsen…because our world wide consensus expresses a powerful truth about musical consciousness.

FORWARD: Just say NO to Faux. No matter the effort applied, margarine will never taste like butter, tofu will never sound like steak, and transistor circuits will never taste like tube circuits, and no hugeness of hype will change these facts of life. Why should they? Why would designers of sand amps, which are, according to "orthodox" audio engineering testing methods, superior in almost every way, aspire to the sound quality of "inferior" tube circuits?. Or, why is the Digital Devil responsible for the renaissance of vintage tube circuits in pro audio?

Why has Mark Levinson, the George Washington of the mega-sand amp, had a religious conversion and now is dedicated to selling only tube amps?

Put on your potty safety belt, light up your Ashton cigar, and get ready for a big…aggravation of your audio orthodoxy.

LET THE DEBATE BEGIN

As you know nothing is more important than winning, so whenever I enter a debate, I do what every skilled master-debater does; I make sure I have a winning argument, and in this case, no problemo, because all that I have to do is glom the position of the highest of the high, the "Moses" of the audio arts…Harry Olsen, whose 1952 book, Music, Physics and Engineering, so inspired me that I stole his best idea….THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT ATTRIBUTE OF MUSIC IS TONE… a notion that Olsen glommed from thousands of years of music pedagogy. This means that if you don't have righteous tone, you have nada, zip, zilch. If you have the widest stereo image, have woodifying micro-dynamics, and whopper size bass…none of this matters, if you don't have natural tone.

Do you get it? Get tone right first, even if you have to sacrifice other values…which explains why Japanese audiomaniac culture obsesses over tone, their "compass in the audio storm, and I subtitled my first book about tube circuits…"Natural Harmonics Audio". Here is, my beloved bros', a beautiful Haykoo* poem I wrote in your honor:

TONE IS TO MUSIC

AS

PASSION IS TO LOVE

TRUTH IS TO BEAUTY

THE HOLE IS TO A BAGEL

THE ISSUE DEBATED: The single most important attribute of reproduced music is tone, and only tube circuits can create natural tone, and as a corollary: (1) tonal discombobularity is the fatal flaw of all digital circuits, and (2) 99.999999% American audio systems are tonal underachievers, and (3) there is hierarchy of tonal coolosity, and (4) it is our job is to get as tonally high as possible.

Why is this true about tube circuits? It is an accident. No one, at the dawn of the tube age, one hundred years ago, said, "let's make a device whose harmonic distortion spectra mimics the natural harmonic spectra of music"…it just turned out to be a fact of life for a "vacuum based, high impedance, high voltage, electrical valve that amplifies voltage". No one was even aware of this advantage until transistors came along, which were superior in many ways (as plastic is superior to wood in many ways) ..except…when we started to critically listen to tubes versus transistors, we discovered that no matter what we do with a transistor they always produce a spectra of harmonics that does not mimic the natural harmonic spectra of music. Starting in the mid sixties gifted listeners, all over the world, and especially in Japan, started to say…"The Emperor is wearing no clothes…something doesn't taste right". Transistor's fatal tonal flaw emerged from their high feedback induced "perfection" on the test bench.

There was no evil conspiracy. The inventors of the transistor created "silicon based, low impedance, low voltage, electrical switch that amplifies current", that was not specifically designed for audio circuits, which demand wide bandwidth linearity. You will note on the Triode Guild web site I have reproduced an article by Eric Barbour, that appeared in the Institute of Electrical Engineering's trade journal, that compares the differences in the harmonic distortion characteristics of transistors and tubes. In a recent issue of Scientific America, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the transistor, the editors published an article that claimed the one area where transistor's electrical properties are not superior, to tube's, is in audio circuits.

EXOGENOUS NEURAL EXCITANT

Now let me give you the world's quickest pedagogic insight about why tonal quality is so critical, and it is purely pragmatic and empirical: Tone is the most important musical attribute because tone is the elixir, the stimulant of musical ecstasy. It is well documented that the right combination of even and odd order harmonics, which determine tonal quality, stimulates our brain to secrete endorphins, dopamine, and other exotic brain juices, which induces a very pleasureful "high" out of body experiences. Harmonics are an exogenous neural excitant: harmonics are an external stimulant that excites the nerve endings of our brain..like sex, the smell of barbecued steak, or the vibrations of a V-8 motor…and makes the brain juices of ecstasy flow.

I have now explained why we invented music 150,000 years ago. If you have any doubt about this phenomenon, check out what happens to your body when you scratch glass with a sharp metal object, thereby producing a great deal of high order, odd order harmonics…the type of harmonics that never appear in music.

One more time for the newbie to tone: Tone does to our body, what the smell of a barbecued steak does to our body…it makes us salivate and bark like a dog. Or..If music soothes our savage breast, it is because the tone/harmonics of music causes our glandular system to secrete the juices of ecstasy…and this process begins while we are in our mother's womb, swimming in the tone of her heartbeat.

Why has plastic never replaced wood in stringed instruments? Why hasn't plastic replaced brass, or silver, in wind instruments? There are three answers: tone, tone, tone. I don't have to remind you about the direct relationship between the value of a musical instrument and its tonal quality. Just try and buy a Stradivarius or vintage Fender or Gibson guitar.

In the world of musicians…tonal quality is the standard by which we judge the masters from..Billy Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Joe Cocker, Isaac Stern, Louis Armstrong, Glenn Gould, Ben Webster, Paul Desmond, Wanda Landowska, Arthur Rubinstein, Les Paul, to Ry Cooder, et.al.?

Or..this email I got from Goethe, who only uses tube gear, says it all:

Dr.Gizmo,

Wenn ihr's nicht fuehlt, ihr werdet's nicht erjagen (Faust, Part 1, line 534): If you don't feel it, you will never hunt it down.

G.

NERVOUS TICK WARNING

Yet nothing is more difficult to achieve than NATURAL TONE/ NATURAL HARMONICS in an audio system, because, now smoke this..because corruption, in the audio arts, like life, is reality. So the type of corruption, the type of mistakes we make, is paradoxically, how we define ultimate quality.

When we encode/decode music, which means we are using a gaggle of crude electro-mechanical devices..we always corrupt the natural tone of music…"we always make mistakes"…meaning we are adding a huge quantum of harmonics that never appear in real live music…and we are filtering out a huge quantum of music's natural harmonics.

What percent of a live musical event can we encode in vinyl, or a CD, and then decode in our living rooms? Hold a CD, or record, of a live Rolling Stone's concert…one that you attended. How much of what you experienced is there in that flat disc? Or, let's get more scrupulous…let's do something very simple…let's record a Steinway Concert Grand. Now let's listen to our master tape, and compare the sound of the piano to what we have on tape. Oh, huge loss. Now let's send our master tape out to the mastering lab, and listen to the "stamper". Oh, huge loss compared to the master tape, and the piano. Now let's listen to the CD or record that will appear in stores…compared to the piano and the master tape. Another huge loss…even though in a digital world there shouldn't be.

To return to our question: What percentage of the live music event have we been able to encode? I am being generous when I suggest it is about 10%…which means that from the live music event to dancing naked in our living room we have accepted about 90% total music distortion…or more. Now can you understand why it is so important to have exactly the right form of corruption in the measly 10% that we have available? Grunt if this upsets you.

Yet…even with this universal gigantitude of corruption, we can experience a tremendum of abnormal musical pleasure…because it only takes a smidgen of the right tone to trigger ecstasy in our body, so the type of corruption we choose is absolutely critical.

Transistors produce much lower total harmonic distortion than tubes, but the type of high order/odd order distortion produced is so irritating, so musically unnatural, that when we compare this to the larger amount, but more benign, even order harmonics of tube circuits, we, the musically refined, reach the conclusion that tubes sound more musically natural; more effective in making our brains secrete the juices of ecstasy. QED: tubes make more mistakes, but of the right kind, while transistor make less total mistakes, of the fatal kind. Both create audio corruption..one is more pleasureful than the other.

And now you know why New York Audio Labs created the world's first hybrid tube/FET amplifiers, MOSCODES, based on Julius Futterman's original idea, that the best way to produce a powerful amplifier, that had some of the tonal virtues of tubes, is to use tubes…design an amplifier with a tube front end and solid state output. Consider auditioning the many hybrid amps that are now available if you need lots of power.

Affirmation: I recently watched a cable television series about the great pianists of the twentieth century hosted by Arthur Rubinstein's son..and one of the maestros said that every pianists must make a choice between "accuracy", which is concentrating on playing all of the notes exactly, and "expression" which is all about the creation of a unique personal tone..and he suggested that "accuracy" was the wrong choice..and the "mistakes/wrong notes" were part of the beauty of each performance. This insight has been condensed into: It is more important to express the soul of the music, than play the notes exactly. Grunt if you understand.

THE DIGITAL DEVIL™

I remind you that the Digital Devil's favorite sport is corruption of natural tone. What is the compelling reason to create a "new and improved" digital format? I suggest it is to improve the nature of digital's tonal corruption.

Consider this fact of life for the average "A" rock and roll digital recording studio: from the microphone to the hard drive, the music signal is passing through hundreds of integrated circuits (with each having hundreds of transistors), hundreds of capacitors, and many yards of mediocre audio cable. How many transistors does the A/D processor have? Hundreds. Here's a swell analogy about the affect of typical digital rock and roll signal processing has on the music signal: put axle grease on your eye glass's lens.

What are some of the most beautiful vinyl LPs? The ones produced pre-1960, before the IC and transistors virused recording studios. I have now explained why vinyl corruption is so appealing relative to digital's tonal corruption…one mimics the harmonic profile of music much better, while the other shifts the balance to much more odd order/high order harmonics, that creates a "brittle/glassy" sound…for all of the reasons explained by John Atkinson, in his great articles about digital's discombobularity. I have now explained why vinyl and tubes are such a powerful musical alchemy.

You now know why tube microphones, and tube signal processing, is SOP in all digital recording studios. They are a technique to put some natural tone back into digital, by pumping up, and shifting the digital corruption in favor of even order harmonics…and it works. That is right: more of the right type of distortion, is better than less of the wrong type. Grunt if you understand this paradox.

And now to deal with one pustule of dis-information: How reliable are tube circuits? Reliable enough so that all of America's ICBMs, which defended America during the Cold war, used tube circuits.

You can remove your potty safety belt now. It is the end of my argument. There are many other advantages to using tubes in audio circuits, but that is another debate. Thank you for your applauds, and God bless you all.

NO ONE CAN ARGUE WITH TASTE

Now that the debate is over, while sipping vintage French Champagne, and eating an extra lean pastrami sandwich from Katz's Deli, some additional comments: Many artistically sensitive men prefer the distinct flavor of transistor gear, and… some men prefer rice burner motorcycles…some men even love wearing powder blue polyester knit leisure suits, with shiny white shoes, and no one can argue with taste, which is why there are so many different horses in every race. This explains why I have, over the years, postured that taste reflects DNA, and the gifts for listening, as well as the gifts for surrendering to music, are not equally distributed, and have no relationship to the cost of your audio gear.

I fully accept that American men, including myself, need the thrill of power, but most audiomaniacs are getting hot rods and amplifiers confused. If you need power why not drive a Corvette, or, shoot an elephant gun, like a 458 Winchester magnum?

IS TOO MUCH KNOWLEDGE DANGEROUS?

In a lecture I attended by Rollo May, the famous existential psychoanalyst, he asked the audience an ancient question: How much truth can we humans tolerate? The Greek poets and playwrights, the authors of the Bible, Shakespeare, every great writer, poet and philosopher, every great musician, and artist; Freud and Satre, asked us to consider this very difficult question. And the answer is not always sanguine, my dear Oedipus Rex. How much truth can we, my dearly beloved bros', tolerate in our search for beauty ? How much intellectual integrity should we demand from the audio arts? How high is our musical taste? Can truth and passion co-exist? How much truth can we tolerate in the creation of our illusion? Grunt if you know the answer, and share it, my dear Faust.

Now, here is good way to raise your tonal IQ:

TONAL META-REFERENCE: Everyone needs a tonal meta-reference as a way of judging the tonal quality of their music system. Use a tube headphone amplifier. The reason these can achieve such high tonal quality is the how simple these tube micro-amps are..and, most importantly, how micro-teensy-beensy the headphone speakers are. Forget about what headphones don't do, concentrate on what they do that no other audio gizmo can do. From the deluxe Stax, to the Berning Micro-Zolt, there is a gaggle to choose from. There is no better tool for discovering just how far the audio arts have to go. As a historical note, Julius Futterman invented the first (and the world's most complex) tube OTL tube headphone amplifier for the Stax headphones..which I first used in 1979.

AU REVOIR FOR NOW

If I have been successful in persuasively presenting my highly biased (60 ma/450 volts) views, those of you who are using tube electronics are feeling very smug and self-satisfied, and those listening to transistor based gear are pissed at me. The good news is that the American audio community has long way to go in improving tonal quality …especially tube gear, and this is a significant business opportunity, because MUSIC QUALITY MATTERS. I suggest that the "normal" standards by which we judge audio gear tonal quality are not stringent enough, and needs to be more critical…we are not at the beginning of the end, but are only at the end of the beginning….HIGHER TONAL STANDARDS ARE NEEDED….if our collective intention is to advance musical consciousness.

For those who have the ken for a keener tonal investigation…be sure to check out the Triode Guild web site for significant gizmological considerations to guide you in your search for tonal concrescence.

My last gasp: I want to thank the pilgrims who shared, through emails, their journey towards higher musical consciousness. It is my reward for my service to you.

Dr. Gizmo, Guildmeister of The Triode Guild at www.meta-gizmo.com

•Haykoo is a poetic form first created by the American master poet Orville Redenbacher, and then imitated by the Japanese. This form of poetry is especially profound when it is written or read while eating popcorn.

Suggested Reading:

Rollo May: Love and Will, and, My Quest for Beauty.

Harry Olson, Music, Physic and Engineering

Steve Waksman: Instruments of Desire, The electrical guitar created a new tone that changed the world and this is one of the best books about the influence the electric guitar had on modern musical consciousness.

www.redrosemusic.com: Mark Levinson's new company that only sells tube amps.

www.precisionshooting.com: The best web site for those interested in accuracy.

www.switzerlandtourism.com: The best web site for those interested in neutrality

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e-mail Dr. Harvey "Gizmo" Rosenberg: drgizmo@meta-gizmo.com

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