THERMIONIC SPEAKERMANIA

As Guildmeister of The Triode Guild let me make my goals plain: I will not cease until the American high end audio industry is as creative, diverse and prosperous as the Japanese. It is well know that the only serious high quality audio market is Japan, where there is a well developed audio art culture which does not yet exist in America. In Japan the audio arts is given the same respect and adulation as any of the other traditional arts. The American audio scene is relatively weak because, as a group, American audio manufacturers are feeble in communicating the glory of their art. If anyone doubts this assertion just check out the track record of this industry’s trade association, The Academy of High End Audio, and their ability to excite the public’s imagination about our art.

Let me live up to my reputation as the man, referred to by his enemies as, "Red Hot Chili Pepper Up Your Butt". Hold tight, here we go again on Dr. Gizmo’s roller coaster rides: the thousands of you who are artistically and musically sensitive enough to listen to tube amplifiers haven’t got a clue how great these amplifiers are if you are using speakers designed for transistor amplifiers....which is 99% of the speakers manufactured in America. As Buddha says, "As you would not plow a field with a Indy 500 car, and as you would not race the Indy 500 with a tractor, you should not be using a tube amplifier with a low impedance/low efficiency loudspeaker".

Now sit back relax, take your tranquilizers and some Alka Seltzer, and enjoy some more pain, because it is the only way you will ascend to the next level of musical ecstasy...no pain, no gain. When I published, almost twenty years ago, Understanding Tube Electronics, they laughed and suggested the title be, Understanding Obsolete Electronics, and when I, like so many others, predicted the rise of single-ended triode amps, they laughed. So who has the last laugh now? Mark my words, because those who do not pay attention to my prophecy shall turn into obsolete moldy cheese balls. And I shall not cease until my prophecy comes true.

JUST THE FACTS...ALMOST

FACT: Tube amplifiers are currently dominating the amplifier segment of high end audio and will continue to grow in importance because marketing dynamics are compelling their vitality....relatively low cost/high performance amplifiers are creating a new group of tube fanatics who will mature and want better. We start out on our 350cc. Honda Nighthawks and then grow up and buy a Hawg. You have to have an affordable first step on the ladder of thermionic ascension. Check this out...Stereo Review reviewed a Jolida tube amp! Under $500 tube amplifiers from China will create a new foundation for the thermionic arts. Or what about the Cary Audio’s $799 300B stereo amp...again you can’t grow up and be a Tube Grizzly Bear, unless you start in the Tube Bunny Rabbit group.

FACT: GADZOOKS, THE TUBE COFFERS ARE FULL! Reliable Sovtek 300Bs at $70, new Chinese and Svetlana 300Bs and Western Electric is back in the tube business! China, Russia and Eastern Europe have converted their military tube factories to consumer products and are responsible for the explosion of guitar tubes. Did you imagine that Class A and B directly heated triode transmitting tubes would be used in amplifiers, and that pentodes, i.e., 6550, El 34s, 5881s and KT 88s would abound...look at your calendar...it is the twenty-first century and thermionics are everywhere, including the pro market and the guitar market. The ultimate techno-conundrum of the twenty first century is that more and more music lovers are not impressed by "newer and better" and are seeking genuine emotional authenticity, which means harmonic authenticity, which means tubes. Your passion for music, and there are thousands of you, is the engine of this completely unexpected thermionic revolution, and thermionic entrepreneurs all over the world eager for profits are responding, i.e. Charles Whitener of Western Electric.

FACT: The digital conundrum aint going away, and digital sounds better with tube amplifiers because it is a salve for digital’s harmonic discombobularity. In the same way the ancient wisdom prescribes ketchup on French fries, and cream cheese on your bagel, it now prescribes tubes and digital. It doesn’t matter if this is accurate audio or not, it is a matter of getting the most musical pleasure from a regressive storage medium....of how I love my techno-conundrums. What a delicious dialectic..millions of musicians who are building home digital recording studios are buying tube gear.

FACT: There is a more creativity in tube amplifier design today than any previous time, and this is true all over the world. The art and science of thermionics has significantly advanced over the last two decades. This is especially true for amplifiers that use tubes designed in the 1930s: directly heated triode output tubes. I believe tube amplifiers have replaced tube phono preamplifiers as the "thermionic play focus" of high end audio. Do remember the good old days when the cool thing was to own three or four tube preamps, three turntables and a dozen cartridges? Trevor Lees I miss you!

FACT: There is a wrong way and a right way to use a tube amplifier.

FACT: The first few watts are always the juiciest. In every amplifier those first few watts, or milliwatts, are the best sounding watts, which is why it is so desirable to keep an amplifier operating in that range. This explains why, for decades, our Japanese bro’s have preferred high efficiency speakers...especially for their transistor gear.

FACT: All things being equal, a low powered tube amplifier will sound more refined than a higher powered one, meaning, few output tubes, and smaller output transformer...less is more. Because all things aren’t equal, a low powered amplifier can be superior because it can more easily and efficiently employ regulated power supplies, i.e. it is much easier to build a lower powered regulator. The Golden Rule of audio design applies here: simple is better because it preserves signal integrity.

Let me say that again: By using high efficiency/high impedance speaker, you get better performance using a smaller more refined amplifier which will have better power supplies, and operate most of the time in the juicy region, and if that weren’t enough your output tubes will last longer.

FACT: A tube doesn’t know where it is, and the virtues of active regulation applies to all tubes no matter where they are used. An actively regulated circuit will operate better than an unregulated one. Yes, there are those who are screaming, NO. And yes, I have heard some magical systems with unregulated tube circuits, because the syrupy sound of unregulated circuits mollified system problems. But America is positively prehistoric in its failure to use regulated output stages on tube amplifiers. Gadzooks most tube amplifiers don’t even use a choke! Shame on us!

FACT: Tube amplifiers are not operating optimally with any speaker that is below 94 db efficient, 16 ohms, with Alnico magnets. This triology of thermionic bliss has been known for decades. It is known all over the world. It is the foundation of Japanese audiomania, and we, the inventors of this aesthetic, rock and roll, fast food, the 350 Chevy small block, and the Hawg, haven’t got a clue...yet. Shame on us! Reality check: if you can’t have all three then at the very least get the high efficiency right. Getting all three right is very expensive but worth the cost, and it is eternal.

FACT: Consumers accept obsolescence if it is real. What are the American Priests of the Temple of the Monkey Coffins afraid of? More business? New excitement? Prosperity? Money in the bank? It is time for them to announce, "Dear tube loving audiophile..so sorry, we had our heads buried in the silicon. Yes, our grandfathers had it right; tubes need high efficiency/high impedance speakers, and we are now correcting our ways. No shame, No blame, just let’s get on with expanding musical beauty. So throw away those 84 db, 4/8 ohms speakers, and make me a wealthy dude".

Is the pain and anger worth it? Yes, because the American speaker rebellion is happening as more and more American speaker designers are getting into the Japanese harmonic refinement trip: using low powered triode amplifiers as their reference, and this artistic maturity is creating a new generation of loudspeakers. Viva, La Revolution! My spies have also told me that a number of the top European speaker manufactures are now designing 100db efficient speakers that will arrive in America at the next CES show.

Let me describe the prevailing American orthodoxy: New and Improved Kevlar Carbon Fiber Uranium Enriched Speaker Cones, in a six way configuration using Asymptotically Infinitely Expanding 96 db slope Phase/Time Corrected Crossovers, 84 db efficient 4 ohms. The pressure on Priests of the Temple of Monkey Coffins to come up with something new and different every year is enormous, and it takes courage to design simple loudspeakers with a minimum of crossover parts. How many designers have the right stuff to boast....I didn’t invent anything new, I just got it musically right? This new breed of loudspeaker designers are comparable to the new breed of triode amplifier designers who believe less is more...it is the way of the triode. This means using higher quality drivers that don’t require loads of taming, i.e. require simple crossovers.

CAVEAT EMPTOR: Mr. Chili Pepper Up Your Butt is demanding, threatening and cajoling speaker manufactures to create outboard passive crossovers for YOUR benefit, because this is the single weakest link in your audio chain. The ultimate techno-conundrum of high end audio is those fabulous signal carrying cables, from your source to your crossover terminals, are connecting to crossover inductors of very low quality, from my point of view. DEMAND, the option of upgrading to silver or copper foil inductors when you have the coin, which is a two minute mod if your crossovers are outboard. And, once again, outboard crossovers give a more refined tone. This is also the simplest strategy if you and your speakers are ready for a Marchand tube crossover.

FULL DISCLOSURE: Tannoy, ARCARIAN, and AlphaCore, Atma Sphere have received the benefit of my gizmological advice. In other words, I suggested they make a very specific product and they responded. Each of these companies offered to pay me a consulting fee of at least $1 million or a brand new Mercedes Benz. I refused both. I offer my gizmological services to any audio master free of charge if I believe that they have the skill and competence to advance the audio arts, and if they will send me home baked cookies.

THE SURVEY

Some of these speakers I have spent years with, and some I haven’t yet experienced. Over the next year I will do serious investigation, but here is a quick and very incomplete guide. I suggest you contact these companies and do your own exploration. As I finish my evaluation they may be available on these company’s web sites, so check with them.

TANNOY: I own and use so many different Tannoy models I could open a Tannoy Museum and that includes Tannoy Alcomax speakers from the 1960s, 1970s, professional models, The Westminster Royals, and a new loudspeaker I am building using a pair of the Westminster Alcomax drivers. I am giving Alex Garner, Tannoy’s designer a Triode Guild Award for the Westminster driver because it is a concrescent work of art. I love the Tannoys that are above 92 db efficient because they work so well with triode amps...IF...you get the crossovers right. There are many complaints about the sound of the stock Tannoys and this is true because the drivers are too good for their stock crossovers. The new Tannoy Churchill, which uses their professional 15 inch driver has outboard crossovers which means you can tune them anyway you want. I have not auditioned these speakers. But according to EveAnna Manley who has a pair in her home, these are kick-ass/refined speakers and she uses them with her Retro 300B. There is a reason why the Japanese, the world’s most refined triodmaniacs, have made Tannoy a religion. Here is my secret Tannoy passive crossover tweak: use AlphaCore silver foil inductors. Remember Tannoys come alive with the Marchand Tube Crossover. CAVEAT EMPTOR: high quality dual concentric drivers are addictive.

AUDIO REPRODUCTION: You wouldn’t know it by looking at John Wolfe that he is a Zen master, because he looks like an all America red neck Mr. Nice Guy. This is his Zen; his non-ego: he takes TAD, high efficiency/high impedance/Alnico drivers (made in Japan) that are recognized as significant works of art all over the world, and builds reproductions of the classic JBL Hartsfield horn loudspeakers, and takes the same drivers and puts them in smaller non-horn enclosures. Most of John’s customers live west of San Francisco. These are three way systems that employ reproductions of the beautiful art deco JBL horn lens. I heard the Studio Standard II, which uses the TAD drivers with the woofer in a acoustic suspension enclosure at Peter Breuninger’s house during the Philadelphia Audio Society’s Single-ended Triode Festival and was extremely impressed. With 97 db efficiency, Don Garber’s two watt 2A3 amplifier kicked butt. I briefly auditioned these speakers with my custom 300B SET with regulated power supply and ran for my audio diaper. But what is the most impressive about John’s whole range of speakers (there are seven) is how relatively inexpensive they are. The Studio Monitors II should be priced at $20,000, and are only $7,500. John has all three elements of triode bliss right: Alnico, 16 ohms, 97 db efficient. This is my bitch: (1) John needs to use higher quality crossovers parts, i.e. Alpha Core silver foil inductors, and Hovland Caps with hard wiring, but that is easy to achieve, (2) you may need some dampening on the horn...easy to do with lead shot mixed into Mortite. Here again the Marchand Tube crossover could be magical. Why are these speakers so inexpensive? You have to buy them directly from John.

MADISOUND: Larry Hitch, America’s speaker kitmeister, has got the message and is in the triode groove. He has created a $100O floor standing kit using the D’Appolito configuration that exploits new Morel high efficiency drivers and creates a 95 db efficient speaker. This means all of you 300B maniacs that know how to use a screwdriver can have an enormous amount of fun. I asked Larry to make these kits, which include everything you need including finished cabinets, drivers and crossovers with a deluxe outboard crossover using Alphacore copper or silver foil inductors and Hovland capacitors. At only $1000 for the pair with stock crossovers you can trade up as your piggybank grows. Those of you who have resisted 300B temptation should think about buying the Cary 300B stereo amp at $799 (buy Sovtek tubes) and these speaker kits. This is probably the most cost effective first step into the black hole of triode addiction.

LOWTHER DRIVER: The Lowther cult is growing in intensity all over the world because the triode revolution is making us pay attention to these eccentric very high efficiency one way drivers; meaning they use no crossovers. Joe Robert’s Sound Practice Magazine has featured a number of fascinating articles about these drivers...which I have not yet properly experienced so I am not making any judgments about them. There are many different models that are all plus 98 db, which means that your micro-powdered triode amp will play them to full output. These drivers need a folded horn cabinet to work properly and The Lowther Club, which promotes Lowtherosity is ready to satisfy your curiosity. There are now a number of small companies who can supply finished/ready to listen speakers. In Japan Lowther is hot with a wide variety of enclosures available. This Lowther caveat is based on feedback I have received from both Nobu Shishido and my brother American thermionic techno-shamans: to realize Lowther’s magic requires amplifiers that are sympathetic to their unique personality and coloration. I hope to be able to give you a critical evaluation of these drivers very soon.

THE REPS 1 DRIVER: Frank Reps is a heavy duty triode maniac and is so completely dedicated to the Japanese triode aesthetic that he developed an ultra Lowther one way driver, meaning very high efficiency. This is a brand new product, and the reason I mention it is because Allen Wright, the English/German thermionic techno-shaman and promoter of silver foil cables, told me he cried when he heard them, and it takes a lot to make a grown man cry. These drivers cost $1300 a pair.

KOCHEL: Jim Ricketts of tmh audio called me and sent me information a horn speaker designed by K.R. Parks. The K300S are $7,500 pair, 97 db/8 ohms and has a horn loaded woofer, a compression driver midrange horn, and a compression driver horn tweeter. I have not heard this speaker, and it may be quite superb because Gordon Rankin says he likes them, but I have to come down hard on Jim for saying the wrong thing about these speakers, because he claims "Total elimination of the horn "honk/megaphone" sound", and a frequency response of .."flat to 20K plus and minus .5 db". This is a man who is shooting himself in the foot before his marketing program begins because there is no horn speaker on this earthly plain of reality or any other speaker for that matter than can achieve what he claims. If we can get beyond Jim’s naive posturing the K300S may be the answer to having a horn speaker in your home because of its reasonable size. But remember a full range low distortion horn would require a bass horn at least 32 feet long made out of concrete...like they have in Japan. I will audition these speakers at the CES and give you a full report. TMH audio, (937) 439-2667 fax (937) 439-2685 (e)tmh-audio@juno.com

EDGARHORN: Clearly Bruce is America’s hornmeister, and has been wrestling with the horn demon, which is all about getting a midrange, bass and tweeter horn to coalesce. The bigger the system the greater the problems, and his attempts to demonstrate his large horn systems at trade shows back fire, and for good reason. You can not demonstrate a properly designed horn in a small room.

ACARIAN LOTUS SPEAKER SYSTEM: I share your pain because my "other" listening room is in my home which is a small apartment, and I don’t want to give up my triode bliss when I am not in my 35x55 listening room, so I want to reveal a deep pain that most men have trouble expressing, because men are tough and emotionally guarded.

I have been experiencing a depression because much of the fun and joy of musical self-expression has been leeched from our tribe because of the digital revolution. Do you remember GOD, the Good Old Days, when you had two or three different phono preamps, a couple of turntables and a dozen cartridges and record mats, and you could, by twiddling create hundreds of different tonalities and thereby maximize the musical juice from your system? This is why I still use a Micro-Seiki turntable that has three arms. But with digital you have no control over your tonal destiny, and this is very painful, and if you are not feeling this musical pain your are in denial.

AN ANALOG OF ANALOG

Which is why last year I thought I had convinced Tannoy to make their new Churchill speaker a "system" that would give you control over your tonal destiny by offering passive crossovers with different "aromas", and offer the option of a Marchand tube crossover. Never happened, though the Churchill does have an outboard crossover that you can tweak.

Clearly my goal is create, for the musically sophisticated, the opportunity to harmonically fine tune their system. So I called up Prince Carl and invited him to do the Triode Guild dance, which is the "speaker system" dance, and again this is all about YOU deciding what works best for you in your system, with your amplifier, and most importantly, in your room. Prince Carl was the right man for me to exploit because he is the short path to putting a red hot chili pepper up the butt of other Priests of Monkey Coffins because he has years of experience using Alnico drivers. Do you remember that I tried to eat his all Alnico Adriana $10K minimonitors..that’s how tasty they were? I am using Carl to force others into the Triode Guild dance, and The Lotus, which is an expression of this point of view is an amazing achievement. Let me make it clear that for decades Prince Carl has been a master speaker designer and I am not taking any claim for the artistry in the Lotus, but I am taking credit for insisting that he, like Ulrich Poulsen of Alpha-Core, design products that would reveal the nascent harmonic glory of triode amplifiers.

The reason that Carl is receiving this award is because of the way The Lotus stacks up compared to my reference system...and depending on the heaviness of your coin The Lotus can be purchased between $3,500 and $6,000....depending on your options. Am I biased? Yes. But why not come over to my 35x55 listening room and compare The Lotus to my reference system? I must insist that you wear loose pants when you visit because you will receive one of my famous New York Audio Labs AUDIO PAMPERS at the door, which you must wear...that’s how much I believe in The Lotus.

THE GENIUS OF THE NO-BRAINER

What is the biggest trouble area for a tube amplifier? Those who would claim it is the upper register because of high output transformer inductance are wrong, because it is the lower register that is thermionic hell. This is true because here we have the widest ratio of speaker impedance, coupled with "the big hump" of speaker resonances, the biggest load of back EMF, and the greatest strain on the amps power supply. Of course all of these problems are multiplied in all singled ended output transformers. So it is a no-brainer to make sure you use, at the very least, a high impedance woofer in a multi-driver system. Your average "8 ohm" speaker system probably dips to 3 or 4 ohms in the low frequencies, and this is a major impediment. On the other hand a 16 ohm woofer may dip to only 12 or 10 Ohms, and that is sublime for a tube amplifier, which is why Prince Carl uses a 14 ohm, eight inch woofer, which makes so much sense you wonder why he is the first to use this obvious way to correctly design a woofer for a tube amplifier. It is the genius of doing the obvious.

Prince Carl can then use an 8 ohm Alnico midrange driver, which may not be perfect but it is available and affordable, as opposed to 16 ohm midrange drivers which are as rare as a properly set up listening room at an audio dealer. Going to the trouble of getting this 8 ohm Alnico midrange driver built is a big deal. How big is this deal? Name one other speaker designer who has gone through the trouble of getting a Alnico midrange driver made? I know that Carl worked for one year getting this driver right.

The point of all of this is Carl is starting a new trend: designing speakers for tube amplifiers, and as simple as that seems, it has been the most difficult challenge for American Priests of the Temple of Monkey Coffins...so Hoooorah for Carl.

SNEAK PREVIEW

THE HIGH EFFECIENCY MINIMONITOR SURVEY IS COMING

So you can justify spending megabucks on speakers because you two Harley-Davidson, your speed boat and your biplane needs an overhaul...not to worry. My advice is still less is more: high effeciency studio monitors may be the way to get maximum music pleasure from single-ended triode amplifiers if you follow my top secret advice, soon to be revealed..............

 

 

 

Back to The Triode Guild               Back to Meta-Gizmo   

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

Copyright© 2005    Meta-Gizmo.com™ and Dr. Harvey "Gizmo" Rosenberg      All rights reserved.
All the material contained within the above articles may not be reproduced without his express permission.