I received my custom amp from Ultrasonic Studios in November of 2022. It was a custom build made just for me. I had some specific features in mind; a push pull amp that is balanced only (so no phase splitter on the amp), variable B+ and fixed bias so that I could use a variety of output tubes, a “universal” twin triode input section, and the ability to use external heater supplies so that I can use oddball tubes to avoid the most expensive versions.
Tomas came through in a big way making not only a great sounding amp but a great looking amp IMO.
I have mostly been using it with 807 and equivalent output tubes because they sound amazing but have also enjoyed 6f6, 6v6, and 6ar6.
I had hoped to be able to use lower voltage tubes like the 6aq5 and KT61. This amp sounds so good I was seriously thinking about having Tomas build me another amp just for those. Alas, he passed away in February of 2023. He was so young, we never saw it coming. What a loss to his family and the world of audiophiles.
RIP Tomas. You made the world a better place with the equipment you created. We will treasure our amps and the music they make. You had an impact on people all over the world. Small as our little group is I believe that creations that make people happy send out ripples of goodness into the world. Thank you.
Why in the world did systems with single ended tube amps sound good? By all rights they should sound terrible. Anything with that much distortion should only have made things sound worse. And yet, opinions are sharply divided. Why? Turns out there is a reasonable, if complicated possible explanation. This is a geeky story but I think it has some potential lessons outside the audio world… I actually recorded this a week ago but am just now publishing it. Gotta stay up to date!
Yes, I got a new system. This time the system is mostly just the speakers. I have ditched my vacuum tubes (gasp) and ton to an active speaker system. A regular system gets a small signal from a source (CD player, computer, etc.), goes to an amplifier, gets sent to the speaker where it is split between the woofer and tweeter and then you hear sound. That is how 99% of all systems work. An active system does it slightly differently. You still get a small signal from a source but you send that to the seekers directly. It is then split into the different frequency ranges. Each driver in the speaker has its own amplifier, amplifying only the frequencies that are given to it. This has a lot of technical advantages, most of them revolving around the ability to have a sharper distinction of the frequencies going to each driver (steeper slope in the crossover) and much better control over the drivers (the amplifiers are directly coupled to the voice coil). The result is a much more dynamic, clearer, and more accurate speaker. Plus, this particular speaker uses Digital Signal Processing (DSP) to correct for some of the inevitable issues and compromises that are involved with every speaker design. I’ve gone from WWII vintage technology to 21st century!
I got a pair of Equator Audio D8 speakers.
It’s a coaxial speaker, much like my long time favorites KEF. It shares the open, wide soundstage and wonderful tonality. It adds fantastic clarity and dynamics. I think this has been a great upgrade. Anyone looking for some kick ass single ended tube amps?
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The Idea Channel on YouTube is always interesting but I think its real value to me is how it exposes me to things that I wouldn’t know about otherwise. It was the first to clue me into Adventure Time (I still need to watch some more before coming to a conclusion about that). Tonight I learned about Welcome to Night Vale, an apparently very popular podcast about casual horror and weirdness. It consists of a local radio news show reporting on events in the town. That wouldn’t be so interesting but Night Vale is one weird place. “A friendly desert community where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful, and mysterious lights cross the sky as we pretend to sleep. Welcome to Night Vale.” A typical PSA on the radio would be something like this… “The city council announces a new dog park at the corner of Earl and Summorset. They would like to remind everyone that dogs are not allowed in the dog park, people are not allowed in the dog park. It is possible that you will see hooded figures in the dog park, do not approach them. DO NOT APPROACH THE DOG PARK. The fence is electrified and highly dangerous. Try not to look at the dog park and especially do not look for any period of time at the hooded creatures. The dog park will not harm you.” I also liked the reminder that, “It’s election time again! We all know what that means, you will receive paperwork designating which family members will be held to insure you vote correctly…”
It’s a dystopian, Lovecraft inspired Monty Pythonesque dose of the absurd with a dash of Buffy humor thrown in for good measure. It’s a free podcast and comes out twice a month, I recommend it highly.
I have been willing to put up with a lot over the years in order to get the sound I wanted from my stereo. My goal has always been to get an equivalent emotional response as I would to a live show. It wouldn’t be the same experience of course, but the effect should have the same emotional/experiential value. In some ways, recorded music is superior to live events. No worries about mistakes or bad performances. The acoustics are much more controllable, etc.
My stereo has usually involved lots of boxes, cables strewn all over the place, and lots of fiddly things to do. Before I played any record, I cleaned the stylus and cleaned the record. I had to allow the tubes to warm up. I spent weeks experimenting with the angle and positioning of the speakers. I messed around with adjusting the acoustics of the room. I was constantly on the look out for better tubes, cables, and whatever was being made new.
As I’ve gotten older, several things have happened. I live in smaller places now. Some of the speakers I’ve owned were 5 feet tall and weighed over 110 pounds. My current amplifiers weigh 50 pounds apiece, the custom granite stands they sit on are another 20 each. It’s just too much. I’ve also become weary of going through all of the little rituals to keep records in the best shape possible, hell, I don’t even want to deal with CDs anymore. I have gotten much more realistic about what I can actually hear. The top end response of my ears aren’t anything like they were when I was younger.
Maybe more importantly, the quality of sound vs. hassle ratio has gotten to be so much better. Even inexpensive AV receivers have DACs (Digital to Analog Convertor) that are pretty damn good. There have been great strides in speaker design, especially in regards to active systems. The vast majority of people have always had “passive” systems. That means you have a separate amplifier and there is a crossover in the speaker that splits the sound out to the various drivers in the speaker. Active speakers split the frequencies before they are amplified. The amplifiers only amplify a small range of frequencies and attached directly to the voice coil of the speakers. There are tremendous advantages to this approach and it obviates a lot of the stuff that I used to obsess over.
Three years ago I bought a Squeezebox. You can think of it as a network music player. I was able to stream music from my computer to the stereo and from online services like Slacker Radio, Spotify, etc. Completely changed how I listened to music. I was able to control it from the computer or my iPhone/ipad. heaven. The sound quality was miles better than my old (and expensive) CD player.
Logitech has announced that they are discontinuing the Squeezebox line. I had been hoping that they would come out with something that would fix the various little things that made me crazy. Spent the better part of a year trying to find something that would allow me to play music from my computer as well as all of the other services I love. Felt really stupid when I realized all I needed was an Apple Airport Express. That allows me to use airplay from any of my devices and play any music I want. So simple, and so cheap!
I think next year I am going to purchase my first pair of active speakers and get rid of my amps. My most complicated system had a turntable/cartridge and a CD player as sources. The turntable plugged into a phono preamp and then into a preamp. The CD player plugged into the preamp. The preamp plugged into the amp(s) and then they were plugged into the speakers. Next year I could very well have my computer, an Airport Express, and a pair of speakers all connected wirelessly. The amps would be inside the speakers. The DAC could be too depending on which ones I go with. Much less hassle, cost, and I shouldn’t give anything up sound-wise. I do love how technology is making our lives simpler and improving the overall quality as well. Exciting times.
If you read my last post about amps, you might have a good idea about what a big change this will be for me. Looking forward to it! As I get older I crave simplification. Hell, it’ll be nice to get the space back:)
For those of you that haven’t been keeping up with me for a while, I need to make a confession that may prove to be shocking to some. I am recovering from Audiophillia Nervousa. This has actually become a bit of a rare condition. Starting in college, I became obsessed with the idea of “sound quality.” My first job out of college was selling so called high end audio systems and home theaters. I have spent a serious amount of money over the years on equipment and music. For most of those years, every different thing I bought was to eke out another bit of performance out of the system.
A lot of people, well, I say people but I really mean guys, claim to want a really “nice” system. There is a huge range of opinion about what that actually means. For many it is all about bass and volume. I value tonal accuracy and dynamics. I like to be able to hear the mix, the mics, and the decisions that were made in recording when it comes to mic placement, recording philosophy, etc. I went to some crazy lengths to get those things. At one point I had well over 7 grand worth of gear in my system. That would have included the turntable, cartridge, preamp (possibly a separate phono preamp), CD player, amplifiers, and speakers. Sad thing is that’s nothing in the high end world.
The flashiest things I ever own are my amps. I have been a tube (or valve as my friends across the pond call them) amp lover from the beginning. Hope you’ll forgive a quick history of my tube amps, I’m feeling nostalgic:)
I went big for my first set. And when I say set, I mean a pair of amps. One for the left side and another for the right. I had a pair of Golden Tube Audio SE-40 amps. Looked like this:
Yeah, I had two of these. That meant I had 12 output tubes cooking away. It used 6l6 type tubes and had a very “Chocolate cake” kind of presentation. Sweet, sticky, and addictive. When I moved up to Northern Virginia, I had to scale my system way back because I couldn’t afford the space for that kind of system any more. I ended up with a little Jolida amp.
Pretty sure that’s the one, don’t remember the model number but it did use EL84 output tubes. A tiny thing, about a third the size of one of the Golden Tube amps! I then went into the wilderness and had solid state amps for a while. When I got back into tubes, once again I went big:) Audio Mirror was what I went with this time.
These are also mono blocks so I have 2 of them. The front is about 9 inches across and they are about 1 3/4 feet deep. Big sound, big, impressive amps. I still have these. About a year ago, a friend bought me an amp, totally out of the blue!
This one isn’t nearly as flashy as the others but in some ways it is probably the best amp I’ve ever had. This was actually a kit and was put together by a hobbyist. You might not think that’s a recipe for a good product but it turns out that one of the biggest expenses with tube amps is the labor putting them together. If you spend the money on parts alone, you can get much better quality components. this is an interesting amp (to tube nerds at least) because it is able to use two totally different tube types. It can use Pentodes like 6l6 or KT88 as well as 300b tubes! Wild.
Between this amp and the acoustics of my current room, I have never had better sound. I still have the urge to upgrade though, but my upgrade path is going to take me down the road of simplification. I’ll be very happy if I can keep the same sound quality. I’ll bore you with those ideas next:)