Product Of The Year
Article by Bill Gaw
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Wow, another year gone by and they each seem to fly by faster than the previous. Is it because I am enjoying life more or is it that as you get older time collapses on itself until finally it disappears? Also, it is almost time for the 2003 Consumer Electronics Show, although I swore previously I would never go to again. I will be attending for only three of the four days. Maybe this one will cure me of shows. Anyway, hope to be writing my show report in the evening what I saw that day and you can expect our very own Editor Steven R. Rochlin will be posting his excellent "virtually live" show report (available from January 9th through the 12th).
Before I get to Product of the Year, I would like to tip you off to an article and a couple of tweaks I've found, all of which should increase your enjoyment of your systems. The first is an article by Jonathan Valin in the December 2002 / January 2003 issue of The Absolute Sound found on the last page. It is the best explanation that I have seen as to why we audiophiles act as we do. Jonathan must be a psychologist as he has described perfectly how I got involved in the high-end, and the neurosis we high enders suffer with. It is obviously a combination of manic-depression, and obsessive-compulsive behavior that drives us from component to component in our unstoppable drive for the absolute sound. Now I am wondering if Prozac will cure me of the symptoms.
The first tweak is a cheapo I thought up a few months ago that works in multiple ways to control tube noise, especially in components where the tubes rest on top of a chassis in the open. All you need for the project is a sheet each of copper and lead flashing bought from any lumberyard. Get a piece of each about 12x12", for about $3 total cost. Measure the circumference and the height of each tube, then cut the lead flashing to a slightly greater size and the copper flashing about 0.5" to 1" longer and 0.25" higher. Roll the lead flashing around each tube and then the copper one around the lead. You do not want the lead to be touching the tube perfectly. Leave some gaps to allow air circulation, especially with power tubes. Then put the tubes back on with the copper flashing touching a grounding point, such as a screw that holds the tube socket in place if it is grounded. Otherwise you will solder a wire from the copper to a grounding point on the chassis.
What does this tweak do? First, the lead adds mass to the glass, and thus damping vibrations of both the glass and the filament just like those expensive Tube Dampers. Second, the copper grounding blocks out all RF flying through the air. This is very important for those RF tubes, such as 6DJ8's, that are especially susceptible to vibration and RF noise. Third, the tubes actually stay cooler, as the spaces between the lead and glass act as chimneys for air circulation. Finally, if you listen to your system in the dark the shielding also blocks out the tube glow.
So now you have three fixes for your system for almost no moolah. By the way, this tweak also works for tubes inside of cages as there is also RF floating around in there, especially if it is a piece of equipment plagued with
digititis. If you have any copper left over, you may want to cut up some strips and tack them to the op-amps, digital chips, etc. inside of your equipment and ground them. The lead can be tacked with carpet tape to the underside of circuit boards to cut down on vibration. Just make certain it is not touching anything electrical that could short-circuit your boards.
Tweak 2... Smart EZ Polarity Checker
Previously, in a couple of my articles, I have discussed the importance of Absolute Polarity and the seminal work on this by my good friend Clark Johnsen in his book The Wood Effect, As I recall it is still available for a nominal fee from Clark at (617) 423-4590. Also, I
have previously discussed the Smart Devices System 2000 Speaker Polarity Tester, which is a combination of a CD with a track of alternating positive and negative pulses and a meter that tells you whether your system from you CD player to each speaker is in proper polarity. Unhappily, what it does not do is allow you to work on your other components in the analog domain, or subwoofers, or on surround systems with ease as the pulses are only two track.
Enter the Smart EZ-Phase II Polarity Checker also produced by Smart Devices of Norcross, Georgia,
www.smartdev.com. While originally developed for recording studios, movie theaters and sound reinforcement systems, where Smart has been a leader in amplification and AC line noise reduction. It is the perfect piece of equipment for verifying proper polarity at each step in the chain. The equipment consists of a polarity signal generator and a polarity indicator in two ruggedly built hand held units. The generator unit can produces sharply rising pulses either positive or negative, both acoustical and electrical, and the receiver can pick up both through a microphone or XLR balanced inputs. A pot can control both the generator output and the receiver sensitivity, and either the pin 2 or 3 can be used as hot by either unit. For home single ended systems, you can fix up an interconnect using either pin 2 or three with pin 1 as ground.
Does it work better than the System 2000? Definitely, yet at a certain price. While the latter only costs $108, the EZ checker will set you back $565. While not a huge expenditure for the average high ender for its benefit of perfect system polarity, it will probably be used only once if your system is stable. Again, what high ender's system does not go through weekly changes? I did find while using the EZ that I had miswired one of my surround speakers' woofers the last time I had changed things. If you are a member of a high end group, this would be the ideal purchase as you could then share the cost. As a dealer, it would make it much easier to set up systems for your customers.
What can be checked? The polarity of every piece of equipment within your system except your turntable cartridge. You could even record the pulses to cassettes, CD-R's DVD-R, etc. and play them back as the source. One thing I would suggest that Smart Devices include if they are going to sell it to individuals would be an XLR to Female RCA cheater plug for single ended systems. The units are ruggedly built and should easily survive the roughest handling and should last virtually forever. If you are into absolute polarity, I suggest you get either one of these for analog-digital systems or the System 2000 if you are straight digital.
Product of the Year 2002:
Electraprint Audio DRD 300B Amplifier
If you have been reading my column for a while, this year's best product will probably bring on feelings of deja
vue. Why? Because I chose the previous incarnation of this amplifier as one of my picks for Product of the Year in January 2002. With all of the products now available, how does it show up again? Simply because I had Jack
Elliano, the founder and main man of Electraprint
www.electraprint.com build for me my sixth amplifier of his design. This is a new stereo 300B SET amplifier using his DRD circuit with the improvements made in cosmetics, ease of use and sound. The new amplifier sounds and looks even better than his previous ones plus it is better than any SET amplifier I have heard at close to his asking price.
I will not go into the whole story of how Jack became involved in building amplifiers as this have been covered before in AA Chapters 27, 28, and 30. Suffice it to say that he started off designing chokes and transformers for tube amplifiers, then started designing circuits to match their quality and beauty. His penultimate design, and the first improvement on the SET circuit since the 30's, is the DRD circuit as discussed in AA Chapter 27. His first amplifier design employed a SRPP circuit with two 12AT7's to drive a single Vaic 32 or 30 B tube. While they were massive and had great bass, they did not quite have the magic of 2A3's or 300B's. Thus they were sold off and I went with Doc Bottlehead's Paraglow DIY amplifiers with 2A3's. They had the midrange magic but very little deep bass. Then last year Jack notified me that he had developed a new circuit, his
DRD, which took all chokes, resistors and capacitors out of series with the signal and laid them in parallel. A diagram of this can be found in AA Chapter 27. This had two
effects including fewer components in the signal path and more isolation of the power supply from the signal.
What does this do?
1. Allows an output tube to be driven to about 150% of its previously available output power.
2. Deep powerful bass without an immense power supply.
3. A mid-range to die for.
4. The most faithful recreation of the micro-dynamics and background information I have heard from a tube amplifier.
5. A high end that goes out forever. With Jack's transformers he claims -1dB from 18Hz to 40kHz. with this circuit and I believe him.
What does this give you: The most open, clean, wide and deep soundstage imaginable. Music that keeps you listening until dawn (or until the wife comes down from the bedroom complaining about being cold.) All of the characteristics that make SET amps great, while alleviating the major problems of them: weak bass and highs. If I had a pair of 300B monoblocks DRD's for the left front and right channels and a monoblock stereo DRD 2A3 amplifier for the center channel did I have him build me this new amplifier you ask? Because I also use my system to listen to movies and, unhappily, the 5 watts per channel I was getting from the 2A3 unit was insufficient to drive my center channel horn woofer without clipping with the loudest soundtracks. So why did not I just get a cheap solid-state amp for the center channel? Because I find it very important to match all of the channels for seamless sound without discontinuities. This is especially true for SACD and DVD-A multi-channel playback. Also, Jack's units are perfect for maximizing the intelligibility of voice in the center channel.
The latest amplifier has been built on a beautiful chrome plated metal chassis, as compared to previous ones that were wooden. My only regret was that I did not have the transformer bells plated either with the chrome or gold which is available as the amplifier is otherwise gorgeous, especially when lit up by the tubes. Instead of the Western Electric 300B's that I requested for my previous amplifiers, Jack used some Sophia Electric
www.sophiaelectric.com mesh plate 300B tubes and the sound from them on this amplifier is as liquid and true to life as you would want and at about half the price of the
WE's. While the WE's may last forever (although I had half of the filament go on one after about 50 hours of use), I would rather have the sound of the Sophia's and possibly have to replace them every few years.
The other nice thing about Jack's products is that he builds and tests all of the circuits, transformers and chokes himself and will build the units to your specifications at very reasonable prices as compared to other amplifiers of this quality. I would compare the sound of them to the Border Patrol at $8,000 and the Lamm at $26,000 plus. Thus they are a real steal at only $3,200 for a stereo chassis. There is one fly in the ointment with his circuit. While very stable once set up, the circuit was designed in such a way as the voltage of the input tubes interacts with the bias of the output tube. Thus it becomes somewhat of a pain to adjust both, especially since the large linear resistor used is under the chassis. Therefore all major adjustments have to be done with the unit turned upside down. Happily, Jack has put in daughter potentiometers and measuring points on top of the amplifiers so that minor adjustments are much easier with this than his previous
So what do we have here? One of the best sounding 300B or 2A3 amplifiers available at any price listing at the lower end of the price range for all except the kits available from
Welborne Labs ,
www.welbornelabs.com, and Doc Bottlehead,
www.bottlehead.com. An amp designed, built, tested and shipped by Jack from his factory in Las Vegas, which can be built to your specifications in a reasonable period of time. So now you may ask, what did I do with the 2A3 amplifier? I sold it to a good friend named Arthur who also loves it and will care for it. Also, you may ask if I have enough power now to drive my horns. Well, with only the center channel on playing the major battle scene from
Gladiator I had my wife down from the upstairs bedroom in less than a minute wondering if an earthquake was occurring. Power enough for horns at the maximum 12 watts per channel output.
To place an order for Jack's products, go to his web site at www.electraprint.com
or a phone call to (702) 396-4909. Just be warned. If you get on the phone with him be ready to pay for a long call. He's quite the talker.
That is it for today. Here is wishing you a happy and prosperous New Year. Now off to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES).