I don't like to brag – who does? – but lately I have been doing really rather well at extreme endurance events such as 100 mile runs across the dessert to long distance rowboating and felt it was my duty to share my ground breaking discoveries in hi-fi with you.
It occurred to me that if hi-fi was to advance from its present trifurcation between the subjectivists and their single ended triodes and bamboo paper coned single driver horns, the Krellista, and the ear bud wearing, iPod swinging MP3 listening, unwashed, it was incumbent upon me to heal the rift.
While only finished 2nd in the solo rowboat across the Atlantic race, I would have finished first had the winner not broken every rule in the book by having antibiotics dropped to him after he negligently cut himself with a spork, or so he says. Rules are rules and I would never have thought to call in support after that rogue whale mistook my boat for a prospective mate and mounted me and my vessel. Before successfully beating off the randy (and appropriately named) sperm whale with my carbon fiber oar, I have to say came perilously close to understanding the Biblical story of Jonah first hand.
While I of course had to give up a lot on my rowboat –- company, hot food, a place to stretch my legs, shelter from the storm – I could not give up my music. Moreover, as I only ever listen to live music (when given the choice), I had to have live music on the boat. But to bring along my own chanteuse – which of course would have its obvious ‘friends with benefits' benefits – that would be breaking the rules and you know how I feel about rules.
I had originally thought of modding my Bateman rebuilt Studer-Revox Reel to Reel and installing it in the back of the boat and placing my beloved ESL57s on the foredeck, I just didn't have the space. It also seemed impractical to switch master tapes in the thirty-foot swells. In addition, what if they got wet? My priceless collection would be lost to the generations to come.
So I like many of the unwashed – as I was soon to become – I thought I might go with an iPod. What a disappointment. Absolutely, jaw-uppingly unlistenable.
The concept, however, so to speak, seemed sound. It just needed re-execution with cost no object components and the sort of general malaise only the genius possess and the insane lament. The project came to take a life of its own and I am sure I would have come first in the race had I spent more time prepping my boat and less time tweaking my 21st century walkman.
While the Jeffpod started as an iPod once I was done there was little left except the case: getting someone to mill magnesium billet on such short notice proved impossible.
My first task was to scour eBay for the right iPod. I knew that as the initial Toyota Corollas that came into Canada built with better steel and closer tolerances, there were uber-ipods that Apple had unleashed upon the world built well beyond normal factory tolerances to establish the brand.
Of course, Apple did not exactly advertise this fact, but I knew they were out there with their better batteries, titanium cases, 2,500,000 hour mean time between failure hand selected drives and sprinkling of hand selected op-amps (funnily enough with their markings scraped off). Securing my 1st generation cadaver proved surprisingly, though not cheap, easy: eBay. Apparently, some prankster at Apple sent one personally engraved with the initials SJ to each and every member of the board of Sony.
Unsurprisingly unamused, they were, however, wise enough to send down the players to the Sony Skunkworks at Area 51 (you didn't know Sony ran the place?) to be taken to bits. I won't say what I paid, but I really should have spent more on the boat.
My expectations for the iPod weren't high, but I expected much, much better.( I shudder at the thought of how horrible a consumer grade Ipod must sound.)
While it would seem time for me to get out the soldering iron, it was time to brush up on RISC assembly language and rewrite the firmware to handle 24-bit wave files.
(Could never, however, get the iPod to play SACD. Cannot tell you how long I worked at reverse engineering Sony's software. I have even been told that I occasionally speak DSD in my sleep.)
Then I rebuilt the iPod, replacing the DAC with a one bit filterless design of my own design (patent pending) and everything else with only the finest, hand selected ‘by me' components.
The ‘by me', here, is the important bit.
I am not sure I will do it again. Listening to a couple hundred vintage cryogenically treated op amps to find the one or two with that certain je ne sais quoi grew bit tedious, but op-amp no. 269 made it all worth it.
Sorry guys. No spares as I sold the rest to NASA at quite a profit, something to do with getting the gyros to spin at the right speed on the International Space Station. Part of the deal, however, was that I keep my discovery to myself.
Not content with the original pcb of the iPod, I hard wired a replacement in silver, correcting along the way what I understood to be Mr. Jobs' cost cutting measures. What a mistake! Too glossy sounding by half. Perhaps ‘the other Steve' does know a thing or two. He certainly has a nice plane. After two months, however, in the metallurgy lab at the University of Toronto with the good Dr. Rumplestiltzkin I finally stumbled upon a gold amalgam (I cannot tell you the precise details as I am presently in negotiations with Kondo-San Jr. for phonograph motors) that I could live with.
In exchange, K-Junior (as I call him) provided me with some of the finest bamboo caps I have ever had the pleasure of placing under the fingernails of that nasty manufacturer who questioned my golden ears.
Still things weren't quite right. Then it dawned on me, the Jeffpod needed a tubed output stage. Doesn't everything these days? Nevertheless, how to fit tubes and proper output transformers in a case smaller than a deck of cards? Then it hit me, use those step up transformers (backwards) from those vintage Ortofon SPU Headshells at the bottom of my drawer with that gross of nuvistors that I had personally harvested from the ‘decommissioned' ICBM that I bought in a job lot in South London from Trotters Independent Traders.
After abandoning my rebuilt Quad ESL57s from the fore deck because they both created unwanted wind resistance and interfered with my stroking, I decided to back to my trusty, custom ‘by me again' Stax Earspeakers complete with tubed energizer energized with a mixture of NOS East German Telefunken and pre-war Seimens.
Still, it didn't sound like my masters even with the Stax headphones that I would consider the bare minimum for listening (quite a scary proposition when you come to think of the 300 volt differential on either side of your noggin and the salt water spray.) What was wrong?
I figured it out; the system was now so ruthlessly revealing and transparent that it revealed all the defects of my 2nd generation masters which I had digitized with the Meitner. I needed to go to ‘The Source.'
This took months of negotiation but they finally (I suppose they were just sick of me) threw me the keys to the vaults.
Gaining access to the original tapes of AC/DC and Led Zeppelin and remastering them in the way that Bonham and Scott would have liked had they the equipment, expertise, and desire gave the results I was looking for. After carefully importing these into iTunes at half-speed with my dCS Handel-Hendrix rack system (not yet available to the public), I came away more or less satisfied with the Jeffpod but I still felt there was room for improvement.
I only built the system as I wanted something portable to listen to while soloing the Atlantic in my 33-foot rowboat and once I recover from the race I will keep on the project. You will not, however, see my name listed for purposes of security on the various solo the Atlantic websites. (Certain Danes are after me for my wire.) In any event, the new system makes the old REVOX in the shopping trolley I dragged behind during my last 100 miles across the Nevada dessert after the last CES.
Yours In Hi-Fi,
Dr. M. Jeffrey Rabin, Dr. M. Jeffrey Rabin, B.A. (honours, Toronto), Msc. (econ.), Ph.D. (econ.)