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Audiolics Anonymous Chapter 9
Vacation Is Over
Article by Bill Gaw

 

  Hello, fellow Audiolics, welcome to another meeting of Audiolics Anonymous, our support group for the insatiably TWEAKED.  Well, I guess my vacation is over, and Iím back for another monthís discussion. Two weeks in Paradise were wonderful, but itís time to go back to work, or in this case, Tweaking.

I have had a couple of letters from fellow tweakers asking about my system, setup, etc., and since I am extremely proud of what I have accomplished, Iíll use todayís forum to discuss my equipment, and why I chose them. Iíll also go from what I consider the most to the least important pieces of equipment.

 

MEDIA ROOM

First, and probably the most important piece of equipment, and usually the least discussed, understood, and worked on by audiophiles, is the room. Least discussed, because the science of acoustics is still in its infancy, and still very little understood. Look at the fiascoes that have occurred in concert hall construction. Add to that the fact that the home environment is not conducive to purely acoustic changes, what with the WAF, and the need to use most listening rooms for other family activities. And few of us are lucky enough to be able to design a room just for audio and/or video, even though if done properly, the extra cost if you are building or reconstructing a house, would be minimal ( at least compared to buying a top of the line speaker or amp.)  Thus, it is practically impossible to bring our rooms up to the quality level of our poorest pieces of equipment. We spend fortunes on cables, feet, sound absorbents, sprays, etc., and these are of little import compared to what those six walls are doing to the sound.

Thus, when my wife, in 1984, wanted to redo the kitchen, I snuck in a little addition to the house, which became my refuge. The room is 17x28x14 feet, with a concrete slab, double thick high density compress board walls and ceiling, with 9 inches of cellulose insulation in the walls and 24 inches in the ceiling, which effectively dampens wall vibrations compared to fiberglass or Styrofoam. The studs are all doubled for extra support, and the side walls are skewed so that one end of the room is 17 feet wide, and the other 16 feet, and the ceiling is coffered so that there are no parallel walls, thus cutting down on standing waves. I originally had a live end-dead end setup with 3 inch Sonex covering the walls and ceiling at the speaker third of the room, but I found that at the time it was too much of a good thing. Now I have built two 6 inch deep, 4x8 foot boxes filled with Sonex and covered with a wool tapestry, each at the first reflection point for the main speakers. The front wall has a large picture window, which is now closed off by an insulated shutter, a necessity for light control and to enable my equipment to go in front of it, and the remainder of the wall has built in book cases (with records, CDís, and tapes in them, silly). In front of the window is a large shelf made up of old 2inch thick solid core oak doors, on which rests a double sized Vibraplane, on which rests a large Butcher Block shelf, on which reside three 3 foot tall Arcici equipment racks, with most of the non-amplifier electronics.

The back and rear side walls, and the area over the window at the front of the room, are covered with diffusers, some from RPG, Inc., and some self built knockoffs. These diffuse sound from about 300 Hz. up, giving the room a more spacious sound. I have also played around with bass absorbers, such as Tube Traps, but found that the room really didnít need them, especially with my horn speakers, which actually use rather than fight the room for the bass. Please see AUDIOLICS CHAPTER 4 for further discussion.

 

ELECTRICITY

Once the room was done, the next most difficult problem became apparent, i.e., POWER. (Please see my article AUDIOLICS CHAPTER 3) The problems I have had with my electric service have driven me crazy. The house originally had a 100 amp service, and I upgraded this to a 200, and had the electric company run a double thick line of copper into the house. The electrician originally ran several 15 amp circuits to the room over 12 gauge copper, which was okay, but then I had a 60 amp all copper line run directly into the room from the top of the service. You notice I said copper. Never use aluminum wire. Itís funny that we have discussions about our AC cords, interconnects, and speaker wires, but donít think twice about whatís in the wall. Not only does aluminum sound poor, but itís also dangerous if not properly connected. There were times that I even thought about running solid silver cable, but sanity and my finances prevailed.

Several times I discussed with my local electric utility the lack of quality of their 120, and each time they left a meter at my house for a week, then deigned to show me how few spikes there were, and how even the voltage stayed, and that they were in compliance with state rules. Each time I would relent, say ďWhat do I know about electricity anywayĒ, and suffer in silence. There were  times of the day when the sound was piss poor, especially early evening, and other times, late at night, when it was great.

Over the years, I think I have spent more money on trying to improve the AC than on any other section of my system. First I bought 6 2KVA isolation transformers, with large motor run caps hanging off of them to act as cap-inductor-cap low pass filters, and placed them in a box outside of the house. Little help. Then I detached the equipment from the house ground, and ran another one with a 10 foot copper pipe and 100 feet of buried copper ground cable two feet down.  I went out and bought four MSB uninterruptible power supplies, which changed the AC to DC and then reconstructed a 120 Hz sine wave, which made the worst times better, and the best times the same, but did not completely rid me of the problem. Then I added two Toshiba 2KVA sine wave UPSí with isolation transformers to add more power, and this helped again. But each time, I still ran up against the poorest of power and sound at the prime listening times, mid evening.

All this time, my wife complained about times when the microwave and oven would cook foods differently depending on time of day. Impossible said the electrical experts. Sun spots said the gurus as the cause. I bought her a super expensive pro range, which did little good. Finally, I went on this last vacation to the Caribbean, where the electricity is at best supposed to be poor, and would you believe, the oven and microwave there worked fine. Luckily, I had become a friend of the chief electrical engineer for the power plant on the island, explained my problem to him over a couple (or three) Pina Coladas, and lo and behold he said two magic words to me: POWER FACTOR.

I wonít get into a long explanation of this, just to say that he suggested I call the power company when I got home, raise bloody hell, (he was Jamaican with a British accent), and suggest that they replace the line transformer outside my house, and possibly some other equipment further back. Well guess what. They had had a change of engineers in the past few months, the new one was very interested, and within a week there was a truck in front of my house with a new transformer. And guess what. The electricity is great during the day and evening, and superb at night. There is still a difference between the listening times, so I still think there is something solar caused coming over the lines, but no where near as much, and the best is even better. The only down side: the slightly overcooked meals I have been getting. But whatís more important, my short term gustatory or my long term listening pleasure. The moral: whether we like it or not, all of our equipment relies on outside energy, and if you donít want your own generator (most of which put out horrible waves), or donít want to run on umpteen batteries, or buy equipment that uses batteries for their power supply, you are stuck with the public utility, and you might as well work with them if possible, to get the best sound. And the better the equipment, the more important the electricity is. I am still going to run all of my UPS units, as Iíve already invested in them, and the sound is somewhat improved with them, but boy I could have saved 16 years of  stress and aggravation, if only I had been persistent in the first place with the electric company.

 

VIBRATION ISOLATION

I have used rubber tires, isolation shelves, bricks, lead weights, multiple types of feet, borosilicate paints, etc., in the past to try to isolate my system from both air-born and direct transfer vibrations, both system and environmentally produced, and have finally settled on the following as working the best and being the most cost-effective. (see AUDIOLICS CHAPTER 2)  First, I am using three VIBRAPLANES from Sounds of Silence on which I have all of my equipment isolated from ground born vibration. I have found nothing else that is as effective in tightening up imaging and soundspace aberrations. Second, I have on order an ARCICI  SUSPENSE RACK for my turntable, as it weighs 275 lbs., and is stressing the Vibraplane that I have it on. To cut down on chassis vibration from air-born sound, I use sacks of lead shot, easily bought from gun shops in five, ten and twenty pound bags at about a buck a pound, which works better than anything Iíve seen sold by the high end. Expensive feet donít make much of a difference when the Vibraplane is used, but the ones I bought previously, now make great spacers between equipment.

 

SPEAKERS

Believe it or not, I think that the loudspeakers, after the room and electricity, are the most important component in the system. The Linn people may think the front end is most important, with the concept of  ďgarbage in-garbage outĒ, but speakers have the most variability in the way they sound compared to all other equipment. And the best of all types of speakers for sound quality are properly built horns. They are very efficient, needing little more than one watt per channel for 100 dB plus, have very low distortion, if built properly, as the drivers make much smaller movements for the same volume of sound (maybe 1/10 the amount), each driver can cover 10 octaves, with 12dB roll offs mechanically at both ends, thus allowing for easier crossover construction with fewer parts, and the bass horns use rather than fight the room for the lowest bass. The main disadvantage is size. The horn has to be at least 1/4 the wavelength of the lowest note (20 Hz. = 56 feet, so the horn has to be 14 feet long, and the opening has to be equally large to get the least distortion. This is the reason they disappeared with the introduction of the bass reflex cabinet. Also, since they are so efficient, they use the first watt of power, and this is the worst watt produced by solid state amps, which became prevalent in the 60ís. Plus, the WAF comes into play when your living room is taken up by cubic yards of speaker.

But when you have your own music room, and a wife who is happy you chase components rather than girlfriends, this is not a problem, and you can go the limit. Thus, I now have seven horn systems in my room, all designed by Dr. Bruce Edgar of  EDGARHORN.

The left and right channels use his 400Hz to 20kHz. round Tractrix horns with Pioneer TAD 4001 compression drivers. These are mated to self built bass horns using two Electravoice 12L drivers per channel, running from 50Hz to 400Hz. They are six feet long, with a mouth about 3x4ft. and, since they are straight horns, they are easily time-aligned to the mid horn. I have added Rane horn tweeters to the main horns running from 10KHZ up, using a 1 microfarad cap for a crossover. The crossover between the mid and bass is handled by a  24 dB electronic crossover  built into the preamps. With the natural roll offs of the drivers, and the crossover, and the time alignment, and the quickness of the bass drivers due to their small driver excursions, I believe I get seamless sound.

Sub bass is handled by two VMPS large subwoofers time aligned with the horns. These are flat to 16 Hz, with a 12 dB roll off from there. I have set  them with a Q of 0.7 for tight controlled bass.

As this is an audio-video room, I also have a center and two side horns made up of TAD 2002 drivers mated to Edgar round horns with Edgar 80 Hz hyperbolic elliptic horns using Electrovoice 12L drivers. Crossovers are MARCHAND ELECTRIC 24 dB tube and solid state electronic crossovers. Subwoofers are HSU RESEARCH 7 foot tower subs using 12 inch drivers. Thus there are four subwoofers, two in front and two in back of the room for even distribution of standing waves. In addition I am adding two further sets of Edgarhorns on the back wall for a 6.1 surround system .Iíll let you know in future issues how this works out.

 

ANALOG

Records are played on a Walker Proscenium turntable, which rests on a Vibraplane. This 275 pound behemoth has an air bearing linear arm and turntable, and uses the Walker Precision Motor Control, giving superb pitch definition. This is the best turntable Iíve heard, but is a pain in the butt to set up, but once dialed in it is rock stable. A Crown Jewel MC cartridge and Walker phono wire complete the phono network. I run the wire straight from the cartridge to the preamp, thus saving an interconnect, and damaging of the millivolt signal by connectors. All records are washed on a VPI 16 record cleaner, the only piece of audio equipment I have from my original high end system constructed in 1982. Disc Doctor record cleaner and Groove Glide are used on each record. The combination of these treatments with the Walker, gives ultra-quiet surfaces with the best records approaching the noise floor of the original master tapes.

 

DIGITAL

At  the moment, my digital system is down, as I am waiting for a new transport. I use the EAD Theatermaster Signature for d/a conversion, and video surround and was using an RKR Cassini DVD/computer for transport, (www.rkrvideo.com), (see AUDIOLICS CHAPTER 7) but am now waiting for their Marquis unit, which has built in 24/96 converters, and will report on them later. Each CD is treated with Optrix and the Bedini Ultraclarifier, and I still use an Audio Alchemy PRO-32 for jitter reduction. Each CD is also balanced by an Audiodesk System lathe.

 

PREAMP

I am privileged to have two monoblock preamps made for me by Allen Wright of Vacuum State Electronics in Munich, Germany (www.vacuumstate.com). They are based on his RTP-V balanced preamp circuits, with phono stage and built-in 24 dB electronic crossovers based at 55, and 400 Hz. for my main horn speakers and subwoofers. Thus I have three pieces of equipment in one, and I must say, his unit is by far the best preamp I have ever owned or heard. If you are into self built units, I can highly recommend this one.

 

AMPS

The left and right speaker mid-tweeters are driven by my Electronic Tonalities 2A3 Parafeed amps. (www.bottlehead.com). These are actually the second set I have built, and will report on them in the next issue. The originals have been sent to Steve Rochlin for review. I built all wood chassis and rerouted everything for shortest distances, and used silver foil wire throughout, and all I can say is WOW. Iíll be reviewing them next month.

The woofers are covered by two Plinius SA-50 amps run in Class A. The two front subs are driven by a Crown Macro Reference amp. The center channel uses a stereo Electraprint Audio SE Amp (www.execpc.com) using two VAIC VV-32 tubes, (http://home.t-online.de)  and the surrounds each a Distech SS amp from the 1980ís. I have recently added the center back surround speakers to be driven off of a THX 6.1 decoder, and Iíll report on this when I get the digital system up and running.

 

CABLES

I am still using my self made Allen Wright Silver foil interconnects and speaker cables, and am still happy as a clam with them (www.VacuumState.com). They cost about $70 per meter, and are better than anything Iíve heard for under $1000, and are fun to build.(Please see AUDIOLICS ANONYMOUS CHAPTER  5 and AUDIOLICS ANONYMOUS CHAPTER 6).

Well, thatís my system. I must say, that over the past two months I have become more and more content with the sounds I am getting, much more so than in the past 15 years. Is it old age, or have I actually achieved the true Audio Nirvana of the perfect system?.. Only time will tell. Iím sure the system as presented will take anything that the new high bit digital schemes will throw at it, and spit out even better sound, but I doubt that Iíll be able to improve on any of the present equipment. Of course, Iíve said that before. Maybe Iíll even have to resign as President of Audiolics Anonymous if this continues.

Anyway, thatís it for today. My invitation still stands to have other members come over for a listen. Until next meeting: Good Listening.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
 

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