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Sound Practices Magazine Online!

Sound Practices Magazine Online!


Fellow Travelers
Editorial By Joe Roberts
From Sound Practices Issue 4, Summer 1993


Sound Practices Issue 4, Summer 1993

  In an age when the upward march of progress is taken for granted in most fields, more and more audiophiles a e embracing obsolescent vacuum tube technology. The advance guard even seems to be moving further and further back in time, reviving and reassessing circuits which first came to light in the 1920s!

The sonic rationale for keeping the filaments lit is certainly apparent to readers of this publication and discerning audiophiles in general. Although largely abandoned by the "serious" engineering community, vacuum tube technology refuses to die because users still consider it useful and appropriate.

For most enthusiasts of other obsolescent technologies, everyday functional utility is of secondary importance. Antique radio collectors treasure old radios precisely because such things are not being made or used anymore. Although some collectors do fm up their sets occasionally, simply having them and saving them for posterity is usually more important than using them. They are historians. Indeed, many old broadcast radios are evocative and appealing works of period industrial art which engage both the eye and the mind. Even to the most crazed vintage audiomaniac, a shelf loaded with old EICO amplifiers simply doesn't have the visual impact of a display of art deco radio sets.

For the most part, the beauty of tube hi-fi gear (vintage or modem) remains hidden until it is turned on. There are some "collectors" out there, but tube audio, even vintage hi-fi, is primarily use-oriented rather than ornamental or historical. Vacuum tube audio is a living art.

There is, however, another segment of the classic radio world that uses tube radios. A growing community of amateur radio operators (hams) is rediscovering the great communications radios of yore. They have character, they're easy to work on, and many are fine performers from a practical standpoint. Of course, most hams think the vacuum tube went out with men's hats - but there are quite a few around who really know how to have a good time with a technology that the mainstream gave up on decades ago.

There are contrary old timer hams out there who never did trust those dam silicon "three legged fuses". For some of these characters, the way to build a transmitter is to run a surplus metal 6L6 at 150 W dissipation inverted in a bucket of transformer oil so it won't melt down. If it worked well in 1953, it should still work in 1993. They've been around long enough to know that the laws of physics don't change that fast. But many of the "hollow state hams" are younger than the transistor. They see something in the glow of a tube that you can't buy at Radio Shack today.

They recognize the value in the idea of building your own gear and fixing it when it breaks. They are idealists, trying to capture the romance that radio once had, a quantity lost in today's world of LCD/LED lit microprocessor controlled "rice boxes". Compare a McIntosh MR-71 to a Panasonic tuner and you get the general idea. ''Real radios glow in the dark," they say. They are right!

In this issue you will meet a few of these fellow travelers. You might also cross paths with these guys at swapfests or at the local surplus outlet. You want 2A3s for a single ended amp and they want 'em for the modulator deck of their WWII BC-610 transmitter. Hams are the other hollow state homebrewers, the other guys who read tube manuals in the bathtub, the other hobbyists keeping the orange glow burning. They are just like us - only the frequency range is different. We all recognize that real classics are always new.




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