A 1990 interview with Tim de Paravicini by John Atkinson http://www.stereophile.com/interviews/990paravicini
A 2007 interview with Steve Harris http://www.stereophile.com/interviews/1107parav/index.html
An interview from Audio, January 1995
Tim de Paravicini, the Audio Interview: In Pursuit of Excellence
by Bruce Bartlett with Jenny Bartlett
Hidden away in a small company near Cambridge, England, is a man who upgrades analog tape recorders to near perfection. Tim de Paravicini modifies classic tape machines. He reworks them from the ground up, adding new tape heads, tweaking the transport, and replacing the electronics with his own custom tube designs. He also upgrades stereo microphones with special circuitry. And the results are worth it. His customers rave about the beautiful new sound, better than they can get with digital tape recorders.
An example of the de Paravicini sound is on A Meeting by the River, by Ry Cooder and Vishwa Bhatt. The experience of hearing this CD can be startling because of its presence, warmth, and purity. The recording won a Grammy for its engineering by Kavi Alexander of Water Lily Acoustics, an audiophile label. The electronics that contributed to this disc’s quality sound are the work of a man with a passion for audio purity that goes beyond digital quality. In fact, de Paravicini has contempt for digital sound as it now exists. He’s pushing the envelope far beyond what we ordinarily settle for in CD quality.
If you’re fascinated by the search for the ultimate in recording quality, de Paravicini’s story of modifications of recorders, consoles, and microphones will interest you, as will his provocative opinions on everything from digital sound to hi-fi "tweaks."
A man of many talents, de Paravicini is well known in esoteric audio circles as an extraordinary designer. While some of his circuit designs are tube and some transistor, all are original. He has been a consultant to Musical Fidelity and Lux Corporation in the design of many of their classic audio components.
Fourteen years ago, de Paravicini founded Esoteric Audio Research. The company makes vacuum-tube products for the high-end audio and pro-audio markets, such as power amplifiers, a microphone, a microphone amplifier, equalizers, and a compressor/limiter. With years of experience in disc cutting, de Paravicini has cut records for Water Lily Acoustics, Chesky Records, and Island Records. He also improved the performance of several recording lathes.
Although de Paravicini will upgrade any tape machine, his favorite is the legendary Studer C37. "It’s a good, reliable workhorse," he says. According to him, the C37 blows away everything else, even an Ampex MR70. The C37’s tube circuitry is simple, with no microprocessors to get in the way. Even before the upgrade, the C37’s specs are notable. The frequency response is rated as 20 Hz to 15 kHz, +1, -2 dB, and S/N is 75 dB (rms, weighted) at 15 ips. After de Paravicini’s modifications, the response is 7 Hz to 35 kHz, +/- 1 dB, and S/N is 90 dB!
One happy user of a de Paravicini tape deck is Chris Rice, owner of Altarus Records, a classical label. Rice had de Paravicini modify three Studer C37s - two 1-inch and one half-inch. "The heads were custom made to Tim’s specifications," says Rice. "The mechanical modifications he did himself. He stripped the electronics out and rebuilt his own circuitry into the existing modules, doing hundreds of modifications. He uses his own EQ curve. He also provides an AC mains regenerating power supply because the machines are not quartz locked; they depend on mains frequency. By doubling the capstan diameter, Tim doubled the tape speed from 7 1/2/15 ips to 15/30 ips."
According to Rice, "The new machines are incredibly stable mechanically. They sound fabulous, very quiet and more dynamic. They’re very clean and have no grungy noises. With the new Ampex 499 tape, the modulation noise is down so low, you can almost forget about it. It gives you quite a lot of leeway in your recording level. You don’t have to worry about compression because these tapes will happily go up to 9 dB over. The tape saturates way before the electronics overload."
Rice notes that his analog decks sound better to him than digital, even without any noise reduction. "They give a more accurate representation of what’s coming down the line. That has to be my final criterion: How closely can I capture what’s coming in from the microphones?"
Another satisfied user is Sam Rivers, a producer of jazz records. He sent de Paravicini two broken-down Studer A-80s to modify into a 1-inch and half-inch model. Vince Clark of Erasure also has one of de Paravicini's machines.
Kavi Alexander, the engineer with Water Lily Acoustics, won his Grammy for engineering a Ry Cooder album with a de Paravicini recorder; it was a 1-inch, two-track Studer C37. Alexander used a Blumlein stereo pair of custom microphones, which was built with rectangular mike capsules by Milab and with tube electronics by de Paravicini.
When I interviewed Tim de Paravicini, I was struck by his strong, original opinions about audio.
In some circles you have the reputation of a hi-fi tweak.
I'm not. I'm too academic to get into that. The hi-fi fraternity is bizarre, full of dangerous amateurs. I try to steer clear and do genuinely innovative work - something that's worthwhile.
What caused you to start modifying recorders?
I was dissatisfied with their performance, If "line out" doesn't sound like "line in," that's not good enough.
What’s the main advantage of your 1-inch analog recorder over digital recorders?
The sound quality. My analog recorder has four times the sampling frequency! The bias frequency is 160 kHz. The magnetic-particle flow past a playback head is equivalent to a 24-hit word, which is amazing resolution.
Analog recorders can sound wonderful, but DATs are so portable and convenient.
Oh, God, I hate DATs. Stopping and starting with those things is a pain in the ass. With an open-reel tape, you can pause it and go instantly; it's human; it's tactile. Whereas DATs stop, fit, fart, and think about what they're going to do - they're just not friendly. And unlike DAT tape, analog 1-inch tape archives beautifully. Some tapes made in 1955 are earthshakingly good. They still sound fresh. But talk to anybody with U-Matic tapes or DATs, and see how well they store. Run a DAT through a machine 20 times, and you're struggling.
If analog tape sounds so much better than digital, what improvements should be made in A/D, D/A converters?
First of all, the frequency response should extend from 3 Hz to 50 kHz, because we experience those frequency limits. We are able to detect audio up to 50 kHz. We don't hear it, but we experience it in other ways. I can give you tinnitus very quickly if I run an ultrasonic cleaner at 45 kHz. You are aware that it's on, and your ears ring when it's shut off. On the low end, we detect mechanical vibrations down to 3 Hz. When a marching band walks past you, you feel the drums in your stomach and bones. And that's all part of the sound.
Ten years ago in Stereophile, I said that digital was never going to work well in the chosen format. Digital should use a 400 kHz sampling rate and 24-bit words. Then it will satisfy the hearing mechanism and won't have a digital sound. Digital has a "sound" purely because it is based on lousy mathematics. The manufacturers presuppose too simplistic a view of our hearing mechanism.
But manufacturers don't want to change - it's the lowest-common-denominator syndrome. It's like 525-line television, which allows you only X amount of resolution. With digital, you've fixed your resolution parameters, where analog never had that problem.
I still do work on the vinyl record; it still can be advanced. The number of vinyl molecules passing the needle every second is equivalent to half a gigahertz. So there ain't a lot wrong with it, fundamentally. You can carry on improving it without losing compatibility. It's like good old 35-mm films - you carry on improving films, but there's nothing to stop you from shoving them through the same old projectors!
I've been pioneering work on a CD player that runs at 88k, but it only works with CDs that were cut at 88k.
When storage density increases enough, we won't have the excuse for using only 44.1k.
Right. The manufacturers should have said, "Let's go gung ho and create a real system that works right." A 12-inch LaserDisc would have given you an hour's worth of music to the highest standard. Manufacturers try to pretend that what's good enough for Joe Doe at $5 is the state of the art.
Getting back to your recorder mods, what transport modifications do you make?
Whatever makes the system more stable. Actually, wow and flutter is more limited by the tape than the transport. Tape is a mechanically compliant item, and 1-inch tape has much more tape stability and strength than quarter-inch. Yes, the wider tape costs more, but it's a small part of the total project cost.
How did you first learn about tape-head design?
I stripped a lot of machines on the market, worked out my own mathematics, and read papers by Jay McKnight, from Ampex, and so on. I ask the tape-head manufacturers, like Saki, to build heads to my specific requirements. I emphasize bass performance and the fineness of the laminations.
Do you recommend using Dolby SR with your machines?
No. It's unnecessary, and it doesn’t work well under dynamic piano conditions. It doesn't encode a control signal, so it can only approximate. The noise floor in my system is limited only by the microphone. You can't hear its tape hiss - just microphone hiss.
You use vacuum tubes in many of your designs. Some people have said that tubes have euphonic even-order harmonic distortion. Do you rely on this tube nonlinearity to achieve the sound of your mods, or do you always run the tubes in their linear region?
I do not rely on tube nonlinearity. I don't want a sound in my machines. What comes out must sound the same as what went in.
The "warmth" in a lot of tube electronics is due to their dismal top end, the bad transformers they use, and the loading down of their high-impedance outputs. Because of the output transformer and the feedback used, many tube circuits have a partial bass instability that gives a bloated bass. Any warmth in the tube sound is a defect, but listeners don't want to know that.
I don't have to use tubes in my designs; I only do it for marketing reasons. I've got an exact equivalent in solid state. I can make either type do the same job, and I have no preference. People can't pick which is which. And electrons have no memory of where they've been! The end result is what counts.
Most transistor-circuit architecture was different from tube-circuit architecture, and that's what people were hearing, more than the device itself. The main advantage of tubes is that an average tube has more gain than an average transistor. Second, tubes don't have the enormous storage times of transistors, so they are very fast. Tubes go to 100 MHz without trying.
Moving on to microphones, your mikes use rectangular diaphragms, tube electronics, and huge transformers. Why?
A circular diaphragm has one dominant resonant mode. But a rectangular diaphragm does not have the same resonant mode in both axes, so it tends to have a flatter response. Also, a rectangular diaphragm has less off-axis coloration in the horizontal plane than does a circular diaphragm of the same area.
My mikes are transformer-coupled, triode designs. The electronics have a frequency response of 5 Hz to 35 kHz (-1 dB).
I use transformers in my microphones because they can do the job better than anything else. There's no advantage in transformerless circuits because a lot of them can't drive long lines. As long as I know that the electronics of my microphone go from 3 Hz to 100 kHz at the end of 1,000 meters of cable, I'm all right.
Some transformerless mikes have pathetic headroom. Disgusting. We're besotted with this phantom-power philosophy. Most of the mikes draw only I damn milliamp at 48 volts, max. That's 48 mW of energy; it doesn't give you a lot of headroom. I want a mike that can shove 3 volts, +12 dBm, down a line, 20 to 20k, boom! Why so much voltage? Suppose you take a capacitor mike that produces 10-mV output with 74-dB SPL input. At 144 dB SPL, the mike will put out over 3 volts.
You've said that we experience sound down to 3 Hz, and that reproduction down to this frequency is essential. Do studio consoles go down that far?
No. The average console has all these cumulatively rubbish electronics in it. If you cascade 10 amplifiers, each with a response down 1 dB from 20 Hz to 20 kHz, you end up with a cumulative 10 dB down from 20 Hz to 20 kHz. So you must minimize all degradation. Since I use a lot of transformers in my stuff, each transformer must be very wideband.
Unfortunately, the average manufacturer looks at only one piece of equipment, in isolation. They quote a tape machine as having a response of 50 Hz to 15 kHz, +/- 1 dB, and say that's fine. Yes, in isolation. But not as a cumulative system. Tony Faulkner uses a mixing console of mine, full of tubes and transformers, but it's vastly flatter than most of the mixing consoles on the market.
What's your overall design philosophy?
Audio devices should not have a sound of their own; they should be virtually a black box. The results prove themselves in recordings using my products. They do the job.
Whatever the device is, I look at it and say, can that device be logically improved? Forget about cost. Companies like Neumann charge a lot of money, but I say, could they make that product a little better and charge a little more for it? Try to make things better, whether it's outrageous or not. Somebody will want it and will pay for it.
Any last words?
I try to provoke people. I'm sick and tired of the me-too factor, the lemming factor. Just because everybody else wants to jump off a cliff doesn't mean I have to.
Many audio companies tend to rest on their laurels and don't bother to take the next step forward. They should leap ahead instead of staying on the back burner. They have the potential to be stunning.
The two recordings below, among the finest-sounding available, were made with de Paravicini’s modified tape machines and microphones.
Ry Cooder/Vishwa Bhatt: A Meeting by the River, Water Lily Acoustics WLA-CS-29-CD. Kavi Alexander, producer. (Available from May Audio Marketing, P.O. Box 1048, Champlain, NY 12919; 800/422-7525). This beautiful blend of Western and Eastern acoustic music was Stereophile’s Recording of the Month, and was reviewed in April 1993. In my opinion, the highs are especially sweet and gentle. The sound just flows effortlessly into your ears. The only hiss you hear, which is slight, is that of the microphones.
Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Indian Architexture. Water Lily Acoustics WLA-ES-20. Kavi Alexander and Sallie Reynolds, co-producers. (Available as a double LP from Finch & Marsh, 2457 Cascade Trail, Cool, CA 95614; 916/885-2279.)
The following four recordings, again with excellent sonics, were mastered by de Paravicini and John Dent at The Exchange on a custom-built, all-tube cutting system designed by de Paravicini.
Ravel, Daphnis et Chloe, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Charles Munch. Chesky RC15.
The Power of the Orchestra/Mussorsky, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Rene Liebowitz. Chesky RC30.
Clark Terry, Portraits. Chesky JR-2.
Ana Caram, Rio After Dark. Chesky JR-28.
“Interview with The Baron,” Hi-Fi Review, January 1990
Noel Keywood talks to one of hi-fi's most innovative designers, Tim De Paravicini, a man who favours conviction over convention. And The Baron? In fact Tim's lineage means he could legitimately call himself by that title—but that's another story!
Tim de Paravicini: Trying to turn radiograms into hi-fl at the age of thirteen was a frustrating start to hi-fl, because being poor as a kid I couldn't afford to buy parts off the shelf. I learnt how to reclaim parts and how to wind my own transformers.
Noel Keywood: So you wound transformers first rather than later, did you? This unusual interest didn't start while you were in South Africa then?
No. I went to South Africa on my own later, at twenty-two I recall.
So where did you spend your boyhood?
In a horrible place called Stevenage, although I was born in Nigeria. My father was out there mining in the days of the colonies. I came to England when I was seven. My mother brought me back for educational purposes because in darkest Africa in those days there wasn't very much on offer in that respect But living in the wild you tend to learn to be very resourceful; my fascination with things mechanical started when I was four.
Were you in Lagos?
No, we lived about three hundred miles inland, in the middle of nowhere. My father was involved in mining tantalum.
That's semi-desert or Savannah isn't it?
Yes, it's Savannah. We had mosquitoes but basically it was jungle grass all around. Everybody had malaria in one form or another. I had a mild form, but when we came to England the hospital for tropical diseases got it out of my system. That was just as well because I could have lost my sight with it. The coldest temperature where we were was about 68 degrees (F). It was like a sauna bath! My mother was glad to get out. She got a job teaching in Stevenage, which is why we ended up there. My father is still in Africa. Zambia for its geology, I think.
So in effect you went back toAfrica at the age of twenty-two, which was back in the Sixties?
I went to South Africa because it was easier and there was a lot of wealth there in Jo'burg, which is the business centre of South Africa, with plenty of people chasing bucks, much like New York or London. Hi-fl there was a very profitable business because people spent a lot more. They could afford very exotic systems because money was no object.
So you stepped out of the plane and looked for a job?
More or less. I worked in a consultancy capacity to hi-fl shops and I ran a factory building transformers and amplifier products, building PA systems for rock groups, and doing some work for recording studios. I have always felt that in product, regardless of whether it is transistor or valve, the quality of the mains transformer is very important. Many amplifier manufacturers say that an amplifier is their design, but often it is a concoction of application-note circuits furnished by whoever makes the parts, plus external design input They ask a transformer maker to supply a tranny with 'XYZ' on it. That is not their design.
Why transformer design in South Africa, though?
I don't really know! People wanted mains transformers and welder transformers and suchlike, and in South Africa it allowed good throughput for the labour. It didn't have to be so capital intensive. In this country, because of the cost of labour, you must have expensive capital equipment to keep labour costs down. There I could employ people, which I prefer to do. In the end, as you know, I got offered a job by the Lux corporation of Japan.
How did that come about?
The people I did work for were the import agents for Lux. I suppose they realised I knew a thing or two about amplifiers and they wanted some Western input to their designs, which sold around the world of course. Lux's main business was transistor amps, and I work with both transistors and valves. I have no preference for either, but whilst I was at Lux I went back to valves, because I saw that the valve product that they were making was appalling.
But then you moved to Japan. Wasn't that a bit drastic? Did you just shut everything down in Jo'burg?
I couldn't pass up the offer so I sold everything off. Also the internal political situation in the country at that time—around 1972—was beginning to look unstable. At Lux I had many roles, but they wanted Western influence because it was perceived as trying to make product for export market. Most Japanese companies won't swallow their pride and use outsiders but Lux were prepared to, to get a different approach.
I still feel it was a radical move. You didn't worry about it?
No. I had a fascination for the psyche and philosophy of the Orient. It took two years to get the basics of the Japanese language for minimal communication. Luckily, most educated Japanese—like the company designers—can speak some English.
But how about buying your milk and loaf of bread at the weekend?
Well, it starts by gesticulation and when you start to pick up words you begin to apply them. Even though I was in my late twenties when I went there it was slow. Japanese has no root in European languages, so everything you learn is entirely different, except those Western words that have been adopted. I learnt it all the same—the hard way!
Where did you live?
Osaka, which is the Birmingham of Japan if you like. It is about 350 miles southwest of Tokyo. My first accommodation was a little rented house, then I moved into my own flat. Most of the traditional buildings are insubstantial by Western standards, virtually rice husks and wood. I thought I was in a doll's house.
Well, you are tall, aren't you!
Yes, I'm 6ft 3in. I was the company novelty for a long time so I was escorted everywhere at weekends, being shown around. There were not many Westerners in Osaka, and especially not in those days, whereas Tokyo now is full of them.
Nowadays the price of land in Japan—especially Tokyo—is astronomic, so all the companies are moving north in a sort of relocation programme. Tokyo is just too big and congested—much, much worse than London. People just cannot afford to live and work there. Of course, there isn't so much usable land in Japan, a lot being mountainous, so the huge population (121 million) is squeezed into areas probably smaller in total than Britain.
There is a chaotic energy in Japan that I loved. They are enthusiastic, but they can be frustrating too. They don't change their ways or minds easily. They are all brought up on textbooks, so with triode amplifiers for instance, they all believe what a textbook will say about them. The engineers will only do what a textbook tells them. If a book says triodes are best, they all believe triodes are best—they take it to be law. A lot of their technology is basic but very well executed, like that recording Walkman you are using for example.
At Lux I tried to create discussion and argument in order to question things more closely. Competition was necessary, too. You do need it to further progress. Without it, you all end up as yes men, nothing new or novel gets created. There was some frustration at dealing with what I call Japanese stoneheads—people with old heads that won't bend, irrespective of their age. You get stoneheads everywhere of course, but there they were most common.
Amongst the products I developed for Lux was the big M6000 power amp for the American market and the C1000 preamp, plus smaller M4000 and 3000 power amps. At that time nothing so outrageous was done by the Japanese companies. I did all solid state for two years, but then it was my insistence that I got into valves. They were not building good valve amps so I threw one together to show them.
The first one I did was the MB3045, which was a 70W mono amp using so-called triode valves that I got NEC to make. They were really fake triodes, being pentode beam tubes internally wired as triodes. Then there was a cheaper MB3600, which was a 30W per channel stereo design of textbook type, because they didn't want anything different.
I seem to remember that that amp, which I tested, used under-rated 20W output transformers, which produced high distortion at high output. It sounded sweet but it was floppy and gutless. Yes, but that is how they wanted it, and that is how many old valve amps were designed. If people believe that is wonderful–good luck. A lot of audio fashions are based on particular psychoacoustic phenomena of the sort operating here. They sold quite well, because Lux had been selling valve amps for ages in Japan since the fifties. Before their demise (being bought by Alps), they were much like Quad, say, in their domestic market.
So what happened to your valve amps?
The MB3045, which was the designation of the output tube, was exported to the States but not Britain. It used my balanced-bridge circuit but NEC stopped making the valves, which knocked it on the head. Only the small one came here. Valve amps using triodes now use old stock triodes, not being made any more. Because they have been hoarded away for centuries they are very expensive. The Chinese are now remaking the Western Electric 211 triode, I believe.
Any comments about triode valve amp circuits?
They are simple and crude circuits around which there is a cult rather than any real foundation for good sound. They exhibit very high second and third harmonic distortion components that rise quickly with power, which is what characterises their sound. But execution has a lot to do with it. A pentode has all the advantages and none of the disadvantages, so I wouldn't use triodes.
So you'd say they have a characteristic euphonic distortion pattern?
Yes, that's right. There are areas of valve design that I would still like to enter but that is not one of them. I think it was Olson, back in the thirties, who was the one who put the flavour forward that triodes sound better. In Olson's circuit the pentode had all the higher harmonics, but that was because of the way it was being operated.
How about balanced-bridge mode working, which you favour and employ so effectively to achieve high power with very low distortion?
Balanced-bridge mode is a technique that I have evolved. The Quad IIs had cathode windings, but only ten percent was in the cathode. Mine use a 50/50 split. Putting 50% of the winding in the anode and 50% in the cathode and cross-coupling them with capacitors to form the bridge means the device that is switched on will always force the opposite device to switch off. The four windings are equal in turns ratio. Because of this they can be quadrafilar wound (four parallel wires wound together). It gives an identical reflected impedance in anode and cathode.
Is that circuit the basis of your EAR 509 MkII and EAR 549 valve power amplifiers?
Yes, that is the basis of all my valve amplifiers. Apart from complexity in the transformer, which seems to frighten most designers off, there is no drawback. In a classical valve amplifier design you are relying on the transformer to force the opposite valve off, making it difficult to get any conventional valve amplifier to produce low distortion at high frequencies. This is because the output of the opposite anode cannot 'follow accurately in ordinary push-pull working. At high frequencies the circuit falls apart because the transformer is not perfect. A valve will tend to go on faster than it will like to come off. You then get two current clamps being married in the transformer that are not matched. Traditional valve amps like the Leak Point One could achieve 0.1% distortion at 1kHz, but at 20kHz distortion has risen to a couple of percent. There are two reasons: the matching of the two halves of the output stage doesn't hold true because the transformer is no longer perfectly coupling the two halves, and secondly there is feedback from the output of the transformer back to the input. With a transformer's delay time at high frequencies, feedback becomes positive rather than negative. The output damping factor and distortion deteriorate rapidly at high frequencies, and that is a characteristic that produces a certain sound with classic valve amplifier designs. You know, that ringy but very apparently clear treble which can sound very sweet. A correctly designed amplifier doesn't have an apparent anything, and I am after designing for minimum degradation and maximum transparency.
You met your wife Oliva in Japan didn't you? Did you get married there?
No, we married here. My wife could only speak in-flight English, like fasten your seat belt please, because she was an air hostess. So she taught me Japanese and I taught her English.
So why did you return to Britain?
When we decided to leave Japan I felt I could only go to Germany, South Africa, England, America to make hi-fl. With South Africa being political dynamite, Germany offering another language problem, and the States being unknown, I decided I would survive easiest in Britain with my wife, who had never seen the West. It was brave of her to make the move. Now we go back to Japan regularly, and it is nice to take our children there, because they speak Japanese as well as English, and we want them to know about the country even though they are being raised here.
So you came back in 1976 or so. What happened?
We hit bedsit land in London, then I got a job with a hi-fl company in Huntingdon, so we moved up here. That company had a short life, so I decided to go it alone. I designed and made my first amplifier, the EAR 509, which was a true 100W monoblock valve amp.
That was the amplifier I reviewed for Hi-Fl News back in 1978. It had the most amazing performance for a valve amp that I had ever come across, having designed and built them myself in the past. But then so did the TVA1, which you also redesigned.
Yes. I first redesigned the TVA1 to make it work properly for Michaelson and Austin, whilst I was employed in Huntingdon. Then I went solo and built the EAR 509. After that came a matching preamp, just called The Preamp. After that came the 802 preamp, which is still going and it is now a well-honed product free of noise, microphony, and such like.
How do you keep down front end noise with pickup cartridges?
Just by being cunning. The 802 doesn't have a moving coil cartridge front end stage, but I do a preamp—the new G88—which does accept moving coils. I use an input transformer, of course, but not for moving magnet. In fact, I use one pair of paralleled input valves to get noise down satisfactorily for moving magnet. The transformer gets rid of noise problems with moving coil.
The RIAA network is novel and very accurate on my preamps. On my latest G88, the RIAA uses inductors to provide reactance and not capacitors. It is passive, it allows huge input overload levels, and it doesn't suffer all the problems of residual storage of capacitors, which affects the sound. If you short a capacitor, after discharge a residual charge will remain. Air capacitors are the most perfect but they are impractical, so I—uniquely—use inductors. This solves a lot of problems.
What is special about your moving coil input transformer?
It is just very well designed in itself. It has a ruler-flat and very wide frequency response, using a MU metal core and screening can, plus pure copper winding wire. I get better signal to noise with moving coil than moving magnet of course, because of the efficiency of moving coils and the perfect matching one achieves with a transformer. The RIM inductors are cored with special core material, the nature of which I won't disclose. I use ECC83s in the front end because they are quiet, linear, and available. I want my amps to work in Bongoland, where common valves are most likely to be at hand. They must also be reliable and inexpensive, both parameters which are important in real life, in my view.
What do you think of the KT series of output valves?
They do a job of work, but they were optimised around old-fashioned principles. The Mullard-designed PL509, which I prefer, is, by contras, a more modern design, even though it is a big power beam tube all the same. It will pull about 1.5 amps, against about 0.3 amps with the KT88. It was designed for colour TVs and suchlike.
So the EAR 509 100W valve power amp was first, then the 802 valve preamp. Then what?
I developed other valve amps that I have dropped, such as the 518 stereo version of the 509 monoblock, for the German market. In the end though I decided that like Rolls Royce, I want to make only the best that doesn't need to change too often. The original EAR 509 has now been updated to MkII status.
Neither my 100W 509 amp nor my 200W 549 has overall feedback from the transformer secondary, as do most valve amplifiers. This allows a fully floating winding to be used. It allows me to float the speaker terminals above ground so that they can be paralleled to get more amps or put in series to get more volts into higher loads. For example, in the cutting room at The Exchange, I have two pairs of 549s on each cutter amp, the two 8-ohm outputs being series'd to drive 16 ohms.
Why did you develop the 549?
I felt there was a need for a big, powerful amplifier of very high quality.
Why do you say very little about it? You have never really advertised it, have you?
No, because the British won't spend that sort of money. They are £3000 per pair. I don't think this is expensive because they use massive quadrafilar wound transformers, entirely of my own design, which are unique and very costly to build.
The G88 is a new, very high performance valve preamp with input transformers, output transformers, and inductor RIAA. The phono and line amplifiers are DC isolated and the latter are fully floating. The line amps will drive long lines in balanced or unbalanced mode. There are no ground loop problems either. The G88 costs £3800. The 802 preamp costs £995, the 509 MkII are £1495 a pair, the 519s are £1995 a pair (this is a rack mounting version of the 509).
Then there is a mega preamp, which I haven't told you about. I have only made a few. It costs £6000 and it is called the P52 because there are 52 valves in it! There are 20 ECC83s for the phono moving coil, paralleled to get noise down and provide a good overload margin. The phono preamplifier stage has 42 valves, including valve regulators, rectifiers, the lot. There isn't a solid state component in sight. There is even a valve regulator for the filaments, which uses a PL509 to pull the current!
Do you prefer valve rectification?
No. This is the ultimate statement. Diode rectifiers do the job perfectly adequately, so the 509 and 549 have them and I am perfectly happy with that.
Do you supply studios with your equipment?
You have seen my 549s driving the Ortofon cutting head on the Neumann disc-cutting lathe at the Exchange in Camden Town, London. PUK studios in Denmark use my equipment too. I do disc cutting myself at The Exchange for various record companies. I have two cutting lathes that are driven by my valve amps, and I have designed a unique way of driving the cutting head to get better accuracy. It is cleaner than normal, but I do ensure that the old digital delay lines for Varigroove are not used. Most of the stuff cut nowadays is constant pitch anyway, so we dispense with that sort of thing.
I produce new cuts from old master tapes and it revives them. A lot of those old recordings were of fine quality, providing they are replayed properly on recorders having the right equalisation. I believe EMI got the replay equalisation wrong with some of the Beatles reissue CDs, which is why they sound so bad.
Will you be making anything other than valve amps in the future?
No, not for the next five years at least. I have done lots of solid state amps for other people. There is lots of mileage left in valves. I am doing valve microphones, valve compressors, valve equalisers, valve tape machines, and anything to do with studios. I am about to design a radical valve amp for another British manufacturer, too.
Then there is plenty of cutting work for Charly Records who reissue 'fifties recordings like Nina Simone's My Baby Just Cares for Me (CR30217), Solomon Burke's Cry to Me (CRB1O75) and suchlike, cut by me at The Exchange using my valve cutting amps. There is a Walter Lily Acoustics disc,Bach/ Kreisler/ Ysaye by Arturo Delmoni (WLA WS 07), where I am credited on the sleeve with the microphones, cutting amps, power amps, and suchlike. I will be doing more of this sort of thing in the future I hope, because these old 'fifties recordings really were beautifully made and can be wonderfully re-cut and pressed given enough care and understanding.