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Inter.View with Dieter Ennemoser, violinmaker and audio researcher

by Lucio Cadeddu

[Italian version]

LC >
Could you please introduce yourself to our readers? Who you are, what do you do etc.

DE >
My name is Dieter Ennemoser, I live in Austria (Tirol) and I am a violinmaker and a researcher. But - I must admit it took a while to get there.
My first interests were in science (age of fourteen), soon followed by music and sound experiences. While studying mechanical engineering, I spent much time in building speakers and amplifiers, and I took lessons in playing the piano and the violoncello.
At about that time I got that certain and distinct feeling, that some sounds have great appeal and meaning to us. Yet there was not a clue in physics that explained how these sounds could be produced or how they could be expressed scientifically.
These sounds seemed to exist in voices, musical instruments and even in some technical devices, like speaker chassis and tube amps. Any time you would try to measure them, they proved to be 100% elusive, alas.

I'm not talking about the common fallacies that the musical sound of tubes is produced mainly by second order distortion or that the frequency response curve of pickups is the reason for their musicality. For over 30 years everybody has had the opportunity to simulate the 2nd order harmonics on a synthesizer or a keybord, with little results in terms of "musicality".
There are also instruments without 2nd order harmonics, nevertheless they sound musical. It is boring to hear the same baseless arguments repeated for years and years, only because there once existed a "white paper".
The same applies to frequency response curves. One can bend the frequency response with an equalizer, but you cannot reproduce certain properties of musical instruments. Boring again hearing these over-simplified theories repeated and repeated!
So I had to get a job where I could combine my technical interests and my love for music and sounds. I started at a radio station as a sound engineering assistant, three years later I was a sound engineer at a film company. Still not satisfied, I started an apprenticeship as a violin maker in Mittenwald and worked under Carl Sandner. At that time I also studied the violin and singing.

From that time I changed my life completely. My research was practical and the instruments I made, more than 140 violins, violas and violoncellos, were the object of my acoustical research. Soon I realized that physics, the way it was taught and understood, was not enough to cope with the acoustical tasks of a good violin.
I had to prepare my brain for new challenges and to be open minded for new theories. Instead of accumulating knowledge from outside sources, I stopped reading scientific articles and audio magazines. And this is the naked truth: the only things I read for ten years have been Donald Duck and Clever & Smart (by F.Ibanez) Comics. My companions were the young members of the orchestra of the Music school of Innsbruck, in which I fortunately am allowed to play, instead of physicists and degreed scientists.....

LC >
Would you please briefly summarize what your C37 theory is all about?

DE >
What makes a full sound in a violin? After I had dismantled, altered and rebuilt my first two violins some seventy (!) times each, I realized what was not attainable in tone quality with classical mechanics alone. Of course the laws of classical mechanics play an important part; the balance of tone and good response are a result of these natural laws, but the sound character, the tone, the depth and warmth of the sound are determined by other criteria.
I had to make dozens of new violins to realize that even tiny differences in wood properties made big differences in sound. So my first goal was to find a reference material to make it easier to choose the right wood. I eventually found this in human bones!

At that time I had already a lot of practice in knocking and analyzing the sounds of materials. So I found after some research that carbon is the decisive element in sound quality. Since sound is also coloured by body temperature, I chose to call this property the C37 structure where C = Carbon and 37 = temperature in Celsius centigrade.
This is also the material sound of the mechanisms of our ear. These material-specific resonancies of our ears would drastically distort our perception of sounds, but they are filtered by the brain, leaving an accurate and apparently objective image of our acoustic environment.
The brain receives most information from outside when the outside sound has the same C37 properties as the ear itself has. Therefore musical instruments have always been developed towards C37 sounds, most probably without knowing this theory. But who knows really what Stradivari and Guarneri knew?

LC >
What do you think of the human ear capabilities? Is it true that ultrasonic frequencies can affect the perceived sound, even if we humans can't hear anything above, say, 18 kHz? What's your opinion on this topic?

DE >
Very interesting question, although the answer might be different from what you expect.
My opinion is the very end of our hearing spectrum is not that important to recognize sound quality and beauty. Old recordings on shellac records sometimes show the full beauty of a violin, better than contemporary high-tech recordings.
Medium wave broadcasts also seem to sound beneficial to violins, and so do old films with narrow bandwidth optical sound tracks. I even know people with hearing losses above 2 kHz who are very sure in judging the sonic quality of a violin and a loudspeaker (I wouldn't take them for testing tweeters though!).
It seems to me that for these people a pleasant overall sound quality is even more important than for average people. Don't misunderstand me. Of course I would not cut off the upper frequencies intentionally. I only wanted to point out that the secret of musical sound lies deeper than in the upper limits of frequency response.

This was only half the answer to your question - I didn't refer to digital. Here something very different happens: the signal is chopped into small parts with a frequency beyond our hearing.
Strange things seem to disturb our perception. Depending on the frequency at which the signal is chopped the sound you hear changes.
In a phone call Ken Ishiwata from Marantz told me that they experimented with different frequencies up to 500 kHz and each tested frequency produced its different sound. My own experience is that our subconscious relates the chopping of frequencies to the C37 frequencies in a way that C37-related frequencies produce a natural and warm sound to us while frequencies between C37 frequencies sound harsh.
You can test this with the 44,1 kHz frequency of the CD format, which produces this very typical and unchangeable harsh and grainy sound which immediately reminds me of a cat hissing with intent to produce disgust.
On the other hand, the 48 kHz of the DAT, which is almost perfectly a C37 frequency, does not produce this harsh, cold sound and gives hope to the DVD standard with 96 kHz. (By the way, a property of the C37 frequencies is that they can be octaved to higher and lower frequencies).

LC >
In which way your studies can be successfully applied to HiFi design?

DE >
There are various ways. For instance my E-patent for membrane geometry (licensees welcome!) that enables even large membranes to produce natural midrange up to 3 kHz. I myself use a 30 inch speaker in a two-way system up to 3.000 Hz! Have a look at it in my homepage www.ennemoser.com at TECHNOCRATS horrorshow! Those who won't believe it are invited to hear it, I live in Tirol.
Commercially, a friend, Markus Kuhnert (c37.kuhnert@tirol.com) produces speakers with sophistically shaped bronze frames and patented C37-membranes 16 and 18 inches size.
Another important and successively growing application of C37 is the C37 Lack (lacquer). It is composed to have the acoustic features of our body, therefore the brain canceles out the lacquers' acoustic properties. The classical cremonese violins had a lacquer of similar characteristics! Experienced instrument makers know that the quality of a lacquer stands by itself and is not influenced by the properties of the material it is put on. For violins, violas and cellos they use successfully the same lacquer for the belly and the back. I know this fact is not understood by physicists, but it is the truth.
Manufacturers and DIYers use the C37 lacquer on membrans of paper, metal, polypropylene, soft and hard domes, always with the same good results. Even painting PCB's and components of CD-players and amplifiers gives good results.
The material, geometry and dimensions of mechanical parts are also very important factors in the resulting sound quality of speakers and electronic components. This leads directly to the next question.

LC >
In some sense many HiFi components are similar to musical instruments: each part of the design (electronic circuits, cabinet etc.) contributes to the final result.
Still many audiophiles believe that everything depends on circuits or on speakers only. What's your opinion on this subject?

DE >
Each part contributes to the final result, you are right. Yet what is underrated by most people is the influence of mechanics on electronic circuits. I did much research on it and get good results by the following method, which I had developed through many years of training: I knock on relevant parts, and by listening to the sound of knocking and evaluating its properties I can identify the influence of this part on the resulting sound of the component.
An example: Marantz sent me a CD-Player and an amplifier that I had to improve with my method. The CD-player was only C37-lacquered inside without mechanical improvements, and the amp was only changed mechanically to C37, but not lacquered. Both components had been tested in Eindhoven by Marantz Europe with very positive results, and they sent both components to the Marantz headquarters in Tokyo. Maybe the engineers over there are still wondering what I did to their components.

So what's the moral of this story? Mechanics has much influence on how electronic devices will sound, even if there is no measurable difference! WHY is this so? Wait a minute....oh no, I feel all the hatred of all degreed physicists. I better stop now.

LC >
Which is your opinion on the current state of the art of the musical reproduction by means of HiFi components? What could we do to get CLOSER to reality?

DE >
A well known bell maker in Innsbruck, Austria, Peter Grassmayr (his company has been in business since 1599!) made two church bells, one bronze, one steel. Although they were designed to have and actually had exactly the same overtones, they sounded different. Peter Grassmayr said: "The steel bell was not able to make your heart resonate with the sound!" This is true literally as well as figuratively.
Literally, the bronze, for its imitating C37-properties, makes your heart resonate physically. Psychologically, the C37-properties of bronze are what you need to get a deep feeling, even if only in your subconscious.
Similar things happen with musical instruments, where science had no influence at all. And HiFi components? I leave the estimation here to the customers. As for me I try to apply as many C37 features as possible to enable the best signal transmission inside the ear to create a deep emotional experience. That's what music is about!

LC >
Please tell us something about your future plans and projects.

DE >
I am not a manufacturer (except violins, of course, and C37 lacquer). I am a researcher and inventor. But there are some people in this world who appreciate my inventions and my help in developing HiFi equipment. For example, Markus Kuhnert (c37.kuhnert@tirol.com) who produces heavy bronze drivers and with whom I developed the new 2-way Archaeopteryx with 18 inch woofer-midrange driver and the powerful solid state C37 amp.
The mechanics of tubes are another project, and Alesa Vaic (AVVT) might soon launch his first C37 tubes (2A3 or AV 52).
Not HiFi, yet very interesting, is the project of the C37 church bell with the Tyrolian bell maker Grassmayr, and the developement and the production of C37 mouthpieces for Saxophones with Charly Thaler, Neurauthgasse 6, A-6020 Innsbruck.
Another very interesting project with a well known company is still top secret!

Courtesy Dieter Ennemoser for TNT-Audio.

Copyright © 1998 Lucio Cadeddu

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