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Inter.View with Phonosophie (a.k.a Ingo Hansen, Thorsten Kölln and Manfred Gehrmann)

by Lucio Cadeddu

[Italian version]

LC >
May you tell our readers something about the history of Phonosophie, when did it start, why etc.

PH >
PHONOSOPHIE was founded in December 1985. It was the time, the CD - Player run up to become a bestseller. But soon it was clear that turntables were still the keepers of the "natural sound" in music. In case of that, we have chosen a company name, in order to show the relationship with the vinyl sound. It is a mix of two words. The first part "PHONO", stands for the smooth and warm sound of turntables. The second part "SOPHIE", is taken out of the greek language and means "wisdom". We put it together to: PHONOSOPHIE. Just one word, but exactly pointing to our philosophie.

Regarding our philosophie, we were always looking for HiFi-components containing our demands in music reproduction, like the Linn products of that period.
In 1986 PHONOSOPHIE became the distributor of Naim in Germany. It was the beginning of a very successful partnership. A little before we started with Naim, we have tried to find a way to improve the sound of a Thorens TD-166 by doing a few modifications on it. We have tried a lot, tested many things, but in the end, we designed new chrome-springs, polished motor-pulleys, an inner-metal-platter, etc. All these changings, basically details, were improving the sound in a way that it was totally different to the original Thorens turntable. It sounded "LIVE" - and it has been the birthday of our first turntable: N°1.
Later the "N°2" followed. It was also a modified Thorens (TD-146), but it was fitted with a real wood-chassis and a new bearing, designed by PHONOSOPHIE.
Finally we decided to develop an entirely new turntable. Most of the carefully chosen parts were new designed, like the decoupling of the sub-chassis. It is done by leaf-springs, because of no parasite resonancies, for example. We also use a 25 Hz motor, because it is less noisy and the sine-wave has no digital noise on it. First it was fitted with a TP-90 tone-arm, we designed together with Thorens, then it got "married" with the Naim-ARO tone-arm. This combination of high quality-parts, was called the "N°3" which became a reference turntable in a very short time.

In 1993 the partnership with Naim came to an end. This was the moment, the idea to create a whole product-line by ourselves was born. Within a short time, we have designed new integrated and power amplifiers. Because of the costs, it was not possible to design a CD-player, too, but we have found a way to improve the sound of some Marantz players, by doing a few modifications.
Then we came to a point, asking why the turntable sound is so much better than the sound of any CD-player. We decided to discover the secret of this difference. After a few tests, we have found the reason. As a result, we developed the "ANALOGIZER".
This brand new product is able to improve the sound of a digital source and points it to the analog direction. Music will become warmer and smoother, just like you know it from the turntable. We are proud to say that we could take out a patent to it.

All PHONOSOPHIE products are built to perform like a "LIVE" performance. We want the listeners to feel right in front of the stage, getting a shiver on their skin. Music is still emotion - 100%!
We want the reproduction of music to become an event. This is the main reason our components are not only designed with measure-tools. They finally have to stand the listening test! If this will be O.K., the "instrument" can be taken to become a part of our product family.

LC >
According to the name of your Company and to the fact that you still make turntables, it seems that you still love vinyl and analogue reproduction.
May you briefly explain your point of view about the neverending debate of "analog vs digital" Music? Also, do you think is there enough room (and future) for LPs?

PH >
Yes, it is true - we still love vinyl and analog productions. And it is true, too, that there is no CD-player reproducing music like a turntable. But it seems to be clear what happens to a music signal played by a CD-player. Imagine you hear a tone played by a saxophone. This tone is based by 1000Hz. For specified identification the human ear needs 5 to 7 additional (frequency-)waves, resulting of the base frequency (Base: 1000Hz; 1st:2000Hz; 3rd: 4000Hz; 4th: 8000Hz; 5th: 16000Hz; 6th: 32000 Hz; 7th: 64000Hz).
They are often not really audible, but they cause changes to the whole frequency spectrum and also have an influence on the base frequency. By recording the music, the microphone brings all changes right on the reel. Regarding the turntable, there are a lot of mechanic parts, like springs, bearing, platter, etc., having an influence on the picked up music signal. But even these parts are adding the missing informations to the post produced music signal, so that it sounds like it is played live. The CD-player acts totally different.
It has got a fixed read-out capacity, which seems not to be enough, to show the very importand variations of the musical information. We think it is because of the lower density of the read out informations. Maybe the quality rises by using the new 96kHz technology, when the filter is able to rebuild the sine-wave more exactly. But another reason is the work of the analog part. It is necessary to stabilize the power-supply to get more usable music information, and it needs to use better built-in pre-amplifieres.
Finally, you can see that the turntable has still got an advantage in sound, if you compare it with a CD-player. The reason for the change to the compact-disc is simply another. The major companies, selling vinyl, just wanted to earn more money. They said there was not enough margin. On the other hand, the CD has got advantages for the customers. It is much easier to handle with and you can stock 4 CDs where have had only one LP.
And, of course, digital systems are leading the future.
So it was a logical step to introduce the compact disc. But regarding the difference in sound of these two systems, there is still enough room for the turntable....

LC >
You also make some modifications (tweakings) on Marantz CD players. Many manufacturers don't like this attitude much while we believe that EVERY HiFi component can be upgraded by expert audiophiles.
Which are the areas of a CD player where one should expect to get the most relevant improvements with simple tweaks?

PH >
Before we start giving instructions for up-grading, there is one point that is very important for every HiFi-system. Always use a special mains-socket (cable?) for your system. The current-impulse-capacity grows up clearly. Remember that every HiFi-system only can sound in the way the worst part allows to. A special mains-socket is necessary for all components to perform the best they are able to.

There are three points to improve the sound in an easy way.
The first one is to change the stock power cord into a special one. A stabilized power supply is the guarantee to get a higher level of usable music information. Sometimes the components have to send an impulse by 1/1000 sec. With a higher current-impulse-capacity, you get a higher dynamic range, too. Both helps the components to send a music signal in a more controlled way. Instruments and actors will come nearer between the loudspeakers, more focused, almost touchable. More information means - more "LIVE" music.

The second point is: change the RCA-sockets into a DIN-socket. Regarding the RCA-plug, you can see that the signal leading part is standing right out of the shielding. So it is exposed to magnetic fields. Of course, they are having an influence on the music signal.

The next point is the connection of the RCA-socket. The signal leading part of the plug only connects to a simple spring. It is a matter of time, the spring looses its strenght and the less contact will cause less music information. When you use a DIN-socket and plug, the signal leading part is surrounded by the shielding. It also guarantees a better contact, because the pins are fixed by two strong springs and the plug is is additional fixed with a counter-nut.
So you will always get the best contact for the highest level of transported music information. The difference in sound is almost incredible!

Last, but not least, you can use a "Digi-Plug" by putting it on the coax-output of the CD-player. In "play"-mode, the coax-output is active, too. Wheather you use it or not, high frequency signal-waves are coming out this terminal and can cause a less musical signal. By locking this output, you kill these waves. The result is a more focused image of the singers and instruments.

LC >
May you briefly summarize your ideas on amplifiers design? Are you going to design some tube-based amp?

PH >
Our intent was to design components able to play the music just like it was LIVE. All parts in use are carefully chosen and the set-up is made to ensure the highest level of the quality of the sound, by means of short signal paths, best power-supplies and no interactions among the different components.
You know how difficult it is to find the "right" HiFi components, for getting a goose-flesh, for having a shiver on the skin. Especially when you have a look at the costs, because you often have to change the whole system to get an audible improvement.
So we have built our components like a box of bricks. You can start with a small system and then you can upgrade by changing electronic parts or simply adding other components until you have built a big system for your listening pleasure.
The main idea was to design an amplification on 4-channel technology. It brings many advantages to have different stages for the high and low range of a loudspeaker (biamping, that is). Compared to simple bi-wiring, the BI-AMPING produces a more powerful and more controlled performance of the music, because of the separated amplification. Each stage is able to point its power to the frequency-range it is set to work on. There will be no losses of power anymore. By using a "BI-BUTT"-filter, you are also able to tune up the sound in consideration of the room acoustics. The highest level will be reached by using an active crossover.
This way instruments and singers will step right into your living-room and become almost touchable.

In our opinion, it is not necessary to design a tube-based amp. It is better for playing live-music on stage, because it brings the warmth and smoothness into the sound of guitars (... I don't want to miss my Marshall for my Bass-guitar!...), but for High-Fidelity, the distortions a tube-amp brings to the music signal cannot be controlled exactly.

LC >
Which is point of view with respect to the new media and supports (DVD, Home Theater etc.). Do you think the usual stereophonic reproduction, as we know it, has come to an end?

PH >
This is a very difficult question and we have to split it in two parts.
First the home-cinema . . .
It is nice being able to watch a movie at home, having the same effects like in a cinema. But those components are made to show an "virtual" effect. They are not able to reproduce music in the same way a real HiFi-system does. It has got it right to be and the market grows steadily, but it won't be able to thrust aside a HiFi-system.
Regarding the DVD we have to wait and see. For sure the new 96kHz technology can bring advantages for a higher density of the read-out music informations. When you remember the beginnings of the CD-player, the first ones have been very bad in sound.
But failures have been corrected, so that new CD-players perform much better.
The AUDIO-DVD can become a system for the future, but it has to be compatible with the technology we use today. If it is not, it will be the same like it was for DAT or DCC - it almost dies before it was born.

LC >
Your plans for the near future, new designs, ideas, projects.

PH >
The most important plan for us is to finish the work on our new CD-player "IMPULS". We hope the distribution can start at the end of December '98. The next step is to complete our product line with a tuner, coming on March '99.
We have CD-players and tuners now, but they still look like Marantz products. It is important that all components have the same look like our amps, in order to look like one system.
Another project we are working on is a new loudspeaker. We try to design it in the same way we have designed our electronics. The customer can start with a small box, and then upgrade it to a real floorstanding loudspeaker. We hope to introduce it in the early '99.
All projects have taken a lot of time in research, finding the right parameters to become a PHONOSOPHIE-product. For us all that matters is music and the feeling of the "LIVE" impression. There will be no component, with the PHONOSOPHIE-seal, if it can't stand the listening tests . . . . . . because - MUSIC IS LIFE!

Courtesy Phonosophie for TNT.

Copyright © 1998 Lucio Cadeddu

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