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Triode Expo '98 - Philadelphia - US

Italian version

Report from the Trenches -- NEW JERSEY, U.S.A.

Run under the aegis of the Philadelphia Audio Society, the annual Triode Expo is a popular event, and this one was no exception, with over 150 pairs of ears in attendance. And so, the "Tribe" gathered on the outskirts of the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia, PA, USA on a rainy Sunday afternoon in April to commence their annual worship in the Temple of Musical Ecstasy.
For this Triode Dummy, it was both a revelation and an education.
The allegory of a "tribe" to explain the triode movement is the creation of chief Triodemania Shaman, Harvey Rosenberg (of New York Audio Labs/Futterman Amp fame), who has constructed a tongue-in-cheek anthropological thesis on which to base audiophilia in general and the triode quest in particular. What's scary is that some of it even makes sense, in a weird sort of way.
But, I digress.
What triode enthusiasts may lack in numbers, they more than make up for in passion, dedication and enthusiastic conviction. As a result, what was merely a ripple on the high end waters a decade ago now has the makings of a flood tide that may well spread across a somewhat jaded -- and undeniably thirsty -- high end population which has largely exhausted its "bigger is better" search, and has not had all that much to be excited about for a long time -- unless of course you are a borderline millionaire. For, in the pursuit of the elusive "absolute sound" both megawatt and megabuck solutions abound. While there are some triode exceptions, triode products are both low power, largely single ended Class A designs, and, in the main, quite affordable. Except for stuff like the legendary Nobu $50,000 monoblocks from WAVAC, for instance.
Yes, we're talking $500 per watt, here! (Er, . . . folks, that's $50,000 each, or $100,000 US for the glories of full stereo! To give that some perspective, that sum represents the current mortgage loan balance on my four-bedroom house!)
But if the sound is definitely sit-up-and-take-notice, the catch is (and there always is one, isn't there?) that they require extremely high efficiency loudspeakers, so it is not a necessarily simple matter of plunking these amplifiers into one's present system configuration. However, J.C. Morrison, a custom designer/manufacturer largely to the professional trade, contends that it is speaker impedance that is the key to optimum performance.
If so, that could mean a greater acceptance and assimilation into the high end mainstream.
As for the exhibitors, certainly, this was a collection of the cream of the triode crop, many of whom (happily for tri-State area audiophiles) are located in the New York metropolitan area, but also from as far afield as Michigan (Classic Audio Reproductions), Minnesota (Atma-Sphere Systems), Maryland (David Berning) and Ohio (tmh audio).
The excellent cross-section of music-givers could be called the definitive "Who's Who" of the Triode/SE gang, and included Cary Audio's Dennis Had, Nori Komuro of Komuro Audio Labs, Ralph Karsten of Atma-Sphere Systems, David Berning of Berning Audio, J.C. Morrison, Morrison audio, Herb Reichert of Audio Note, Don Garber of Fi (not the magazine . . .), Jim Ricketts of tmh audio, Steve Berger of Aprilsound Audio and Dan Meinwald presenting Tim DeParavicini's E.A.R. gear . . .
In addition to the latest and greatest of their amplifiers, attendees got to hear the first ever public demo of the new Kochel loudspeaker, which is imported by tmh audio.
Displays were also provided by Western Electric (OH, are those tubes GORGEOUS!), Ultimate Audio Magazine, Kerksaeter Speakers, Listener Magazine, Audiophile Voice Magazine and Crystal Cable. Classic Records generously provided some outstanding LPs for demo use during the show, as well as two copies of their outstanding Red Rodney jazz album as door prizes. (I didn't win ANYthing!) :-(
The reference system for the main event introduced the Classic Audio Productions T-1 Project horn loudspeakers designed by John Wolf, that use all TAD drivers in a 10.5 cubic foot bass enclosure. Cabling was done by Bill Phillips of Crystal Cable and the base components included a digital setup by David Goldstein of Timbre Technology and the new preamp by Convergent Audio Technology, the CAT MK III, loaned by Ken Stevens.
The analogue front end consisted of a Thorens TD-520 turntable, courtesy of Nathan Rahimi, and a Van Den Hul Frog cartridge donated by George Stanwick of Stanalog.

On with The Show! . . .

Rosenberg opened the show with benedictions upon the gathered faithful (which he constantly refers to as The Community) as well as those come to be "saved," proclaiming "A new golden age of triodes" thanks to the development of new tube technology by such as Western Electric, and the envelope-pushing design variety and differences in tonality offered by the different tubes.
He points out that it is possible now to "personalize" the sound -- to find that which fulfills your individual musical/sonic taste -- by merely changing tubes from one type to another (i.e., a 2A3 versus an 833 versus a 300B . . .) to achieve "the deep emotional experience" of music, the Tribe's ultimate nirvana-state.
Indeed, Rosenberg alternately waxed romantic (about "artistry" and the search for beauty in our lives) and obdurate about the only true path to accurate musical reproduction as he sees it.
At times, it wanted only a pulpit and some hymn singing to complete the sense of profundity with which he attempted to dampen the proceedings. Indeed, one was surprised to note the absence of stone tablets engraved by the finger of the One Deity proclaiming the Triode Guru's newest commandment: A-l-n-i-c-o, which he proclaimed to be the cure for an affliction we didn't really know we had: "speaker wall" (Not unlike dry rot, or something).
Rosenberg claims that the new advances in triode technology cannot be fully realized by speakers which use "ferrites." (Boo!! Hiss!!)
Thus, his enthusiastic endorsement of new speaker designs which use a high-impedance, high efficiency alnico magnet, such as the T-1 Project horn loudspeakers (which, by the way, retail for $30,000).

The Search for the Sensitive Speaker

Brought along as a somewhat ludicrous example was a sample bass driver using these new magnets. The thing was enormous (it took two guys to lift the thing!), yet offers 108 db efficiency! (One wonders how apartment-bound city audiophiles will manage these potential lease-breakers!).
Of course, this greater efficiency is cause for great excitement, since both the glory and the defeat of the single ended amp is it's voracious need for speakers with high levels of efficiency, without which, Rosenberg preaches, it is not possible to achieve the full "mystery" and glory of triode musical ecstasy.
(However, it should be noted that some took issue with this pronouncement, seen as a further contributor to a sense of isolation and elitism that designers and manufacturers are not necessarily crazy about.
Their success, after all, depends upon being accepted as an alternative within the mainstream of the high end -- not as a lunatic fringe.)

Would Mozart Really Have Loved Them?

Making a first -- and somewhat unfortunate -- appearance were the brand, spanking new (to U.S. audiophiles) Kochel loudspeaker system.
While extremely attractive to look at, with their beautifully finished "fine furniture" quality cabinets, their presentation was an object lesson in what can happen when proper setup and placement are given short shrift.
I don't know of too many speakers that can survive, much less shine, when simply plunked into place, and these were no exception. What was heard, however, seemed to hold great promise. Certainly, with their 97 db rating, they offered typically low distortion output, though I thought a bit shy on the low end. (When the midrange is "right" however, you do tend to forget about the extremes . . .)
But, I digress.
One by one, these gifted designers and manufacturers offered their glowing examples of Musical Ecstacy to the assembly. While one heard differences between the amplifiers to some extent, in each and every instance one thing became imminently clear: this is definitely wake-up-and-hear-the-music sound, with a distinctive clarity and level of detail that seemed impossible, considering that we're talking, ummm.... ahhhhh ..... say, 3 eeny, weeny watts here? Yes indeedy. Listen and believe.
One very strong aside here: perhaps most telling in regard to the level of detail achieved by some of these tiny wonders was the very audible difference heard between digital and analogue source played for the musical demos. In fact, it wasn't until some one hour into the demos that someone finally played an LP.
I could sense the intake of breath of those sitting around me at the stunning difference -- the immediate and unarguably lifelike, natural timbre and tonality of the LP compared to the previous CDs -- and CDs of every variety and musical stripe.
We're not singling any one out here; it was blatantly evident for all to hear, and they did. Suddenly the room got quiet, talking stopped and real heads-up listening started. It simply baffles me why, when the difference in sound was so very audibly apparent, that these presenters insist on using CDs.
But, for the most part, on all the program material the demonstrations were characterized by an almost sensual, clearly defined level of detail and airy ease that was arresting, especially to one so accustomed to (Shhhhhh!) solid state.
Indeed, with triode components, we may be ... "Back to the Future!" but in this, an obsession with "transparency" may have come full circle.

© Copyright 1998 Anna Logg

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