A Cauldron of Conundrums

[A Cauldron of Conundrums]

[Italian version here]

Reviewer: Chris Templer - TNT South Africa
Published: January, 2021

Music and Audio has been almost a lifelong obsession - hobby is too tame a word! Over the past 60 odd years I have “done things” from fairly normal to bordering on more than slightly mad. Along the line I have managed to acquire a relatively decent ear for music, a horribly closed mind as to what music I can tolerate, a very annoying ear for pitch which torments me every time I get to listen pop singers and some facility with a Tuba and Pipe Organ. Both of which I can/could barely play due mainly to lack of will to practice and more probably lack of talent. My “ears” were schooled by a friend who played all of the keyboard instruments, all of the wind instruments and claimed he could only “make a noise on strings”. Be that as it may my sense of pitch comes from his training. Another friend who is a concert pianist also is to blame for some of my idiosyncrasies - note the first four letters of “idiosyncrasies” combined with a t gives idiot...

Amongst my idiosyncrasies, and I'm well aware that synonyms for the word include affectation and peculiarity, is a dislike for modern composers such as Cage, Berg, Stockhausen, Messiaen et al. After saying that, I have great appreciation for Jon Leifs. Going backwards in time I have an aversion for Mozart, he of the tinkle tinkle bang bang school of music. I expect to be flamed for this last and all nasty comments will be ignored.

Due to a fairly large range of career choices I have ended up being able to do a great many things albeit to perhaps not the standard of a craftsman, but for example I was able to make a couple of ranks of wooden organ pipes, used to be able to operate a scanning electron microscope and can operate machine tools from a lathe to a line boring machine. I also got involved in Amateur Radio which gave me a pretty good grounding in electronics, antennas and the feeding of same. Not to mention years spent in amateur dramatics and pantomime and being co-producer of an Ice Panto. Plus some facility in doing live recordings. I mention the above only as a background to some of my ruminations.

[Witch] The title of this piece is Cauldron of Conundrums and this is surely pertinent to our hobby as a lot of audiophile thinking seems based on witchcraft and not science. There are purveyors of equipment that pander to those mystical beliefs and a whole industry dedicated to persuade you to endlessly upgrade (and I use the word advisably here) at great cost. There are charlatans who lie to get you spend your money on what amounts to junk. This point is a recurring theme in my life and one that irritates.

And before you ask, the witch on left has not got her broom back to front - supposedly you plug candles into the brush to light your way! Attributed to Robert Heinlein in “Magic Inc.”

Everyone has their own ideas about audio, some more scatty than the next and a lot of what we do is due to affectation rather than music. When Rice and Kellogg invented the loudspeaker in the early 1920's (Edward Wente at the same time independently), it opened up a new branch of human history and built on Lee de Forest's triode valve/tube earlier invention. And thence into the recording of sound which is where we come in. After the dust had settled, tape recordings transferred onto LP records became the staple until Philips and Sony introduced the CD along with what became common digital format in the early 80's. And don't forget the transistor - that brought another revolution. Audiophiles today tend to get into “camps”, solid state vs. valves, digital vs. analogue and flounder down roads further into the arcane. And to the ruinously expensive part that we know as High End Audio. Our hobby, to me, is the ability to reproduce as faithful as possible the musical event which we couldn't go to.

I hold that analogue has had it's day and has been superseded by digital but, being an audiophool too, I have a selection of tape decks because the sound from them is “nice”. “Nice” and “analogue” are, I suppose, other words for coloration. Another flame warning!

We have many magazines that offer opinions based on the subjective values or agendas of their reviewers (TNT is one of the few magazines where some sanity prevails and the editor does not censor). Mostly these reviews are driven by advertising revenue which can and no doubt is withdrawn if somebody gets too truthful. See http://www.high-endaudio.com/reviewers.html for a somewhat zany take on magazine reviewers. In an article by the late Peter Aczel -- HERE -- I found the Audio Critic enormously interesting, but like everything in life it everything needs to be filtered through what Carl Sagan referred to as his Baloney Detection Kit -- HERE. Peter Aczel asserted, with the collaboration of a few like minded engineers, that «Any competently designed amplifier should sound the same» and that brought tons of acrimonious verbiage down on his head. Perhaps the word competently should have been in caps and bold. Bob Carver proved that to him and to Stereophile, but again I suspect advertising got in the way.

I own and use a pair of parallel 300B Triode SE amps, a Leak Stereo from the late 1950's and a fairly modern TacT/Lyngdorf Class D amp. Only the TacT/Lyngdorf is accurate, in the sense that it adds and subtracts nothing to the sound. Both the other two, and indeed all other amps I have heard, bar one, change the sound away from the input. The review -- HERE -- (At the heading THE SOUND) is mentioned only to support my contention about the TacT/Lyngdorf who despite mutterings to the contrary, do things differently from the run of the mill Class D amps. This review was some years after I selected the TacT. Both the Triodes and the Leak are valve, both are colored, in fact I usually refer to the Triodes as Warm and Cuddly. All three “sound nice”, but only one is accurate. To get back to the Cauldron, I have, via my friends and other systems, listened to a bewildering range of amplifiers, all of which change or colour the sound away from the original.

[Tone]One of the tenants of current day audio is not to have tone controls or heaven forbid a graphic equalizer, why then do we tolerate amplifiers and indeed pre-amplifiers that modify the sound? And why do we put up with rubbish equipment that depending on how it's put on a shelf and what the shelf is made off alters the “sonic signature”? I refer here to a highly expensive two box preamp from a very well known brand who has just turned 50 or something, which was bought at an exorbitant price by a friend. This only “came alive” after he put the power supply on a slab of granite. This leads down two avenues: a. It changed or b. His hearing is either defective or he needs to hear a change. If it indeed “changed”, the manufacturer needs to be burnt at the stake for selling badly constructed devices. And at this point I wonder why this manufacturer brings out New Improved pre-amps and Amplifiers year after year. Can't they get it right? Or is it probably the need to sell you an upgrade so they can make money? After all the Only reason for a business, is to make money..... another example of poorly built equipment is a certain turntable that has for many, many years been the subject of upgrade after upgrade ad nauseam.

From point a. above - his hearing. The human hearing system works in a precise way and our ability to retain accurate acoustic memory is limited to 3 to 4 seconds -- HERE -- and there are no superhuman audiophiles with enhanced hearing out there. I had this explained to me by my late sister in law -- HERE. No audiophile is exempt from physics no matter how he/she/it “thinks or believes”. Our local forum recently had a second hand sale offering of a pair of home made Mogami XLR interconnects at a price about four times the cost of the parts and some clot bought them. This strengthens my belief in PT Barnum and his remark that a “fool is born every minute” - I have nothing against Mogami, they make a good cable used extensively by the Pro industry and my interconnects are all from their microphone range as the cable per meter price was low and the chap who built my switching unit decided to neaten up my systems wiring. Changing from various cables made by me from coax, or mic cable or even Silver ones I had constructed, made no discernible difference to the sound, the result though is less of a snakes nest than before. There are bad cables (usually the stuff that comes with a TV or cheapie equipment), supposedly better audiophool grade which relies on snake oil and good non expensive workmanlike stuff the Pro Audio bunch use. Having said that, when BOP Studios was built Van den Hul got in on the ground floor and sold them something like 11km of his Silver wire. PT Barnum strikes again - “you can fool some of the people some of the time......&rdquo:; my corollary to that - “you can fool an audiophile most of the time”.

Here is what to me, is a totally specious review of a power cable that has all the hallmarks of idiocy, hubris and downright bull dust -- HERE -- and is a good example of what abounds in the world of audiophile magazines. See Carl Sagan above! At one time I had a huge problem with the power supplied by the utility - I have a three phase supply - to the point that when my air con cycled it tripped the internal protection on my TacT/Lyngdorf. The air con, lights and equipment are all on different phases and the only common part was the neutral line. I added industrial grade filters and then an audiophool grade power conditioner to no effect whatsoever. Then I did what I should have done in the first place and inserted an isolation transformer in the line, end of problem. Certainly no fancy power cord would have or could have made any difference. I'm not even going to try to pick apart the “review” attached above. Anybody with even a mildly active mind should see that bit of rubbish for what it is.

And then we have the truly insane types of which I am a junior member -- HERE are a very few pictures. The first two are a re-creation of Summer Rain horns with some ribbon drivers, the next three are of two pairs of horns made by my woodworking friend. The larger of the two weighs 27 kg, the JBL driver another 12.5 kg. This to stand on an Onken cabinet with 15" Beyma drivers. The next two are of a friends listening room and this is where it really gets bizarre. The room circa last week had ten pairs of speakers (the following day I delivered a fairly large set of speakers that were crammed into the room corners), 10 tape decks, at least five turntables and a host of amplifiers and pre amplifiers and heaven alone knows what else. Amongst the amplifiers are two pairs of Leak Stereo 20's an a pair of Leak TL12's. Elsewhere in the house are more of everything including two Otari MTR90 2" tape decks, one 16 track, the other 24 track; the reason for the purchase of those was that he had a few 2" tapes - that he does, some 250 of them! The last two pictures are another friend - his latest acquisition are a pair of humoungus JBL horns with acoustic lenses, the last picture of them balanced on top of cabinets which themselves are 650 mm wide. In the corners are stacked Axiom 80 Goodmans' housed in Coral cabinets. Five turntables in the room, one of them an EMT 948. Also a Studer A80. This is a small part of his collection.

[Fast forward to Part II]

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© Copyright 2021 Chris Templer - chris@tnt-audio.com - www.tnt-audio.com