Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Search for Musical Ecstasy

For millions of years, before there were words we were surrounded by the sounds of nature. Our current homo sapiens form of brain is over 400,000 years old, but it has only been creating language for less than 20,000 years. Our main mode of being was aural, because this mode gave us the most information. There was no language, thoughts, concepts or complex emotions. Seeing, smelling and hearing was what we had. Our aural connection was the most powerful and subtle, especially for the species that were puny and had to survive through the night filled with powerful, hungry long toothed predators.
We were aural long before we were oral.

Why our home and not the concert hall is the primary place of musical ecstasy? Audiophile, by definition, specialize in the intensely creative process of searching for musical ecstasy in their homes. This does not mean that attending many different types of live music events are not an essential aspect of the search, but the reality is that recorded music has become the dominant musical experience. The most obvious reason is convenience. Going to the great concert can be costly, tickets, dinner, parking. Listening to the music at home is one of the great entertainment bargains, but not the point of this discussion, we are exploring our soul, not the pocketbook.
The gestalt of experiencing music in the home is very different from the experiencing live music. Most audiophiles have had to subscribe to the conventional wisdom and claim that they are striving to achieve the qualities of a live musical event in their 9x12 living rooms. The orthodoxy states that the purpose of our efforts is to create the illusion of live music in our home. I counter this by asserting that the purpose of our efforts is to achieve musical ecstasy and the illusion we create is not the goal but the means to this end.
Let me start by suggesting that there are two distinct musical art forms, connected by the same powerful force, but totally different. The emphasis here is on the art and metaphor. The first musical art form is live musical performance. Within this form there are many established conventions of performance (chamber music, orchestral music, rock and roll, country western...). The creation of recorded musical event is a totally distinct musical art form because the clear intention of the community of the people who cooperate with the artist in creating this
condensed, fractured and synthesized recording is to give you a chunk of encoded data to process, at some future time, through a strange combination of disparate electro-mechanical devices. How the artist creates a great live performance has little to do how they create a great recording!

Things has become musically topsy-turvy. It is a valid assertion that the standard by which we judge the live performance is the synthesized musical performance emanating from the recording studio even though it may be completely non-sequential and spliced. Yes, life is imitating art!
Good concerts are frustrating events. The sound systems at even the best rock and roll concerts are so bad that it is painful to listen. The high level of distortion makes it impossible to enjoy the concert most of the time. Of course there are truly great concerts. How do you recognize a truly great musical event? It is quite simple. You want to rewind the passage over and over again. You know the feeling? Do you stand up during the concert and yell, Excuse me maestro, would you play that passage again? I need to re-experience it again because it caught me off guard and I
wasn't ready for the startling effect it had on me. Doesnt it often take listening to that passage over and over again to fully integrate its energy? How many times it is artistically inappropriate to go on to the second movement of a symphony before you fully get the first movement? How many brilliant conductors are considerate of the audience's feelings, pausing between movements till we are ready? Or what about the frustration of listening to the brilliant performance of a particular piece of music over and over again in our homes and than going to the concert and hearing a leaden performance of the same piece? Do you get up and boo? Why does the audience always applaud at the end of bad performance?

The string quartet was really jiving. They were bouncing up and down, bobbing in and out. They were so energized in their playing that I thought they were going to jump out of their seat and start to dance. But the robots in the audience, including me, had to maintain the proper concert decorum in spite of the fact that many of us were fidgeting and getting into joyous tumult of the music. Do you get my drift? You can not separate music from the dance. In my home I have the freedom to liberate the whirling dervish in me. I can dance naked! Creating the audio system is one of the most sublime expression of testicular beudacity. It is the full expression of man's tool making energy, creativity and skills used for the highest possible purpose. As it is immoral to give children tainted food, polluted air, or toxic chemicals it is also immoral to give children junky sound. By and large, the sound in most homes is junk. In spite of its importance, the audio industry, recoding industry and especially the audiophile community have failed to confront the mediocre sound in average living room.
Lets explore the audio gizmos, the tools of musical ecstasy. It is very easy for me to achieve musical ecstasy while lying in bed in a totally relaxed state listening to my clock radio, provided the volume is just right. If I turn the radio up so that its flimsy little cabinet vibrates or it's 1/2 watt circuitry is pushed beyond its limits, my waking dream state is shattered. This radio does not play any heights or lows and its only mono signal, but everything that is played is in the correct proportion to re-create a musical tableau upon which I can suspend lightly as if I was hovering effortlessly above a field of blossoming lilies of a valley. Conversely, it is very hard for the brain to filter out artifacts that poorly matched hi-fi components are capable of imposing upon the music. The only hard work one should have listening to the music is when one embarks upon a serious moral, spiritual, or emotional exploration brought on by total involvement in a great piece of music, such as Shostakovich's Lenigrad Symphony. Even that exploration is not really hard work because such music sweeps us along effortlessly on a musical path that leads to greater and more challenging truth about ourself and the world.

by Harvey Rosemberg



Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Search for Musical Ecstasy cont.


For most of my adult life, I, like millions of others, have been intensely concerned with the quality of music in my life. By now, owning, building and the contemplation of high-quality audio equipment had become an obsession that got out of control. The intensity of my search for musical ecstasy demanded a complete and total life commitment.
I became part of an expanding community of men who had made a similar commitment. I, like those millions of others, was living witness to the profound effect the music was having on the world. While I was deeply immersed in my love of audio equipment and the painful efforts to create the illusion of live music in my home, there was a nagging feeling that something was wrong, the conventional wisdom that surrounded this strange electro-mechanical art form (we call this audi technology) was either inaccurate, obsolete, dysfunctional, or myopic. Something was, and still is, very schizophrenic about the audio industry. The public image created in advertising, the public persona of audio designers, the description of the gear and the vernacular with which the audio arts is described is at great variance with reality. It bacame obvious to me that a long time ago, probably at the dawn of audio industry, when a Victorian model of human existence still reigned, a "model" which described the music lover's relationship to his audio gear was developed. It appeared that this model had not changed in eight decades in spite of the vast changes in culture and our understanding of the complexity of human experience.

So now is the time to explore this eight-decade old original model, this conventional orthodoxy which has been accepted by all segments of the audio inteligentsia. This conventional home listening context is made of three forces: the music lover, the audio gear, and the desire to create the illusion of a live musical event at home. Let me illustrate this ortodoxy with the interplay of the dynamic forces which occur in the conventional context of listening to music in the home by taking you through the diagram which illustrates this context.



As you can see, we have the serious music lower sitting comfortably in his favorite chair attempting to create the illusion of live musical event in his living room. The reason he buys the best-quality equipment he can effort is: better equipment = better music illusion = more pleasure. The music lover's motivation here is musical hedonism. The greatest musical pleasure possible is the goal. It therefore follows that the best, and usually the most expensive equipment creates the highest quality musicla illusion and therefore offers the greatest opportunity for the music lover to experience the ultimate thrill.

Who can argue with this model? The nagging problem has been that this conventional wisdom only describes a single facet of an obviously multi-faceted, multi-dimensional reality, one that can be best described as a matrix of intersecting contradictions, conundrums and paradoxes...just like every other significant artistic pursuit. Perhaps I was crazy to believe that something more profound was operating than the search for musical pleasure. Was I a fool to believe that the creation of a home audio system was a mythological task, an expression of formidable unconscious drive in men for spiritual transcendence? Was in possible that audio gizmos were totems of archaic cultural impulse unique to men? Was it possible that the home music experience was the best way to recapture the original, archaic multi-dimensional ecstatic reality?

So began an intense exploration of this subject. Then something happened that released a new enthusiasm for this exploration. Bill Moyers popularized and made accessible the work of both Joseph Cambel and Robert Bly. These brought to mainstream what anthropologists and psychologists have been asserting for decades: man lives by and is created by myth. We are myth makers. All of our pursuits are mythological. The glue of families, communities and countries are myths, and when these myth lose their power, social and personal chaos begins.
Robert Bly went on to claim, that men have their own unique myths to guide them in their own unique masculine development. Bly brilliantly illuminated how the wisdom of male development in archaic myth is still true. He spoke of importance of initiations, of creating modern totems, of creating one's own sacred space, of getting beyond the "normal" and toxic model of manhood, and most importantly the need to discover the "true self".

The select group of men who are fully committed to creating musical ecstasy in the home are sharing a common spiritual bond. We are bound together by our polytheism, where we are worshipers of many great spirits, all of which are music. This is a tribal form of bonding where the central totem is the audio gizmo which is the conduit between us and the music, the spirits.


This is why I affectionately call members of this electro-mechanical totem worshipping tribal music culture audio-ecstasist. We are not talking about audiophiles, because this group of novices just love their audio and music. This is a group of lovable young hedonists. An audio-ecstasist is what you get when an audiophile reaches a higher stage in his spiritual development where he fully accepts the rich multi-dimensional nature of his search for the ultimate relationship to music in the home: ecstasy.

by Harvey Rosemberg






Thursday, October 4, 2012

Dipole subwoofers

I am very fond of open baffle speakers as you have noticed. I would never put midrange in the box, it sounds way better on open baffle. Woofers are a different story. Most of my systems are based on closed box woofers when it comes to the low frequencies. However, I heard open baffle bass systems, like Legacy Whisper, and I liked the uncoloured fast clean bass. So I decided to experiment with open baffle / dipole subwoofers.

Simple 15" woofer on open baffle of reasonable size has quite a cancellation and lacks low frequencies because of that. Baffle either has to be enormous in size, or bent. H-frame or U-frame is often used to minimize the baffle while to prevent cancellation. My experiments with these baffles did not yield satisfactory bass. Neither slot loaded baffle satisfied. I constructed big closed box with two 15" woofers on opposite sides. Each woofer can be powered by separate amplifier. This box can be configured as bi-pole or di-pole based on the polarity of woofers. I experimented with bi-pole vs di-pole configuration, and not only by listening, but further by measurement I found di-pole subwoofer much better sounding. Here are some pictures from the above mentioned subwoofer and it's frequency responses in bi-pole or di-pole configuration.





And these are the frequency responses I obtained by behringer ultracurve. No eq or inductor used, just quick and dirty measurement. First is di-polar configuration, second is bi-polar. You can see much better low frequency extension in di-polar configuration, plus much flatter response. In di-polar configuration the woofers are moving together (box is isobaric), no pressure changes are inside the box, woofers are not slowing each other. In bi-polar configuration, frequency response has nasty peak, I do not know why, plus it lacks real deep bass. Membranes when move, they are significantly acting on each other, slowing the vibration at low frequencies. I did not like the sound at this configuration. There are significant vibrations on the walls of the box too, because there are large changes in the pressure inside.
  
 di-pole




    bi-pole



Later, I constructed two more di-pole subwoofers, one for each side. Each with two 15" woofers. Below are few pictures from the construction, which was even simpler, not even the closed box. Just two front and back baffles connected in the corners. This slides inside the stand, which is not touching the baffles. This di-pole subwoofer is not even hermetically closed, no need to. Again, I verified that in di-pole configuration the frequency response was flatter, went deeper and had no ugly peak. Sounded way better too. In the final stage I wired those two woofers in series to present easy 8 ohms for the power amps. You have to be careful and realize that back woofer is physically in other direction, so its polarity is reversed (on top of its polarity reversal as di-pole, you get the point).

On top of the di-pole subwoofer sits 2.5 way MTM Betsy WOW with Selenium horn tweeter. All great sounding speakers. Whole system is bi-amplified by two JVC SuperA amps.









   di-pole

   bi-pole


All frequency responses were done without any eq or crossover for the woofers. In the final application these will be powered by separate amplifiers through active crossover set at 160Hz. You can see the bi-pole peak much higher in the second much smaller subwoofer. In di-pole configuration, however, even compact subwoofer performs well and with little eq goes quite low.





Just to be absolutely clear about the terminology, what I mean by bi-polar and di-polar subwoofer, I attached the illustration with arrows. The arrows indicate the polarity by which membrane moves. Not the orientation of woofer itself, although that is important too, to reduce the second harmonic distortion, but that is a different issue I do not want to brink here.
First picture is bi-polar subwoofer, where the membranes move opposite each other. The polarity of sound pressure created to the front and back is the same. However, there are big changes in the pressure inside the box, as the membranes are working against each other. The whole box is shaken, not stirred.




 bi-polar subwoofer

In the second case, woofers are wired so, that their membranes are moving in unison with each other, thus creating no changes in the pressure inside the box. Membranes are not fighting with each other, box does not vibrate at all (could be made of flimsy thin material?). However, the sound generated to the front has opposite polarity to the sound generated to the back, yielding narrower beam due to the side cancellation. Efficiency may be lower in the di-pole arrangement, but the sound is not thrown widely against the walls and above mentioned advantages in flatter frequency response and no box vibration are additional benefits. Plus it sounds way better to me too. Enjoy!


  di-polar subwoofer

Simple active crossover and chip amplifiers


I built numerous active crossovers in the search for perfect one. By the perfect one I mean the most transparent or pleasant sounding. This is very simple one, yet it has pleasant unobtrusive sound in comparison to commercial offerings or the OPA based active crossovers I built.



There is more than one way of using active crossover. First, is the normal, or typical way you wire the crossover. Selected signal enters the crossover, signal is split for high pass and low pass, in case of 2-way crossover, or in 3-way or even more, as you desire. Split signals are then fed into separate amplifiers. Lower power more refined amplifier is usually used for midrange/tweeter section, more powerful high current for woofer section. The diagram is shown below.

 The advantages of using active crossover are numerous, no need to mention them. However, there are disadvantages too. I found the signal to be altered or deteriorated to some degree if numerous operational amplifiers are in signal before the amplifier. I found simpler crossover to sound better. However, there is another way of using active crossover. In my case, the midrange/tweeter section is most of the time open baffle. They naturally roll off. Even if small closed boxes are used for mid/tweeter, the natural roll of can be seen as natural crossover. One capacitor is all it takes for mid/tweeter section. Thus, signal selected is fed full range into high quality low power amplifier and to the mid/tweeter (or one full-range). Sound is unaltered, clear, free of grunge of pesky operational amplifiers. Speaker output signal is simultaneously fed into active crossover, directly or through some resistors. Only low pass section is being utilized now, feeding big power amplifier and woofer. Master volume control is on low power amp now, not on crossover. Low pass signal is well filtered and allows to omit passive crossover, with all the benefits of no power loss in big indictors and better control of the woofer. Plus subwoofer section often allows variable crossover frequency and phase, adding more flexibility in adjustments. Ears are more forgiving in bass section, so even if operational amplifiers are used in low pass active crossover, it has much lesser impact. Second type of approach to active crossover is shown in second diagram below.
Hence, I was lately interested only in subwoofer sections.
  




Well, this was a short post so I thought I will add a section about chip amplifiers. While there is a number of chip based amplifiers, the first and most famous gainclone was the LM1875. More powerfull version was LM3875. Quite a lot was written about chip amplifiers, so I am not going to repeat that. Only thing I will share here is the experience with three types of circuit used with chip amps. Firts is non-inverting, simple, good sounding circuit, recommended by chip maker National Semiconductor / Texas Instruments.



























Next is inverting circuit. This one sounds way better, but it needs a buffer on the input.
Last one is transconductance amplifier, or current feedback. This one sounds best. Highly recommended. Sounds as good as good tube amp. Liquid, smooth, engaging, musical.

JLH headphone amplifier

This is famous JLH headphone amplifier I just finished from ebay kit...I was curious about the sound quality. It's superb, although not as sweet as 6SN7 tube headpone amp I built a while ago, still very pleasant liquid classA sound. There is small mistake on the schematics and PCB. Capacitors C23 and C24 are shown in incorrect polarity.












Wednesday, January 18, 2012

John Curl JC-2 preamplifier

I build this preamp out of curiosity to compare it to tube preams I have. Plus I can use it in active crossover anyway. It turned out wonderfully. Clean spacious sound. I like it.






I built yet another JC-2 circuit, this time for stand alone preamp itself. I got old not working Parasound preamp, which I gutted, and put JC-2 circuit in it. What can be more suitable home for JC-2 preamp than Parasound box, both designs by John Curl himself.
To complete the JC-2 preamp, I got 5 input remote control switch with volume control to go with it. Works great. Here are some pictures from the build.









Friday, December 30, 2011

System Two Update

Yet another system two update. This time its another speaker again. Well, I do not know what made me to built these speakers, perhaps I wanted to imitate the look of Legacy Whisper, just kidding. It only remotely resembles Whisper. Anyway, it started long time ago when I got 2" Dayton domes brand new never used very cheaply on ebay, so I started looking for an application. I have seen HiVi ribbons on sale, so it was only a matter of finishing the lower mids section. I selected Dayton 4" midwoofers RS125. Crossovers were optimized using Holm Impulse program based on real measurements. Panels are open baffle, what else, working from 150Hz up. Woofers is still the same, 15" Jamo in closed box.
The system is biamplified using active crossover, has 31 band digital eq and tube amp for mids/heights and solid state for woofers. Signal sources are the same as before, Cambridge Audio CP player (dual Wolfson), SAE FM tuner, Technics SP25 with ATOC9 cart, some Onkyo Integra deck and preamp (used only for signal switching and RIAA), and digital tape player. System could use better amp, I am working on it.