I have recently visited a couple of places which until now have only been contacts over the internet. I was on my way to Chicago on business for two weeks and I thought "My, but it would be nice to actually meet the people that I have come to know and admire over the internet." So I planned to visit three sites along the way.
The first was Triode Electronics, a well known tube audio supplier (both parts and equipment) and home of a terrific resource of information and fun. The hotel I stayed at was in the downtown area, and Triode Electronics was not far from there.
The second place I planned to visit was Decware audio. Steve Deckert is an engineer (at least I consider him one. Anyone who can take any speaker and make a cabinet for it to make it sound as wonderful as the one I made from his plans deserves the title!) who has designed a moderately priced ($549 U.S.) high end single ended tube amplifier that has rave reviews. He also designed and sells a pre-amp to go along with it. He also sells plans for several precisely tuned (and I mean precise! Any deviation from the precision results in far less than ideal a performance) speaker cabinets for an extremely generous $10. If you make the smallest of his plans for a subwoofer and just listen to it you will know what I mean. He even sells already constructed cabinets for as generous a fee. However, you must provide your own speaker for it. But it is well worth the cost and effort to install the speaker and tune the cabinet. They also do repairs of speaker cones, among other things. He can be visited at www.decware.com. I was unable to visit him due to some difficulties and my schedule while there in Chicago.
The third place I planned to visit on my way back
home. Oh, did I tell you that I drove all the way there? Anyway, it is
The Museum of Radio and
Technology in Huntington, West Virginia. I have peroused their web
site, and I tell you truly that the site does the place no justice!
When I first got on the web (well actually it was in 1983, but haven't been back on for ten years since) I wanted to learn about tubes. I had experimented with them in the past but I obviously did not know enough about them to make a good amplifier. In my search for knowledge and resources I stumbled across Triode Electronics. I think my first meeting was on the newsgroup rec.audio.tubes. He contributes alot on that newsgroup. However, flame wars prevent the enjoyment of many of these newsgroups so he formed his own group. I was glad that he allowed me to be a part of this group because I learned a whole lot from them about tubes I never knew about and even though tubes were still in use in some consumer products at the time and being manufactured by the big guys (early eighties), my school did not spend that much time on the technology. So most of my knowledge was solid state and computers.
At any event, my first real tube amplifer project was a single ended amplifier made mostly from parts that I bought from Ned Carlson of Triode Electronics. I chose components of his recommendation. The project went well.
I had imagined that his shop was a large warehouse (or at least about a thousand square feet anyway) with a sound room and equipment on shelves and a back area filled to capacity with parts and tubes of all sorts. Of course my imagination can run away with me big time. When I got there what I found was a quaint shop that looks like it was a corner convenience grocery store. In it the walls were filled with shelves loaded with vintage tube equipment. A veritable cornucopia of tube audiophilia. I saw Scotts, Dynacos, Kenwoods, you name it, he had it. The system that was playing as I walked in was a tube push-pull amp (I forgot what brand) on Tannoy Westminster speakers. (I remebered the Tannoys because they are so huge!) I actually arrived there one day and planned to visit the next day. The first day I just wanted to make sure of how to get there and that Ned was going to be there.
Ned was at his desk, which looks like a typical techie's room (like my shop!). Parts and equipment all over the place. He was having dinner but greeted me very kindly. I got there about five o'clock. The next day I got there about 6:00. I brought my Single Ended amp to show him what I did with the parts I got from him and to get his tube tuned ear's opinion of the sound quality. I was surprised that the amp was able to drive those massive Tannoys, let alone sound as good as it did. For one thing the amp is made for 4 ohms and the Tannoys are 8. It was pretty loud. Ned told me that they are rated at about 101 dB/watt. But I think that the volume would have been louder if the amps output transformer had an eight ohm impedance. In any event it was very encouraging to hear the positive responses from the gentlemen who were there.
Part of the fun of testing this amp was when Ned tried other tubes in this amp. He first put a pair of Sylvania 6L6's in the output. The tubes are about 60 percent the height of the Tesla 6L6's. The sound got a little "fat". The lower middle range seemed to come out more. He then popped in a couple of Chinese KT66's. The sound then became deeper. I got more bass. I suspect that bias parameters were changing. Also interelectrode capacitance comes into play.
The Tannoys were amazingly clear. Well, for three grand apiece (six for the pair) they'd better be! There was one point in a particular song where I thought that the person saying "hey, hey" (shouting it not singing it)was actually right outside the door! That is what the hobby is all about! I turned around to see no one out there, and then realized that it was the music.
Jim had noticed that the high end seemed to roll off. I wonder if that was attributed to the impedance mismatch as well as the low quality of the output transformer. But he correctly stated that it sounded as if it rolled of at about 10,000 Hertz (I was not familiar with the sound of their system let alone the music, so he could say better than I). I hadn't actually measured it but I estimated the same. I had removed the NFB so there would be high end roll off, and from my previous experience with my solid state amp (the MOSFETS had similar input capacitance) rolling off at about the same frequency I figured it was similar. With NFB, I would guess the roll off would start much higher. Personally, I like the high end just where it is. It sounds more natural to me. Ah but then I would be off of my phylosophy of purity, since the roll off changes the balance of the original signal.
It was fun hanging around these guys who had in common if nothing else the desire to hear great sound through tubes. I had fun. It had been too long since I hung around a place like this. If you are ever in Chicagoland and are a fellow audiophile, make this one of your places to visit. Ned and Jim are a couple of great guys and welcome visitors.
The Museum of Radio and Technology
At first glance at the bulding and from the web site, one would think that this small town U.S.A. museum was a reflection of its home. Small and with relatively few pieces. But I was determined to visit there anyway if for no other reason to chat with fellow antique electronics collectors.
However, when I arrived there, I was literally taken aback by the extensive collection that they had, and displayed in such a way as to be eye catching and exciting. The museum is nestled behind an old church in an area known as Old City. It is actually a couple of miles west of the main city of Huntington. Once I got off interstate 64 at exit 6 (within West Virginia) and made the three right turns that I was instructed to make, I merely had to follow the signs.
When I got there I was immediately greeted by a small mural of a Cathedral style radio with real wooden knobs stuck on the wall. I walked in to find two elderly gentlemen listening to Nat King Cole on what looks like an old portable radio from the twenties. Either that or a communications reciever of the forties or fifties. I did not bother to examine it closely. I waited for the song to finish before introducing myself.
I was introduced to the gentleman who founded the museum. He was the one who gave me the tour. Jokingly the other gentleman told me he was hard of hearing and 108 years old. Well, the former was true but he is only 79 years old. He certainly does not look either age! I believe his name was Jim. I forgot as usual! But it was my lucky day to have met him, since he says he only gets there about once a month.
At any rate, there were about seven rooms full of vintage radio equipment that made my mouth water! Just about all of the equipment was in original or restored condition. The ones in original condition were very well taken care of. There were perhaps one or two that needed repair. But from looking at them you couldn't tell.
He spoke quite eloquently about the history of electronic technology and his own personal experiences in the field. This made for a tour that was both informative and interesting. I personally love to listen to older people speak of their experiences. He even allowed me to listen to both a crystal radio and an old acoustic Victrola. I was deeply impressed by the volume of the vintage crystal radio. From a set of 2000 ohm headphones one could hear clearly and loudly (for a crystal set, that is!) the radio station that he patiently and skillfully tuned in with the cat's whisker detector and sliding arm coil. The Victrola was a bit tinny though. But I believe that it was because the diaphragm did not have the cover to direct the sound fully through the horn. But the sound would still be tinny, just not as much.
As we went on, he showed me a room where a radio station had donated their 5000 watt transmitter. It was huge. I had never seen such huge tubes up close. The power supply was half of the entire unit, which was about fifteen feet by fifteen feet by about 61/2 feet high. The power supply was 10,000 volts and 1/2 inch copper tubing carried the current. The output tubes were water cooled. It was awesome to behold.
He also showed us where their personal transmitter was located. They are licensed to transmit over just about the entire amateur radio band. They will soon be getting an FM radio license so they can broadcast educational programs locally.
The tour ended with a stroll down console row. It is in the hallway. I do not know why I hadn't noticed it when I first walked in there, but they were all lined up and down the hallway as you walk in. Some of the cabinetry work is so beautiful it is sad that such craftmanship does not exist anymore. I was delighted to see a piece that I personally have in his collection too. It is a Majestic 90B. They also had a Freshman Masterpiece there, among a plethora of Atwater Kents and others.
There is so much to see there that I would use up all of the space on my page to comment on them, but I will not do so. I just hope that I whet your appetite enough to where you make an effort to visit them yourself. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in tubes or antiques or radio or even art, since some of these radios should fall into the category of art, as many vintage automobiles have.
Well, that concludes my bit of commentary on the
places of tubedom I have visited. I hope to visit more soon.
to Papers page