When I temporally did end last year this series of articles with an interview with Keith Aschenbrenner, I did hope that my time in Hong Kong will extend my knowledge about the Asian audio culture, but it didn't come out as I expected. My time in Hong Kong did not deepen my insight into Asian audio practice, this city seem to be focused generally into other values and times. So I will try to continue where I did take a brake and deliver now the resume.
As already in several former articles stated, Japanese aficionados were in a foremost stage the founders of the vintage audio culture with more than 40 years of extensive practice. Japan was the pioneering Asian country of electronic mass products in the 1960ties. Their typical cultural behavior in a tireless seek of perfection have forced a trailblazing economical success at a global scale. This success entailed on the other opposing hand an incomparable range of handmade specialist audio products employing a stage of expertise incomparable to second. Enabled by the respectful highest degree of mastermind culture in order to find the last and tiniest compromising aspect in a given audio playback system.
Japan was followed by the Korean economic and cultural catch up, where audio enthusiasts did try to follow as well in the same fields of expertise. Almost time contemporaneous attended by some exclusive audio entrepreneurs in Europe (F, I, GB, D) while in the same time almost completely ignored in the motherland of its technical origin the US, only noticed by a handful of radical enthusiasts (NY Triode Gang).
Today the situation is more comprehensible. The Japanese movement laid once the track for a highly sophisticated organised replica industry of former unavailable vintage equipment made at Chinas working bench. Focused to form a advanced reproduction process copying original products from the US-brand Western Electric and their subcontractors, aimed to be an economic business for luxury needs. Today almost any necessary product for a highly collectible and advanced historic cinema set up is available from several Asian companies directly from the storage shelf. All products are made as faithful precise replica of the vintage original or even made as a revised product. When the interest into historical products started in the early 1970ties, the most Japanese forerunners needed years or even decades to find out about things and important interrelations; and of course first they needed to find the vintage products for a first hand personal evaluation. Modern Chinese production processes in combination with Japanese and Korean supervisisional knowledge about the original products and their inherent qualities, have made possible a reissue production line of such quality level.
|The typical Western Labo Co. set up.|
Companies like Line Magnetic, PandC, Western Labo, Victor, Kanno, GIP, Wu, etc. are all courting the same small group of customers, who are willing to spend a 50 to 100k amount (for a start) into a catalog of seamless dedicated replica products based on the 1930ties WE-cinema-sound-systems with all-time favorite repeating same components:
1. large wide band horn transducers (WE 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 21, 22 /A replicas or similar other horns)
2. large open baffle or dipole low frequency extension cabinets (incorporating TA4181, Lansing 15AX FC or other similar Jensen FC replica speakers or even arrays of them) with more or less
3. the same tweeter (WE 597/A).
4. Up to personal taste of the customer and available room for the dedicated listening space, different amplifier conceptions are available to match perfectly (here legend started with 300B tubes). Several replicas from Western Electric originated amplifier designs, like WE 89A, 91A , 121A up to completed cinema racks (WE41A) featuring 211 and 805 PPP tube amplifiers are repetitively copied for a common sales strategy.
Any legendary WE-transformer from history is reproduced already, rewound to original cores (171A, 618A/B, etc.) rigged out at electro junkjards in mainland China. Of course on sale are replicas of all typical dedicated power supply designs, like Tungar, Selenium or tube regulated are offered for a authentic completeness and aural superiority. If you only take the aural distinction of tungar low voltage power supplies to the fields coils of the 597/555 drivers in mind, it is almost a sensational effect on itself. Once aural internalized you will not do without anymore...
Every vintage exceptional product you might need for such a sophisticated sound texture is on sale by now, – you don't need to research anymore for yourself, no more need to find experienced knowledge, nor there is a need of building diy skills for absolutely unavailable products. – You just need money and a dealer of your trust. Google will do the rest...
|WE91A replica with original WE cores by PandC|
|GIP 12A horn replica with GIP 555/A receiver GIP 597A tweeter|
To my own references from 30 years with vintage tube based audio equipment, I must state these wide band horn installations with 555 receivers are unsurpassed in any audible discipline. When absolute refinement in tonal realism, dynamic distribution and natural audio perception is to be aimed, there is nothing coming even close. Period!
Any paper cone based loudspeaking unit made through such 70 years of history, independent of its magnetic technology, does not have the slightest chance, in physical and as well in audible terms to match the sparkling naturalness of tonal resolution of these first wide band horn loudspeakers. If you have got the matching amplifying devices, you will be rewarded with unparalleled obsessive attitudes.
|Line Magnetic LM555 mounted at LM22A horn|
These qualities of wide frequency horns seem to have widely established in global scale. Those users with elaborated listening experience prefer loudspeaker concepts without limiting enclosure types. In audio history different design conceptions did establish in order to use the backward radiated waves of the cone to extend the total low frequency energy; like backloaded horn enclosures, enclosures with conducted port or reflex enclosure types. But even with large sized and damped sealed enclosure types unwanted energies together with unfavorable effects to the cone are always present. All this common used concepts are more or less a hefty compromise to a quality intended lf-response. The open baffle concepts from the early beginning show up with a tremendously improved performance and by far with lowest negative side effects to the sound structure. They are fast and open, they are room covering, but not very efficient in terms of radiated energy, for adjustment you might add cone size for improved efficiency. If you don't have the room for such a huge installations with large woofer (arrays), you better should forget about a historical cinema installation for your own.
A typical Western Electric cinema based installation shows up with properties unknown to ordinary commercial audio products. Because of their time related technology, they were once constructed with a main focus to optimize the acoustic-physical efficiency in mind. They are aimed to overcome the typical limitations of 1930ties audio performance, i.e. limited power output of the existing amplifying devices. They needed to perform in cinema halls with seats for several thousand people. So arrays of extra efficient horn speakers, have been for a long time the only technical solution to succeed with a handful of watts of output power. The physical approach intended to resolve the best possible loudness energy ratio together with the best audibility to a given output power. The early ingenious solutions incorporated highly efficient mechanical transmission systems to couple the electro dynamic movement/energy of a small scaled coil to a maximal amount of air. Customized to different tasks, i.e. long low frequency or short high frequency waves were different treated. The low frequency drivers are in a foremost stage the graves for the supplied energy. The size of the radiating cone decides about its lowest transmitted frequency, its physical weight determines the necessary electrical energy input. As everybody knows the size of the baffle limits physically the longest wave where the radiated wave parts from both sides of the cone distinguish each other. With a funnel like shown here from WesternLabo a particular part of the radiated frequency will be transmitted to better ratio, here it might be 1:1,5 for frequencies upper 100hz. With a 18'' woofer such a system brings a certain lot of air into movement, much more than the driver alone.
When you look at the immense ratio of the wide band horn development between opening and mouth you will find a ratio of one to several thousand. This system covers not only the most important and delicate frequency range, it determines decisively the tonal character of the whole installation. The extremely light weight diaphragm/driver mechanism 555 is designed to cover a frequency range of 100 to 7000 hz. The mounted horn development (like WE15a 100-3000hz, WE22a 250-6000hz) with its limiting parameters decides if such a horn can cover the complete range of the human voice or just the range of a common trombone. The immense mechanical amplifying ratio of the horn development animates additionally a huge amount of moved air into the sound structure, a tremendous lot more than modern small scaled based speaker systems will do. I believe the amount of animated air is the most typical and shaping effect for their incomparable sound structure.
This rarely iluminated aspect is to my personal experience the most important reason for the unique sensation of trueness and natural scaled instrumentation. To my perception this effect creates a fundamental physical difference into the final soundstage, a extra spacious and defined stage of sound. As well the listening ability is a lot easier at the ear than with small scaled drivers with long stroke radiated wavefronts, known from typical hifi speakers, but as well from professional studio monitors. Even here, when the overall sound structure might be extremely similar in tonality, the physical definition of the projected sound stage is completely different. The loss of air between instruments is a remarkable criteria.
|A typical Western Labo set up in detail|
Today ownership is not anymore a challenge, it is just a question of money and room. If you can accept to spend 2 to 4 K $US for shipping costs from Asia to Europe or into the US, you can order such complete sets directly from several Asian homepages. Certain manufacturers and companies are selling more or less the same replicas in similar qualities and confusingly same appearances for more or less similar price ranges.
Alternatively in Europe if you are adventurous and gifted with hand craft you can ask for some custom made support for the woodwork here ore here with additional options for necessary decided equipment. For all others it might better get in physical contact first with your more or less locally operating drug dealer. There you can get some real impression of these favourite products, of course coming along with additional charges but as well guarantees. In Germany you will be perfectly served by a institution and pioneer for such questions: Keith Aschenbrenner from Auditorium 23. Together with a highly extended amplifier range from Shindo-Labs and some unique own products like LM-based speaker designs, unique stepup-transformers, tonearms and cables, you will be opposed with several Line Magnetic components from the here shown classic WE-replica-speaker-portfolio. Within the American continent there will be Jonathan Halpern‘s associated network of tone import dealers would be happy to do serve a similar request for the interested aficionado.
|GIP 7331 with TA4181 and GIP 597 and GIP403A with 594A. The dipole enclosure for the 18'' field coil low frequency radiator|
The resume is sobering, after 80 years of audio development (?!) and certain stages of redefinition of state in audio technologies, like its included 30 years of digitalization of the music signal and by now the superior panacea of digital signal shaping with its benefits for consumer claims and applications, the earliest beginning technology has never been matched in overall performed quality again.
The first wide band receiver unit, the WE555A is by far the best sounding compression speaker mechanism for wide band use ever made and will be the central component in such a set up. It is the key component and performs by far better than any of his technically glorified successors. The simplicity of such a acoustic principle, the small lightweight diaphragm acting as wide band unit, mechanically amplified by a carefully designed exponential horn development to cover the widest possible frequency range (again WE 12/13/14/15/16/22/A) is by far the most delicate, refined, fast, naturally detailed and dynamic loudspeaker principle ever made. The WE597/A is its perfect hf-extending companion for the best high frequency response money can buy, as its lower end counterpart the 18'' TA4181 FC driver will perfectly round up the lower end. Such sets are a extreme statement of input and as well a challenge for the performed music material.
The most enthusiasts of such sets are hardcore analog addicts with a deep conviction about the supremacy of vinyl. For my own conviction and belief I must state here again, that just such incomparable qualities of the here described sets have shown myself the first time in my life the limitations of vintage analog recordings stored on vinyl. For a long time I did ignore completely the outstanding qualities of modern digital recordings (past 2000), – it may not be too influential, if you put five-figure euro sums in first released vintage vinyl jazz records – you must suffer from a disease well spread in such circles. In order to feed my own hardcore analog addiction before 2010 such first releases of vinyl from the golden age were the only acceptable program material. Personal wrong interpretations of unlimited varying recording qualities in terms of broad tonalities, captured dynamics and refinement of resolution did confirm my completely wrong interpretation of richness and realism. The exceptional smooth, refined and natural response of such historic horn installations with its incomparable amounts of balanced micro textured informations, showed me first how wrongly I did misinterpret the typical inherent variations of vintage recorded vinyl. This experience made a completely new evaluation of digitally recorded music for me five years ago possible again. I had made my basic experiences with digital music at the beginning of the 1990ties. Mainly justified by transcriped CD's from originally analog recorded music, I decided to ignore for the next 20 years the digital medium completely. These early cd releases showed not only limited sound qualities, they showed on top like any other step of reproduction as well a even greater limitation of the widely varying analog originals. Such limitations are completely absent with actually completely digital produced program material (past 2000). The digital source is now on par with the best recordings on vinyl and the best thing about is that the tremendous differences between recordings known from analog times are almost obsolete.
|SPU Gold in a SME3012 on Platine Verdier, for 20 years my gospel to audio heaven.|
With this final part about the last 30 years of audio history I have reached as well at a end of my planned blog activities. Sometimes when I think back and talk to my self, it reminds me to my youth when I did listen to my Grandpa. I feel quite similar now when talking about such exalting audio sets like he did permanently refer about his deep affection by two world wars, a topic nobody liked to follow 20 years later... Being poised by such extravagant and room expansive audio installations, I feel in a similar situation. In particular when I see my students happily using Bose's bluetooth speakers with their mobile phones... And they are right, the Bose Soundlink mini is a exceptional milestone in history of audio, quasi the physical complementary product for today of the here shown Western Electric installations, but equally breathtaking impressive for what it is. If you are thinking instead of Western Electric horns about downsizing your former hifi life, this product might be your future...