This post comes a little late, since I’ve just spent two weeks in Morocco on a Country Walkers’ walking tour. Morocco is very interesting, with a rich culture and really friendly people. The weekend before flying to Morocco, I attended a “Tube Tasting” at Oswald’s Mill in eastern Pennsylvania. Here is the mill itself:
It is a 18th century grain mill built right into the house, and has been refurbished over the last ten years by Jonathan Weiss. Jonathan’s “Tube Tastings” have been an invitation-only event since 2002, where people into vintage, exotic, and exceptional home-built equipment can set-up and compare their projects. Jonathan is also a world-class cook, and cooked all the food for the gathering - and the food was fantastic!
The main listening room takes up nearly all of the third floor. The open beams, various vintage paraphernalia (verging on steam-punk), and the 3rd-to-4th floor opening (see the large windows on the picture to the left) gave plenty of room for the speakers to breath. The window openings in the two-foot thick stone walls made perfect turntable mounts.
The impressions given in this article can only give a glimpse of the totality of the tasting. The official 2008 Tasting page is not yet up (although 2003 through 2007 tastings can be seen here), but there is a pretty complete review of the 2008 Tasting at the 6 Moons site, with many tasty pictures. If I leave anyone’s equipment out of the following text, it is due to my inability to listen to everything plus my fading memory of the event three weeks ago.
I came with Sean Ta of Artemis Labs and brought my prototype of the LA-2 phono preamp. Sean and I were invited by Frank Schröder of Schröder tone-arm fame. Vinyl was the dominant signal source, and with Peter Ledermann’s Soundsmith strain-gauge cartridges, Win Tinnon’s slate-plinth turntable, the prototype Artemis Labs turntable designed by Frank Schröder, as well as Frank’s reference tone arms, gave a truly outstanding signal source.
Not to be outdone by vinyl, Charles King brought his slightly modified Stellavox reel-to-reel tape recorder. Walter Clay had brought some of the Tape Project tapes, and the combination was amazing - the detail, solidity and authority of a master tape with none of the artifacts of either vinyl or digital. I’ve discussed the Tape Project here before, and am eagerly awaiting the delivery of some of my own tapes from them.
There apparently weren’t as many choices in amplifiers as in earlier tastings, but what were available were pretty good! The “house” amplifier, a pair of RCA MI-9355 push-pull 845 booster amps, driven by singled-ended 300Bs gave the openness and big-sound only thoriated-tungsten tubes can give. There were a pair of RCA push-pull parallel 6550 theater amps in essentially original condition that really reset my expectations of what this topology can do - they were very good! They also provided extra entertainment by the explosive ejection of an oil cap, complete with streaming foil and insulation! Peter Ledermann brought a single-ended MOSFET amp (I can’t remember all the details on this one) which was suprisingly good, too. There was a single-ended amp that you could plug in any 4-pin output tube and it seemed to magically adapt to the tube. It also sounded very good.
The two main speaker systems used were the OMA three-way speakers (the conical horns on top of the trapezoidal woofer boxes) and the three-way Cogent system (the two conical horns with a ribbon tweeter on top). Despite Lynn Olson’s warnings on the problems of conical horns, the OMA system sounded really good with essentially no horn coloration and excellent high-frequency detail. My only complaint, and it is a minor one, is the ported woofer. I personally don’t really like the sound of them. Possibly one of the reasons the horns sounded so good is the use of the RCA MI-9584A compression driver. This really is a “sleeper” and seems to mate very well with the conical horn.
Steve Schell’s Cogent system took a while to get all tuned-up and listenable. Once set-up right, the mids and the highs were very good, but the bass needed more work. His electro-dynamic (i.e. field-coil) compression drivers are works of art.
Peter Ledermann played a pair of small-format speakers on Sunday that were very good and gave a completely different sound than the horns that dominated the event.
We had a chance to hear a pair of RCA LC-1 speakers in their original RCA “utility” cabinets up in the master bedroom on the 4th floor. The signal source was a Sony CD player and the amps were RCA push-pull parallel 6V6GT hifi amps. While not as ultimately extended in frequency range as modern high-end speakers, they had a fascinating magic and presence. If someone could correctly duplicate their design, they would have a fantastic product.
The best aspect of the tasting was the chance to do some serious schmoozing with very talented designers and enthusiasts. This included ones I’ve met before, such as Dave Slagle (magnetics), Frank Schröder (turntable/tonearms), and Charles King (tape and FM tuners), as well as new ones: Walter Clay (history and most everything else), Steve Schell (speakers and drivers), Doug Eisemann (amps and more), the Dixie Bottlehead crew, and of course, Jonathan Weiss, our generous host who brought us all together. The most memorable discussions were the late-night ones around the kitchen table that touched on philosophy, audio, and the meaning of life. It was a fantastic get-together. We need more people like Jonathan in this world.
I don’t normally post my personal pictures on this blog, but as a hint of what I did in Morocco, here is a self-portrait of me riding a camel in the sand dunes of the Sahara. I’m the second one from the left.