by Steve Deckert
Sometimes I have
to wonder if aliens (out there) arenít entertaining themselves at
my expense! I donít mean with occasional incidents but rather
with an on going theme. Perhaps a better word for it would
almost wish audio was in a world where there were no such things
as labels, name brands or trade rags. From an audio perspective
these things have just gotten in the way and caused me years and
years and years of delay in reaching the holy grail of audio playback
in ďtheirĒ world, this is the case. Perhaps that theme of paradoxical
events that happen around here (almost monthly for reasons I canít
figure out) are why I have found the grail where so many others
havenít yet. Nevertheless it never ceases to amaze me.
has been no exception, as the little pranksterís (aliens) have been
at it again. Their favorite joke is to make the underdog ALWAYS
sound better and then watch you try to figure out why that is. This
is in fact the running theme behind most Zen designs around here,
and is what distinguishes them from a regular one (I do both kinds).
Let me explain what got me befuddled again with an excellent example
by just telling you how the evening went. Oh Iím SURE this
has never happened to you... (smile) but then come to think of it
maybe it never has! You know since audio playback systems
require components, there is a certain amount of material acquisition
required. That ongoing measurement of ones possessions as
referenced against anotherís with money being the mark of distinction.
system of distinction is a dangerous path where audio grail hunting
is concerned. It seems to offer short cuts to the land of
OZ but actually stops just before you get there. Of course
Iím talking about audio gear and the assumed safe statement that
if something costs 10 times as much it will sound at least twice
have been going round and round lately with tubes for my new Zen
amp. Which tubes are the best sounding? It started out
a simple enough problem, just buy a few of all the popular brands
and see right? Pleeease...!
canít anything ever be simple? My range of available
tubes discounting the Chinese ones, started at the low end with
Sovteks and ended with the best being NOS Sylvania Military grade.
The difference in price being around 500%. In the middle of
my selection is a wide variety of British and American tubes.
marketing reasons I wanted to at least try the Sovteks and see how
they compared, so I bought their best grade of select tube and gave
it a go. I listened to it for a couple days and one night
when I installed a 30 year old pair of British Made
pull-outs with low mileage all the grain went away! ...Thatís about
the end of this tube discovery process, I ended up getting my hands
on a pair of N.O.S. SYLVANIA milspec tubes. They even looked
serious! The plates are almost black and the bulbs are seamless.
They became my little pets for about a week. Indeed they sounded
good until I was able to admit to myself they really kinda sounded
even MORE tubes, I ordered some more Sovteks, but this time their
bottom of the line 6BQ5, not the Mís not the Select Grade, just
the 3.50 ea. in matched sets. Well just for kicks when they
came in I popped them in my Zen amp in place of my little pets,
and Iíll be damn if they didnít sound better! .... about right...
he shakes his head.
comparing the three types of Sovtek 6BQ5ís I have to say the worst
ones sound the best and the best ones sound the worse. The
cheap one is grainless and quiet. The M and Select are more
aggressive on top with more grain.. at least in the amps I've tried
them in. Warning this text is seeded with a subtle moral.
I thought I would listen to our Golden Tube SE40 (first model) 40x40
single ended pentode since I pretty much abandoned it after completion
of the Zen amp project. After about 10 minutes I remembered
all the reasons I abandoned it, and reminisced about how good
it used to sound, and how well it compared with high dollar amps.
To read reviews on it alone is a paradox about underdogs wining
the fidelity wars.
sound of the SE40 didn't change, it sounds just the same as always,
but now after listening to this inferior looking Zen amp 2x2 watts
single ended triode my reference has changed. The Golden Tube
SE40 now seems cold, thin, grainy, unfocussed, and this is what
really surprises me,.. slow! It shouldnít be possible for a 5 watt
500 dollar amp to walk all over an 80 watt 1000 dollar amp that
walks all over several popular 2500 dollar amps, but it does.
hitting pause, and returning the Golden Tube to its shelf I got
a Zen amp out and prepared to listen to it. I grabbed what
I was still thinking was my favorite tubes, the Sylvanias, my pets,
and popped them in. While I was down there I discovered something
that should be impossible. The tubes were microphonic!
I could tap them with my finger nail, and hear the corresponding
speaker ring like a crystal wine glass!
you see the head trip? Prior to this little chuckle, the aliens
made my stock DENON 2560 that I was using as a transport sound better
than the DA converter, and last week made a tweaked pair of audax
40 watt paper cone speakers sound WAY better than a tweaked pair
of Dynaudioís best woofers.
wonít even get into the studio downstairs, my drum kit, or our band
equipment in general, but I can assure you the phenomenon is alive
and well down there too.
if there really arenít aliens watching me, I can safely say I have
been providing an almost daily source of good free entertainment
at my expense for their mental enlightenment and it's a shame their