A U D I O... P A P E R


Sept 2004 by Steve Deckert

Well, itís late in the year 2004, exactly 7 years since I retired from the wretched excesses of testosterone driven audiotweekitisness and big amplifiers.  They were and continue to be congested, confused, and two dimensionalÖvery tight, anal and uninteresting sounding amplifiers.  Properly done they promise to serve rock Ďn roll and classical music with relative grace, but then either of these mediums can be recorded with a high degree of refinement. When we are listening to music where clearly the music is refined then SET amplifiers are simply where itís at.  Nothing can create the aural ecstasy of music better.  I discovered this when I built the first Zen Triode amplifier and was so compelled by itís sound I reshaped my dream to stop the chaotic state of hi-end audio discombobularity into a 2 watt reality that still thrives today.

Even though I have made attempts to widen itís appeal by marketing several variations of this amp (see our product line) I canít help but humbly admit getting somewhat lost along the way.  You see, Iíve been getting backed up against the wall of SET power limitations from customers constant attempts to run these amps on slow power hungry speakers.  Iíve been almost forcibly cast into the distracting and naÔve fantasy that somehow my gifted hands would create a miracleÖ an affordable amplifier that sounds like the Zen Triode but with enough balls to drive even the most stupid of loudspeakers...

Having suffered from this preoccupation for the past few years Iíve grown very worry of it.  No aliens from other dimensions have presented themselves to me, nor have they guided my efforts into ground breaking technologies that I could use to achieve this goal Ė (unless Gizmo was one).  Oh, believe me, a good push pull amplifier done right can get close enough to fool some of us some of the time but you canít have a full glass of water without first filling it up.  To do a large amp of the quality required takes money.  $5.00 power resistors must be replaced with magnetic loading devices (chokes) at ten times the cost. Inter-stage coupling capacitors that cost less then $10.00 must be replaced with extremely high quality inter-stage transformers - again at 10 times the cost. Finally the phase inverters which can be easily made from a single tube at the cost of about $10. must be replaced with precision built custom transformers that would range between 10 and 40 times the cost.  In the end you have an amplifier that cost thousands of dollars in parts and itís still in a butt ugly box.  How many of you would really like to pay around $7500.00 to break this power barrier knowing that in the end the SET is still going to sound better?  Wouldnít it make more sense to wean yourself away from todayís pitiful and all to common hi-end loudspeakers and get a less common speaker of higher efficiency?  Besides sounding a hell of a lot better, it would likely cost you a lot less too.

With more and more meditation to offset these polluted distractions I have managed to get re-focused just in time before my exit on the interstate of hi-fi mediocrity was nearly missed and I built yet another high power prototype to compete with the Zen. Instead I choose to fully explore the potential of what Iím already doing and see just how juicy the ecstasy can get on this side of the SET power wall.  This has caused me to take a long hard look at my existing product line and separate out the models that can be improved from the ones that canít.  

My first focus was the SE34I (Zen Triode Integrated Amplifier) which I hoped to be able to improve.  

One of the reoccurring realities that presents itself at my work bench, and in our customerís listening rooms is the fact that amplifiers with a single output tube per channel almost always create more of an aural matrix of serendipitous delectableness then multi-tube per channel designs.  Multi-tube designs typically have more power but where SET topologies are considered, even higher power designs still fall behind the SET power curtain, or phrased another way, still fall into a low power category, so it really almost defeats the point somewhat.  This phenomenon has been observed when comparing the SE34I against the SE84C, and the SV83M against the SE84CS.  

Little do they know, the two designs were never meant to sound the sameÖ  there were reasons behind every facet of the SE34I design and they were easy to substantiate and still are for that matter so improving it was a  risky proposition.  But then as with all tenacious audio gurus it became a challenge,  a challenge to surpass the benchmark of  our popular SE84CS.   This is a goal which remains to be confirmed by those who will eventually own both.  I can tell you it is a goal that I would not have been able to reach, or was not successful in reaching even at the tail end of several weeks of design and tweaking.   It was going to take more.  I could sense the potential of this rather lofty goal but was struggling to get there.  In the final hours I stopped and cried out to Harvey Rosenberg, who still lives in the hearts of many,  to come down here (in spirit) and bitch-slap Father Murphy with a Gay Bob doll.  He heard that Ė and while keeping Murphy at bay for a few hours so I could concentrate he reminded me of a couple things that triggered another rather profound discovery.   

I explored a new concept.  I found that designing a circuit where the filter choke (reactor) has exactly the same henries as the output transformer  - together with matching resistance, voltage and current capacities something magical, but unexplainable happens to the quality of the aural matrix that at least in my circuits has to be heard to be believed.  Might not sound like a big deal, but to me it is the biggest epiphany Iíve had in at least several years.  It is also a technology that I can apply to a few of our other amplifiers and I will.  At this point I have clearly succeeded in my own world at making an amplifier that sounds better then the benchmark and even if no one ever agrees with me, I am excited and liberated!  Music has never tasted this good.



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