27 June, 2022

Electromagnetic distortion in multi-conductor cables

By mrgoodsound

I was not sure how to begin this article. Up until recently, I have been using stranded cable everywhere in my system. I was under the impression that the presence of stranded conductors was necessary for a good sounding system, and that solid core conductors had a monotonous and dull sound. This turned out to not be the case at all and in fact I have removed all multi-conductor stranded cabling from all of my systems. I am delighted with the results and decided they were worth sharing.

Before we go any further, let me clarify some terms. Actually, instead of posing the argument as solid core versus stranded conductors, it is more accurate to pose it as single conductor versus multi conductor cables.

The solid core (aka monocore, monofilament) cable is simple to understand. A single solid strand of wire is used for each conductor. In the case of an unbalanced interconnect, there are two conductors: a hot side (outbound route, plus) and a cold side (return route, minus). A famous example would be the 47 Labs Stratos interconnects. See the diagram above.

In a stranded (aka litz, multi-filament) cable then, each conductor would be made of several veins (or strands) of wire, carrying the signal in parallel to its destination. However, there is an important distinction to be made. The stranded conductor can behave electrically like a solid core cable if the individual veins are not electrically insulated from each other, i.e. by tinning the strand. A famous example would be the Belden 9497 wire. Such cables do not sound exactly like solid core cables, but they also do not possess the issue with multi-conductor cables elaborated below, at least not to the same perilous degree.

Electrical insulation can be in the form of a jacket or varnish on the wire, which causes the cable to behave like a multi-conductor system. Some manufacturers make unbalanced interconnects with many stranded conductors, sometimes as many as 8 or more, whereas only 2 are required. The sound of such a system is incredibly deceiving. At first, the sound becomes more 'comfortable', especially in the high frequencies. The 'air' of the recording is accentuated, giving an immediate impression of increased resolution. However, such a cable system seriously damages the clarity and intelligibility of music, and this often gives itself away only after living with it for a while and returning to a single conductor system (stranded or not).

Such multi-conductor systems are incredibly popular and prevalent in the 'high-end' industry specifically due to their 'comfortable' sound nature, which masks flaws in the connecting equipment. These effects can actually be desirable for some. I am reminded of the image of a Japanese manufacturer packaging speaker wires for different music genres, which non-audiophiles like to poke fun at. 

Also, they give the manufacturer something to write about in the marketing material, and give the consumer the impression that their dollars are going towards something (more conductors = more better). There are several manufacturers whose entire scheme lies in offering more conductors as you go further up their price list.

I have several anecdotes, the outcome of which caused me to identify and replace such cables in my system. I will share the first one, which was an a-ha moment that caused me to research the cause of this phenomenon (more later). I was using an interconnect from a high-end manufacturer that specializes in multi-conductor cables. My initial impressions of this cable were highly positive: there was a feeling of richer tonality, enhanced 'air' and separation. I left it there for a while, considered it a good purchase and thought nothing further of it.

One day I was listening to a performance Matthew's Passion (the exact recording below) on YouTube when I noticed something was extremely wrong. In the video, I could clearly see the 2nd and 3rd chair violinist playing, but I could not hear them. They had aurally vanished from the recording, to where I could only hear the 1st chair as distinct and the rest of the orchestra as an amalgamated 'background' whole. I was stunned, and I admit if I did not have the visual accompaniment to the music I would have been unlikely to notice this error, but I could not un-hear it. The individuality of the performers was significantly diminished (actually deleted, in this extreme example) as a result of what I consider to be blurring of the music in the time domain.


Understanding this interconnect was the most recent change in my system, my intuition led me to rip it out and replace it with a cheap unbranded one. My ears quickly adjusted to the decrease in richness and air, but I was delighted to clearly hear the action of the 2nd and 3rd chairs! The effect did not just stop at the strings, as the vocals showed great improvement in intonation and dynamic shading, so much so that my eyes welled up with tears at what I had been missing moments before.

Of course I did not immediately come to the conclusion that multi-conductor cables were evil from this experience. I was keen to blame this one cable (ironically I sold it to someone who liked it very much) and move on. However, subsequent identical experiments with cables from different manufacturers had identical results. The only design paradigm they had in common was in the use of multiple insulated conductors of stranded wire. The results were consistent whether the cable was an interconnect, speaker cable, USB, SPDIF, etc. I ended up removing multi-conductor cables from everywhere in my system. 

Rather than re-tell each experiment, I encourage attentive readers to conduct similar experiments at home. Please note that all conductors are subject to directivity and, if unmarked by the manufacturer, it is important to try a cable in both directions before final assessment.

Anecdotes aside, what explanation is there for this phenomenon? Like most phenomenon involving wire, I was ready to accept that this was without material explanation. One night I was reading the Anatoly Likhnitsky forum and stumbled upon a thread on the exact same topic. Likhnitsky conducted an experiment where he measured the compensation signal (electrical difference via common-mode suppression) between two pieces of wire connected in opposite directions between an amplifier and speaker. The first experiment was between two single conductor wires, whereas the second experiment involved a single conductor wire and a stranded litz wire.

Please note the text has been translated from Russian, and while I have done my best to preserve the original intent, some finer concepts may be lost in translation.

Results of the experiments

Two experiments were carried out with the aims:

1. To identify the audible "additive", for the case of compensation of signals at the output of two pieces of the same copper wire 1 m long and 0.6 mm in diameter, connected in the opposite direction.

2. Identify an audible addition in case of compensation of signals at the output of two wires of different types (in one case it was a piece of a copper monocore with a diameter of 0.6 mm and a length of 1 m, and in the other case it was a segment of a 32-core litz wire with a diameter of 1 mm and a length of 1 m)

In the first case, there is no AUDIBLE additive! That is, in the compensation mode, complete silence was heard from the loudspeaker, and at any distance from it, although during normal listening, the difference in the nature of the sound of this type of wire, depending on the direction of its inclusion, was very noticeable.

In the second case, an audible additive was found!

In the difference signal, an uncompensated signal was clearly heard, in the form of rustles correlating with music, the source of which, as it turned out, was the litz wire. The occurrence of this difference signal is explained by the electromagnetic effect in the stranded wire. Under the action of the Ampère force, the litz wire veins take part in micro movements in the magnetic field of neighboring veins, while, as a result of the action of the Lorentz force on the conduction electrons in the litz wire, an EMF is induced, which is recorded by a compensation meter.

Conclusions

The difference in the sound of identical solid conductors connected in opposite directions, which is reliably fixed by hearing, but not detected even with compensation measurements, is caused by non-physical phenomena, since these conductors cannot bear any specific, objectively measured distortions in a certain direction of connection, even purely theoretically. , otherwise a situation similar to 2+2=5 will arise (as D.Self figuratively put it). Our experiment only confirmed that nothing catastrophic happened in the world and still 2 + 2 = 4, however, the modern scientific paradigm, from our point of view, has been greatly shaken and, apparently, must be revised sooner or later. In it, first of all, a place must be found not only for the material, but also for the non-material,

The additive perceived by ear when comparing litz and monocore is explained not only by non-material, but also by little significant, but quite physical reasons, which, as it turned out, are easily detected during compensation measurements.

25 June, 2022

UNIQLO BLUE NOTE

Alert: Grab them while you can, if you can

UNIQLO is famous for their T-Shirts, many in collaboration with living artists. Last year they issued the Blue Note series, and who among audiophiles would not want at least one? They have been on sale for a while - likely they are phasing them out. Check their online store.

My friend Andre told me a couple of months ago that there were few left in Hong Kong. Here in China, knowledge of classical jazz is rather limited, so there are more, but already the most famous titles (like Something Else) are not around. Today I managed to get a few, including one of my favorites, Eric Dolphy's Out to Lunch, not one of the best sounding Blue Note, but one of the most musically satisfying. In the West, I'd think many sizes may not be available.

Good luck.


24 June, 2022

Aiyima T9

Click all pics to enlarge. The subject of this review, Aiyima T9, stands out just as the Beautiful Lady stands out in the photo above. If anyone knows more about this photo, please let me know. I found it in a Chinese news magazine here, but there's nothing on it.

Review: Aiyima T9, Part I, Swiss Army Knife

Aiyima Official English Website (T9 Specs)
Aiyima Official Amazon Website (some useful user comments)

Editor: Regarding Length This article is very long (Covid Revenge Review?), as per my usual style when testing things I am interested in, especially things that can be used in multiple ways. Regular readers and experienced audiophiles will more likely find the many details along the way interesting. However, the vast majority of readers, usually referred here by a Google search, may want to skip here and there, or even just go to the end for Impressions, Comments and Thoughts. Regarding Organization In contrast to my usual ways, Music Used and my descriptions of the rights and wrongs will have a shaded box near the end, and there shall also be a little Technical Info near the end.

Preface Boys shall always be Boys (though better not be "Proud"), and we need toys. We are always itchy. But in my 1.5 years here in China, I had not bought a single item. Amazing, no? It's not surprising: I have so much good stuff both in NYC and HK that I simply could not use here, and I have always viewed my stay here as transitional. So whatever tempts me better be (relatively) cheap and cheerful.

Finally I have broken my abstinence, and I don't regret it. This review however turns out to be more difficult (in execution) than I thought (but highly worthwhile), primarily due to lack of arsenal here (I don't even have extra cables here). This is perversely interesting too, and some audiophiles may empathize ("I wish I had kept that..."; "damn, I need that gadget in my old house!"...). In fact, this review shall likely change my audio trajectory here a little. More on that later.

The Informant Although in China, I'm always in wechat contact with a few of my audio friends. Regular readers know of Icefox and ELO, our HK contributors. Unlike me, they are avid youtubers; ELO told me of this little gadget which rose to fame after a rave review on youtube (please google for yourself; I still haven't watched it, perhaps deliberately so; see also official youtube at the end of the article). There is otherwise little on the net, except on Amazon (link above), where some useful and surprisingly detailed user comments are available.

The Decision Yes, call me superficial. I immediately fell in love with the SEXY (VU) meter! But, unlike some of you, I'd not easily give in! :-) Certainly I have no need for another amp (or so I thought). While the almost universal digital connectivity appeals, what seals the deal for me was the AUX OUT. I wasn't sure whether it is Fixed or Variable, but as some users used it for subwoofer it should be a Variable out. It is, and more on this later.

The Order The company is actually in my "backyard", about an hour away by public transportation. I managed to email and call them (in Chinese), and the salesperson (I think named Ben) was very helpful. I inquired whether the units sold on Taobao here in China are the same as the ones exported (through Allied Express and their own Amazon store). Yes, they are. Mind you, in the case of Chinese products, sometimes those sold through distributors or dealers (especially in the West) can be different from those sold direct (of course in price too) even in parts (like in my case with Dared) and what's included (PS etc). But Aiyima, no matter where you buy it, is in its original form; just check whether there is a PS. The price here in Taobao China, especially around 618 (one of lesser Chinese Black Friday's) is cheaper than in HK, so I hit the button a week ago! Just shy of 24 hours, the thing was in my hand (though substantial, it is small enough so one would do). Great, typical Shenzhen efficiency! BTW, being a fan of Ridley Scott's cinematic masterpiece Blade Runner, I’d say if the upcoming sequel does not include an army of delivery people on electric vehicles running through town then it has failed in its futuristic vision.

The Package It came in a utilitarian box that is well cushioned, which should survive long distance shipping (but the tubes are just naked in slots that are too big; for long-distance I think they should be bubble-wrapped as any tube filament is delicate and prone to damage if knocked around).

The Hiccup Foolish me! Well, I was so smart as to not order the PS. Who needs another Switching PS? The official one is 24V, but I saw from the pic of the back that Power input says 18-30V, so I was sure that my 19V laptop supply would work. I asked and they said yes. But I forgot about the connector! I have 3 Laptop PS, and 2 simply would not insert. The 3rd (Dell, 19V 3.5A) would, but was loose, so I had to angle it and weigh it down to ensure it does not fall out (see pic; not exactly ideal and I don't advise you to do so). I have Linear PSs (with connector kits) in both NYC and HK, just not here in China! A bummer. Am thinking of one, though!

On-Off But hey, how do u turn this thing on? I finally remembered the remote (batteries AAA x 2, not included, but that may be a good thing as many Chinese gadgets come with lousy batteries that are short-lived and leaky) and turned it on. Actually the Volume Knob (digital; continuous 360 degrees, an anathema to us old timers) has many functions: a short push turns the unit on; more short pushes cycle through the Inputs (it remembers the last Input you used); a longer push turns the unit off. I didn't find that out until later; it's in the manual but I didn't read it - the print was painfully small. Right after Turn On, there is a Relay Kick; a little later, a second one, with a small bump in the meter (the second one is for the amp section, which has to wait for the tube to warm up to ensure there is no DC Offset)

The Supporting Players Now, this is important. What I have here in China are very humble (by my standards), based on a set of more than 15 years old Chinese Sansui AV system (yes, the Japanese sold the name to the Chinese company, which is now a home appliance company) which I parceled out for 2 systems (main one, System 1, in my study, where I write for you; and the much less used auxiliary System 2 in the LR) There are a few extras that I had brought over from HK long ago, the most important being Revox and Sony. The stuff I use are detailed in my previous articles (Current iteration here, with links to earlier config). After some work they sounded pretty good. After listening to the systems for years I thought I knew them well, but what happened told me it was not quite so.

Source As I'm a classical fan I mainly use my low-end Chromebook to stream Naxos Music Library (courtesy of NYPL; described here). Here in China, especially with Jazz and Pop, I augment with Kuwo (here) and sometimes Spotify (which requires VPN), streamed using my HP laptop running Windows (now 11). I never use my smartphones to stream. Let me remind you that I mostly stream now, but I do have some good CDs and a very good CDP (Sony), but that will not feature in Part I.

I had really thought the review will be quick and to-the-point, so I didn't really want to uproot my systems unduly. Events proved me wrong. And so, I have decided to tell you my journey in a compulsively chronological manner (I do this only with the best gears). I hope you don't lose patience.

ROUND 1 As Integrated Amp into Sansui Bookshelves (actually Rear AV loudspeakers)

I poached these from my System 2. This short session is basically just to check functions and wellness. Due to several comments about the relay kicking in and even strange noise etc, I played safe and hooked up the Aiyima to these expendables. No catastrophe. Aside from the 2 Safety Relay Kicks at Turn ON, cycling through the Inputs you'll hear 1 kick for each Input. Another when signal plays through the selected Input. This seems quite normal to me. To clarify, the relay kicks are soft, and within the device, not through the speakers. For me, it's nothing; mind you, when I use my laptops on my desk (hours a day) I actually sit between the loudspeakers and listen to them like large earphones and the T9 is right at my elbow. More on the Relay later.

For connection (see right pic), as I didn't want to break my main system connections, the only loudspeaker spare cable I had was the Mogami 3082. As the strands are too thick for the tiny binding posts, I had to build adapters using short and thin strips of generic loudspeaker cable and screw them and the Mogami's onto terminal blocks (see my article on this here). BTW, please note the satiny finish of the chassis - very classy!

Out of the box, everything was well. Sound was pretty good. I was impressed. I briefly determined that everything worked properly. As there seemed to be no issues, I was eager to move on from this ad hoc solution.

ROUND 2 As DAC/Preamp Out Through my Regular Floorstander System (System 1) 

THIS is a BIG JUMP. I used the exact same 3.5mm to RCA adaptor and MIT cable I use for my Meridian Explorer, through T9's AUX OUT. Of course, I removed the loudspeaker cables from T9's binding posts.

  • The VU Meter The regular System goes through the Revox Preamp, which has its own volume control. What I usually do is set the Revox Preamp to a ballpark area, and set the laptop volume to around 70-80%. For classical music I usually don't have to do much adjustments. If I need to I just do it on the laptop. Now, how do I adjust the volume pot of the T9? Well, I am not sure what's the "right" way, but I did it this way. I maxed out the output on my laptops and used the T9 volume pot. I made sure the loudest passage did not go beyond +3 in the red. For classical albums, this is easily established. But if you listen to podcasts of songs with widely different recording levels you'd be busier. Note that this meter is like a McIntosh power amp's meter, as it assesses the amp's output as a whole. It is different from that on a professional preamp (or mixing console), such as the incomparable EAR 912 that I had previously (here). With the EAR, the meter gauges the incoming signal and would go into the red on those horrible over-hot CDs even when the volume knob is at zero. Not so here. You may be curious why I don't just connect the T9 to the Revox amp directly. Well, two reasons: this way, I can match it against the Meridian; and the Revox amp is harder to get to (may do that in Part II or even III).
  • vs Meridian Explorer Now I am a great fan of Meridian and think highly of this musical little device (here). The difference is instantly audible. The Meridian seemed a little livelier and airier. The T9 seemed (the italics are deliberate because of a later finding; hang on) slightly darker and slightly slower, especially on pop material. It was highly listenable and I began listening to many familiar recordings. It became clear that the T9 is better in one respect. The T9 somehow brings out more of the background players. Whether it is the double bass or violins or amplified electronic keyboard, there is more texture and harmonics - the instrumental envelope just seems larger and better defined. I find myself repeatedly caught up by these little “background” details and sometimes they seem to steal the limelight from the soloist (vocalist or pianist or violinist). For an experienced audiophile, this is something that cannot necessarily be bought by money (too much garbage high end out there - the majority I’d say).
  • USB vs Bluetooth For the USB connection, I used the supplied USB A to B cable. The difference is also instantly audible. They sounded more similar than different, but the BT seemed to have a little more air. I started to wonder about the supplied USB A-to-B cable (in Chinese they also call it the Printer Cable, as USB B is what many Printers employ) but, hey, the thing is not burned-in (more later). BTW, the T9 Bluetooth only pairs when you select it, which imho is a good thing (I usually turn off BT on all my devices and only turn on when I need to use it - there's already too much interference in our environment), but that means you have to select it before you pair with the device. Once selected it seems to be memorized - if you switch to another input and then switch back to BT, it will automatically reconnect (provided you haven't turned off the BT at the source).
  • Tone Control In this configuration, particularly with the USB input, I dialed up the treble a couple of notches (it is indented and the feel is good) to give a little more air on top. It is very effective. No need for bass adjustment as my Floorstander has excellent bass (in both extension, weight and definition). Remember the tone controls are in the digital domain and are “in circuit”, so there is no reason not to use them. Think of them as kind of like dithering, but this is more effective imho (I don't usually like the Filter manipulations and actually harbor at least a little contempt for high end digital products that offer a few to choose from).

I got the feeling that this configuration sounds a bit like a tube system (including the feeling of being slighty slower), and I am a tube man! I was satisfied.

ROUND 3 Back to Integrated amp and Bookshelf (as in Round 1) 

In contrast to Round 1, this time I listened seriously for much longer, in the hope to find out more about the amp section.

  • Bookshelf vs Floorstander As they are part of the same AV system with the same tweeter, you would expect them to sound similar, and I thought they did (see also Round 4). Of course, the bookshelf is not as extended on either end of the frequency spectrum.
  • vs Round 2 There are at least two major differences. The First is that the feeling of mild darkness or slowness or a tube-like aura completely vanished. Yes, the T9 has normal dynamics and Rhythmic Finesse. Those perceptions are therefore at least partly attributable to the Revox system, but also partly possibly due to the complicated Gain Structure of Round 2 (more on Impressions, Comments and Thoughts). The Second nagged at me a little: as I played more tracks, some albums just did not meet my requirements (like the Piazzolla described in Music Used near the end), especially with the USB, even if the difference between USB and BT had narrowed a little. The gain in speed and sharpness was not enough to compensate for the loss in musicality. So, again, I had some doubts about the USB cable, and so I ordered two adapters (more below).
  • Chromebook vs Windows I started to play some Jazz and Pop music, using the Kuwo App on my Windows laptop (many Apps do not have Chromebook versions; I am probably the only person in China using one; most Chinese don't even know about Chromebook). The sound was often a little disappointing, and not quite as good as the Chromebook (I confirmed this by playing some classical tracks that I had played before on the Chromebook). I thought I had noted this and remarked on it before, but I cannot find it.

Suffice to say the results were not perfect but using the whole amp was encouraging enough for me to push on to the next and important step. I could say more in this section but the thoughts are better spelled out in the next round below.

Note the "Triple Threat" Unitek USB cable (brown). Below it is an improvised folded paper spring clip to secure the loose fitting PS plug. To the right generic cable for hooking up to the electronic keyboard. To the left of the T9, the diminutive Meridian Explorer. Far left is the MIT cable and 3.5mm adaptor used in Round 2.

ROUND 4 As Integrated amp with Floorstander 

Finally I capitulated and connected the amp to the larger loudspeakers (still with the Mogami cables).

  • vs Bookshelf Unlike in Round 3, I was shocked by how different they were! The Floorstander of course has more extension at both ends and dynamics, but I only then realized that the balance of the Bookshelf (AV Rear) is darker. In fact the system sounded just too sharp now and even gritty in the treble. After a few tracks, I decided something had to change.
  • Loudspeaker Cable Swap (Sansui vs Mogami) I know from previous use that the Mogami 6802 can be lean in certain systems (as when it was tested in my System 2 in the Living Room; this is why it is a spare cable). My Revox amp is still wired to the Audioquest CV8 but I didn't want to dismantle it yet if other ways could be found. In desperation, I appropriated for use the generic Sansui Loudspeaker Cables from System 2, as I know they are warmer sounding. These have bananas which can insert into the T9. No more Terminal Block. YES! A success but not quite a Bull's Eye. It took a little time to settle in (haven't been used in a long time) and now at least I could sit down and enjoy music.
  • vs Revox System Although the tonal balance was now restored to near normal, music played still lacked that last once of magic that the Revox system had provided in Round 2. I knew the Piazzolla could sound better still, but I was at least pretty satisfied. I went to the library to continue to write this article. Home is too distracting (ELO and I went back and forth on wechat with each finding). And the library has free air-conditioning). :-) I periodically checked my smartphone. Goodness, the USB adaptors had arrived in less than 24 hours! I couldn't wait to test my theory.
  • Menage a Trois Unitek vs Stock I have long used Unitek USB cables (in China 优越者) and had written about them (here they beat the well regarded Belkin Gold and others). I still have a Unitek USB A-to-B in NYC, but here I only have the Unitek A-to-Mini (for the Meridian). Here on Taobao there are almost 20 kinds of USB adaptors, but not Mini Female-to B Male. So I ordered 2 hemaphrodites to make one: Mini Female-to-A Male, and A Female-to-B Male. The copulation is positively pornographic. But as soon as I switched to the Triple Threat Unitek, I knew my work was done! Yes, it's that incredible. Things just opened up and background instruments re-acquired their larger envelopes. More sweetness and subtle inflections. And yes, Piazzolla is back too! Now, it sounds very close to the Revox system in Round 2, but with faster transients and just a tad less "tubiness". Later, I found out the B version of my particular cable can be found on Tabao but in undesirable longer lengths (for printer use); I'm sure with more work I can find a 1 m one, but, unlike many of you, I hate scrolling on my Cell. I'm not even sure that's needed. Despite the Menage a Trois, the musicality seems intact. USB vs BT Finally, with the cable change, USB performance surpasses the BT (a little more detailed and textured), but it's commendable that the BT is very good. All of you probably have your own favorite USB cable, so I'm not worried here. Next round maybe I'll match it against ELO's Kyoeon H-9 (I have a feeling the Aiyima is better). In fact, I feel the Aiyima is worth the price even if it just has the BT.
  • Line (RCA) In I tested this briefly with the Electronic Keyboard on my desk. Sound is good, but quite different than through the Revox system (cabling are different), more like a Bosendorfer to Revox's Steinway. Shall test it more usefully with my CDP in Part II or III (which can also test the Coaxial and Optical Digital Inputs with Red Book CD 16/44.1).

I am now completely satisfied with the Aiyima in my modified System 1 and am streaming with a smile. Everything is good and that little bit of tube sheen is highly desirable. I shall conclude Part I. In Part II I shall likely be using the T9 as Preamp in my Living Room System 2 (which is why I bought the T9 in the first place). For that I shall restore my original System 1, which would be a real test. The last A in ABA is always more important than the AB. Now for some tidying up:

Comments, Impressions and Thoughts

  • Relays IMHO this issue is way over-blown. I stopped and restarted tracks (even counting to 10) to test this and the Relay never kicked. But, after a longer period, yes, the Relay will kick in periodically. Why is that a problem, I don't understand. Also, when the laptop (or your cell) crashes or needs to restart, the relay may kick in a few times as the USB or BT outputs stop and start. That's fair enough. For the great sound on offer, don't let this be a deal breaker. It's your loss.
  • Tube (and Noise?) The tube is actually part of the good sound, as is most often the case. My own feeling is, this 6K4 tube, a new one to me, seems like a great sounding tube on its own (likely sweeter than the Chinese 6J1, 6N1 and 6N3). I may get some JAN 5654 for fun later (too bad my NOS 6AK5, including WE 403, are in NYC!) Mind you, none of these are exact equivalents, just pin compatible and similar. Electrically, they are a little different but used as a buffer the differences are likely unimportant. Think of tube swapping as potential fun, but with something like the T9, even the stock tube sounds mighty good, and quiet. Noise? There are worries about so-called noise. My unit is quiet as a mouse. From the description, I am pretty sure these were caused by faulty tubes. Most of the people who buy the T9 are not really seasoned audiophiles, and many probably encounter tubes for the first time. Now, one must make sure the pins are straight and orientation perfect before attempting insertion (2 of the pins are farther from each other on both the tube and tube socket, and perfect alignment and smooth insertion are a must. Even a little forcing can harm the pins (and crack the vacuum). Also, for these tubes that are small in diameter, the pins are more slender than usual, and they may rock a little even in socket. One of mine is a little looser. That's par for the course. Now, there are probably at least hundreds of T9s around (lots of them in inexperienced hands), and only occasional tube failures - that's a rate that is likely better than astronomically priced hi-end gears. If you read Stereophile (or TAS etc) you would have encountered quite a few reviews of hi-end stuff delayed or even marred by tube failures (and they don't sell that many). See, even with a tube tester (lower voltage than actual operation) and normal results, faults can still develop in use. Happened to every serious tube user. Don't let this deter you.
  • Volume Control I must say I am not a fan of this kind of continuous rotation digital controls but they are part of the norm today. You never know where you are. The unit at first starts at rather low volume and sometimes you cannot even hear the music initially, but it then remembers your last volume choice if you are using the same Input.
  • Comparisons with Similar Gears If I were in NYC, I'd have even more fun comparing the T9 to both my FX TUBE-01 (here) and SMSL Amp (here). And I'd have more tubes to play with. But, based on what I hear here, I am more than confident the Aiyima is at least comparable (if not better). I actually think the Aiyima is sweeter than both, especially the Preamp Out compared to the FX (even with better tubes).
  • Comparisons with Other Integrated Amps Actually, this is in response to ELO's question. He asked me how does the T9 measure up to bigger and more expensive higher end products. A good question, as it can put the casual reader into perspective. Well, first, I am not impressed with the modern "hi-end" integrated amps. Those I have personally heard were from before the digital input age, before digital amps. I have heard plenty then, including Audionet, Burmester, Copland etc, and there was NONE that would make me trade in my NAD 3030 and Nait I or II (or 47 Labs; or MF A1, not that I still have most of them). In fact one of this blog's perennially most-read article is my integrated amp survey (here). And now, many hi-end makers are taking the digital route. Yes, I have unfortunately heard not so long ago the Goldmund digital amps and I think they are awful. My own feeling is, for a T-amp, Class D, digital whatever, I'd NEVER consider an expensive product. Cheap and cheerful is where I'd stay. Now, would I replace my NAD 3020 (large number of entries in this blog) with the T9? No, but I'd gladly use the T9 in lieu of the later 315BEE (here) or Micromega IA-60 (here) etc. Would I use the T9 instead of Nait I/II? No, but I'd gladly use it in lieu of Nait III (here) and beyond, and probably Cyrus I/II (I have not experienced the earliest plastic I). For many readers not into buying second-hand equipment, the ridiculously cheap T9 with its full connectivity is a no-brainer. Mind you, for the last 2 days (since the USB cable change) I have streamed many albums and I have no complaints at all - everything is in its right place.
  • Comparisons with DACs and Preamps I think this is actually an even more relevant question. All these digital amps (including so-called high-end ones) probably sound more similar than different in their amp section (the more expensive deliver more and perhaps "cleaner" power, but that certainly does not necessarily mean better sound, especially if you are using more efficient loudspeakers). In truth, digital input probably also has advanced so much (on a broad basis) that it's likely equally difficult to tell the difference between high and low end. A single chip can do so much now it's really astonishing, and I think the T9 proves the case. In this Part I, I have basically assessed the Digital Performance against the humble but excellent (and more expensive) Meridian Explorer and mostly I think the digital decoding in T9 outperforms it. But I hesitate, because I shall later revert back to the original system, and that is often the truest test. Mind you, I hold my Revox combo high in esteem. Regardless, the T9 is astonishingly fine in its digital abilities.
  • LoFi? Files Yes, I am streaming low-res files here through laptops. How does that justify the high end pretense (I have none; just in case that's your feeling)? Regarding low-res files I tell you: everyone is using it on their cellphones, including all reviewers, especially when they visit setups of others. And if the user has the same files in high-res at home, he would develop a correlation between the two and adjust mentally. In my case I have listened to many albums that I have on LP and CD through NML. In most cases, with a good system (such as my regular streaming systems in NYC and here in China) I don't feel short-changed and often hear things I have never heard before. The Gulda album is a case in point. I knew immediately if something didn't sound right (see below) and its beauties never stops to astound me. Devices Whether you stream on Smartphones or Laptops, the device has a sound and each is different. You should try them all and see which ones you like better. More below.
  • The Gain Structure Most devices don't give out spec's on the sound output, or at least I have no idea what they are on my 2 laptops. Add to this that the Apps have their own Volumes (and EQ), and it's kind of complicated. You should always experiment with the Device Volume, App Volume and the Volume Control(s) of your equipment. This is why in Round 2 I'd not entirely attribute what I heard to the difference between the Revox and Aiyima. There are too many Gain Controls that one should be cautious. This is akin to some older preamps or integrated amps that have separate Gain and Volume Controls (ARC and MFA come to mind), and many experienced audiophile swear by using both. I assure you, for any final volume, the sonic difference between 1) maxing out the source and attenuating the amp; and 2) maxing out the amp and attenuating the source; is HUGE and beyond pale! Sonic advantages can be had by paying attention to these parameters. In Part I, I am not doing that.
  • Power Input Aside from the less than snug fit, by using my 19V PS instead of the stock 24V, the Power Output is less. I asked Aiyima and they said maybe 10 Watts less. It is fine as is, but I think I'll get their 24V PS (or an LPS) in due time to bring it up to spec to complete the picture. As it is, the unit is quite warm to touch, but not very hot. Effect on the digital sections and tube should be small to minimal.
  • Chips, Parts and Build Quality As an Amazon customer remarked, the Chassis is positively luxurious. The surface has a satiny and textured feel - classy! Parts used are good. The Chips are common and ubiquitous. A little on the heart of the machine, the Chinese 杰理 JL AC6926C chip - I suspect it's a great sounding chip (despite its relay quirks). On this, let me remind you that some of us think the big (and more complicated) brands (audio or chips) are not necessarily better sounding (remember ELO preferred his cheap Chinese device to iFi; rereading it I still want to salute him for his reporting integrity!). In any case, we only care about the result (mind you, we care about the sound and whether it is involving, as opposed to sites that basically just tests equipment on the bench and claim scientific ground, forgetting that the best science serves human needs, not vice versa). The T9 is simply damn good.
  • HiFi Basics - Keep Trying, Keep Learning I think my journey illustrates that one should try out everything one has. In my case, I didn't have much choice. I probably think the Mogami 6802 is a better loudspeaker cable than the Sansui, but it is not suitable here. And if I were one of those "objectivists" I'd certainly frown upon using 2 USB adapters. But proof is in the pudding. We have too many preconceptions in audio and would do well to be more flexible. The experience also let me learn more about my equipment: I learned more about the difference between the 2 Sansui Loudspeaker siblings; I confirmed again my impressions of my Chromebook vs Windows Laptop; I likely have learned more about my Meridian and Revox (to be investigated further in the next round). The Transparency and versatility of the T9 enables all of that - for that it is a Swiss Army Knife of audio.

Music Used There were a lot. Some are old favorites, like La Spagna (BIS), La Folia (Harmonia Mundi). Some are albums that I have recently listened repeatedly to, like Bach Brandenburg Concertos by Il Gusto Barocco/Halubek (Berlin Classics), Beethoven Symphony No. 6 by Pittsburgh/Honeck (Reference Recordings). But for this round several other staples are particularly used by me for testing purposes.

  • Astor Piazzolla The American Clave Recordings (Nonesuch) I used the first 2 tracks of this 3 disc set, where the Master's incomparable Quintet play. Tanguedia III has a sonically flawed and forceful opening that can easily sound congested and heavy footed. Only when the system is at its best (as with the original System I or the final setup of the Aiyima) does it sound more open and lighter on its feet. The Milonga del Angel is a slower piece that should sound sinuous.
  • Mozart Piano Concerto No. 20 and 21 by Gulda and VPO/Abbado (DG). Now, NML has both: the one with the original cover and a a later twofer re-issue. Its shocking how much better the former sounds. The VPO should of course sound splendid with sweet strings. Gulda too is at his finest and the piano playing tests well a systems microdynamics. Tonally the piano should sound more like a Bosendorfer than Steinway.
  • Ruth Slenczynska My Life in Music (Decca) Amazingly beautiful music making by a 97 year-old. Track 2, Rachmaninov's Prelude, Op 32/5 is full of very subtle color shading. The track should sound mellow but not too mellow (lack of microdynamics). And then Track 5, Chopin Grand Valse Brilliante, is even more revealing. The slower tempo brings out much more color and rhythmic felicities - a tutorial on how to play and not rush the piano.
  • In For One to Love, Cecile McClorin .Salvant sings an absolutely ravishing Le Mal de Vivre (original Barbara). She gives a completely new dimension to the song. The subtle use of inflections in her perfect French tests microdynamics.
  • 中文歌我用几个专辑 陈慧娴 秋色千千阙歌罗大佑 爱人同志陈永淘 阿淘的歌。都耳熟能详,差一点都不收货的。

Aiyima T9 Design At the heart of the T9 is the AC6926C Bluetooth chip, which besides BT conversion performs all control functions (volume, tone controls, selector and relay). Digital Inputs go through the MS8412. The 6K4 tube is basically a buffer (the Aux Out does go through it). Amplification functions are carried out by first the NE5532 and, of course TPA3221 chips.

Specs:
Replaceable tubes: 6J1, 6J2, GE5654, 6J3, 6J4, 6J5, 6Ж1п, 6AK5, etc.
Support: MP3/WMA/APE/FLAC/WAV
pc-usb sampling rate: 24bit96khz
Optical fiber/coaxial sampling rate: 24bit 192khz
Bluetooth sampling rate: 24bit 48khz
pc-usb support system: XP/W7/W8/W10/MAC/Linux (add my W11)
Total harmonic distortion: 0.07%
Signal to noise ratio: ≥98db
Frequency response: 20-20Khz (±1db)
Treble/bass adjustment range: ±6db
Speaker impedance: 3-8Ω
Output power: 100W*2 4Ω load

Official Aiyima Youtube

14 June, 2022

The Budapest system – Part I

Letter from Hungary (22-1): Dexler Poppe returns - with new loudspeakers 

Ed: Welcome back! A short but eloquent Part I, redolent with feelings. Looking forward to future installations.

Late last summer, as the nth wave of COVID faded out, our company returned to normal office life. It meant that I had to find a new apartment in Budapest, which _obviously_ meant that I _had to_ set up a new hifi. Now, I could have put together a source(s)+dac+pre+power+speakers configuration, but since my new place is positively tiny (borderline Tokyo hotel room), I wanted something simple and streamlined. Ideally a streaming capable DAC and a pair of active speakers. I also wanted to keep this system cheap and cheerful and my general approach to building it easy-going. No worries, no over-thinking. In that mindset, I quickly decided that I’ll buy a pair of Tannoy Gold 5s or, if I manage to convince myself that I do need larger driver surface then the net working area of my countertop, then the 8s. I’d always wanted to live with a dual-concentric Tannoy, and in the worst case I can still send them back – told a reassuring voice. (There’s no way to demo these in Hungary, the only option is buying online.)
And yet, I was unable to buy them simply because they were not available anywhere in Europe. For month. Sometime during the fall, I lost my patience and started looking for other options. I casually checked my usual sites for second-hand gear as well and it was at this stage where my original plan went completely off-track. An irresistibly well priced second-hand Xavian Perla is to blame.
I have a history with Xavian. Their various models kept popping up on my radar during my 10+ year “audiophile journey”, and around midway through, after several demos in various setups, I actually fell for the Natura series, the Stella and Perla in particular. Yet I’ve never owned one for various reasons, among which cost was the most prominent. But this time the price was right, so I took a trip to Brno to pick them up from their first owners. On my way back to Budapest I was building fantasy systems from my inventory of electronics and imagined how they would sound with the Xavians. By the time I got home, the bar got set very high, I expected nothing less than wonders. An hour after I got home, I was dancing on the rug in front of the speakers.
I was prepared for this occasion, so I brought my A-team to the party which included the 47 Labs Shigaraki amp, iFi iDSD BL dac with reclocker and my Roon server as source. And the magic - if I’m being completely honest, for the first time ever - happened. It was a sound that I was expecting, and it was a sound that I enjoyed without feeling the need to analyse it after the first couple of introductory songs. No matter which genre I played, how loud, what time of the day. For a mental reference point, I can provide you this: many reviews mention Franco Serblin designs as comparison. I don’t have enough experience with those to be able to meaningfully comment. For those with similar issues: think Harbeth but with bigger balls. There’s the naturalness, the delicacy, the fine and not faked resolution, the gorgeous midrange, and that hard-to-pin-down quality that constantly makes you feel that you are invited into the music. The Xavians also add a charming vitality, a touch of blush which isn’t to hide imperfections but to raise contrast. They are pleasers and most likely cheaters too, if you hold on to the concept of truth in audio. Personally, I stick with the pleaser part.
I celebrate my decision that I finally bought these speakers every day when I hear them. Which makes me contemplate my past: would I have been a happier fella if I’d had the patience years ago to save up for a Xavian? My answer to this: Probably yes and it probably wouldn’t have been obvious to me. I honestly don’t think that putting together a system is the challenge here. I think coming to terms with what one truly likes and wants is the challenge. Even though I’ve always liked Xavian Natura series speakers a lot, I didn’t fully realise back then how important are those particular characteristics for my long-term listening happiness that I happen to appreciate in them. Now I do.
Editor's Postcript: 1) Simple words that articulate well the feelings of satisfaction that comes from the heart; 2) unfortunately not every audiophile gets to this moment - worth an article itself.; 3) Xavian is surely a company worth investigating for its Sf (Franco Serblin era) like sentiments.

11 June, 2022

Hans Lauterslager Legendary Philips Balance Engineer Gramophone Interview and Philips 50


Click pics to enlarge. Hans Lauterslager on R, from Gramophone.

Revised 6/12: (1) AES Video and youtube links added. (2) Also, upon research I found AA inmate alc777 has archived his writing, a GREAT READ!

Mercury Recordings, Schoeps Microphones and Balance Engineers
Gramophone Interview of Hans Lauterslager, Legendary Philips Balance Engineer
Hans Lauterslager on Philips 50

Part A
Philips 50 - a retrospective view by Hans Lauterslager. This is a MUST READ! 👍👍Philips 50 was a box set commemorating the 50th anniversary of Philips. Great vignettes!:-) And, yes, I spent a lot of my hard earned money on quite a few of those recordings when they came out. Now, you can stream for free!

Part B
Our Behind-the-HK-Scene Contributor Icefox alerted me to this article in the classical music magazine Gramophone (which I used to religiously read in HK in the library, but for the moment I don't subscribe to it and am now limited per month as to what I can read). As he said, this is a FANTASTIC read. In fact, I think it partly answered what I had doubted for many years.

Original Gramophone Article is reproduced below (all shaded from the editor). I am citing it solely to raise and answer some of my own questions. If this acknowledgement is not enough, upon any notice by the magazine I shall gladly remove it. I am posting my considerable reactions to it.

Hans Lauterslager: the balance engineer on life at Philips
Jon Tolansky, Friday, February 25, 2022

A career recalled: from the birth of CD, to capturing Bayreuth's Festspielhaus' unique sound.

This year brings the 40th anniversary of the launch of the compact disc – and quite apart from its major innovation in the domestic preservation and reproduction of recorded music, its development and birth were an exceptional collaboration by fierce competitors. In 1982, Philips was one of the ‘big six’ mega companies recording classical music, along with CBS, Decca, Deutsche Grammophon, EMI, and RCA. Although since 1962 Philips Phonographic Industries and Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft had been operating within a joint holding arrangement that had been renamed Polygram in 1972, and in 1980 Decca’s holdings had been absorbed into Polygram, all the six labels proudly retained their autonomies of artistic and technical enterprise.

Ed: One caveat. Old Philips classical recordings are now re-issued as Decca. Confusing for old-timers.

In the case of Philips, their independence as a record label nevertheless had to be accounted within the overall Philips gamut of home entertainment equipment manufacturing – as a leading global maker of magnetic tape recorders, in the early 1960s they had been one of the two major pioneers of the compact cassette along with their powerful rival Sony. That Philips and Sony had in 1979 decided to collaborate in the research, manufacture and production of the new compact disc format had been an almost inconceivable situation for the zealously solicitous marketing and advertising departments of each company, but for a host of reasons too intricate to outline here, the CD made its historic maiden impact on the joint Philips/Sony shoulders. At that time the Sony Corporation was not making recordings, and so it fell to Philips to decide finally on vital matters of artistic and quality judgement.

Ed: Part of the reason for the united front was the lesson learned from the Japanese Video Tape format wars. Sony's superior Beta (to this date still a formidable medium) lost to more lossy VHS. Philips and Japan collaborated a lot from then on. Marantz and Philips became sister companies. Sony, recognizing the necessity, soon acquired American Columbia. They did honor to the vast catalog and made almost everything in print for longer than their rivals. They too started to make many recordings (as Sony) and to this day they are of exemplary engineering standard. Many were recorded with SACD but not released as such.

This is not at all surprising. If you are a classical connoisseur, you'd know most Japanese labels sound great, the equal of, if not better than, their Western counterparts (yes, they have long embraced the best of Western electronics, be it WE or Klangfilm). Japanese classical musical taste is exemplary too - long before the Berlin Wall came down, many Japanese labels recorded superior Eastern and Central European Ensembles (and they still do). 

For this they consulted one of the most distinguished, experienced and brilliant members of their balance engineer team who had won a string of awards in three decades of making recordings for Philips. His name wasn’t as well known then as it is today, since Philips in particular did not like to reveal the identities of their balancing personnel to the public.

Hans Lauterslager in any case was – and is – an eloquently discreet and unostentatious person, and when I took part in some of his recordings during the now distant days of my time as a musician, I was always struck by his reticent humility about the outstandingly fine results he achieved. Now 92 years old but with a crystal clear memory, he here shares with us his recollections of some of the most highly impressive and unfailingly natural sounding recordings he made in his 40 years at Philips when he was the balance engineer for artists such as Eduard van Beinum, Pierre Monteux, Leonard Bernstein, Neville Marriner, Riccardo Muti, Jose Carreras, Bernard Haitink, Colin Davis, Lamberto Gardelli, Karl Bőhm, Hans Knappertsbusch, Antal Dorati, George Szell, John Eliot Gardiner, Jessye Norman, Monserrat Caballé, Jon Vickers, Kiri te Kanawa, Anne Sofie von Otter, Clara Haskil, Ingrid Haebler, Alfred Brendel, Arthur Grumiaux, and, and, and…

‘My contribution to the CD launch was briefly just twofold’, Hans Lauterslager understates. ‘Firstly there was a difference of opinion between Philips and Sony about the size of the disc. Philips wanted a 12 inch format like the LP, so that we could continue creating beautiful album sleeves and comprehensively written texts and comments in three languages, an element of Philips albums that had won a high reputation. Sony however wanted a disc as small as possible, no doubt with future release of portables in mind: the discman! Philips conceded on that, but with the new minimal size disc came the matter of the minimal playing time – and with that question they came to us in Baarn. “The classical music people should know” they said. After some consultancy I gave them our answer: minimal 1 hour. And that resulted in the actual size. So far, my modest share in the development. But then later I did lead the team judging the quality of the sound, as Sony had to rely on us for that, which they did most gracefully I must admit.’

Sony knew and admired the standards of the Philips classical recording team. By then Hans Lauterslager had become Philips’ principal balance engineer, and especially in opera projects when producer Erik Smith always selected him. He had been acclaimed for his achievements in, for instance, Sir Colin Davis’s ground-breaking Berlioz cycle, Lamberto Gardelli’s pioneering early Verdi opera recordings, Antal Dorati’s trailblazing Haydn opera cycle,Tosca with Monserrat Caballé in the title role, and most recently at that time Philips’ first digital opera recording: Il trovatore with José Carreras, Katia Ricciarelli and Yuri Masurok, and Colin Davis conducting, which won a Gramophone Award. Made in 1980, it had only been available on LP prior to the CD launch, but I can attest the wonder that all present at the tape playback sessions expressed hearing the startlingly lifelike sound – open, spacious, present and naturally atmospheric in a seemingly unlimited dynamic compass, and above all with voices and orchestra immaculately balanced.

Of course there were many sets of Il trovatore available on the market, but Philips had taken brave leads with new horizons in the aforementioned projects – as in fact it had always done ever since its very earliest days. Just two years after its inception it was Philips that made the first ever studio recording of Strauss’s Salome in 1952 with Walburga Wegner in the title role (the previous available version with Christel Goltz had been dubbed from a 1948 radio broadcast). Two years later it was Philips that dared to press a disc of Berlioz’s Te Deum that had pushed the limits of the technology considerably further than ever before, truly challenging the gramophones of the day – its conductor Sir Thomas Beecham had been thrilled with the range and space when he had heard the tape playback, especially as he had insisted all along that there would be no reductions in the size of the huge forces demanded by the composer. And in the same year, 1954, Philips embarked on what was surely the greatest technological risk to that date in recording history when they decided to record a live performance of the then very rarely heard Symphony No 8 by Mahler. The at that time audaciously ambitious event, which had been initiated by the musicologist Professor Eduard Reeser, was being mounted in the enormous Ahoy’ exhibition hall in Rotterdam, and the conductor Eduard Flipse, a passionate champion of the then unfashionable and ‘way-out’ Mahler, had prescribed a performance fully honouring Mahler’s intentions: so, 1000 performers, with massed choruses and two orchestras (the Rotterdam Philharmonic and the Brabant) merging to make 146 players. Even a new organ was specially built in the hall for the occasion, which Philips was co-funding with the city of Rotterdam. Among the Philips team of several engineers was Hans Lauterslager – now in his second year with the company that he had joined in 1952.

‘Eduard Flipse even thought about the quality of paper in the printed programmes: he realised that as the audience of a few thousand people turned the pages this would be picked up by our microphones’

‘It was a huge challenge – really unprecedented in the history of recording. I must say that Eduard Flipse was very meticulous in his preparation not only with the performers but also with us. He even thought about the quality of paper in the printed programmes: they contained the texts of the sung parts, and he realised that as the audience of a few thousand people turned the pages this would be picked up by our microphones if the paper was too noisy, so he insisted that the material of the paper must be as soft as possible. Imagine a conductor thinking of that, most especially back in those days! He also insisted that stamped presence cards were issued to the chorus members before rehearsals – so that if a card was missing, there would be an inquest. That worked very well – there was not a single absentee. He was most curious to hear how everything that we were recording in the rehearsals was sounding in the listening booth, so we arranged playback sessions of these before the performance happened. During them he had a lot of discussions with the producer Jaap van Ginneken, and this really was greatly helpful to us because we had only a short amount of time to try and achieve a balance – of course in a recording of a live performance you cannot stop to make adjustments, and here we were in this enormous Ahoy’ exhibition hall in Rotterdam with around 1000 performers and just a limited number of microphones and input channels for mixing, even though we added a five channel mixer to our regular 6 channel mixing console. In any live recording it’s always a guess where to put the microphones for an optimal sound, and no commercial recording company had even dared to venture capturing this scale of forces in the studio in 1954, so it was a very big test for us. Don’t forget, this wasn’t a broadcast: it was a recording for posterity, and we had no opportunity for any editing later on as there was only the one performance. Much later when live recording became more frequent, the record labels would have at least two and sometimes more performances to choose from for editing, but we had to do our best with no second chances – you can imagine the tension and the dramatic atmosphere in our recording booth!’

Capturing dramatic atmosphere as realistically and as truthfully as possible was at the heart of Hans Lauterslager’s recording philosophy all through his time at Philips. To that end he spearheaded Philips’s first forays into stereo recordings (his recollections of working with Eduard van Beinum at that time can be heard in a forthcoming retrospective van Beinum box set from Decca) and his passion for preserving the full atmosphere and realistic balance in opera triumphed when Philips won a new contract to record many years of live performances at Wagner’s Bayreuth Festspielhaus – beginning with the Wieland Wagner production of Der Fliegende Holländer in 1961 in which Franz Crass sang the Dutchman and Wolfgang Sawallisch conducted. It was another formidable challenge.

‘For an audience the sensation of actually being there creates a psychological feeling of improvement in the actual perception of the acoustic – and for a live recording that psychological perception has to be created by the balancer’

‘When we started to look around the auditorium to consider where we might place our microphones, we were amazed by the lightweight construction of the materials – of course that was very precisely Wagner’s intention for the acoustic sound there. The inner walls and ceiling are covered with a light construction of thin wood, acting like the soundboard of a string instrument. The floor in the loft consists of narrow wooden boards. That made it very tricky to walk on, but this was necessary as I wanted to suspend some microphones for room sound – the ambience and atmosphere of the auditorium.

The theatre was always completely full as the performances were all sold out, and so as the very large audience was eating up the reverberation, we had to find a way to record more room sound than was normally consciously audible there. This was to give the recording’s listeners the feeling of being at a live theatre performance, and it was a subtle matter that may come as a surprise to some readers even today. It is well known that for the audience that is present in the theatre the sensation of actually being there creates a psychological feeling of improvement in the actual perception of the acoustic, and for a live theatre recording that psychological perception has to be created imaginatively by the balancer since it cannot as a psychological sensation in the audience’s minds, as distinct from an actual aural sensation, be captured by any microphone or any mixing desk. It has to be injected, so to speak, by the balancer, and that means having some microphones placed high up in the hall quite some distance away from anyone in the audience. So that’s what we added to the actual sound of Bayreuth – to give the listener the feeling of actually being in the Festspielhaus! We had to be very careful – Wieland Wagner, who was well-nigh critical of the new blood in the recording world, imposed all kinds of conditions and he was very reluctant for the famous Bayreuth sound to be changed in any way. Of course he was right, as it was imperative that the famous individual Bayreuth sound must be recognisable in our recording – but in fact we were adding a bit more of the auditorium’s air precisely so that the listener at home would feel the true atmosphere of the Festspielhaus.’

An elaborate skilled way of creating an impression of the true reality of the Festspielhaus – which would otherwise not be captured, for the complex reasons Hans Lauterslager explains. As one of the most especially expert and musical balance engineers in the history of his profession, he sensitively understood that for all the deep scientific knowledge necessary for his metier, there is no single formulaic method for recording.

‘There is no recipe for it – it’s a question of feeling as well as science. I don’t want to get mysterious about it, but not everything can be explained just by placements of microphones, or types of microphones, or mixer desk faders, or frequency adjustments, or whatever. In the end it comes to your own feeling when you are balancing – your feeling about the sound, about the performance the artists are giving. That guides you in everything you are doing as you balance the sound you hear. And you become more sure of your feeling with experience, as you make more recordings over the years. Also – and this could be difficult for the Artists and Repertoire department at Philips – I was very particular about the choice of recording hall. It was a long fight for me to have better halls. In London we mostly, though not entirely, had a choice of three town halls – the three W’s we called them: Wembley (it’s now Brent Town Hall), Walthamstow and Watford. Our distinguished producer Vittorio Negri always recorded in Wembley, but I was never happy there: the hall had no atmosphere – it was clean and clear, but bare. I still wonder how we used to manage there, particularly when we made opera recordings.

'Watford was by far the best hall for atmosphere and warmth, but the A & R team always preferred Wembley as it was easily available, it was cheap, it was easy to reach via the tube trains, and we could leave our equipment there overnight. On the contrary at Watford we had to rig and de-rig each day – which was very tough going, but for me it was worth it for the sake of the sound. Walthamstow was good, but it did not have the space of Watford, so there was always a battle there to get a bit of air and room in to the balance. I still regret that we made Colin Davis’s recording of Les Troyens in Walthamstow and not in Watford. That was a fight I lost. It was a pioneering event as it had never been recorded in its entirety before, and for sure it’s a good recording that won many awards, but it would have been better in Watford: the massive size and scale of the work – eight harps in the orchestra, for a start! – was much more suited to Watford. I must say it was especially one of my most happy pleasures when we made Sir Colin Davis’s recording of Il trovatore with José Carreras, Katia Ricciarelli, and Yuri Masurok in Watford Town Hall. It was the ideal place for the drama and atmosphere of the work – and the performance! – as it also was for the Tosca we made there with Monserrat Caballé, Jose Carreras, and Ingvar Wixell.’

And Watford Town Hall was the venue for a set of magnificent recordings that revealingly illustrate Hans Lauterslager’s open-minded versatility and skill in pursuit of sonic truth. With just three microphones he vividly captured all the subtle details and nuances of Antal Dorati’s scrupulously moulded performances of the four orchestral suites of Tchaikovsky that he conducted with the New Philharmonia Orchestra in 1966. Although issued on the Philips label, the sessions took place under the auspices of the Mercury recording company, as two years earlier Philips had begun making Mercury’s classical recordings in Europe. Once again Hans Lauterslager’s discreet quest for the ideal was to herald cutting edge innovation.

‘Harold Lawrence, Mercury’s principal classical producer, came to Baarn to explain how their two balancers Robert Fine and Robert Eberenz had been making their recordings. He showed us figures and drawings and also photos of some sessions. Well, we were very interested and I had the idea of building a new three channel mixing desk with a fourth channel as a contingency spare. This console would be made specifically to suit the three omni-directional microphones that always solely made up Mercury’s total orchestral pick-up. The problem was the microphones! Mercury was using Schoeps M 201 models, and when I went to see Karl Schoeps and his technical director Wilhelm Küsters at the factory in Karlsruhe to discuss the specific qualities of the M201, they threw their hands in the air and Dr Schoeps said “By Jove – that is the worst microphone we have ever made!” They then showed me a diagram of the frequency characteristics curves, and I saw to my amazement that they had discovered that by putting a small ring on the mouth of the microphone you could engender a very substantial correction with a high frequency lift of 10 to 12 decibels at 10,000 Herz.

Ed: This maybe answers a question for me. Many of the earlier Mercury recordings, lauded in the press, simply were terrible to me. The lack of air can certainly be attributed the the high frequency rolloff, and with it the lower treble aggressiveness.

Some collectors complain that, after Mercury was acquired by Polygram, the Philips remasterings completely changed the sound. True, maybe, but sometimes better?  Philips' Golden Imports sounded good to me, but they were scorned by old-timers. But then, when Wilma Cozart Fine remastered the Mercury's for CD, I found the result to be a mixed bag. My Philips Universo LP of Prokofiev's Scythian Suite was miles ahead sonically of the CD.

I don't know if it's just me, but I have my doubts about Wilma Cozart Fine's Mercury CDs, and indeed perhaps of Mercury (their best sounding ones were in the UK with Decca engineers). YMMV.

Ed: A snippet of Lauterslager talking about the Schoeps mike can be seen in this AES Video.

 So, specifically for our upcoming recordings they built new microphones adding a ring on each one – they were very co-operative. When we began the sessions I decided to have our regular Neumann microphones at hand as a standby, but the newly modified Schoeps M201s (they were now called MK 23s) gave a marvellous sound. The new adjustment was crucial for the method of using just three microphones for the entire orchestra picture as the highest frequencies of the more distantly placed instruments – the woodwind, brass and percussion – can be somewhat lost if you have microphones just at the front of the orchestra. The overall sonority was now very fresh while at the same time the full depth of acoustic space was there, and that depth of perspective can be lost when there are microphones placed close to many instruments. With this system I also recorded the Messiah conducted by Colin Davis – with such a large ensemble and just three microphones it was one hell of a challenge.’

Which succeeded triumphantly to widespread acclaim. As well as his outstandingly special skill and his deeply detailed knowledge, the achievement in Hans Lauterslager’s art and craft bears a similar philosophy to that of other especially highly acclaimed classical balance engineers of the last 70 years or so. Like Kenneth Wilkinson, Robert Gooch, Christopher Parker, James Burnett, Tony Faulkner, and Jonathan Allen, his sensitive musical feeling and awareness about the performances he was recording was his strongest guideline of all in his zeal to preserve them with the maximum fidelity to their essence. Be it with many or few microphones, his pursuit brought unfailingly natural and truthful balances that preserved great music making with striking life-like realism. Perhaps the greatest tribute of all to his gifts came from Leonard Bernstein who recorded Tristan und Isolde for Philips:

‘After doing weeks of hard work on the tapes we finally had a listening session with Bernstein. This was the moment when he could decide whether the recording was good enough for his benefaction so that we could release it. A moment of high tension, and not only for me. As always, he had a group of friends, admirers and other persons around him. Before we started listening, he told them that nobody was to give comment or to speak at all through the entire session. He listened to the whole work all the way through without saying a single word – around 5 hours. After the last note had finished, he sat motionless for a minute or so. It seemed hours. The tension became almost unbearable. Then he stood up, turned to me, embraced me and said, with tears in his eyes: “Thank you. You did a splendid job. This is the best thing I ever did’. What followed was an outbreak of cheers and congratulations all round. A memory to cherish.’

‘In the 20th and 21st centuries music has been brought in all sorts to all parts of the world by two great inventions: recordings and radio. Through them, classical music was no longer heard only in concert halls and theatres by a secluded public. I feel privileged in having been able to take part in the fascinating process of the development of recording techniques. My contribution, however small it might be, trying to preserve as best I could the musical performances of so many great musicians, is filling me with gratitude. It is music that helps us in bad and in good times, always and everywhere. Music is indispensable.’


Ed: When it comes to audiophiles, Philips is rarely mentioned. Everyone knows Kenneth Wilkinson (Decca) and the 2 Christopher's (EMI). Some even pine for DG recordings. Very few praise Philips recordings, which I find very strange - they maintain such a consistently excellent level of engineering. Whether it was the Concertgebouw or London orchestras, the sound never disappoints. For me, Decca and Philips are the best overall.

Ed: Below HL talks about the epoch-making Les Troyens recording