Thursday, October 16, 2008

New from the gnome's workshop

I apologize to my readers (if I still have any) for my extended absence.
Real Life matters in my professional and personal life have overtaken me
and kept me from online activities. But I have not been entirely
non-productive in my exile.

I started my First Life career in electronics over 30 years ago in my
pre-teens. In those days vacuum tubes still dominated consumer
electronics such as audio equipment. This was especially true of the old
garage sale finds that I could afford to get my hands on. While the
change to solid state technology for consumer electronics was nearly
complete by 1980 the vacuum tube soldiers on to this very day
particularly in high power applications (The Magnetrons in Microwave
ovens and "picture" tubes in TV's being two common examples).

So it will probably come as a shock to many folks that vacuum tube audio
equipment is still produced and is enjoying a renaissance in popularity
amongst music lovers. The reason is fairly simple, tube equipment tends
to soften the sometimes dry and harsh sound many perceive with digital
recordings. I get tinnitus listening to many digital recordings on
modern equipment, but I noticed some years ago that when listening to
digital sources through the aux input of my 1939 vintage GE Radio (all
tube) I could listen for hours on end with no ringing in my ears. Even
at fairly high volumes.

So when I decided it was time to buy myself a decent sound system I
decided I wanted one of these wonderful new tube amplifiers as the
foundation. So hoping for ringless ears and audio nirvana I set forth on
my quest.

My boundless optimism was soon squashed flat by sticker shock. These new
age tube devices are quite expensive relative to good quality solid
state gear. So much so that the budget I had set would barely cover the
purchase of such an amplifier, let alone the rest of the system.

Kits provide a much more budget friendly alternative, but still as
expensive as good off the shelf solid state gear. More to the point was
time. If I'm hard pressed for time to scribble diatribes into this blog
when could I realistically expect to find time to assemble electronics?

In the end I bought a solid state amplifier, a A340 by Cambridge Audio.
This is a nice little English designed and Chinese built unit that many
reviewers feel has a very tube-like sound and is easy on the ear. After
a year of listening to it I agree. The sound is quite smooth and not the
least bit fatiguing to listen to even at high volumes. But the nostalgia
bug has bit and I still yearn for glowing bottles atop my sound
equipment. What to do? What to do?

Then one fine night when I got a chance to visit fair Caledon I was
sitting in gnomular form atop my keep in the garden watching the sun set
over Caledon Eyre I had a flash of inspiration. I could build myself a
tube amp in Second Life, along with a pair of speakers, without spending
one red pence! Or Linden Dollar. Whatever. All it would cost me is a bit
of time.

It only took ten minutes or so to rough out the general form of the
amplifier. I then spent an hour roughing out a prototype tube. The tubes
I came up with were very realistic models of real audio tubes in current
use, but they were prohibitively high in prims. Since I am not a master
of the sculpted prim I sent out a hue and cry for assistance over the
Caledon channel.

My request for aid was answered by Mr. Vivito Volare who in very short
order had produced very authentic sculpted glass envelopes for antique
bulb type and modern 2A3/300B type triodes. I assembled some tubes then
placed them on the amplifier chassis and hey presto! An authentic stereo
tube amp of my own, albeit in virtual form. Last but not least I gave it
a bit of functionality by adding a media changer script.

I call it Amp's Amp. I am also considering naming it the Tinlegs-Volare
SET-1 or TVS-1S. The tubes even glow!

Of course an amplifier alone is no good, so I built a pair of speakers
to match. For reasons of visual interest I used a speaker cabinet type
known as Voight Pipes, or TQWT's. This is a high efficiency design
commonly used with a single full range driver per cabinet. They are very
poplar among audiophiles for their acoustic "transparency" and among
audio hobbyists because they are relatively easy to build in a garage
workshop. I chose this style for its unique appearance and retro tech
flavor. To add to the retro look I gave them a nice walnut burl texture.

Once I finalize which Shoutcast streams it will be provisioned with I
will offer the amp with speakers for a modest price.

Ahhhh. Nothing says relaxation like Miles Davis played through some glowing bottles.