Take me to your master


I was in a large technology retailer store the other day when I noticed a young adult/late adolescent standing in front of the audio display at the entry to their high-end audio and video department. The system consisted of a pair of hybrid electrostatic loudspeakers from a company with a long history of making such things, a tube amp of notable lineage, and some other stuff. It was playing (not the listener’s choice) some really awfully mastered pop music. Truly, utterly, dreadfully done.

I observed the listener to see what he found interesting in the setup. I’m pretty sure he didn’t know I was watching him. This is all conjecture of course, but here is my impression of what was happening in this young lad’s mind:

Wow, this looks impressive. I’m wondering how a system like this might improve my experience of music and whether I should start coveting something like this. Hmmm … Hmmm … maybe if I move back a little … or up … It really does look impressive … Hmmm … Hmmm … I guess my ears aren’t good enough to notice a difference. I’ll go look at TVs.

The system was set up to let the dipole electrostatics work well: lots of space all around. In spite of this, like the young lad, I could barely stand to listen to it. With the chosen content, I’m guessing the system was showing about 10% of what it could do if you knew what to listen for.

There once was a time when high-end gear could make poorly done recording sound listenable. I am beginning to think that current kill, crush, and destroy mastering practices have succeeded in subverting this.

AVA adopts my audio module in new DAC and preamp designs


Audio by Van Alstine has adopted my discrete Class A audio module into two of their products. The Vision DAC uses the module in its differential anti-imaging filter and output stage and the Vision SL Preamp uses it for line stage amplification. The pair will be premiered at the Axpona Audio Expo in Chicago this weekend. Looking forward to feedback from the show.

Engineer meets Bugera V22 reverb – Part 1

The Bugera V22 guitar amp is just too good to leave alone. Yes, it’s had its share of teething problems—the worst of which I believe have been sorted. Yes, it’s made in China. Yes the tube quality seems to be a crapshoot. But the build quality is better than what I’d expect at the price, and the sound is unique and just lovely. It’s a great buy.

One thing I’m not super jazzed about though is the amp’s reverb. I begin documenting my gripes below and start off in search of a solution.

It develops …


Picking up from earlier, what we’re looking at here is an audio DAC reconstruction filter built around a prototype discrete opamp-like differential gain cell I’ve had in the works for quite a while. I finally chased out the last engineering details and have been listening to the final setup for about a month. I am still astonished at how good it sounds.

I designed the gain cell from the ground-up as a dedicated high-performance audio device. It uses some novel topological and other features that I’ll probably go into in a future post. For now all I want to say that the thing is wicked fast for a discrete device and has been rock-solid stable.

But why bother? Aren’t there already tons of reasonably decent, some even cheap, audio IC opamps out there? Yes, there are. But I’ve never been totally happy with any of them. Some have too much LF bloat, some are too strident—none to my ears do everything right (which is to say, do as little as possible apart from making the signal bigger and stronger).

Designing a discrete device let me optimize the gain structure specifically for audio, minimize and more effectively manage the number of parasitic interactions throughout, thermally couple and, more importantly, decouple elements as necessary, and a few other things. It started as a “Gee, let’s see…” exercise, and I have been rather shocked by the results.

Now I’m contemplating where to take things next. I’ve designed a couple small-footprint packages for the gain cell. I’m implementing a few other ideas with it too. I suspect this surprising little circuit will see some commercial application soon.

Right then. Back to listening. 😀