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Friday, February 17, 2012

Guest Article: Peter's Audio Journey


Peter from Calgary, Canada built two amps and a linestage based on my concepts during last year. He sent me this nice article which describes his journey:

I do not consider myself an audiophile;  rather my wife and I are avid music lovers who listen to music and radio throughout the day and evenings.  I started with a B&W and Rotel combo based on What HiFi review.  I then moved to Odyssey Kismet gear with a SlimDevices Transporter at the front. This was a big step up in sound quality, but not completely to my satisfaction.

Sometime in 2010 I was able to hear Shindo and Audio Note gear and was impressed.  In May of 2010 I decided to build AN Dac 3 Kit and L3 preamp. I was able to understand my own sonic preferences and build something to reflect them. I have realized that I am in the emotion and flesh and blood camp.

I then came across the Lampizator website and decided to try some of his mods.  Behringer 2496 mod was a revelation and made me sell my AN DAC.  Squeezebox upgrades (super clock, separate PSs and tube buffer) made me sell my Transporter and buy Lampizator DAC3.5 (prototype of current DAC 4).  In order to pursue SET amps I needed more efficient speakers and I opted for Lampizator P17 design (first with Saba later with Altec 755Cs).

I have also discovered Sound practices and started the search for a amp design/philosophy. This is how I came across Thomas and he happened to start VinylSavor blog just at a perfect time.

6CB5A amplifier

Why?  I love Thomas’s design approach as outlined in the Gain/Headroom, and Power, Operating point articles.  That, followed by power supply architecture and description of design decisions, just appealed to me.  The fact that the amp would produce 6W, sounded better than some of the 300b amps, and utilized less expensive tubes, made it a no brainer.

I quickly discovered that I have no talent for metalwork.  I created the required AutoCAD drawings and went with a local metal shop.  I
also opted for a powder coated finish and went with “Candy blue” for color.  My neighbor helped me with the woodwork.
As far as components were concerned I have followed Thomas’ choices: ASC caps, his power Supply transformers, Lundhal chokes/OTX and Interstage transformers from Intact Audio.  During the construction phase, Thomas was very generous with his support (answering some very
annoying questions and helping by sharing his troubleshooting techniques that I now try to use all the time).

What does it sound like? - Powerful, controlled sound with lots of PRAT, emotion and really good resolution. In essence flesh and blood representation of music with powerful bass and excellent mid range: resolution and detail recovery are really good (keep in mind that this is in relation to Thomas’ top of the line design - in comparison with commercial competition, it is far superior).

This amp will play everything you throw at it: clasical (organ to violin), blues, Jazz and Rock to Metal.  For many people on budget this will be the last amp that they will own.  My family listens to this amp 14 hours a day.  This amp was so good that I packed up my remaining commercial gear and sold it.

In my experience, the input tube has a large impact on the sound of the amp itself.  Metal can tubes are “thicker” sounding and less resolved.  6N7GT Visseaux added layers of details and delicacy to bring this amp to another level.  Your experiences will vary depending on the rest of the systems.

Since my source and DAC were of satisfactory quality I decided to pursue famous 801 Linestage.

801 Line stage
I have had couple of linestages in the past: Odyssey Candela and Audio Note Kits L3 (silver wired and AN transformers/blackgates etc.).  At the end of the day, there was not that much difference between them (despite quite a bit of effort on my part). At this point I was convinced that a preamplifier couldn’t make much of a difference in the reproduction of music. However, given my understanding of
Thomas's approach I was ready to give 801 design a chance - not wanting to upgrade ever again. 801 linestage is a fairly complex piece of gear to construct.  It utilizes fabulous autoformers from Intact Audio (Dave Slagle.)  As an aside, Dave is a world class act, very knowledgeable, sincere and all around great guy to deal with - products reflect that ethos.  Highly recommended and essential part of the architecture!

Metal work was a bit of a challenge given the need for the suspension
of 801 tubes.  I opted for Candy blue once again.

Just as in the 6cb5a, linestage relies on really good passively filtered power supplies (heaters and B+).  Everything was wired with silver including PS, especially ground bus (it makes large sonic improvement - at least to my ears).

Autoformers were a little tricky to wire but with the help of a few folks who have done it before I had it done in a few evenings (basic test equipment helped tremendously - Oscilloscope and frequency generator).

To date, this was the largest single most audible improvement heard in my system.  Linestage uncovered layers of details never heard before. Soundstage expanded, space around musicians increased to life like proportions, while the feeling of presence, musicality and emotion was retained and emphasized.  Most importantly a huge amount of micro detail was revealed: not in annoying in your face way - you can choose to focus on it.

Often feeling of added resolution is created by “stripping” midbass from the piece of gear.  This has tendency to emphasize the high and low frequency and fool many into thinking about detail/resolution improvements.  This preamp does not do that.  All aspects of music are preserved and enhanced at all levels.

45/2a3 - 10y/26
Ultimately, I am in the emotion camp, if I can’t be moved by music why bother?

My implementation uses Tango Interstate and Output transformers and silver wiring through out.  Amp allows me to switch between 45/2A3 (output) and 10y /26 tube (input).

I love this amp!  It sound is absolutely beautiful and poetic  - not in some kind of colored way.  It draws you into the performance:  you tap your foot and have a chance to hear the intent of the piece of music.  Musicians come alive - not only in the audiophile way (resolution and microdetail retrival are Thomas's trademarks) but in a way that lets you connect with music and ultimately its meaning (at least for me). It just produces music that is more alive and has more PRAT, with more punch and beauty- at least in my setup and to my ears.

On violins notes are beautiful, double bass is outrageous, blues is glorious (Muddy Water/ R Johnson/ R.L Burnside), Jazz is out of this world (I am now into 30-40s), the scale of Rock and large orchestral/organ works is there- I can still make my house shake :) Visitors can’t believe that 1500 miliwat amp can produce this type of musical experience (conversations about notion of technological progress follow).

This amp forced me to recognize some of the shortcomings in my speakers and that will be the next frontier.  Also in 2009 I had a chance to hear Jean Nantais build 75-pound Lenco and was absolutely floored by its ability to reproduce music. This might result in the move towards vinyl and another set of adventures.  Luckily Thomas can assist in both cases.

Thanks a lot to Peter for sharing his amplifier building experience. I'm sure the journey will continue. Vinyl is a whole new world to discover!

Best regards



  1. Replies
    1. Thanks Josh. It has been a great learning experience:)

  2. I like those chassis!! Looks like T. Mayer on acid.

    Keep up the good work!


    1. Thanks Joe.
      Who would have thought that innocent purchase of the SoundPractices from you (mind you, You warned me ) would result in all that :)


  3. Hi Peter and Thomas. Peter...Please post again especially when you have a change in speakers. I'm most interested in how your system develops with Thomas's amps....any interest in adding vinyl to your system?
    great read...
    Frank Mena, Ontario

    1. Hi Frank,
      It seems that active speaker setup (45 and 6cb5a) is in the works :)

      Vinyl is definitely in the cards as well. Time and money are in the way:) Stop by if you are ever in Calgary.


  4. Peter.
    Thanks for sharing this great story.
    You will not regret to go Lenco - I had them all and for quite some time, I´m a Lenco man now and this is where I will be. Join Lencoheaven - the best forum in the world.

    1. Thanks for the nice comment. What arm and cartridge do you use on your lenco? It looks like a great forum.


  5. It is indeed. I have 2 - one with a Grace unipivot (G-940) and the other with a Schroeder Clone from a friend, made of ebony (well, the wand). Cheers
    Chris (autobayer on LH if you join:-)

  6. Great article Peter. Really interesting to see how you graduated from some commercial designs I know and like to Thomas work - and for reasons that interest me to (musical ones).

    I'd be interested to know what speakers you are using now, if you have changed them. Also, how does the presentation of your 6CB5A (a tube I don't know) compare to your 45/2A3 amp (tubes I have heard)?


  7. Hi Justin,
    I have assembled horn based system (LineMagnetic 555, with 22A replica horn). I have build the onken enclosure with altec 416 drivers. I am using RAAL for tweeter and have not had much time to do anything else :) Before that I did implement P24 (RAAL, isophon, 755c and 416) and it was superb.

    I am not sure what to add to the write up above. 6cb5a is a great sounding tube it is rich and lush sounding tube. I my implementation I used standard transformers. Perhaps there is more to be gained by going with fancier units. It is great amp for someone in "flesh and blood" camp. It is absolutely great for rock, techno and large scale works (organs, orchestral etc), jazz, blues etc.

    45 amp is beautiful and extremes are much more extended (very expensive transformers). I do listen to the rock/metal on this amp - with sensitive speakers it will never be an issue. Voices, jazz, blues, chamber music, acoustic and choral our stunning. This amp with 10/801a driver and 26 is so good that I have still did not bother to buy 2A3s to try them out - they would double the output from 1.5W to 3W :)

    I hope it helps. Let me know if you have any other questions. 801a linestage is superb, and is responsible for large portion of the described sound.