December 2014 - ETF 2014, Farewell to Berlin

This November, the European Triode Festival was the third and last time organized and hosted by the Berlin audio enthusiasts around Frank Schröder, Thomas Schick and Michael Ulbrich. And it was a fantastic festival, definitely one to remember, held at a great venue at the Teikyo Hotel in Berlin, Schmöckwitz, located at the beautiful Zeuthener Lake. The atmosphere among the "tube crazy" participants was fantastic and very relaxed, the food and beer were great, so one could definitely feel at home these three festival days and nights. :-) A big thank you to all participants for the wonderful spirit and to our Berlin friends for doing such a great job! :-)

There were plenty of interesting lectures to attend about advanced technical topics for tube amp design. The one by Frank Blöhbaum on "Ultra low distortion high power single ended amplifier" impressed me the most. Some years ago, Frank designed a statement amp/preamp combo for Thorens with his unique direct-coupled Circlotron implementation. These amps were highly praised not only in the German audio press for their fantastic sound (see, for example, the reviews of the preamp and mono-bloc amps in 6moons, which also explains the technical background of Frank's clever design). Look out for Frank's latest designs for Vincent Audio, as he told me this is a simplified and therefore more affordable version of his Thorens implementation.

Some of Frank's tube amp designs

There was - as always at ETFs - a shoot out, this time on DIY tweeters, the traditional live music performance Friday evening and there was - and that is the main attraction of ETFs - a huge amount of audio gear to listen to. Of course, the focus of the audio gear which the participants bring to the festival is DIY tube equipment - as the name of the festival rightly indicates. :-) At ETFs, you can be sure to find a wide range of tube amplifier designs, from push pull to DHT single ended. But also very nice source equipment, especially TTs, tonearms  and cartridges (TTs from Commonwealth, Garrard, Lenco, a Schröder modified PE 33 Studio, Schick and Schröder arms, Lyra, Ortofon and modified Denon cartridges, etc.) and a great selection of music in digital formats and of course on vinyl.

There was a Japanese team - attending an audio festival outside of Japan for the first time - who brought about 300 kg of fantastic equipment to the Berlin festival. Incredible! :-) Jean Hiraga joined the team from Japan and they had a great music demo with Altec VOT horns and a special 300B amp with two different OPTs to listen to (one was the famous PartridgeTK 4519 from the UK and one a new design from Japan). When Alex and I auditioned the system, most of the music played was via CD and SACD-players. The sound was impressive to say the least and the kindly offered Japanese tea superb!

System of the Japanese team (300B SE amp in front with the new OPT design in wooden enclosures)

In my view, the sound in the different rooms was the best I have encountered at ETF gatherings so far! :-) Congratulations to all the participants!

The Austrian team was comprised this year of loudspeaker designer David Haigner, DIY amp designer Alex Olzinger and yours truly. We had the pleasure to install our equipment in the concert hall, a huge and acoustically-excellent room. Fortunately, David’s prototype loudspeaker system for this year included two 18" subwoofers per side in a time-aligned cardioid array configuration, as in this huge room, energy transfer was needed. Alex's multi channel chip amp - which he had come up with during two night sessions before the festival - worked flawlessly, and so from late Friday we had fun playing various music styles over these great sounding speakers. :-) We also had the luck to use one of Frank Blöhbaum's SE tube amps to drive the satellite system with great results!

Prototype ls system a la Haigner

Alex's chip amp with soldering iron art ;-)

ETF has always been a wonderful opportunity to meet famous audio people in a relaxed atmosphere and setting. This year, I had great chats with legendary designer Tim de Paravicini of EAR Yoshino Ltd., Joe Roberts of Sound Practices fame, Frank Blöhbaum, Christof Kraus of Silvercore as well as Frank Schröder and Thomas Schick, both well known for their superb tonearm designs, to name a few.

So, there were plenty of highlights this year, but the most moving one for me was Frank Wogatzki's shellac disc demo of Jazz from 1917 to 1947. For his demo Frank used his phono stage, a phono stage Thomas Mayer had designed especially for the reproduction of music from 78 rpm discs by implementing a variety of equalisation curves of this era of music production, together with his Garrard TT, Schick TA and 78's cartridge as well as a vintage 78s record player, a Perpetuum Ebner 38PE. (Technical side note: With Thomas Mayer's 78s phono stage you can use any TT with 78 rpm speed, you only need a phono cartridge specifically made for Shellac replay. Pretty cool! :-) There is a variety of such cartridges on the market, which have a special needle with an effective stylus tip radius of 65 um due to the wider groove of a 78. Then you connect Thomas' 78 phono to your preamps or amps line input and you are set. The Perpetuum Ebner has its built in equalisation and preamplification stage and was connected directly to the preamp's line input.)

The Perpetuum Ebner from 1938 in all its glory :-)
Important side note: The needle has to be changed for every 78 played. No wonder, the tracking force used is 70 grams!

Frank, who is a teacher, gave a wonderful and insightful lecture in German, which was hilariously translated to English in a congenial way by Frank Schröder. :-) The musical demos were absolutely stunning and covered the pre-1925, so called "acoustical" era of the 78s as well as the "electrical" era from 1925 on (for more details see the informative info in the web article"The History of 78RPM recordings". I didn't know how great and involving 78 rpm records can sound! Especially, when Frank played one 78 – ‘Chicago, Chicago’ by Benny Goodman and his Orchestra - with his old Gramophone - which he had bought from the flea-market for a good price - the experience was unexpected! Although, this reproduction of music was clearly bandwidth limited in comparison to what we are used to from our modern systems, the energy, tone and directness of the music flowing over us in the big "open fireplace” room, was a unique and mind-blowing experience! Very well done! You can watch a short video of this impressive moment, which I recorded just with my smart phone. Enjoy!

As this was the last year for the Berlin team to host ETF, the new location for the next three years was announced during the event. ETF will go back to Denmark, where it was born 15 years ago! Kudos and good luck to the very likeable Danish team!

Here are some more photo impressions of ETF 2014 (as I shot all the photos with my smart phone, please accept my apologies for the lower quality).

Fivre mono plate 2A3 beauties! What gems :-)

Wonderful set up (Clément cartridge and Paul M. tonearm on French Schlumberger TT)

Michael Ulbrich's 2A3 Monos (left and right)...

...they were driving these impressive Philips cinema horns

Impressive Eimac 35TG monos desigend and built by Reinouts (more info on these you can find here)

The "open fireplace" room with different mighty speakers of the German participants. The blue ones in the front are Holger Barske's JBL 4355 clones. One of them was used for the 78s demo :-)


 ... and there was great music Alex and I newly discovered, too! Thank you, Bodo!


For a lot more sophisticated photos of the event in superb quality, I invite you to follow the link to Holger Barske's  website.

Please visit also Thomas Mayer's vinylsavor blog and his live reports from ETF (He created 20 parts of reports over the 3-ETF-days. Thomas is really amazing! Partly, he used video material in his blog entries, so you can get an impression of the great sound at ETF, too.)

The spirit of ETF is definitely a great one and ETF 2014 was a blast! Thanks a lot to our Berlin friends for being such magnificent hosts and to the friends, who join from all over the world and make these events so special :-)

Musically yours,



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