'School of Sound' Audio Fest
After having attended two great audio gatherings the 'Munich Triode Mafia' so generously had hosted in Oct. 2007 and Oct. 2008, this year's early highlight was the Berlin pendant, the so called 'School of Sound Festival'. This festival took place from May 21 to May 24, 2009 in the Felix-Mendelssohn-Bartholdy School in a former part of East Berlin. About 40 audio friends from various countries, mainly Europe but also some from the US attended this time. Our Berlin friends, amongst them Frank Wogatzky, who by the way did an excellent job as 'headmaster' of the festival, Thomas Schick, Frank Schröder and Michael Ulbrich to name a few of our hosts, came up with a great location and so the three and a half days were pure and plain fun. Besides, there was also beautiful Berlin waiting to be discovered, so all in all an unforgettable long weekend ;-).
Due to the beauty of Berlin itself, and also to a great record store Frank recommended to us, we three Austrians (Alexander, loudspeaker expert David and me) didn't attend all the music demos and presentations of the festival, but below you will find some pics and my personal highlights:
Attending a presentation of Frank Schröder, whose tonearms enjoy a world class reputation, was definitely one of my highlights. And we had the luck that he did two different and informative lectures. In the first one, we compared two broadband loudspeaker chassis of the same brand - one with alnico magnet and one with the field coil magnet technology. Frank chose excellent-sounding mono music from his vinyl collection for the comparison - a stunning late 50s Glazounov concert was a true gem - and more than forty pairs of ears tried to find their favorite of the two speaker technologies.
Schröder's setup: On
top of the Dynacord's bass systems you can see the Siemens/Ruf
broadband mid section we auditioned to compare their different magnet
systems (the treble horn seems to be a Schulz - former East German
studio speaker manufacturer)
Surprisingly to my ears, the alnico magnets held the game even, although most of us had expected the field coils to excel. Great comparison, Frank! Besides, Frank turned out to be a really nice and highly charming person, a great honor and pleasure to meet.
second lecture was also a treasure, because it dealt with the 'Myths
and Truth of Turntables'. In this one, he gave great examples of how
important it is to set up a tonearm/cartridge combination as
correctly as possible to minimize tracking errors for optimum
performance. It was excellent to learn about common user mistakes,
like one alignment tool fits all purposes and what 'a little bit off
the correct alignment i.e. the two given zero points' really meant.
Back home, I checked and rechecked my own setup carefully - a process
of some hours - and could at the end improve my cartridge alignment a
Frank Schröder at work...
found them to be 'sleeper' tubes for use in audio amplifiers, due to
their availability/low price and superb linearity. He uses them in
triode mode and brought SE and PP versions as well as an octal tube
based preamp with RC phono stage to the festival. He also had a newly
designed switchable 45/2A3 SE stereo amp and a 801A SE stereo as well
as SE 300 B stereo amp (both with separate power supplies) in Berlin.
See some photos below of these impressive amps.
Mayer tube amp gallery!
right corner RC coupled 'more entry level' 6CB5A SE stereo amp,
external tube rectified ps not visible. Behind
in the middle, the gorgeous
looking 6CB5A interstage coupled SE mono blocks with Lundahl OPT. Finally,
behind on the left the SE stereo version of the 6CB5A interstage
coupled 'top version' with Tango OPTs. In
the middle, the SET 45/2A3 SE stereo amp with Lundahl OPTs and, in
the upper right corner, the PP stereo version of the 6CB5A with Tango
OPTs can be seen (the latter will in the future be only available as
a pair of monos).
The comparison was great, although the speaker, Rolf's Coral Beta 10 in a bass reflex cabinet, didn't permit hearing the amps' strengths over their full frequency band. Under these limited conditions, my favorite amp was the most emotional one, the awesome sounding SE 45 triode output tube in Thomas' 45/2A3 SE stereo amp with Lundahl output transformers and interstage transformers between driver and output tube. Then the 801A SE stereo amp (this one with Tango output transformers and Lundahl interstage transformers and a lot of other Lundahl iron in power supply and DC filament) as well as the 6CB5A SE stereo amp in the Lundahl interstage/Tango output transformer top version) followed closely. Surprisingly, the more entry-level RC coupled SE stereo version of this 6CB5A output tube with choke and tube rectified power supply came quite close performance-wise and sounded impressive too.
The best is, however, that all of these amps can be bought as kit versions from Thomas for prices, which are in my opinion, extremely fair given the fact that you also get an amp designed by one of the leading tube aficionados out there in the DIY scene. (The above mentioned more entry-level RC coupled 6CB5A SE stereo amp kit for example will cost under EUR 1.500,--; definitely a bargain in my opinion.)
If this whetted your appetite and you want more info you can contact Thomas Mayer via email (thomas'at'vinylsavor.de).
agreed to visit us in Vienna later this year and will leave some of
his amps for a longer evaluation period. (I will report in a separate
article about this visit and my experience with some of his amps. So
There were two other amps which also impressed me at the SOUND festival. One was Andreas Schuberts' Parallel SE VT-25 stereo amp with conventional RC coupling between driver (6SN7) and output tubes and highly acclaimed Tribute output transformers (this amp sang beautifully with Michael Ulbrichs 12" Schulz coax chassis in bass reflex cabinets during our last evening session).
The second one was Michael Ulbrich's 2A3 SE amp design (two mono block amps), which sounded excellent - colorful with this special midrange 2A3 magic - on his above-mentioned speakers and a Hartmut Quaschik's Garrard 301 used as source. (The preamp and phono stage used I can't recall, but it was definitely a tube-based one)
are some photos of the room and equipment as well as the relaxed
atmosphere during this session...
Michael Ulbrich's vintage Schulz coax loudspeakers in a bass reflex cabinet. I liked the sound of this setup a lot. The light blue amp on the floor to the left is the excellent sounding Parallel SE VT-25 stereo amp of Andreas Schubert. The wood chassis amp set is Thomas Mayer's 801 SE stereo amp with impressive external power supply in the front. On the two window sills in the back of the photo, one can see Michael Ulbrich's sweet sounding 2A3 mono blocks.
three smiling gentlemen are, starting from the bottom right corner,
Stefano Bertoncello, the famous Mr. Twogoodears (his audio
is highly recommended), Hartmut Quaschik called 'Mr. Tonerarm'
due to his experience with mainly every tonearm on the market and in
the middle, David Haigner, one of Austria's leading loudspeaker designers.
There was only one thing I was not to happy about and this was the absence of a true full range speaker to evaluate the real quality of all these gorgeous tube amps and turntables. This is definitely something worth of improvement for next years festival, which we want to organize in Vienna.
Ok, that's enough of criticism, because there was another worthwhile part of the festival. This was the excursion of Frank Wonneberg into vinyl labels and pressings, which was definitely the highlight for my friend Alexander, who by the way is a connoisseur of jazz music, preferably on vinyl.
Frank's presentation was highly interesting due to the deep knowledge about labels and different pressings as well as funny insider stories about the history of the making of vinyl records. By the way, Frank Wonneberg is the author of two excellent books about our beloved vinyl 'Labelkunde' and 'Vinyllexikon'. Both are as far as I know only available in German.
The lesson with Frank Wonneberg was a highlight in our "everyday life at school". Notebooks out! Labeltest! was Frank's motto and questioned were Columbia, Interchord, EMI and other famous names. Although, the students tried their best, professor of vinyl labels is and will be Frank. (Everyone passed the test, though).
more superb photos of the festival, feel free to visit Thomas
Schick's great website.
Good mood and spirit at the Berlin 'School of Sound' Festival
PS: As it looks, next year the Austrians want to host a similar event in or near Vienna and I can confirm that the motivation and commitment to do so is quite high. So, stay tuned what will happen in 2010!