1st "Schall & Rauch" - Festival in Munich

The idea for the first "Schall & Rauch" (translated "Sound and Smoke") festival was born during some telephone/email conversations between Thomas Mayer - one of the leading figures in the DIY-tube amp design scene in Germany and my friend, Josef Aigner, Thomas' counterpart here in Austria. Thomas and Josef have been friends for quite a while and share their love for tube electronics and vacuum tubes (as well as their love for fine port wine, as I discovered firsthand).

Schall & Rauch took place in Munich from November 1st to November 4th 2007. It was a unique experience because the Munich tube audio community invited audio friends from Vienna, Berlin, Goettingen and Meuselwitz - a town in the region of Thueringen, Germany - to join and listen to homebrew systems where they should be enjoyed, namely at the homes of their designers. Over the three days, eight private systems could be listened to and the people attending were teamed up in groups, to make sure that all had the chance to listen to each system. The organisation of this event was perfect (including the selection of charming restaurants for relaxation in the evenings) and main parts were done by Thomas' partner Hildegard, who showed a lot of class, flexibility and patience having all these 'crazy audio maniacs' around for this November weekend. (Many thanks Hildegard!)

It started with a welcome gathering in Thomas' loft apartment on Thursday afternoon. We enjoyed great food, superb port wine - thank you, Thomas - and had a first listen to the impressive system Thomas has built over the years.

This comprises an infinite baffle loudspeaker system with two Altec 416A for the bass of each channel, two Altec 515B for the lower midrange of each channel, a TAD 4001 for the upper midrange and modified TAD RPT7 as tweeter. The power amplifiers driving these speaker chassis are: SE 211/211 for the bass, SE 801A/801A for the lower midrange, SE 801A/801A low voltage (200V B+) for the upper midrange and differential PP EC8020 (single stage) for the tweeter section. Pre-amplification is handled by an 801A line stage, two 6HS5 phono stages (more on these later)and three phase-power supplies for all pre and power amps. The analogue source is a Scheu Premier 2, SME V, Lyra Helikon combination and the digital source is a homebrew 24bit/8xOS DAC, low-jitter XTAL CD front end.

The sound is great, really great! The dynamic is lifelike, the clarity is amazing and the bass energy delivered makes you dance. The fine tuning of such a system is definitely hard work (especially regarding the best crossover points) and an ongoing journey, but the potential in music reproduction is worth all the effort. Here are some photo impressions of this incredible system:

Photo courtesy of Bernd Uecker


Room for your whole audio
system in your speaker "cabinet" 
that's "hot stuff"


 More amplifiers...

All photos courtesy of Bernd Uecker

Three phase-power supply

Tube Amp magic by Thomas

Photo courtesy of Gunter Marquart

CD magic by Thomas

Photo courtesy of Bernd Uecker

Photo courtesy of
Gunter Marquart

Thursday evening started at a highly charming Bavarian restaurant with great wheat beer and Bavarian delicacies (so called 'Schmankerln') and ended - as far as I was told - way past midnight in an excellent cocktail bar in the neighborhood. I skipped the cocktail bar, because we had a full program the following day.

Friday morning we, the Austrians (Josef, our friend & communication engineer Michael Joncic and me) and our first host Rolf Bayer, had a quick stopover at the Munich electronic mile to use the opportunity to look for some parts needed for future DIY projects. We found what we were looking for, and about an hour later, arrived at Rolf's apartment to start with the first of our four listening sessions for the day. Rolf's system consists of a modified Garrard 401 turntable in a custom-made plinth (very impressive and inspiring) with an Ultracraft tone arm, a Fidelity Research  FR1Mk3 cartridge, a Supex SDT-77 step-up transformer and homebrew tube preamp, plus a pair of SE 300B mono bloc power amps. The speakers used were Coral Beta 10 full range (broadband) drivers in two 150-liter custom-made bass reflex cabinets. We listened to some great music on vinyl and had some highly interesting talks about analogue gear, for example, regarding Rolf's personal experiences with legendary cartridges such as the Fidelity Research, Supex and Decca cartridge ranges. Here are some pics of his system:

Photo courtesy of Bernd Uecker


Rolf's Coral Beta 10 in it's
 beautiful cabinet


Photo courtesy of Bernd Uecker


Not only we listened with joy!

Photo courtesy of Gunter Marquart


Vinyl fans everywhere...

Photo courtesy of Bernd Uecker


The next station was once again, Thomas' place. Here we compared two phono stages Thomas had recently built around the 6HS5 tube. Both are single stage (due to the high amplification factor of this triode) transformer coupled LCR RIAA designs, the one in a single-ended and the other in a differential configuration. The 6HS5 is a beam triode and was used as a regulator in the high-voltage power supply of color TV receivers, typically with a voltage of 3500 . Thomas uses this triode in his phono stage design with a B+ voltage of 2000 volts!

It was a lot fun to audition these two phono stages, but we couldn't come up with a clear winner. My favorite was the single-ended version; to my ears, it sounded a bit more musical. But taste differs, as you know, and can it get better, when you are able to switch according to your mood to the one or the other. Really cool...

The next listening stop was at Bernhard Kistner's home. He has a huge selection of great jazz music on vinyl and you could say he is a vinyl and analogue replay fanatic. Of course, the whole system was homebrew again, with a Manfred Huber designed tube preamp further modified by Bernhard and a directly heated 46 triode amplifier in push pull mode also designed by Manfred Huber. Highly impressive was Bernhard's homebrew turntable with Shreve-Rabco tangential tone arm and a Supex SDX 1000 MC cartridge.

For the time being, the speaker system Bernhard uses is an open baffle with a Fertin 20 EX broad band driver in it. As you can see in the photo, there's a switch on each baffle (the small black spot on top of the Fertins) to change the phase via the speaker cables. Bernhard told us that, depending on the recording, quite a lot of records are produced with music out of phase. Most of the records in his collection he has listened to, therefore, in both ways and when he has found an lp produced out of phase, he has marked this on an accompanying paper accordingly. So now, only by changing the switch position, he is able to listen to every record in the correct phase. Hmm, I've never thought about that...

As you can see in the photo, Bernhard apparently has plans to improve the bass
 in his speaker system. Something to watch and report about in the future ;-)

Photo courtesy of Gunter Marquart


Directly heated 46 triode amplifier in PP mode

Photo courtesy of Bernd Uecker



Photo courtesy of Bernd Uecker


Bernhard's impressive TT with Shreve-Rabco tangential tone arm and 
Supex SDX 1000 MC cartridge

Photo courtesy of Gunter Marquart

The final session for the day was at Hartmut Quaschik's place. His dedicated music room is located in the cellar of his house, which is a cool thing because you never have to worry if the neighbors like the music you listen to or not. [I enjoyed this situation for seven years too, but in the meantime, we have moved and my new music room is in a rented flat near Vienna. On the one hand, it's acoustically a lot better - yeah, but it has the disadvantage that I'm no longer free to blast the music I like 24/7 :-( ]

If you want to know how a turntable, tone arm, or cartridge on the market sounds, Hartmut is the man to ask. There are not many analogue front ends out there he has not listened to in his own music system and room. Currently, his preferred analogue front end consists of  a Simon Yorke S4 turntable (modified) with a Pluto 2A arm and Lyra cartridge. There is also a Garrard 401, with SME 3012/2 and Koetsu Rosewood Signature cartridge / Yamamoto ebony headshell combination he can choose from. [Not bad at all ;-) ]. The rest of his system is an Audio Note preamp kit with Low R-biasing by Manfred Huber - and an EL 84 SE tube power amp with EL84 driver section, "Sakuma light" so to say. The CD source is a California Audio Labs transport with a modified Musical Fidelity Digilog DAC. Hartmut's current three-way speaker creation uses a vintage Altec 414 bass chassis, an Intertechnik car audio mid-range driver (!) and a vintage JBL 077 slot tweeter.

The overall sound of this system was one of the highlights of the whole festival. The vinyl records as well as CDs were presented in a musical and relaxed way with excellent 3D imaging and dynamic shading. It was a pleasure to listen to, and I immensely enjoyed Hartmut's music selection, which ranged from pop to jazz. Thanks for introducing me to Tori Amos' music, by the way.

Hartmut's current three-way speaker creation

Photo courtesy of Bernd Uecker


EL 84 SE amp (with EL84 driver section)
Photo courtesy of Bernd Uecker

Audio Note pre amp kit modified

Photo courtesy of Bernd Uecker


Hartmut's Simon Yorke S4 turntable with Pluto arm and Lyra Dorian MC cartridge

Photo courtesy of Gunter Marquart

 Listening at Hartmut's place (Bernd and Peter deep in the music)

Photo courtesy of Gunter Marquart

A great day ended - again around midnight - with a delightful meal and joyful discussions at a nice restaurant called the Preysinggarten.


Restaurant impressions after a great day of listening

Photo courtesy of Gunter Marquart

That's the end of part 1

    click here for part 2 of the report


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