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It's been going on ever since men first began sponsoring the oldest profession in the world. And even spiritual seekers partake. "My master is so patient, he corals a wild yak, feeds it just one grain of sugar, then combs its tail until it gets sweet and completely tame." "That's nothing, man. My master is so strong, he takes your hairy wild beast and blows into its nostrils until the horns uncurl and go straight as arrows."

Audiophiles likewise engage in supremacy tests. Anyone visiting Serge Schmidlin on Lake Geneve who feels strongly about his own status of tweak master shouldn't even bother going until he has completed the following list. Make your own cables. Check. Make your own connector housings. Check. Your own resistors. Capacitors. Battery cells. Tone arm. Turntable. Stepup transformers. Input transformers. Interstage transformers. Output transformers. Passive transformer volume controls. Loudspeakers. Loudspeaker drive units. Tube and transistor amplifiers. Preamplifiers. Knobs. Housings. Stands...

Did I forget anything? Most likely. But the point has been made. In our industry, very few small-timers have demonstrated anywhere near the comprehensive, no make that compulsive penetration of the outer reaches of tweakdom as the man running Audio Consulting out of a townhouse in the vineyard-surrounded Swiss community of Commugny/Coppet.

Born with an inquisitive mind, trained in the sciences as a chemical researcher with a Ph.D., no phenomenon related to audio is too small to attract Schmidlin's attention. Getting off the grid into full battery power starting with the turntable all the way down to the amplifier driving his own speaker has just been the beginning. Thermal effects from a chip warming up which controls the steering of the turntable motor? Check, it gets it own aircon cell itself powered from batteries of course. Freed from the vagaries of AC power gremlins, Serge feels he has opened a virtual pandora's box. If one is serious about performance invariability, in other words sonic excellence that won't drift or fluctuate, everywhere one looks is the enemy. Forget UFOs and alien abductions. This is a self-inflicted paranoia of a very different sort.

Serge Schmidlin and the better half of the 6moons management team

Does that involve changes in air density? You bet. Exposure to EMI and RFI? Yup. We'll now stop the silly "my master is greater than yours" game. It should be obvious that Audio Consulting is serious about the little things. Schmidlin takes the time, effort and money to create unconventional solutions. You may disagree with the specific outcomes but you could not possibly accuse the man of lacking inquisitiveness or nursing a crush for leaving good enough alone.

With the countdown for HighEnd 2009 in München ticking louder as the days go by, Schmidlin was preparing his act with Jean Hiraga (speakers) and Hanss Acoustics (turntables from China). What mad new toy would he introduce to the visiting masses who always seek for the latest and greatest?

How about a CHF 168.000, pure DC tube phono stage with separate battery banks for the anode and heater supplies, dual-differential circuitry and a high-level input for a USB DAC? Check.

This three-tiered device runs an MC step-up transformer custom-wound to a specific cartridge rather than adjust the loading with a resistor across the secondary as usual. From there the signal enters an ECC 88 fully differential 1
st gain stage that is interstage transformer coupled to an ECC99 passive RIAA driver and 2nd gain stage. Another IT couples that to the final Western Electric 437A gain and single-ended output stage which feeds a 24-tap output transformer to act as an - um, active transformer volume control.

To not further invite shameless profiteers from cloning Schmidlin circuits and presenting them as their own -- there's one such infamous operator in Switzerland itself -- I wasn't allowed to publish close-ups of the innards. This deliberately blurred shot shall suffice. It does however hint at the eight custom-wound all silver transformers, the massive custom power supply decoupling capacitors for the three stages, the capacitor banks for the tube biasing, the thin copper lining of the Bird's Eye Maple-veneered Spruce chassis with Cocobolo accents and the star grounding between the valves.