|In a way, yes. People who have studied my research often ridicule it. They point at the grave unlikelihood that all distortion will cancel each other out. But you see, that's never been my claim. It's as unlikely that all distortion cancels as it is impossible that none will if you use my approach.
What's far more important is this: My research and subsequent methods plainly and powerfully work. Anyone can hear it. Think about it. If these results were due to only a very small amount of distortion being cancelled -- and I prefer the term distortion cloaking -- how much more does this validate my work? Right? If reducing only a tiny little amount of harmonic distortion at the listener's ear makes such a profound difference already... well, this whole topic needs to be taken very seriously.
But, some people just look at it and say "that's impossible, how can anyone account for this mind-numbing complexity of harmonic distortion and simply generate the matching out-of-phase values for complete cancellation" - and they walk away thinking they've defeated my arguments. Well, they haven't. I've been at this for many many years. There are other people around the planet, one researcher in Holland in particular, who are engaged in very intense laboratory investigations into exactly this very same topic.
In fact, at one of the universities in Brazil, there's a similar program in process. I've been invited to lecture. These professors and their students have studied my papers. They are very curious to meet because I've applied my research to actual products. We're investigating how they can help me -- with their sizable staff, research grants and ultra-sophisticated computer simulations programs -- to advance the available body of work into the more complex domains of higher-order distortion behavior.
So you see, while the naysayers just abandon this whole concept of distortion cloaking with one quick nose-up gesture, many very serious scientists -- who often come at their collaborative conclusions from very different angles -- are in complete agreement. They have extensive measurements to prove it.
And remember too that I'm not saying this subject is the cure for everything in audio. That would be preposterous. It's just one of many facets. It simply happens to be one that's been given short shrift thus far. I predict this very complicated and complex topic -- of how harmonic distortion interacts between components and how it affects our hearing -- is one the next frontiers in our industry. If a giant like Sony, with their research facilities and funding, were to get behind it? You couldn't predict the wholsesale consequences. Of course it's unlikely they will. They would need to be convinced of a massive impact on their bottomline first. It's more likely that this pioneering work will have to be done by us "little guys".
|You know what they say, Eduardo - it isn't the size that matters, it's how you use it. What can you tell us about this preamp I've heard rumors about?|
|Well, for about 3 years, I've been trying to get an idea for a preamp. To make as unique a statement there as I already have with the Model 88. That wasn't easy. (Laughs innocently.) So much has been done already in this field. What could I possibly add that would further the state-of-the-art?
Here's my perspective on it. There is no universal preamp. Just like the speakers and amplifier, it's all a matter of system synergy. Make the best preamp in the world? That's pure marketing propaganda. It doesn't exist. What you'd need is some feature... (Eyes drift off somewhere into the distance. I wait.)
You see, there are two paths. You make a preamp that works with as many systems as possible. What you get is a jack-of-all-trades. Good at everything, great at nothing. Somewhere in the middle. Or, you specialize. Focus intensely. Now you design a preamp that will sound very very good in one type of system. But only in that kind of context. It will sound pretty poor in all others.
Or, there is a third possibility. You have some kind of adjusting feature that optimizes this preamp for whatever system it's in. And that usually goes against all of High-End's... (grasps for suitable word)
|Yeah, religion, exactly. You're expected to make a statement about what you think is the best. And how -- people immediately ask this -- how could you do that with a scattershot approach that hits many different targets at once? Which one of those targets is the right one? Doesn't that make all the others wrong? And then why did you bother including them?
You know, this is very provincial narrow-minded thinking. Nonetheless, there it is.
|I've been struggling with it, going back and forth between all these options. Do I shoot for one extreme? The middle? Or for an adjustable thing? Each solution would present different marketing problems. Making a statement preamp for my system is easy. But would it be the statement preamp for yours? Probably not. Commercially, this avenue of a limited-application statement product didn't look promising. So you see, the problem wasn't technical. It was conceptual.
But finally, just last week before I left for New York, I had this idea. (Grins smugly.) About a unique feature of adjustability that audiophiles would readily relate to. That would make immediate sense to them. I whipped up a quick prototype at Gordon's (Eduardo's BayArea friend who maintains a small cottage for him when he stays in the US). I used some cheap local parts.
|That has never restrained you yet, Eduardo.|
|Very true. The main magic's in the circuit. Lo and behold, this concept worked better than expected. It was instantly audible. Inserting this preamp into my system there and then at Gordon's, it was patently obvious that each required different settings to sound best. (Chuckles.) It smoked the two reference preamps we use as our standards. But that's the most I can say right now. We will introduce it at CES.|
|Bottles or sand in this one, Eduardo?|
|Well, I could make it either tube or solid-state. It doesn't really matter. Of course, most manufacturers of tube amplifiers would feel forced to introduce an accompanying tube preamp. I don't subscribe to that. I use use whatever technology is suited best for the job at hand. It gives me the freedom to really do unique work. For the moment, I haven't decided yet but, (with a truly mischievious twinkle in his eyes) there is a 50/50 chance it will be one or the other.|
|Spoken like a true politician, Eduardo. Do I sense you missed your true calling?|
|Using distortion to tell the truth? Many different truths? (Laughs.)
I can tell you about another new product. The Stereo 88. I've finalized it already. It's a single-chassis stereo version of the Model 88. It retains the adjustable bias. Now it should obviously be set the same for each channel. But you can still adjust it in parallel. I've changed the transformers some, first to be identical for each channel -- as you know, in the monoblocks, they're deliberately asymmetrical by a small amount -- and also to optimize the coordinates for the TimbreLoc (hands draw vertical and horizontal lines for the x and y axis respectively, then one finger points at the diagonal and slides up and down it).
With the 88s, you can change the angle of this diagonal between the coordinates of the x and y axis. Then you decide where on it you need to be for best results in your system. On the Stereo 88, I fix the angle of this diagonal along the preferred lines of adjustment with the transformers. However, you still get to move on it up and down by altering the bias current values.
I predict about 85-90% of the performance of the monos for the stereo version. 15 watts aside. Pricing will be below $6,500 US. I have high hopes for it. The finish, size, quality, packing - everything will be exactly as it is for the Model 88s. Only the transformers are different. And of course the way their taps are connected since we don't use the stacked ASTAT series array.
That makes the Stereo 88 a huge value. So this is what we'll introduce for next year, the Stereo 88 and preamp. True, there are many other things we want to develop, some of which I already have prototypes for. But going to market with a final, well-debugged product takes a lot longer than generating a fully functioning prototype. It's a very different game, making something with totally predictable, repeatable performance that's defect-free and very reliable over the long term.
You must perform all sorts of stress tests, heat/cold cycles to mimic the extreme temperature variations in cargo bays where product is held during transit (minus 30, minus 40 degrees!); humidity; different altitudes. It's a much longer road than coming up with the prototype. I want zero defects and stay that way. With tubes, that's an exceedingly hard thing to do - point-to-point wiring, it takes extreme attention to every aspect of soldering; the cleanliness of the parts; the temperature used; the time spent on each joint; the actual solder.
To go through all of that in a methodical fashion, account for everything in the best possible way - well, you know, you've seen it during your own time in manufacturing. I've been manufacturing things for a very long time, but this is - different. Jewel-like. The polar opposite of mass production. It requires a different approach. You investigate which parts of volume manufacture you can use to cut down time and expense, where you have to step out and do it the time-honored old-fashioned way - by hand, under controlled conditions, slowly and immaculately, one step at a time.
For example, I just purchased a shaker table. We can now expose our products to extreme vibration, at specific frequencies and amplitudes, to mimic transportation over rough roads, mishandling, impacts etc. Before the amps get packed up, I expose them on this shaker table to "rattle their cages" for a while and double-check that no connection comes apart. In our hand-crafted little corner of the industry, this kind of research and testing to optimize long-term reliabilty is rather new. We are committed to making everything we produce as reliable as humanly possible. When I select parts, it is as important to me how they sound as it is how reliable they are. That's the conditioning legacy of my prior extensive work in telecommunications. Things just cannot break.
Did you know that each monoblock uses 208 screws? And I'm not counting the parts that already come with screws. You can imagine how determining the optimum sequence to put everything together was quite a tour-de-force.
And now in closing, let me say that in Brazil, with the inflation in the past, you couldn't plan 6 months ahead. We've all been trained to react to the moment, quickly, decisively, to adjust all the time. There never was any way to know what was ahead. Since 1994/95, things have become more stable, but this training stays with me. It will never go away. I've been through it for 15 years. It keeps you on your toes, reacting to the market and its conditions on a dime, creating solutions that work and are appropriate.
|Jim Smith: I don't believe it. You mean to say that this new preamp of yours has its own version of TimbreLoc controls? And you don't need tubes for it to work? How is that possible?
Eduardo de Lima: Have I stirred you wrong yet, Jim? Just trust me on this one. It works. And nobody has anything like it. You'll be the first.
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