VALVE Magazine 1994-1999 Archived Online

Image Source (n.b.: clicking link will initiate PDF download)

The Bottlehead Company is a long-running fixture of the DIY tube audio world.  If you’ve spent any amount of time Googling-about for tube-audio related themes you have probably come across their forum, or mention of their products in some other forum.  Bottlehead’s primary businesses seem to be some fairly inventive, reasonably priced tube audio kits (they also build a bespoke tube phono preamp and tape-head preamp, which is a pretty cool idea for a useful if niche pro-audio product) and “The Tape Project,” which is a series of $300 reissues of classic-and-audiophile albums released on 1/4″ 15 IPS analog audio tape.  15 IPS 1/4″ analog audio tape was a standard recording-studio master format for decades so this makes a lot of sense…  and if anyone thinks that $300 seems like a lot of money for an album reissue, all I can say is:  you probably haven’t spent much time dealing with the business-affairs folks at a major label.  There is a lot, a LOT of work involved with bringing a low-numbers reissue of, say, a Credence Clearwater Revival album to market,,,  and triple that if you actually need access to an original stereo mix master.  I cannot even imagine how much effort must have gone into this.

Anyways… suffice to say… these seem like passionate people with a real dedication to music, audio and the technologies used to bring it to life.  In the 1990s Bottlehead published a fanzine called “VALVE.”  They have very generously made it available for free download, in good quality, at their website.  Visit this link to download any or all of the dozens of issues on offer.   If you are frequent reader of PS dot com, and especially if you were interested in checking out Sound Practices Zine archive disc (but reluctant to spend the $30…), I have no doubt you will enjoy VALVE.

Christmas 2011

Despite the hectic nature of the holiday-season, I am inevitably able to produce one piece each year as a gift for some person or persons near+dear to me.  This year’s recipient of the prize-winning entry in Connecticut’s Got Free Time! will receive this charming set.

I’d been thinking a bit about V. Gallo’s comment in Sound Practices #1…  see the previous post for the full details…  basically, the idea that ‘good hi-fi should sound like the best radio you’ve ever heard’ (as opposed to some supposed verisimilitude to an actual acoustic event).  Well, here’s an attempt at the best-sounding radio you’ve ever heard.   At the front end, two RCA inputs mix via fixed resistors to a single 100K pot, and then onto the grid of the voltage amplifer stage (6J5, the ‘single’ triode iteration of the more common 6SN7); this feeds one 6V6 via a gigantic paper coupling cap; in the power supply, a 5Y3 rectifier and R/C filtering with large (50uf) caps and an extra filtering stage before the output transformer for a n extremely quiet, stable signal.  The circuit is very similar to what you would find on the back-end of most transformer-mains-isolated AM/FM tube radios of the 40s and 50s.

The speaker is a 1950’s extension speaker, maker unknown; it has extremely nice finish work and detail; it is unusual in that both the front and back of the enclosure are open via grille clothe, creating a ‘bright’ and ‘dull’ side; position the speaker as-you-like for a very unconventional tone control!

The cabinet is 1×3 solid cherry with internal bracing.  Keeping with the ‘best-radio’ theme, the tubes, transformers, and brown Bakelite sockets are pulls from various Ancient Radios that have wandered into the shop over the years.  And yea it sounds great…


Sound Practices Zine Archive Available on CDR

I was checking out this bro’s blog (or bros’ blog? lots of chick pics) recently and I came across an endorsement of the PDF version of Sound Practices magazine.  I had never seen an actual issue of Sound Practices (it ceased publication a couple of years before I built my first tube amp), but I had read a few articles that had been put online, and I had encountered much discussion of it in various online chat groups.  Seemed worth taking a look at.  I purchased a $30 (delivered) CDR containing all sixteen issues as a giant PDF from eBay seller n5Kat.  Not cheap, but all this scanning does take some time, plus the PDF has some useful navigation features built in.

Anyhow…  it arrived and $30 well spent.  You can see a list of some of the various articles contained within at this link.   Sound Practices is aimed squarely at enthusiasts of vintage hi-fi, experiementers, and hobbyist builders, rather than the much more electrical-engineering-oriented Audio Amateur/Audio Electronics, another publication from the same period which frankly tends to confuse me half the time.  Let’s put it this way,,,  there’s not a lot of math in Sound Practices.

So what’s the point.  If you’ve read this far in this post, you are likely one of my regular readers, and if you managed to make it back several times to this fairly niche website, I am pretty sure you would dig Sound Practices.  Still available for $30, world-wide shipping included, on eBay.

On a closing note… an unexpected bonus for me was discovering that one of my favorite writers on the subject of vintage audio-gear was a regular contributor.  I refer to one Vincent Gallo.   I’ll end with a bit from his first piece in the zine, surprisingly free from the (albeit hilarious) hostility that usually marks his writing:  what follows truly gets to the heart of why-antique-audio-equipment-matters, as well as a fundamental relationship between sound on the one hand and audio on the other:

Original EMI-modified Altec compressor on eBay: UPDATE

image source

NOTE: the above unit eventually did sell on eBay for $35,000.  See below for scan…

Here’s something that you don’t see everyday.  Courtesy of this eBay auction, an apparently original EMI-modified Altec 436B.  Buy it now for $55,000 (fifty-five-thousand) US dollars.   If this price seems absurd (and it surely is optimistic at best),  I will point out that the seller claims (and he/she may very well  be correct) that this particular unit was in fact used on numerous Beatles recordings.  The particular quality of its compression, pumping, and mild distortion were integral to creating the vocal and drum sounds of the most widely-heard and widely-copied pop/rock recorded sounds in the entire history of sound recording.   Add to that likely provenance the fact that only a handful of these units were ever made and you have a very unique piece of audio history on the block.

image source

Here’s a shot of the rear of the unit.  A few things worth noting: the JJ multicap (above the blue LCR cap) is of recent manufacture, indicating recent servicing.  The lineup of three tubes and only two audio transformers indicates that this unit began its life as a 436(x) compressor, not a 438(x) mic pre/compressor.  The mains transformer (far left) was necessarily replaced to facilitate easier use in a 220v country.  My biggest question (and please, readers, fill me in… ) is:  what is that unit above the 6AL5 tube?  Is it a 2nd output transformer to allow of use of a T-pad attenuator on the output while retaining output balance (IE., the T-pad would go between the two transformers)?

image source

Getting back to the front panel, we see evidence of the modifications that EMI made in order to make the 436B more useful in the studio.  From left to right: a ‘balance’ push-button switch (not sure what this is, but i image it might have something to do with balancing the vari-mu action of the two halves of the gain-reduction tube?  not sure how a pushbutton switch would be implemented there?). Next, a ‘recovery’ or ‘release’ control (self explanatory), then factory ‘input’ attenuator control, and to the right of the meter an output attenuator.

Anyway…those of you who have been following PS dot com for a while will know that I have a tremendous interest in these Altec compressors; I have restored them, modified them, scratch-built them, and use one regularly in the studio.   Here’s some links to catch up:

History of the Altec 43(x) compressor and its relation to the EMI RS 124

Adding a balanced output attenuator to an Altec compressor

Modifying an Altec 438a compressor to gain many of the EMI RS124 features




Above: The BRDCSTR, a two-stage vacuum-tube microphone preamp inspired by classic 1940s broadcast audio preamps.  Single-ended design with a 6SJ7 and 6J7 tubes, massive output transformer, and only one capacitor in the signal path.  I have built more of these than any other design; people really seem to respond to the sound.  It’s pretty much the least ‘stuff’ that you can put between a microphone and your A/D convertor.  All the attitude of ancient tube studio equipment without the hum and the noise, and with much better frequency response.

New Live Radio Show Available to Stream Now: WPKN 89.5 FM 12.8.11

Last Thursday I put together an impromptu 200-minute, all-vinyl drive-time set for WPKN.  No real theme for this set; just yr basic ‘it’s 1973, feeling hazy and fatalistic’ kinda mood.

Stream the show in high quality at:

Gene Clark: 1975
Country Joe And the Fish: She’s a Bird
David Crosby: what are their names
Moby Grape: I am not willing
The Dead Boys: ain’t it fun

Wizards from Kansas: high flying bird
John Entwhistle: You’re mine
Graham Nash: Better Days
Tommy James: nothing to hide

Smith: baby it’s you
Rod Stewart: Losing you
Dr John: Black Widow Spider
The Small Faces: Tin Soldier
Bob Seeger: Ramblin Gamblin Man
Tommy James; Christian of the world

Leon Russell: Stranger in a strange land
Captain Beefheart: happy love song
T Rex: the slider
Johnny Thunders: can’t put your arms around a memory
Cochise: back home

Nina Simone: to love somebody
Slade: Gudbuy T’Jane
Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose: treat her like a lady
Laura Lee: wedlock is a padlock

Patti Smith: free money
Cat Mother: The last thing that I do
Tranquility: where you are
Man: out of your head

Lake: on the run
Emmit Rhodes: ‘really wanted you’
Dwight Twilley: i’m on fire
Spooky Tooth: I am the walrus

The Kinks: Shangri La
T Rex: broken hearted blues
The Shocking Blue: california here I come
Genesis: back in N. Y.C.
Tommy Johnson: canned heat blues

Astatic Microphones 1964

Download the complete eight-page 1964 ASTATIC microphone and phono cartridge catalog:

DOWNLOAD: Astatic_1964_catalog

Models covered, with text, specs, and photos, include:  hundreds of phonograph cartridges and needles; Astatic microphones model 332, 22, 225H, 335L, 77, 77-L, 788 ‘Metro’, 888 ‘Tempo,’ 988 ‘Vogue,’ Astatic 331,DN-50, UG8-DN50, JT-30, D-104, 513H, 511, 531, 150, 151, 10M5A, L-1, T-3, and 551 microphones.

Astatic was mostly known for communications mics, aka., voice frequency mics, aka, mics that were intended to accentuate the 300hz-3000hz frequency band.

See this previous post for earlier ASTATIC mic coverage.


Above, the ASTATIC 788, 888, and 988 studio mics, aka the “Metro,” Tempo,” and “Vogue.”  The 988 was the top-of-the-line and boasted impressive specs.  I have never come across one of these.  Anyone?

Above, the various ‘heads’ that were available to mount on the ASTATIC ‘squeeze-to-talk’ base unit.  See here for details

Live DJ set this Thursday December 8

This Thursday 12.8.11 I’ll be doing a live set at The Outer Space in Hamden CT.  The Outer Space is the 21+ venue operated in conjunction with Hamden’s legendary “The Space.”

I’m appearing as part of BDUB’s Sway night.  I’ll be on around 830.   This will be strictly a vinyl-only affair… no surprises there.  Have a beer or four as i dig into the best of 2o years spent searching for the secret gems of Nixon-Era rocknroll…  for a preview you can check out my two recent appearances on WPKN FM.  Listen here and here…  and check this link for some recent mixtapes...

The Outer Space:  295 Treadwell Street, Hamden CT: Thurs Dec 8 2011

UPDATED: So You Want A Good Cheap Ribbon Mic: Upgrading the $69.99 MXL R40

UPDATE: since this article seems to get an enormous number of pageviews, I thought I should mention that we did in fact carry-out the intended shoot-out of the mod’d R40 versus a range of other similar ribbons (with a Royer R121 as the ‘control’ sample.  CLICK HERE to listen to some apples-to-apples action.

I love the sound of ribbon mics.  Friends and clients will often ask me why, or ‘what’s the difference’ (b/w a ribbon and other forms of mics) and I generally reply that good ribbon mics seem, to my ears/brain, to reproduce sound in a way that more closely resembles the actual event.  To my ears, a good condenser like my U87 or U47 FET sound fantastic – more spectacular than the actual sonic event, in many cases – and a good dynamic mic like a 441 or an SM7 can really improve the sound of an electric guitar speaker – but there are ways that they do seem distorted, especially on material with complex, aggressive high-frequency content, such as cymbals played with a heavy touch.  Ribbon mics also seem to respond better to additive EQ, and on bass instruments they also seem to create the impression of bigger, fuller bass without actually taking up as many DBs in the mix as you might expect.  Anyhow, I keep writing ‘seem’ because all of this is, necessarily, subjective.  That being said, these are opinions that more and more recordists and musicians have come to share since ribbon mics came back into vogue a decade or so ago.


Continue reading UPDATED: So You Want A Good Cheap Ribbon Mic: Upgrading the $69.99 MXL R40

Holiday 2011 Mixtape

It’s that time again…  another mixtape fresh off the deck at PS dot com.  Twenty tracks transferred off LP records I’ve dug up the past four months from the basements, garages, attics and flea markets of Southern Connecticut.  Transferred to digital via my trusty Apogee A/D convertor… by way of a seventies Sansui integrated and a Shure 91 cartridge.  I found a pair of mint Shure 91s at an estate sale recently (the house had – no exaggeration- ten to twenty thousand records piled up in it) for a few bucks…  my lord these carts sound so, so much better than the Benz Micro that I paid $240 for two years ago (I bought it on Stereophile‘s reco, and it ain’t bad…but…). Anyways.  My new cartridge recommendation.  Shure 91.  Here’s the mixtape:

1. “We’ll have a real good time” Cat Mother.   Last Chance Dance, Polydor.

2. “Happy Love Song” Captain Beefheart. Unconditionally Guaranteed, Mercury.

3. “Me About You” The Lovin’ Spoonful.  Revelation: Revolution ’69, Kama Sutra

4. “Step Away” Don Cooper. What You Feel Is How You Grow, Roulette.

5. “I’ll Be There, I Still Care” Leroy Hutson.  Love Oh Love, Curtom/Buddah.

6. “Jackie Blue” The Ozark Mountain Daredevils.  It’ll Shine When It Shines, A&M.

7. “Looking For Jesus” Clive Sarstedt.  S/T, RCA.

8. “Back In N.Y.C.” Genesis.  The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, ATCO.

9. “Black Widow Spider” Dr. John. Babylon, ATCO.

10. “Give it up or turn it loose” Dick Hyman.  The Age Of Electronicus, Command/ABC.

11. “Did You Know” Jake Holmes.  The Above Ground Sound Of Jake Holmes.  Tower/Capitol.

12. “Mary’s Garden” John Roman Jackson. S/T, OAK Records.

13. “Sittin In Circles” The Barry Goldberg Reunion. S/T, Buddah.

14. “Ode To A Tin Angel” Hearts and Flowers.  Of Horses-Kids-And Forgotten Women, Capitol.

15. “Organ Blues” Tyrannosaurus Rex. A Beard Of Stars, Blue Thumb Records.

16. “All Around Man” Bo Carter.  Blues Roots Mississippi, RBF 14.  Originally released on Bluebird Records 1931.

17. “Cat’s Squirrel” Jethro Tull. This Was, Chrysalis.

18. “Dark Is The Night” Tommy James.  My Head, My Bed & My Red Guitar, Roulette.

19. “Stallion” Kris Kristofferson.  Who’s To Bless And Who’s To Blame.  Monument.

20. “The Last Thing That I Do” Cat Mother.  Last Chance Dance, Polydor.

Follow the link below for full track details, links to listen, and more of the best album images of all time…

Continue reading Holiday 2011 Mixtape