Saturday, 25 February 2017

Lessons of History – Japanese Achievements

Hello to everybody reading on,

today I would like to respond to a rare experience with seldom seen tube audio equipment from a japanese manufacturer. Here in Europe it is normally impossible to evaluate different handmade japanese audio products, which were made over there within the last 40 years for a highly exclusive market of experts. Ken Shindo's line of products is quite well known in Germany (i.e Central Europe) since the care of Auditorium 23/Keith Aschenbrenner and his introduction about more than 25 years ago has Shindo established as a top line of tube amplifiers. Major other products are hardly seen outside Asia, a known problem derivating from culturel differences in language and scripture. So even today, 20 years of information blow out through the internet, our knowledge about different audio brands in Japan has been improved only a little. But to own personal experiences with such handmade products is still almost impossible.
I got the rare chance to evaluate a complete set of products from the Japanese manufacturer P&C, i.e. a so called pair of PP 50 power amps and their dedicated preamp together with P&C-version of the legendary WE 618B step up transformer.

P&C 50 PP mono amplifiers based on WE 86 B amps, here with EML 300B mesh anode tubes and
a pair of type 27 triodes as two step amplifier stage (1. shielded) interstage transformer coupled in
combination with a pair 5U4 rectifiers forming a bridge in gray hammerite paint.

P&C amp is a audio business, which was found in Tokyo 30 years ago, in the days when the reinvention of historical tube audio culture was main topic there. Toshiaki Kurashima started a main business with the rewinding of original Western Electric cores of the 1930ties from junk telephone equipment. Made with their original winding instructions for audio use in order to find sources for modern build amplifiers on the tradition and superiority of famous vintage Western Electric designs. Through the years he managed to replikate all major magnetic coil components like output-, input-, stepup- and power-transformers in order to rebuilt a wide range of vintage WE-amplifier designs. On top he completes this range of original designs with modernized and and variied own types of amps with similiar topologies and a wide varity vintage tubes. Some people might remember my article about the Hong Kong based Mr. Wu, who is doing a very similar business with some main designs from Western Electric over there. We do learn that in Eastern Asia some people highly prefer old vintage iron cores about modern recipies of manufacture, like glassmetal or other armorph core materials. The published arguments are always the superior naturallity and coherence as quality argument, which never got matched by more superficial contemporary materials.
My first impression of the build mechanical quality of these amps is just amazing. Their physical size, their weight and their appearance is a top notch product – Bentley quality in tube amplifier terms. All switches and contacts are massive and solid made, plated to highest standards. All knobs, stepped switches and attenuattors are highest quality Seiden switches. The incorporated parts like resistors and capacitors is the best possible vintage range, like 2-3 watts Allen Bradley carbon comb resistors, together with vintage Sprague PIO caps and Mallory sealed electrolytics. All these parts are hard to find in NOS qualities today. The sheet metal used for the enclosures is more than solid, 2,5 mm carbon sheet steel ist used throughout. One of the mono amps weights a good 25 kg at a size of 50x30x25cm. Two of them need real space, the preamp is a monster with another 50x15cm front plate and good 40 cm enclosure depths. Before you start to listen you may need to find longer interconnects to get proper connections in between.

P&C preamp

Some might argument the preamp is ugly, but some can as well say it is shining in a foremost technical intended appearence and renounces any sort of decorativeness, which is common with other more commercial distributed audio equipment, like golden knobs or shiny face plates. Inside the P&C's a almost professional finalisation of hardware is shown, only known from vintage studio amps. Such a modular design offers a wide option of combinations, here you see three functions: first a power supply module with tube rectifier and C-R-C-filtering, second line amplifier module with two WE 396 tubes, transformer coupled with vintage Triad output transformers to 600 Z output impedance.
The phono stage is a two step R-C-Riaa design module, based on triode connected WE 403A tubes. The output stage here is as well transformer coupled to the line stage. Such a topology with output transformers coupling is generally rarely realized topology for audio components and foremostly again found in professional studio equipment of the tube age. Today seen as another rare delicassy, this preamp features sound shaping components, very different realized comparing classic variable R-C-filter designs known from consumer audio components, which always degrade the sound quality. Here the potentiometer acts as a variable resistor in the feedback loop, so the sound can be opened up in scale, resolution and presence by adjusting the pot. Additionally it features a certain potentiometer to adjust a low frequency boost. Both options feature a rare luxury to adjust the general sound shape to individual preferences or to match room dispositions.

Modular design, all stages transformer coupled with vintage Triad OPTs, all tubes vintae WE types

This preamp sounds very lush, easy and with a bit of tenderness, but without compromizing any detailed information nor forgetting to keep the timing aspects in a naturally embedded flow. The general sound is extremely gentle and noble, maybe a typical japanese attitude and so it makes the listening to any sort of music program material to a luxury event of restrained purity, similar to the taste of freshest cut yellowfin tuna fish for the traditional sushi event. Unfortunatly this preamp is not any longer made, since its vintage components are out of stock. But P&C offers other unique models, one is equipped with in Japan famous LCR-RIAA module, of course based on a WE-design featuring vintage WE-iron for the important inductor coils!

Coming to the pair of 300b PP mono blocks. My first impression of their sound was quite unexcepted. I did expect a warm and detailed typical 300b-tube-sound. In push-pull configuration these little monsters should power a good 15 watts output and such energy should be able to drive any vintage efficient loudspeaker, so my 15 ohm Tannoys should find a perfect matching partner. These amps are able to drive even less sensitve speakers than mine pefectly, they show up with a very distinct rounded soundstage with a absolute main intention into the warmer side of the tonal spectrum. This particular topology seem to be aimed to optimize drivability. But this impression has to be seen together with the used type of 300B tubes, I did listen to Emmission Labs 300B Mesh's. Other tubes might change the sound texture of these amps totally, since the design is completely build on transformer coupling, one option to keep capacitor degrading influences as low as possible. Otherwise these amps might be adjusted to a the range of vintage Altec products, to keep their sometimes over prominent performance in presence back into control. From P&C's web side it is known that vintage Altec speakers are used in their workshop for all sorts of evaluation processes. Neverless these amps perform well with a clear overall refinement in their music representation, which is hardly found in more typical to western worl taste tuned american commercial tube equipment. These amps feature all the goodies from the historical Western Electric range, here the transformer range of the WE86B push pull version of their 300B amps. Reedited output- , interstage- , input- and power- transformer, together with choke, rewound on original vintage Western Electric cores, make this amps a rare and unique option in the global range of 300b-tube amplifiers. These powerfull amps are a perfect solution for those who are looking for more control than the typical WE 91A single ended amps are able to deliver and do prefer some more lower and upper bass energy than its historic role model. P&C does recommend modern made Emission Lab tubes for those who don't be able to run the value of a medium sized car for daily service in audio with vintage Western Electric tubes. The EML 300b's Mesh are some of the best modern replacements for the crazy priced vintage originals, I personally like them better than any Asian make.

As a exceptional delicassy some of the vintage transformers from Western Electric are sold for sky rocketing prices.  So the input devices WE618A/B/C/Ds are the most expensive input transformer range used for moving coil step upt. The WE618B with a ratio of 1:20 is a ideal step up transformer for the popular Ortofon SPU's and similar cartridges. Originals are sold for 5000 to 10000 $ per piece and chanel, due to their rarity with no limmits in comming future. So it did make sense even some decades ago to find other ways to get hold of a pair of this particular design. P&C did find out about the used core materials, original winding instructions and evaluated expertise to find the right cores in other vintage components. Mainly old telephone equipment from Bell Laboraties did use the same core packets with other winding schemes. For example the WE 111 splitting line transformer incorporated the same iron core like the WE618. These cores rewound to the exact winding scheme of the vintage WE618-types gives ways for modern samples of the hard to find originals. Now I had a first chance to listen to one of these replicas made from P&C in my own chain.

P&C version of the legendary input transformer, used as step up transformer for moving coil cartridges

The replica sounds amazing in several terms. With a exceptional ease and flow this step up transformer represents the tonal attitudes and a wide spectrum of the Ortofon SPU to the ear. A certain stage of refinement in flow and delicate resolution, most other step up transformers hardly can match, make forgetting the process of tracking a vinyl groove. A naturalness of refinement make it exceptional easy to follow the internal energy of musical intention. At the freqency ends it is loosing little bits of energy comparing amorph cored competitors, but its exceptional homogenous presentation of the main frequencies is its beating counter argument. It declares the most other products to a second rated choice and it is operating absolutely hum free. Only a few rare step up transformers will be able to keep competition with this little wonder. Based in MU-metal cases and equipped with sturdy RCA-contacts, this device is a real option for those using SPUs, all other moving coils cards may need to look for the brother 618A with differenet step up ratio. With around 1.5 K$ cost in Japan both transformers are still in the payable range ...

The P&C components which I could inspect and listen to, are so well made that they seem to offer a lifetime value of perfect service with exceptional musicality. Their sturdyness and physical presence is without equal, you just need some tubes fom decade to decade. Make sure to have enough in stock.

Read on soon,