A META-GIZMOLOGICAL CONTEXT: THE ULTRA-LIGHT MOVEMENT
Because I was a gizmo-savant as a young man, at the end of the 1950s, I noticed the beginning of something new in the America decade which was based on YOU CAN'T GET TOO BIG ...the decade of the big fin Cadillac, the big hair do, and the 56 inch Jayne Mansfield mammary mountains. Lee Wulff started it in fishing by creating, with Orvis Fishing Rod Company, an ultra light 6 foot / 1 ounce fly road which he used for catching gigantic Atlantic salmon that were usually caught with 15 foot heavy duty fly rods. Then ultra light spin fishing happened. Ultra light cars from Europe, like the Beetle, started to become very major, as was a new thing called Ultra-Light aircraft.
From a meta-gizmological point of view all of these ultra-lightweight tools creates the advantage of (1) creating a more thrilling relationship to the pursuit, whether it is the wind or the trout or the road (3) creates a greater challenge of control and finesse; only a man of advanced skill and spirit would use these type of "vulnerable devices".(3) creates separation from the masses.
It may seem oblique to you but the rise of hunting with a bow and arrow is part of this shift of meta-gizmological intentionality to the more intimate. Do you say that sea kayaking is also part of this movement? Right you are.
Forty years latter there are thousands of companies that service the needs of men who have gotten off the "normal path" and are compelled by their advanced aesthetic sensibilities to use carbon fiber bicycle frames or titanium rods for their engine, or directly heated triode tubes, a custom made guitars. Beyond the "normal" demand is the world of the "non-normal" demand, and all of this demand is created by all of us aliens whose soul is no longer awakened by the common fare.
Who is the guy making the carbon fiber bike frame that cost $3,000? He is the gonzo biker who knows his brother's suffering. Who is the man who is hand crafting bamboo fly rods? He is the gonzo fisherman who deeply feels what men feel for trout. There are men who work at their art, and their art is who they are. Clearly my goal is to support this tribe a met-gizmosavants.
DAVID BERNING'S MIND IS A TUBE
Now you know why David Berning created the world first stereo push/pull Micro-ZOTL amplifier...that produces an enormous 1 watt per channel and can be powered with (1) its own switching power supply, (2) an external 10Volt regulated DC supply or(3) a battery...FOR $680.
Now stop, and print out these pages and take them into the potty, sit down and study. Study hard, because what I am describing is one of those rare and sublime work of audio arts that has the possibility of transcending the transcendent. This is another historic achievement because(1) It is an instant classic of thermionic groovosity; the kind of audio you must own, just because it represents a chunk of rare genius. I think all of David's products reaches this height, and the latest is taking me higher than forty pounds of mescaline sour cream dip slugged down with corn chips (2) If used properly this amplifier could be the beginning of a breakthrough in the common BI-WIRED SPEAKER TURDOSITY...and I am not sure how many speakers are properly designed for this application (3) Making the Lowther cult into Mainstream audio almost. If I were Tony Glynn, the importer of Lowther I would send David on a national speaking tour. If you love Lowthers, or you would like to explore them, here's the way to start. (4) The ultimate headphone amplifier for home use, and (5) a really cool device for picking up girls in a park (6) other exotic uses which I will describe at the end of this article.
I also believe that David, in a previous incarnation was Jewish. Why do I believe this? First: the price of Micro-Zotl is below wholesale, in the way that Jewish audiomaniacs, smelling a bargain will buy so many that our Christian, Muslim, and Agnostic bros' will have to wait years to get one...AND...I told David to raise the price to $1,500, and I think he will comply very soon. DO I HAVE TO HIT YOU OVER THE HEAD ABOUT WHAT TO DO?
Exactly at the time that there is a massive dumbing down in the audio arts, there is a wave of creativity and innovation that is shoving us, all up, to a new plateau.....and you can't find this wave on Main Street, because it is illegal to create any waves on Main Streams....which are supposed to orderly and calm.
My view is that all of the new directly heated triode tubes, the expanding creativity with all forms of audio output transformers, from plate chokes to OPTs is clearly connected to the work that David Berning is doing with his completely unique ZOTL amplifier circuit. The 4th Wave of Tube Consciousness is all about a new form of creativity search for higher subtly.
Am I biased about David's genius? He is one of my heroes, with a rare balance of design innovation, intelligence, good humor and daring that is hard to find in any human activity, but especially hard to find in the audio industry, who have so many who have died years ago, and forget to get buried. I am also proud of him because he is constantly taking risks without any "normal" marketing considerations. Like...Who really needs a 1 watt tube amplifier that has no output transformer...that is too cool for fools?
My praise of his HZ-70 and his ZOTL-SET sent a shock wave through those companies that make conventional OTL amplifiers, and rather than have a dialogue with David on his ideas, they tried to assassinate the messenger...me. Never happen. They considered me a blasphemer of the very tube amplifier genre I popularized...the OTL. This was a good thing because it forced me to speak more boldly about the right way to use OTL amplifiers.
Over time I realized that there was a problem with David's ZOTL amplifiers....they didn't look like Harley-Davidsons...or conventional amplifiers. They also have a completely unique personality, or as I like to say, "aroma", and this may cause you anxiety if you are used to the sound of transformer coupled amplifiers or conventional OTLs. Or to put it another way....every amplifiers has its own unique coloration, and Berning ZOTL, is a new aroma, and it will take time for music maniacs to warm to it.
After I wrote my review of the ZOTL for Positive-Feedback I also noticed an interesting and understandable reaction to David. When I normally talk to audio designers they love to chew the audio fat about anyone and any product. But when I mention David and his ZOTL circuit...silence, or ...."Oh, He is in another world"...end of conversation. David is too alien for normal earthling audio designers.
Call a spade a spade....everyone knows that Berning is the living incarnation of Albert Einstein, and his circuits intimidates almost everyone...and few have the technical skill to understand how they work. I, on the other hand, have enormous technical self-confidence, so what I do is take his patent papers and put a Playboy magazine in the center of these papers, so it looks like I am studying the circuit when I am really looking at Miss November. (This is a good technique to impress women who are impressed by men who are technical) Then when I am done studying I sit back, throw the switch to ON and get off on experiencing a major new work of audio art...even if it isn't still fully developed, which will take at least fifty years. That right...I believe David's new patent is just at the beginning of its development stage.
Right now, as I am writing this, I am listening to two ( shoe box size) Micro-Zotls in bi-amped mode on my Westminster Royals...that means I using four, one watt amplifiers...one watt on each channel...for 90% of the music I listen to I have enough power to cause ear damage...and I am looking at the big, beefy power output tube...and Wholey Smokes it is a 6SN7!!!!!
FLASHBACK: If you are hunting for truffles or exotic implementations of LESS IS MORE, you keep you ears open, and when almost two years ago Count Kron told me that his KR10, his dual triode driver tube on steroids, would make a great output tube. Yes, of course any tube, like the 6SN7, could be used as a micro output tube, because it has two triodes in the glass envelope. With a simple input/phase splitter this could make a very simple low powered push/pull amplifier. Jack Eliano of Eltra-Print and I talked about the same idea, and he told me about some ideas he had for just such an amplifier which would be perfect for Lowthers...and very simple....and could therefore have a very stiff power supply. The lower the power requirement of the power supply the easier it is to make it stiff.
Notice how almost all tube preamp designers use tight stiff power supplies but DO NOT use stiff power supplies on their tube amplifiers. QUESTION: HOW DOES A TUBE KNOW WHAT KIND OF CIRCUIT IT IS IN? If you have the answer email me and I will send you a free Triode Guild T-shirt.
FORWARD: Those of you who subscribe to Glass Audio know that David built the world's first tube powered digital watch. This is a major breakthrough because just as men are getting tired and fed up with those cheap ultra thin digital watches, David comes up with the concrescence of watch coolosity.
While most tube artisans think in terms of producing twenty or hundred pieces, David thinks in terms of tens of thousands and millions. Why not sell 50,000 tube powered digital watches? If they were massed produced you could buy them for $29, and what could be cooler than having a tube powered watch?
Or what about a tube powered Sony walkman? If you could make them for $69 what would happed to the music industry? If you could develop the patent, wouldn't Sony give you a zillion bucks for your patent? Probably NOT. But I am getting ahead of myself now, and will discuss how to use Micro-Zolt while you are roller skating in the park ( but really hunting for beaudacious babes).
Are you beginning to get a sense of David's expansive imagination...this is a man who thinks in very large pictures....and that makes him completely unique in the audio industry. Will David become the audio industry's first billionaire? I think the answer to the question is YES, and I am now going to share with you my experience of the MICRO-ZOLT....but before I do, I must reveal this:
I gave David the name ZOTL to use because it is the name for a new type of tube output stage that doesn't need and audio output transformer, and ZOTL, is the name of one of hero characters in my action adventure story SETMI, which you can read about on the SETMI site. And there is definite synchronicity between their spirits.
David called me almost a year ago and told me that he was considering making a micro powered version of ZOTL. According to David by using the 6SN7, as an output tube, he would get about 1.5 watts. I thought this was a very good idea, for the following reasons (1) supply the Lowther tribe with an affordable high quality ZOTL type amplifier (2) create the first portable tube powered "Sony Walkman" type system (3) create a novel solution for using an ZOTL amplifier with bi-wired speakers (4) Create the heart of a great table radio.
Now stop and consider this: It is common knowledge that if a tube amplifier is not pumping out 100 watts it will have no appeal to the masses...and this is true. So why does David devote himself to a 1 watt amplifier?
For the same reason that a dog licks itself in unspeakable disgusting, but ultimately pleasureful places. It is the same reason that David created the world's first single-ended ZOTL circuit, after he created the push/pull version....he had no choice. This is the meta-gizmological imperative; the need in artistic men to shred the perimeter of their art. David doesn't need to play in the high horse power play pen, because it no longer challenges him. Is it easier for you to think of David as Beethoven, who is scratching his butt and wondering what to do after finishing the 7th Symphony.
And do not underestimate the artistic vanity of the artist. Micro-Zotl is the right thing to do. David should show off, in the same way that Michaelangelo needed to show off. It is clear that with each and every product, David is pushing the boundaries a little further. My take on this process, is that David loves to experiment with this current (circuit) love of his life, and like every truly Wholey Polygamist he is discovering multiple modalities of expressions...You may recognize this impulse when it appears on a much lower level of consciousness, as a question you ask over and over, within your head: How many different ways can I make her come? Artists are horny to make the public come...in new ways.
And please pass me the envelop so I can announce the winner of the BEST SOUNDING ONE WATT UNDER $700 AMPLIFIER AWARD. Thank you Vanna. The winner is David Berning...who now runs up to the stage and recites his thank you speech with great difficulties because he is so emotional and filled with tears.
LET US START WITH THE NOT
Let me tell you what Micro-Zotl is not:
1. It is not powerful
2. It does not sound like a directly heated triode single-ended circuit
3. It is not big, it is the size of a shoe box
4. It does not have the same output stage as its bigger brothers; there is an output coupling cap, so it does not have the ultimate transparency of the larger and more expensive ZOTLs
5. It is not black, it is blue
6. It does not have the aural discombobularity of push/pull amplifiers
7. It does not heat your room
8. It does not use expensive output tubes
9. It does not work with inefficient speakers
LET ME TELL YOU WHAT MICRO-ZOLT IS THE BEST SOUNDING HEADPHONE AMP I HAVE HEARD TO DATE: I am one of the few Blessed Ones who had a chance to experience the Julius Futterman OTL Headphone amplifier which is a very rara avis, that Julius made in the 1970s for the Stax Headphones. This was another one of Julius's historic achievements..the first OTL headphone amp for electrostatic headphones. The world is waking up to tube headphones and especially OTL types because (1) tubes sound better (3) if you live in an apartment it may be the only way to [musically] blow your mind.
So getting down to the nitty gritty: How good is this headphone amplifier? After listening to it I called up John Grado and enlisted him in a project to design headphones just for Micro-Zotl.
Let's keep on going down this path because Micro-Zotl is, as a headphone amplifier, one of the best design tools a serious tube artisan can employ in his work. I have written about this subject before: anyone who is designing audio electronics and doesn't have a reference headphone amplifier is dumber than dumb. But there is a good reason why so few designers use them...IT IS AUDIO EGO INTIMIDATION. No device will more quickly reveal the essential flaws in all audio equipment...and that is from cables to loudspeakers...if you know how to use them.
Let us not dwell on what Micro-Zotl can't do, but think about expanding the experiential possibilities, and I suggest with the new Grado design and Micro-Zotl a new musical facet of ecstasy will emerge in your life. This is about the deep space probe of musical innerosity.
HEALING SPEAKER TURDOSITY: Sorry that I have to take on the role of "Red Hot Chili Pepper Up Your Butt", but bi-wiring is a charming yet feeble attempt at fixing a fundamental dilemma with passive crossovers. As you know a much better way is to use two amplifiers, but that becomes horribly expensive for most. IF YOU PAY ATTENTION TO THIS CAVEAT...the MICRO-ZOTL may be your dream come true. IF YOUR MIDRANGE AND TWEETER CAN BE DRIVEN TO ACCEPTABLE LEVELS WITH THE MICRO-ZOTL USED IT IN THE BI-AMP MODE, and that means that the gain of your woofer amp must be high. Firstly, the Micro-Zotl is much better above 600 Hz than below because it is only one watt. The Micro-Zotl has low over all gain because it is so low powered, but if you can adjust your bass amp so that it matches the level of Micro-Zotl you are in for a major big thrill...like eating pizza, getting a valve and ring job, watching an NFL game, all at the same time while you are on the potty. This will be your introduction to Triode Heaven.
For my very serious directly heated triode brothers of the single-ended kind...Micro-Zolt blends beautifully with DHTs, and if you are using a 2A3, 300B or any other variation...try Micro-Zotl on your midrange or tweeter...you will be amazed.
BUT AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN...I AM NOT CERTAIN THAT YOUR SPEAKER SYSTEM WILL WORK WITH MICRO-ZOLT
RIGHTEOUS PUSH/PULL: Who is the genius that said LESS IS MORE? Next to the Sun Audio amps these are the best push/pull amplifiers I have ever heard because they don't sound like push/pull amps with their high dosage of aural discombobularity that is directly related to (1) phase splitter (2) complexity (3) OPT design and power supply limitations. Wouldn't it be grand to live in a world where a higher powered amplifier could have the refinement of smaller amplifiers? Not in this life time. What is the meaning of all this? What the world needs is more low-powered push/pull amplifiers that will meet the aesthetic standards of the single-ended tribe.
The Lowther cult should be shouting in joy because there are advantages in push/pull when it is done right...like here. Micro-Zolt may be the single best thing that ever happened to Lowthers because David's impedance matching may heal the Lowther's weirdosity in the low end because of the inherent strangeness of single-ended OPTs. I await the Lowther clan's response. At $680 there is nothing close to this refinement in simple and stiff.
QUIET: This little mother is quiet, meaning no noise, because David uses high frequency switching power supplies for the filaments too. This is especially enjoyable when listening on headphones which have the capacity to reveal all background grunge and glory...when there is a very low noise floor.
TUNEABLE: ALMOST: When you change power supplies you change, every so slightly the tone of the amplifier. But the big change occurs when you change the tubes that are stock which are just dumb old new Russian 6SN7s, and 12AT7. Go crazy with NOS tubes.
WARNING: WHAT FOLLOWS IS NOT FOR AUDIOPHILES BUT FOR LIVING MEN
THE BEST WAY TO PICK UP BEAUDACIOUS BABES IN THE PARK: If you are 98 pound weakling don't bother to read this section because you have to be in shape to take advantage of this section.
Let start by being honest: Most of you want to pick up beaudacious babes and have really raunchy sex without any emotional attachments, and this isn't easy because there competition is fierce. How can you effectively compete. Here's how to use Micro-Zotl. Assuming that you are in shape, you have to get a good strong back pack to carry a large 12 volt battery. It doesn't have to be a large car battery. It can be a lawn mower battery. You will build a carrying case for the Micro-Zotl so that it is strapped across your chest. The batter is your power pack and you can now plug your portable CD player into Micro-Zotl and plug in your headphones. You now are ready for your hunt. Try to picture how you will look. Now is the one missing piece that will make all the difference in the world. You have to get a hat that has a propeller on top than will turn in the wind.
While I suggest that this picture will be more dynamic if you are on roller skates, there is nothing wrong with just walking around. As you approach a beaudacious babe, all that you have to do is say...as you hand her the headphones..."Searching for Musical Ecstasy?". That's it. And remember always use a condom...which is just like listening to speakers with passive crossovers.
BEST CAR AUDIO AMPLIFIER IN THE WORLD?: You have never heard a really cool audio system, including all the crap you see in car audio magazines, until you listen to a set of Altec 604's installed in the rear compartment, and powered by a Micro-Zotl, which can run off your car's electrical system as long as a 12 volt regulator is installed, which is very easy to do and David will give you the diagram on how to do it. Of course Micro-Zolt will power the Lowther Drivers you put in your car. What could be cooler than having an OTL car amp? The answer is...nothing.
WANT A CHEAP OTL THRILL?: As I said this little mutha doesn't sound like a classic OTL, or like David's bigger and more expensive amplifier, but it does have an OTL personality, and there is no other way to experience that thrill at such a low price.
SO WHAT DO TUBE DOGS DO?
So I started to scratch for my bone in my tube drawer and took out my collection of NOS 6SN7s and 12AT7s (that I had from New York Audio Days) and I did what every good tube dog does, I swapped from the standard tubes that supplied with the Micro-Zotl and I demonstrated once again why NOS tubes can give us a boner. Do it. Spend the money and buy a selection of the good old stuff and take Micro-Zotl much higher.
I haven't had time yet to experiment with battery power supplies but you know my feelings about them and I will let you know as soon as I get into them.
I am now finished with my rave. God Bless and God speed.