PS AUDIO: Turning a fatiguing solid state preamp into a warm tube-like device

Paul McGowan writes

Recently I gave an example of how the addition of two one cent resistors turned a fatiguing solid state preamp into a warm tube-like device.  Two resistors!  That’s not much but to figure out where/how these would do the trick took nearly a year of work.  Granted that year of work was also an education for two young aspiring audio designers and, as such, was invaluable to us in later life; where we can pretty much figure out what’s wrong in the circuit by simply listening and understanding how it works.  Getting to that point can (and did) take many years.

During the early 70′s solid state audio products were just coming into their own and the idea of listener fatigue was really something only a few of us even thought about – it certainly wasn’t something universally accepted in the magazines and culture of the day.  The next decade, however, brought the term listener fatigue into view in a big way with the introduction of the CD – that introduction causing a tremendous backlash by the high end community – and listener fatigue was its straw man or, as the Brits like to say, Aunt Sally.

To really visualize what happened to the high end community when the CD was introduced, you have to get a clear picture of this moment of upheaval and change; and change is tough for most Audiophiles, certainly tough on our industry.

During the 70′s, the decade before the introduction of the CD and digital audio, the debate between the tube and solid state camps was raging hot and heavy – much of it still alive and well even today – but at least today we can suggest both camps are valid.  Back then, if you listened to or supported solid state electronics you risked not only ridicule but the possibility of “banishment” from some of the magazines who believed the transistor was the work of the devil, come to destroy our musical pleasures.  While I am exaggerating, of course, I am not kidding with respect to some of the hard feelings and fears of the time.

To those of us who believed in solid state it was like living in the times of the Crusades and you had to tread lightly if you were to survive as a company; and tread lightly we did.

Those were the times and the debates that were rampant in our industry at the end of the 70′s and the beginning of the 80′s.  No sooner had solid state started to be accepted, even if just a little, when out of the blue and down from the hills came the Mongol hordes in the form of Sony and Phillips who not only were solid state, but digital!  I am sure if it were possible the executives of these two electronics giants would have been burned at the stake as heretics out to destroy music.  Again, exaggerating but ……

I remember that during this time there were numerous tests made where listeners were shown to actually get physically weaker after listening to music played on a CD – some testers put pressure on the outstretched arm of a listener before and then after listening to a CD showing the “damage” done by the CD.

I’ll be the first to admit that many of the original CD transports and players were simply dreadful sounding – of that there’s no question.  I bring all this to your attention because to my memory, this is the period where many of us first became aware of the term listener fatigue.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you what we did to fix the some of the listener fatigue associated with CD’s.

Paul McGowan

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