The amp is back! Joseph Levy of Tempo Electric delivered it on Sunday. Nice to see the amp and Joe, but the amp had to sit at room temperature for two hours before we could power it up (condensation from warming could cause a short). Sadly, Joe left before we had our first listen. The waiting was made easier when we were invited to watch football with our neighbors.
After the game (go Giants!), I rushed home and fired it up. It made lovely sounds for five minutes. Then the right channel dropped. Left was fine, but no sound from the right. The amp had been away four and a half months. Joe is a pro and had thoroughly tested his work. To imagine it could misbehave within minutes of turning it on was so far from cool that I couldn’t make sense of it. I wasn’t angry or panicked. I was numb.
Luckily my friend was visiting from Portland. Joe thought the amp would be done months earlier, but delays cropped up and accrued until the thing showed up in the middle of a three day visit from one of the few people in my life that would really appreciate it (and be able to sort out the crisis). Spooky and wonderful coincidence.
Not only is my friend wicked smart, but his father was a hifi nut. He and his father spent weekends listening to hifis all over town. In addition to the music, they listened to dudes rapping about their systems and discussing mods and repairs. As an adult, my friend has modded tube hifis and poked around guitar amps. Before I had time to get upset, he launched into troubleshooting. He had me swap the speaker wires left to right to make sure the right speaker wasn’t the problem. After the swap the right speaker was working and the left speaker was quiet, so the speakers were fine. Next, I got him a heavy leather glove so he could swap a few power tubes in the right channel. No improvements. Finally, he turned the knobs on the preamp. Hosannah! The problem disappeared! It was a dirty potentiometer (“pot”) on the preamp. At first I didn’t want to believe it–the preamp had been serviced less than a year ago. I learned pots can get dirty quickly and inactivity doesn’t help. Turning the pot a couple of times was enough to get it working again, but I should get some cleaner and give it a treatment.
My friend didn’t need to fix this problem to earn my respect. This was just one of many super-hero moves I have had the pleasure to witness. This particular display, though, really meant a lot to me. I would never have suspected the pre amp. It would have sucked to call Joe. Embarrassing, really. I would have taken the amp to him to have him tell me a week later it was fine. Would have left me a little uneasy about the whole project. Thanks to my friend, though, I know the amp is fine.
He didn’t stop there. He also convinced me to try my old speakers with the amp. I am really glad he did. I had bought refurbished Acoustic Research AR-5s thinking they would work well with my vintage tube preamp and amp. They sounded nice (good enough that I would never have bothered to try my original speakers), but my original speakers (which are a decade or so newer than the AR-5s) really allow the amp to show more of itself. Jeesh! How can I repay him?
I obviously owe a huge thank you to Joe Levy, too. He really transformed the amp. It was good when I gave it to him, but this amp had a reputation for serious reliability issues. Big, fire starting failures are not out of the question. Joe researched and addressed those. Just a matter of replacing a few under specced resistors and/or capacitors. While not a true test of his abilities, it was something that really ate at me and I wasn’t comfortable undertaking the mods myself. He also made a bunch of changes to help the amp sound better. He swapped 91 parts in all. He suggested I change the tubes, too. Also something I know nothing about, so he acquired and tested eight NOS USA tubes from the 1950s. They have a big impact on the quality of the sound and are often more durable than tubes made today.
What else? Joe is very detail oriented (that speaks to me). He gave me a full parts list and a beautiful schematic. That will be important if someone other than Joe ever works on the amp. Finally, he replaced the fuse with a circuit breaker. A little thing, but much appreciated as it will be easier to reset a circuit breaker than replace a fuse. Very thoughtful!
All in, he spent more than twice as long as he estimated getting the amp done. Still, he honored his estimate. In fact he would have come in under budget if I hadn’t asked for the NOS tubes. I should also mention that he is easy to talk to (even if, like me, you don’t know shit about hifis) and he really did a great job of keeping me in the loop as things moved along. I can recommend Joe’s work without reservation.
I am just starting to learn the language used to describe hifi performance and sound. I could toss a few phrases around, but to be honest I have so little experience against which to compare my system that my remarks wouldn’t mean much. I will say I love the sound. Still warm (as a tube amp should be), but after the mods I get a lot more treble (fun, for instance, with 80s synth music). Before it was a little dark. I have no controls for treble or bass, so I get what I get. It says something that I want to listen to it for hours. At the end of each record, instead of powering down the amp I reach for something else to put on the platter. That is the best measure of an amps performance as far as I am concerned.
Can’t forget my uncle Larry! He gave me the amp, the preamp and the turntable. All that remains of my original system is the cd player and the speakers! So again, huge thanks to you, Larry! Your components are in caring hands and you’ve made me very happy!
Very sad to report that on Saturday, the day before my friend was helping me with the amp, he was helping his wife, their cat sitter and their veterinarian decide what to do with a very ill cat. A cat they had lived with for sixteen years. They were up until 3:00 am (Sunday morning then) and it didn’t turn out well. On Sunday, we were all sick with sadness. Our friends advanced their return flight from Tuesday to Monday so they could snuggle for an extra day with three critters still at home. Most of us have had companion animals in our lives and know how hard it is to lose them. Harder still to be on the other side of the continent when it happens. Know that we are thinking of you, friends.
Hifis are wonderful, but they fall pretty far down the list when friends are hurting. So much to think about, but I should move into the kitchen. Lacey will be home soon and we’ll need dinner.
I hope you and yours have many wonderful days together.