Modern Times – Soulines Kubrick DCX – Jelco SA750D

„Tell me, Igor, how come you name a turntable after Dostoyevsky?”

There are some questions that you just ask at the wrong time. This question, for example, I asked the designer and producer of the Soulines turntables at 11 o’clock at night, just a few hours before the Pointe open day started in Budapest that featured the Soulines Kubrick as the analogue source.

The glass in Igor’s hand froze for a moment. It had some home made fruit brandy, rakija, in it, which oozed a luscious smell, and was probably strong enough to be used for medical purposes. To make things worse, the plate in Igor’s other hand also froze. It had Tibor Sindric’s (the man behind Pointe amplifiers) award winning pumpkin pie on it waiting to suffer the first bite. This pumpkin was especially produced to be used in pies, and the pie itself was a sophisticated masterpiece of layers of sweet pumpkin puree and strudel leaves. Indeed, Tibor’s amplifiers are quite good, but, let’s face it, Tibor is the Kondo of all pumpkin pies.

So, Igor froze, he was mute for a few second, and then started to reel off a lengthy answer. Something like he was lying in bed one night, when the idea struck him, and then he consulted with his wife, and that he wanted the name of a writer once his other turntables were named after a French haute couture designer house an ancient deity and a film director, and that he wanted something Russian sounding that was understood worldwide…

“So you have no idea?”

“Well, no.”

Tényleg az Űrodüsszeiából jött? Soulines Kubrick DCX Jelco karral

Tényleg az Űrodüsszeiából jött? Soulines Kubrick DCX Jelco karral

This might be the only thing that Igor has no idea about when it comes to his turntables. On all other questions he is ready to deliver accurate, well-formulated and expert answers. Even though turntable-making, to put it mildly, is a playing field for too many swindlers. Once automated CNC machines got relatively cheap, a lot of makeshift turntable manufacturers sprung up all over the world, but the Soulines brand is no newcomer.

Earlier on, Igor functioned as a hifi dealer, selling British brands, mostly the likes of Cyrus, in Yugoslavia. He was doing fine up to the point when he was not doing fine any more. Well, of course, hifi is not a commodity in a country (whatever the name is) where there are several wars are being fought at the same time, and none of them can be won, and then it takes a hell of a lot of time to consolidate after the wars. So, first he had less customers, and then – because of the embargo against Slobodan Milosevic’s regime – he had less goods to sell.

This was the time when Igor started to repair hifi turntables. But parts were also difficult to import, so he had to recycle old turntables – the bearing from this turntable was good, the platter from that one, and the chassis from a third one. Igor’s first turntables were akin to the famous rock’n’roll era limos still surviving in daily use in Havana. And then, later, as things slowly started to turn to the better, Igor’s wife persuaded him to dust off his engineering degree, and design a turntable from scratch, because he had already had enough experience from recycling. No more bombs are falling, he has the necessary tools and equipment, so c’mon. Well, in a nutshell, this is how the Soulines brand came to being.

Az égiek ezt látják

Az égiek ezt látják

And now I have this huge box in front of me, and there is a Serbian-made turntable inside. It is the flagship model, a Kubrick, fitted with a Jelco SA750D tonearm. What could it be like? Like a Yugo car that was a piece of Western culture for us, Hungarians, way back then, but now it is not more than a pitiful memory from that past that makes you smile? Or is it something serious, like Pro-Ject, the company that grew out from the Czechoslovakian state-owned Tesla factory plant, thanks to some Austrian investment?

As I am taking the various parts in my hands, staring at the English-language manual, taking off the fixing bolts, I am searching for a hint that would make this turntable look lame. Or crappy. Or Balkanic. Or just not that very perfect. But no, there is no hint like that. If “Made in the UK” or “Made in the USA” were printed on the box, I would believe that. Or Germany, or Japan. The packaging is both creative and secure like an atomic shelter. This Kubrick has travelled all over Europe, it has been carried from show to demo, from demo to show, and still no sign of wear. Mint condition.

Nem az ementáli sajt adta az ötletet Igornak a lyukakhoz

Nem az ementáli sajt adta az ötletet Igornak a lyukakhoz

Assembly is child’s play. OK, it does not have a sub-plinth on springs that would take a lot of time to adjust, but then Igor did his best to make sure you can play music with the Kubrick a mere 10 minutes after you opened up the box. You just have to put some parts together in the order they are coming out of the package, connect a few wires, and you are done. There is no bearing block needing an oil fill – what you get is a closed unit, designed for eternity plus one day. There are no swinging parts, no screwing parts, nothing like that. Levelling is simply by turning the top of the three feet to level manually. No specific allen key, no spacers, just you and your bare hands.

A doboz felnyitása után tíz perccel már zenélt a Kubrick

A doboz felnyitása után tíz perccel már zenélt a Kubrick

To make things even better, the easy set-up is not the result of a compromise in workmanship. In the Kubrick’s manual Igor emphasizes that the metal unit, carrying the tone arm, the feet and the motor, is designed with thorough arithmetic: its moment of inertia and center of gravity unite in one point. The drilled holes in the unit are not following the Emmentaler cheese principle either – their exact location is defined by the Golden Ratio and the Fibonacci series, and was perfected after resonance measurements on the prototype. Even though the skeleton of the turntable looks like an all-metal construction, in reality it features a surprisingly large number of cork-and-rubber inserts. This looks like Igor’s favorite material, the record mat on the large acrylic platter is also made of this, which is quite the contrary to my previous experience, but I just gave it a try, once it is a manufacturer proposed option. The power supply also came as a surprise: it is a small AC unit like a phone charger. Igor would not believe it is so important: the platter is so heavy, and the bearing is so sophisticated that a dedicated power supply is just not needed. Well, if he says so…. Speed change and starting the motor is done by the flick of switches – they are located on the far side of the motor unit.

A csomagolás ugyan annyira átgodnolt részlet, mint a lemezjátszó egésze

A csomagolás ugyan annyira átgodnolt részlet, mint a lemezjátszó egésze

And now a few words about the tone arm. It is a Jelco SA750D. Before actually seeing this one I had the idea that an S-shaped tone arm is necessarily lame. The cheapo plastic Japanese turntables of my childhood all featured S-shaped tone arms, but back then I already strongly believed that straight tone arms are cooler. What’s more, the Hungarian language hifi Bible of the time, the one and only “Hifi Magazin” also stated that “between two points the shortest way is the best one.” To make things worse, this SME-type detachable head shell must be the real poison to hifi, as it is generating unwanted resonances all over. Well, yes. It might be generating those unwanted resonances, but it made me grin when I experienced that changing the cartridge is a whizz – twist off the head shell, replace the cartridge in seconds, twist the shell back on to its place, and with this the cartridge replacement is over.

The Jelco tone arm was a surprise anyway. This is not some British “craftmanship” product, like a Rega or a Helius, this is Japanese precision engineering. The arm lift is perfectly balanced, all the adjustment is made easy and simple, and once it is adjusted, it will stay adjusted. It also looks great. Jelco has been a secret favorite for audiophiles as a tone arm that delivers a lot of music for not so much money. The cartridge must be adjusted properly, of course, but you get a “protractor tool” with the Soulines turntables to make adjustment easy with several geometry options. After that you will have to set up the tracking force, and let there be music.

A balkán büszkesége

A balkán büszkesége

When I am setting up a turntable it is always vital which record I play first. It’s an important karmic decision, you see. I usually play some Bartók, but not now. I spinned an old Halász Judit recording that I bought for some EUR 0,50 at a garage sale recently. This is cult pop music for children – I have had all kinds of digitalized copies, now it was time to show some analogue record playing to my 4 year old daughter – with music that she enjoys. The cartridge was a Roksan Corus Black, and the music played through a Heed Obelisk Si Mk.II with its own built-in phono preamp card.

Well, we both got struck by surprise. My daughter was surprised that not only palm-size silver discs can play music in a remote controlled box, but big black discs too. She was adamant to learn how to operate a turntable, so in a very short time she became the best turntable operator in her kindergarten group.

Állítható magasságú láb, némi csillapítóanyaggal

Állítható magasságú láb, némi csillapítóanyaggal

But I was surprised as well. What surprised me was how the Soulines Kubrick-Jelco 750-Roksan Corus Black-Heed Si system can play music without any crackling and popping noises. OK, I made a few shots with the Zerostat antistatic gun into the air before playing a record, but I did not clean the records too vigorously – and yet there was this CD-like silence in the music I played. But it was not CD-like in any other respect. When I played music at a low volume, the sound had more energy and flow, and it was more lifelike and friendly than its digital versions. At normal or high volumes even more so. And the sound kept on improving with every hour. The Heed phono card was burning in gradually, and the Corus started to feel at home in the Jelco, and so did the Kubrick on my small wooden cabinet. The Kubrick would have preferred a lightweight shelf instead, as Igor suggests it in the manual, but it was still quite okay. The Kubrick was also tracking without problem when my daughter bumped into the cabinet, dancing, while I was playing a record – even though I was already visualizing a skipping stylus and a broken groove as I saw her shuffling towards the turntable.

Parafa-gumi keverék, Igor kedvenc csillapítóanyaga

Parafa-gumi keverék, Igor kedvenc csillapítóanyaga

In just a week the turntable became a family member. When, on the last day of my testing, I realized that the Kubrick will not be picked up in the morning, only in the afternoon, I found myself unpacking the whole turntable just to play a few more records.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I never really wondered how it sounded. The Kubrick simply levitates above this hifi category. It was not showing off with its sound, it was just serving me. Would I need a Kubrick? Yes, I would. Would I need a better turntable than the Kubrick? Well, if I could get one, why not, but I wouldn’t push that too much. That said, this Serbian made turntable is now in the same category for me as the Audio Innovations AI 300 Mk.I and the Heed Obelisk Si Mk. II. One step further from hifi, one step closer to music.

Stories from the Gelka II – Tesla head unit

Tesla 2113 head unit

Tesla 2113 head unit

Tesla. This Chechoslovak manufacturer made a lots of products of consumer electronics, but socialism defined a bit too much the head units of the company. The idea behind them was excellent, but not the execution…

  • Comrade Kuznyák, the motor of this tape recorder hasn’t been replaced.

  • No, boss, it hasn’t been, indeed.

  • The worksheet shows that you’ve replaced it. Considering this, our comittee decided to punish you in some way: you cannot repair Tesla head units for a whole year.

 

2 station memory

2 station memory

Hearing that, I could hardly hide my smile, so I bowed when leaving the room. Only then did I start laughing. I could not wish for more: not having to struggle with Teslas for a year! Never a better way to be punished after my senior messed the worksheet somehow, and I was the one to be claimed for some engine of a tape recorder.

It was damned construction

It was damned construction

The masterpiece of Chechoslovak industry, Tesla was a damned construction. I suppose it was designed by engineers who have read everything exciting happening at that time in the field of consumer electronics, than created a thing – sometimes a progressive one, like TDA power amplifier. Unfortunately, this device could not be assembled properly from the products of socialist industry, so it turned out to be the most unreliable head unit of the world. Anyway, Tesla had to produce it, as it was an important item in the given five-year plan.

Compared to Teslas, Videotons were high-tech, extremely reliable products. What problems could Teslas have? Any problem, really. Like the instant loss of memory of radio stations. Having dried capacitors, or contact error. Some of them had to be compressed by pliers – sometimes it made them work for even a whole year. Above all, they were even expensive.

It was constantly detuned

It was constantly detuned

I remember, once Dezső Garas, one of the best actor that time,  entered the shop with a broken Tesla. We repaired it, he brought it home – just to return in a few days again. We repaired the Tesla again, he brought it home… and came back in a few days really angry. ’Look’ he said. ’If someone asks me if it worth visiting a given theater for a play, I can tell him whether it worth seeing or not. What is your profession?’ My boss replaced his Tesla for a Videoton without a word…

A főnököm szó nélkül cserélte Videotonra

Mach3 – Breaking through the clouds – DPA 6C33C mono power amplifier

One nice day of September in 1976 a Russian jet figter landed at airport Hakodate in Japan.

Media didn’t  spread disinformation about complicated weather conditions or navigation error – it was a pure desertion – news were  totally blocked.in the Soviet occupied area. Please note that Cold War was going on.

The pilot got  political asylum; never-seen-before jet was examined/disassembled by NATO; then re-assembled and trailed home. There was a hard NATO inquisitiveness about jets coming from beyond the Iron Curtain;  especially this world-fastest jet. MIG25  originally created to destroy  NATO bombers that had never got to be built.

There were several interesting stories and urban legends spreading in Hungary on the technical solutions were found inside of MIG – a strange geometry of engine’s compressor-stages or the suspension of the 3D giroscopes – we must remember that at that time giroscopes had a weight of kgs – nowadays Ipads and small helicopter models have giros in  one cubic mm only.

Another feature was the special steel-alloy that could stand deformatoions caused by 3Mach,  which MIG25 could easily reach – in this respect the fighter was not simply ’supersonic’; as it was capable of three times of the speed of sound with the cover in flames while escorting space-ships  into the stratosphere – that’s why everybody thought that the jet was made of titanium and other unknown materials. CIA in the background may have known the truth  and let media  make up fantastic theories; it was a clever hoovering system for more money to Cold War use. What’s more interesting for us: there were special PSUs and operation amplifiers containing  tubed electronic blocks. It was an out-dated technologie at that time too but the Russians had an ideology for using tubes: they were supposed to be more nuclear-weapon-resistent. Luckily, this project was never tested in real  life. In  the PSU of radio/weapon line there was a strange, never-seen-before triode in sight.

A real monster; absurdly thick glass; robust building; big cathode-heater; relatively small voltage and enormously big current.  Power-station-like dissipation and very, very low internal resistance. Name was the same as today, 6S33S; spelling with Cirill letters 6C33C.

The story continued in quite a strange way. Some 6C33C tubes appeared in Japan at the tubeamp-maker community; they built several 6C33C amps; the sound was very good. So far is the legendary. After many years 6C33C became well-known; Japan imported hundreds for audio application. Some makers built them here, in Hungary too; high bias was always a big problem and nobody could get rid of the diode-based rectifying. Then new kings arrived; 2a3 and 300B had  easier settings; 6C33C  almost sank into oblivion  but appeared again on the hifi horizont through interesting coincidences.

While 300B was in a real dump, Peter Dénes developed the full-tubed 6C33C.  I assume that finding out the new rectifying system was an enormously complicated brain-work and it took several years –  I picture him as Poirot sitting there with the guests around and drinking coffee and making hot air – while his mind is full of the thousand-lined matrix of  the murders/alibies/motivations/times/dates.

This way the ’new’ 6C33C block was born.

What type of monster?

Well, it’t quite a big one, sitting in the same cabinet as 300B does; and there are several elegant technical solutions inside: giga-form 500W PSU; high quality pre-tubes; very short signal path; 3cm lenght between connector and the first tube; output connectors fixed on the OPT secunder. Rectifying is real-tubed: two big rectifier tubes control the high power tube’s current; a separated stage controls the low currents somewhere inside. 6C33C has extremely low impedance which means the output transformer has low excitation; going down to 17 Hz easily. Coulping is performed via interstage transformators – I think it’s a great invention. In the 300B blocks it caused two things: first, there was an enormous sound improvement; (the question appeares ’why we had to wait for it  so long);  second, that no more changing of coulping-condensators which is similar to cable-madness because you always find the most recent oil-fat-belladonna-miracle coulping cap and each one has its own character. Of course interstage trafos can also be changed  similarly to caps and each one sounds differently but in Hungary it’t not that usual; unlike in Japan

At my place a simmetric-input version landed; I ordered this type because it is really grey and has got really simmetric coulping to a standard 600 Ohm.

6C33C is 19W measured, Naim 135 was 75W; 300B was 7.5W – but theese are only numbers, which; may be important;  but we shouldn’t misjudge this parameter.

 

Turn it on. Nothing happens. Is something wrong? No, the iron bastard is aweking gently; 6C33C needs 2 minutes literally – in reality 25 sec and it’s ready. No hum, no crackling, no any initial madness. Naim 135 started much harder, almost jumped off the stand while 6C33C departure is similar to that of an automatic-geared car. No brumm, no noise, no stratchy sound of tubes, everything is absolutely silent. Then I start to check the speaker cables because of  the missing idle-noise listening to tweeters really close – ear-furs almost reach the dom –  finally I can realize an ultra-silent sssss – I imagine cosmic background-radiation exactly like this. I’ve never-ever owned such a silent amplifier. Then warming up takes 5 minutes only while currents get stabilised – no more time is needed as its real character shows itself in cool conditions; just to the opposit of how coffé works. Please do not believe in long-time burning period.

 

What is the sound like?

Fantastic.

Outstanding..

Delicious, great and spacious.

 

It is like when you enter a big room with a beautifully laid table.

It is like when your frozen body  sinks into a Turkish bath.

It is like when you realize in the shop that croissant is still warm.

It is like when you have a good coffe and feel your body beeing saturated with the nice poison.

Do you know that caffein becomes  traceable in all your tissues in 180 sec?

 

When a November morning after 3 weeks of total fog, with all insects and moles already suffering from  heavy depression, you take off and ascend  with bad iceing on all surfaces,  concentrating on a red-light gadget that is your  only connection to the outside world,  at 900m it’s a gradually getting brighter; and you suddenly catapult over the ceiling of clouds where there is dark-blue sky and enormous brighteness.  Your tears flow  and you blink and the  clouds are like whipped cream with a visibility of 150+ kilometers – well, it’s that kind of feeling…

There is no  similarity to any 300B amps  previously listened to. It has no special character; music just flows: no loosy bass; no tight bass; just a ‘bass’; fine and very alive. There are absolutely perfect overtones on piano sound. Several good sets present right-hand  very well; but now all keys are OK. On low volume…well,….it is gently dinamical and so fast that speed can’t be realized; it’s a paradoxon but you understand what I mean. Timbres and high section are real suprizes; previously the big Naim set performed this area extremely well but 6C33C is a completely different galaxy; another empire; astoundingly living. I never thought before that an oldish ScanSpeak D2008 can do this sound or a tube amp can ever produce this.

‘Complicated sopranos’ – now there rather wonderful sopranos; and I realize that CD sound generally is OK.

6C33C doesn’t focus on mids as many 300Bs do; it performs in another way – I think in a much better way – as bandwidth is so wide that music is full of small noises: there is a strange scabridity on the female voice and  a light accent on the male voice and an ultra-light squeak on plucked string. The most interesting is a tone of echoes and finishes, something like an instrument-shadow or aura that compasses the sound when the last note leaves a signature or reminessence this can be heard in under-skin-mode only. I say bandwidth but I suspect it’s a kind of sub-micro-dinamics. Calm, wonderful and ‘big’ sound – each moment is a pleasure and I have to force myself to remove discs.

We definitely have to examine it as a system of wires, Cd player, room and mistakes and in addition my strong prejudices; please do not expect an unbiased report from me; you will find it in the official papers; but the fact is that at present you don’t need a high-sensitivity speaker as 300B/2a3 always do, but a normal one is OK.  Not-really-good (bad) impedance is also OK, as a Naim SBL has that too. This SBL lost loyality  to Naim; although it was originally  invented for Naim electronics. And another fact is that 6C33C serves well a ten time more expensive front too.

I feel like being on a good Early Music concert: the player doesn’t push himself into your face with artificial ultrasonic sounds and never-existing bass, rather he lets harmonies  live and work. The character here may not be a special character; it lets front to sing which enjoys my highest respect now – though I never liked full ML sets at all. This maybe the first tube amp I’ve ever listened to that can make you forget about all tube/not tube/SE/PSE/PP/OTL questions and all technical blabla and also about what process is there producing  the music in the room.

Of course, you can’t get rid of the sight of the tubes: in darkness 6C33C has the view of an oil-refinery-station, which tube lovers know exactly. Each occaison when you turn it on is a ceremony: you have to kneel down in front of the blocks because the only switch is on the back side.

But the most important thing is that ‘listening to music’ with 6C33C is a real celebrating of music. Highly recommended.

 

Test equipments:

ML512 SACD player

DPA 6C33C mono power amplifiers, 2 stücks

2×1.3m XLR interconnect; a secret unidentifiable wire from the ‘60s

2×7m NACA5 speakercable