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AAA & Thiel Audio &

This time we are meeting representatives of three companies from Germany that have dedicated their work to analog recordings and an analog way of playing them. They brought tapes, records and a turntable with them. This time we are gathering at the home of Julian, owner of the SOYATON company.

⸜ CRACOW area/Poland


translation Ewa Muszczynko
images Birgit Hammer-Sommer/Plan B | “High Fidelity”

Spotkanie #137

May 1, 2023

KRAKOW SONIC SOCIETY (KTS) is an informal group of music lovers, audiophiles and friends meeting to learn something new about audio products, records, music, etc. The idea for KTS originated in 2005, although its roots go back a few years. This is the 138th meeting of the group.

RITING TO DIRK SOMMER and arranging the details of the entire team's arrival in Cracow, I asked him at one point how to title this, already 138th, meeting of the Krakow Sonic Society. Without hesitation, he replied: GERMAN ANALOG.

This time, representatives of three companies came to Cracow from Germany, representing the part of the audio industry related to broadly defined, "analog": HELMUT THIELE, a manufacturer of tonearms and turntables, INGO HAMECHER and MICHAEL VERBAU, representatives of the German Audio Analogie Association (AAA), and BIRGIT AND DIRK SOMMER, this time representing the jointly run label Sommelier Du Son.

KTS guests should be familiar to you: Dirk, as you may recall, is also the editor-in-chief of the magazine, and we met Michael at the Audio Video Show 2022, when we, together with him and Dirk, prepared a meeting dedicated to tapes (more → HERE).

AAA, founded in 1990, of which Ingo is the CEO and Michael is the director of the tape department, publishes its own periodical, but primarily popularizes knowledge of analog tapes and recordings of this type. It is also a publisher – tapes copied by Michael himself are published with the AAA logo and are on permanent sale. These are 1:1 copies from "master" tapes. Its offer also includes recordings by Sommelier Du Son.

Helmut is not a novice in the audio industry, either. He received the Statement in High Fidelity ⸜ Polish Edition 2021 award for his TA01 phono arm (more → HERE | PL |). Therefore, the title GERMAN ANALOG is not an overstatement.

The meeting had a different character than usual, because this time we didn't compare anything. We just listened to the music prepared by the guests and heard their stories about what they do for a living. We started with a presentation of the TT01 turntable with the TA01 arm from Thiele Audio.

Helmut Thiele

| A few simple words with…

owner, constructor

⸜ Dirk Sommer and Helmut Thiele

I AM A DESIGNER with a strong technical background. I graduated with a degree in industrial design in 1978, with a thesis on a turntable with a uni-pivot arm. In my career, I have worked as a designer and programmer for many industries. This has resulted in products in the fields of consumer goods, capital goods, furniture, tools, electronic measuring instruments and many others.

In my work, I try to combine the skills of a designer and constructor with deep knowledge of materials and manufacturing processes. I have used 3D CAD technology extensively for many years for my design sketches and constructions. However, I always place special emphasis on hi-fi products, using experience from all other industries that I have accumulated over the decades.

I have worked for brands such as Acapella, Michaelson&Austin, Tannoy, Mordaunt Short, Pioneer, Marantz, Acoustic Research, Jensen, Parasound, ALR, Phonosophie, Vincent, Phase Linear, Mac Audio and Oehlbach as a designer, and also as a constructor on many projects. For more than 25 years, I have been the chief designer and constructor of all Magnat and HECO brand products, including speakers, headphones, amplifiers, CD players and turntables.

For more than 10 years, I have also been the chief designer and programmer of the Thorens brand, and as part of this collaboration I developed the Thorens TD 309 turntable models, followed by the TD203, TD206 and TD209. The next turntables I prepared were their successors, the TD900 and TD1600 series models, and the latest product, the TD1500. In addition to the TP92 and TP88 arms, I also developed the TP124 and TP150 arms.

In cooperation with the development department of the Japanese Audio-Technica company, I designed the TAS 1600 and TAS 1500 cartridges. For the TAD brand, I developed the Excalibur cartridge series. The latest product designs are racks for the THIXAR brand.

⸜ The TT01 turntable with the TA01 arm

In 2009, I started designing a tangential turntable arm that I wanted to make as my own product. After the first prototypes in 2009, I continuously improved this design for more than 10 years until I built the first series of Thiele TA01 arms in 2021. The development of the Thiele TT01 turntable as the basis for this arm began in 2019, and the first units appeared on the market in 2021. All Thiele tonearms and turntables are handmade by me in Duisburg. HT


HELMUT PREPARED SOME records, with which he decided to show us what his arm can do. After the first few albums, we asked the KTS members who were present for their opinions. Julian Soja said that the sound was "rich and incredibly spacious." The sound, he added, impressed him greatly. Tomek, on the other hand, said that it was probably the best sound he had encountered so far in this setting (i.e, in Julian's system). It was very "analog," relaxed and incredibly detailed, especially in the treble. Tomek also really liked the control of the bass, not quite filled in at the very bottom, but tight and selective.

Dirk noted the excellent acoustics of the listening room. He said:

Even though I was sitting in perhaps the worst place, as against the back wall in the corner, the sound seemed to me exquisitely detached from the speakers, as if it was coming not from the speakers themselves, but from the space behind them. The room has great tonality and is tonally very well balanced. I don't know how much of this is due to Helmut’s turntable, but the overall effect is very nice.

The most memorable thing for Marcin Oleś was precision combined with musicality. For the first time, he recalled, with one album he noticed details in the midrange that he had not known from playing it himself. If he were to compare it to anything, it would be the sound of a good tube amplifier. As he emphasized, the musicality of this system (records + equipment + room) was most important to him./p>

When asked about the secret of this sound, Helmut Thiele replied:

My TA01 arm is a zero angle error design. This is what makes the soundstage so expansive, so spacious and yet precise. This is because there are no phase differences between the left and right channels caused by this error.

The design of the tubes from which this arm is built turns out to be one of the factors contributing to its class. These are rigid tubes made of braided carbon fiber. As you know, carbon fiber has resonances characteristic for itself. To dampen them, he assembled the arm from two tubes – a larger one on the outside and a smaller one inside. He filled the space between them with vibration-dampening gel. That's why, Helmut said, the bass of this arm is so precise and free of coloration.

⸜ Helmut with a turntable mat of his own design

In order to take advantage of the benefits of such a mechanically complex arm, a suitable base is needed. So, the TT01 turntable was built with three layers – two made of aluminum and one made of wood. An adhesive, a kind of glue that does not fully dry, was placed between them and the layers were screwed together. The feet, attached to the bottom plate, do not touch the plates above, coming out from the top, so that the level can be easily adjusted.

The bottom layer also houses the motor and the electronics that control it. The arm was attached to the second layer, and the main bearing was attached to the top, final layer. The head of Thiele Audio has instruments in his workshop for measuring vibrations, which he used for this project. Each successive base level in the TT01 is, he said, 10 dB "quieter" than the previous one. The platter also has three layers: the sub-disc is aluminum, another layer is milled from POM, a material often used in turntables, and the outer ring is aluminum as well. The platter is laid on a special anti-vibration mat, invented by Helmut, which can also be bought separately.

The designer was keen to ensure that all the components were attached in the most precise and rigid way possible. Therefore, the head of the arm is inserted into the tube not classically, but by means of a cone tapering to the end. In this way, the azimuth of the arm can be adjusted, and it will be fixed in an equally precise manner every time.

Audio Analogue Association

| A few simple words with…

Head of the Tapes Department

⸜ Michael Vorbau

FASCINATION WITH TAPE IS SOMETHING SPECIAL. And yet, although we like analog recordings and the analog format, when it comes to tape, we are a niche in a niche. It seems very confusing even to many analog fans – fortunately, I like to give advice and help newcomers. Even though the tape recorder was present in recording studios practically until the mid-1980s, many people are now delighted to discover the extraordinary sound quality and, above all, the dynamics of a good tape recording.

My goal is not only to serve analog fans who have harnessed large, heavy studio machines to their hobby, but also to attract the overwhelming majority who use ordinary, commercial tape recorders with a spool diameter of 18 cm (7"). Our association began promoting this type of recordings by offering copies of the master tape of Birdland by Paul Kuhn Trio.

Copies of the Jazz on Vinyl label's master tapes numbered 1 through 8 are coming soon, and are available as 1:1 copies of the "master "tape on 38 cm/s studio tape (15 IPS) and on 26.5 cm (12") aluminum reels, as well as on an 18-cm diameter plastic reel with LPR90 longplay tape, recorded at 19 cm/s (7.5 IPS). This year we will be releasing several new master tape designs.

⸜ Birgit Hammer-Sommer explaining the secrets of the Paul Kuhn Trio album’s creation

Of course, we are also interested in the fact that another renaissance is being experienced by the cassette tape. Let's see what can be done with it without having to refer to the high-end sector. MV

STARTING HIS PRESENTATION OF TAPE RECORDINGS, MICHAEL VERBAU asked the seemingly simple question: "Why are people willing to spend several hundred euros for single-album tapes?" There are several answers, but he thinks the reason is the unparalleled sound quality of such analog "master" tape copies.

As he said, signal recorded on tape is much closer to what was happening at the studio than vinyl or CD. Ultimately, tape is often the basis from which we get many of the other formats (when it comes to music up to the late 1980s, it's almost a rule). The reasons for the superiority of tape are not technological, but strictly physical: tape offers much higher dynamics and energy transfer, which can be heard especially with instruments such as drums, double bass, etc.

The music we listened to came from two sources. The first part was filled with recordings from the "Jazz on Vinyl" series of CDs released by AAA, and the second part with three tracks from recordings made by Dirk and Birgit Sommer: Otello Live at Schloss Elmau by Dieter Ilg, Live im Berliner A-Trane by DePhazz (we listened to it during the Audio Video Show 2022) and Live at Birdland by the Paul Kuhn Trio. These were tracks copied from “master” tapes and put together as a whole.

An interesting fact about the records belonging to this series is that their producer and sound engineer, Dominique Klatte, does not have his own studio, but only portable recording equipment, including Studer tape recorders (→ So, when he chooses a project to undertake, he first looks for a place to make the recording. For example, he recorded his first album, titled simply Jazz on Vinyl Vol. 1 (KLATTE 001, 2017), he recorded it in the municipal library in Erding, the town where he lives and where his mastering studio is located. All the material was recorded during one night.

Musicians recording for "Jazz on Vinyl" are always in the same room together, and the recording is done live, onto two tracks. There is only a limiter in the signal chain. If they make a mistake, they have to start from the beginning. Michael mentioned that these tapes also have no formal mastering, and Dominique repeats that the only "mastering" he does is cutting the tape and setting the tracks in optimal order. An important feature of these records is that the producer tries to make them no longer than about 35 minutes.

When Dominique enters a room he does not know, he always starts by walking around and clapping his hands, listening to the acoustics. On that basis, he chooses the places where the musicians and microphones are to be placed. Michael emphasized that the success of these sessions depends on one’s experience in setting up mics. Birgit also stressed that even though these are “live” recordings, they are also a creation dependent on the person who makes them. These are not “documentary” recordings, as such ones cannot, in principle, be produced. Everything depends on the selection of microphones and their locations, compression, timbre settings, the panorama, or even the tape where music is recorded. In the end, the sound engineer’s taste matters here.

When recordings are made for Sommelier du Son, Dirk is responsible for the mix, and Birgit deals with tape recorders – this job used to be called “tape op”. While recording the material, they use two tape recorders, as one tape does not accommodate material from a whole album, and they do not know where a given track will end and whether there will be enough place on tape for it to finish. And this is the only point where the tapes made by this label are glued together.

⸜ New honorable members of the Krakow Sonic Society: MICHAEL VORBAU ⸜ AAA, INGO HAMECHER ⸜ AAA (third from the left) and HELMUT THIELE ⸜ Thiele Audio

When the album Otello Live at Schloss Elmau was being recorded, at the same time a recording for CD purposes was being made (ACT 9522-2, 2011). Both versions were recorded simultaneously, but by two different teams and using two different systems. Florian Oestreicher, responsible for the CD recording, used many microphones located at different places than the ones used by Dirk. Dieter Ilg is a total audiophile and when he can record some material, he does it without an audience, as he can edit it. In this particular case, however, he agreed to record it with an audience. It is not a perfect recording in terms of performance – at least in his opinion – but he accepted it.

The place where the material was created is very special – a lot of albums for the ECM label are made there. It is a castle which houses a hotel where concerts are prepared for hotel guests only. Different artists are invited there, and Dieter is a resident. The room is very large, with a high ceiling, and has, as Birgit says, excellent acoustics. However, its sound varies significantly, depending on whether there are people or not – hence the frequently different sound of albums recorded there.

This time, the sound was excellent. As Michael Vorbau said at the end of the meeting, Otello Live at Schloss Elmau is one of the best, or maybe simply the best tape they offer.