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12 Channel custom built tube console Single-Channel Preamps
Old 6th September 2007
  #1
Gear Head
 

12 Channel custom built tube console

My studio service technician reckons he can knock up a 12 channel class A/B valve/tube mixing console for around £15,000 He says once he has finished with it nobody will be able to tell that its not a class A design. The board will be kept quite simple all 12 channels @ line level only with transformer balanced inputs, a pad switch, gain level pot, pan, Fader, 4 aux sends & 4 returns, mute, and routing switches to the 8 groups, & the stereo buss, insert and post fader direct outputs with jack XLR type socket connections accessible from the rear of the rack tower fitted on the rear of each module.

The 8 group modules may double up as extra input modules & with the 4 echo returns gives a total of 24 transformer balanced, line inputs on mixdown.

It will need about 40 high class audio transformers, not sure as yet but may go for Jensen or Stevens & Billington type, The main audio electronics & solid state power supply will be housed in a 19 inch rack tower case and the mixing board which holds only passive components connects via multi-cables. My tech wants it this way to avoid excessive heat build up which will cause poor reliability and bad noise figures and for other reasons. are my eyes going funny...

The design will be kept fully modular so that the line/summing amps and group modules & all buss sections can be removed for service & upgrade work very easily…

He has problems with some of the design work being the mix buss he wants to keep this Class A FET type and avoid valves/tubes at this stage, I am reluctant and want a pure valve audio path. It would be great if we could build both types and have the option of changing the modules FET or Valve type depending on the user and program material.
We may look at other vintage designs to get ideas my technician is not a designer but a very good service tech and has a lot of experience with discrete class A audio electronics such as Helios, Neve, Trident, Olympic, Raindirk, Amek etc he has also worked on an RCA tube console & the EMI REDD model.

Project price calculation so far totals £15,000

1. Design & paper work £1,500
2. Metal work £1,500 estimate
3. Total of 40 Audio Transformers £1,500
4. Power Supply parts estimate £500
5. Other electronic components & parts estimate £5,000
6. Technicians Labour £5,000

Any design & build advice and info for the sourcing of components would be greatly appreciated.
Old 6th September 2007
  #2
Lives for gear
 

You seem to have been looking at my initial designs however some of your prices are out. Technicians time is FAR too low for example if they are any good.
Matt S
Old 6th September 2007
  #3
Lives for gear
I would be interested in purchasing something like this only I would look at hardy 990s on the channels and tubes on the groups. I would personally be fine having 990s all the way. if you're putting tubes on each channel I don't see whats the big deal about putting them on the groups but its probably noise....
Old 6th September 2007
  #4
Gear Maniac
 

If you want a big real all valve mixer do have a look at the following Web site:

Vintec all valve mixer

Although clearly a lot of time and money must have been spent on its development - there haven't been any recent updates to the Web site - so I guess that you couldn't actually buy one even if you could afford it.

You can work out the power consumption from the data given - double it for the air-con required to take the heat away - and enjoy swimming in a large well heated pool - even in winter.....!

John
Orchid Electronics
Old 7th September 2007
  #5
Lives for gear
 
hangman's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mixermend View Post
If you want a big real all valve mixer do have a look at the following Web site:

Vintec all valve mixer

Although clearly a lot of time and money must have been spent on its development - there haven't been any recent updates to the Web site - so I guess that you couldn't actually buy one even if you could afford it.

You can work out the power consumption from the data given - double it for the air-con required to take the heat away - and enjoy swimming in a large well heated pool - even in winter.....!

John
Orchid Electronics
holy crap... is that thing for real? I'm confused and in awe at the same time.
Old 7th September 2007
  #6
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Tibbon's Avatar
Vintec is vaporware as far as I know. Not a single one exists in the wild to my knowledge. Prices were kicked around that it was 800K USD. No one bit. Just the HVAC alone would be insane. Let alone the power consumption.
Old 7th September 2007
  #7
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Tibbon's Avatar
Why 40 transformers? I've had a few drinks and maybe I'm not thinking right, but that seems a bit many?
Old 7th September 2007
  #8
Gear Head
 

Has your tech ever designed something like this before ? You said he isn't a designer. Honestly i would hesitate spending 15000 pound if this is his first design work on this scale.
I mean this is really much money, at least it would be for me.
Maybe first working with him on a small project, maybe a channel strip and get this working before going full-scale on the mixer.

Also think about this: With custom work the money often is lost because such projects often don't have much or any resale value. Something i think is not to be overseen when spending this much money.

Hope i don't sound too negative.

Flo
Old 7th September 2007
  #9
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Tibbon's Avatar
I'd say to do this only if you've been looking for a way to pay your tech a bit more or give him a bonus.

Also, keep in mind the question, "What does this do for my business?". Most gear purchases really are more for you as the studio owner, and less about being able to charge more or have more clients.

I'd look into the Manley tube mixer. Manley_Tube_Mixers
Old 7th September 2007
  #10
Once you spend $25,000 building this thing, you can spend another $25,000 debugging the ground buss noise and other bugs that will occur. Look at any console and can you imagine it was designed and built for $25,000? That won't even cover 20 weeks of salary for a qualified designer, much less a team.

Question is, how much does it cost to go broke?

Jim Williams
Audio Upgrades
Old 7th September 2007
  #11
Lives for gear
 

I agree. It sounds like a money pit, could get really ugly. Be careful.
Old 7th September 2007
  #12
Lives for gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by mightyecho View Post
He has problems with some of the design work being the mix buss he wants to keep this Class A FET type and avoid valves/tubes at this stage, I am reluctant and want a pure valve audio path. It would be great if we could build both types and have the option of changing the modules FET or Valve type depending on the user and program material.
You could have your tech make up some high power mosfet tube substitutes. Just plug one in where ever you don't want tubes.
Old 13th September 2007
  #13
Gear Head
 

Tube console design reply

Design came totally out of the blue

Yeah point taken, the tech has to guarantee job completion at that price... since i've mentioned this about a year ago he reckons a couple of bigshot producers have enquired about very similiar projects, i have now his full support & enthusiasm but i will be aware that this can get nasty and become a money pit. He does feel very confident that he can do it piss easily as we say! I am very pleased with his top service work that's been done for me in the last 10 years or so, plus his studio service experience & credits is extremely good.

40 Transformers in total:

Channel inputs = 12
Group outputs = 8
Group return inputs = 8
Master buss stereo A & B = 4
Aux send = 4
Aux return = 4

That's without thinking about the direct outs & Inserts on the 12 channels which could total to another 36, ****...

May go for Lundhal type transformers but tech is keen on Stevens & Billington, UK company...
Keeping the design simple and using mostly traditional methods should keep the prices down, we don't have to re-invent the wheel, but my tech does have some good ideas already concerning noise issues, longevity and building a decent power supply.

He has never built anything like this before but has done far more complex audio work than this could throw at him... if that makes sense

Vintec are way out of price range and way too complex if you ask me, keeping it really simple is the key to most good audio equipment design i reckon although the Fairchild 660/670 is not a simple design according to tech.

Manley: I would trust to be very good, but my project can happen in stages making the payments easier, we could take 3-5 years building it, and have fun and pride with the project, re-sale is not an issue the console will be needed for my entire life due to private project work, i'm sure most future clients would be very keen also.

I will work with the tech for 2 - 3 months on his brothers project starting next week so will have time and oppurtunity to pick his brains as much as possible concerning some of the posted issues, price, debugging responsbility and etc...

Will post results later on in stages...

Thanks everyone
Old 13th September 2007
  #14
Gear Head
 

Tube custom console

You could have your tech make up some high power mosfet tube substitutes. Just plug one in where ever you don't want tubes.[/quote]

Was thinking the same thing but have not put that to him as yet, will do so next week... in some cases the bass drum, HH, bass guitar and some vocal tracks could benefit on the FET modules, i would be very pleased with this as an option, also the power supply would be interesting if an option of one solid state and another could be diode valve type...

Summing part also!

Have to see what the technician can bang up

On the subject he reckons if it was all a Class A design not A/B type then the price would go into £50K area, ouch... like how i said earlier he reckons after he's finished with it, we won't be able to hear the difference...

Thanks
Old 13th September 2007
  #15
Lives for gear
 
Tibbon's Avatar
I'm just guessing, but this seems to be a money pit, and won't really add anything to your bottom line for what you can charge, or how many hours you can book. Nor will it set you far above other studios with consoles sonically. It just seems like a potentially poor idea, but to each his own!
Old 13th September 2007
  #16
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hangman's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tibbon View Post
I'm just guessing, but this seems to be a money pit, and won't really add anything to your bottom line for what you can charge, or how many hours you can book. Nor will it set you far above other studios with consoles sonically. It just seems like a potentially poor idea, but to each his own!
part of me is excited about the idea of someone building a tube console.
but the realist in me agrees with Tibbon. spend that money elsewhere, where it could make a bigger difference.
Old 13th September 2007
  #17
Lives for gear
 
Tibbon's Avatar
Yea, $31K USD could buy a ton of high end channels, any high end summing device, better monitors, compressors, etc...

A Manley tube mixer (16x2) even for summing is only around 9K USD. That extra ~20K could really be spent well elsewhere. Manley even built a 32channel version for just over 20K. I'd trust them to build it far over your tech, just in that your tech has no experience building exactly this.
Old 14th September 2007
  #18
Lives for gear
 

If your tech is that confident have him build it first on his pocket and sell it to you when completed!

Or have him build 2 channels and stereo summing strip.

IMO you are better off buying a clean console with superb headroom and some tube preamps if tubes are a must for you.

But then again this is Gearslutz!

jim
Old 14th September 2007
  #19
Moderator
 
Tim Farrant's Avatar
 

I would be very careful too, building a decent working console from op amps is hard enough, but tubes raise some very serious issues.

For one, think about the filament power required. It will need to be DC to avoid hum problems and depending on how many tubes involved, it's going to have to be grunty! How are you going to distribute this amount of current?

Tubes have very poor power supply rejection, so filtering of the HT will be a big part of the consoles success. Ideally, each channel should have it's own HT regulator, IMO.

Other questions spring to mind, how are you going to protect the supplies in case of a short circuit or tube failure? Has any thought gone into managing the heat?

Oh - and one comment you made that makes me wonder if your tech is competent enough to pull this off is "Class A/B". Single ended tube circuits are always Class A, only power amplifiers in push pull can be Class A/B



Tim.
Old 15th September 2007
  #20
Gear Head
 

Custom 12 channel console

My tech is very clued up... a lot of confusion is due to me not being a service tech and the communication is awkward, i only understand 10% or less of what goes on inside the boxes, i just know what i like when it comes to sound engineering and music rec production, i am sure a lot of sunshine happens in the tube mixing stage, a lot of faults (harmonic distortion) and a lot of magic, I’m thinking of Dion & the Belmonts, Frankie Lymon etc i have never heard that kind of open and raw sound like how the old time tube recordings were...

My tech reckons he will keep a clean audio path and it will have to be very cranked up for the older sound, otherwise were getting something new.

Heat has been well thought about, tech demands keeping the tubes and electronics in the rack tower with lots of spacing and quiet running fans, making it huge, we may build the biggest 12 channel console ever built, the rack tower modules connects to the console with extension cables.

Your comments look all good to me even the negative ones, I will try to get my tech to post a direct reply... he was a bit web shy a few years ago but may have caught up.

He has mentioned the power supply being only DC, but even i knew that, gotta warn you it will be hard work to catch him out, He's the best of British as far as service tech goes!

Power supply protection is a good thought! But I’m sure or hope he's already thought about it!

Class A single ended and A/B being only in power amps... not fully my field to understand all that but i thought the Groove tubes Vipre was class A, fully balanced & push pull (i might be talking sh** here) I know that single ended power amps sound quite different to push pull type, but I’m not clued up enough to know if a console can be single ended only and not push pull within the design, I think he said it would be Class A/B push pull. I will put this to the tech and am sure to learn something in return.

I am working with the tech & his brother for the next 2 months on a different project and will have plenty of opportunities to go through this.

It's gonna cost £1,500 for the paper work alone personally i would be willing to share this design work with the audio industry to see if it could be improved and tweaked, but will have to see if the tech don't mind this!

Also what if he dies half way through the project! (Dread the thought) Know one has mentioned this. The paperwork has to be approved by other techs before work commences...

Monday onwards i will be offline for a while, I'm in the sticks of England, but please keep up with the great feedback, my tech I’m sure will be pleased to answer questions... Must say I’m 95% positive about doing this and quite sure i have the right man for the job!

The paperwork will start in January but the tech has had the idea put to him over a year ago, i know he has spun it around his head a few times due to other producers that have mentioned very similar ideas since me.

He often services Neve, Harrison, API, Trident, Amek, Olympic, Helios, Cadac, Raindirk, I wont mention SSL,

Valve console experience: he's worked on the RCA BA 6 in the states and the EMI REDD in the UK & others... has about 35 years professional studio experience.

I'm sure that clients would enjoy this 12 channel custom tube console but it's mostly for my own music projects, i plan to hire the Telefunken mics and Fairchild compressors and have someone else master the work.

I’m going back to fun recording times, where we just crank it up and cook the music…

Question: Is the Manly tube console all tube or a hybrid design ?

Thanks everyone...



Old 15th September 2007
  #21
Kepp in mind that tubes are inherently high impedance devices. Placing the tubes in a rack and then trying to operate with a seperate console surface is big trouble as these high impedance nodes don't like long cable runs. Even the solid state versions like euphonix use remote controlled VCA's and MDAC's for controls. Attempting to run audio between the rack and the surface is not going to work. If this is to work properly, the signal runs must be kept very short.

Jim Williams
Audio Upgrades
Old 15th September 2007
  #22
Lives for gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim Williams View Post
Kepp in mind that tubes are inherently high impedance devices. Placing the tubes in a rack and then trying to operate with a seperate console surface is big trouble as these high impedance nodes don't like long cable runs. Even the solid state versions like euphonix use remote controlled VCA's and MDAC's for controls. Attempting to run audio between the rack and the surface is not going to work. If this is to work properly, the signal runs must be kept very short.

Jim Williams
Audio Upgrades
Jim - Couldn't you just use transformers?

mightyhero - I wish you the best of luck with this project. Respect to you for wanting something that seems almost impossible and I am not being sarcastic here. Just please be careful and tread carefully. Building a custom console has been done before so it is possible.

Also try and think outside the box from time to time. Is the idea of a tube console a Romantic notion for you or a practical one. Nothing wrong with Romantic (after all we are all into the music..) but maybe build the tube portion of it and use a good clean console to patch to? I would say the hardest part is keeping all the paths from affecting each other. Grounding can become a problem.

So why not get yourself a Neotek for instance and build your tube line in/line out signal "enhancers"? Just passing through the tube circuit at unity will affect the tone.

I'm just saying this because the design seems to be heading towards clean paths except for the tube section which can be overdriven if desired. Am I wrong here?


jim
Old 15th September 2007
  #23
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Tibbon's Avatar
Jim's right. I think that sending DC control signals or whatever to front panel controls, or any distance, is a much better idea.
Old 15th September 2007
  #24
Gear Head
 

Still keen

Good info, still not put off though, i will put this to the tech and see what he says next week or so, i have just seen a DVD on ebay which includes schematics of tons of valve gear including EMI REDD consoles so this will be a good start,
Hopefully he has some amazing great trick with the cable run to the console it was his idea...

He talked about swinging it a lot concerning other stuff…what ever that means, cash flow wise we don't have £20k or more at one go for a Neotek and etc, the tech reckons 15K all in and this can be done in stages over 3 years making it easier, plus i am very curious as to what can be banged up by a confident valve technician.

For what its worth the tech says the same thing get yourself a Neotek, if I had the money I would have both in fact I’d buy everybody a Neotek for Christmas…

He says the same thing for compressors like nothing else will work apart from a £12k Fairchild, I keep insisting Altec or Collins must sound something good.

He is also not a great fan of valve although very good with the service work, he reckons tubes are a good idea with mic amps and a few certain other places but mostly he’s a great fan of FET discrete electronics. He goes on a lot about freq response & range etc where his Quad 606 and Yamaha NS1000 sound completely harsh in treble and lifeless in the mid, compared to my rich and knock out valve hifi sound, he scores with the bass and power but my system is more enjoyable by far…

Because I don’t know too much of the service technical stuff, I don’t take a lot of notice with the test gear apart from tape calibration, I ask my ears & heart what’s going on.

I have a vintage valve hifi system in my workshop which inspires me to do this project the audio is so clear at times it gets scary... my tech serviced/overhauled this amp 10 years ago and still it runs with no attention needed, apart from bias adjustments of course, I have to stick my head next to the monitors to know its switched on it’s So quiet. A lot of people say all valve amps hum my man proves they talk a lot of sh**.

My tech reckons he's the master at grounding techniques I'm not gonna argue with him... he mentioned that 10 years ago when i first met him.

Neotek with valve outboard modules will sound very nice but a total valve console including the mix stage is what I'm after hopefully with the option to change the channel and certain other modules for experimentation between valve & FET.

Manley seem to have discrete transistor channel inputs, with a valve mix stage I'm sure it sounds real nice but still not quite what i have in mind.

Yeah i like the clean sound but am very keen on the open detailed sound that only valve can give especially in the midrange, and the crisp non harsh treble, the bass does get sluggish on all budget valve gear which is very annoying, hopefully we can get around this somewhat...


I’m still keen...

Thanks
Old 15th September 2007
  #25
Lives for gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tibbon View Post
Jim's right. I think that sending DC control signals or whatever to front panel controls, or any distance, is a much better idea.
I don't think Jim was suggesting the use of DC control, just pointing out another (potentially major) problem.

DC control would have to be solid state which would be cumbersome and self defeating, if not completely impractical.
Old 16th September 2007
  #26
Lives for gear
 

mightyecho - In any project that I've taken on in life be it audio or otherwise things will always tend to go off budget. In audio they usually exceed 50% and on average double the original predicted cost.

So if your cost is now 15k BP I would bet you it will cost over twice that when you are finished and that is if you are lucky and everything goes well! A project like yours in my estimate is more along the lines of 50k BP!

If I was ever going to do a project like this I would first contact as many others that have done similar projects out there (solid State or Tube). You will find there very few that were successfull and then I would bet that they were over budget by 100%. Only reason they finished is because they had the money and didn't want to loose their initial 50% (that they thought was 100%). Ask them if they would do it again. Ask them also if they made it for themselves or for someone else (in case you are talking to a tech that was commissioned to do it, which is not same as you).

I believe when you take the time to look at things in perspective you will drop this project or switch to a more practical and feasable approach.

Why don't you call up Neotek, API etc. and try and speak with design engineers there. They are the ones that will be able to tell you how much such a project really will cost. Right now you are totally depending on 1 person's word. He may be totally wrong about all this.

A 12 channel mixer with tubes for $30,000 seems OK actually but that is if the initial design works perfectly and nothing goes wrong at all. I bet Murphy will bring his law into the equation though.

By the way a 12 channel Neotek I would guess is far less than 20K BP.

Again all this is not to discourage you (most great things are heavily criticized at first) but to give you other points of view. Hey I'm entertaining designing a moving fader system and let me tell you that is mess in itself.


jim
Old 16th September 2007
  #27
Gear Head
 

very wise words

I worked on an internet project a few years ago and the budget went way out of control, i do see what you mean, passion can sometimes carry us away if not too careful, my tech even tried to put me off saying custom equipment is always gonna be overpriced... but i don't see anyone else making what i want and especially in a modular format where piece by piece can be added as the cash permits.
Sonically i believe i will have an advantage over other studios sub £300 per day which is my price area, my tech and i will thoroughly discuss the project and I will share all these opinions with him even those who think he's a jerk... I will have to make sure that he takes a great deal of responsibility over the cash target and irons all the edges out with a guarantee for the 12 months after each module is built.

After the frame and power supply is designed and built we then build 4 channels, the master section, and 2 of the echo sends, Then we can fully test the audio & reliability before building any further. I will know at this stage if my tech is fully capable or not… hopefully £5K maximum is spent at this stage.

I have promised to stop smoking tobacco before this project starts and to study tube audio electronics, the money saved can go into this project so its all good... it wont be a waste of money and my tech will put his name to it so he will have to take pride, others are watching!

Thanks


Old 16th September 2007
  #28
Lives for gear
 

Hi
Who is your tech?

Matt S
Old 16th September 2007
  #29
Gear Head
 

Custom 12 channel tube console

Quote:
Originally Posted by Matt Syson View Post
Hi
Who is your tech?

Matt S
The technician is Clive Kavan: Just had to phone him up to see if he don't mind his name up here...

Had a quick word about running the cables from the tower rack to the board, the valves are too high Z and the volts are too many so transformers will be used.

Also the mix buss would never cope if it was valve he reckons there's way too many channels and the noise would be massive...

I wanna look to see how EMI did things and see what the specs were...

He remembers a BBC valve 32 channel console used on live work many years ago and reckons they were way too noisy.

I like to know how Manley have done the inverse transistor channels and a valve mix buss?

Clive says IC's will be used for control functions only

I mentioned how most valve recordings sound way over saturated maybe due to the engineers pushing things high in level to get away from the noise,

He reckons the valves & transformers force a certain particular design which is known to sound slumpy.

Thanks
Old 16th September 2007
  #30
Lives for gear
 

Thats what I said about transformers between the Tube in racks. Don't skimp on those. Most good Xfr makers will make custom ones for you.

Have Clive look at John Hardy's 990 Discrete Opamps. They are cheap and probably would work well for summing (great for mike preamps as well).

jim
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