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Fishy1500 25th April 2015 02:02 AM

Thermionic Culture Build Quality
 
Hello, I have a Thermionic Culture Phoenix Mastering Compressor & a Culture Vulture Mastering and while I think these units sound absolutely fantastic, I truly feel that the build quality leaves a lot to be desired. In particular, I've been worried about how long the pots/knobs will hold up since day 1 and have honestly never seen anything like it before.

Does anyone know if there are any options to upgrade or replace the pots/knobs on these units with something more reliable? I'm not sure if anyone has done this type of upgrade before but I really like these units and just wanted to get them to be a bit more robust if at all possible.

Plush 25th April 2015 04:15 AM

Build quality is much less good than it should be for this expensive gear. I am a big fan of the sound but I'm both shocked and offended by the price gouging from this company. I think it is a vulgar pricing strategy. Hand built? Yes. With all the sloppiness of a teenage bench man.

Timesaver800W 25th April 2015 11:48 AM

You can of course get a tech to change all the pots etc, but why fix it if it's not broken? I've had bad pots on gear from a tonne of manufacturers, it's not like Thermionic have a monopoly in that department.

Matt Syson 25th April 2015 01:32 PM

Hi
There is a lot to 'decent pots' that is difficult to define. Over some 35 years or so the brands that I have 'witnessed' with the greatest problems when used in bulk quantity have been in the 'very expensive' category rather than the ones I have seen in TC's gear. The 'feel' depends on getting the correct 'damping / friction' for the knob size used. As an example the (expensive) Bourns blue (41?) series FEEL very smooth but when a decent size knob is fitted say 40mm diameter they are somewhat light touch. They tend to be very reliable and good quality but the feel is the issue.
As said, worry about it if they break, confident that if they do they won't cost a massive amount to get replaced.
Matt S

tobymusic 25th April 2015 02:19 PM

I think Plush is a bit harsh towards Thermionic Culture...BUT I admit that I also have thought modifying TC gear.

I just purchased a 4-channel Earlybird 4 mic preamp - which is a pretty expensive piece of gear - and upon my first use of the unit ALL the switches (both for gain and low cut) would turn completely inside the front panel, so I needed to remove all the knobs, fix the rotary switches more firmly, put the knobs back on.

The gain knobs are gold contact switches, but if you push the button hard, the switch will pop open on the inside!! Aaah, so I thought about replacing these with ELMA switches - surely on a unit with a street price of 6600 Euros there would have been budget for ELMA switches - but still the switches work and the contact is totally fine. All in all the unit sounds fantastic, no doubt about that.

I have been using a Phoenix for the last 10 years, after having it serviced early on it's been running fine on every mix and I would certainly buy it again.

Hardtoe 25th April 2015 04:05 PM

I have a Rooster which feels solid and shows no signs of cheap build - been using it for a few year now regularly for tracking and mixing

Ian Curtis 28th April 2015 10:26 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Fishy1500 (Post 10998811)
Hello, I have a Thermionic Culture Phoenix Mastering Compressor & a Culture Vulture Mastering and while I think these units sound absolutely fantastic, I truly feel that the build quality leaves a lot to be desired. In particular, I've been worried about how long the pots/knobs will hold up since day 1 and have honestly never seen anything like it before.

Does anyone know if there are any options to upgrade or replace the pots/knobs on these units with something more reliable? I'm not sure if anyone has done this type of upgrade before but I really like these units and just wanted to get them to be a bit more robust if at all possible.

Hi Fishy, It doesn't sound as though you actually have a problem with the units!. I would like to know how old/serial number of the units you have. We have spent a lot of time over the past few years improving the quality ( mostly due to customer feedback). We have also found that there are as many different feels/perceptions on the pots as there are engineers using them. We will always listen & take on board any feedback and constructive criticism. For example the current Phoenix mastering Plus uses Elma switches on the input & Threshold. If you have any problems or require any upgrade options that we can do at Thermionic Culture then please contact us. Either me direct - [email protected] or through our website Welcome to the Thermionic Culture

Earcatcher 28th April 2015 05:50 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Ian Curtis (Post 11005986)
Hi Fishy, It doesn't sound as though you actually have a problem with the units!. I would like to know how old/serial number of the units you have. We have spent a lot of time over the past few years improving the quality ( mostly due to customer feedback). We have also found that there are as many different feels/perceptions on the pots as there are engineers using them. We will always listen & take on board any feedback and constructive criticism. For example the current Phoenix mastering Plus uses Elma switches on the input & Threshold. If you have any problems or require any upgrade options that we can do at Thermionic Culture then please contact us. Either me direct - [email protected] or through our website Welcome to the Thermionic Culture

Maybe you could react to post #5 of this thread as well? It is about a current quality product.

Fishy1500 29th April 2015 05:25 AM

4 Attachment(s)
Thanks everyone for sharing your thoughts and experiences. I was looking to upgrade the knobs/pots not only because of their "feel" but also because of how some of them physically performed. Here's an example with my Culture Vulture Mastering (I purchased it brand new):
  1. The first attached photo shows the BIAS in its normal far left (min) position
  2. The second attached photo shows the BIAS in its normal far right (max) position
  3. The third attached photo shows the BIAS moved beyond the far left (min) position. There is very little resistance encountered when reaching the min/max positions on the BIAS knobs, and you can very easily move right past them. This happens with both of the Channel 1 & 2 BIAS knobs on the Culture Vulture Mastering. I have also experienced going right past the min/max positions on both of the RELEASE knobs on the Phoenix Mastering Compressor as well although it is not as pronounced there and you do encounter a little bit more resistance.
  4. The fourth attached photo shows that the BIAS far right (max) position is now misaligned and I would need to turn the knob past its max position to try to get everything aligned properly again.

Another example of an issue I've encountered is with my Phoenix Mastering Compressor (I also purchased this brand new):
  • I would start to hear some static on Channel 2 when the problem begins to arise
  • Channel 2 would start to be several decibels quieter (was using a test tone to compare the channels)
  • Channel 2 would sometimes end up dying all together and would stay that way for several weeks. Usually after some time it would just fix itself
  • Using the bypass switch for Channel 2, I would be able to hear the unprocessed audio signal ok
  • The problem is intermittent and the Phoenix could work just fine for some time before this issue suddenly reoccurs
  • I contacted Thermionic Culture about this previously and was told that it could be either a problem with the pot or a dry joint.

Overall, I really like how these units sound and just wanted to see if they can be upgraded to be more robust.

Fishy1500 29th April 2015 05:37 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Ian Curtis (Post 11005986)
Hi Fishy, It doesn't sound as though you actually have a problem with the units!. I would like to know how old/serial number of the units you have. We have spent a lot of time over the past few years improving the quality ( mostly due to customer feedback). We have also found that there are as many different feels/perceptions on the pots as there are engineers using them. We will always listen & take on board any feedback and constructive criticism. For example the current Phoenix mastering Plus uses Elma switches on the input & Threshold. If you have any problems or require any upgrade options that we can do at Thermionic Culture then please contact us. Either me direct - [email protected] or through our website Welcome to the Thermionic Culture

Thanks Ian for your message, I really appreciate it. What kind of upgrades are available for these units? I would definitely be interested in having them upgraded if it would improve their overall build quality/robustness so I can continue depending on them in the years to come. And I would definitely like to get my Phoenix Mastering Compressor fixed as well (for the problem I described above) although troubleshooting it might be tricky since the issue is so unpredictable.

I'm located in Tokyo Japan and I purchased the Phoenix Mastering Compressor in 2008 and the Culture Vulture Mastering in 2009.

Ian Curtis 30th April 2015 03:42 PM

Fishy1500 - Your Culture Vulture mastering plus bias control should always return to the same position either clockwise or anti-clockwise.
I am not sure whether the knob is loose on the pot spindle or whether the pot itself is moving?. The bias should be set using the current shown on the meters.
Regarding the options on the Phoenix please contact me direct - [email protected] and I will go through these with you.

Ian Curtis 30th April 2015 03:51 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Earcatcher (Post 11006821)
Maybe you could react to post #5 of this thread as well? It is about a current quality product.

Once again I would like to know the serial number - although these are in our current brochure, we haven't (with the exception of 2) manufactured these since 2010.The gain knobs are switches not pots and do not need pushing (hard or otherwise) as they rotate.

Tobymusic - Please contact me direct if you are having problems with the switches and we will resolve any issues you have.

Earcatcher 30th April 2015 05:33 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Ian Curtis (Post 11012010)
Once again I would like to know the serial number - although these are in our current brochure, we haven't (with the exception of 2) manufactured these since 2010.The gain knobs are switches not pots and do not need pushing (hard or otherwise) as they rotate.

I have one of these recent two builds (mine's from 2014) and I can confirm that I have not found any mechanical faults with this unit. Everything moves smooth, feels good, looks good. Knobs are precisely aligned with their scales. Sound levels seem exactly calibrated between channels. There's nothing wrong with it as far as I can tell.

I'd just like to know how wide spread the reported problems are and from which time they date. In other words: what's the risk to get a lemon if I buy some more (new) units.

Naturally I would have preferred Elma switches in my unit as well, as they are top of the line in durability, but so far there is no indication that the ones mounted wouldn't be just fine too.

greyskull 30th April 2015 07:13 PM

The phoenix at the studio is one of the most BEAUTIFULLY built pieces of gear i;ve ever seen.

Certainly more so than ermmm some other guy...

Plush 30th April 2015 07:37 PM

All switches and pots and their mountings should be of the best quality. The asking price justifies the best components. Right now low quality parts are used. Recently the power on switch on my Earlybird disintegrated in my hand as I turned on the unit.

Earcatcher 30th April 2015 08:01 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Plush (Post 11012812)
All switches and pots and their mountings should be of the best quality. The asking price justifies the best components.

Totally agree with that statement. The fact that we have to discuss this subject at all is not good. If I pay a premium price I expect a premium product in every aspect. I'll have to see how mine holds up now. Maybe the quality has improved since you purchased your Earlybird.

tobymusic 30th April 2015 10:54 PM

I purchased the Earlybird 4 two weeks ago. So it must be one of the 2014/2015 build units too.

Since I had to take off all the caps and fasten the rotary switches for Gain and Lo Cut, at first I did not realize that I have to loosen the tension adjustment in the caps, so I just pushed the first two back into place. That's when the switches popped open. I closed them, found out about the adjustment and now everything is fine...apart from two of the ECC83 tubes being too microphonic, so I'm trying to get replacements for those from Kevin Walker at Unity Audio.

But really, why not avoid all this and fit Elma switches that have been industry standard for decades in quality preamps?

Earcatcher 1st May 2015 02:01 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by tobymusic (Post 11013459)
I purchased the Earlybird 4 two weeks ago. So it must be one of the 2014/2015 build units too.

Since I had to take off all the caps and fasten the rotary switches for Gain and Lo Cut, at first I did not realize that I have to loosen the tension adjustment in the caps, so I just pushed the first two back into place. That's when the switches popped open. I closed them, found out about the adjustment and now everything is fine...apart from two of the ECC83 tubes being too microphonic, so I'm trying to get replacements for those from Kevin Walker at Unity Audio.

I wonder: how did you test the microphonic properties of the valves? I want to make sure there are no such problems with my unit. And another question: why don't you ask TC for better valves?

Did you have the test report that comes with every EB4 unit? There should be a date on it. Your unit could have been old stock too, no? Mine was built by TC after I ordered it.

tobymusic 1st May 2015 08:31 AM

Earcatcher,
the two tubes that were microphonic were pretty obvious - they picked up every noise, switching, even touching or turning knobs on the front panel and you would hear it in their channel loud and clear. So no in-depth testing needed here. I believe a tube can be "good" (have good specs on a tube tester) and still be microphonic - and also the other way around. It should not take more to find out than to connect 4 mics and have a listen in a real world application. If this works fine on your unit, it should be fine.

BTW - no test report came with my unit, mine was a demo.

Matt Syson 1st May 2015 10:42 AM

Hi
There are many parameters for a valve of any given 'type' which can affect the exact circuit where it is used.
Obvious things are gain, noise, microphony and within any design some examples will be particularly good in one aspect but not necessarily in another. If the manufacturer set out to make 'ECC83' (12AX7) valves, some might be higher gain and the 'cream' of these would end up with a different part number. Low noise another number and so on. Having valves that 'excel' in all categories that are important for a specific application takes a lot of selection, maybe 1 in 100 or even fewer. If the valve is used in a chassis with good 'shock' control and mechanical isolation, an increase in microphony may not be an issue. A valve used as a 'phase splitter' in a power amp may not need exceptionally low noise as the gain used may be 'unity' and the overall performance is determined by other parts in the circuit.
We are getting used to semiconductors that are a few atoms thick whereas the technology of valve construction is dealing with punched metal parts and hand wiring.
Matt S

Earcatcher 2nd May 2015 02:56 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by tobymusic (Post 11014356)
BTW - no test report came with my unit, mine was a demo.

That seems pretty vital information to me. A demo may have undergone so much maltreatment by everyone who has wanted to finger it, it would be a miracle if you did not have problems like you described. Actually, it could easily be a much older unit than what you expect. The test report should have given you this info. What's the serial number?

markbell 20th May 2015 05:03 PM

Ive been using Thermionic for over 15 years and have found their gear to be of a superb build quality. Im using it alongside the likes of Manley Neve Great River GML & Millenia and its right up there

sleepyhollos 21st May 2015 03:26 AM

Interesting that. All of my TC gear is working 100% and feels quality too. Strange!!!

Earcatcher 21st May 2015 01:42 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Earcatcher (Post 11016402)
That seems pretty vital information to me. A demo may have undergone so much maltreatment by everyone who has wanted to finger it, it would be a miracle if you did not have problems like you described. Actually, it could easily be a much older unit than what you expect. The test report should have given you this info. What's the serial number?

After some PM exchange with tobymusic it turned out that his EB4 unit was built before mine (plus it was a demo unit, as mentioned above). So far mine seems to be flawless in every building aspect and fully functional to specs. This would suggest that there is no convincing reason to doubt the current build quality. The quality of all components I cannot judge. Time will tell how they hold up.

FakeOnMercy 21st May 2015 02:19 PM

I can also confirm, really nothing wrong with the build quality of my Culture Vulture mastering plus. Great machine, great quality.

fdc 19th October 2015 11:34 AM

when i bought my culture vulture from thomann the left channel didn't work. Send it back and they repaired it. After 3 years the left channel started to produce a low noise crackle. Sadly short after the guarantee time from Thomann.
Where can i get this repaired in Germany/Berlin? Also when does the tubes need replacement? (bought it 4 years ago)

Ian Curtis 19th October 2015 11:44 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by fdc (Post 11417225)
when i bought my culture vulture from thomann the left channel didn't work. Send it back and they repaired it. After 3 years the left channel started to produce a low noise crackle. Sadly short after the guarantee time from Thomann.
Where can i get this repaired in Germany/Berlin? Also when does the tubes need replacement? (bought it 4 years ago)

Please contact our distributor/service centre in Germany.
APKE TONTECHNIK
GUIDO APKE & JAN KORAY GbR
Tel: +49 (0)2151 5656 380
[email protected]
APKE TONTECHNIK

They will be able to help out.

Citrus Fresh 19th October 2015 04:28 PM

Where I live, the power is terrible and my Fat Bustard got nailed by a huge power spike.

All I can say is that Ian and the crew at Thermionic have really gone out of their way to assist me.

first class customer service IMHO

Plush 20th October 2015 01:07 AM

I switched to Tube Tech MP2A after selling my Earlybird.

sergioelectro 20th October 2015 01:42 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by greyskull (Post 11012714)
The phoenix at the studio is one of the most BEAUTIFULLY built pieces of gear i;ve ever seen.

Certainly more so than ermmm some other guy...

Yes!
A question to Phoenix users and specialists:

Is there anyway by changing the current tubes to get even a fatter and best sound from the Phoenix by adding new other special tubes ?

Regards
Sergio