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 Elliott Sound Products Editorial - I Am As Mad As Hell ! 
Welcome to the editorial archives.  There is a good reason to keep these around for a while yet, since the problems have not gone away.  In case you were wondering, I still have had not a single useful response from anyone mentioned (nor anyone else for that matter) that gives any conclusive evidence that the "products" mentioned actually work.

In contrast to my other articles, my editorial names names.  Do not buy any product from these companies until they publicly apologise to the hi-fi world, and refund all money spent on the products described herein.  These are examples of exploitation of the worst kind, using big words and small mindedness to defraud the public.

German Hi-Fi Repair

Normally I don't directly use the stories of others, but this one is a little different.  The e-mail below is shortened, as it has been over 2 years now with no response. ESP takes no responsibility for the content.  I shall let the reader have his say ...

From: Neil Sheppard

I read with interest your story on counterfeit transistors. The world is becoming sorrier each day. What initially brought me to your page was a story of my own in the hope that someone else reading this might find it familiar.

I had some audio video equipment for home use and was surprised to find that after being used no more than two times, a Sony DAT (digital audio tape deck) not working. I found a company on the Upper East Side called German Hi Fi Repair in the Manhattan Yellow Pages on East 93rd or 94th St.

I decided to give them a shot. They also offered a pick up and delivery service I thought I made a wise choice. I spoke to a man who I assumed was the owner named Frank. He agreed to pick up the DAT and call me with a definite quote for parts and labor, before going ahead with any work.

I had made it clear to Frank that while these items needed fixing I was in a very poor position financially. A few days later he called to say everything was ready. I was surprised it was so fast. Unable to pay so soon I delayed the return of my equipment for a week or so until a small check came in. I called Frank and his man came right over to drop off the VCR, the component system which I later gave away, and the amp with the hum which he hooked up and demonstrated the delightful sound of pure music without interference.  For that alone I thought it was all worth while.

Days later I turned on my stereo and to my shock a loud hum emanated from the speakers just as before. I called Frank; but missed him. I was in no hurry to locate him as I believed he would simply make the repair right once we spoke. I kept calling and missing him. After a week or two I became concerned.

During that period I never checked the DAT deck. A friend borrowed it one evening and called hours later to tell me that it didn't work at all. It started to play for a second or two then stopped just as it used to do. I began a more diligent program of calls at various hours to reach Frank or anyone at German Hi Fi until it became obvious to me that "THEY WERE NO MORE"

Several days later it sunk in. I finally got an announcement on the phone that the number had been disconnected. It turns out that none of the repairs for which I paid altogether $450 had ever been done or done correctly.  Nothing works properly that was sent to him and I paid Frank $450 for nothing. Now he is nowhere to be found!

I thought perhaps someone else might have done business with him or may have information to help me find him, like his last name, a bank, or any customers and or associates I could try. I would like at least to give him an opportunity to return my money or take legal action against him. I would hate to see what he has done to the little old ladies in the neighborhood if he pulled this on me.

My email address is for anyone who can offer any information whatsoever. Even  if you have no info, I would like to hear how his other customers were treated. Maybe if a few of us get together we will locate him and fix something for him.
Neil Sheppard
If anyone can shed some light on this topic, please e-mail me or Neil.
The Final Insult

Well, I thought the Gainmoney (Oops :-) Gaincard was bad.  It still is, but thanks to a reader, there is much worse.  This little insult to our intelligence is made by (another) Japanese entrepreneur, and the review I read came from the UK.  Reviewed were the Music 5 preamp and Music 6 power amp.

Forget the fact that it is described as "beautifully finished" - it actually looks like the black box from a Sopwith Camel (WW1 fighter plane for the younger generation).  Replete with standard toggle switches, I think it looks like crap, but there you go.  Never mind the appearance, but what about the product?

OK, are you seated?  This is battery operated, and uses standard dry cells - the zinc-carbon cells are recommended since they sound much better, apparently the alkaline cells sound terrible by comparison.  My first comment is that how in any way does DC from one source "sound" different from DC from another?  The answer is (naturally) that it doesn't.  DC is the power source, and even in a passably well designed piece of equipment has little or no effect on the sound.  As batteries age, their internal resistance rises, and this CAN have an adverse affect on the sound quality because of supply modulation.

So, how many cells does it use?  The preamp uses 28 "AA" cells, and these can be expected to have a reasonable life, but the "power" amp (all 10W / Channel) uses 36 "C" cells.  When driven to reasonable listening levels the batteries will not last very long.  With 36 dry cells, a supply voltage of +/-27V is available, and this means that the amp is actually capable of about 36W into 8 ohms (per channel).  Minimum battery voltage is claimed to be 0.8V per cell, and at this voltage the amp will struggle to provide the claimed 10W.  The internal resistance of the battery will be huge, and the amp will probably sound awful.  A rough estimate of battery life is 10 hours of listening, so this thing is a) terrible for the environment (hundreds of discarded batteries per year, and b) going to cost a small fortune to run.

The best is yet to come!  The amp and preamp sell for (..... wait for it) 1,500 UK POUNDS each!  That is about US$2,300 each, or US$4,600 for the pair.  You would think that the overall build quality and appearance would be something really special, but no.  The pair are built in basic aluminium enclosures with a perspex panel, and would look much more at home in a workshop than a listening room.  The design is such that someone could easily mistake both units for a homemade analogue multimeter (they both have a meter on the front).

From the "designers" at Final:

Tests listening to a number of different amplifiers have shown that even where they measure identically, they still exhibit differences in tone. One reason for this discrepancy, is that sounds that are characteristically produced when a particular resistor or capacitor are used, are either superimposed on the music signals, or are omitted.

What drivel - this implies that these components are either microphonic or frequency dependent under normal audio operating conditions.  They are not (apart from the normal capacitive reactance effects, which are well known).  Another example ...

Final amplifier circuits use no high capacity capacitors (all 0.2uf or less). Capacitors store and then discharge electricity, starting the flow of electric current. It is impossible to increase the speed of a circuit beyond that of one such storage and discharge cycle. With capacitors of one uF or higher in a circuit, there is no way to achieve high speed operation, no matter how good the circuit is. When an amplifier that is incapable of high speed operation is used, sounds are superimposed, masking the subtleties in performance. When numerous instruments are playing simultaneously, the sound then becomes distorted - it becomes impossible to get a sense of transparency in the sound.

"Capacitors store and then discharge electricity, starting the flow of electric current" - rubbish.  Capacitors pass alternating current (AC) and block DC.  They are not power generating devices, and don't start anything.  You don't need to charge and discharge caps to pass the wanted signal, and if they are charging and discharging at audio frequencies they are too small for the job!  The speed of an amp is easily measured, by examining the slew rate (how fast the output can change in one microsecond) and frequency response.  The use of small coupling caps has absolutely no effect on these parameters, other than to restrict the low frequency performance and introduce low frequency phase shift.  If their claim were true, just about every amplifier on the planet would sound awful by comparison, and somehow I doubt that this is the case.

The claim that any capacitor greater than 200nF cannot pass high frequencies and will make the amplifier "slow" is obviously more twaddle.  If this is the case, how come I can pass a 100kHz square wave through a 100uF (or 10,000uF) capacitor with no measurable difference between input and output?  I have discussed the audibility of capacitors elsewhere (as have many other respected audio designers), and the conclusion is that no capacitor sounds different from any other (used within their ratings and at low power levels).  There are some exceptions, but they are few and far between.  Now they claim that resistors are audible too ....

They apparently use unencapsulated carbon resistors "with brass end caps for the leadout wires".  These are spiral cut to get the required resistance (they can be seen in the photo).  Funny, but I seem to recall that was exactly how all the early resistors were made back in the dim, dark past, and it was found that some form of coating was needed to prevent atmospheric contamination of the carbon track which could cause the value to change with time.  This is supposed to be an advance on modern technology ????   Metal film resistors are measurably superior in terms of stability and noise performance, but my guess is that they got hold of some obsolete stock of resistors on the cheap, and are justifying their use on "sonic" grounds.

Oh yes, I almost forgot that they are hand wired on prototype board (standard phenolic based Veroboard) and tag strips because printed circuit boards "sound bad" as well.  The prototype board they use IS a PCB, and a pretty crappy one at that for a production amp, being as rough as guts in terms of assembly.  All internal wiring is very shoddy, and it is obvious that these amps cost far, far less to make than even the Gaincard.

That any magazine would publish such blatant rubbish is reprehensible in the extreme, although to his credit the reviewer did point out that the power ICs used can be bought from Farnell's (a major British component supplier) for about 5 Pounds each!

What is intolerable is that he goes on to endorse the amp, despite some major shortcomings when it was asked to deliver any appreciable power into a difficult load.

Now, just have a look at this ...

Figure 1

An internal view of the Music 6 power amp (and a blatant violation of Copyright, I'm afraid).  I make neater prototypes than this, and in case you are wondering, the cable used is plain ordinary stranded hook-up wire (according to the review).  For this you have to pay US$2,300 - I think not, my friends!

Apparently, the amp also sports a "damping" control, claimed to be the first in the world.  Rubbish.  I have an amp I built over 15 years ago with a much more sophisticated version, some valve amps of 30 or so years ago did it, so it is not new and it is not the first in the world - not by a long shot.

One of the major claims is that the amp is completely silent during musical silences.  Big deal.  My system uses a valve preamp, electronic crossover, two 60W power amps and one 20W amp per speaker box and a 400W sub-woofer amp with electronic equaliser.  When not playing (or during musical silences) you have to place an ear right against the tweeter to hear anything, and all you do hear is a faint hiss.  Move a metre from the speakers and the complete system is inaudible in a normal room.  Needless to say, it is all mains powered.  This system will be no different, indeed CAN be no different.  Circuit noise is unavoidable in any electronic circuit, unless you are willing to try to break the law (of physics).  All attempts so far have failed.

My advice (predictably enough) is - don't even think about it.  These guys are frauds, liars and scoundrels, and I am quite happy to tell the world what I think of them.  Can they do anything about it - NO.  I can prove my claims and they can't, simple as that.  Now, if I could get proof that money, goods or services were exchanged for a complimentary review, then criminal fraud proceedings could be instigated.  That would spice things up a little.

As always, an e-mail was sent to the manufacturer (and the UK distributor) for their response.  This will be published verbatim when (and if) I get a reply. As of March 2004, there has been no response from the manufacturer or distributor.

Gaincard, Power Humpty (I'm not kidding) and other Fairy Tales

I thought about ignoring it, and I tried hard.  I really didn't think I had to concern myself with this, because it was just too ridiculous to imagine that anyone would fall for it .... but they did. Note that I have shortened this section considerably from the original version.

It is not that the idea is flawed, and some of the hype associated with it is even possible (highly improbable, but possible).  But what really irks me is the price they are charging for what is really no more than a couple of power opamps, which can be obtained for about $15 or so each.

I have experimented with these, and they sound very good indeed - as long as they are never allowed to clip or operate their internal protection circuits.  The Gaincard (as it is known) is the "brainchild" of a couple of Japanese entrepreneurs, calling themselves "Sakura Systems" or 47Laboratory.  In an interview I read on their homepage, they seem to laugh a lot.  Apparently the interviewer thought they had a strange sense of humour or something, but I think I know the real reason!

"Only the simplest can accommodate the most complex" seems to be a company motto, which is completely meaningless.  This philosophy collapses instantly when one contemplates the complexity of modern life - let alone music.  If this were the case, a single driver loudspeaker would (must) sound better than the multiple driver systems we all use; I could go on, but it is too pointless to waste time on.

How about this, then?

Another radical approach we took, which is often neglected or paid least attention to, is the control of mechanical resonance.  We do not automatically consider vibrations as negative. After all, vibrations and electrical current come from the same energy.  Instead of damping and trying to kill the vibrations, which instantly causes delays and modulations in the flow of current, we release them smoothly and quickly by the design of a compact and rigid chassis construction and control the resonance with the choice of materials.  So, there is no damping materials or suspensions in our products at all.

I'm glad they don't make loudspeakers, for a start.  Vibration and electricity do NOT come from the same energy. They are both energy in their own right, but different forms of energy.  One does not automatically create the other - this requires a transducer (by definition, a device to convert one form of energy into another).

Damping and "trying to kill" vibrations has absolutely no audible effect on the flow of electrons, and indeed, in the majority of cases has no effect at all (i.e. not measurable in any way, shape or form).  A "rigid and compact" chassis will not make an amp sound better.  It might look great (it does, actually), and it might be very convenient, but it does not affect the sound.  Not even a little bit.

Next ...

As the result, the number of parts in the circuitry of our amplifier unit, Model 4706 GAINCARD is 9 per channel (excluding attenuators). The length of the signal pass (including the length of parts) is 32m/m.  Our MC phono equalizer, Model 4712 PHONO CUBE, has 25 parts per channel, and a signal pass length of 44m/m.

So what?  The signal will still have to pass through a metre or more of interconnects, and has already travelled through hundreds of metres of cables in the studio.  They seem to have conveniently "forgotten" the number of components in the power opamp in the component count.  Some of the most highly acclaimed amps have 100s of components, and others have relatively few.  It is not the number of components that make a difference, but how they are used.

So we are talking about an amp with 9 components per channel (excluding attenuators, remember!), in a very small aluminium case that sells for (and wait for it .... ) $1,500 - WITHOUT THE POWER SUPPLY!  If you want a power supply, you get the "Power Humpty" - a snip at just $1,800 (these prices seem to change somewhat, but they are still outrageous for what you are getting).

The Power Humpty (good grief, no wonder these guys are laughing - this would be Chindogu if they didn't charge money for it) boasts the following claims ...

If energy supply depends on the capacity of filter/condensers, you can easily lose the freshness of sound. The high capacity transformer of Model 4700 (170 VA) regulates enough energy to support the extremely small filter/condenser (1000uF) of Model 4706, enabling it to trace avalanches of fff.

Although I do know what "fff" is, in this case "Free Form Fatuousness" would come much closer than the normal meaning   I am so glad that the Power Humpty (and yes, there is there is a Power Dumpty, too!) has "powerful regulation", because a 1000uF cap just is not enough filtering.  As for the "high capacity" 170VA transformer - it is not big, even for a dual 25W amp, in fact it is about right.  Smaller transformers will collapse badly under load, and are often unusable in my experience.

As for "If energy supply depends on the capacity of filter/condensers, you can easily lose the freshness of sound" - what on earth is that supposed to mean?  Where else are they getting their energy from - the moon?

Every review of this amp says it is great.  It probably does sound very nice - I am not about to dispute this, since I haven't heard it, but have made amps using power opamps, and they do sound good.

What I am so bloody annoyed about is the price and the hype and BS that these guys are handing out.  At about AU$5,300 for amp and supply, someone is making a killing.  Even allowing for small production runs, retail markups, wholesale markups, taxes and shipping, the price simply cannot be supported. This is an artificially inflated price to make the consumer think s/he is getting something really special.

Other manufacturers who build "mainstream" equipment (i.e. that which is often just as good as "audiophile", but misses out on high end marketing hype) can do the same thing, and have it retail for around AU$1,200 - including speakers and CD player, remote, etc.  OK, we know that the speakers will be uninspiring, but this is an enormous difference.  Much of it is simply due to economy of scale - the more of something you make, the cheaper it is per unit.  Now, if you buy one of these, and throw away the speakers ....

Gaincard indeed - try Gainmoney instead!

As is my practice, I sent an e-mail to Sakura Systems, and as of March 2004 (almost 4 years later!), no reply.


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Copyright Notice. This article, including but not limited to all text and diagrams, is the intellectual property of Rod Elliott, and is Copyright © 2000 except where noted below. Reproduction or re-publication by any means whatsoever, whether electronic, mechanical or electro-mechanical, is strictly prohibited under International Copyright laws. The author (Rod Elliott) grants the reader the right to use this information for personal use only, and further allows that one (1) copy may be made for reference. Commercial use is prohibited without express written authorisation from Rod Elliott.
Page created and Copyright (c) 13 Apr 2000 Rod Elliott.  Reproduced parts are Copyright Final Laboratories, Hi-Fi World magazine and 47Labaoratory.