Yes, He Said ‘Tubes’

Maybe this is going to be an unusual NAB Show. I’m used to a flurry of new technologies accompanied by a blizzard of marketing. But I never expected to see the Saturday tech session presentation made by Jerry Whitaker on tube amplifiers and, my goodness, vinyl records. Perhaps it is a case of something being so old that it has become new.

I actually don’t have a lot against tube audio amplifiers. Their main drawback is heat and fragility but I’m old enough to have done a fair amount of early live sound work with tube amps. Power tubes with far lower power ratings always sounded louder and better than solid-state amps back in those days. But the transistor amplifiers in the end won out for professional PA work due to their greater ruggedness. It just takes one slight drop to break a tube.

Musicians, particularly guitarists, feel that tube amplifiers are the best. I have helped out a number of musician friends by repairing their beloved amps as a hobby.

On the other hand, the LP record pressed in vinyl was never my favorite. LPs were fragile and prone to noise. The high-frequency pre-emphasis caused recording and pressing problems. This was a technology that was mechanically marvelous and designed for simplistic playback devices. It was not an ideal technology if perfect reproduction of sound was the goal.

But Whitaker made a great point and it’s worth considering. Sales of vinyl LPs are actually increasing and a certain group of collectors and audio enthusiasts are willing to pay what it takes to get their favorites on vinyl. Why not try it as a radio format in a return to that other lost concept, Appointment Radio? This could be a big hit with a niche group of listeners and I can’t think of a better way to serve them than good old analog FM.

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