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Mixed Marriage

Can a retro tube-based amplifier live happily ever after with the Apple iPod?

4 min read

Apple's iPod reeks of modernity. Its combination of sleek industrial design, capacious storage, and a clever user interface is state of the art. So why would anyone think to mate the iPod with a retrogressive stationary audio component that is based on vacuum tubes?

After auditioning the N and S Valveworks iPod amplifier for more than a month, I'm not sure I'm any closer to an answer than when it arrived. The amplifier, made by N and S, in Saitama, Japan, is as oddly conceived a product as I've ever encountered in more than 20 years of audio reviewing. But it's kind of fun, and in its own way it is an interesting commentary on some frequently overlooked trends in component audio. The survival of the vacuum tube some 30 years after its abandonment by mainstream manufacturers is one of the great anomalies of consumer electronics. Huge, hot, inefficient, and somewhat dangerous, tubes offer no practical advantages over their solid-state counterparts. But what they do provide is a musically natural distortion spectrum and, for many, a superior listening experience.

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Deep Learning Could Bring the Concert Experience Home

The century-old quest for truly realistic sound production is finally paying off

12 min read
Image containing multiple aspects such as instruments and left and right open hands.
Stuart Bradford

Now that recorded sound has become ubiquitous, we hardly think about it. From our smartphones, smart speakers, TVs, radios, disc players, and car sound systems, it’s an enduring and enjoyable presence in our lives. In 2017, a survey by the polling firm Nielsen suggested that some 90 percent of the U.S. population listens to music regularly and that, on average, they do so 32 hours per week.

Behind this free-flowing pleasure are enormous industries applying technology to the long-standing goal of reproducing sound with the greatest possible realism. From Edison’s phonograph and the horn speakers of the 1880s, successive generations of engineers in pursuit of this ideal invented and exploited countless technologies: triode vacuum tubes, dynamic loudspeakers, magnetic phonograph cartridges, solid-state amplifier circuits in scores of different topologies, electrostatic speakers, optical discs, stereo, and surround sound. And over the past five decades, digital technologies, like audio compression and streaming, have transformed the music industry.

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