About 6 years ago I had some NOS vacuum tubes cryo-treated as an experiment to determine if the cryogenic process had any effect on the performance of audio tubes. I was very scientific about the experiment, which spanned 5 years. Initially, I passed a pre-recorded bit of audio through the originally, untreated tubes (installed in an amplifier) and recorded that passage directly out of the preamp back into the computer. I sent the tubes off and when they came back a couple weeks later I ran the exact same passage through the same preamp with the same settings. The audio would sound identical if the treatment process did nothing. The passages actually sounded quite different. The tubes exhibited a lower noise floor, crisper high frequencies and a cleaner sound. None of these audible differences were huge, but they were enough to justify the $5 per tube price of cryogenic processing. BTW, thats what the price works out to be when I send 30 tubes out for treatment.
Fast forward 5 years. Vacuum tubes definitely don't last forever. Modern tubes really don't last very long at all when compared to the good old vintage tubes, but even those awesome old school tubes don't last forever. Biggest problem is the dwindling world-wide supply of quality NOS vacuum tubes. With my tube tester I'm able to see if a tube has been used via the "life test." Typically, after about 1 year of regular use a tube will show signs of usage or in the case of modern tubes it could be on its way out. I tested the cryo-treated tubes from 5 years earlier, which had seen daily use (30-40hrs per week) for that 5 year period. One would expect the tubes to show some signs of usage on the tester, but the cryo-treated tubes actually tested the same as brand new tubes.
Fast forward to today. I have finally decided its worth cryo-treating ALL tubes used by Lightning Boy Audio. This week I'm sending out the first batch of Lightning Boy tested and approved premium NOS vacuum tubes for cryogenic processing. All equipment manufactured by Lightning Boy Audio will not only feature NOS vacuum tubes, but those tubes will also be cryo-treated to ensure they last the rest of your life.
Last night I put the finishing touches on the Flux Bender prototype. For those unfamiliar with the name, The Flux Bender is a stereo, passive, 100% vacuum tube powered equalizer (that means no DC powered heater filaments, no silicon rectifiers, no IC's, no solid state voltage regulators, no silicon bullshit period). The EQ filter topology is based somewhat on the Pultec EQP-1A, but its definitely not the same. The amplifier design is a Lightning Boy original.
My goals for the Flux Bender were to create a stereo EQ that offered a higher degree of sonic fidelity and a lower noise floor than Manley's Massive Passive. I wanted to create an equalizer that not only out performs the MP in terms of technical specs, but also in terms of sound quality. I wanted to do all this without the modern solid state trickery used by my competitors... just to prove to the world that solid state components are not needed for great performance, but rather the greatest sound quality and performance can come from a carefully crafted all-tube design. While the Flux Bender won't offer quite as many controls as the Massive Passive, it will offer a lower price tag along with superior specs. On Monday the Flux Bender prototype will undergo extensive testing, but initial tests this morning showed a noise floor of -90.1 dB, which completely blew my mind. First of all, I've only recently broken the -80dB noise floor barrier with revision A of the 1401 stereo preamp. My goal was to match Manley's -85dB noise floor, which seemed to be a serious challenge. I was extremely surprised and overjoyed to see such great S/N performance from the prototype, because the production model will be more carefully constructed to reduce the noise floor even further. This morning I only confirmed the controls and operation of the Flux Bender to be in order. More extensive testing and results on Monday, followed by a complete disassembly in preparation for the first production build of the Flux Bender.
But alas, you can't because there's just too much top secret stuff on it. Upcoming products that are under construction, prototypes under development and most importantly... inventions. Before this year's out, LBA will be unveiling a series of new and innovative analog tools for the Mix Engineer. One of these tools is revolutionary and very affordable, but that's super hush hush for now, so lets talk about the other goodies.
The Flux Bender Equalizer is unfortunately delayed at the moment, while Cinemag hastily works to build new output transformers for the production prototype. There was a mistake with the last batch, and I admit it was my error for ordering the wrong transformers... the part numbers were one digit off. The EQ is completely wired up and just awaiting its output transformers. This production prototype will be tested and studied to verify technical information such as frequency points, S:N performance, and any potential issues will be hunted down. Following the test phase, the prototype will be disassembled. The components from the production prototype will be used to build the first production model. I would like to point out that the current production prototype is not the first prototype. There have been a number of prototypes leading up to this one, which is the first stereo version.
Analog Plate Reverb... I'm about to start working on the plate reverb at LBA Studios. It was the very first plate reverb I ever built and its long overdue for some massive updates. The electronics its running are the most up to date amplifiers offered by Lightning Boy Audio, but the mechanics are out dated. The 1401 plate reverb design differs in a number of ways, so I will be stripping down the old reverb and the only thing I'm keeping from it is the frame. New sheet of steel (slightly different dimensions), new driver, new motorized panel with remote, new isolation case. I'll be documenting the rebuild with lots of youtube video footage, so make sure you subscribe to my youtube channel to stay up on the updates at:
About the Author
Mike Congilosi II, Owner/Designer/Electronics Engineer at Lightning Boy Audio and Owner/Audio Engineer/Music Producer at LBA Studios.