A.J. van den Hul: Going Dutch Page 4

My best wire, MC Silver, has three different layers of Teflon film around the wire and runs flat up to 22GHz! And it's just a multi-strand wire with a single line in the center in a braiding. People working with this wire have said this is the very best they have ever auditioned. This is a new standard in audio. It is very expensive to make but on the other hand I am quite sure that when you get this wire, in 10 years you will not have a better wire. It will keep its quality over all that time.

One of the things I think associated with good quality is to use a balanced, rather than a coaxial, line. Cheap wires are always coaxial and we learn to live with it, but coax has one negative aspect: the signal-up line is different from the signal-down line, which has two functions: shielding and transport. And signal transport and shielding should be kept separate. If you want to do two jobs with one thing, one is always not done very well. Coax may be a simple way of connecting sources to loads but the better way is to do it all balanced. I would like to see the whole audio industry move towards balanced working. A cartridge is a balanced device, a microphone can be a balanced device, amplifiers can be symmetrical, can be bridged, the speaker is more or less a balanced device—so let us work completely balanced.

Atkinson: How do you recommend people to listen to subtle differences in sound quality?

van den Hul: Here is a DIY course to upgrade your listening. You should take a record you like most and first just listen to the dynamics. Forget the thrill of the music; just train your ear to concentrate on the dynamics, on the high peaks. Second, listen again but now to all the detail, the very low-level signals. Third, listen to the overall sound and try to find in the music the reverberation, the depth in the music. That is, if there is any depth in your system, because a lot of hi-fi systems do not have any depth of image even if they do have good stereo—left-right—imaging, they are like flat wallpaper. Fourth, listen to the definition of sound. How well is an instrument transferred? Is an oboe not sounding like a clarinet when it's playing loud? And lastly, concentrate on timbre.

Play the record you like most five times and listen to all these things on their own. Then play it again and listen to dynamics and depth of image, or dynamics and detail. If you do this one evening with one record, you will then know exactly what you are listening for, what is a good record, what is a bad record. When you listen to someone else's system, or to equipment set up in a hotel like this, you will know exactly what you are missing, because you now know what is in the music.

It's like trying to find the ingredients used for a Chinese dish. Many people eat just what's on the dish, but when you know the different spices, you know how to balance flavors when you eat the same dish in another restaurant. You take the whole picture in parts and pieces, then build it up again, knowing the constructing parts, knowing what makes sound more valuable, rather than just absorbing sound like a sponge without knowing what you are listening to.

Very helpful in this process is to go to real music. Forget tweaking around with equipment and enjoy music. Go to a concert and enjoy live music. Listen all the day to sound. Don't just do it at home. Two hours a day, train your ears, try to close your eyes, try to locate sounds, try to find out what instruments are there, or how things are going. Listening with eyes closed is very good training in enjoying music much more.

Don't forget to buy the printed music. If you really like music, invest in music, not only in equipment. Try to read the music along with the performance or to listen to an opera with a vocal score. Make a study of instruments. Go into a museum where they have all the old instruments. Buy a good book about instruments and try to find out how instruments work. Go to an instrument builder and ask him what he does for his job and how things sounds. Set up a listening society.

Do something active with music rather than just consuming it. Just producing cone movements is the most poor way how to enjoy music.

Thomas J. Norton talked to A. J. van den Hul in November 1994 (Vol.17 No.11):

Educator, physicist, audio enthusiast, audio journalist, and maverick audio designer—Aalt Jouk van den Hul is impossible to categorize. One thing he's always been is a passionately outspoken advocate of looking at audio from new and unusual directions. While active in modifying, reworking, and refurbishing existing phono cartridges, developing cartridges of his own, and producing his own line of audio cables, his public audio career has, to date, been bookended by two innovations: the van den Hul phono stylus, and the use of carbon fiber for the conductors in interconnects. His top-of-the-line First interconnect and Revelation loudspeaker cables were favorably reviewed by Martin Colloms in the May 1993 Stereophile (Vol.16 No.3, p.134). The use of the First as a digital link was discussed by Peter van Willenswaard in March 1993 (Vol.16 No.3, p.53).

While in high school, A.J. van den Hul operated his own medium-wave transmitter, broadcasting homework solutions and music (played on his own home-built turntable) after school. Handling the amplification system at school sports events taught him a great deal about acoustics, 600 ohm lines, and microphones. He studied electronics and physics at the Technical University of Delft in the Netherlands, specializing in measurement techniques. Subsequently, he taught high school physics and technical high school for 13 years.

His intense interests in audio and music eventually drove him into audio journalism in his native Holland. Audio was, for him, an irresistible combination of music—with its strong emotional content and universal appeal—and technology. He found that the better the technician's work, the deeper the listener's emotional involvement. Such involvement remains his touchstone in judging the effectiveness of audio equipment—especially his own designs. I spoke with A.J., as he is generally known, at the 1994 WCES in Las Vegas.—Thomas J. Norton

A.J. van den Hul: I got my start in audio in 1948, when my father, who was a valve [tube] collector, died. I was left with a lot of components. I had Lee DeForest valves and all kinds of other items. I broke a lot, but I also learned a lot. It was my father's hobby; it became my hobby, too. It was passed on by way of his components; he couldn't tell me any more because he had died.

Thomas J. Norton: You were a journalist for a few years, though.

van den Hul: I was a journalist for 13 years.

Norton: You've been involved with so many different things in audio, but when and how did you get involved in cables?

van den Hul: It evolved from the crazy business of winding coils in and repairing cartridges. I got the impression that there was something sonically different about the little wires I was using—20µm copper or silver. Going back to my background in physics, I couldn't really find an explanation of why the wires sounded different. I asked the guys at the university, "Can you tell me why one [wire] sounds different from the other one?" And their answer was, "No, we can't—they should all sound the same, except for what you can measure on your ohmmeter—the DC value." But I thought, "I'm working with AC things. Why are only the DC measurements significant when what you listen to is AC?"

I've done a lot of experiments since then. I have developed very sophisticated metal-wire production processes for making audio cables. But I was always looking for better. I had the feeling three years ago that I couldn't do anything more, creatively, with metal. The reason carbon came up is because carbon is, under normal temperatures, a very inactive material chemically. I have found that there are a lot of changes in audio cables—and other audio equipment—due to chemical deterioration. And to prevent chemical deterioration, you have to use less chemically active, or chemically inactive, materials.

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