Gramophone Dreams #34: The Salt Cellar System Page 2

Input signals were generated by mono and stereo LPs traced by a variety of stereo phono cartridges with their coils connected in series (for mono) by an adaptor at the end of the tonearm cable. The phono cartridges fed one channel of a Slagle step-up transformer, leading to one channel of a Slagle/Jackson–designed inductance-resistance (LR) phono preamp: an RIAA stage that uses no signal capacitors or coupling capacitors. That fed one of Slagle's famous autoformer volume controls, which in turn fed Jackson's single-ended, transformer-coupled 50 tube amp, which makes maybe 2 watts. (The globe 50 tube alternated with a WE 205d tube, which makes maybe 1 watt. Jackson's amp used that Elektromekano S6 (from his backpack) as a voltage amplifier, and two three-element mercury-vapor gas-filled Western Electric 394A thyratrons as rectifiers.


The LR phono stage and power amplifier had 80% nickel-core output transformers. The turntable was a hammertone grease-bearing Garrard 301 with two tonearms: one by Frank Schroeder, the other by Thomas Schick.

Slagle's regiment of hand-built cartridges started out as Denon DL-103s, but Dave discards the plastic body, substitutes samarium-cobalt magnets, adds new coils, formers, and a boron cantilever with a suspension and tiebacks of his own design and a microridge stylus. One of the cartridges he brought substitutes an electromagnet (field coil) for the permanent magnet.


I can assure you, these unique cartridges, plus the Slagle-Jackson capless LR phono stage, plus the Salt Cellar System's extensive use of nickel-cored transformers, contributed heavily to its vibrant, attention-grabbing sound.

How good was the Salt Cellar System really?
I strongly believe that to understand why the Salt Cellar horns sounded so vivid and mesmerizing, and how this single three-way horn presented music in such a tangible, I can see and feel the musicians manner, might be a first step toward a more exciting audio future.

In my view, today's audio technology, both recording and playback, is walking a dead-end path —a path that has failed completely at making the human content of recordings more accessible. I believe the reasons for this failing to be obvious: Bean-counters and advertising hucksters with extremely limited vision are running the show. Their relentless blabber is convincing people to think abstractly and quantitatively about devices whose only designated purpose is to make recordings tangible and engaging to a listener. The last Golden Age of audiophile-quality audio (ca 1975–1985) was spawned by consumers' rejection of the knob-switch-and-feature wars, fancy faceplates, and low-THD specsmanship of 1970s Japanese receivers. These days, I sometimes feel like it's 1975 again.

As in '75, too many of today's audiophiles think audio is a numbers game. They discredit direct experience and deny the concreteness of observation and memory. Instead of listening and trusting their impressions, they block them out with graphs and numbers and sonic checklists, all based on preconceived notions about what is correct or incorrect, never wondering (or caring) why Art Dudley experienced "humans" while listening to those Jackson horns. Or why I experienced the tangible physical presence of Mississippi Fred sitting on the bass horn. Never once considering why they can't measure the cause of these effects.

Why then are so many audiophiles like this?
I suspect it is fear of being wrong, or of not knowing. The anxiety of uncertainty? Whatever it is, all musically engaging audio reproducers are forced to work harder than necessary just to overcome these fears and preconceptions. The Salt Cellar System overcame a lot of those obstacles.

My Norwegian friend and fellow ETF-er Thomas Dunker—deep thinker, historian, engineering scholar, and coauthor (with Bjørn Kolbrek) of the just-released and most recommendable book High-Quality Horn Loudspeaker Systems: History, Theory & Design (footnote 1)—talked to me about Slagle and Jackson's Salt Cellar System in a series of emails. Here is an excerpt.


Dear Herb,

I have been thinking a lot about the EMIA salt cellar system, and maybe it's horribly unfair not to consider also their electronics, the rather minimal number of amplifying devices in the signal path, Dave's cartridges, transformers, etc., but I found it shockingly enjoyable, whatever the reasons. On listening to the 24A horn like we did, you are listening almost completely in the near field, which eliminates the majority of reflected sound.

The other thing I didn't bring up—you beat me to it—and which [audio engineer and acoustician] David Griesinger also points out, is that there is no better way to play back voice recorded with a single microphone than to play it back in mono, on a single speaker. There will always be more phase "mess" with two speakers. Mono also puts you in a different mode of listening: Little or none of your attention (or brainpower) goes to picking up stereo cues. Which thereby allocates more of [what Griesinger refers to as] "working memory" to the music itself, or to recreating the tone of instruments and voices rather than their placement.

Griesinger's main requirements for improved clarity are: a) maintain a high ratio of direct to reflected sound, and b) preserve the phase (time) coherence of harmonics of (voice range) sound.

There's a bit of a story to how Bjørn and I ended up so fascinated by Griesinger's work on "clarity," proximity, attention, sound recall, etc. A lot of inspiration came from the first experience of the EMIA system at last year's ETF and how Jeffrey and Dave had attempted to implement the subtractive crossover in their amp for that system.

Over the years, people such as Joe Roberts, you, Jean Hiraga, and others have talked about certain speakers and systems having a sound quality described as "present," "attention grabbing," "they are here," etc., and it always made me curious and led me to think this is a somewhat elusive quality that nobody has really attempted to explain in terms of distortion, phase, or perception. EMIA's 555/24A combination seemed to have these qualities in spades.

You talked also about speakers that were "easy to listen to." I instantly felt I knew what you meant.

It all seemed to click into place when I read the Griesinger papers/lectures. Thinking about the LF-to-midrange crossover issues and the lower cutoff frequency of horns and then the question of group delay, the considerations in the 1924 Flanders horn theory memos —it all seemed to be about the same thing: preserving phase linearity in the midrange, where it appears most critically important, from an evolution and survival point of view, but also to how we may listen with the least amount of strain and effort!


The EMIA backstory
Back in America, Jeffrey Jackson and Dave Slagle (left and right, respectively, in the photo above) are partners in an engineering enterprise called EMIA, which specializes in designing and constructing complete "alternative" audio systems —very nearly from scratch.

According to Slagle, "The goal of EMIA is to find out why 60-plus-year-old technology sounds so right and find out why most 'improvements' to the original idea, while technically justified, sounds so wrong."

The EMIA partnership is dedicated to exploring the history and science of audio engineering —to discover what really matters, to a real listener in a real room, during the experience of listening.

Experience Music
The EM in EMIA stands for Experience Music, which is the Jeffrey Jackson part. Under that name, Jackson has developed a range of completely handcrafted solid-hardwood horn speakers —with built-from-scratch field coils —and low-power amplifiers using venerable triodes and mercury-vapor rectification.

Jeffrey W. Jackson was born in 1972 at the intersection of highways 61 and 8 in Cleveland, Mississippi. He understands Fred McDowell better than I do. He understands what makes reproduced music real and engaging better than anybody I know—and that is what sets him apart.

I was introduced to Jeffrey just after midnight at a costume party/dance in an abandoned 18th century mansion in upstate New York. I asked the "priestess" in charge where the incredible horn speakers and wall-mounted tube amps came from. "Come with me," she said, taking my hand, leading me to a screened veranda where everyone was smoking and gazing at the full moon. I told Jeffrey I was into weird audio, horns and old tubes, and that I needed to visit him at his shop. Which I did —several times. Now he is my brother.

Intact Audio
The IA in EMIA stands for Intact Audio, which was established in 2005 by Dave Slagle. It was originally an online-forum–centered place of dialogue where Dave interacted with customers for his hand-wound autoformer-based volume controls, tube amp chokes, and output transformers. I met Slagle around 1996, when I brought him a push-pull 2A3 tube amp I had built called the Feral Eye: I needed him to photograph it for Sound Practices magazine.7 Dave was also the most conspicuous participant at every NYnoise DIY event (1999–2002): Even today, people who attended are still talking about his never-finished "Hand Truck Amp," which he wheeled in every year. (Dave's crazy tube amp had no regular chassis. Instead, it was fastened to an industrial-grade">aluminum hand truck.)

Like Jeffrey, Dave also builds loudspeakers. At the last four Capital Audiofests, he has showed his extensively reimagined double-stacked Quad ESLs, which I covered in my "most recent show report. These built-from-the-ground-up Quads are biamped using two Slagle-designed push-pull 300B tube amps, which are mounted in the loudspeaker's base and connected directly to the Wayne Piquet–restored Quad panels through the driving amplifier's output transformers.

Dave explains: "This is where we think the Quad's original designers, Peter Walker and D.T. Williamson, might have ended up as an ultimate statement product."


Lately, Dave's mind is focused on some radical ideas about phono cartridges —loading, tracking, tracing mechanics, etc. He started as an amp designer and transformer winder and literally wound his way back to the coils on the cantilevers of moving-coil cartridges.

In summary
I've always enjoyed stereo and liked having mono recordings appear centered in the free air between two speakers. Now I feel gullible, like I fell for the advertising lies. But the good news is I can now see the future of extreme audio. It features minimum audio shenanigans, minimum active stages, minimum-phase transducers, minimum error correction—and maximum humans, making music, in front of three horns in a corner.

As Thomas Dunker says, "We're still turning stones."

Footnote 1: Kolbrek Elektroakustikk ISBN: 978-1-5272-4542-6. See here. I promise to compose a full-length description of Dunker and Kolbrek's book—as soon as I read it more and understand it better.


invaderzim's picture

We all have friends that we look forward to seeing. They are the people that improve our day just by stopping by and sharing an adventure with us. Herb, you are one of those friends and whenever I see your byline my day gets better.

Anton's picture

I agree.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

TSA would freak-out, if an image like the top photo showed up on their screen :-) .......

Herb Reichert's picture

that is from the airport.

They approved the photo.


Metalhead's picture

Great article

As one with a life long aversion to boxes with cones and domes and a fondness for stats and horns this article is like catnip

Although not possessing the coin or ability to chase the dream with the cats mentioned I certainly enjoy my modded horns ml stats and tube systems to power the boogie.

Extremely interesting to read about the early gear and hope you all rock the cellar down.

Ortofan's picture

... indeed the be-all and end-all of sound reproduction, then why isn't HR's "bunker" occupied by Klipschorns, JBL Everests or even a Levinson HQD system?

Herb Reichert's picture

is a small one bedroom apartment in bed Stuy, Brooklyn. But long ago I lived in a firehouse, bought and sold Western Electric horns and owned two sets of stacked Quad 57s - one on Arcici metal stands - the other on Levinson wood frames. Next . . . I had big 1947 Altec VOTs with 10-cel tar-filled horns. Then Bruce Edgar Tractrix horns. Then very expensive TAD horns. During the 1990s I was the first to import and distribute Avante Guard horns. Never owned any Klipsch or JBL though.

Through it all I've always used LS3/5a - mostly as desktop speakers on factory wall mounts. Now I like full-range flat impedance headphones. Like the Abyss and RAAL.

Like Dunker says, "We are still turning stones."

Bogolu Haranath's picture

We are waiting for a review of the Warwick Aperio headphone system :-) ........

Could Aperio be a 'slam dunk'? :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Still Rolling Stones? :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

We keep turning stones till we find those 'gemstones' :-) ......

Ortofan's picture

... the sound reproduction quality from the QUAD 57 (and/or LS3/5a) speakers would also like horn type speakers.

I've only heard the 57s twice.
Once was in comparison to the B&W DM6. The 57s offered more a realistic sound reproduction, but wouldn't play as loud or go as low as the DM6s. The dealer was reluctant to turn up the volume to what I though was an acceptable listening level when playing the 57s.
The second was as part of an HQD system, which left an indelible impression not so much from the 57s, rather it was due to the phenomenal bass response from the (sub)woofers housed in cabinets the size of an armoire.

The LS3/5a was an ideal speaker for a college dorm room - unless your objective was to be able to drown out the neighbor's stereo system. An Advent receiver could drive them to an acceptable sound level without the risk of exceeding the speakers limited power handling capability. Modern speaker designers would do well to compare their creations to the LS3/5a - or the latest versions from Spendor or Harbeth.

As for headphones, I've been a long-time Stax user, starting out with the SR-5/SRD-6 combo. Other than some Sennheiser models for situations where a "passive" headphone was needed, I've never had reason to seek out anything else. Looking forward to see the results of your forthcoming Stax review.

michaelavorgna's picture

Yet you not only offer an opinion, you find it "curious" bla bla bla.

I wonder if you place any value, whatsoever, on experience?

I ask because it makes prefect sense to me that people who enjoy Quad 57s, in all their modern incarnations, also enjoy "horn type speakers." My experience suggests there are similar qualities in terms of music reproduction.

That being said, you cannot say you've heard Quad 57s without mentioning their lineage, e.g. Dave Slagle's "Quads" are not Quads, and of equal importance the amplifier(s) that drove them. Why? Because Quad 57s are chameleons when it comes to what music sounds like based on the amp doing the driving. I know a guy who went through 30+ amplifiers in search of his perfect Quad mate. On a related note, he owned horn speakers as well.

Ortofan's picture

... expectation?

My expectation is for a speaker to reproduce a reasonable facsimile of the sound of the piano I have in my listening room, or of the performances by string quartets at concerts I attend, or of the voices of various opera singers I hear at master classes held at a local university. My experience is that electrostatic speakers seem to achieve that end better than do horn type speakers.

After watching KM's video interviews with HR, it's evident to me that HR expects speakers to be able to paint some sort of aural picture, as he describes it. Apparently, his experience is that horn-type speakers are more successful at that task.

When I heard the 57s own their own, they were being driven by Luxman tube equipment. As part of the HQD system, they were driven by a Levinson class A solid-state power amp. This was in the days before CD and the Luxman pre-amp had a subsonic filter while the HQD system had the 57s crossed over to separate (sub)woofers. Both the Luxman and Levinson power amps had relatively low maximum power output capabilities.

When (the late) Bud Fried was the US importer for the QUAD 57, he made a significant effort to identify the characteristics needed for a suitable amplifier to drive the 57s. Since the 57s had limited power handling capability, it was pointless to use a power amp with a high peak power output capability. Given such a limitation, he determined that a maximum power output of about 25W was appropriate. However, in larger rooms, with wide dynamic source material and with the listening level set to what he termed "audiophile level", the amp would be driven into clipping on peaks. So, any amp had to clip cleanly/softly and recover quickly. Also, with stereophonic analog discs as a source, a low-pass subsonic filter was essential. He determined that the filter should have a cut-off frequency of about 20Hz and that the roll-off should be at the rate of 18dB/octave.
Did any of the amps tried by the guy you know meet these requirements?

michaelavorgna's picture

What you're saying is you discount other people's experience if their expectations are not stated as being exactly the same as yours.

That's an interesting point of view that's completely foreign to me.

The Quad owner I referred has owned them for decades and once visited the Quad factory with his broken 405 amp where he met Peter Walker who proceeded to show them up to the factory roof off of which Walker tossed the broken 405 (he gave the owner a new one). I wrote about this in 2006 along with some of the amps (Google is your friend).

While I cannot say with certainty that this Quad owner was aware of the Bud Fried comments you cited, I would assume he was. In any event, he has boatloads more experience with Quads and horns than you do. As does Herb. As do I.

I place value in experience not in expectations seeing as listening to music on the hifi is not a competitive sport. Maybe when HiFi becomes an Olympic event, we'll see a single person's point of view elevated to something more than what they prefer listening to.

Ortofan's picture

... is questionable. You also misinterpreted my comments regarding experience and expectation.

Other people's expectations and experiences are not necessarily being discounted. However, if your expectations are different, then your experience might well be different. Apparently, my expectations are rather different from those of HR, thus my experience is that sound reproduction via horn-type versus electrostatic speakers is, for me, not fungible.

If your claimed "boatloads more experience" is to be considered of any particular value, then why did Stereophile choose not to retain your services?

michaelavorgna's picture

No one, except you, has suggested that Quads and horns are interchangeable, just as no one except you has suggested that Quads and all electrostatic speakers are 'fungible'.

Yes, I'm the first person in the history of the human race to be let go even though I have relevant experience (that's me being sarcastic in case you missed it). Next time you try to take a cheap shot, try loading up with something with a bit more bite.

Herb Reichert's picture

in the days of Audio Amateur, Irving "Bud" Freid was a phone-pal of mine - he talked me through building one of his transmission line designs. I wish today's audio had more people like him. Bud was a fine man with good ears and an open 'independent' mind. I learned a lot from our conversations.

As for the Quads, many of my friends today use Quad 57s and the best I can tell, more than power, they need an amp that is comfortable driving a capacitive load. Two of the best amps I have personally experienced driving the 57s are the Audio Note P2 6L6 parallel single-ended and the Miyajima Lab Model 2010 OTL amps (reviewed by Art Dudley in Listening #139).

Both amps made the Quads sound vivid and life-like . . . and very satisfying day-in and day-out.

For my own explorations with Quads, I used Marantz 8B and Futterman H3a and some others but can't say I was ever really satisfied. I moved on quickly because of the way Quads beam and compress dynamics.


Ortofan's picture

... the Marantz 8 power amp with the 57 speakers.
While it was deemed compatible, it was also noted that the high-pass filter on the "pre-amp" (versus "test") inputs should have had a steeper slope.

mhardy6647's picture

I have horns (Altec/JBL hybrids, at the current time) and a pair of Quad "ESL-57". Pretty simple to rationalize & to explain. Good horns/drivers and ESL-57s "get the midrange right". Very, very right.

shawnwes's picture

HR this may be the best article you've ever written. There have been moments in the past when you've lost me a little with your painter's brush but this one got your story across exquisitely.

BTW, do a giclee of the airport xray and hang it in the bunker.

Awsmone0's picture

Dear HR

When I read your comment about living 1975 again it struck a chord pun intended ;)
Some people , I used to be one of them , think this is an answer to audio nirvana, I wish it was
I have been intrigued by the shift of MF and JA that it’s the handling of the distortion rather than the absolute levels that is more important plus the original linearity of the circuit
I have quad esl in my bedroom system, and altec horns in my big rig

I don’t pay much attention to measurements anymore other than impedance compatibility
I think the low amp energy needs and larger direct sound of horns are a winner, but their size can be a challenge yet the Japanese who love horns seem to cope ...

cgh's picture

Awesome article Herb. Fantastic.

grantray's picture

Herb, any chance you can recall which 15" Altec got used for the LF horn? Enquiring minds, and whatnot. Also, I really, really need to get that book...

Herb Reichert's picture

not a 515 or 416 - its as something less common


tonykaz's picture

should we consider it to be pursuing elevated levels of dopamine releasing musical reproduction capabilities.

My own mother was a performing Opera Voice. No manufactured Audio Gear ever duplicated her thrilling voice, never once, anywhere, by any transducer system including the famous Wilson systems that Stereophile reviewers like to own and review.

My older brother was a Horn player for our Detroit Symphony, he practiced for hours every day. My mother could sing over the sound levels of the Horn. Phew.

24 Bit Digital promises the Dynamic Range that my mother regularly performed at.

I too explored Europe in search of outstanding Music Gear. I imported the gear and sold it to my customer base. I demonstrated in a semi anechoic listening environment featuring non reflective Walls, Floor, ceiling and rear. In that room the little LS3/5a would impress like a full range pair of Thiel CS3s.

Loving Music reproduction and keeping it within reach is an important ingredient for Quality of Life.

LS3/5a properly amplified is all that is needed to keep heavy doses of dopamine flowing into the early hours of the night. ( I would prefer the ProAc Tablette now )

Chasing Horns is widening out for "Room Filling" Social & theatrical benefits.

Modern cable interfaces present exciting improvements as does contact maintenance with Cramolin cleaners.

Careful Tube rolling will transform a system from very good to spectacular.

High performance Horn systems are magnificent, ( like the Tone people produce ) but they are soooooooo extravagantly addictive that a person would regularly overdose.

These HR adventures are what being an Audiophile, Stereophile, DIY explorer, Music Lover pursuing Quality of Life is all about.

This piece might be one of the finest pieces of Audio Literature ever shared with our curious group.

Thank you for these inspirations

Tony in Venice

Ortofan's picture

... Tim de Paravicini when he demonstrates his EAR Yoshino tube amps:

tonykaz's picture

These little Monitors are good enough all on their own.

That was my point.

Chasing has been an important part of our little hobby but Good-enough can be a remarkably satisfying System performance level, especially for folks like us that have owned fabulous gear systems.

Genelec offers a Pro-Audio version Active Monitor ( 8020 ) that features astonishing performance.

I've worked with Mr.Paravicini, I imported his range of Amplification ( back in the mid 1980s ), thanks for suggesting "Stacking". A significant plus would/could be a matching Subwoofer like Genelec offer. None of the LS3/5a Manufacturers ever offered a "matched" Sub-Woofer for their little Gem, all will simply suggest buying a larger Loudspeaker system.

The LS3/5a established a Base Line performance level for aspiring audiophiles as well as veterans like Stereophile's ever increasing readership.

Tony in Venice

Ortofan's picture

... a "bass extender" for the LS3/5a. Whether or not they would qualify as subwoofers is, perhaps, debatable. The Rogers LS35B probably came closest.

Graham Audio presently produce their SUB3 model, intended for use with the LS3/5 and LS3/5a.

Herb Reichert's picture

tried both the Rogers and Grahm LS3/5a bass extenders. Neither worked in my rooms. I have not had much luck with subwoofers either.


Bogolu Haranath's picture

Yamaha NS-5000 could be the right size speakers in HR's listening room :-) ........

Ortofan's picture

... room correction unit, such as the DSPeaker Anti-Mode, or one of the various subwoofers that now have the room correction function built-in? Or, from a long time ago, an Audio Control Richter Scale low-frequency equalizer?

tonykaz's picture

I too have never had success with bass management in residential settings, Sub-woofers in my hands would/should be called : "Lease-Breakers". Skilled folks like Paul McGowan & Bob Katz successfully build 1,000 watt Servo Subs into everything ( they typically prefer 2 & 3 Active Servo Subwoofers ! ) Phew !!

Even modest ( 10" Woofer ) Loudspeakers like the Thiel CS3s can make a House Structure Shake from Mono Electrocompaniet Ampliwires.

While waiting for my admission to Oakwood Cemetery, I'll keep listening to & loving Norah Jones singing "The long way home", "New York City", "One Flight Down" along with a lifetime collection of hundreds of other beautiful performances. ( without Subwoofering )

Thanks for suggesting these adventures but I'm happy to deflect their usefulness to our youthful group, who will make good use of things learned and useful opinions formed.

Tony in Venice

Bogolu Haranath's picture

'No Country for Old Men'? :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Stacked LS3/5as and Pass Labs INT-25 may be all anybody needs :-) ........

mhardy6647's picture

Flesh and blood. That's what it's all about. When it sounds like real people, playing real instruments made from real materials, it's good.

Enjoyed seeing this in Stereophile; thanks!

Probably anyone who cares about stuff like this already knows this, but there are always (well, at least, usually) nice collections of photographs from these shindigs on Flikr taken by one Holger Barske:

Herb Reichert's picture

Holger Barske - I learn from him


Ortofan's picture

... direct-drive turntable - such as the Yamaha GT-750 - and then fitting it with an Audio-Technica AT5V moving-magnet cartridge?

stereodesk's picture

Thanks Herb for writing about Jeffrey and Dave. They are two of the most knowledgeable, self effacing people in audio. On any given day, they can bring the magic, and it all comes down to that in the end, doesn't it.

Brown Sound's picture

I just love reading your stuff, Herb. You have such a way drilling down to what is really important in this hobby, the feeling. Thank you, sir.

Mrdean's picture

When I read the last paragraph of the article, I could Only laugh and think: Vinnie “Mono Mia” Gallo (Sound Practices volume 1, #1) is Snickering somewhere: “Hey Herb, why didn’t you read what I wrote 28 years ago! You shoulda listened!”