BUILDING A SOUND SYSTEM IS EASY – RIGHT ?

Written by on 30/12/2020

Building and talking about Sound System

Ford Thames Van PictureYou find yourself in an arena, wall to wall speaker boxes and the area is full of people jumping for joy. The sound of the music beating through your ears and the bass punching your body takes you to a place you have never been before. When you first walked in you can hear the murmur and when you walk through the doors you find yourself amongst the crowds. That vacancy in your mind about “what am I going to do with my life” gets answered. You want to build a SOUND SYSTEM. For me it was in my blood from the moment I was born but some know nothing until they get the bug. In the 70 owning a sound system was much easier but still hard in those days. We were dealing with valve amplifiers and they were not made for what a sound man wanted to use it for. I had a Northcourt amplifier in my early days but it wasn't my first. I saw my family transport a radio gram in a Ford Thames Van to the house where the party was going to take place for the night.

The Blaupunkt Radio gram stands for Blue Point or Blue Dot in German but for some reason everybody I know including me says Blue Spot. That was the top Gram and the most expensive but there was also the Rigonda and the Phillips which I did see being used in house parties as well. These 3 grams also maybe others packed a punch and they needed to because our “House Parties” were crammed with guests and the audio had to get through somehow . We will cover the early days in time to come and I will be adding quotes from others also.

Blaupunkt (Blue Dot) Radio GramTodays Sound System consists of a lot of expensive equipment so firstly you need deep pockets or have a solid partnership with another or others because this is where it all starts. Today`s system have members that do a specific job in the partnership. The selector, Microphone Man (Toaster) Controller, Engineer & Driver. This is not infinite and 1 person can do all these jobs plus there are box lifters that makes part of the team.

Power is the name of the game, it is coupled with quality and for the last 20 years or so the visual look is just as important. Early sound boxes were built in your back yard and the dimensions and construction was guesswork. When a build sounded good it would have others trying to copy yours but most of us was too proud to ask how it was built. It was known that you might get asked to build cabinets for payment by other sound system owners.

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Picture of Northcourt Power AmplifierEarly day amplifiers were 30 maybe 50 watts and they seemed loud enough but it was not long before higher powered amplifiers were been looked for and various builders namely Errol, Jackie Kenty & myself later on were building amplifiers usually around 600 watts using KT88 Valves. ( I need to stress that there must have been other builders but I am speaking from the London perspective) Valve amplifiers at that kind of power were very heavy and unreliable although regular servicing and a set pattern of powering up & down did help longevity. When a valve amplifier is firing right (Perfectly) in to well built speaker boxes you are the toast of the town. You will leave the area with your chest held high. From the humble Blue Spot Gram we moved to something like the Northcourt as I did and then larger was needed when we started to hire large halls. As a child I know it was very hard to be able to hire halls and that is pretty much the main reason for why we had house parties.

The lower powered amplifiers were not so likely to overpower (Blow) your speakers. We started off with cabinets that were available in the Hi Fi market such as Celestion , Wharfedale & Tannoy but the need for extra bass was when we started to build larger cabinets for 2 reasons. One was Hi Fi speakers were far too low so when left on the ground and a large crowd surrounded them the sound was lost in the audience. Often I saw the cabinets placed on tables or even chairs and secondly with only a pair of speakers they needed to be high up to get clarity  but then there was a loss of bass notes. The build of a 15 or 18 inch bass cabinet about 4 feet high allowed you to place the Hi Fi cabinet on top of the bass cabinet to now get bass and clarity above the crowds you were playing music for.

Garrard Vintage record player deckThere was only one music source back in the days of the 70`s and that was and still is records (Vinyl is still used by many Sound Systems) so the use of a turntable was required. The Collaro Goose neck deck was and still is a much loved deck Garrard ,BSR & Goldring Lenco were also decks around that time. Later the world beating Technics 1200 series came to prominence and for the record it is my opinion that the LAD (London Acoustic Developments) deck would have been the Sound System choice because Gaj the owner who I knew used to demonstrate the deck by playing it on a bass cabinet and it would not vibrate when being used. To clarify, seriously big powerful sound systems suffer a lot with bass feedback when delivering powerful bass notes through their cabinets which in turn makes the arm of the deck vibrate. That cycle has to be broken, LAD & Technics 1200 Series decks with a good set up are the decks of choice. I know of a well known Sound System that does not use either deck so what works for you is what matters but right now you are just starting out and you may opt not to use vinyl.

It was always the craving for more bass that pushed sound system owners to build more speakers to make more bass so the use of the 15 & 18 inch speaker was commonly used by owners, Fane speaker company did make a 24 inch speaker and there are now 21 inch speakers available today made by Precision Device. These boxes had names attached to them such as wardrobes & jugheads because they were quite big. They didnt seem to be a problem in the hall but in someone`s front room it would take up quite a bit of space but that didnt stop the house party. There was more to come when  we built doubles and four face cabinets which were even bigger but that was the quest for more bass and we didnt care how heavy the boxes were.

To summarise so far you need Speakers in cabinets that can handle very high power input. You need an amplifier(s) of matching power and resistance handling the Source which may be Vinyl deck(s) CD player(s) or Laptop computer software Equipment.

Now we come to what is the most important component of today`s sound System known as the Preamp. For you to understand the name preamp you could think of the word “Mixer”. A mixer can be used but it cannot replace what a preamp does. Mixers come in many types but they all do the same thing, give or take the amount of channels or extras like send & return, and effects options.

All the sources mentioned earlier can be connected to a mixer and when set up correctly it can produce a good sound running to the amplifier(s) to the speakers to your your ears.

The Preamp is much more complicated and when it is mastered by it owner it is the signature of the Sound Systems audio quality. The ability of the preamp to make the source make the song played sound different, the addition of effects and frequency killing & boost makes the Preamp more of a gadget than a mixer that has much less scope.

Tuac weight & Treble PreampsThe preamp unlike a mixer is usually home made or at best by cottage industry, an individual making 50 or so to order (Could be more). Common conversation amongst sound system owners would be “what Preamp do you use”? . we compare with each other and some names do come to the fore when mentioned. The early days was The Errol preamp, Jackie was a builder too. Elvins designed more than one model, TUAC, Kane ( Many Models) JTS (Jah Tubby`s) & Barracuda. There are others which can be discussed by those more informed than I am on their qualities.

This first blog has been about the old days and how sound system was started and there is much much more to write about than what’s is written so far but I will want to get into the maths and the paths you should take to managing your equipment to get optimum quality & power

To Be Continued

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