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LaChapell - Model 583 Interview with Pan60 pan60 Hi Scott, I wanted to get started on the interview as part of this article:) Scott LaChapell Hey Pan, good to hear from you... I appreciate your questions, and look forward to going through this process with you! PLEASE tell me if these answers are too long winded, and I'll revise. <smiles> pan60 Tell us a bit about yourself; likes, dislikes, hobbies . Scott Ok, let's see, a little about myself ... I'm 36 years old, married to an incredible wife, currently w/out children. We're also a part of a great local church called Yosemite Church in Merced, California. We love to travel and see different areas of the state as much as possible. If I'm not working on preamps or testing tubes or getting caught-up on assembly you'll usually find me reading a book on the Porsche 911; historical or current information. Or, if I have a lot of time to myself, you'll find me working on my own piano arrangements or brushing up on some old classical favorites. I began playing piano at the age of nine and developed a big desire to tackle more advanced classical pieces throughout high school and after. Hobbies would have to include wine tasting (mostly reds from the northern California Alexander/Dry-Creek valley region) or working on the 911. That is, when I had it. When I started LaChapell Audio I was determined NOT to acquire a small business loan so, my pride and joy 1988 carrera coupe was one of the things I needed to liquidate. Tragedy comes in many forms. pan60 Let me ask, when did you get into electronics? Scott I would say I've been exposed to electronics as far back as I can remember. My father is a master electronics designer with over 40 years of experience in high-level design work for Lawrence Livermore Labs in California; mostly government defense related work. I can remember being a young kid and getting several electronic kits, as birthday gifts I think, designed to teach all sorts of simple electronics stuff. When I was young I always thought I would grow up and go to work at "The Lab" just like my dad did. But, as time moved on other skills and passions developed in me that I gave more attention to instead. pan60 So, what made you want to build high end studio gear? Scott Well, in the late '80's and throughout the '90's my full-time passion/job was working on my own instrumental arrangements in an ever growing studio of my own. At the time, I kept pretty busy working on "audio for video" soundtracks for professional sports videos and was fortunate enough to be given some fairly high-profile projects that would allow me to "keep the lights on" and acquire more gear. Long story short, sometime in 1995 I approached my father with a proposal to build a preamp together. I would submit the general design (controls, functionality, tube type and performance goals) and he would work out the design specifics including the prototype. I wish I had a picture of the original prototype-A, it was a mess!  Point-to-point everywhere, everything hand drilled into a make-shift chassis ... but after we worked out the bugs, it sounded great. And, at the time, it was fully transformerless. We later added the Jensen JT-11-BMCF on the second variant single channel back in 1998 and named it the VT981. One year later we made a two channel named the 992. All this time I was in Nashville and was able to take them to different sessions for use on all sorts of instruments and vocals. This really helped increase my confidence in the originality and quality of sound and that the overall design was sound. Oddly enough, about this time I actually began to step away from full-time recording engineering and developed skills in manufacturing and production. This was a huge departure for me but did expose me to all areas of the manufacturing supply chain. This experience was the critical missing piece that would later be needed in order for LaChapell Audio to succeed. As the years went by, my desire to gather together all the different areas of experience I'd acquired (recording/engineering, manufacturing/production) and put them into an existing preamp design that I loved grew and grew. Then one day in December of 2004 my wife and I made the decision to start LaChapell Audio. Today, everything is done in-house including assembly, testing, printed circuit board design, prototyping etc ... I hand solder, assemble and test every unit. And I love every minute of it! pan60 To quote you: "Today, everything is done in-house including assembly, testing, printed circuit board design, prototyping etc ... I hand solder, assemble and test every unit. And I love every minute of it!'' Ever, so glad to hear this!!!!! :) Scott If you would like for me to shorten up the response I send, just let me know ... pan60 Absolutely not!  Some quick comments, your answers are perfect, nobody wants to hear about me, it is you they want to know about.  No need to shorten them on my account :) I think selling your carrera coupe should be looked at not as a tragedy, but instead as a smart move.  A chosen path that creates an avenue by which anyone who truly believes in what they are doing should, or shall I say, sometimes must diverge towards and travel in an attempt to make one's dreams happen:)  In time as the business grows, we all hope there will be a reward in the end:) Maybe one day, you can get another carrera coupe, or maybe some other cool car! :) I sometimes wish I knew a bit more about electronics, but as it stands, I am only dangerous:)  If I sold anything, to venture down a path such as this, I would end up broke, walking and probably electrocuted :( What made you want to put a tube pre into the 500 format, thats a big step? Scott Well, it hadn’t been done. Seriously, I notice two specific areas of growth in the preamp world. 1) Stand-alone tube preamps were popping up all over and, 2) the 500 series world was on fire. The absent of a tube-500 series pre in the market was glaring. It also satisfied a desire of mine to offer a quality preamp in the $1000 range. pan60 What made you choose the 12AX7 for your pre? Scott It wasn’t my first choice but it is such a proven tube. My first choice was a smaller “peanut” type tube that drew a lot less current and still had a large enough Mu (amplification factor) for the desired gain. But, after extensive (and I mean extensive) searching I was only able to locate a total of six tubes! I planned on making more than six 583’s. The decision was then made to adopt a revised, single-end amplifier based on the 992EG’s input stage; hence the 12AX7. pan60 Can you tell us, what voltage are you running the tube at? Scott I “dial-in” each 583s’ plate voltage to 250 volts. There’s an internal calc pot that allows me to swing the voltage down to 240 or up to roughly 270 if I wished. pan60 I know, you have been asked probably more times than you care to mention, but tell us as much as you can in regards to how you got the voltage up there and still manage the current draw? Scott The 583s has a secondary power supply that only requires 16 volts to generate the necessary 250 volts for the tube thanks to our ‘special’ DC to DC converter. In basic terms, a DC to DC converter takes in raw DC voltage, hacks it up into small pieces, converting it into AC. AC voltages, unlike DC voltages, can then be stepped up and re-converted back into DC. It’s a nifty little device. pan60 Why did you choose two slots, was there just not enough acreage? Scott That’s part of the reason but there are others… 1) I wanted users to be able to access the tube easily from above. But, the 1.5 span of a single bay module severely limited this feature. 2) It naturally provides additional cooling, something I knew people would be concerned about. 3) Internal component consumption exceeded the 130ma/bay budget per API’s VPR alliance regulations. pan60 Have you thought much about offering the EQ you designed for this card on its own in a single slot :) !!! ? Please! Please! Please! Scott Absolutely. But I don’t expect the EQ variant 583 to become available until sometime next year. I also think it’s best for the EQ to validate itself first while serving on-board the 583e before the market would fully embrace the stand-alone variant.   But, there are a ton of 500 series EQ’s out there… is there really a need for another? pan60 Yes!  Give us some info, some techie kind of stuff.  Tell the specks, what is this pre capable of? Scott World peace, time travel and tiny nuclear explosions when used properly… kidding. pan60 Laughing my a** off, :) Scott I’m assuming people will at some point read the basic specs but I’ll list some others that I’m particularly excited about. 1) A SNR of 95dB at 24db of gain, and that’s NOT an A-wt’d number. 2) I’m really excited about the Hi-Z stage in that it’s transformer-less. It’s nothing like the 992EG; it has a rawness that’s really appealing on certain instruments. 3) With fully variable pots throttling gain into the input stage and into the output stage (nothing is attenuated) the user can experience internal distortion figures as clean as .025% THD+N or as high as 15% THD+N all without changing the output level. For example; if you desire a +4db signal out of the 583 and you have a -30db signal coming in (let’s say from a tube mic) then you’ll need the 583s to generate 34dBu of gain; simple math. With fully variable input/output controls the user can decide how clean (.025%) or dirty (+/-15%) the sound will be without compromising the output level; generating more or less of the 34dbu required. Traditionally, this has been done using an attenuator but the 583 (and 992) performs this task within the actual gain stages. pan60 Wow ... nice! So, to the review:) This thing arrived in good order, very nicely packaged (nestled in a nice block of foam).  Kudos!  The 583s pre is very nicely shielded, open just above the tube. As I am sure you know, and I often try to point out, just how it is I look at gear ... 3 ways. 1)  How does a company treat it's customers?  When I need service, I do not want to jump through hoops to get it!  So many companies today seem to have forgotten about the customer being the source of their job. 2)  Build quality.  I just do not like, nor do I do, junk! Also, I do not care for many of the companies today; companies that are having their gear made completely overseas and selling a cheap, cheap lie.  They market gear leading consumers to believe it is as though it was a high end, handmade piece, bearing the same quality, love and affection that has gone into so much of the great boutique gear we do have available today:( Scott You sound more and more like me…I had an early GS post that covered this same passion! pan60 3) (And notice this is last :) ).  How does the gear sound?  The way I see it, if I can't get service, I just don't care how it sounds. If it is junk, then I just can not depend on it.  So, service, quality, magic, mojo, and sound quality!!! Well, I will say, based on my contact with LaChapell, service should not be of any issue.  Scott is very, very passionate about his gear.   He loves his job and it shows!  He has been a pleasure to work with, so from my experience, he gets a big plus for customer service from this end. The build looks stunning.  Once again we have a very nice looking and very well made pre.  A pre, to add to that ever pulling black hole often known as gear addiction.  You know, the one addiction us slutz can never seem to get over, the black hole that can never be filled :)  Any pre arsenal, filled with great pres, will always be of great benefit. Particularly when it comes time to capture a given source or subject. This will be just such a pre. The toggles are wicked cool!  They light up and they look sick, wicked sick!  I must say, they did give me a bit of a concern ( they are not the traditional toggles, as in they are not steel ), but having spent a great deal of time with the 583s, flipping the toggles back and forth, I no longer have any fears. Here, is what Scott had to say about the toggles when questioned in regards to their use, and durability. Scott My response to the toggles: "The decision to use plastic toggles was NOT to save money rather, to feature a new, fully illuminating switches. It's made by NKK, a recognized leader in very-high quality switched and features an impact rating equal to metal toggles. Using a typical metal-bat toggle would have saved money but would not have provided an effective method for providing the user visual status of each function. The toggles used on the 992 would not fit yet I still wanted to be able to "light" the toggle when the associated function was activated. These new B12 type toggles were the perfect answer. The fact that they are plastic shouldn't raise any eyebrows, IMO; Plastic switches are extremely durable and have been used on high-end consoles for many years; SSL, Neve and others." pan60 A concern for me, was heat, as this is a tube pre, and tubes give off heat.  So I completely sealed off the 583s, in my BAE lunchbox, used a very good high quality thermometer, and frequently checked the temperature in the sealed compartment.  After running all day, the temperature never got over 94.5 degrees.  Yes, I was very surprised.  I expected much, much more heat.  So, yet another big thumbs up on performance! So, to the sound:)  The juicy part :)  I used some dynamic mic's, some condensers, and a few ribbons.  We tracked some acoustic guitar, a bit of electric, kick, snare, vocals and bass.  One of the things that has taken me so long is that I had asked Scott to send me this pre with only the JJ tube, and as well, allow me time to try various tube schemes.  As I have a small supply of NOS tubes here, I wanted to try a few different variations.  I just wanted to get a feel for what this pre can really do. I used the JJ tube for most of my testing.  Although it was not my favorite, it did however, perform well.  Then, I tried a few other NOS tubes, mostly on vocal and acoustic guitar.  Just trying to get a good feel for all those little differences that a given tube can offer.  So, which tube do you want?  Well, I am generally a fan of the JJ tubes.  I use them in a lot of gear, but in this case, I feel the NOS tubes I have tried offered a sizable improvement.  One that is well worth the upgrade cost!  I used some Mullards, Amprex, and way too many others:)  I think this pre, must have been designed around  the Amprex 7025 (yes a Bugle Boy), or at the very least, Scott had to have had it in mind when designing this - a great match. The Mullard (and yes I tried several), is oh so very, very sweet and musical.  No hard edges so to speak, just creamy and smooth.  Just what I would expect from a  Mullard. I tried a JAN Phillips and a JAN GE as well; both sounded great, but as well, they clearly outperformed the JJ.  The JJ (a tube I generally like and find more than expectable), just did not cut it for me in this pre (that is not to say it was bad, just with all the others I have here to try, it did not preform).  The JJ had an edge I just did not like.  Drive up the input, drop the gain and push it hard, it would just get too edgy for me.  Now that is an extreme setting, and getting pushed very hard when backing down the input, giving it some gain, will get a sound anyone could easily be very, very happy with. I think the Mullard would be a very good choice as an alternative, but it does lack some gain.  It just does not have as much gain as the others, but no worries, there is plenty of gain here to be had.  The Amprex is the clear winner for me.  Next, the guitar into the HI-Z (DI), sounds very, very nice.  I am not into recording guitar or bass this way, but can say that I could easily record guitar or bass through the HI-Z on this, and be more happy. So what did I like it on?  Everything, everything sounded great, from bass, to kick, to vocals.  From the dynamics to the condensers, all the mics sounded great.  Plenty of gain and great tone.  A very nice vibe with just the right amount of MOJO.  This pre will let you go from a nice clean sound with a bit of color to a thicker MOJO filled tone, one that lets you hear some of the metal it's packing:)  Trust me here, pay the extra and get an Amprex or Telefunken if Scott offers it to you. The 583s pre, is not as mid forward, as some of my pres, but instead, a bit more even.  Although it is not pushed out front as much, it sets where you put it, and thats a real good thing in an arsenal of pres! You want a pre that sounds good no matter what mix you put it in, this pre dose that with flying colors. Also Scott says, if you have two units, purchased at separate times, and want them matched, as far as overall gain, call Scott, it can be done.  Scott, what will the retail and the MAP pricing going to be? Scott Retail for the 583s with the CineMag input transformer is $1249 or $1349 for the optional Jensen input transformer variant. pan60 The tranny in the unit I have is the Cinemag, correct? Scott Yes your review unit has the CineMag input transformer. pan60 So what did I not like? There were no tabs, or secure thumb screws, to aid in removing the unit from a rack or lunchbox.  I often feel, this is but an oversight, by many companies. I did feel, the pots were a bit loose, and I did tell Scott, early on.  I was in no way going to ding him, as the Clarostat pots, are of, a very good quality.  Scott, has given me some update info, info I want to include. Scott Hello pan60, hope things are going well...  Considering you're working on the 583s review, I thought I'd provide some updates to the 583s that will be coming up soon. This information doesn't need to be included in your review but feel free to reference any of these points if you think it would be beneficial or note worthy. 583s Scheduled updates/revisions: 1) Current clarostat potentiometers will be replaced with 51-series Bourns pots. he pots used currently have a loose feel to them that is distracting and might communicate an impression of low-quality, IMO. Although the Clarostat pot is a good, accurate pot, the Bourns simply feels more robust and will be the permanent 583 pot in the near future. 2) The 90deg tube board which accommodates the tube socket will be supported by one additional stand-off. The current single stand-off config is fine but flexes a little too much when pressing down while installing a tube. Again, this revision is not needed rather, scheduled ONLY to bolster the 583's study design. 3) The Current zinc plated chassis will be powder-coated black OR brushed steel. I've noticed the current zinc plated steel chassis is not as finger-print resistant as I'd hoped. Changing the chassis finish to either black P.C. or a brushed steel would greatly reduce the aging effect that finger prints help induce. Feel free to use any of the above information as content for your review. Again, I'm not specifically requesting you include this information but it's customary for the manufacturer to state upcoming revisions to equipment under review. All the best pan60!  -Scott pan60 I am glad to hear there is going to be a change ... to the Bourns pots:)!!!!  The extra stand offs sound great, but I had no issues, as it is now, things feel fine to me.  Nice to hear Scott is going for the best he can!!!!! Scott Hey pan60, Thanks for the pictures of the tubes. Do you plan on including that in the posted review? pan60 Yes! Here is the contact info for LaChapell Audio. Scott LaChapell LaChapell Audio 209-383-3486 www.lachapellaudio.com
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