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New Conrad Echelon Amp

Discussion in 'Accessories / Connections' started by Sundhy, Nov 20, 2009.

  1. Sundhy

    Sundhy Active Member

    Dave Dog played on my new Echelon amp last night at a local jam. His response was positive. There are some interesting features on this amp and I would be interested in getting feedback from you recording guys indicating how useful these features would be in the studio.

    There are three inputs on the amp. Clean (low gain), Crunch (high gain) and Lead (combines the low and high gain)

    There are two preamp level controls - Gain and Drive. Each has a different flavor when driving the preamp into distortion. Next is the EQ - Bass, Middle, Treble. The reverb section has a dwell control and reverb mix control.

    The output stage is unique in that there is a "Headroom" control that sets the output wattage from 28 watts down to less than 1 watt - continuously variable. In addition there is a "Trim" control which sets the drive level to the output stage. Lets say you turn the amp down to 10 watts and then drive the output stage pretty hard with the trim control turned up. The result is the amp compresses and results in a pretty heavy sustain.

    So I'm curious to know how desirable these features would be in the studio?

    Conrad Sundholm
  2. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Well-Known Member

    Welcome to RO Conrad!

    Davedog has been singing the praises of your amps, must say I'm intrigued.

    Three distinct inputs would be very useful, but the "Headroom" control sounds like an absolutely ingenious studio feature.

    I hope I get a chance to try that out sometime!
  3. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    I love the idea of the headroom and trim features for the studio. It would probably be useful live as well - there are a lot of quiet restaurant gigs around now.
  4. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    So you finally signed up!

    Guys please ask some serious tube technology questions as we dont want Conrad going to sleep...... :shock:

    This feature on this amp is something you wont really believe until you hear it.

    I like to crank this down to about 12-15 watts and open up the 'trim'. It does compress the amp but it doesnt 'darken' the sound. With the preamps set to a 'crunch' as well as a smooth rhythm sound on the the other setting, PLUS being able to switch between them and combine them, makes for a great pallette.

    I havent had one at the house yet but I'm guessing that this thing will do serious high-gain amplification with extreme clarity.

    Imagine, all you studio dogs, having an amp that you can set the sustain and COMPRESSION without lossy artifacts. Its done at the amp and as we all know.....source source source...

    Hiya Conrad!

    SO ask your tube technology questions. Heres the real deal to answer them. Ya know, Hows the preamp tubes hooked up? Power section choices? (a plethora of output tubes.....this one is EL34's but I've played on other Conrads with EL84's, 6V6's, 6L6's, KT66's....they all sound different) How the amps are gain staged?

    BTW. Plank spankers especially...The input sensitivity and the response to single-coils is the thing you have always dreamed about.
  5. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Welcome to recording.org, Conrad!

    Since Dave told me about your amps, then spending an evening checking out your website and listing to the audio clips, I have been drooling.

    Your Echelon amp sounds really cool.

    For those of you...

    check out http://www.conradamps.com/

    I don't know much about the tech side of amps but I definitely know what I like to hear. Dave, do you have an audio clip of this new design?

    Conrad, Dave tells me your amps are all custom made, build personally by you in your shop. To me... this says quality control and a very personal touch of perfection.

    Feel welcome to talk about your designs, how you build the cases ( Finger Jointed Pine Cabinetry) , leather finish too!

    Check these specs on the Blues Jammer:

    Tolex, Grill Cloth and Trim Options:

    Your Velvet Hammer's design is much different in style. Is there a reason for this?

    Finally for this post:

    Special Features:

    1.*Aluminum Chassis with chassis mounted tube sockets
    2.*Mono-Crystal “Super Wire” used throughout (20 Gauge - solid core) This is the finest copper wire on the planet. (Details)
    3.*Hand-wired throughout on 1/8” Glass Epoxy circuit cards with eyelet and turret construction
    4.*Circuits designed for the Blues Player
    5.*Distributed filtering for low hum and noise
    6.*Single-point star grounding scheme for low hum and noise
    7.*Cathode biased
    8.*No negative feedback
    9.*Tube rectifier
    10.*Finger Jointed Pine Cabinetry
    11.*Heavy gauge Tolex

    Could we ask you to talk about these points ( in detail, please please), why you use or do the things you do, that would be awesome!

    There, how's that for a start? (y)

    And please, if you have any audio clips of the Echelon, please share.
  6. Sundhy

    Sundhy Active Member

    OK audiokid, I'm going to have to put you on "standby" because I'm taking a two-day break at the Oregon coast with my lovely wife. But, when I return, I'll get the tubes glowing and answer some of your questions. No clips yet of the Echelon amp but I'll take a gut shot picture so I can explain some of the details. Peace

  7. soapfloats

    soapfloats Well-Known Member

    I was initially excited about the "Headroom" feature, but wanted to let those more experienced weigh in first.

    My thoughts are:
    Being more of a project studio, I often have to deal w/ guitarists that have crappy amps, feel their amps need to be cranked to 11 to get good "tone", or both.
    I've been considering getting an amp or two for my studio as a result, and have been doing my homework here and elsewhere. Note - I don't have the budget to do this yet.

    However, everything about this amp intrigues me. The different tone options between the Gain and Drive, EQ, Reverb - and then the added control of setting the wattage whilst still being able to saturate things w/ the Trim.

    In summary, I've been hearing Dave's praises of your amps, and have been reluctant to spend the money on one boutique amp vs. a few tested standards. I still am.
    But this thing really does sound like an engineer's dream - at least an engineer who doesn't have the dough to blow on a dozen different amps.
  8. MrEase

    MrEase Active Member

    This feature is actually not unique - there is a local guy to me - SW London - who has been building "boutique" amps for many many years with this feature.

    His idea is to reproduce the "original" overdrive tone from many of the very old, limited power, valve amps when overdrive meant saturation of the valve output stage, not somewhere earlier as is now the norm. By varying the available power you can achieve this very distinct overdrive at various volumes and not just at the top end. In his circuit he actually reduces the bias to zero (0 Watts out) and effectively saves a standby switch!

    I have two friends who play locally with these amps and get some really nice guitar tones with them. The idea certainly seems to add some flexibility to what they achieve.

    EDIT: To add that this can be very useful in the studio too as playing levels can be well reduced while maintaining the high volume sound. Best mic'd though as I have tried to take an output from the output stage but there is no substitute for how this output stage interacts with the speaker..
  9. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Of course theres really 'nothing new' in terms of tube technology. The trick is to build something useful as well as musical and available. I'm sure there are similar designs floating about in someones lab somewhere in the world. I'm also certain there will some differences as its easy to arrive at the same place through differing paths with technology that is over 75 years old.

    Cottage industry, consisting of boutique or custom built gear, is where the inductry is pointing to. While its cheaper to mass produce a design that can be assembled via automation, the personal touches and voicings that you can get through a custom built piece of gear far outweighs the sterile pablum from the other.

    Next week, I'll have the new model amp, The Echelon, in my new room for a bit of a shake down cruise. It may make it out to a gig, but it will be tested to what it will do and how it does what it does.

    If I can get the studio back up a little bit, enough to record some clips, I'll post them. If not I'll at least give my impressions.
  10. MrEase

    MrEase Active Member


    As a designer for over 30 years I realise what you are saying but I was trying to do two things, firstly point out that the amp's designer claimed a "unique" feature, which it is not. As Sundhy is presumably selling these he could get in hot water by making this claim. Just a warning really.

    Secondly, I am unable to comment (as requested by the OP) directly on his particular amp but can comment on a similar design and its usefulness in the studio. I think I gave a little insight into how I found the power level control useful.
  11. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    I agree that certainly someone has thought of a feature like the one Conrad has described. The technology has been around for so long its inevitable.

    That was my point.

    He may have arrived at its function through a completely different way than what your acquaintence has done. Even though the results may be similar.

    This is the beauty of old technology being wrung out for all its worth with modern applications.

    My point being, do not assume that it ISNT unique in how its being implimented.

    Conrad has been doing this a very long time.

    Ever hear of Sunn Amplification? 'Sundholm' is the clue here.

    Yes your point is well taken. Just dont assume the process is the same as the result.

    He will enlighten on the process soon. Its quite interesting for all you DIY'ers and designers.

    From someone who knows his way around vacuum tubes.
  12. Sundhy

    Sundhy Active Member

    OK audiokid, I'll start down your list of the features found in the Conrad Amp line.

    1. Aluminum Chassis - Since tubes and power transformers generate heat, the aluminum chassis acts as a heat sink to better dissipate heat to the air. Aluminum is certainly better than steel in this regard. Some amp manufacturers use aluminum because it is a better conductor for grounding purposes. If this is their claim then they are using random grounds throughout the chassis which could lead to ground loops and higher hum levels. I prefer to use a star grounding scheme where all grounds are starred at the input jack. The AC ground is at the other end of the chassis. All jacks are floating on the chassis with the exception of the input jack.

    2. Mono-Crystal wire. - Mono Crystal wire (sometimes called Continuous Cast Copper) was developed by a Mr. Ohno in Japan. It is the process of drawing the wire that contributes to it purity and crystaline structure. Typical high quality Oxygen Free Copper wire has 500 crystal junctions in the metal every 10 meters. The Mono Crystal wire I use has .08 crystal junctions every 10 meters. The guitar signal must "negotiate" these junctions. Since there are far fewer crystal junctions in the Mono Crystal wire, the signal is purer with greater clarity and "quickness".

    All internal wiring inside of each Conrad Amp utilizes this expensive superior wire. In addition, I use a copper content solder that insures that all connections with components and the Super Wire is copper. This way there are no dissimilar metals in the connection. In an earlier post DaveDog has commented that these amps do not "blur". This is because of the MonoCrystal wire. These amps are very quick and forward sounding.

    There are 9 perfect Characteristics of Mono Crystal wire:

    1.    Unidirectional
    2.    Free of Impurity
    3.    Flexibility
    4.    Fatigue-Resistant
    5.    Corrosive-Resistant
    6.    Low Electric Resistance
    7.    Non-Crystal Boundaries
    8.    Rapid Transmissibility
    9. Perfect in Structure 

    Those all make Mono Crystal Wire an optimal material to be used for the internal wiring of a guitar amplifier. For the time being, Mono Crystal pure copper  has been considered the state-of-the-art conductor material in Hi-End  Audio cable industry. Yes, even superior to silver wire.

    I think I will stop here and continue down audiokid's list in the near future.

  13. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    Conrad - In relative terms, how much does using mono-crystal wire add to the cost of an amp? I'm all for using high quality components, so features 2,3,4,5 make it worth paying a bit more for good wire. But I have to say that if the other claims are true, I'm going to have to change a chapter or two in the book I'm writing on partial differential equations. In fact, if you have a wire that conducts a signal faster than the speed of light, you are wasting your time making amps. You can make a time machine.

    Of course, that is a joke. I'm well aware that the effective wave speed of electromagnetic waves is different in different media. But we are talking about speeds on the order of magnitude of the speed of light in a vacuum over a distance of a few feet. Not an easily measurable (much less audible) time lag.

    Since the crystal structure of copper is face centered cubic, I would expect a long mono-crystal should have greater bi-directional symmetry than a multi-crystalline structure. So I'm very skeptical about the unidirectional claim.

    Low crystal boundaries and lower resistance I would expect to be true, but as with the argument about silver wire: how is this better than thicker standard wire?

    Again, if you like working with the wire and feel it is the best product you can get, that's fine. The best reason to pay for a handmade amp is because you trust the ears and judgment of the builder. In the end it is the sound of the amp that matters. Scientific arguments (even ones that are easier to verify than these) don't carry much weight.
  14. Sundhy

    Sundhy Active Member

    Hey Bob, when it comes to wire there are skeptics, especially those with engineering degrees. My intention here is not to engage in a back and forth discussion of differing opinions but share my experience with using this wire.

    I have successfully used the Mono Crystal wire in the recording studio as well as in the amps I build. My son Steve is the head engineer at Nightbird Recording Studios in Hollywood. (http://www.nightbirdrecordingstudio.com)

    Together we have built custom mic pre's with this wire. In addition we have stripped the wire out of Manely mics and replaced it with the mono crystal wire to improve the performance. We have made Litz braided speaker cables with this wire. He has rewired the entire studio including the patch bay with this wire. We have also constructed mic cable with mono crystal wire - all with highly successful results. All I can tell you is that the midrange clarity and extended response in the studio is superb. This is what led me to use this wire in the Conrad amps.

    Despite all the differences in technical opinion the proof is in the tone and the feel of the amp. Ask anyone who owns one.

    The cost of the wire does run up the price of the amp somewhat because of the cost of the raw wire and the labor required to use this wire. However, the major cost of any guitar amp are the transformers, chassis tubes, speakers and labor.
  15. moonbaby

    moonbaby Mmmmmm Well-Known Member

    OK, dialing down the output power is cool, but when you do THAT, aren't you failing to sufficiently saturate the output transformer to the same degree that the higher output power would be doing that? I was always under the impression that the output tranny was/is key to the coloration of the tone as it got whalloped by the tubes...acting as a kind of lowpass filter. Maybe that was "old school" ?
  16. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Moon, I'm no expert on what goes on inside there but I do understand the concepts inherant to sound reproduction and the effect that transformers have on the overall sound.

    Conrad will have to address the technical side of this, but when you operate the amp in the manner you're talking about, not only do you NOT lose the high-end or the 'feeling' of the gain to the output, but you get this great compression. However its not the type of compression that has that little delay while the circuit grabs hold of the signal and then compresses it. It is now and immediate and quite unlike anything I have ever played through. Plus theres not that 'release' bloom.

    I want to comment just a moment on the wire.

    Understand that I am not a proponent of witchcraft or voodoo special cable claims that are the norm these days. I have operated on the fact that if it passes signal and does it without noise then its 'good' cable. Also realize that I am an Electrician with over 30 years of experience and have seen all sorts of wire especially high-tech cables used in computer suite construction and specialty equipment.

    So. I have tried the M*^%ster cable, and several other oxygen free, special insulated low impedance blahblah blah etc etc wire and cables and have NOT noticed a difference from the good old Belden you can buy at a tenth the cost of these other magic wire thingys.

    Of course this is an argument that takes up most of some peoples lives on other audiofile type sites and encites a riot whenever its mentioned in certain circles.

    I can hear the critique now.....your testing parameters arent up to par...(okay, U87,Genelecs,EQ switched out)...You have faulty ears...(no doubt)

    But heres my point. Conrad gave me a mic cable to dink with a few months back. Of the wire he has mentioned. Its WAY too stiff to make a good cable to lay-out on a setup but other than that, its the only cable I have ever heard a noticable difference in response from my trusty Beldens and etc's.. And its not a whole lot. But in a studio with this stuff in the walls and lots and lots of tracks going, there would be enough difference to make a difference.

    And these amps responds quicker than any I have owned or played on. So........maybe theres a reason.

    I'm, just sayin...............
  17. MrEase

    MrEase Active Member

    Well as a designer, I would avoid any saturation of the output transformer like the plague! When a transformer core reaches magnetic saturation the inductance drops alarmingly and would seriously overload the output valves leading to premature failure (the cathodes would get stripped very easily - transistors would just pop!). Normally output transformers are generously rated because of this. Output stage saturation normally refers to the valves running out of either grid drive or anode voltage and it is this that leads to the "valve" overdrive sound. Reducing anode voltage or limiting grid drive both lead to overdrive conditions and it is these that I presume Sundhy is doing in these new amps.

    EDIT: That is not to say that the design of the output transformer will not affect the sound. Also conventional transformers approach saturation more gently (shall we say) than a toroid. Saturation in both cases though is still to be avoided unless you really like the sound and are happy to keep buying output valves!
  18. moonbaby

    moonbaby Mmmmmm Well-Known Member

    I believe ya!
    I have heard the other amps on Conrads' site, awesome tone, awesome player (THAT certainly helps, doesn't it...LOL!).
    BTW, I have a Supro 1624T that has these power tubes- 6973's- the same thing that they used in Wurlitzer juke boxes. Crank the amp and it grabs the note and "blooms" just like what you described...albeit at a bit louder volume levels:) I'll have to check out that Echelon...Tell Conrad to let go of his pretty wife long enough to post some new pix and clips!!!
  19. Sundhy

    Sundhy Active Member

    Moonbaby, you are right about core saturation in the output tranny contributing to the tone of the amp. Output transformer core saturation occurs earlier in the lower frequencies. Out of curiosity I put the Echelon amp on the bench and ran some tests at full power and about 1/4 power. Here are the results:

    Core saturation of the output transformer on this amp starts at about 150Hz and increases as I went down in frequency to 40Hz. The trim control on this amp determines the signal voltage swing into the phase inverter. I was able to create core saturation at 1/4th power by advancing the Trim Control.

    Therefore Output Transformer core saturation can be achieved with this amp even at the lower "Headroom" settings. Thus the tone is preserved.


    Thanks, Moodbay for the question.

  20. Sundhy

    Sundhy Active Member

    There are some video clips of the amps on YouTube.

    Go to http://www.youtube.com/conradamps

    Here you find the Conrad Blues Jammer amp and the Conrad Velvet Hammer.

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