Saturday, October 24, 2009

Can the AN214 IC Amplifier Work as an Electric Guitar Amplifier?

Even though guitar players on a shoestring budget with a good enough electronic DIY skills know that it works, but are there any limitations in using the AN214 IC as an electric guitar amp?

By: Vanessa Uy

It is probably the worst kept secret in the DIY hi-fi hobbyist’s world. The AN214 IC-based audio amplifier – especially when partnered with it’s famed transformer-coupled MJ2955 PNP transistor-based booster amp – does work beautifully as an electric guitar amplifier up to a point. But by being probably the cheapest electric guitar amplifier in the world that still has a “decent” tone doesn’t mean that it is set out to be every guitarist’s trusty amp. After all, Liz Phair had not yet endorsed one given her “lo-fi” credentials. But given a much improved access to vacuum tubes via the Internet, why should a typical electric guitar player with a sufficient knowledge of DIY electronics even bother with a 1970s solid-state relic like the AN214 audio amplifier IC?

What’s not going for it? Well, the AN214 IC audio amp when used as an electric guitar amp - even with the addition of the transformer-coupled MJ2955 PNP transistor-based booster amp - can never replicate an authentic sounding rendition – i.e. same guitar tone as that on the record. Especially of Can’t Get Enough by Bad Company or Red Light Fever by Liz Phair. You’ll probably need tubes for that like the venerable 1965 Fender Twin or a 1970s-era Quad-Verb - or a custom tweaked Fender Black Face Champ equipped with Mullard or the even rarer “Record By Mullard” EL84 tubes. But what you’ll get though is a very viable foundation for a guitar tone so unique and so uncontrived – yet still sounds like a tweaked overdriven Marshall-style set-up. If you’ll work at it skillfully enough, critical acclaim will be more than a dead certainty.

On my actual usage of an AN214 IC amp as an electric guitar amp with it’s famed MJ2955 transformer-coupled booster amp – which I built myself – it does have a way better tone than those extremely dry sounding Carlsbo solid-state electric guitar amps from the early to mid 1990s. Although some contemporary Physical Modeling-capable electric guitar amps equipped with audiophile-grade 24-bit 192-KHz digital signal processing offers much, much more tonal flexibility. Although they can be easily many times as expensive as the AN214-based electric guitar amp.

On getting as much a good electric guitar tone from your AN214 amp, I used a DIY discrete component based – i.e. using JFETS, transistors and op-amps – cassette tape hiss reducer with an older audio-buddy no longer uses. It provides a 3dB per octave roll-off above 1-KHz when set at its maximum hiss filtering setting. You can use a dedicated noise gate or a Wah pedal for the same effect. Filters like these should be placed after the distortion / fuzz pedal to make the AN214 sound as if it is a tube amp. I tried 12-inch, 15-inch whizzer-equipped Leslie-type organ speakers / musical instrument speakers with great results. But if you want an authentic Marshall-like tone, use an 18-inch whizzer-equipped musical instrument / organ speaker. Mine was a Japanese-made OEM replacement for a Leslie mounted on an open baffle.

When doing my own renditions of various epic and iconic electric guitar performances of the past, the AN214 IC audio amplifier-based electric guitar amp can actually be used with some skill on Iron Maiden’s 2 Minutes to Midnight. Thanks in part to the skillful super bit mapping technology mastering of Murray Harris and Simon Heyworth of West London CD mastering specialists Chop Em Out - Which (inadvertently?) revealed the germanium transistor and germanium clipping signal diode-equipped Arbiter Fuzz Face pedal being used in the intro of 2 Minutes to Midnight. Probably due to the “extreme” noise-shaping of the Super Bit Mapping / SBM process which inadvertently boosted the signature residual noise of the effects pedal being used on this particular Iron Maiden track. I wonder if it shows on the vinyl version of this track if Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab ever manages to press Iron Maiden’s Powerslave album.

The AN214 also works extremely well in replicating mid-1980s Bay Area Bangers-period Thrash and Death Metal style electric guitar tones. It is probably the cheapest way for an authentic sounding rendition of those old Metallica, Testament, and Death Angel guitar passages that you can have. By the way, I even managed to perform a very convincing rendition of the guitar passages found on the latest Tokio Hotel single titled Automatic from their Humanoid album on my AN214-based electric guitar rig.

In short, it is probably the most cost-effective electric guitar rig that you can find that will run on a 12-volt car / automotive battery. My own AN214 IC audio amplifier-based amplifier works so well that it was good enough to be used in my band’s own rendition of The Gathering’s Liberty Bell. Although this version is a 20-minute long Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan meets Central Asian Bardic Divas with a Gibson Les Paul and Marshall Amplifier full-tilt high decibel Heavy Metal fest - Which could be a nightmare scenario for Ann Coulter and the Bush Administration-era Homeland Security if a hard rock version of the Qawwali or Islamic Devotional Music ever becomes mainstream in the psyche of American teens. Maybe Junoon has been doing this for sometime now.

As an aside, I even played my tweaked Gibson Les Paul wearing a Soviet-era water-cooled partial-pressure suit similar to the one used by Yuri Gagarin and Valentina Tereshkova on their extreme high-altitude cosmonaut training flights. And we played our version of Liberty Bell on the backdrop of a wooden one-to-one scale mock-up of an XB-70 Valkyrie. We might even upload the video on You Tube anytime soon.

Can the AN214 IC Audio Amplifier Be Used to Pickup Ghost Voices?

After dabbling into the mysteries of Electronic Voice Phenomena, can one use the AN214 IC-based audio amplifier to “listen” to “ghost voices”?

By: Vanessa Uy

As an “objectivist” when it comes to the science and art of audio electronics, I am often reminded why I am still fascinated by this hobby. Especially when it comes to the still “unexplained” portions of this hobby that tends to crop up when Halloween season comes along. I’m talking about Electronic Voice Phenomena or EVP that’s more commonly referred to as “ghost voices” by the layperson. Which fortunately gained my interest as of late after examining a rainwater-damaged AN214 IC Audio Amplifier that had turned not only into an ad hoc white-noise generator, but also managed to pickup “unexplained” voices that on rare moments of clarity imply that the voices originate from the “other side”. But before going further, here’s a primer on the very fascinating paranormal phenomena scientifically known as Electronic Voice Phenomena or EVP.

Ever since a large number of ordinary folks gained unlimited access to a tape recorder (probably a few years after World War II) and began doing a wide range of do-it-yourself musical performance and field / nature sound recordings. They began to capture “phantom sounds” or “phantom voices” that couldn’t be easily explained away by the scientific principles governing the working processes of these tape recorders. These phantom voices were often referred to as ghost voices since an overwhelming number of them – especially during the 1960s and 1970s - were captured or recorded in an apparent séance sessions when the spirit of a specific dearly departed were contacted to answer questions regarding life after death.

The first person most popularly credited for capturing EVP on tape was a documentary producer named Friedrich Jurgenson when during a summer day in 1959 as he was recording bird-songs in the Swedish countryside managed to record something unexpected. When Jurgenson played back his tapes later, he was surprised to find a mysterious voice speaking in Norwegian who was also surprisingly narrating along the recorded bird-song sounds rather expertly. After investigating the radio programs airing during the same time of the bird-song field recordings to rule out possible RF rectification, Jurgenson came up empty in his search which only deepened the mystery behind Electronic Voice Phenomena.

By 1965, Jurgenson’s research into EVP gained the attention of a psychologist named Dr. Konstantin Raudive. Later, Dr. Raudive teamed up with a physicist named Alex Schneider, which the two of them became very instrumental in devising ways and set-ups to capture EVPs to augment the tape recorder. Like using white-noise generators, germanium diode-based crystal sets, unused frequencies on the FM dial, and the use of sensitive microphones in apparently silent venues with known paranormal activity – especially very late at night. Dr. Konstantin Raudive’s research into EVPs eventually resulted in the publication of a very influential book on ghost voices / paranormal voice research titled “ Breakthrough: An Amazing Experiment in Electronic Communication with the Dead” in 1971.

Even though Friedrich Jurgenson’s recorded “phantom voice” on the bird-song tape was believed to be the first EVP recording due to its overwhelming popularity. Thanks to the popularity of Dr. Raudive’s Breakthrough - in the newly established EVP research community, there were two American paranormal researchers who were recording and documenting EVPs several years before Jurgenson’s 1959 bird-song recording. Psychical investigators Raymond Bayless and Attila von Szalay had published a paper in the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research documenting the results of their three-year experiment in investigating EVPs. Bayless and von Szalay’s EVP research started in the investigation of a local psychic in their area named Sophia Williams who was allegedly able to make a disembodied voice appear on tape. To their first ever recording of a confirmed EVP on December 5, 1956. Raymond Bayless and Attila von Szalay may be the first to investigate EVPs, but Dr. Konstantin Raudive was the most prolific cataloger of EVPs - which numbered over 70,000 voices before his death in 1974. Given extensive scientific research and investigation, can it be proven that Electronic Voice Phenomena are really voices of the souls of the dearly departed that speaks to us from the “other side”?

As with the confusion behind UFOs - which officially means Unidentified Flying Objects – as opposed to an overwhelmingly popular prevailing belief that they are highly advanced spacecraft piloted by an extra-terrestrial biological being capable of traversing vast interstellar distances by travelling faster-than light. UFOs are just unidentified flying objects – unless of course you’re part and parcel into those wild conspiracy theories I suppose. Sadly, as it is with our eyes, our ears can also be fooled – especially when it comes to Electronic Voice Phenomena.

It has been well established that our eye-brain system consciously searches out meaningful patterns in apparently chaotic and random places. Like the “Man on the Moon” where the craters and the large “seas” on the Lunar surface roughly resembles a human face. Patterns often crop up in tea leaves another popular medium used to foretell the future. Most EVPs that are heard clearly without extensive signal processing can be easily explained away as RF rectification – i.e. radio signals received in improperly shielded and constructed audio equipment. While ones requiring very advanced digital signal processing – especially on equipment often used by the American FBI or other big-ticket law-enforcement agencies – like EVPs from white-nose can often sound like the auditory equivalent of seeing patterns in a snow bank or tea leaves. It is just too reliant on subjectivity to pass muster as a truly intelligible human speech. Although some psychoactive drugs and herbs when recreationally taken tend to make the sound of white-noise sound as if the Voice of God in Her Infinite Wisdom talking directly to you.

While my AN214 IC audio amplifier as white-noise generator did receive very interesting EVP “spikes” during the past few weeks. Most of them can easily be explained away as nearby AM transmissions modulating the seemingly constant hiss of the white-noise to produce a rhythmic modulation that’s often mistaken as a ghost voices. But I did managed to pick up a few that can’t be explained away as AM transmissions after I placed the rainwater damaged AN214 in a faraday cage. I even received something that sounded like our long dead Border collie. I just hope that these “ghosts” don’t sue me for copyright infringement because I’ve been hearing one who is a very brilliant singer-songwriter.