REPAIRING THE FINAL 0.3 ELECTROSTATICS
I have noticed that people with Electrostatic Loudspeakers often speak of that magic moment, the epiphany of the first hearing, the aural equivalent of love at first sight.
Now I for one am not going to dismantle this legend. So here is my story. It goes back to 1974 in England where we were living at the time. We had recently arrived from Australia and I was busy setting up a good quality hi-fi system. I had driven down from my village to Harrow Audio in London to audition the loudspeakers which were on my short list and within my price range. After some hours, I settled on a pair of KEF Concertos (which in a modified form I still have), and was leaving, when I was stopped literally in my tracks by the sound coming from another part of the shop. It was just beautiful, clear, airy and transparent, with none of the “boxy” nature of the speakers to which I had been listening.
They were, of course, the original Quad 57 Electrostatics. The salesman was happy to demonstrate them, but alas!, they were way outside my price range. And so I let the moment pass.
Back in Australia I never forgot that moment and that sound. Over the years I read and investigated further. However cost remained the stumbling block, as it had in the beginning.
After our retirements, my wife and I moved to Northern N.S.W. and established a new life, in a new house, on a new property. Part of this new life was the setting up of a Music Room. The Room was to be compact, self-contained and (reasonably!) sound proofed, so we could avoid those exchanges which had lost their charm over the years:
She: Turn the volume down, the music’s too loud.
He: What’s that? Speak up. I can’t hear, the music’s too loud.
The music I listen to is mainly classical symphonic and chamber with a smaller emphasis on the rock and folk music of the 1960’s. I wanted the music to sound clean and transparent with all the various instrumental and vocal strands clearly delineated. I wanted also to be able to recreate the volume of a live performance without the music being driven into distortion and distress.
Then on E-Bay appeared a pair of second-hand Final 0.3 electrostatics. I read as much background as I could and decided to bid.
A happy ending ensued. I was fortunate to win the auction and shortly after took delivery. Initially I had some problems with partnering them with suitable amplification. I eventually purchased an Arcam Alpha 9C Pre-amplifier and an Arcam Alpha 10 Power Amplifier which did the job.
Initially the sound was all that I hoped it would be – clean and true. I settled down for a year’s listening. However over the course of this year I became aware of some shortcomings, viz.:
# The sound lacked high frequency response. For example in the Bernard Haitink version of Shostakovich’s Fifteeth Symphony, the high bells at the opening of the First Movement were muffled and recessed rather than incisive and clean.
# The speakers were difficult to drive. On occasion, for example on hot days, when driving very loud choral and orchestral pieces such as the Simon Rattle version of Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast, the protection circuits or the Amplifier would trip.
# The right speaker had a lower sensitivity than the left speaker. In order to achieve a balanced output, I had to adjust the Balance Control to the 9 o’clock position.
I was aware that electrostatic panels do deteriorate over time. The original owner of the speakers had been meticulous in caring for them but had confirmed that at some time within the next five years the panels should be replaced or rejuvenated. He also referred me to the E.R. Audio website as a source of materials for this up-grade. I formed a general intention to do this sometime before 2012.
Then from out of the ether came the Global Financial Crisis and with it in Australia, a Fiscal Stimulus which delivered a large one-off cash payment. In the spirit in which this payment was made, I decided to upgrade the speakers sooner rather than later, and with an Australian business - rather than burying the money in a dirty old sock in the back garden.
Accordingly I placed an order with E.R. Audio for the Final 0.3 Repair Kit.
THE E.R. AUDIO EXPERIENCE
I undertook the project with some trepidation. I had, of course, never repaired an electrostatic panel before. And my actual practical Electronics Expertise was rather modest – say 4 out of 10.
I was very considerably assisted in this task in two ways:
# A set of excellent Instructions. These were comprehensive and well-illustrated, and unfolded sequentially in clear, non-technical prose. They provided an invaluable guide through the various processes.
# The personal on-going support of Rob Mackinlay and Jan Greene. Rob had made telephone contact with me shortly after I placed the order. He not only assisted me through the opening stages of the project but remained available by phone throughout. His advice throughout was clear, positive and friendly. I was, and am, greatly appreciative.
I was also fortunate in having on hand the work space, the equipment, the tools and the time. So the project began.
Mostly it proceeded well. However there were two main problems:
# Initially when tensioning the film on the panels I twice tore the material and had to discard it. However with the combination of a good night’s sleep, a bigger MDF work surface, and a lot more care I succeeded in this task.
# When running the copper charge foil around the perimeter of the panel, I could not master the neat compact right angle turn on the corners. Rob suggested an alternative method of cutting the copper into strips and using a drop of solder at the corners for the connection, which worked well for me.
Eventually, of course, the project was completed and the Moment of Truth arrived – the Big Switch-On.
Right from the first notes of the Fifteenth Symphony, it was obvious that there was a vast improvement. The bells now came through – well, as clear as a bell. High frequency response was very considerably better. So was sensitivity. The volume control on the Pre-amplifier could be reduced from the 12 o’clock setting to the 10 o’clock setting for the same output.
However all was not yet perfect. I was particularly troubled by the sound from the right speaker. It was softer; it had a fuzzy, out-of-focus quality (rather like the sound from a turntable stylus which had become loaded with debris), and it displayed some distortion at high volume and high frequencies.
I rang Rob once more. He suggested that the problem was with a resistor on the circuit board located at the base of the dynamic speaker enclosure. The good news was that this resistor could be replaced cheaply. The bad news was that I didn’t have a clue how to do this.
Rob came to the rescue again. He suggested that I disassemble the bass enclosure so as to expose the circuit board, than photograph the board and e-mail it to him. He would then indicate which resistor(s) should be replaced. The reply came promptly with the faulty resistors clearly identified. The values and types of the replacements were also clearly indicated.
The work was then carried out. The resistor that Rob suggested as the problem had very evident scorching on the underside when removed. However in all I replaced three of the resistors with new wire-wound types which I was able to source at a local Jaycar store.
While at it, the equivalent three resistors on the left speaker were replaced.
The speakers were re-assembled and the Moment of Truth (Mark 2) arrived.
What a revelation!
The problem with the right speaker had disappeared. The sound now had that open transparent analytical quality which I had lusted for over all these years. Music floated in the air rather than emanating from a box. All the individual voices were clearly defined and held in appropriate balance. Above all the music was true and honest to the way I believe the original live performance would have sounded. Nothing added or subtracted. The music, just the music.
A CONCLUDING WORD
I am well aware of the dangers of that dread disease, Audiophileosis Extremis which causes its victims to listen to the Equipment rather than to the Music, and plunge into an Obsessive Search for the Holy Grail of the Perfect Sound.
Now this being the Confessional Hour I should admit that yes, I, too, have suffered from this disease.
As a cure, I have been listening lately to a wonderful boxed set of Haydn “Name Symphonies” from the Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra under Adam Fischer issued by Brilliant Classics (formerly Nimbus) which is available at a bargain price on the Internet.
The early symphonies were commissioned by Prince Esterhazy of Austria-Hungary who must have had that type of astronomical wealth which allowed him to employ his own private orchestra and his own private Composer-Genius. The symphonies were written for the private enjoyment of the Prince and his household in their own Palace at Eisenstadt.
It is not too much of a stretch to suggest that the marvels of modern technology allow us to re-create in a far-off time, in a far-off land and in a far-off social class the aural equivalent of such privileged moments in time, with persuasive, committed, exuberant performances. And what a privilege that is.
So, all in all, a great experience. My thanks go to Rob Mackinlay and Jan Green for their excellent product and service, which facilitated such a result.
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