Thivan Labs & Mavis Interview 2023
[by hiendnews.gr e-magazine & audiophile news portal]
- How did you become interested in recreating the first-ever tube amplifier design in the first place? What attracted you to this product category as starting Thivan Labs brand?
- What motivates new Thivan Labs amplifiers & new digital to analog converter designs?
- Can you share some insights with us about upcoming Thivan Labs products that are currently in the design pipeline?
The person who created the foundation for the birth of ThivanLabs is Mr. Hoang Thi Nguyen. Mr. Thi was an excellent student majoring in electricity and electronics at Polytechnic University, the leading university in Vietnam training in this field. Since the early 2000s, he has begun to research speaker designs and has developed many loudspeaker designs for his personal preferences of listening music as well as for friends and relatives. The first speaker model he researched and made was the transmission line loudspeaker design with many tests of different speaker cabinet structures.
In 2005, with the desire to create an optimal sound system for his music listening needs, he began researching and making the first solid-state amplifiers. After participating in the Vietnam Audio Visual forum, the largest audio forum in Vietnam at that time, he learned about tube amplifiers and really loved the sound of vacuum tube amplifiers. In 2008, his tube amplifier model 6C33C won second prize in a major contest in Vietnam on designing and making tube amplifiers, organized by Vietnam Audio Visual Network. Soon after, this amplifier model became the first product that laid the foundation for the establishment of ThivanLabs. This amplifier model, called Airpower DL60 Push Pull, received orders for more than 50 products right after its launch in 2008.
ThivanLabs’ product ecosystem has been comprehensively developed today thanks to the desire of the founders and product developers to create complete HiFi systems that can combine well together to reproduce the best sound as well as bring the best emotions to the listener. With a passion for the musicality and exquisite sound of tube amplifiers and a desire to explore the sound amplification capabilities of many different types of power tubes, Mr. Thi has researched and manufactured tube amplifiers with various types of power tubes, including popular power tubes such as 300B, 845, 211, KT88, EL34, EL84, 2A3 and less common tube types in tube amplifiers such as 6H13C, 6AS7, 5998, 6C33C, 6336, 6C19, 811, 805, 813, 833, GK71, GM70, 3D21, 4D32 etc.
ThivanLabs’ official product ranges have been developed starting with tube amplifiers, preamps, and phono. In 2013, ThivanLabs began developing the Digital to Analog Converter device. In 2016, the first official commercial loudspeaker model was born, until 2023 ThivanLabs has developed from horn loudspeakers, closed and vent box loudspeakers, open baffle loudspeakers, full range loudspeakers, bookshelf loudspeaker and soundbase systems with extremely diverse designs and solutions. In 2018, ThivanLabs began researching music server solutions and devices, and by 2023, the first Tube Music Server models were officially introduced, TMS-9 Premium and TMS-3, both of which provide extremely excellent and exquisite sonics along with a multi-functional integration.
Not only developing a ThivanLabs brand, in 2019, Mr. Thi and Mrs. Joe Nguyen, his wife and also the co-founder of ThivanLabs, who greatly contributed to the birth and strong R & D development of ThivanLabs, jointly developed the second brand development is MAVIS with a completely new thinking and product development aim. While ThivanLabs focus on promoting the advantages of tube amplification with a classic and luxurious High End product style, MAVIS’ product ecosystem is a combination of the sophisticated sonics of tube amplification design and high power of solid-state amplification design to exploit the advantages of each design. In addition, MAVIS also develops loudspeaker models with high sensitivity and high power that are not only optimized for HiFi systems but also monitor loudspeakers used for recording studios and audio systems for home movie entertainment.
MAVIS’s goal is to create amplifier models that can drive well with all low to high sensitivity speakers, easily combined with many loudspeaker models not only from MAVIS and ThivanLabs but also play well with all other brands’ loudspeakers. MAVIS’s product ecosystem is constantly developing and improving. Thanks to inheriting many technical and technological research achievements of ThivanLabs, MAVIS’s new products have soon achieved impressive success.
In addition, to research and deeply understand sound and sound reproduction, product developers of ThivanLabs and MAVIS have also been participating more in the field of recording and music production as research and produce the amplifiers and monitor speakers for recording, live performance, researching acoustic interior solutions and developing audio equipment solutions for two-channel and multi-channel movie audio systems in the near future.
4. What sonic advantages do vacuum tubes offer over transistors (solid-state ones) in the design of amps and preamps?
Both tube amplification and solid-state amplification have their own advantage and we are exploiting the advantages of each design to make the best devices for sound amplification and reproduction under our ThivanLabs and Mavis brands.
To answer this question best, I would like to give some more information so that it is easier for you to understand the reason. 833, 811, 805, 845, 211, 300B are directly heated triode tubes (DHT tubes). They belong to the 2nd generation of the tube developed in the world from its birth. The tube types in this generation have a great sound quality and musicality advantage.
KT88, EL34, EL84 are pentode tubes. They belong to the 3rd generation of tubes developed in the world from its birth. It means they are born later than the DTH tube generation. The 3rd generation tubes have an advantage of power but the sound is not as good as the 2nd generation tubes. After the era of vacuum tube amplifier development is the era of development of the semiconductor industry and solid-state amplification with a very high power advantage! While the strength is high power, the weakness of the solid-state amplification is the musicality of the sound! The sound is often cold, dry and less emotional and no musical. However, the high power is necessary for the dynamic music such as rock as well as strong classical music or dynamic symphonies. But if the design is not good, the sound is only loud, noisy, unclear and messy. After a long time of researching different issues in the reproduction and amplification field, we understand much about all strengths/advantages and weaknesses of all amplification designs.
Since 2019, with the birth of the MAVIS brand, we have redirected our R & D to develop in both tube and solid-state amplification fields to achieve the optimal design solutions and exploit the advantages of these amplification designs as well as improve their weakness. Tube amplification has a great advantage of emotional and musical sound with an extreme high detail and exquisiteness! Our ThivanLabs continues to focus on tube amplification to exploit this strength and advantage. However, to get high enough power for the tube amplifications to exploit the best sound advantage, the production cost is very high. Therefore, from 2019 we have started to research and exploit the advantage of solid-state amplification with a new product ecosystem under the MAVIS brand. With Mr. Thi’s great experience of solid-state amplification designs further in the past and many years of developing the tube amplification designs, his combination of amplification designs has brought a new era of sonic amplification and reproduction in our development. The next oustanding models of MAVIS are upcoming in near future.
Please visit www.mavis-lab.com for more information.
The MAVIS amplification products focus on exploiting the advantage of tube amplification design for the musicality of the sound and the solid-state amplification design for the high power. This combination truly an extremely effective design solution for the sonic quality and amplification! Our products in both ThivanLabs and Mavis always exploit, use and combine both the advantage of the latest technology and the great musical advantage of the classical tube amplification designs.
5. We recently had a chance to listen to your latest Thivan Labs 300B integrated Single Ended amplifier. We found it to produce an extraordinarily vivid soundstage, with pin-point accuracy positioning of instruments and voices, frequency extension & control, plus exemplary dynamics for such a design – with up to 8 watts to offer. It outperformed just about any up to 5.500 € based on 300B-tubes model we can think of. Is there something particular in the design of Thivan Labs single ended models that allows them to achieve this level of performance?
6. Give us some more technical details about your standard component selections for both your tube amplifiers (transformers brand for example) and speakers (driver units of your choice).
The most important point that creates a great sonic quality for our amplification and reproduction devices comes from the designers and product developers’ right thinking!
We define the roots of all engineering designs need to come from the music itself. The designers may be very good at engineering and designing, however if they don’t know how music is truly performed and how music brings emotion to the listeners, the technique and technology have no right direction to go and at that time there is only the machines working, no music, no emotion.
That is why our designers and product developers usually attend many concerts, especially classical concerts and selected the best concerts to attend and experiences music at the top auditoriums. In addition, we join in the field of music production, recording in studio and live performances, supporting sound amplification and reproduction for classical concerts in different auditorium sizes by our equipment. In this process, we research, explore and understand how music is, the way that the sound creates the music, and how sound/music affect to listeners’ emotion and mood. Then based on these research results, the engineering solutions are decided to achieve the sound we want. The more correct research results are, the clearer target of the sound reproduction is and then the appropriate design solutions are tested and optimized to achieve this sound.
So, not only the 300B tube amplifier, our all models in ThivanLabs and Mavis achieve the best sonic quality. Our aim is reproducing the sound most naturally and correctly.
The first thing contributes to our finest sound is an open mindset of technical design. We always look for the most optimal and effective methods in design so that the sound signal is always fully transferred and the dynamics of the sound is reserved best. All important components contribute to the wonderful sonic advantage of ThivanLabs tube amplifiers and MAVIS hybrid tube amplifiers are mainly researched and made in house such as the transformer for output and the interstage transformer etc. All materials used for our transformers are selected best as well as carefully made and checked to be the finest finishing quality. To achieve the best quality of our OPT technology today, there is an important contribution of technical research from Mr. Anh Van Nguyen, who is Mr. Thi’s close classmate in university and a great member in our OPT technology research team from 2008 until now.
7. Which is your personal favorite output tube of your amplifiers? Can you describe shortly the sonic differences of your 3OOB, 833 and 211/845 Single Ended Triode & Class-A integrated amplifiers?
Each tube has its own sonic advantage and we have already explored and developed tube amplifier with so many power tubes and designs including the following.
|KT88 (KT90, KT120, KT150)
|833 (GU-48) SE
211 (VT-4C) SE/PSE
811A SE/PP, 572 SE
6H13C (6AS7,6080,5998) OTL/PP/SE
The designs have been tested for the above tubes are OTL, single-ended, push-pull. In this present time, the most effective tubes for both sonic quality and power are being developed for our official ThivanLabs tube amplifiers are 833, 813A, 805/805A, 211, 845, 300B, 6H13C and are developed for our hybrid tube amplifier are EL84, 300B, 811, 211, 845 and mosfet with transfomrer output.
8. We suppose you heard uncountable hours with both solid-state and tubed amplification. Do you suggest a specific models (or kind of tubes) for specific kind of music programs? Do you suggest for example, a different amplifier for rock & hard rock music and another model for classical or jazz?
Tube amplifiers with 300B, 811, 211, 845 are extremely good for vocals and instruments with a natural, high detailed and exquisite sonic advantage. For the large room and difficult-to push loudspeakers as well as the high dynamic music such as dynamic classical music and symphony, electronic music such as rock the high power amplifier are the best. Some models that are good for this dynamic music genre to point out in our amplifier range are ThivanLabs Sun-833X and Gold/Silver 845, Mavis M100 and M60. Actually, these amplifiers are extremely good to play all types of music.
9. In today’s market we can find and buy almost a ton of 5K to 10K euros two-way or three-way speakers. We have to admire that your speaker models auditioned in Akoustiki Kritis, your distributor, can compare and compete with the upper tier of today’s high end “easy to drive” models. Do you believe in some ‘musts’ that horn-type or tube-friendly speakers really have to “check”?
We recommend you to listen to the system below. This system is very wonderful for musical and sonic quality with a very good price for such a great sound quality!
– ThivanLabs Tube Music Server TMS-9 Premium (music source)
– Mavis M100 Tube Mosfet Transformer – Hybrid tube amplifier
– ThivanLabs Grand Open Special Edition or Black Diamond
This is A very minimal system but A very great sound and music experience!
10. Do you source your vacuum tubes from one or more suppliers? Some consumers are of the opinion that tube-based audio components are difficult to maintain and not worth the trouble. What do you say to these consumers? All of your designs are so called “auto-biasing” the output tubes?
Our all tube and hybrid tube amplifiers are designed as auto bias. We use vacuum tubes from different suppliers and manufacturers and all of them are popular tube types. So, all compatible tubes can be replaced without adjustment. This is very convenient for the user and nowadays it is easy to search and purchase the tubes for replacement everywhere.
11. You produce excellent tubed phono-stages and very ‘analog’ sounding digital to analog converters. What’s your preferred music source – vinyl or digital, or do you listen to both?
12. Do you believe in up-to-date digital chipsets on your DACs or the musicality and sonics are not always going hand-in-hand with the latest technology digital chipsets?
As the sound reproduction and amplification product developers, we actually love to listen to live music and a truly live music such as classical concerts. On our website, there is a blog site where we share our mindset in sound, music and R & D thinking.
Some points are quoted here.
‘””Each manufacturer will have a different approach in the research and development (R&D) process. Most manufacturers approach in terms of technique, technology and finishing quality. For those who have a core R&D role at ThivanLabs, all of these criteria are an obvious must-have. So what concerns us more than the above issues? It’s a signature sound for the audio equipment we build. Accordingly, we approach the issue from the perspective of sound and music because one of the most important things that a user needs in an audio device is to listen to music and how the sound is amplified, as well as how musical experience they would get.
This is also the basis for us to choose research methods and conduct product development research to identify the right issues rather than concern or discuss more about technology. Engineering serves as a tool to achieve the sonic goals we define and work towards. At ThivanLabs, engineering solutions are always researched and improved to serve our sound aims. Like a chef with adept knowledge and skills, but how the dish should taste is an unlimited creativity. Sound is the same. Let’s think of sound as a personality, then what is the personality of ThivanLabs’ sound?
Purpose – Goals – Scope of discussion – Research methods
After attending many live concerts and sound testing, a sound philosophy has been developed for ThivanLabs parallel with development of engineering and sound standards. In the ThivanLabs sound philosophy, along with the technical specifications that are obviously always optimized, the naturalness of the sound and faithful sound reproduction are the top goals that the devices must achieve. So what is the naturalness of the sound and faithful sound reproduction? And what is ThivanLabs sound destination?
This article will share our product development design thinking with you more clearly, introduce the research methods we have selected and implemented in our journey to define and build a sonic characterization for the sound reproducing devices we build.
In order for the article to focus, the issues discussed will have specific limits!
In this article, we limit our discussion of sound to a narrower scope that is music and entertainment sound, which may also include movie sound. These are the main forms of sound in human entertainment needs and are directly related to the research and development of our sound amplification and reproduction devices. In order to research, discover and find the truths for product development, defining the distinctive sound that ThivanLabs audio devices will need to achieve, the core people of our R&D team has always focused on musical experience and experimented with amplification and sound reproduction in the most diverse ways.
The musical experience here is not merely a love of music, but rather is applied as a research and development method for our products, namely a form of exploratory research and empirical research to find out the goals for the next experimental research steps that we carry out. Through these research methods, we have the observation, experience and comparison to be able to identify natural sound issues and thereby get the right assessment and objective judgment on sound reproduction. Then, along with the device testing process as well as experimenting, comparing and assessing various technical design solutions in many real-life using and performance situations to perfect the sound quality of each model. The ultimate goal is to create optimal products that bring the best music experience to users, especially those who really love music and listen to music!
Being able to combine music experience with product research and development (R & D) is really exciting! For the music experience, which is not only a personal love of listening to music, we also put ourselves in the position of people who listen to music and look for emotions from music. In these categories, we are an object of music. In these diverse musical experiences, in order to experience the most natural and original sound, we place more emphasis on classical music experiences and live concerts which are not amplified by any device to get a more objective assessment of the natural sound.
Accordingly, a subjective factor is that audio amplification devices are excluded. Because each manufacturer of amplifier equipment will have different philosophies, opinions, criteria, and subjective perceptions about the sound they will reproduce. So, it is obvious that the sound amplified by the equipment of different brands will be different. In addition, the audio signals after going through the amplifier stages will be less or more transformed and no longer original, specifically reducing the “dynamic” and “dynamic range” which are the inherent dynamics of natural sounds. This is also an issue that we are particularly interested in researching to come up with solutions to minimize the attenuation and transformation of the original audio signal when reproducing the sound through the amplifiers that we develop.
After excluding this subjective factor, for other peripheral factors that may affect the sound transmitted to the listener’s ears, only the influence from the architecture and interior of the auditorium will remain. This is where acoustics are concerned and the role of architects is really important here! The world’s top auditoriums almost all have to go through a long period of tens to hundreds of years in improving acoustic architecture to achieve the sound optimization. Often as a spectator, we all have to accept the acoustical conditions that are available in the auditorium. Also, we don’t want to go any further than experiencing music and won’t discuss acoustics in this article.
Therefore, in the scope of this article, we assumed that auditorium acoustic environments are already available, whereby the sound in each auditorium will be different. The discussion in this article will only revolve around experiencing music, feeling the sound directly in different auditorium acoustic environments that we have selected to experience and experiment. Then based on the facts gained from these to analyze and define the natural sound we aim for. Theories and perspectives on auditorium acoustics will not be covered in this article. Let the architects take care of that! However, there are still a few other factors that will also affect the feelings of sound and emotions the listeners would get from the music that need to be analyzed and taken into account are volume in the auditorium. This issue involves the correlation between the size of the auditorium and the orchestra, the different types of instruments performed as well as the talent of the conductor and musicians.
So “as like as Live Music” is our aim. This is a standard of naturalness and accuration of the sound amplification and reproduction. When we research music and sonic reproduction, we have found that recording is also very important because if the recording is not good or correct, the music played in the system will not be correct and good. So, it does not matter if we listen to vinyl or digital, all music needs to be recorded, then amplified and reproduced as correctly and best as possible. We still listen to both and are developing the equipment for both recording and amplifying / reproducing the sound.””
For our DAC and music server, the latest DAC chips are always used for our devices because the advantage of the latest DAC chips is having better dynamic range and lower noise compared to the previous chip generation. In addition, the latest DAC chips are easier to be compatible with the latest digital music formats.
For “the musicality and sonics”, these do not depend on the DAC chip, instead these completely depend on the engineering design of the analog circuit behind the DAC chip. The design of the analog circuit is totally developed by ThivanLabs along with using the core components in our amplification design such as the Output Transformers (OPT). Our OPT technology has been researched and developed since 2008 until today and has achieved its optimal and effective design in amplifying and reproducing the sound to get the best musicality and sonics.
13. What makes the latest designs superior technically and musically compared to previous amplifiers models?
In recent years, when we defined the aim for “as like as Live Music”, our developers often attend so many classical concerts at the best acoustic auditoriums to get our best understanding of live music and experience of the live sound. Also, in our recent opportunities of researching recording and developing equipment for recording and music production, we have gained so many useful results to define our sound philosophy and right R & D direction. Based on these results, the engineering designs are improved to be optimal for music experience. So the latest devices have achieved the most natural, correct and emotional sonic reproduction.
14. A last question: In all the years of evaluating audio systems, I let all my friends (and article writers also) describe what is the most important ‘characteristic’ they put ‘first-on-the-list’. For example, it’s the soundstage, extension & control, dynamics, clarity, detailing on a complete system? What is your ‘fist-on-the-list’ checkpoint that is the most critical for your music experience. The one of all that overcomes some other ‘checkpoints’ as well?
It is ‘dynamics’!!!
When a system has its full dynamics, the music will be fully performed as correctly as its performance in a real concert.
We have listened to a lot of equipment and HiFi systems in many audio shows. Although the specifications are very good, because the dynamics were not enough, the sound was not really natural and musical. So for our ThivanLabs and Mavis products, the main aim of designs is to achieve the fullest and best dynamic of the reproduced sound.
HiendNews.gr sends a big Thank You to ThivanLabs & MAVIS Audio companies and a bigger one to the Greek Distributor company Akoustiki Kritis !
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