Tim de Paravicini (1945-2020)
The Baron & The Legend of true High Fidelity
by mr. Jonas Sakkis
Tim was born in Nigeria in 1945, to English parents. His family has a distinguished lineage, both in his native Italy and in the UK, where one branch of the family settled centuries ago. One of his ancestors was Agostino Pallavicini, an ambassador from Genoa to Pope Gregory XV, and later the Doge of Genoa. A portrait of Pallavicini by Anthony Van Dyke is the collection of the Getty Museum, where it is on permanent display. Tim was in fact a Baron, a title that has been in his family for many generations.
Tim was brought to England for his education, which culminated to him in receiving a degree in Electrical Engineering. After completing his studies, Tim moved in Johannesburg, South Africa, where he worked as a consultant to hi-fi stores, run a factory building transformers and amplifiers, built PA systems for rock groups and did work for recording studios. Amongst the people he worked in Johannesburg was the import agent for Luxman, a fact that led in 1972 to being hired by the chief executives of Luxman, specifically to bring that company to attention of the world outside of Japan. He was the first and only westerner doing audio design work in Japan at the time.
In the course of Tim’s time at Luxman, he learned Japanese, met his wife Oliva and designed several remarkable audio components that continue to receive notice. Perhaps the most notorious was the M-6000, a gigantic transistor power amplifier, which was one of the first muscle amplifiers ever produced and certainly the first to come from Japan. Among other products, Tim also designed the MB-3045 monoblock tube amplifier, at the time the only monoblock amplifier in the world market, and a product that is now bought and sold at several times its original selling price.
While Tim was best known for designing vacuum tube components, the existence of the M-6000 is testimony to the fact that he was equally at home designing both tube and transistor gear (more on this later). He believed that no one technology is inherently superior to the other, and in fact he believed that, given proper circuit design, they should sound identical. Tim straddled both the world of professional audio and that of domestic Hi-Fi. He was in fact best known in the pro-audio world for his radical modifications on ATR and Studer (and later Denon) tape machines. These machines are capable of digital levels of S/N ratio, and have a bandwidth in excess of 8Hz-80kHz. The Studer C97 used by Waterlilly Acoustics to record the Grammy-Award-winning album “Meeting by the River”, was all tube, while the electronics in the tape machine currently used by Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab to master their LP’s and CD’s is solid state – though the cutting heads used to make their LP’s were driven by EAR electronics.
Tim left Japan in 1976, and returned to England, where at first did design work for others. Perhaps his best products from this period are the TVA-1 and TVA-10 amplifiers that he created for Michaelson and Austin (later Musical Fidelity), once again vintage products, which are still sought after this day. He founded EAR (the initials of which originally stood for Esoteric Audio Research) in 1978, and begun to create a line of audio products under that name. He also continued to design amplifiers for other companies, amongst them Musical Fidelity, Alchemist and, more recently, Quad. The list of the most well known recording and mastering engineers, who used his equipment, includes Bob Ludwig of Gateway Mastering, whose credits include Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Radiohead, Dire Straits and Frank Zappa among others. James Guthrie, who has been the producer and recording engineer for Pink Floyd since 1978 owns an EAR tape machine and a rack full of other gear in order to master and remaster the full Pink Floyd catalogue.
The list of musicians who own and use Tim’s equipment includes Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, the late George Harrison, Lenny Kravitz and David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, who literally ownes a boatload of Tim’s equipment.
Tim’s audio components have received numerous awards, amongst them many Golden Ear and Critics Choice awards from Absolute Sound, some Class A ratings from Stereophile, over a dozen top awards from the french magazine Revue du Son, Haute Fidelite and Diapason, a number of Editor’s Choice Awards from brittish Hi-Fi News and several, including Component of the Year from japanesse “Stereosound” magazine.
Baron Tim de Paravicini is survived by his wife Oliva, son Nevin and daughter Avalon. Esoteric Audio Research company will continue to operate under the capable hands of Nevin de Paravicini.
Baron Tim de Paravicini
So far, everything was copied from the Internet, mainly “Positive Feedback”. But, what I think is more interesting (at least for people like me) is to write my view about Tim’s personality, together with a brief addition to his activity. I first met him at the very early 80’s, in one Heathrow hi-fi show, presenting a pair of his 509 Mk1 amplifiers with some “heretic (non BBC style) loudspeakers”, these being from Solstice, ProAc, Heybrook HB3’s or something else. Impressive! I started cooperating with him on 1987, although I was very familiar with his work, on TVA-1 and 10, and other Musical Fidelity equipment (the latter I was and still am the importer). I need here to remind the readers the well known history about the landmark amplifier MF A-1. Tim was with Michaelson in a London pub, eating and drinking. He drew on a piece of cigarette paper (he was a very heavy smoker) the very clever but inexpensive to built schematic of that amplifier for Anthony, in exchange for just a bag of grocery that his wife ordered and he was bored to death to buy! Perhaps the best qualification for Tim I ever read was from Ken Kessler “when Tim entered the room, it was fulfilled by his presence”.
In a site, someone wrote “Tim was a wild man”. Well no he wasn’t, he was just absolutely intolerant to non substantiated statements of people with little or no electronics knowledge, who were based solely on the choice of expensive components as a way to make something to sound good, often with doubtful reliability. I will always remember his joyful and almost “singing” Hellooow each time Dena Ross announced me on a telephone call.
We were discussing a lot about electronics design. He was particularly interested about my work on OTL amplifiers and some novelties that I put on the schematics and realization, and he asked me to make it fully DC coupled. I could not find an easy answer at the time and he asked me prepare an answer for the next time Munich show. We never met again. Twice a pity, because he also told me “I know it can be done, and it is going to make the world’s best amplifier”.
His designs were unconventional, and every creation of his was totally innovative. I can give many examples but I will state just two. There was an order for one Push Pull 833 amplifier of around 500 watts for an audiophile in Athens. What he created was full of fresh ideas, and one easy to explain was the following: he avoided DC power on the filaments for a very logical (after being explained of course) reason, and he managed to make a totally quiet amplifier with 100W (10Vx10A) per tube, AC supply! It was very cleverly constructed for heat convection, and it run very cool. It drives Wilson XLF with fantastic success.
The other example is cheaper and widely available. It is the EAR 834T amplifier, the transistorized version of 899 and 834, where he substituted EL34’s or KT90’s with a combination of bipolar and FET transistors as output devices. Instead of each power tube he used four small bipolar and a power FET. I inserted the circuit on the “SPICE” circuit analysis site (Berkeley University) and it proved to be fantastically linear and reliable (as is the whole amplifier by the way).
Tim was not a fan of the hype about the 300B tube, and he proved this with his EAR 859 (sold once as a kit or transformers only, supplying for free its very innovative circuit). He stated that a screen driven PL519 tube sounds (and measures) identical to a 300B. I tried it and it was true! There was one experimental amplifier of mine (SE833) with no transformer coupling. I used a driver tube “hanging” on two DC sources (positive and negative) that is DC coupled to the 833 grid. On a very revealing system (Kallista digital source and big Cessaro horn speakers) the sound variation between different brands of 300Bs and PL519s was bigger than the difference between the two different tubes, and specifically when comparing the sound of a JJ 300B and a Philips/Siemens PL519 we couldn’t detect any difference at all!
I could give many more examples about Tim’s work, but one great example was the work he did for the Michaelson Audio amplifiers. These were very expensive stuff, built in the USA as the ultra high end of Musical Fidelity’s line (early 90’s). 8xEL34s per channel with very clever (Tim would say “proper”) drive circuit. The real innovation was that in order to prevent phase shift and to have the same propagation delay for all audio frequencies, he used on feedback one delay line made out of many coils and capacitors. The amplifier was very vivid and especially joyful to listen!
Tim, like some other talented people, e.g. Stanley Kelly, was never able to make serious profit out of his work (that is the main reason of the EAR products being underpriced compared to the competition). Sometimes his sense of humor counteracted the shortage of funds. I remember one time when I was visiting his factory seeing his old estate Ford Cortina and him mentioning that he was thinking of fitting under the bonnet a V12 Jaguar motor. He was laughing with the idea of the expression of various Mercedes drivers in the motorway being astonished by his old Cortina. He did it by the way…
I could give many more examples of Tim’s way of thinking and doing things, believe me. But I would like to end this piece with a quick reference on his record producing activity. Many producers and musicians were using components and even full recording chains by Tim, but there is at least one record that he worked as a mastering engineer as well. This is one of the most used by audiophiles test record (Ana Karan – Rio after dark, by Chesky Records). Its natural tonality, fantastic transients and very extended frequency response are some of the best out there. I think Tim reached the heights of Kenneth Wilkinson and Colin Moorfoot (two of the best Decca engineers) and this was just one side-part of his activities!
Exclusive Audio, Athens
Photo Collection of Iconic models from EAR-Yoshino, in production & older models
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