Futterman Amplifiers WANTED!

 

Julius Futterman
Julius Futterman

 

INTRODUCTION TO WEB SITE

Because there is so much myth and misunderstanding about Julius Futterman I decided to create a web site in his honor, and to share with you the process of exploring this circuit once again. In my opinion Julius is one of the greatest audio artisans, was a pioneer in tube circuitry, and one of the few who never compromised his integrity....one circuit became his dream, and his life-long commitment.....he did it first...he cut the path for others to follow....

This web site is in the following way:

  1. Julius’s pioneering work in developing and manufacturing the first OTL circuit, which takes us to 1980 when I met him.
  2. The work the New York Audio Laboratories team did in translating Julius’s circuit into a commercial product, and the accolades we gathered for our accomplishment. New York Audio Laboratories existed between 1980 and 1987.
  3. The NYAL development of the Moscode circuitry, the first hybrid/tube mosfet circuits which were based on a simple idea that Julius was working on....to save him time and trouble.
  4. The exploration Ted Hammond and I are doing in our attempts to discover if can take the core Futterman aesethetic to a higher place.

As you will soon discover there is a treasure trove of historical documents, from Julius’s original patent papers to the articles and awards that appeared in the Oriental press...and reviews of the Futterman circuit in the American press...as well as a schematics of the circuit.

THE DREAM OF CLIMBING

THE OTL MOUNTAIN

What is the Meaning of Life?

The creation of a tube amplifier which did not need an output transformer was a dream that began in the 1930s and finally realized by Julius Futterman in the 1950s, and because he was the first to realize this dream, Julius has become an immortal in the audio arts.

As with all tube amplifier circuit there is a mysterious dimension which is the quality of the aural matrix it creates, and no technical measurement can predict this quality. There is a unique beauty to the Futterman circuit, that even Julius didn’t understand, and ultimately this is why the Futterman legend has endured...it is this circuit’s ability to create beauty that has virused the mind of music lovers. I have often wondered if it was a divine accident, or a sublime combination of what the circuit did right and wrong....but in the end I concluded that there was something about the tonal whole-osity of circuit that, in effect, produced an elixir of ecstasy...and once you heard it...you were a goner.....that is what happened to me in 1980, and why I picked up the Futterman torch, just as Julius was about to ascend to the shop in the sky.

Of all the basic tube amplifier topologies the most challenging to master is the OTL amplifier. Anyone with a modicum of technical and manual skills can build a transformer coupled or single-ended amplifier. The beauty of single-ended circuits is that there is literally nothing in them, making them perfect circuits for hobbyists.

Now that the Internet has given us access to our fellow thermionic techno-shamans and I can see all of the OTL energy emerging all over the world.....It also occurred to me that the OTL circuit has become an initiation rite for the most skilled savvy solder slingers: after you have mastered transformer coupled circuits you must prove to yourself that you have the "right stuff" and put yourself to the OTL test, and as soon as you do, you are confronted with "the Futterman OTL benchmark".

No one builds an OTL amplifier without claiming...."My circuit is better than the Futterman OTL because of this or that". Or..."The Futterman circuit has this problem and I solved it in the following way". This is good, because young thermionic techno-shamans need a "Babe Ruth home run" type record to compete against. This is the same type of competition in the musical instrument business...."I make a better violin than Stradivarius", or "My new guitar sounds better than a Stratocaster".

But never forget this paradox: make a circuit better one way, and the magic, that you so loved, may disappear.

I am suggesting that the only way to "get" what the audio arts are all about is to view the audio artisan as an instrument maker....there are masters and their are novices....there are the artists with taste, and there are the artistic clod hoppers.

What is the meaning of life? Answer: Having a mountain to climb, and in the thermionic arts...the mountain is OTL, because of the inherent difficulty of achieving wide-bandwith, stability and tonal wholeosity. In 1980, a newbie to the audio arts, I needed a mountain to climb, and the Lord in Her Infinite Wisdom decided to test me on the highest and most difficult test...to humble me...to bring me to the brink of disaster...and then let me experience, for a very short while...the taste of victory. Climbing the Futterman mountain was my transformation. Because of this challenge I started to write about audio, something I had never done before.

Artists need mountains. This is the way of male musical DNA, and without this impulse there would be no advancement in audio technology or musical instrument design. In the case of OTL circuits it is not easy to get sublime results, and that is because no circuit is better at demonstrating the core enigma of the audio arts.....the mystery of how amplifiers and speakers interact....and (this probably the ten thousandth time I have said this)...OTL amplifiers are the most demanding in the type of speakers they are connected to, and almost everyone gets this wrong....except the Japanese.

As you know from surfing my web site this is one of my "burning issue" that I have with every other OTL manufacturer, other than David Berning, because it is irresponsible to recommend using an OTL amplifier with "normal" speakers, which in America hovers below eight ohms and 87 db effecient. WRONG, WRONG, WRONG.

Think of an OTL amplifier as an ultra high performance race car that is not meant to drive to the mall. All OTL amplifiers are "narrow speaker window" circuits.

Why is this so important for me? The only way to experience the truly unique aural matrix of OTL amplifiers is with the right speaker. Those who enjoy this type of circuit on "normal" speakers don’t have a clue about what they are missing....in other words America doesn’t yet have a clue about OTL amplifiers...and this is the second century of the audio arts.

For newbies to this subject it is important to realize that NO ONE has ever measured the real world interaction of an amplifier and a loudspeaker while they are doing their intended work...making music. Amplifiers and speakers are not designed to play "noise". This enigma is also at the heart of the drama over single-ended circuits, which are so technically poor that traditional engineers are miffed by how amazing they sound. How can a circuit that is so poor, from a technical point of view, sound so much better than circuits that meet all the highest standards of "good engineering"?

The answer is, if you are a high-IQ type, there is no such thing as a perfect amplifier....everything is a compromise..... and it is the unique "package" of what every amplifier does right and wrong, when it is connected to the right speaker.. that determines its sonic value....or to put it another way....all the things that an amplifier does right, may not matter, and the few things that it does wrong can be so egregious to musical quality that it sounds like a turd, and those errors may not be detectable or measurable...and the opposite is true.

If you follow this model you would quickly realize that transistor amplifiers with lots of feedback are, from a traditional audio engineering model, the most "perfect" amplifiers from a measurement point of view...except when it comes to creating authentic sounding music. Why does a "perfection" of audio engineering sound like a turd? Perhaps something must be wrong with the audio engineering model.

Anyone who is serious about dabbling in the audio arts needs an enormous dose of intellectual and artistic humility because the ultimate test of all development work is..."How does an OTL amplifier sound when it is connected to the right speaker"., and this is an unanswered question in America.

When I introduced the NYAL Futtermans in the early 1980s I was the only manufacturer of OTL amplifiers in the world. Counterpoint Electronics soon came out with an OTL amp, but withdrew it from the market because it didn’t work properly. Now there are many OTL manufacturers, and I never heard an OTL amplifier I didn’t like, compared to most other amps, and each has its own unique sound.

As you know I spent considerable time with and tweaking Atma-Sphere M-60s, and the picture of Triodzilla on the Triode Guild web demonstrates that I always shred the OTL perimeter. I have had many fabulous months with David Berning’s ZOTL both push/pull and single-ended with Svetlana 572s, 300Bs and 2A3s, and commented that these were significant advance in the OTL art form. What is really cool is that there are so many new OTL variation with Bruce Rozenblitt’s major claim to fame "I am better than Futterman", and there are Judd Barber’s very refined OTL amps.

So who needs another OTL amp? The answer is there are enough people who have shopped the OTL market, heard them all, and are familiar with the unique aural matrix of the Futterman amp, and want to know if I can escalate the existing Futterman aesthetic to a more sublime level, which is like.... Does a bear shit in the woods?", or "How would like to loose 25 pounds?".

I AM NOT THE MAN I WAS, BUT I AM THE SAME

At the nitty gritty level the reason I committed, in 1980, to the Futterman circuit was because the Futterman aural matrix was, and still is, completely different than anything I had ever experienced, and I was a rabid collector of tube amplifiers. At that time there was only Audio Research, Conrad Johnson with everyone else following the big powerful pentode push/pull amplifier concept. At the time there was general agreement that the new Quad Electrostatic speakers was the concresence of speaker quality, and the combo of Futterman/Quad was an obvious substitute for kinky sex. So I played the "refinement" game and refused to get into the horsepower race because I could never win that race, because I wasn’t interested in it. With Futterman, New York Audio Labs had a very narrow focus, and it was ultimate refinement. Want power...go the Moscode route.

The joy of not being in the audio business over the last thirteen years is that I have been free to experiment with and experience a wide variety of circuits that would never be available to me if I were a manufacturer. This freedom to explore has permitted to get very deep into single ended circuits, and completely different speaker modality than the Quads....one that is exactly opposite. For the last thirteen years I have I have been a pilgrim on the path exploring all manner and form of directly heated triode circuits, and after a long journey I am coming home, once again, to explore the soul of the Futterman circuit. I am not the same man. Today I am even more demanding, and that means I am putting myself under much more pressure in this current Futterman development process. If I can’t achieve the results I want, there will be no new Futterman amplifier.

In the 1980s when Futterman’s competed against the push/pull/pentode audio tanks it was an easy win, as long as they were used with a very limited range of speakers with the right electrical characteristics. Today there are many more very good OTL amplifiers, and many more refined push/pull amplifiers and there are those amazing single-ended amplifiers. My own 4th Wave prototype amplifier is so stunning, in its musical capabilities, that I seriously wonder if any OTL amplifier, including the Futterman can approach the tonal whole-osity I have achieved. And OTL amplifiers, until this time, are not tuneable!

Let me give you my current take on the tube amplifier cosmos:

Directly-Heated Triode Single-Ended: this is the ultimate refinement/low power ended of scale with the wall of power being 10 watts. After that the magic is gone. The right speakers for single-ended circuits are the right speakers for OTL circuits.

OTL: These should only be mid-powered amplifiers, and must be used with the right speakers and that means high efficiency and high impedance and the wall here is 100 watts. After that the magic is gone. The concept of a high powered OTL is WRONG WRONG WRONG because to achieve that you must add greater and greater complexity to the circuit and the price you pay for that is lower reliability and loss of tonal magic. There is only one reason to justifify a higher powered OTL amplifier....you are using the wrong speakers!

PUSH/PULL: This doesn’t have to be true, but in America where there is national speaker dysfunction, 100+ watt push/pull pentode amps make sense because that is the only genre of high powered amplifier that sounds good with the universal low effeciency loudspeakers. In other words, if you are using the wrong speakers, use must use big powerful push/pull pentode amplifiers. On the other hand...want to hear how good push/pull amplifiers can sound....listen to a refined 30 watt version.

Let me make this simple: If you need high horsepower don’t go the OTL route...it will be a very painful experience, in the end. I think it is irresponsible to sell anyone an tube amplifier that will used in the wrong way and thereby prematurely age the tubes. Here’s a good rule: Use your amplifier in such a way that your tubes will last at least 5 years. When used properly output tubes should last at least 10 years. This is not possible when using low efficiency/low impedance speakers.

The good news is that there are lots more higher efficiency speakers available today than there were fifteen years ago.

ANOTHER DIVINE INTERVENTION

As you know from reading about my adventures with developing the NYAL Futtermans there have been a number of mysterious "synchronous appearances" of " spirit guides" who have helped me accomplish my task.

In August 1999, the phone rang and "Hello Gizmo, this is Abe Puchall, and I own a collection of Futterman amplifiers...and my father bought OTL-1s from NYAL in the 1980s, and then I bought another pair...and we both swear by Futterman, and..... I think we grew up in the same neighborhood in Brooklyn...Manhattan Beach.....my father lives in Manhattan Beach, and rented another apartment just to make a listening room for his Futtermans...and I would like to visit you" (Note: Abe lives about 30 minutes away in Fairfield, CT)

PAUSE I: I have rule of not opening my house to audiophiles, even if they were dedicated NYAL customers, because my life would become a mess. I hardly have enough time to do all the things I must do, but sitting around and telling stories about New York Audio Labs is not on my agenda. But...Abe and his father grew up in my old neighborhood,....and Abe threw me and irresistible bone.....he wanted to bring a pair of H3AA amplifiers...the ones that Julius hand built, to my home for me to listen to...once again. The last time I heard these amplifiers was twenty years ago, and I had never heard them on Tannoy Westminster Royals...the absolutely perfect speaker for them.

And I put Abe to the test to be sure that he wasn’t a member of ‘Transbalah", the transistor terrorist group, wanting to assassinate me...I asked him a question that would reveal if he was for real...."Have you ever eaten knishes at Mrs. Stahl Knish Factory in Brighton Beach?" Abe not only passed the test he told me about his adventures as a boy at the Steeple Chase, in Coney Island...where I spent all of my free weekends....the place where I first made contact with aliens.

PAUSE 1: This is the true story about my last experience with my own personal pair of H3AA amplifiers that Julius built for me, which was the model our design team worked with in developing our NYAL circuit: As soon as Ted Hammond had built the prototype of the circuit on a big board, I took them home so I could enjoy them, and as soon as the OTL-3s were in production my H3AA started to gather dust. I had a friend who was in the advanced stages of MS and I knew he wasn’t going to live very much longer. and all that he liked to do was listen to music...he couldn’t do much else, and I wanted him to enjoy his remaining time listening to Futtermans, so I gave him my pair of H3AAs, and that is the last time I listened to H3AAs. That was in 1982.

PAUSE 2: Let me tell you this true old fashioned love story. I am sure you know it well.

Twenty years ago I met a muse that was not only completely different from all others, she was passionate, voluptuous, and had a very high IQ and wide bandwith. Her love changed my life, and we went very far down the path of ecstasy. She was my teacher and she liberated me and then we parted with much sadness. But time heals all and we both went on to find love in other places, though we were part of each other’s soul.

Then one day a friend calls and says my muse from long ago is back in town and she would like to hook up with me and we meet and immediately go back to Chez Bat Ears and make love for the next 72 hours non-stop and it is as if time stood still and we were back in the first moment when we both fell through the rip in reality.

So a ‘spirit guide’ enters my home and brings me the master’s totem, and there I am facing pair of Futterman H3AA...the ones that convinced me to climb the OTL mountain....I had not experienced them in twenty years, and they belonged to Abe Puchall.....a pilgrim who showed up at my door bearing the ancient sacred totems of the clan....

So there I am with Abe in my living room listening to Ry Cooder with a 1977 Futterman...the amp that grabbed my soul and wouldn’t let it go...the gizmo that compelled me to climb the OTL mountain.....and I am there again...twenty years ago when it did its thing to me, and we are dancing and making love again and I am there on our first date, and it is the same wonder.

I have been searching for the Tube Amplifier Wholey Grail for decades and now I have come full circle, once again, to where and when I started to begin all over again and surrender to a force far greater than me or thee

These 1977 H3AAs are the most powerful amplifier I ever have connected to my Tannoys; about 90 watts, and again, I have been into intensive listening to both the Atma-Sphere OTLs and Berning ZOTLs so I know my OTL aural matrix, and I probably have spent more listening time listening to different OTLs than any one else. There was literally shaking of my cerebral cortex as I got down with the H3AAs.

The Futterman "thing" is completely unique and this is the first time I experienced it on a speaker of the quality of the Tannoy Westminster....and one of the most perfect speakers for demonstrating the unique virtues of any and all OTL amplifiers. Even at full paint peeling volume I think the amp was churning out less than one watt.

I asked Abe if I could borrow the H3AAs for a couple of weeks so I could re-acclimate myself to them. I also had a bunch of other amps that I wanted to compare them to.

Abe agreed and as he left he wanted to know if I was interested in manufacturing Futterman amplifiers again, and I told me..."Absolutely NOT...I am not going back into the audio manufacturing business". Abe then invited me over his house to listen to the OTL-1s and Quad 63s....yikes!

MEETING OLD FRIENDS

In the mid 1980s there was nothing like the combination of the OTL-1 and Quad 63, in spite of the fact that this speaker was not an ideal load for the amplifier. The older model, the "57", the classic, which was introduced in 1957 was perfect because it was designed for tube amplifiers. This, the newest Quad 63 electrostatic, which was designed for a transistor amplifier, was still a big deal all over the world, including Japan.

This 1984 scene in Tokyo is indelible in my mind...the Japanese audio critics connecting the OTL-1 to the Quad 63 and listening for only a few minutes and then applauding me....

In Abe’s listening room were my old friends..the Quad 63s and OTL-1s. This was a very emotional experience and I walked over to them and kissed them and hugged them. Those who followed my work as the President of the Quad Owners club know that I had done some serious tweaking to the 63s and I was not accustomed to seeing them with their brown polyester knit suit on...I wanted to undress them...but Abe said...Never!

By this point I was sucked once again, into the unique sound of the H3AAs. Abe’s suggestion was virusing me, and I was questioning whether I really wanted to start manufacturing the Futterman again....and I still didn’t come up with an absolute "YES". Could I take this circuit beyond its beyond? The only way to address that challenge was to once again, enlist Ted Hammond, the current living OTLmeister, into the project.

So it made perfect sense to call the living master of the classic OTL art-form, the thermionic techno shaman responsible for translating the H3AA into the New York Audio Labs Futterman OTL circuit...the man who knows, in the biblical sense of knowing, OTLs, because he bushwhacked the OTL path for all others to follow.

So I says to Ted, " I met a Futterman connoisseur who wants to insure that the Futterman dream stays alive and is prepared to finance the development of the next stage of the dream...and..why don’t we start exploring and see where we wind up...we have the H3AA, and OTL-1s as a reference, to judge our progress, and I have the most refined single-ended amps.....it will be an interesting adventure.

THE CONNOISSEURS TEST

If I have to explain why a 1941 Indian Chief is more beautiful than a new Yamaha, if I have to explain to you why a 1948 Woody gives me and you a woody, if I have to explain why Mercedes Benz has never gone further than the 300SL, if I have to explain to you why an Orvis bamboo fly rod is more beautiful than a fiberglass one...then we have lost each other on the path...

Fortunately more me and you, just as mass consumer taste spirals downward, which is what it is supposed to do, a new generation of connoisseurs, who are filled with confidence about their own artistic taste, know...better...and we know better because we trust our sense of aesthetics...which can never be explained...only enjoyed.

I started my Futterman journey in 1980 for me, and to build amplifiers for the few others who had confidence in their music taste. When I started to spend time with Abe, I realized once again, that the Futterman customers is always the same, and hasn’t changed since the time that Julius first started to build his amplifiers for his clients....who put down $100 and waited a year or two to get their amplifiers..

Music connoisseur, like Abe and his father, demand a high quality of music in their home, and most music lovers have been burned out by the high end audio business, especially by retailers, who are pushing the latest and greatest. Abe and his father have wandered in the audio retailing wilderness of New York City...visited the best...and have been ready to put their gold down on the barrel head....and they have taken the best into their homes for audition....and none have taken the place of their Futtermans. This is the experience Futterman fanatics have which is why it is so hard to buy used Futtermans.

This also explains why I am once again working with Ted...in a way nothing has changed...I have never tried to sell lots of Futtermans...they are unique works of art that will appeal to the limited number of music connoisseurs who have a sophisticated inner sense of beauty...and will use them properly...and those are the few good I served.

Ted and I are working on the new circuit, and again I want to emphasize...there is not guarantee that we will arrive at a point where I am satisfied with the results.

HOW THE EXPLORATION WORKS

If you own the right pair of loudspeakers...and "right" here means "rare" in America it is quite easy...if you have access to master tapes as a signal source..which I do.

Having OTL-1s, OTL-2, H3AA, and Berning ZOTLs, my own custom SET 4th Wave Modality amplifiers as a basis for comparison gives me exactly the compass I need in the storm. As you know from surfing my web site I have a system that quickly reveals the sound of different resistors, and is merciless in revealing minute qualities of circuits....so all I have to do is take Ted’s experimental work which he builds on a nice piece of wood and plug it in, listen to it on my Tannoys, and start twiddling with it. This is exactly the process that we used at New York Audio Labs, except, we used Quad 57, Quad 63s, Sound Labs AIs.....but now my standards are much higher and the competition is much greater.

The OTL-2, which I didn’t mention until now is an all triode, low powered version of the circuit which we made just for Japan...and Ted has a circuit board and we connected it to a huge regulated power supply. I enjoyed the OTL-2 in my home for a number of years. In effect I have three different views of the same work of art...they are very different but they have the same family DNA, and that is extremely important, because it is very easy to fall into the void of "newer and better"..NOT.

The reason that Ted and I always worked so well together is that even though he is a master of "audio testing" he too believes that test are nothing more than a "metaphoric guide" and the only thing that matters is how a circuit sounds...and if it sounds great and measures lousy...the measurements are wrong!

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Dr Harvey "Gizmo" Rosenberg

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