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Get The Noise Out Of Your Cables!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

EAN UpClose:
Luminous Audio Arion
Designer Mike Bettinger

Audio Designer Mike Bettinger at 2014 CAF

EAN: Can you give our readers a little background about yourself as an audio designer?
MB: I apprenticed as a technician in my uncle’s stereo repair shop while attending school in the mid 1970’s, during the birth of high-end audio as we know it today and one of audio design’s most creative and productive periods. I was influenced and intrigued by the sonic differences among amplifiers and preamps that passed through my bench system, a constant test environment. This started my 30+ year investigation into the differences in the design and execution of audio circuitry. From 1976 through 1990, I owned GASworks Modifications, modifying high-end audio components. This work provided me an endless supply of equipment, allowing me to research all of the classic designs and their engineers’ approaches. I experimented endlessly, comparing all of the many circuit variations and building blocks used to create these components.
  An 18-year sidetrack as an equipment engineer for two major semiconductor manufacturers exposed me to the cutting edge of the broader world of high precision electronic equipment design and some of the worst RFI environments that they were required to function flawlessly in. These experiences created for me a short-list approach to apply to audio circuit design, highlighting the importance of circuit layout, grounding, component choices, and physical requirements for optimum resolution. The Arion is the fully realized implementation of all of the lessons learned over 35 years. Its performance satisfies my personal impression of what a phono preamp should sound like  An 18 year sidetrack as an equipment engineer for two major semiconductor manufacturers exposed me to the cutting edge of the broader world of high precision electronic equipment design and some of the worst RFI environments that they were required to function flawlessly in. These experiences created for me a short-list approach to apply to audio circuit design, highlighting the importance of circuit layout, grounding, component choices, and physical requirements for optimum resolution. The Arion is the fully realized implementation of all of the lessons learned over 35 years. Its performance satisfies my personal impression of what a phono preamp should sound like. 

What are the important designs highlights that you have implemented into the Arion. (Specific circuits. etc.). Is there any specific parts that you would like to note in your design?
MB: Our designs focus on low level resolving capabilities, minimization of circuit interactions that add congestion and background textures to the sound, and neutral retrieval of the most subtle information present in a recording. This is what makes circuits sound the most musical.
  My recipe to accomplish this is much like the ingredients a chef would use in a culinary recipe. My choices and how I apply them are what are what make the Arion different. The power supplies are extremely low noise and stable; the support circuitry such as current sources, cascodes, biasing, etc. have all been painstaking evaluated for best performance in the overall circuitry. Biasing of the various stages is performed in real-time by ear.
  The real highlight of the design is the layout and physical relationship of the circuitry as a whole. All signals and power flow through the circuits in complex loops; each of these loops has been carefully evaluated, with the layout processing being reminiscent of an intense game of chess with each part’s placement and interaction being carefully considered in the process. The overall PCB design reflects this attention to detail as well by including controlled return planes and distributed capacitance instead of relying on an overall ground plane. Physically, the chassis is isolated by custom sourced feet of a soft durometer silicon-based material. The PCB is designed to float in the vertical plane, minimizing vibration transfer with the chassis base plate. The results are easily discernable in the Arion’s low level resolving capabilities, the speed and control of the dynamics and the utter lack of confusion or congestion when the music complexity or dynamic requirements step up. 

The Arion is a very accurate, clean, low-noise phono preamp that really showcases well-recorded vinyl. Why did you go that route as opposed to the “warm and rich” audio path, that I often hear in high-end phono preamps?
MB: While it would be cool to say that I voiced the design for a particular sound, the sound of the Arion is the result of our focus on two areas that have always irritated us when listening to music.
The first was that the Arion had to possess the natural bloom that accompanies live music, which is readily apparent on live recordings that capture the sound of the room and is also heard in the full body of the vocals or instruments. 
  Also, the design had to be tonally pure in that vocals or strings had to be processed by the Arion without the addition of the edge normally associated with transistor designs. The Arion’s design focused first on creating a clean ground reference and by controlling signal return currents. Secondly, dialing in stage biasing allows the active devices to operate in their most sensitive regions. The sound you experience is an extension of these efforts. An Arion is not finished until it satisfies us in this regard.

Any new products on the horizon?
MB: We have designs and prototypes created for both a line stage and power amp; we hope both will be released in the not-too-distant future. 

    John Gatski has been evaluating consumer, audiophile, home cinema and professional audio gear since 1992. In 1995, he created Pro Audio Review, and he has written for Audio, Laserviews, Enjoy The Music, The Audiophile Voice and High Performance Review. Everything Audio Network is based in Kensington, Md. Articles on this site are the copyright of the ©Everything Audio Network. Any unauthorized use, via print or Internet, without written permission is prohibited. John Gatski can be reached via everything.audio@verizon.net 








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