Toy Maker wrote:
I have talked to Bob about possibly doing a biography on him, and am looking for topics and structure to add.
If you have any ideas of what would make an intersting read, post your ideas here, and we'll go through them, and see if we can use them.
I have known Bob since 1961, when we were students at the University of Washington. Bob had been building amps since his early teens. In 1961, Bob was building amps for his fraternity brothers at Theta Xi.
He was experimenting with sum and difference signals to achieve a binaural effect, from Bell Labs technology, using headsets. Bob's amps were very sweet sounding.
I was interested in an amp. At the time, they were about 30 watts. Bob wanted my high quality slide rule, offered a trade in labor if I provided the parts. I agreed, but wanted to wait as I wanted a larger amp for use without headsets, I was never a fan of headsets. We stayed in touch.
Bob started University Television repair. He married Pam. He was drafted by the Army, did not like the Army.
Bob and I shared a house north of the University of Washington for awhile. Later, we moved into a house in Lake City. I was working for Seattle Radio, selling audio/video. Bob had a decent stereo at the time, using his 30 watt amplifier. His speakers were a pair of JBL LE14C. I bought a pair of University 12" 3 way speakers. They were about a good sounding as the JBLs which surprised Bob. He wanted larger speakers than 12", so he decided to try the 15" University 315 3 way speakers. They proved to be very impressive.
The time was right for building me the amp I wanted back in 1962. Bob was happy to do so. But I said I wanted a far larger amp. Seattle Radio had a division that sold electronic parts to people and companies which included Boeing and the military. I could get the parts at employee discount, which was better than wholesale, so I could afford bigger and better parts.
A mutual friend, John Knobel, came to my birthday party in Nov 1966. John wanted to leave because he said he was getting bored, and was on LSD, offered me a "hit". I knew John well enough to trust him, took it. We listened to Bob's stereo all night on LSD, which was a revelation in sound to me, it was so rich and deep, very realistic, like we were at the concert.
When we came down in the morning, the audio sounded anemic compared to what I had experienced. I wanted to hear the realism I had heard, I wanted it back, but without using LSD.
Back at Seattle Radio, I listened very carefully to various speakers and amps. I came to the conclusion that, all things being considered, such as distortion, using the best speakers we sold, the more powerful the amplifier, the more realistic the sound, the richer, the deeper the expression of the audio.
At the time, the most powerful consumer amplifiers available were the McIntosh 275 stereo amp at 150 watts RMS and the Marantz Model 9 mono amps with 75 watts per channel. They sounded very good, but not even close to the realism that I had heard and far from any compromise I was willing to make. I never was impressed with "expert" opinions where they had all the graphs showing power "needed" for rooms, depending on "hard" and "soft" rooms. I felt that acoustics were important, but more for the quality of the sound than for how much power was "enough", though I believed that "hard" room reflections would be noxious enough to reduce the volume. I tend to approach such considerations in a scientific manner, where I consider the possibilities, the practicalities, and rely on testing. At that time, an audiologist tested my hearing, and it extended to about 22Khz, which explained the effect that distortion had on me. Bob also tested my hearing after I said I preferred "flat" tone control settings, and was surprised I could ascertain any adjustment of the tone controls, and that my preference was when he had the controls "flat".
I realized that what I wanted was far more than what was available, not just some incremental increase. I also knew that increases in sound levels required large increases in power.
I discussed this with Bob, but he was pretty adamant about building the 30 watt amp, though he agreed that there was no such thing as too much power, since the volume control took care of that, and also agreed that a very powerful amplifier with low distortion would tend to have less distortion at lower volume levels. So, it was mainly a case of cost and availability of parts. I can get pretty stubborn when I think I am on the right track. At the time, neither of us were making much money, so cost was a definite factor for Bob's advice and limitation on what to build. But being able to get parts for less than wholesale altered that equation for me.
Bob gave me a parts list for the 30 watt amp. I recall the power transformer was by Merit. So, I determined to replace each part on the list with the biggest, best part available for the application. I ordered the second largest output transformers that I found (the next larger, by United Transformer, weighed over 500 pounds, so were out of the question), made by Dyna. For tubes, I chose to replace the ones for 30 watts with RCA 6550s and more of them. For power supply capacitors I chose the largest available for the application, by Sangamo. I also chose larger wattage, military grade resistors (lower noise), etc.
I had a difficult time finding a power supply transformer that was large enough. I finally found a surplus transformer, 97 pounds for $97.00. Since there were so many tubes and large, heavy parts, I bought three chassis. I had them anodized gold at Industrial Plating in Seattle. Wayne, the manager there, had purchased a Fisher receiver from me, was happy, gave me a good deal.
When I finally got the parts together, I brought them all home to our home in Lake City, set them on the living room floor. When Bob came home from a TV service call, he saw the big pile of huge parts, and his eyes got big. I said, "If you really want to built a 30 watt amp with these parts, you can, but I think it would be a shame."
Bob can get very excited and enthused, as you probably know, and he got very excited and enthused, and he still does. He even put a halt to his TV servicing while he went at building this amplifier, which took almost two weeks, as I recall.
Bob and I began assembling the amp, Bob doing all the circuit work using his design. When Bob hooked it up to the University 315Cs, we became witness to the world's first system that sounded fairly realistic.
Bob and I could put our heads on the door frame of the brick house and have our heads bounce slightly from the frame. I have yet to have that happen again. And no lesser amplifier could hope to do that.
Bob then began tweaking the amplifier, which he always does after building an amp. He wants the sweetest sound possible.
Bob and I then took the amp to Seattle Radio's "best equipment room", where we hooked it up to ElectroVoice Patrician speakers, the best speakers then in the sound room at the time. I put on one of the demonstration records. For the first time, the 30 inch woofers actually visibly moved. One selection had a bass drum. In the past, using the McIntosh or Marantz amps, there was the sound of a "boom", but it lacked the character of a real bass drum.
Using the amp Bob built, for the first time ever, we could hear the character of the drum, we heard the initial "slap" of the leather (which has its own distinct sound), the first sharp oscillation of the drum (which requires power), the full, real sound that makes it sound like a bass drum.
Bob told me he wanted to built these amps commercially. But transistors were taking over, there were practical reasons for building powerful amps with transistors, and powerful transistors were around $40.00 each, so he had to wait for the price to drop.
One afternoon, Bob came back from a service call and said he was thinking of calling his prospective company, "Phase Linear". I thought that was a good choice.
As I recall, Bob started his company when power transistor cost dropped to around $6.00 each. Once that happened, Bob worked very hard building his company from scratch. He was rigorous at saving money, making sacrifices, literally living off cheap hamburgers from Dick's drive in near the University of Washington.
Bob is not only capable of building fine quality amps, he is open to innovation and has artistic sensibilities, which is rare among those involved in technical fields. He is far from being limited to the "laboratory". In the beginning, at least, he was totally involved in all phases of the business. He chose not only the electronic design, he designed the appearance and wrote his own advertising copy, if I remember right. Bob is quite "wide banded", as is his philosophy of design of electronics and speakers. Phase Linear literally "was" Bob Carver. I recall his distress when Sharon, his second wife, and his trusted partners turned on him, wanted to sell Phase Linear to Pioneer Corp against his wishes. Since he was married, his shares no longer gave him a majority vote, and he lost. He learned a valuable lesson from that. I never did care much for his second or his third wives, never socialized with them. I didn't think they, like his former partners, really had Bob's interests at heart, were "riding on Bob's coat-tails". I think he has learned his lessons there, too, seems much happier now.
You might have the Julian Hirsch report on the first Phase Linear amp in Audio Magazine, where Mr. Hirsch says that he had always assumed that only a moderate amount of power was needed for amplifiers, until he auditioned the Phase Linear 700. He admitted that, even with Horowitz on the piano, the power of the Phase Linear appeared necessary for realism, since at realistic levels, he saw that the Phase Linear appeared to be using most of its power. Bob's Phase Linear 700 design proved to be quite the achievement, revolutionized and energized the world of audio.
After that, other manufacturers began producing amplifiers far more powerful than the McIntosh and Marantz amps, which had been considered "more powerful than necessary" by all concerned with audio for many years, and so were the effective "ceiling" on power in everyone's opinion, including the most rabid audiophiles. I never ever heard of anyone even suggesting more power, and, when I brought up the subject while I was considering the subject for the amplifier I wanted, I received an unenthusiastic response, as if my proposals were a threat to the status quo. Why even think of more power when the holy grails were McIntosh and Marantz, which offered "more power than necessary", according to the self appointed "experts" and their devotees?
I am amused when I see car audio systems with for more power than the Phase Linear 700, and almost always much more powerful than these characters have for their home systems, a far larger environment.
Bob and I also have a chuckle of those expensive cables, what a rip off they are. As I have mentioned in forums, I sarcastically say that the "best" cables are those with the coolest sounding names, usually Grecian, and with the highest price, double blind tests notwithstanding. Then there are the "classic" purists who long for the sound of "olde." I mentioned to Bob about going to a store that sold "purist" equipment with that philosophy and then saying that the "truly olde classic" sound can't be obtained with modern cables, that one needs to use the old cables, too, those old gray Radio Shack cables that were what about everyone used. I didn't like them, they often failed at the solder joints.
Bob was also an expert in aerial combat with tethered airplanes, using planes he built himself. I attended a competition in the early 1960s where Bob beat all the other contenders. The reward was a ride with the Blue Angels, which Bob thoroughly enjoyed.
Personally, I think Bob was very wise to sell Sunfire when he did. The economy tanked shortly afterward, so discretionary spending went south. The competition is fierce for American companies. The integration with video is a mess, as the HDMI situation demonstrates. Home theater has served to compromise audio, fewer consumers are interested in "pure" audio. Bob never was much into video, he is audio man first and foremost, and now can indulge in his love for audio.
If you have had the opportunity to see his new tube amps, you know they are fine examples of the state of the art in tube amplifier design.
Bob has done a great job of closely replicated the system, including the size of the speaker cabinets, the University 315C speakers, that he and I listened to when we were the only people in the world who were having our heads bounce off the door frames from the sound waves of whomping bass!
Really bought it all back! Pretty intoxicating!!!
You may phone/email me:
Dave Ladely 206-354-0857