Part 1: Time after Tim – The Hi-Fi Years
by Ken Kessler
It’s still sinking in: I can’t quite fathom the world of hi-fi without Tim de Paravicini. It’s not just the massive contribution he made over a half-century. For many of us, it’s personal, as Tim was a mentor to many. Indeed, I turned to him when writing the histories of Quad and McIntosh, because his insights into circuit design – of incalculable value thanks to his respect for rival manufacturers, though some might find that tough to accept – were essential in communicating the accomplishments of others. After all, Tim was more often than not a hired gun, despite have his own company, Esoteric Audio Research, now better known as EAR-Yoshino.
Of particular interest to fellow R2R ramblers is the concept of Tim as a true god of open-reel tape. How divine was he? Let’s just say that when I visited the EAR-works some years ago and I spied a massive Studer deck on a trolley, he said matter-of-factly, “I’m sorting that for Paul McCartney.” Yes, he was the go-to guy for mastering wizards, rock stars and others studio denizens. But more on that later.
It’s well-known that Tim, after earning a degree in electrical engineering, worked in South Africa as a consultant and jack-of-numerous-trades in hi-fi retail, the manufacturing of transformers and amplifiers, building PA systems for rock groups, and working in recording studios. It was there that he connected with Luxman via their South African importer, ultimately resulting in his landing a role at their works in Japan. At that time, Tim was the first and only Westerner designing hi-fi in Japan.
There, he learned Japanese and met his wife Oliva, while his accomplishments included designing the near-mythical M6000, one of the world’s first ultra-high-power solid-state amps, and the coveted MB3045 monoblock tube amplifier. His versatility with both valves and transistors belies a reputation as a tube-only proselytiser, but it’s understandable as tubes were the basis of the classic EAR electronics and they created his reputation among audiophiles. He would not be cornered on the tubes-vs-transistors debate, but I always suspected he had a warm place in his heart for tubes.
Tim always ‘put his money where his mouth is’, the challenges never idle. I recall when he launched the Yoshino brand that, sometime in the early 1990s, he arrived at my listening room with two amplifiers, identical in every way save for the active devices: one valve, one solid-state. Like other engineers, Tim felt that neither circuit type was inherently superior to the other. His little experiment with the two Yoshinos was to convince me that, with proper circuit design, they would sound identical.
In 1976, Tim left Japan for England, where he became a seminal player in the valve revival, designing for others while establishing his own brand. Although Audio Research in the USA had revived tube amps in 1970, the UK was still a tough place for American imports to flourish, so a local valve industry emerged. I can’t recall which was the first of the ‘new wave’ British tube brands, possibly Sirac, but the country was awash with used Radfords, Leaks, Quads and others in serviceable condition, so the timing was perfect for the re-emergence of home-grown valve amplification.
Probably the biggest splash came from Tim’s TVA-1 and TVA-10 amplifiers which he created for Michaelson & Austin, the company founded by Antony Michaelson. These sold well and are now highly collectible, but the company only lasted a few years before Antony set up Musical Fidelity. It was here that Tim reasserted his expertise with solid-sate, as he designed the ‘mini-Class-A’ A1 – one of the best-selling transistor integrated amplifiers of the era.
As a freelance designer, following the Luxman years and the early days with both Michaelson & Austin and then Musical Fidelity, Tim was called upon by numerous brands to design, develop or trouble-shoot. Most notable were his designs for the revived Quad, but his own products have overshadowed his work for others.
In 1976-1978, Tim established EAR (Esoteric Audio Research) in 1978, straight out of the gate with a classic: the EAR 509 100W monoblock. It’s still in production, and remains the object of desire and devotion for many valve enthusiasts. Over the years, I’ve reviewed a number of EAR-Yoshino products, all noteworthy with no duds, and keep as my budget reference for LP playback two of his phono stages, the 834P and the PhonoBox.
Tim was noted for his often caustic view of the hi-fi industry, but in return, he was recognised for his accomplishments by the world’s audio journals. His hi-fi components received numerous awards from The Absolute Sound, Stereophile, French magazines Revue Du Son, Haute Fidélité, and Diapason, and a host of Editor’s Choice awards from Hi-Fi News. Of particular resonance for Tim, given his history in Japan, were accolades including Component Of The Year from the country’s leading hi-fi publication, Stereo Sound.
One of the best tributes to Tim from the high-end audio community came from Dan Meinwald of EAR USA. He wrote, “On a personal note, it has been an honour and a privilege for me to know Tim for over thirty years, and to act as his U.S. distributor for most of that time.
“Those who didn’t know him (and those who did) could find him gruff and quick-tempered at times, but those who knew him well knew that he was one of sweetest and most generous people you could possibly meet. I will miss him every time I turn on my system to listen to music, and at the same time be grateful that I am able to benefit from his incredible ability to make chunks of metal, glass, plastic and wire sound like real music.”
In Part 2, we’ll look at Tim’s contribution to recording technology, and how it has impacted on the state-of-the-art, right up to the 2020s.
After working as Assistant Editor for the short-lived Stereo – The Magazine, Ken Kessler joined Hi-Fi News & Record Review in 1983, where he still serves, latterly as Senior Contributor. He writes a monthly column for SoundStage and contributes as well to online magazines Tone and Copper. A collector of old hi-fi components with a passion for the history of audio, Ken is the author of Quad: The Closest Approach, McIntosh… For The Love Of Music, and Audio Research – Making the Music Glow, and is co-author of Sound Bites: 50 Years of Hi-Fi News and KEF: 50 Years of Innovation In Sound. He is currently working on another four audio histories.