Paying Tribute to Tim de Paravicini
Tim de Paravicini, a brilliant engineer who was a true legend in the audio field, passed away in mid-December and left a remarkable legacy. Having designed for Quad, Luxman, Musical Fidelity and more, he also founded EAR and made analog tape decks for everyone from Bob Ludwig to James Guthrie. Famously, Mr. de Paravicini devised the Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab mastering system chain in use today. We pay tribute with individual tributes written by his colleagues at Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab. Rest in peace.
It's with sadness and fondness that I bid farewell to my friend and mentor, Tim de Paravicini. Tim pushed the boundaries of audio technology to obtain performance specifications double and even triple what others in the music industry often accept. His burning curiosity drove him to innovate circuit designs and, when existing electronics could not achieve his goals, he had his own components manufactured to meet his stringent specifications.
Around 1996, Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab commissioned Tim to custom build us a reproducer amplifier for a Studer A80 Mark II tape transport. In a product shootout witnessed by several members of the audiophile press, Tim's transport proved to have flat frequency response from 10Hz to out beyond 43 Kilohertz, an unheard-of benchmark at that point in time.
Our current LP mastering system, again designed and built by Tim, boasts extremely wideband frequency response. And the cutting chain features unparalleled accuracy, all the way from the Studer playback head to the cutter head.
Was he the most "easygoing" of our designers? No, sir. Did he push us to make our products as good as they could be, cost be damned? Damn right, he did. For instance, the Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab One-Step LP currently taking the audiophile world by storm is largely due to Tim's unwavering dedication to hectoring us at every opportunity – a process that continued until we capitulated and had test pressings made of several albums.
Tim was a unique individual. He had a deep understanding of a vast array of subjects, and his sense of curiosity was off the charts. We rarely conversed on just audio and sound reproduction. Once, as we returned from dinner late one evening, I made a quip about phono stylus lateral tracking error having a similarity to poor tire traction. Tim then provided a rental-car traction demonstration by using the automobile emergency brake to spin one rear tire, leaving a nice black "donut" in the parking lot at Mobile Fidelity. I blamed local teenagers when neighbors were taken aback by the sight.
Goodbye to my English friend, that perpetual teenager, that techno wizard. See you in the Summerlands.
Senior Mastering Engineer
Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab
Tim de Paravicini was like a father figure to me. And the feeling goes beyond the special connection we always enjoyed due to our ethnic backgrounds. See, my father was Western European and my mother, Japanese, as is Tim's wife, Oliva. Which makes me half Western European and half Japanese, just like Tim's kids.
I am very thankful for Tim coming into my life. A true believer who threw himself into his work without compromise, he gave me so much and had a profound effect on me, the effects of which will continue for as long as I live. My only regret is I wish I told him more how much I loved him while he was still with us.
I first became aware of Tim from an article I read in Audio magazine in 1995. I was struck by his absolute straightforwardness and no-nonsense, zero-fluff approach. Just consider the first two questions and answers from the interview.
Audio: In some circles you have the reputation of a hi-fi tweak.
Tim: I'm not. I'm too academic to get into that. The hi-fi fraternity is bizarre, full of dangerous amateurs. I try to steer clear and do genuinely innovative work – something that's worthwhile.
Audio: What caused you to start modifying recorders?
Tim: I was dissatisfied with their performance. If "line out" doesn't sound like "line in," that's not good enough.
Haha! "Holy shit! Who is this guy?," I thought to myself. The article is filled with Tim's straightforward brilliance. While the way he looked at audio was very academic and scientific, he remained very much in tune with the fact that technical specs did not tell the whole story. Yes, there was another factor: musicality – a fact clearly evident in the recording of Ry Cooder's album A Meeting by the River. The project's entire recording chain was designed by Tim. Microphones, mic preamps, tape reproducer electronics, and a two-channel tape machine. And the quality and realism of the recording, engineered by Kavi Alexander, is downright scary. In short, Tim's recording chain proved entirely unique and original. I was more than impressed – I wanted to work with him. I knew he could bring MoFi's mastering chain to the next level.
With the Audio article still in the back of my mind, I contacted Tim a few years later when MoFi started working with Sony and the SACD format. We wanted to extract as much information as possible off the analog masters and capture it in the DSD domain. Tim's extensive background with modifying Studer tape machines and their electronics made him the obvious choice.
He spoke of "black backgrounds, pace, and rhythm" and how he had a particular focus on the bass, because it's what loads up a room and rings out. So, it was more of a matter of resolution. Tim came to MoFi in Sebastopol in 1998 after the Stereophile show in L.A. MoFi chief engineer Shawn Britton and I flew back with Tim, and headed right to the studios. Tim installed and then gave a demo of his reproducer electronics. Shawn and I were absolutely, unequivocally, mouths-open, jaws-on-the-ground, blown away. Later that year, we rolled out the GAIN 2 System featuring Tim's tape electronics and Ed Meitner's DSD A/D convertor, just before AES in San Francisco. (For more, see https://positive-feedback.com/Issue1/MoFiDSD.htm.)
I could go on forever about Tim. He was the real deal. He loved audio and poured his heart and soul into recreating music with realism and accuracy. He gave his all to me, us, MoFi, and many others. I could practically write a book about how he did so much for us here at MoFi. And by no means did he do it for the money. It was all about getting closer to the music in an accurate, truthful way.
Next time you're listening to the MoFi version of a piece of music you've heard hundreds times, and the MoFi edition reveals something in the mix you never heard before, and it touches you and blows you away, that is Tim winking at you.
Tim, I love you man. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am forever grateful.
Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab