The Legacy of Roger Modjeski, by Alan Martin
As I reflect on Roger’s contributions to the field of audio reproduction it makes me proud to have contributed to several of his projects over the past year. Yes, so sad to have lost him at such an early age when he still had so many ideas he wanted to explore. For those that did not know Roger, or ever hear him speak, we are fortunate that there is a small library of on-line videos that capture some of his ideas and reveal his approach to tube amplifier and transformer design. Roger had a spirited discussion style that I always enjoyed in person and is worth noticing in several of these videos. While Roger had a strong opinion about the way a certain design concept should be executed, he was not totally closed-minded about hearing about a better approach if you could convince him of its merit. Roger would often test the person he was talking to by posing certain technical questions to determine their level of understanding. If he felt the person lacked understanding he would rewind the conversation in order to educate the person about some particular aspect they might be missing. This was always done in a friendly manner. Since Roger was so skilled at vacuum tube theory, I’m sure this happened often with others as they discussed a particular concept.
I first met Roger in person when he lectured at The Burning Amp Festival of 2015. I spoke with him later that day and we traded contact info. Since that time, we would meet annually for several days and have a group banter, often with the added company of notable audio designer John Curl. In early 2019 Roger told me he wasn’t feeling well and could not make the annual gathering and invited me up to his shop in San Pablo to show me a few things he needed help with. Much of the company revenue stream was from the matched tube sets of the RAM Tubes division. Roger had hand constructed a tube matching system and with some programming assistance of others had created a computer controlled method of measuring and grading tubes to achieve remarkable matching. At his request, an equivalent replacement system was designed that would increase yield and reliability over his existing setup. This upgraded hardware is planned to be incorporated into the production line by mid-2020.
Roger is also remembered for his line of amplifiers under the brand name of Music Reference. This initially began with the direct-drive electrostatic amplifiers to replace the original amplifiers used with the Beveridge Line Source speaker system. Later designs, primarily conventional push-pull audio power amplifiers, would stay in production for many years. Roger’s amplifiers were noted for musicality, reliability, elegant simplicity, and for being an excellent value for the price. Several thousand units were made, and rarely do they require a return for factory service. Many units have been used regularly for years and are still using the original tube set. Roger had a very deep understanding of how to squeeze every available watt from an output tube without compromising its life. His skill set also encompassed both audio and power transformer design. This is probably what I respect him for the most; transformer design. If you look at the model RM10, each channel is 35W from a pair of 9-pin miniature 6BQ5s. Of particular surprise are the small output transformers. Another example is the RM200 where he achieves 100W on each channel from a pair of 6550/KT88s. (I have never seen a pair these go past 60W. Well done, Roger!) In the 2015 Burning Amp video Roger openly reveals how this is possible. That presentation also reveals that Roger was not selling snake oil or secret sauce. It was always simple straight forward circuitry, using quality parts, in conjunction with clever optimization. Additionally, most of his power amp models had stylish, cabinet-quality wooden bases.
We can be grateful that Linear Integrated Systems has been a corporate sponsor of Burning Amp for many years and had the insight to record all of the notable presenters at these annual events (Nelson Pass, Bob Cordell, Demian Martin, Jonathan Novick, and others) Be mindful that the organizing of Burning Amp is actually due to the efforts of the dedicated directors of the forums on diyAudio.com. If there is anything a reader of this tribute, or a viewer of the online content could do to honor Roger, it would be to contribute financially to the diyAudio website to offset their production expenses, or at the very least, participate in the forums if they have supportive and informative ideas for the community. Of note; Linear Integrated Systems manufactures low noise discrete transistors, often used in the first stages of audio preamps and some of those devices are conveniently available at the on-line store of diyAudio.
Additionally, the San Francisco Audiophile Society deserves special thanks for providing a local venue where Roger spoke several times. At some of the meetings he lent his technical knowhow. In mid-2019, though declining in health, Roger officiated at a phono preamp shoot-out for the group. Roger carefully adjusting the gain settings between hookups so they would be playing at the same level. I attended the shootout with an audiophile friend and we were astonished at how much audible difference there was between phone preamp models as they progressed up the list of units. That one single meeting was well worth the annual club dues. So if you are a local audiophile, consider membership in SFAS as a show of support for the community and the memory of Roger.
Videos: On YouTube
Videos from Burning Amp Festival featuring Roger Modjeski:
Videos produced by Roger concerning techniques of DIY construction:
A memorial tribute written by Paul Cervantes that gives an account of some Roger’s business in earlier years; well worth reading.
I know we will all miss Roger very much, I owe him a lot for the things he taught me and the enrichment he brought to my life in many ways.
San Jose, CA