The audio world lost one of its leading lights last week when my dear old friend Tim de Paravicini succumbed to the liver cancer that he had been fighting for several months (with great good humour and optimism). Few who met Tim will forget his startlingly larger-than-life personality and the sheer vigour with which he attacked any problem from audio electronics design (his ‘day job’) to lawnmower repairs to reading a badly typeset Christmas menu in poor light. Few who really knew him will forget his generosity of spirit and thoughtfulness for those close to him, though like a lot of the best things in life those qualities were not always on obvious display: he could be amusingly prickly at times too. One example among many I could recount: I saw him answer a phone call and respond to what was obviously a ‘have you done my job yet?’ demand with ‘Well I’d be getting on with it a lot faster if I didn’t keep having to answer the phone to people pestering me’. Every busy freelancer has wanted to say that a few times: few have the courage to do so.
Tim’s best-known speciality was designing valve amplifiers, at which he was probably uniquely ingenious: I say that as someone in whom he often confided his design ideas. A major part of valve amplifier design is designing the transformers needed to couple stages and loads, and here again he was full of invention. I can honestly say that no transformer-coupled device I have tested (and as a one-time hi-fi reviewer I’ve tested a lot) came close to Tim’s designs. But he didn’t confine himself to amplifiers and his loudspeakers, tape recorders (analogue: he was never much of a fan of digital audio though he did make a few digital products) and microphones have also inspired awe in those lucky enough to use them.
He was also a complete petrol-head, having driven rally cars to professional level and also track cars, if I remember correctly, to Formula 3 standard. A ride in his car was always something to remember. The first time he gave me a lift, in a bog-ordinary Fiesta diesel (1980 vintage, long before today’s sporty diesel models), things became interesting about a mile into the trip, when he approached a roundabout at a speed that suggested he was intending to go over the top rather than round. But he did go round, on a wet and slightly muddy surface, with not more than one wheel ever in solid contact with the road, following a perfect line all the time.
As with all things audio, Tim could spout chapter and verse on car (and commercial vehicle) design, telling you what sort of suspension setup was used on some obscure 1960s motor and why the engine in a particular 50s vehicle was prone to oil leaks. His other remarkable memory bank was for popular music, and he could often identify a song on Radio 2 from about the first four notes of the hook, and recount who sang the song, who was supporting them on the original recording, when the song charted and for how long, and who subsequently covered it.
I met Tim in the early 1980s when I was 19 or maybe 20. A schoolfriend came into some money when he turned 18 and decided to set up a record label, as you do, and aimed from the outset to achieve the highest audio quality he could. He therefore commissioned Tim to make two customised tape recorders, the second of which was a one-inch stereo machine which was certainly the highest quality recording device I had ever encountered. Driving home from one of our earliest meetings with Tim, whose house we had left at probably about 1am after interminable (because fascinating) conversations on all things audio and much else besides, my colleague said to me, ‘That man is middle-aged. Can you imagine what he was like as a rebellious teenager?’ I am glad to say that the last time I saw Tim for a proper chat, a couple of years ago in Fukuoka, he was hardly changed at all. It is no exaggeration to say that Tim had a significant effect on the course of my life: at the very least, I doubt I would have become a hi-fi reviewer were it not for knowing him, and I learned a great deal about audio design and many, many other technical subjects (and some not so technical, too) from him.
As the old saying goes, they broke the mould when they made him. He will be much missed by a great many people. RIP, mate.