Can't we all get along?" Long before Rodney King, I was posing that question in Los Angelesin 1983 to be exact. One big difference: I was the one doing the head-bashing. No, I wasn't in an LAPD uniform at the time, though a hyperventilating, mucous-snorting LA cop once did put a revolver to my head. But that's another story.
This story is about collectivism in the age of rack systems. I relate it to you because even though I failed then, I hope to succeed now. If you keep your Stereophileswhich I hope you doread Ted Lindblad's letter in the January 1996 issue (p.29). Mr. Lindblad, a Connecticut retailer, calls for a high-end marketing collective in response to my observation that high-end audio is an invisible industry in the country leading the chargethe good old U.S. of A!
It is as if Mr. Lindblad had been reading my mind, or thumbing through my filing cabinet to be exact, for back in 1983 I had tried to set up the very sort of cooperative advertising campaign he called for in his letter. This was before I had any involvement in the industry. I was a full-retailpaying, card-carrying audiophile just like you.
A Consumer Electronics Show is always fun: You see and hear new stuff, greet old friends, and occasionally meet the disenchanted. Since this was my first Winter CES as a Stereophile writer, I was expecting more feedback than I'd previously received at shows, and I wasn't disappointed. Despite an icy shoulder or two, most of it was positive, and some of it was flattering. But one reader I ran into was genuinely pissed at me for "wasting most of an analog column" writing about...digital! He was talking about the January issue's "Analog Corner," in which I wrote about the Audio Alchemy DTIPro 32 and the major sonic improvements it produced with CDs. He punctuated the reading of his analog riot act with "Hey, I don't even listen to CDs!"
That was also the column where I wrote, "You think I'm a diehard? There are still audiophiles who refuse to listen to CDs, period." I think that slightly derisive comment is what really set him off. So will this column because it's also about digitalsort ofbut I hope all you analog devotees will peruse it anyway, along with the digital-only readers who usually cross the street when they reach the "Analog Corner."
If you've seen Capitol's latest "limited edition" Beatles vinyl reissues, and you're wondering, don't bother! It doesn't say "digitally remastered" on the jackets, so I bought The Beatles (the "White Album'') to hear what gives. Slicing open the shrink wrap and opening the gatefold revealed a small box that read: "This album has been Direct Metal Mastered from a digitally re-mastered original tape to give the best possible sound quality."
Best possible sound quality? What planet are these people living on? Yer anus? DMM and digital: two guarantees of worst possible sound from vinyl. But you can't blame DMM for this sonic disaster, because although it says DMM, it ain't. Capitol has reproduced the artwork from the British vinyl reissues which probably were DMM. The American LPs were mastered by "Wally" (Traugott) at Capitol, and Capitol didn't have a DMM lathe last time I checked, which wasn't that long ago.
I compared my original British pressing of The Beatles (played a zillion times since 1968) with the new reissue, and if you want to hear music cut off at the kneeshard, grainy, two-dimensional, antiseptic, and generally annoying as hellknock yourself out and buy these "limited edition" LPs. What's more, my 28-year-old pressings were quieter. Virgin vinyl? How about "nympho" vinyl? At least I only paid $18 for that two-LP privilege.
Rhino's excellent John Coltrane compilation is also available on limited-edition vinyl.
A few days ago I spoke with Gene Paul, the veteran mastering engineer who digitally transferred Atlantic Records' Coltrane catalog for Rhino's The Heavyweight ChampionThe Complete Atlantic Recordings (Rhino R2 71984)a superbly packaged "sessionography" on eight CDs (Footnote 1).
The set sounds outstanding for CD (I haven't heard the vinyl yet), and I wanted to know what converter Paul had used. I don't want to rain on anyone's digital parade, but he told me a stock Sony PCM-1630. No Wadia, no Apogee, no DCS, no gazillion-times oversamping, no SBM boxa stock '1630. "Why?" I asked. "Don't you hear differences among converters?" He said that he did, adding that if you want to change the sound, those devices do, but in his opinion the biggest difference is in the analog playback deck. Once you digitize the signal, he said, "the damage is done." The Coltrane masters were played back on a vintage MCI open-reel deck.
Okay, I give! Analog and vinyl reproduction do not have "infinite resolution," as I claimed here recently, but I didn't mean to be taken quite as literally as some letter-writers took me. Film doesn't have "infinite resolution" either, but compared to current commercial video tape, it does.
Stop with analog already. You're writing yourself out of a career." This is what some industry types used to whisper in my ear during the dark days of digital domination. To which I would reply, only somewhat facetiously, "What career?
"If I can't write about what I really believe in, what I really enjoy, then I'll find something else to do," I'd continue defiantly. "I'm resourceful. I don't really like digital sound, and I can't fake it."
I still feel that way. I respect digital sound, and have high hopes for its improvement, especially with DVD's potential. But given a choice, I go for analog recordings and vinyl playback every time. I'm glad I didn't concede defeat or change my tune to fit the fashion of the time.
I never gave up hope that there were enough people around who heard what I heard to keep the old technology alive. It had happened with tubes and it could happen with vinyl, bleak as the situation was just a few years ago.
First, I am sad to report the murder of Ed Tobin, who I once referred to as the "Yoda" of record plating. Tobin, a veteran of more than 40 years of record manufacturing, was responsible for lacquer plating at Greg Lee Plating in Gardena, California, and oversaw the production of stampers for AudioQuest, Mobile Fidelity, Classic Records, Acoustic Sounds, Reference Recordings, DCC, and many, many other audiophile and non-audiophile labels. Arrested and charged with the crime was Tobin's stepson.
Second: VPI's "Easy Analog" turntable/built-in phono section combo, to be produced in conjunction with Clearaudio and Gold Aero, and mentioned in my Hi-Fi '95 Show report last August (p.82), turned out to be not so easy: the project has been scrapped. Also on the VPI front: the company has delayed plans to manufacture its new pickup arm with a variety of upgradeable options which would have priced it between $900 and $2300. Due to the high demand for the $2300 loaded version, that's all the company plans to produce for now. [See VPI's letter in this issue's "Manufacturers' Comment."Ed.]
Third: Owners of VPI TNT III turntables (which include the flywheel and outboard motor) who are using the Bright Star Big Rock TNT isolation base absolutely need to get Bright Star's new Mini Rock F base for the outboard motor. It replaces the VPI-supplied metal shelf and, as reported by Steven Stone in this issue's Follow-Up, results in almost complete motor isolation. The sonic improvements (ie, lower noise floor) are not subtle.
This was originally going to be a piece on air-bearing tonearm design; but last night I had a religious experience, and if I don't get it out of my system, I won't be right.
I've been a Buddy Holly and The Crickets fan ever since "That'll Be the Day" was released back in 1957 (it was recorded in Clovis, New Mexico on February 25 of that year). Holly's the original skinny-necked, thick-eyeglassed "geek rocker''the whole image David Byrne and Elvis Costello later aped. But Holly really was that.
And what about those wacky vocal affectations? The hiccups, the drawl, the yelp, the split syllables, the sticky female whining he affected on "Peggy Sue." Where did that stuff come from?
"Why, there are more trees in the United States today then when the Pilgrims landed!" Rush Limbaugh proclaimed on his radio show a while back, launching an attack on the "environmental wackos" trying to scale back the clear-cutting of the last stands of virgin old-growth forest in the United States.
Limbaugh wasn't lying. There are more trees in the United States today than when the Pilgrims landed if you count the tall, skinny timber growing crop-like on commercially managed tree farms: all the same species, all in a row.
I figure two categories of nonanalog-owning audiophiles are reading this column (footnote 1)younger ones who've never heard good or any pure analog; and older audiophiles who may have been pushed out by the bad advice regularly spewing from the pages of "mainstream" stereo magazines in the days just before CD.
Their prescription for playback perfection? Track lightly on a PLL direct-drive turntable (and since all turntables sound the same, any one will do). I swallowed a large dose of that myself during the early ‘70s, marginalizing my listening enjoyment and ruining many of my favorite records in the process.
It was big. It was ugly. It looked unfinished. It resembled some kind of industrial mistake, which is pretty much what it was: a prototype CD player rolled out by Sony at the 1982 AES Convention in Los Angeles. The inventors didn't care what it looked like, they just wanted you to hear it. Why, I don't know; it sounded awful.
I'd just spent a week's worth of tweak time optimizing my turntable using a Japanese pressing of Roxy Music's Avalon, squeezing every last cymbal rivet of musical detail from my Dynavector Ruby/Lustre GST-1 combo, and they're trying to pass off this flaccid noodle as Avalon? Oh, headless chickens!