Vintage Whine

Wood

Back in Copper #31, I wrote about the subject of Tone, and how it seems to have vanished as a topic of audio discussions—and really, from consideration as a vital element of audio design. The header pic on that piece was an early Fisher (“THE FISHER”) ┬áreceiver, replete with a wonderful, warm brassy faceplate and a thick wooden case. Somehow, the appearance of that receiver said “tone” to me—and a major part of that look was wood, plain and simple.

As I’ve mentioned before, my introduction to hi-fi was courtesy of my Uncle Art’s Altec Lagunas, big corner horns which featured large radiused slabs of wood and gently tapered legs, elements that were called “Danish modern” back in the day (nowadays, the generic term for such design elements is Mid-Century Modern or MCM to Craigslist hunters). I still equate warmth of tone with warmth of appearance…and that means wood.

During the early ’70’s when I came of age in audio, the dream speakers of the day meant large expanses of oiled walnut or rosewood. They were designed as attractive elements of a home, not as Frankensteinian outliers bound to be banished to a basement mancave.

I miss that.

Whether it’s due to our Druidic “knock on wood” connection to the material, or just an appreciation of the warm feel of wood, the standard approach to wood is with the hands, as well as the eyes. Not to get all new-agey about it, but I suspect that as more of the things in our lives become ephemeral and virtual, we need a big solid chunk of reality we can lay our hands upon.

Whether it’s as a big ol’ pair of speakers or as a giant, gnarled tree like the one on our back cover—I’m convinced we need wood in our lives.

Yup. The Lagunas. One of the most expensive Altecs when built in the early ’60’s, and one of the hardest to find. Where wood and tone meet.

This B&O receiver displays the company’s talent for contrasting beautiful woodgrain with metal. Perhaps if they returned to that formula…?

Back in the day, JBL understood the appeal of wood. Arnold Wolf’s Paragon, more sculpture than speaker, capitalized upon that appeal in a way which few products have since.

I’m convinced that one of the reasons that the towering Infinity IRS are so appealing is that massive curvy expanse of wood. Kindly ignore the bald spot.

A pair of JBL Hartsfields in extraordinary condition, and look at all that wood. Given the market , the asking price of $24,500 isn’t unreasonable. Photo courtesy of Echo Audio.

Among modern manufacturers, John DeVore clearly understands the appeal of wood. Not surprisingly, his speakers are respecters of tone.

The retro-modern speakers from Burwell & Sons glorify wood, and tone. Nearly everyone who gets near the speakers, touches the laminated-from–solid wood horn.