Issue 130

Clickbait-Free Zone

Clickbait-Free Zone

Frank Doris

Clickbait has become pervasive. It’s not hard to see why, especially if you’re a media insider – editors, publishers, websites, forums, cable news stations et al are all are under some degree of pressure (like, say, 2,000 atmospheres for some outlets) to draw eyeballs. Sensationalistic and curiosity-piquing clickbait is really effective at doing that. Once upon a time in screenland, there were three US TV networks and they were regulated by the FCC. Along came the internet, and Pandora’s Box opened.

We won’t use clickbait here. Sure, Copper aims to be entertaining, informative and thought-provoking and I love a good pun, especially when it comes to headlines. And we do want you to read our articles! But I’m here to tell you (as my friend from Texas likes to say) that personally, clickbait is far more distasteful than amusing to me, and in worst cases it's misleading, irresponsible and/or flat-out malicious. (Data mining, anyone?) We don’t and never will stoop to using clickbait as a way to get attention. We’re good enough to be above that.

We’re proud to announce our new contributor, Russ Welton. He’s an international music journalist, former editor of UK Acoustic magazine and was in musical instrument retailing. He’s also an English teacher, qualified assessor, photographer and a quintessential audio dweller.

In this issue: Anne E. Johnson covers the musical heights of Kate Bush and Johann Christian Bach. Octave Records announces a new reference audio test disc and system setup book. John Seetoo incorporates the tale of Koss Corporation. Adrian Wu goes deeply into tube testing, and Galen Gareis of ICONOCLAST and Belden goes really deep into an important yet overlooked aspect of audio cable design. Russ Welton gives some tips on speaker setup. J.I. Agnew gets his dream piano playing!

WL Woodward gets the blues with John Mayall. Tom Gibbs reviews new releases from Death Cab for Cutie, Steve Earle and the Dukes and the enigmatic jazz singer Judy Stuart. We have part two of my interview EveAnna Manley of Manley Laboratories. Ken Sander meets Grace Slick, Jefferson Airplane and other characters. B. Jan Montana gets an education, and Stuart Marvin schools us on the economics of streaming. Ray Chelstowski has fond memories of French Kiss. We round out the issue with James Whitworth feeling lost in translation, Peter Xeni finding the third time’s the charm, having our buttons pushed and going back down where cool water flows.

Green River

Green River

Green River

Rudy Radelic
“Take me back down where cool water flows…” A view of the Green River from the Cart Creek Bridge, located in the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area in northeastern Utah. Sony A77-II camera, 24-105mm Minolta Maxxum lens at 24mm. f/13 at 1/60 sec., ISO 160.

Lost in Translation

Lost in Translation

Lost in Translation

James Whitworth

Pushbutton Paradise

Pushbutton Paradise

Pushbutton Paradise

Frank Doris

Hi-Fi tone for $99.95, complete with colored vinyl! That’s about $970 in today’s dollars. Motorola ad, 1953.


An insanely rare Quarter Horse amplifier. Built from kit plans originally published in Audio magazine, October 1966 and republished in AudioXpress, June 2001. Courtesy of the Audio Classics collection.


Why do people always push my buttons! Marantz ad, 1977.


Who says you can’t buy a thrill? Grundig Pianissimo ad, 1950s.

Hey boys, start building those radios! Het Jongens Radioboek, Deel 1 by Leonard De Vries, 1952.

Koss: the Granddaddy of Audiophile Headphones

Koss: the Granddaddy of Audiophile Headphones

Koss: the Granddaddy of Audiophile Headphones

John Seetoo

As listening to music on headphones and earbuds has become ubiquitous, it is interesting to note that Koss Corporation (NASDAQ: KOSS) the company that invented and commercialized consumer stereo headphones in 1958, filed a patent infringement suit in July, 2020 against Apple, Bose, and PEAG, LLC (owner of JLab, Skullcandy and Plantronics). The suit alleges intellectual property infringement over Koss’ STRIVA wireless design headphone patent.

Although Apple sees lawsuits filed against it on a regular basis, the Koss lawsuit has significant standing, thanks to the company’s 68 years in the audio industry and its historical claim to pioneering stereo headphones, corroborated by no less an institution than the Smithsonian.

Founded by John C. Koss in 1953, Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based Koss Corp. was originally named The J.C. Koss Hospital Television Rental Company until Koss partnered with engineer Martin Lange in 1958 to create the first stereo headphone, the SP/3 Stereophones. Prior to the SP/3, headphones were used in radio and telephone communications, the military, aviation and other commercial and consumer applications, but they were all monophonic.

John C. Koss.

Ironically, the SP/3’s success was a fluke. It was primarily designed to showcase a then-new portable phonograph, but the SP/3’s ability to give listeners the experience of high-fidelity stereo sound without speakers was a revelation in the Eisenhower era. Music aficionados and audiophiles alike lauded the development, and Koss became a manufacturer of headphones nearly exclusively.

Koss continued to improve and develop the technology in their headphones, resulting in the groundbreaking creation of their first electrostatic headphones: the ESP/6, in 1968. The ESP/6’s enhanced audio fidelity wowed the audiophile world. By applying a currentless electrostatic charge to the ultra-thin-film diaphragm between the condenser plates, the film itself was set in motion by the musical signal to create sound, an entirely different mechanism than conventional headphones that use dynamic drivers. The improved transient response, low distortion and “lifelike” accuracy of sound reproduction characteristic of high-quality electrostatic headphones continues to make them coveted among audiophiles, in spite of the fact they’re not suited for portable use, because electrostatic headphones need to be connected to an external power source.

Koss SP/3 Stereophones. From Koss.com.

The evolution of multitrack recording technology in the 1970s, when overdubbing and isolating the vocal and instrumental tracks became standard practice, required headphones that limited sound leakage. The Koss Pro-4 headphones (later the Pro-4A, Pro-4AA and other iterations) were among the first designs to address these needs. These units would show up in professional recording studios from New York to Los Angeles throughout the 1970s and were adopted by consumers as well. Although using similar electronics as the Pro 4/AA, the Pro 4/AAA pioneered the “D”-shape ear cushions that were ergonomically designed to fit more naturally over the human ear, a convention still in use with many current Koss headphone models.

Koss Pro 4AA headphones. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Jud McCranie.

In fact, I still own a set of vintage Koss Pro4/AAA headphones and will use them for both casual listening and to check mixes, as they sound, at least to my ears, somewhat similar to JBL 4311 speakers, which were used at The Record Plant in New York and other recording studios during the 1970s. The headphones give me a sonic reference to that era of recording and mixing.

The Koss HV1A headphones debuted in 1974, setting another milestone – they were the first dynamic headphones capable of reproducing ten full octaves of music across the audio spectrum.

Koss was the undisputed industry leader in headphones throughout this period, with Telex (long established in the communications industry) as its nearest competitor. The Koss designs were the templates upon which AKG, Sennheiser, and other competitors would base their own models on for much of the era. In 1974, The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson was one of NBC-TV’s top programs. Carson’s bandleader, Doc Severinsen, became the official spokesman for Koss, adding the imprimatur of his televised pro musician gravitas to the brand to boost the company’s sales growth. Koss subsequently branched out with international sales distribution to Paris, Dublin, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Tokyo and Toronto.

In the 1970s Koss’s original SP/3 headphones also became enshrined as a part of American history with their inclusionary display at the Smithsonian and John Koss’s induction into the Audio Hall of Fame in 1979.

With the emergence of the Sony Walkman and mobile personal audio listening, newer, lightweight Koss headphone designs came to the forefront, including the Porta Pro, which offered better frequency response than its competitors. Koss also made an OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) deal with RadioShack to supply the electronics chain with RadioShack-branded Koss headphones, which furthered their ubiquity in American households.

Porta Pro headphones, photo taken in 1985. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Malcohol.

In spite of its technological achievements and brand growth, Koss was not without its roller coaster pratfalls. A former trumpet player with a strong entrepreneurial streak and a stomach for risk-taking, John Koss often took the company to the precipice. The company went public in 1967 with sales of $1 million. Throughout the 1960s, Koss ventured into other product sectors via acquisition, including turntables, telephones and electronics – all of which went belly up.  Despite bringing in an experienced outside manager in the 1970s, Koss lost a hefty chunk of its market share leadership to Japanese competition. Another outside manager kickstarted an ill-fated attempt to compete in the 1980s “boombox” arena of portable radio/cassette players, a move that plunged Koss into Chapter 11 bankruptcy with $6 million in losses by 1984.

Paying off over 60 percent of a $14 million debt overhang, John Koss retook the reins and brought his company out of Chapter 11 a year later, refocusing on headphones. At an audio show in July 1986, Koss showcased the first cordless infrared headphones, an innovation that announced the company’s return to its roots and to the audio industry at large. This would become the landmark 1989 Koss JCK/300 Kordless Stereophone System.

Having learned his lesson the hard way about the problems that can come from hiring outside management who lacked experience in the headphone sector niche of the audio industry, John Koss handed the helm to his son Michael in 1991.

Under Michael Koss, the company continued its focus on headphones, which had become a much more competitive and lucrative landscape as the 20th century drew to a close. Koss has continued since 2000 in developing new headphones and earbud models utilizing rare-earth metals, and more advanced wireless connectivity; for example, such as its 2012 STRIVA wireless over-ear headphones, claimed to be the world’s first to use Wi-Fi, and its current BT540i Bluetooth headphones. Koss was even name-checked as a client of the fictional Sterling Cooper ad agency of the hit AMC TV show, Mad Men.

But even with the company back on the right track under Michael Koss, Koss Corporation once again encountered financial difficulties – this time for insider embezzlement.

In 2009, the FBI entered the home of Koss vice president of finance Sujata “Sue” Sachdeva and arrested her for wire fraud and embezzlement of over $34 million. Sachdeva had gone on a frenzied spending spree with the stolen funds, purchasing expensive clothing, jewelry, and other goods in such volume that she needed to rent a storage space. Sachdeva was sentenced to 11 years, of which she served six. Koss was able to recover $12 million of the stolen $34 million. It was nevertheless an embarrassing body blow to the company, which once again took a hit in its stock price as a result.

Which brings us to January 2021. The current lawsuit from Koss against Apple, Bose and PEAG is not one to be taken lightly, even though Apple has filed a countersuit. Koss does have a long history of innovation and had previously issued warnings to the defendant companies, which were ignored. As noted, the Koss STRIVA Wi-Fi headphones date back to 2012, while Apple’s AirPods and Bose’s QuietComfort wireless headphones both premiered in 2016, and PEAG’s first JLab earbuds made their debut in 2018.

Even more telling, Koss stock price has doubled in the past year from around $1.46 to over $3.00 per share at the time of this writing. There is an old Wall Street maxim: “Buy on the rumor and sell on the news.” Although the Dow Jones Index continues to reach new highs, Koss is a relatively little-known company on Wall Street’s radar, with zero analyst coverage, so any buying of the stock would be a hint of a possible settlement or favorable adjudication. This could finally mark an end to Koss’ past financial bumps in the road and pave the way towards future product innovation. After all, Koss has already secured its place in audio history with products that have been beloved by many audiophiles for almost 70 years. In fact, the Koss Pro/4AA is still in production!


Perhaps due to Koss Corp. also being looked at in the same light as BlackBerry as an ex-trailblazing company now struggling with its competitors, it has benefited during the week of January 25-29, in which GameStop, BlackBerry and Nokia all saw retail investors pouring in with buy orders as a result of social media and taking on Wall Street hedge funds in a David vs. Goliath face-off. Koss Corp.’s stock price started the week at $3.94. By Wednesday it had climbed to $41.84 before noon. It spiked to a high of $108.40 by Thursday morning and closed the week at $64.00.

As this article went to press, the price of Koss stock continued to gyrate for the week of February 1-5. Starting at $60, the price started to topple, ending the day at $35. From there, it would continue to drop and then establish a trading range between $19 and $28, closing out the week at $20.

J.C. Bach: Not His Dad’s Baroque Music

J.C. Bach: Not His Dad’s Baroque Music

J.C. Bach: Not His Dad’s Baroque Music

Anne E. Johnson

In the music of Johann Christian Bach (1735-1782), the uncluttered elegance of the pre-classical style meets with a mind trained in the most elaborate and complex Baroque counterpoint. It’s an extraordinary combination, as can be heard in a number of new recordings.

Just as a shipbuilder or blacksmith in 18th-century Germany would have passed his trade onto his sons, musicians tended to do the same. In the Bach family, the legacy of Johann Sebastian has eclipsed his sons’ careers over time, but in their own day, two of the younger Bachs were revered and influential composers in their own rights. I wrote about some recordings of Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach previously in Copper and now it’s his younger brother’s turn.

Of course, JC had every opportunity to prepare for his career. As the 18th child (the 13th to survive) in the Bach household, he was surrounded by music constantly, being trained in harmony and counterpoint by his father and his older brother CPE Bach. But CPE was 21 years older than JC, so it’s no surprise that the siblings’ compositional styles are very different.

It’s also significant that JC spent most of his career outside of Germany – first in Italy, where he absorbed the lyrical galant style captivating younger audiences at the time, and then to England, where he became a successful impresario, music master to Queen Charlotte (wife of George III), and a darling of the cultured set.

Although Bach did write in several vocal genres, from sacred choral music to parlor songs to operas, it’s his huge output of instrumental works that’s represented in recent releases. One of those is actually an old recording receiving its first digital transfer: French harpsichordist Brigitte Haudebourg’s classic 1975 LP of the Six Keyboard Sonatas, Op. 17, is finally available for streaming thanks to the efforts of its original label, Arion Music.

In the wistful Andante movement of Sonata No. 2, you can hear the chromatic complexity Bach would have learned at his father’s harpsichord bench. While Haudebourg’s interpretation might not have the sweetness of, say, Judit Peteri’s 2014 recording, Haudebourg has a clear understanding of Bach’s harmonic phrasing.


Haudebourg’s real strength lies in her interpretation of fast movements. Here is the spectacular prestissimo final movement of the Sonata No. 6, with each sentence of rampant triplets clearly delineated and stated with confident motion toward the cadence without ever seeming rushed. If the sophistication of this music appeals to you, you’re in good company: Mozart once declared JC Bach to be his favorite composer, and he loved the keyboard sonatas in particular, even arranging some of them into concertos.


Bach also wrote a great deal of music for instrumental ensembles. The idea of chamber music as contrasted with orchestral music was still in its infancy; some “sinfonias” in the mid-18th century could be played by as few as five musicians, if that’s all that was available. Bach, always at the cutting edge, did designate some works for a specific number of players. Yet a note printed on the original publication of his Two Quintets, Op. 22, gives a sense of how malleable these designations were: “This can be played without instruments” (i.e., as a keyboard solo without additional instruments).

Happily, the new recording by Collegium Musicum Fluminense, released by Nota Bene Records as a 15-minute single, uses the texturally satisfying arrangement for harpsichord, oboe, flute, violin, and cello. The first movement has a jaunty energy as played by this conductor-less group from Croatia. They are not quite in control of their period instruments, which explains the slightly hairy edges of some ensemble passages. Still, there’s a wonderful range of timbres and muted colors that modern instruments can’t provide.


The trendy then-new genre known as the “symphony” seems to have been a bit of an obsession with Bach, who put that label on at least 30 pieces. These pre-classical symphonies commonly had three movements, rather than the four soon to be popularized by Haydn. Usually it’s the minuet that’s missing, but there are exceptions, including Bach’s Symphony in E-flat, Op. 9, No. 2, when ends with a minuet instead of an allegro finale.

Donemus, a Dutch label, recently put out a live recording of that work played by the Chamber Orchestra Perpetuum Mobile under the direction of venerable Russian conductor Igor Blazhkov. The recording is not available on YouTube, but you can stream it on Spotify.


Blazhkov captures the playfulness of Bach’s orchestral writing in the opening Allegro, even if the amount of vibrato in the strings is more prevalent than current ideas on historical performance practice lean toward. The French horn section provides a particularly satisfying inner-voice anchor. One can imagine how this piece inspired Mozart, who wrote magically for horns.

The delicate second movement, marked Andante, seems to float on a cloud sprinkled with snowflake-like pizzicato. Again, the intensity of vibrato in the melody line is distracting, but the legato phrasing has a convincing pathos. The third movement, Tempo di Minuetto, has an appropriately courtly elegance. Unfortunately, a coughing fit from the audience mars the final passages.

Nevertheless, new recordings of this repertoire are rare enough that we should be grateful for every one of them. If you’re looking for a great classic studio recording of some of JC Bach’s skillfully crafted symphonies, I highly recommend the 1991 album by Concerto Armonico Budapest, directed by Péter Szüts on the Hungaroton label.


John Mayall: British Blues Pioneer

John Mayall: British Blues Pioneer

John Mayall: British Blues Pioneer

WL Woodward

Let’s get the silly stuff out of the way first.

John Mayall was born in 1933 near Manchester, England to parents of dubious distinction. His dad was a dedicated boozer who played guitar and had a strong jazz record collection. Mayall’s earliest memories included listening to these records, and his mom and dad fighting about dad’s drinking. Dad had a hard time holding down jobs and the family lived near the poverty level, surviving mostly due to John’s maternal grandparents’ largesse. Mom would take up with other men when dad would take up with female drinking partners. The family would routinely break apart and fall together, with John and his brother living alternately with the grandparents or their mother.

The home got bad enough that John built a treehouse in the back yard and lived in it long enough to add electricity and furniture. One of his first reviews, once he had started playing semi-professionally, focused on his habitat and in fact the article was titled “The Man Who Lives in a Tree.” Certainly an inauspicious start. But the article got some publicity and interest, and he became a minor local celebrity.

Dude. Living in a treehouse to avoid your home…dat’s the blues man.

Mayall served in Korea and was “demobbed” or discharged in January 1955. He had been obsessed with the blues music coming from America from an early age, and his travels in the Army brought him into contact with people from all over the globe. Through reading a blues magazine, he found out he could petition pen pals and he developed many in America who would send him magazines by the dozens.  John’s record collection also began taking on mythic proportions.

His early influences make up quite a list. Folks like Big Bill Broonzy, Blind Boy Fuller, Tommy McClennan, Brownie McGhee, Sonny Terry, T Bone Walker and Sonny Boy Williamson were found as he scoured the British bluescape, which was not exactly a going concern in the 1950s. Everything was happening in America.

John was learning guitar listening to Charlie Christian and Barney Kessel, piano from boogie-woogie guys like Pinetop Smith and Otis Spann, and harmonica from listening to Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson (II). The significant takeaway from his development was his dedication as well as raw talent.  Lots of blokes have raw talent. If you combine that with dedication, and a real passion for what you are chasing, the world can become your oyster.

Of course, we cannot forget timing. Couple his talent and passion with what was happening in the British blues scene in the beginning of the 1960s and you had a stew that was about to boil over.

Towards the end of the 1950s Mayall was going to college during the week but traveling up to London to gig on weekends. His first official semi-professional band, which he called John Mayall’s Powerhouse Four, brought traditional blues by artists like Broonzy and T-Bone Walker to London nightclubs that had begun turning to rock and roll and the Teddy Boy era but still had a taste for jazz and blues.

The British blues scene in 1960 was an insular community packed with artists who would go on to define the sixties. While traveling to London on weekends Mayall met Alexis Korner. John Mayall has often been referred to as “The Father of British Blues” but that honor belongs categorically to Alexis Andrew Nicholas Koerner, five years Mayall’s elder. John jammed with Korner’s Blues Incorporated and subsequently was introduced to a myriad of artists and musicians who would become instrumental to the British blues/rock scene. In 1962 Korner convinced Mayall to move to London and dive into the professional blues scene full time.

The caliber and diversity of the people surrounding Mayall and Korner cannot be overstated. Alexis Korner was influential to many formulating British bands like The Rolling Stones just by virtue of the musicians who floated through and met in Blues Incorporated. Regular members included Charlie Watts, Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker, Long John Baldry and Graham Bond. There was a large crowd of fans and hangers-on who would occasionally perform with the group, including Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Rod Stewart, Mayall and Jimmy Page.

In 1963 Mayall had changed the band name to The Bluesbreakers and started playing at the Marquee Club. That first line-up included Peter Ward, John McVie on bass (later of Fleetwood Mac), guitarist Bernie Watson and Martin Hart on drums. Mayall had frequent problems with McVie due to McVie’s excessive drinking, with Mayall relating that the bass player often had to be propped up at gigs. Mayall would alternately fire McVie, then bring him back, then lose him again. In 1964 this first line-up got a recording date and recorded two tracks, one of which was “Crawling Up A Hill.” Mayall’s energy on the harp was already evident.


Mayall replaced Bernie Watson on guitar with Roger Dean, who did all right on stage but had none of the energy and blues prowess Mayall desired in the studio. The Bluesbreakers got a Decca recording contract and released “Crocodile Walk” but the single never surfaced on the charts. Decca released them from their contract. It was time to find a new guitar player. Enter 21-year-old Eric Clapton.

Clapton had played with The Yardbirds from October 1963 to March 1965 but had become increasingly disenchanted with the group’s thirst for pop stardom and subsequent moving away from the blues. The last straw was the release of “For Your Love” in March 1965. The track did not feature guitar and that made Clapton mad enough to quit the band before the single was released.

Before Clapton left the band, The Yardbirds recorded “Got To Hurry” as the B side to “For Your Love.” It was that side that blew Mayall away. He knew this was the guy. Drummer Hughie Flint remembers that Mayall, during a gig break, made the band stand around the juke box and listen to the recording.

Mayall had to call Eric’s mother because Clapton had moved back home and was doing odd jobs. Clapton was considering a move to Chicago and was not real interested in joining another British blues band. Mayall persisted, however, and as Hughie Flint related, “One night Eric was just in the van.”

Clapton stayed with The Bluesbreakers for four months in 1965 before he left to go on a mad tour of Europe with a band called The Glands, taking Hughie Flint with him. Mayall was forced to find a new guitar player and hired Peter Green. Give me a break. McVie was dismissed (again) and they added Jack Bruce from the Graham Bond Organization.

By August 1965 The Glands were in trouble with several venue managers on the continent and had to leave so fast that Clapton left behind his Les Paul and Marshall combo amp. Mayall had, unfortunately for Green, promised Clapton that he could always have his job back. By November Clapton was once again the guitarist for The Bluesbreakers. Bruce left to play bass for Manfred Mann and McVie was allowed back.

In April 1966 the band went into Decca to record Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton. This was the infamous “Beano” album, nicknamed because a photo-allergic Clapton was reading a well-known British comic book instead of looking into the camera, to show his disdain. The album is a bona fide classic in blues history, highlighted by the tone of Clapton’s 1960 Les Paul “Burst” played through a JTM45 Marshall combo Clapton had to buy on time payments from Jim Marshall. I still see videos dedicated to Clapton’s famous “Beano” rig. This album is a must-have for any blues enthusiast if only for the incredible tone Clapton got in the studio with the Marshall dimed, turned to the wall, and covered with a blanket. Even with the blanket producer Mike Vernon would relate the guitar rig was bleeding into everything, and some of Mayall’s vocals had to be re-recorded.

From the album, this is “All Your Love” written by Otis Rush. I know you’ve heard it. At 1:21 you hear the bell tones that happen when you dime KT66 output tubes pushing 2X12 Celestion AlNiCo speakers. By the way, except for the KT66 tubes that’s a Fender Bassman circuit. Bring it on.


Cream, anyone?

Mayall tells an interesting story in his autobiography Blues from Laurel Canyon, written with Joel McIver, about the track “Double Crossing Time.” Apparently Mayall told Jack Bruce what the band’s wages were going to be going forward, and Bruce didn’t like it. Bruce then got an offer from Manfred Mann, or solicited an offer depending on who’s telling the story. Manfred had a string of hits so could afford the wages Bruce demanded. The band read in Melody Maker that Bruce had left The Bluesbreakers to play bass for Manfred Mann and Mayall had to get McVie back. Mayall and Clapton were so incensed they co-wrote “Double Crossing Time” and Clapton scorched the solo. Clapton’s solo timing is glorious. The line “Double Crossing Mann” is spelled just like that in the written lyric.


The ironic coda to this story is that the band started recording the Blues Breakers album at Decca in April and it was released in July of 1966. However, in June, before the release, Melody Maker announced that Clapton had left The Bluesbreakers to form Cream with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker. What a maroon.  Clapton is a great guitar player and an icon of our generation. But he could be, especially in those days, a bit of a wank*r.

A parade of great guitarists ensued. Peter Green agreed to come back and stayed for a year until he left and took McVie and Mick Fleetwood who had only been with The Bluesbreakers a few weeks, to form Fleetwood Mac.

Mayall then hired an 18-year-old Mick Taylor who stayed two years before joining the Rolling Stones.

We’ve talked about this before, but 1966 to 1970 were heady times for virtually everybody.

By 1969 John Mayall had decided to move to LA which he had visited and where he had loved the lifestyle. He signed a new record contract and began a new chapter in his career. In July 1969 he recorded a live album at Bill Graham’s Fillmore East and aptly titled it The Turning Point. On that album is one of his most iconic songs, “Room to Move.” A lot of harp players I’ve played with pointed to this song as the reason why they picked up the instrument. One of those was Kevin Landolina, a dear friend and an absolute master. Hey, shout out to Kev!


We will continue this journey into Mayall Land with the next column “John Mayall – The Turning Point.”

I must thank John Mayall for his aforementioned autobiography Blues From Laurel Canyon, which helped provide the inspiration and information for these columns.

I covered some of the particulars of Eric Clapton’s rig here. I generally don’t like to do that because it exposes my ignorance. Please leave a comment if you know something I don’t know, about anything.

What am I talking about? You folks do that regularly! And thanks.

Header image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/perole, cropped to fit format.

The Story of a Vintage Piano, Part the Second

The Story of a Vintage Piano, Part the Second

The Story of a Vintage Piano, Part the Second

J.I. Agnew

In Part One, J.I. Agnew began his search for the perfect piano for recording. He noted that finding a piano that would sound as much like real life in recordings was a different task than finding one that simply sounded good. After much searching, J.I. came upon a 1904 John Broadwood & Sons grand piano…

The piano was discovered in a barn in England last December. However, the new studio facility I am currently working on is located at the other end of Europe, and to make matters worse, the Brexit was approaching fast. At the end of 2020, the United Kingdom would no longer be part of the European Union. Within the EU, goods can be purchased in any country and shipped to any other country with no need for import/export procedures or costs incurred.

At least in theory it works that way, but in practice it is not always as simple as that. The Old World has certainly retained some of its medieval charms, evident in much of its architecture but especially in its administrative systems, which are often nightmarishly complicated, inefficient and worst of all, lend themselves to various interpretations, depending on the interests involved. The import and export procedures mandated in the Brexit deal document (all 2,000 pages of it!) have been taking this to a whole new level. Imagine a combination of the Roman Empire and the Soviet Union, but carried unchanged into the future, in the midst of a pandemic.

The large shipping crate for the piano.

It was clear that the piano would need to leave the UK at once and arrive at its destination in the EU before the new Brexit rules would come into force at the end of the year. If it didn’t, the following would happen:

First, the UK authorities would seize the piano at the port of exit, as it would no longer be legal to export objects of cultural heritage, such as works of art, antiques and anything else that could plausibly fall under this category, without first having applied for official permission (which may of course be refused) at considerable expense.

Second, the EU authorities would confiscate the piano because it has ivory keys, a material which is prohibited for import into the EU, but was commonly used on 19th century pianos.

Third, the EU authorities would seize the piano because it does not have a barcode, product code, type approval, (a document that all commercial products of a technical nature must come with, which is issued upon inspection by the relevant authorities to verify that it conforms to the applicable safety and performance standards), or any of the several documents that 120-year-old pianos simply did not come with.

Fourth, the EU authorities would put together a committee of “experts” to determine the real value of the piano. Even if they would conclude that the piano was only worth its weight as firewood, the bill to pay for the committee itself would come up to around USD $25,000. Ask me how I know…

The Inside of J.I.’s piano.

Yes, this is one of the many strange things I’ve had to deal with in the course of trying to run my business. But most probably, the committee would establish that the piano is a museum piece, worth considerably more than anyone would ever be willing to actually pay for it, and the customs officials would base their calculations on that value. If you disagree, they get to keep it. Of course, over the few months that the above would take, the piano would have to live in unheated damp warehouses, or even outside, routinely uncrated and badly re-crated again by people not qualified to handle vintage pianos.

We only had a few days ahead of us to prevent the aforementioned disasters, which would have led to an excellent piano becoming a total write-off. But, we were far from the only people trying to get things in and out of the UK before Brexit hit, so the entire shipping sector was overwhelmed, and the pandemic did not make things any easier. Nevertheless, we sorted everything out just in time and the beautiful John Broadwood & Sons grand piano was shipped to us. But just as it was delivered to us, the piano was at risk of being rained on, right in front of the door of our new building, which we had recently moved into, in order to acquire more space, including enough to accommodate the piano!

Due to the size of the crate, it had to be uncrated outside, before it rained, and the forecast was for severe weather. The piano weighed at least 1,000 lbs. and we could only get a maximum of three people, all with bad backs, to carry it, because we had to avoid contact with additional people due to the ongoing pandemic. Luckily, what we lacked in strong backs we made up for in lifting equipment. But we had barely managed to roll the beast in just when the rain started pouring down!

The piano’s action.

Thankfully, the piano had survived the trip and was now finally back down on its legs, indoors. It was not even that badly out of tune, with only minor glitches in the action. To think how close we came to losing the piano after all that effort (and expense)… As I mentioned in Part One, the piano had been privately owned and had seen very little use and showed minimal wear. It was beautifully-made, with an elegant rosewood finish.

A highly experienced piano technician was brought in, to do the tuning, regulation and minor repairs needed. During the process of tuning, we had a very interesting conversation about just intonation versus equal temperament and about the stretched tuning” commonly used in piano tuning to compensate for string inharmonicity (first measured by O.L. Railsback and known as the Railsback Curves). This gave me plenty of food for thought. After all, what use it is to have a great instrument, if i is not tuned to deliver its maximum potential?

Restoring the piano’s mechanism.

This discussion got me wondering about how others perceive the octave “stretching” in terms of relative (or even absolute) pitch, when they listen to or play the piano. Reader comments on this point are strongly encouraged.

When the piano was finally ready, everyone present was impressed by the sound of this nearly 120-year-old instrument! It was warm and mellow, extremely pleasant, with a truly impressive dynamic range. This was certainly that something special I had been looking for. At the softest touch of the keys the sound starts from barely audible and goes all the way to alarmingly loud with no need to pound on the keys to get there. The una corda pedal delivers a very wide tonal palette in the range from fully down to fully released. The attack of the hammer hit is extremely responsive to the dynamics of the playing without ever becoming harsh. The sustain is smooth and natural, taking a long time to decay, with the sound darkening as it should over time. The voicing across the octaves is consistent, with the lowest notes being authoritative and powerful and the highest notes remaining crystal clear. The overall sound is very detailed and complex, harmonically rich and stable, demanding the listener’s full attention.

A John Broadwood & Sons piano. This is not the one restored by J.I. Agnew; this one’s in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I remember, many years ago in a small concert hall in the north of England, the first time I heard a Stradivarius violin built by Antonio Stradivari and the effect it had on me. It was during a rehearsal, with no audience present. I was on the stage, working on the wiring for some recording equipment, when the violinist showed up and started playing just a few feet from me. At first I had no idea what it even was that I was hearing.

From a quick glimpse, I saw that he had a violin, and kept on working. I had heard hundreds of violins; I thought I knew what to expect.

But as soon as he started playing, I just left what I was doing, got up, and stared in disbelief, my jaw dropping slightly…!

I remember wondering, “what is this? I thought it was a violin!”

And it was.

But, as I was informed a bit later, it was a particularly special violin. One that you don’t usually get to hear every day. Insured for a seven-figure sum. Even without me being a violinist myself, the difference between this and more common violins was stunning. That violin sounded so wonderful that even the sounds it emitted while he was tuning up sounded like music to my ears!

I had a similar feeling upon hearing our restored Broadwood piano for the first time, and still do. It simply sounds spectacular and is indeed one of the most interesting-sounding pianos I have ever heard. It’s almost as if 120 years of history are being embodied into each note. A deep heritage, preserved and carried into the recording era, begging to be captured forever.

The next step will be to fine-tune the room acoustics to this very special piano. And I will be taking a less-conventional approach. For reasons of economics, it is common practice to design and construct a general-purpose recording space and then just bring in a piano. But I believe there is something to be gained if the room acoustics are designed around the piano, and in my case, to best complement the sound of this particular John Broadwood & Sons piano. Time will tell if this will prove to be a successful experiment. I hope that you, my dear readers, will soon be able to hear for yourselves.

Third Time's the Charm

Third Time's the Charm

Third Time's the Charm

Peter Xeni
"She says a diamond ring will show my commitment." "Your third marriage suggests a diamond stylus is a better replacement."

EveAnna Dauray Manley of Manley Labs, Part Two

EveAnna Dauray Manley of Manley Labs, Part Two

EveAnna Dauray Manley of Manley Labs, Part Two

Frank Doris

In Part One (Issue 129), EveAnna talked about her early musical influences and career, the origin of Manley Laboratories and Vacuum Tube Logic (VTL), and she how she came to be the president of Manley Labs and more. The interview continues here.

Frank Doris: I was going to ask, what makes you decide whether Manley Labs should make a high-end home audio or pro audio product? But you told me (in Part One of the interview) that a lot of your motivation for making new products happened in the mid 1990s after David Manley had left you and the company and you wanted to get back at him and his abusive relationship towards you by making better products than he ever did.

EveAnna Manley: Well, those emotions were fueling my work activity in the late 1990s.

EveAnna Manley. EveAnna Manley.

FD: I felt a similar thing about turning negativity into creativity, though not from the same circumstances. I‘ve had psoriasis since I was 13 and people would stare at my skin. It made me feel like an outcast. I got angry and frustrated and channeled it into my guitar playing. In my late twenties I realized I wasn’t going to make it in the music business and decided to try my hand at writing.

EM: Who knew? (laughter)

Anyway, that determination fueled me at the time. Today, when we’re deciding what products to work on next, I’ve got a small team. I don’t have a big team, and man, this stuff takes forever to design and get to market. I wish our new designs would come out faster.

We sell about 85 percent pro audio products, and about 15 percent of our sales is consumer hi-fi. We normally have to dedicate our resources in proportion to that reality. Although, we’ve spent the last two years working on brand new high-end [consumer audio] preamplifiers. We sneak in little pro audio projects, like upgrades to the Massive Passive equalizer and VOXBOX channel strip, but we’ve been dedicating a lot of time to these new preamplifiers. One day they’ll be ready.

FD: Let’s talk about tubes. Where do you get them? How do you find good ones? Do you look for new old stock tubes?

Selecting the right tubes for the application. Selecting the right tubes for the application.

EM: I think some of those parameters have totally changed over the 30-plus years I’ve been doing this. When I started, the GE (General Electric) factory was still producing 6550s. Chinese tubes were difficult to get because the trade [between countries] wasn’t as open as it is now. The same with Russia. The East and West weren’t really trading partners yet. The GE factory was about to close, and remember, Mullard had closed years before. In 1989 David Manley got in touch with the Yugoslavian EI (Elektronska Industrija) factory. He financed the development of a brand new output tube, the KT90, and he wanted it to be stronger and take more screen voltage than the KT88 or 6550.

When I say he developed it, he wasn’t the one who did all the engineering drawings and stuff. He specified and financed it. It was the first new tube to have been made in a while. That was all well and good until the Yugoslav Wars, and then the EI factory ended up closing. Fortunately, Russian tubes became more available at that time, spearheaded by Mike Matthews.

FD: The founder of Electro-Harmonix.

EM: Oh, thank goodness for Mike. So when we’re looking for new production tubes or working on new products, we’re designing around tubes we can get thousands of, and that’s going to mainly be all the Russian stuff. In the 1990s, you could still find these big batches of NOS and JAN [Joint Army-Navy mil-spec] tubes, and we’d procure 20,000 of this tube and 8,000 of that tube from various suppliers. That kind of stuff’s really dried up.

Another thing – there’s a ton of bullsh*t and fraud over this business.

FD: And counterfeits.

EM: Anyone can clean off the old markings, screen something or acid-etch a new number on a tube, and then you’re buying tubes that have been around the block several times.

I remember buying thousands of 6072 tubes. We went through and maybe we used 2,000 of them that were quiet enough for what we needed them for. And then the guy that had sold them to me bought them all back, saying he had a customer for them! They ended up in someone else’s production, but maybe the manufacturer just needs them for cathode followers or something, not for a low-noise application. The same thing can happen to me. I’ve got to be careful if I’m buying a big lot of NOS tubes to make sure they’re not somebody else’s rejects.

FD: Some of the stuff I see on eBay…

EM: Yeah. It’s like a bottle of wine, dude. You look at some fancy label and think, “ooh la la!” And then after you open it up and drink it, you discover that it’s just swill.

Absolute headphone amplifiers. Absolute headphone amplifiers.

FD: On the other hand, I have NOS tubes from the 1970s that are still good. Some of them have seen hard use in guitar amps.

EM: If they’re still good, leave them alone. We had a couple pairs of amps over at Jackson Browne’s studio in Santa Monica. Man, I think he went about 18 years before he replaced those tubes. And they were on every day in an air-conditioned closet, driving his nearfield and his in-wall speakers in the control room.

EM: As a consumer, you’ve got to buy tubes from a trusted source. If you’re buying them from the manufacturer of your component, they’ll presumably have tested those tubes for best performance in your piece of gear.

FD: Kevin Hayes of Valve Amplification Company once told me you can’t separate the sound of a tube from the circuit that it’s in.

EM: He’s right.

Mahi mono switchable triode/ultralinear power amplifier. Mahi mono switchable triode/ultralinear power amplifier.

FD: How do you pick the tubes that are good enough for Manley products?

EM: We have several purpose-built tube testing fixtures. We have devised custom test procedures for different tubes so that we can maximize usage of these precious resources and try to get the best tube for the job into “that” socket, as different circuits have different requirements for what parameters are key to optimum performance.

Every tube goes through burn-in and various stages of pre-qualification before they are plugged into any Manley product. After initial bench testing and alignment, the whole unit goes to bake-in for several days before final calibration and listening. We have burn-in fixtures to accept common 9-pin tubes like 12AX7, 12AT7, 12AU7, 12BH7 etc. and another fixture for 6922 tubes. We can burn-in more than 100 tubes at a time on these jigs.

Some testing equipment at Manley Labs. Some testing equipment at Manley Labs.

For differential circuits that demand close triode-to-triode internal matching, we have testing fixtures that step through many tubes during burn-in and ascertain the internal match of the dual-triode. But tubes that fail this test can easily be deployed into single-ended circuits that do not require a triode-to-triode match.

We also have power tube soak and bias-match stations that apply fixed negative bias amounts to each output tube, so that a quiescent current draw reading can be taken from that tube in that fixture.

Also, importantly, any power tube that an existing customer already has in his Manley amplifiers can be matched to new tubes, as these fixtures have been in use unchanged since the mid-1990s. There are two jigs, one for EL84s and the other for all the octal-based power tubes we use or have used through the years including 5881, EL34, 6550, KT88 and KT90 types.

We have a custom-made noise tester that helps us further qualify the common 9-pin small-signal tubes. With this fixture. we have the ability to reverse the triode testing order, starve the heaters to predict a tube’s cathode coating integrity, get a numeric noise level readout, and listen to the quality of the noise and microphonics via the built-in headphone jack. We also have a commercially available Amplitrex tester but we do not use it for production tube testing.

FD: Let’s shift gears for a minute. You said your father, Albert J. Dauray, was the co-owner of (musical instrument amplifier manufacturer) Ampeg. I thought Everett Hull was the founder.

EM: He was. Dad bought the company from him in ’65 or ’66. I actually have the proposed buyout agreement in my possession. Isn’t that cool?

FD: Talk about having roots in tube gear! Everett Hull didn’t like rock and roll. That’s why the early Ampeg amplifiers sound so clean.

EM: And dad recognized that he needed to get into rock and roll, which is one of the reasons why later Ampeg amplifiers sounded different.

Page 1 of the original Ampeg 1960s buyout agreement for former owner Everett Hull. Albert J. Dauray was one of the purchasers.
Page 1 of the original Ampeg 1960s buyout agreement for former owner Everett Hull. Albert J. Dauray was one of the purchasers.

FD: What were your first audio shows like? I remember my first CES. I wore the wrong shoes! It was painful.

EM: You have to wear the right shoes at shows! The first audio show I went to was the 1989 Stereophile show up in San Mateo, California. I wasn’t really booked to work the show, but I drove up because I was really interested how things worked.

I remember standing in the room and people would come up to ask this little girl a question like, “What tubes are in the 100-watt monoblocks?” And I didn’t know because all I knew was the underside of the thing, from working on it on the production line! I could tell you what the grid resistor was! “Well, just a second. Let me see that. That’s an EL34.” So I started learning an important lesson: I’m not in school anymore. I don’t have to know all the answers in order to pass a test or get a grade. It’s okay to say, “I don’t know. Let me go find out and come back with the answer.”

Our booth was amazing. David had set up this big system and he had just bought some master tape collection and was playing them through a Studer tape machine. My next show was the New York Stereophile show the year later, where we had two pairs of big Mirage speakers stacked on top of each other, driven by our giant amplifiers, with the tape machine playing the master tapes, and holy crap! We had infinity Beta speakers at home at the time, and would replicate that kind of big sound we had been getting in the big ballrooms of the hotels where the shows were held. It was awesome. I felt so proud, like, oh my god, the thing I just built can make sound like that!

Neo-Classic 250 monoblock power amplifier. Neo-Classic 250 monoblock power amplifier.

I was also learning how to listen critically. Then I started meeting people, like the Chesky brothers [David and Norman Chesky], Chad Kassem of Acoustic Sounds and [former] Stereophile publisher Mark Fisher running around with this walkie talkie trying to organize things.

FD: I really miss all that.

EM: I’m happy not to have to go to shows right now though because we’re so damn busy. We’ve sold so much gear in the past year. Oh my god. We are exhausted. We don’t need any more exposure right now.

FD: I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked to who are saying they’re busier than ever. They would have never foreseen it.

EM: We had our biggest year ever last year. And we did it with the same number of employees. We just we worked ourselves ragged. A lot of overtime, a lot of 100-hour weeks.

FD: Some have said, maybe last year has proven we don’t need to go to shows anymore.

EM: I disagree. I think all that human contact and networking is important for our sense of community. I’ve always been really big about reaching out to my peers, and we help each other. It’s not like, “ugh, I hate you. You’re going to take my customer.”

FD: I personally think that when we can all go out again, there’s going to be an explosion. Live music, restaurants, shows…people will be thinking, “man, I’ve been sitting here for a year. I’m really interested in buying this VTL or VAC or the ultimate speaker system I’ve been dreaming about and I want to spend the money and go to the show and hear it.”

EM: Well, I hope they buy a Manley! You’re going to give me a big hug when you see me again!

Cable Design and the Speed of Sound, Part One

Cable Design and the Speed of Sound, Part One

Cable Design and the Speed of Sound, Part One

Galen Gareis

As most audiophiles and readers of this magazine are aware, the subject of audio cables can be fraught with opinions, information, misinformation, heated discussions on forums and more. From time to time, Copper has run articles about cables and will continue to do so. In Issues 48, 49 and 50, Galen Gareis of ICONOCLAST cables and Belden Inc., and Gautam Raja wrote a series of articles on the importance of time-domain behavior and how it affects the sound and performance of audio cables. In this series, Galen expands upon the subject and takes a deep dive into a critical but not often discussed aspect of cable design: the velocity of propagation (Vp) of audio signals.


Audio speaker and interconnect (IC) cables all have an Achilles’ heel that must be directly addressed. However, it is often completely ignored.

The performance of audio cables is more about the time-domain dependency of the signal through the audio band than on the factors of simple attenuation, resistance, or the concept that we just need to achieve low resistance, capacitance and inductance to design a good cable.

Also, while it might seem theoretically ideal, we can’t allow cable capacitance or inductance to simply go “as low as we can design it” without balancing the cable’s non-linear velocity of propagation through the audio frequency range.

The key concept here is that the velocity of propagation (Vp) is different for different frequencies in the audio range, and this will affect cable performance.

For example, if the upper-midrange and high frequencies arrive at the speaker (and your ears) faster than the lower frequencies, the timing of the music will literally be off, as well as the relationship between the fundamental frequencies and the overtones. The cable may sound too bright or too dull.

What changes are happening when we consider the velocity of propagation differential and what can we do to take it into account in our designing a cable? Each frequency will arrive at a different time at the end of the cable.  Harmonics are tightly connected to the fundamental tone, and time based distortion of a sufficient magnitude will alter how we hear musical tones, a tone being a fundamental plus the harmonics.

Fundamental Factors In Cable Behavior

The math behind the non-linearity of the velocity of propagation isn’t new. In fact, Belden explored the issue as far back as 1974 and 1984 in their in-house publication Belden Innovators SPRING magazine articles (available upon request). However, in practice what we need to know and to measure is seldom used to fully optimize an audio cable’s performance. Two cables with the exact same bulk resistance, inductance and capacitance (R, L and C) can sound decidedly different based on the Vp management used in their designs.

The graphs below are for a specific cable resistance, inductance and capacitance (R, L and C). The fundamental shape and curve of the traces are universal for low frequency cables that handle the audio band which is  electrically low in frequency. The exact values along both traces will vary based on a cable’s particular design parameters, but all low audio and low frequency cables are affected in the same manner by how the physics shapes the general data.

The plots show the cable’s Velocity Factor (Vp) percent and Impedance (Zo). (The two papers from which these graphs are derived are also available.)

Notice that the two sets of fundamental traces, from two independent sources, are the same. The top set is calculated and the bottom set is empirically measured cable data. No matter what passive cable we test through the low frequencies, the shape of the curves will be a like pattern.

http://web.mst.edu/~kosbar/ee3430/ff/transmissionlines/z0/index.html (The link has expired; I have the paper.)


The above two separate sources for velocity non-linearity show the exact same cable properties for impedance at low frequencies. Impedance goes up, considerably, as Vp goes down.

You can’t escape Vp non-linearity through the audio band and the rise in impedance it causes. Physics isn’t on our side.

Another point to consider is that an audio cable isn’t a transmission line, which is a cable designed to carry and accommodate electromagnetic (EM) waves in a contained manner. These cables operate over large electrical  distances with minimum losses and distortion.

At audio frequencies the wavelengths are too long and won’t “fit” inside a cable’s length. Even if we wanted to accommodate just one full wave period, the wavelength is too long in the low-frequency range we call audio. For example, in free space a 20 kHz wavelength is 14,989 meters long;

λ = C/f


λ (Lambda) = Wavelength in meters
c = speed of light (299,792,458 m/s)
f = Frequency

In an audio cable it is fore-shortened by the Vp of the dielectric which is around 50% at 20 kHz, but we are still looking at a long wavelength; 7,494.8 meters or 24,588 feet.

λ = (0.5)*( 299,792,458 m/s)/ 20,000 Hz = 7,494.8 meters

Ideally, we need a cable of at least ten wavelengths to reach a stable TEM (transverse electromagnetic wave) situation. In a true TEM wave, the signal is trapped between the inner surface of the shield and outer surface of the center conductor and inside the dielectric in a coaxial cable. In a twisted pair it is trapped between the inner surface of the two wires and also in the dielectric. Since a twisted pair has a higher loop DCR (Direct Current Resistance) component than a coaxial cable with a like-sized center wire, the twisted pair attenuation is higher. Twisted pair noise immunity can be improved in a true balanced circuit using CMRR, Common Mode Rejection Ratio, a configuration where the noise is subtracted out from the signal. What is common to both wires is the noise, hence the term CMRR.

However, I will never adhere to the supposition that we have true TEM function-type reflections in audio cable, unlike where impedance is matched to a load, like an RF cable. Impedance isn’t and can’t be matched in the audio frequency range and we’ll see why in this series. (We’ll also see why RF cables aren’t ideally matched, either, even at the exact same value as a load resistor.)

In order to understand what’s happening in audio cable we need to understand why RF cable has some decided advantages over audio when it comes to system matching (in RF applications). The velocity, or speed, of the TEM wave trapped inside the wire either between two wires (twisted pair), or between a wire and a shield (coaxial cable) is a constant at RF. It does not fundamentally change with frequency. I say “fundamentally” because some will say if it changes any amount at all it “matters.” (OK, I’ll give the perfectionists among you +/- a few percent.)

There are several methods to calculate or measure RF impedance. Don’t try any of this at audio frequencies or even below 1 MHz. 1 MHz isn’t truly reaching the impedance asymptotic stability level.

The following method is known as the ratio method. Here we can look at a known cable’s impedance that we feel is accurately reported under test correctly. We can take the ratio of the center wire diameter to inner shield diameter (the dielectric’s diameter), and use that to design a cable with a larger diameter or even determine what its impedance will be when compared to known ratios. This works for twisted pairs, too, since we look at each insulated wire as a coaxial cable, but with both placed two in parallel. For example, two 50-ohm coaxial lines in parallel double the center to center distance so we have less capacitance and a higher 100-ohm impedance, for instance.

We need to make sure that the dielectric velocity of propagation is the same, however, or this won’t work. The speed of the electromagnetic wave is also changing the impedance of the cable in the calculations and ratio measurement.


9110 RG59 75-ohm 9118 RG6 75-ohms
CENTER WIRE 0.032 20 AWG 0.040” 18 AWG
DIELECTRIC OD 0.144″ 0.180″
Vp 83% 83%
RATIO 4.5 4.5

If I match the ratios and dielectric materials I will have the same impedance as the reference ratio. Pretty easy if the reference cable is made right and to the value you want.

1.0) We can calculate the impedance with several equations, the easiest uses the resonance method. This measures capacitance at 1 KHz, and then using two RF frequencies uses a resonance property to calculate the velocity of the signal in the cable at RF. Now we have nothing but C and Vp. That’s all we need;

101670/(C*V) = impedance at RF. This equation is from MIL-C-17G section


What is important is the relationship between velocity of propagation at a specific impedance and the capacitance in the RF range. We can’t use this relationship in the audio frequency range as Vp is non-linear.

2.0) A measurement, not calculation, can use a variable resistive bridge to measure a cable into a load that is resistive and can be varied, to determine the impedance. This relies on the cable’s structural return loss or SRL.

SRL is the signal return loss of a cable relative to its own impedance, caused by manufacturing imperfections in a cable.

How do we determine the impedance is the “structure” of the wire?  In the test the load is varied until we measure a minimum reflection of the test load swept across an RF band. The resulting fitted impedance graph is the cable’s natural impedance, but only at RF, where a true transmission line’s property exists.

3.0 ) There is also return loss, or RL, which is a stricter criterion than SRL. Here is the difference between the two;

  • Structural return loss defines how precisely we manufacture a cable, and therefore how uniform the impedance is at that cable size.
  • Return loss defines whether we made the cable the right size to achieve the desired fixed load impedance.

RF cable is mostly resistive, so we can use a resistive load. The cable, however is not a pure resistor even at RF. What does this do? Is it similar to an audio cable’s changing impedance with frequency?

Here is what happens in an RF twisted pair, which has enough geometric deviation to “see” electrically relative to a coaxial cable’s geometric perfection in terms of much more consistent electrical behavior. The twisted pair’s higher geometric variation is handy since it is allows us to show the effect of measured electrical RL performance with a graph. On the left side of the graph is impedance. This cable is supposed to be 100-ohms swept, or tested using a frequency sweep from 1-100 MHz.

If we sweep to test the return loss, RL differs from SRL as the load is fixed at 100-ohms. Since we can’t cheat and adjust the load to minimize reflections, we get a bunch of RL points in dB, I plotted in the X-axis with the impedance of that point in the Y-axis.

-What’s weird about this graph?


Let’s just look at the 100-ohm center frequency. We see that RL varies from –55 dB (smaller is better) to –25 dB. How is this happening at exactly a 100-ohms impedance? It’s because the impedance is a vector sum of the cable’s real (resistive) and imaginary (capacitance or inductance, but usually capacitance) vector magnitudes.

The vector is 100-ohms but it isn’t resistive anymore so we get reflections. The size or length of the resistive vector missed true 100-ohm values.

This idea tends to escape peoples’ interpretation of RF impedance. What about the points above and below the 100-ohms reference? Here is where people seem to go; we have impedance values higher and lower than a 100-ohm cable. But, some impedance values that miss the 100-ohms center frequency have lower RL than those on the 100-ohms line! The 100-ohms RL line stops at ~ -28dB. We can see several data points that are not 100-ohms, as high as 115-ohms and as low as 90 ohms, that are better than –28 dB RL value. It all relates back to the real versus imaginary component of that specific impedance vector.

But, impedance at RF is still not an easy matter to define, as it relates to signal transfer with all else this going on. In this next example we’ll use an open-short-load and open-short impedance test.

Let’s take a pause here and ask: is audio cable “related” to RF cable? We see reflections in an audio speaker cable off a much more reactive load than RF cable so the expected energy transfer is far harder to predict.

This next example tries to move the testing to low frequency audio cables even if we can’t accommodate the wavelength as a transverse electromagnetic wave.

4.0) This method is most common for very low frequency tests. The impedance is calculated from the open and short measurements (see the chart). This method de-imbeds, or removes, the “load” and concentrates on just the cable itself. It also is better the longer the cable can be for lower frequencies. As was mentioned earlier, an audio cable can’t be too long if we want to test impedance! We would, of course, never ever use one that long and that’s part of the problem. The data provides the signal magnitude and phase.


From the chart shown above, we see that impedance drops as we increase the frequency until it begins to flatten to ~60-ohms at about 1 MHz. Why?

But first, we need to emphasize a fundamental concept relevant to cable testing and design;

The math fits the physics, not the other way around.

Physics limits what we can do, and how we derive equations to fit nature to printed paper. Therefore, our model equations are often not perfectly correct along every point within a curve. This is called “curve fitting”. In the case of some math the results are called models because they are close to the real thing, but they aren’t completely accurate. Here’s an example:

A tonearm tracking curve is only correct in specific spots. The correct tracking geometry is not really “exactly” along the entire curve. A longer tonearm will improve how close we are to “right” so we can alter the design to reach different compromises.

The model suggests we are correct in exactly two spots, seen in the graphs of two tonearms of different lengths. One is a better model to theoretical ideal but both are exactly right at just only two spots. (Factor in overhang errors, stylus alignment and other issues and it becomes apparent the we need to consider what is happening in realty as well as mathematical models.)


This is only one example of why we can’t rely on mathematics – we can use it as a guide, but have to do the measurements to verify what’s happening in the real world. There are always variables that can’t be easily and correctly assessed using equations in the process of getting a model to be as accurate as we may need.  Engineers characterize accuracy estimates as orders of approximations – zeroth-order, first-order and so on. It results in equations getting more complex as we add error correction.

Eventually an equation is accurate enough, and verified to real measurements, to become useful in designing a cable (or product).

Back to our analysis of the velocity of propagation and its importance in cable design: We can look at a few examples and see the actual Vp responses of known cables against measurements that the equation(s) are modeled from and see how they compare.

The above graphs show the Vp response of several audio cables. The equation derived from the curves is; If we graph a cable, in this example a Belden 9515 multi-pair cable, and apply the low-frequency approximation equation, we see the data table below. The Vp values across frequency closely match the plotted swept data from our measurements. In this Vp example the impedance rises as frequency drops. (If R (resistance) or “C (capacitance) gets too high, we need to redefine the equation.)  

We can see that in the low frequencies, we need a different equation to account for specific variables going to “zero” (as low as a variable will go) or “one” (as high as a variable will go) as we increase the frequency into the RF band. At RF frequencies we can use a single Vp value above 1 MHz. However, this has to be abandoned at audio frequencies. We’ve seen this earlier in the article in the measure of impedance, and since Vp is part of the impedance equation, since it determines capacitance, this isn’t a surprise after all. If we hold the impedance and change either C or Vp variable, the opposite one has to change; Zo= (101670/C*Vp).

In the example below, we have three equations for approximating cable impedance measurements. Notice that the curve rises as we drop in frequency, and is orders of magnitude higher than at RF. This is why we can’t make a “flat” or low-impedance cable through the audio band. (At RF, impedance is essentially resistive).

We also have simpler approximations we can use at low and high frequencies starting at 100 Hz (for low-frequencies) and at 1 kHz and 100 kHz (for higher frequencies). G, the mathematical symbol for conductance, is the reciprocal of resistance in siemens (S) or mhos units. L and C are in farads and Henrys. Yes, you need all the zeros; 12 pF is 0.000000000012 farads.

These simple equations don’t have “frequency” in the equation at the very high frequency ranges, so their results produce straight line graphs. For RF that’s all we need, though. The mid-range impedance equation does have frequency, OMEGA (v), which is (2f). R and C is length dependent so we have to set a length (SI units for instance). We also see the transition equation is a curved fitted line.

The “easy” definition of low-frequency impedance ignores reactive (capacitive or inductive) effects at the very low-end and sees impedance as just DCR, Direct Current Resistance. Reactive effects are worse as we drop in frequency, so it involves a lot more complicated approximation and doesn’t allow us to just ignore reactive effects from capacitance and inductance at low-frequencies.

At RF we can ignore reactive effects, and our earlier twisted pair impedance plot reactive RL measurements show that the vector magnitudes are close to a resistive value at the target impedance. We have no load reflections or out of phase information to worry about if the cable has good RL (low reflection) attributes.

The input impedance of a transmission line, open at the far end, looks like a capacitor. The reactance is worse at lower frequencies because capacitors pass higher frequencies better than lower frequencies.  Impedance at low frequencies starts very high and drops very low as frequency goes up. Capacitors pass AC signals better the higher we go in frequency. Higher frequencies have lower Xc, or resistance to signal flow.

We see the higher impedance values at the low-frequency end, and dropping impedance values at the high frequency end caused by Vp and capacitive reactance change. The reactive effects slowly diminish at higher frequency (don’t impede AC current flow). The RF Vp reaches a steady state based on the dielectric. Vp is purely based on the material property of the dielectric at RF; 1/ SQRT(dielectric constant).

In the next installment, we’ll look at practical ways to change the velocity of propagation and improve signal linearity, among other subjects.

Stream-O-Nomics: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Stream-O-Nomics: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Stream-O-Nomics: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Stuart Marvin

Aerosmith and their lead singer Steven Tyler sang for years about “dream(ing) until your dreams come true.” Quite prophetic, for sure, as for musical artists, success requires being a dreamer and a believer, and, of course, possessing a fair amount of talent (and luck). In today’s paradigm, where musical artists are struggling to make a go of it with COVID-19 restrictions, combined with a greater reliance on revenue from streaming services, Aerosmith’s lyric could very easily, and perhaps more aptly, be modified to “stream on, until your dreams come true.”

So what’s with all the buzz about streaming services and concurrently, complaints about the lack of revenue artists are paid? Many artists today say they can’t make a solid living from streaming (see Dan Schwartz’s article in Copper 128), while others appear to be defying the odds.

It’s not like the issue of receiving fair compensation in the music business is a new topic. Artists signed to record labels have complained for decades about getting ripped off from bad contracts and “funky” accounting, where deductions are taken for artist advances, publicity, promotion, videos, publishing, legal fees, distribution and so on, in addition to returns and breakage on physical product.

Perhaps the biggest head-scratcher is how long it took the music industry, particularly record labels, to embrace new distribution platforms, when a key advantage of digital music delivery is doing away with so much of the overhead associated with old-school distribution of physical product. Yes, the CD era at first yielded a bonanza of higher prices the record companies could charge, along with enormous margins, but the future of evolving technology, first with file sharing, then digital downloads, and now with streaming, was quite apparent. It’s a classic illustration of how legacy industries frequently plod along and resist change, often to their own detriment.

Now fully indoctrinated, the irony is the three largest record labels – Universal, Sony and Warner Music Group – are experiencing solid revenue growth with global recorded music revenue exceeding 21 billion in 2019. Streaming revenue for labels now accounts for more than three times the revenue for digital downloads, physical product and licensing combined.

Courtesy of Pixabay/Jiradet Inrungruang. Courtesy of Pixabay/Jiradet Inrungruang.

So, in theory, shouldn’t the new streaming ecosystem, where many artists control exclusive rights and their recording masters, be cleaner, easier to understand and more profitable? Yes, certainly in theory, but the rules, regs and royalty payments vary by streaming service. Plus, if a well-known popular artist is saddled with an unfavorable record deal, then that can complicate matters, which is only to the delight of forensic accountants, assuming an artist has the means and will to even explore such recourse. Lesser-known or unknown artists face a range of different and uphill challenges.

Today there are a number of streaming music services to choose from, including Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, YouTube Music, Soundcloud, Pandora, Deezer, Tidal and Qobuz, to name a few. How the  so-called “largest” are categorized can vary by how the data is parsed, by the number of monthly active users (MAU’s), the number of premium vs. free subscribers, or the size and depth of their music catalog. For example, as of December 31, 2020, Spotify had 345 million MAU’s and 155 million paid subscribers. Of course, sound quality is of particular importance to those of us who want to enjoy music in the best-possible fidelity, with options that include CD-quality and even better.

A familiar sight for many. Courtesy of Pixabay/Deepanker Verma.
A familiar sight for many. Courtesy of Pixabay/Deepanker Verma.

Independent of differences in a service’s audio quality, pricing, search options, algorithms, user interface and music catalogs, each operates with a somewhat different compensation model, with royalties linked to frequency of play a song receives through their free (with ads) and/or pay tiers. (Royalty rates on free vs. pay tiers are different.)

So, what exactly is a “stream?” According to Spotify’s guidelines, a stream is counted when a song is played on their service for 30 seconds or longer. Anything less is like a baseball game lasting less than five innings, it doesn’t qualify for the record books, pun unintended.

It may be a surprise to you that an artist also can’t just upload their music directly to a streaming service or online store. The process requires working with a record label or a distributor, such as TuneCore, DistroKid or CDBaby, to facilitate placement. TuneCore, for example, charges artists a flat $9.99 per year fee for a single, $29.99 for year one album placements, and $49.99 on annual LP renewals.

Let’s take a quick look at some stream-o-nomic math. A smaller service like Tidal actually pays the highest artist royalty rates at $.01284 per stream, while Spotify pays about a third of that amount, or $.00438 per stream. So you’d think a million streams on Spotify would appear to be a fairly big success story, right? Nope, it’s bupkis. At $.00438 per stream that translates to $4,380 in gross revenue, an amount an artist may or may not also have to share with other stakeholders.

On the other hand, 10 million streams on Spotify equates to $43,800, or real money. If an artist has multiple songs, each with several million plus streams, then you can see how this can play out well financially for some, with their streaming revenue complemented by touring (once rekindled), vinyl, CD and/or merchandise sales.

In second quarter financial reporting, Spotify had a total of 43,000 artists in the service’s “top tier,” comprising 90 percent of all streams to the platform. That’s also a 43 percent increase in artist growth vs. a year ago. However, Spotify’s size and growth is both a blessing and curse for artists. Though very popular artists on Spotify may have tens or hundreds of millions of streams, given the low barriers of entry on both music production and distribution, there are many thousands of aspiring artists who have hardly any traction at all.

Consequently, the biggest challenge facing new artists on streaming platforms is being discovered, with the curation and allocation of top-shelf site real estate in the hands of the participating music service. Simply put, these days it’s awfully hard to get noticed.


Of course, there are always outliers. Five-time Grammy award winner Billie Eilish has close to 52 million monthly listeners on Spotify, which converts into a heckuva lot of streams. Her 2019 debut studio album, When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? (hmm, perhaps the nearest bank?), was largely co-written by Billie and her brother, and then produced in her brother’s small bedroom. (Yup, that’s what you call bootstrapping.) Although Eilish is tied to Interscope/Darkroom Records, and hence, there’s revenue sharing between her and the label, there’s little doubt Ms. Eilish is cleaning up quite nicely in the streaming world. Popular artists, like Ms. Eilish, also have the leverage to negotiate more favorable revenue splits with their labels.

While the streaming industry has started to respond to the steep criticism of low-royalty payouts, when they do raise payments, the increases are only by a fraction of a cent per stream, not really moving the financial needle precipitously for many. But let’s not put the onus entirely on the streaming services that fundamentally operate low-margin businesses. The plain truth is the record labels receive the lion’s share of the monthly fees a subscriber pays to a streaming service.

Looking towards the future, to enhance their value proposition and to create differentiation, streaming music services are investing in original content to drive engagement and subscriptions. Podcasts are one alternative, and attractive because they’re low-cost content, and Spotify in particular is pursuing that avenue.  Developing “exclusives” with musical artists is another growth path, but that puts a streaming service in direct competition with record labels. With so many streaming services, in somewhat of a commodity business, the market frankly may not be large enough to sustain so many competing players.

One other possible growth option is to bundle music streaming with offerings from other non-music entertainment companies. Just think how movie theaters have been decimated by COVID-19. Will patrons eventually return to movie theaters, or will in-home first-run movie distribution and viewing continue to grow? If so, for example, could Regal or AMC, the two largest movie theater chains, partner with Spotify or another music service and create a bundled movies-plus-music subscription plan to create added value?

Yes, today’s streaming ecosystem is a real slippery slope. For up and coming artists, although they’re happy to be in play, having listeners discover their music is an ongoing nightmare. For these aspiring artists, each trying to develop a following and make a living, it can feel a bit like throwing Jello against the wall and hoping it sticks.

Header image courtesy of Pexels/Karolina Grabowska.

To Test, Or Not to Test, Part Five: Vacuum Tubes

To Test, Or Not to Test, Part Five: Vacuum Tubes

To Test, Or Not to Test, Part Five: Vacuum Tubes

Adrian Wu

In a previous article in this series (Issue 128), I discussed measurements that help determine the quality of electronic components such as capacitors and resistors. However, most audiophiles are quite content with the electronic components chosen by the designers of their equipment and have no wish to make changes. That said, one particular electronic component always requires attention, and that is the vacuum tube. Of course, not all audiophiles wish to use vacuum tube audio equipment, but for those who do, the quality and the health of those tubes play an important role in the sound quality of their systems. The quality of the tubes can be determined by testing them.

People often have preconceived ideas about tubes. Tube amplifiers have a reputation for sounding “soft” or “colored,” and to have poor frequency extension and flabby-sounding bass. Many of us have in fact experienced tube amplifiers that confirm these biases, but these qualities are not due to the inherent shortcomings of tubes per se, but to poor design and/or poor-quality components.

For those unfamiliar with how vacuum tubes used for signal amplification work, or need a quick refresher: a heated element (usually a cathode) releases negatively-charged electrons, which are attracted to the positively-charged anode or plate. A grid, located between the cathode and the anode, and usually kept at a negative voltage relative to the cathode, has the musical signal applied to it, which alters the flow of electrons in accordance with the musical signal (like a valve controlling the flow of water, hence the Brits call vacuum tubes electron valves). This signal current induces a voltage at the plate, and the magnitude of the voltage is dependent on the plate resistance.  As the plate voltage is usually larger than the signal voltage applied to the grid, so the tube acts as an amplifier. (A diode, or rectifier tube used in power supplies, operates differently.)

Diagram of a triode tube. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Svjo.
Diagram of a triode tube. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Svjo.

Tube circuit topology can be divided into the self-bias (cathode bias) or the fixed bias type. Self-bias amps rely on a cathode resistor to raise the cathode voltage. The grid of the tube is kept at ground potential, thus ensuring a negative grid-to-cathode potential difference (Vgk). The plate current decreases when Vgk becomes more negative (the more negatively charged grid repels more of the electrons released from the cathode), and increases when Vgk becomes less negative, until the potential difference approaches zero and the grid starts to conduct current. At this point, the input impedance of the tube quickly drops, causing distortion unless the driver stage is designed to supply current to the grid (a so-called Class A2 configuration). When the plate current increases, the current going through the cathode resistor also increases, thus raising the cathode voltage. This causes Vgk  to become more negative, which in turn reduces the plate current. This is a negative feedback mechanism that ensures the plate current stays fairly constant.

While this negative feedback is useful in the steady state, it also reduces the amplification of the signal (so-called degeneration). Therefore, a bypass capacitor is usually added in parallel to the cathode resistor to avoid incurring negative feedback of the signal. The combination of the resistor and the capacitor forms a high-pass filter, which means the value of the capacitor needs to be sufficiently large to prevent rolloff of the bass frequencies. The quality of these components have an important influence on the sound quality, since they are in the signal path. However, the capacitance usually needed is so large that electrolytic capacitors are often used. The equivalent series resistance (ESR) and dielectric absorption (DA) of such capacitors are orders of magnitude higher than film capacitors, making them poor choices for use in signal circuits. This is one of the reasons why this type of design could compromise performance.

To get around the problems of cathode bias, one can use fixed bias. In this case, the cathode of the tube is connected to ground, and the grid is kept at a fixed negative potential. This means a negative voltage power supply is needed, which increases the cost. This type of power supply also needs to be well-regulated, since it has a big influence on the sound quality. However, this type of design tends to have a cleaner sound and better transient response than cathode biasing.

So what does all this have to do with tube testing? It is because the circuit design determines how much influence certain electrical properties of the tubes have on sound quality. That is why some tubes might sound fine when plugged into a particular amplifier, but sound horrible when used in a different amp. What are the reasons for testing vacuum tubes? First, we want to make sure the tubes are performing at or close to their original specifications. Second, we want to match certain characteristics of the tubes so that they will work well together, and can determine how they’ll behave in various circuits.

Vacuum tubes are handmade products. In the old days, after the tubes were assembled by skilled technicians, they were burned in (usually for at least 48 hours) and then tested, and those that were not up to specification were rejected. The more expensive premium tubes usually had more stringent requirements during the quality control process. For example, premium tubes such as the E188CC/7308 and 6072a are specially selected low-noise examples of the E88CC/6922 and 12AY7 respectively. Some difficult-to-manufacture tubes such as certain tubes with a frame grid construction had very high rejection rates. Keep in mind that tubes were the mainstay in electronic equipment up to the late 1960s, and were used in many mission-critical applications. The reputable companies such as Telefunken, AEG, Siemens, Valvo, Western Electric, STC, Mullard, Brimar, Amperex, General Electric, Marconi-Osram, Philips, RCA, Sylvania, Tung-Sol and others produced millions of tubes per year and had very strict quality control.

The Western Electric 437A frame grid tube, for example, was used in undersea repeaters for telephone lines crossing the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. These tubes can easily last 20 years with continuous use. Imagine having to change out faulty tubes under these circumstances; just charter a submarine and off you go! This tube has extremely high transconductance; in fact, it is possible to build a power amplifier with just one 437A per channel. I have a stash of these waiting for projects after I retire…

A 1950s Western Electric 437A. It's available at Tube Depot.com for $1,295.

Nowadays, vacuum tubes are produced mostly for guitar amps, where such strict QC is not needed.  Many audiophiles therefore like to use tubes produced in a bygone era. New old stock (NOS) of these ancient tubes is becoming increasingly scarce, and many examples being sold as NOS are probably “pulls,” or tubes pulled from old equipment.

Is it better to buy NOS tubes or recently manufactured ones? (If you’re a manufacturer, it’s certainly or almost impossible to use anything other than new-production tubes because of quantity requirements.) I bought most of my NOS tubes from now-venerable electronics distributors in the early 1990s, when they still had a stash of these hidden away in their warehouses, but after eBay came on line, this supply quickly dried up. Except for a few currently-reputable dealers specializing in NOS audio tubes, who have the knowledge to tell the real NOS tubes from those that are not – there are counterfeits out there – and are honest enough to only sell the genuine articles, I would be very cautious when buying from other sources. And it is definitely necessary to test the tubes before plugging them into your expensive amplifiers, unless they came from one of the few dealers who test every tube they sell.  Even for recently-manufactured tubes, I find the quality quite variable, and rough handling during shipping can cause damage to a tube’s internal structure. Tubes should be tested after purchase, and returned to the seller if faults are discovered.

When using NOS tubes, one needs to pay attention to several aspects. First, these tubes can lose their vacuum over time. The air molecules that have seeped into the tube during the years of storage get ionized when the tube is used for the first time, and these positive ions are attracted to the cathode, striking its surface and causing damage, leading to a shortened lifespan. When these positive ions strike the grid, electrons are released from the grid, and this makes the grid more positively charged. This grid current causes a noise voltage that is amplified by the tube; the higher the resistance of the grid circuit, the higher the noise voltage. The positively charged grid increases the plate current, which in turn increases the grid current and makes the grid even more positively charged (so-called thermal runaway) until the cathode is depleted. The plate starts to glow red (“red plating”) when this happens, which looks very ominous.  Cathode-biased circuits, by virtue of their self-correcting nature, are less prone to this problem.

Morgan Jones, the author of the excellent book Valve Amplifiers, recommends baking NOS tubes in an oven at 120oC (248oF) for 12 hours and allowing them to cool before use. His experiments showed that the heat reactivates the residual barium present in the tube’s getter, the structure inside the tube designed to absorb residual gas and maintain the tube’s vacuum.

Tubes with metal-oxide cathodes need to be handled carefully. If the cathode is made to pass current before it reaches an adequate temperature, its life will be shortened. This was usually not a problem in the old days when tube rectifiers were used in amplifiers, since the time it takes the rectifiers to warm up and start conducting is adequate to allow the cathode to reach operating temperature, but modern equipment with solid-state diodes needs to have a time delay in the circuit. (Some modern gear, like certain guitar amps, still use tube rectifiers.) Some modern amplifiers have a reputation for eating up NOS tubes, and users should only install current-production tubes in these amps unless circuit modifications have been made.

What do we need to test to ensure the tubes are working correctly? Open or shorted filaments can be detected using a multimeter, and should be done before plugging the tubes in. Set the multimeter to measure resistance and connect the meter’s test leads to the filament pins. (You can consult on-line tube manuals for the pin configuration. For testing other parameters, a tube tester is needed.)

I have a George Kaye Small Signal Tube Checker that I find very handy for testing smaller tubes for emission, gain, noise and microphonics (the tendency for a tube to literally act as a microphone; you can sometimes hear an audible “clunk” or “ring” when tapping on such a tube when an amp or preamp is on). The tester tests for distortion level when the tube is overdriven; the distortion level rises when the tube’s emission falls, due to aging. The gain is measured at one operating point only, but this is adequate for tube matching in less-critical circuit positions. The noise and microphony test is very useful, as the tester allows you to actually listen through headphones as well as see the noise level on a VU meter. I use this function to sort tubes (from least to most noise) for use in the phono stage, the input stage, the driver stage or the output stage of phono stages, preamps, integrated amps and power amplifiers.  Unfortunately, this tester is no longer made, and it can only test small-signal tubes like 12AX7s, not bigger power tubes. However, I mention its use in order to outline what to look for when testing tubes, and I’ll cover other vintage and current tube testers a bit later.

Adrian's George Kaye Small Signal Tube Checker. Adrian's George Kaye Small Signal Tube Checker.

Matching tubes is important if they are to be used in push-pull amplifier output stages, in differential (balanced) circuits, and in outputs that use parallel devices. In all of these cases, the performance of the tubes needs to be matched as closely as possible.

In push-pull output designs, where one tube (or set of tubes) amplifies the positive phase (or half) of the audio signal and the other tube (or tube set) amplifies the negative phase, an imbalance of the current between the two phases will lead to saturation of the transformer core and a rapid drop in inductance. If this is allowed to persist, the transformer core will become permanently magnetized. Many amplifiers allow for adjustment of the plate current of output tubes. If not, or if the amplifier uses cathode bias, matched tubes will be needed. Amplifiers with parallel push-pull output devices often do not have separate adjustments for each tube. Therefore, using matched tubes is essential. In differential circuits, mismatched tubes will result in increased distortion, but the result depends on the circuit design. Many well-engineered modern amplifiers make use of transistor constant-current sources or sinks to control the plate current of the tubes. This ensures a more stable operation and vastly improves the common mode rejection ratio of the differential stage. Such a design is less sensitive to the drift in parameters such as plate resistance, gain and transconductance.

Graph of a sine wave showing the positive and negative halves of the waveform. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/AlanM1. Graph of a sine wave showing the positive and negative halves of the waveform. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/AlanM1.

Ideally, tubes should be matched for emission and transconductance (the change in plate current per unit change in grid voltage). However, with most tube testers, transconductance is measured only at a single operating point. To match tubes at a variety of operating points, a curve tracer is needed.

The most popular tube tester in history was the TV-7 Series, which was made for the US military by Hickok and others. At one time these testers could be picked up at the second-hand market for very little money, but they themselves use tubes and need to be restored and calibrated in order to perform correctly. Audio clubs with sufficient funds and expertise should invest in a laboratory-grade tube tester for their members’ use. The best vintage examples of these include the British AVO VCM 163 and the German Neuberger RMP370. My recording partner bought two AVO163s and used one as a parts donor to restore the other. The tester is a great piece of British engineering, and a real pleasure to use. Vintage tube testers were also made by B&K, Eico, Knight, Precision Apparatus Company, Sencore, Heathkit and others.

[Copper’s J.I. Agnew refurbishes tube testers. He’s located in Europe. Vintage Tube Electronics is located in the US and repairs and calibrates tube testers. – Ed.]

The most famous tube curve tracer is the Tektronix 570, which is rare and expensive. It displays the testing results on a cathode tube display. However, it only provides up to 300VDC of plate voltage and 150mA of plate current, so some tubes cannot be tested at their typical operating condition. The Tektronix 575 transistor curve tracer is easier to find – and can be modified to measure tubes. In recent years, several curve tracers aimed at audio hobbyists have become available. These devices connect to a computer via a digital interface, and all the information is displayed on the computer screen. These devices can test for emission, gas leaks, short circuit between electrodes, plate resistance, gain and transconductance, and they can also generate tube curves that display plate current vs. plate voltage at different grid voltage steps.

The Amplitrex AT1000 is a self-contained unit that can be used without a computer to measure various tube parameters by means of an LED screen. However, it does have to be used with a computer in order to generate curves. The software is rather clunky and still uses an RS232 interface. Another limitation is that it only measures the parameters at one operating point. Also, it only has a power supply for one grid, and therefore can only measure tetrodes and pentodes wired as triodes. It does have a headphone output that allows the user to assess tube noise and microphony.

Amplitrex AT1000 tube tester. Amplitrex AT1000 tube tester.



The RoeTest was designed by a German enthusiast and is a very flexible apparatus. It has three grid power supplies, and can measure tube parameters at different operating points. However, the designer can only supply the software, the blank printed circuit boards, the transformers and the design files for the construction of the chassis. The user must buy all the electronic components, order the chassis from a chassis shop and build the device him or herself. The design is quite complicated, and since it involves voltages of up to 600V, the user must be experienced in building and testing tube amplifiers to tackle such a project.

A newcomer to this space is the eTracer. It was designed by a Taiwanese electronics engineer, and can test tubes at up to a maximum plate voltage of 750V at up to 300mA.  This means that even high-powered triodes can be tested. It can measure cathode-heater leakage, which is important for cascode, SRPP and other topologies where one tube is stacked on top of another and the cathode of the upper tube is at an elevated voltage. If the heater filament of the upper tube is kept at ground potential, there will be a large potential difference between the heater and the cathode, leading to a leakage current, which causes noise. The proper way to design such a circuit is to have a separate heater power supply for the upper tube, elevated to the same voltage as the cathode. This will add to the cost and complexity, and not all manufacturers do it. Users should therefore choose the tubes with the lowest leakage to serve as the upper tubes in these circuits.

The eTracer can also detect gas leaks by measuring the change in plate current when a resistor is added to the grid circuit. The grid current caused by ionized gas molecules will raise the grid voltage when the resistor is in place, which can be detected as an increase in plate current.  The software is very sophisticated, and parameters (plate current, plate resistance, gain and transconductance) at different operating points are displayed simply by placing the mouse cursor on different areas of the graph. It has a curve-matching facility that helps you find tubes that are the most closely-matched to each other. The eTracer can also calculate distortion with different anode loads, which is helpful if you are designing a circuit.

The device can be bought as a kit or a fully assembled and tested product. The basic model requires the user to hook up the different pins of the tube socket manually using banana plugs, which reminds me of an old telephone switchboard. There is also an optional computer-controlled wire routing module, but I don’t think this is a necessary expense unless you plan on testing many different tube types in one sitting. The fully assembled basic tester costs around $1,200, and I view this as a high-value acquisition if you use tube equipment regularly. To put this into perspective, a new pair of reissue Western Electric 300B is quoted as $1,499 on the manufacturer’s website. Shouldn’t you at least find out if they are working as advertised?

Tube Depot.com also has these Western Electric 300B tubes, New Old Stock from the 1930s! They'll set you back $19,995. Tube Depot.com also has these Western Electric 300B tubes, New Old Stock from the 1930s! They'll set you back $19,995.

Postscript: A word about output transformers.

The quality of a tube amplifier’s output transformer is extremely important. Since it is expensive to build a high-quality transformer, any attempt to cut cost there could seriously undermine the amplifier’s sound. This is especially true for single-ended amplifiers, since an air gap in the transformer is needed to prevent transformer core saturation, which would cause audible distortion and other problems. However, having an air gap lowers the inductance, which compromises low-frequency response. To increase the inductance requires adding more windings, which adversely affects the high-frequency response. It is therefore a balancing act when designing such transformers. An obvious solution is to use different amplifiers that are optimized for different frequency ranges to power the different drivers (woofers, midrange and tweeters) of the loudspeakers, using an active crossover, but I digress. (This is just one of the variables that make owning and operating vacuum tube equipment so intriguing.)


Bob Welch’s French Kiss: Sentimental Favorite

Bob Welch’s French Kiss: Sentimental Favorite

Bob Welch’s French Kiss: Sentimental Favorite

Ray Chelstowski

I resisted moving from the LP format to CD for as long as I possibly could. Beyond my thought that the general sound quality of CDs paled in comparison to the richness found in real records, I loved how the album cover – especially in the 1970s – had become a modern-day art canvas. There are so many great, great rock covers from the 1970s that it’s simply impossible to name one as the best of the period. Albums had photography and graphics assembled with creative composition and design. When you’d play a record you could stare at the imagery, read the jacket’s liner notes and in some cases be transported to the very studio where the album was recorded. The whole thing made having friends over to listen to records a real event.

You and your pals could thumb through a collection and have a real back and forth about music. Back then as teens I think we all knew more about rock and roll than most kids could today. Downloads offer you no real entry point to learn more about what you are listening to, and CD artwork and liner notes are of course limited by the size of the format.

In turn, music has become more disposable and lifeless. It’s a shame really. When I buy old records today I’m as impressed by the music as I am by the wear marks of the original owners’ use. Was the record cared for, or thrown into a pile? Was it played and enjoyed, or filed away and quickly forgotten? The records act like a window to another time.

Yesterday I picked up a copy of Bob Welch’s seminal debut, French Kiss. Even today the album cover is provocative. Back in ’77 when it was released it was seen everywhere and today lives as a reference point for the late ’70s. Sure, the fact that it contained two big hits, “Sentimental Lady” (originally recorded by Fleetwood Mac on the 1972 Bare Trees album) and “Ebony Eyes,” helped. But the cover photo – a snap of Bob looking like he was placing a lit match in his mouth at the very moment that a scantily-clad woman licks his face – remains a metaphor for the period’s club scene drug-heavy lifestyle, cocaine in particular. For so many, this was a time absent of boundaries, especially for the lives led by adult, single thirty-something boomers who were funded by disposable income that had never been common for people of that age before.

The songs on French Kiss aren’t songs of adolescent love, but of adults who had the means and opportunity to live life on its wilder and more carless side. The big hit, “Sentimental Lady,” sums it up best:

“You are here and warm
But I could look away and you’d be gone
Cause we live in a time
When meaning falls in splinters from our lives”


Welch is an often-overlooked artist. He replaced Peter Green in Fleetwood Mac in 1971 and was the first to help the band transition to a more mainstream pop-oriented sound. He made the unfortunate mistake of leaving the band just as Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined. In turn, he missed out on all of the commercial success that was about to present itself to the band. But as he went out on his own after quitting the band in 1974, Mick Fleetwood became his manager, and he turned to Christine McVie and Lindsey for help on the first single, “Sentimental Lady.” He also ended up opening for the band on their Rumours tour, which further drove awareness of French Kiss. That was intended to provide him with a platform for future releases.

However, his subsequent music just would never be as good as it was here and his career sputtered. He feuded with members of Mac and in the end, because of a lawsuit against his former band mates, was banished from their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998. After 1977, he all but disappeared, struggling with addiction and personal issues. It’s shocking really. Welch had a small hit here and there but nothing meaningful.


French Kiss is an album that encompasses all of the energy and pure fun of what made mainstream rock popular in the late seventies. There are elements of Foreigner softened by hints of late ‘70s Elton John and soft-core disco. The album provided Welch with a forum where he could make music the way he wanted it made. In Fleetwood Mac, he and Christine McVie had become the central songwriting team for the group and together created some exceptional songs. French Kiss is, I guess, a reflection of where he wanted the band to go, had he stayed with them. Instead, Fleetwood Mac got another shot at the top and Bob was allowed to make a record that is as captivating as its cover photo. I have never listened to his other releases. I don’t think that’s necessary. Sometimes one and done is part of the grand design.

In 2012, following surgery on his back, Welch committed suicide. The press largely overlooked his passing. It was a tragic end to such a promising career.

For me, I’d like to remember Welch as I have to this day – as the wickedly cool guy on this cover who I studied for hours as a kid, who made music that I have loved for what seems like forever. That just never grows old.

Location, Location, Location

Location, Location, Location

Location, Location, Location

Russ Welton

Over here in the UK there is a common phrase heard that “An Englishman’s home is his castle.” That may well be true for some. Yet, something that is truly significant for all of us, is where we live. This is determined by so many factors and we do our best with whatever restraints have been imposed upon us, and exercise our permissible freedoms when and where we can.

We attribute relative value to the location of where our home is. Sometimes you hear it said by realtors that the three most important things to consider when buying or renting a property are location, location and…you guessed it, location.

And this holds true to a large degree in our home hi-fi set ups. The location of where we seat ourselves and set up our speakers can have a profound effect on our listening experience and the value we place on what we hear. For me, listening to music is like spending time with life-long friends and enjoying their company. The transportive effect is like going home, or to familiar places, ones that we are able to summon up and touch base with in a reassuring way. Perhaps this is more important than ever before for our well-being and mental stimulation.

Eikon IMAGE1 system.

To that end, given that we as individuals are more localised than ever before because of pandemic restrictions, I have set about reappraising my hi-fi system. The intention is to really get the best out of what it has to offer and liberate it by adjusting acoustics here and there, tweaking tweeters, badgering my bass and cajoling connections to optimal effect.  Yes, it’s true that speaker positioning and location are just a component part of the acoustic presentation, but here we have some scope for control and tailoring our tone that can be truly rewarding to us as active listeners rather than simply passive hearers. Let’s make our music captivating, enthralling and more engaging.

Now before I pay heed to the complaints that “I just don’t have any room to play with,” or, “my speakers can’t go anywhere else,” both of which I completely sympathise with, let’s ask ourselves a few questions.

When was the last time you read the speaker manufacturer’s recommended positioning instructions in their manual? Be honest now. Was it…never? You may be more conscientious than I’m giving you credit for, and for that I apologise, (like a Brit). But the reason I mention this, is simply that you may be pleasantly surprised by what you read. I say maybe because perhaps their recommendations may compound some of the restrictions you have to work with if the recommendations suggest you place the speakers yet further into the room.

On the other hand, the opposite may be true. It may be the case that it actually gives you the opportunity to improve your soundstage, and/or open the room to achieve a fuller sonic presentation and overall better result, if the manual suggests your speakers are more optimally designed to be placed closer to the rear wall and/or closer to each other than they currently are. Find out for certain. And you may have more flexibility than you thought.

Often one of the limitations of speaker placement is their footprint. After all, speakers have to occupy physical spots on the ground. Speaking of the ground, is it the case that your speakers are the type that should be stand-mounted but are literally placed on the floor? This may seem like an extreme example to Copper readers but I’ve seen it. If you or a significant other insist they have to be on the floor, (or you want to keep pets from knocking the speakers over), will they take spikes? This may allow you to adjust the angle and tip the speaker back a few degrees, allowing the drivers and especially the tweeter to direct the sound upwards toward the spot where you listen rather than into the sofa.

In some cases, tilting speakers back can yield sonic improvement.

Speakers that are designed to be placed on stands really should be, though. This literally puts them on a pedestal and transforms their projection into something close to, or how the speaker designer intended them to be used. Granted, you may have to take into account a slightly larger footprint for the base of the stand, but sometimes the footprint may in fact be smaller. A tip which is known to veteran audiophiles but may be new to others is that many speaker’s stands can be mass-loaded, meaning, filled with an appropriate medium such as sand or a dedicated product like Atacama Atabites. In addition to the fact that you may find the stand and speakers are physically more stable than before, your bass response should be tighter. Making the stands sturdier will result in less speaker cabinet vibration and resonance along with improved definition of musical details. You could call it a more “planted” or “reinforced” sound.

Atacama Atabites, inert filler for speaker stands. Atacama Atabites, inert filler for speaker stands.
If your speakers are floorstanding towers, do you find that the tweeter height is not at the same height as your ear level? (Meaning, the height of your ears above the floor.) If not, can you adjust the height of your speaker to more accurately match the height of your ears when you are sitting in your primary listening seat? Most towers have a degree of height adjustment, which may help improve the on-axis signal directivity toward your chosen listening position.
Having the tweeters at or close to ear level is desirable. Courtesy of Audio Den, Nesconset, NY. Having the tweeters at or close to ear level is desirable. Courtesy of Audio Den, Nesconset, NY.

When looking around hi-fi stores with the plan of listening to, and potentially purchasing new speakers, I have found it surprising how many floorstanding speakers simply don’t design for the tweeter to be at ear level – or even close to it. We are all physically different, but the design brief for some of these models may more readily account for aesthetics and visual appeal over sonic perfection, or manufacturing budget restraints as opposed to achieving the best high-frequency directivity possible. Being conscious of this means we can accommodate for it to some degree and if we own such a speaker, hopefully minimise the compromise in design.

Do you own a multichannel home theater or music system? If so, the placement of the surround speakers shouldn’t be an afterthought. If possible, and you’re not restricted to putting the surround speakers on stands or elsewhere, it’s advantageous to mount the speakers on the wall, two or three feet above your listening position. Doing this can help to reduce the localising effect of the sound and make for a more immersive and natural listening experience. You have the added bonus of opening up more floor space and getting around your room more easily without bumping into your coffee table or treading on poor Fido’s tail yet again.

Look sharp: adjustable speaker spikes, a favorite of audiophiles everywhere.

It’s good to have a goal. What are you hoping to achieve from your audio system? To help answer that question it may be good to reflect on the type of sound you know you like to hear. What are your tastes in music and what will most sympathetically lend itself to enhancing those characteristics? Do you love a flatter tone for jazz, a mid-scooped tone for rock and metal, a super dynamic range for orchestral music or perhaps a vocal richness in your singer songwriter albums? Think of these tonal characteristics simply as a reference point for your future EQ shaping.

Perfect “accuracy” or “neutrality” in sonic reproduction may not be your goal because of what you prefer to hear. When I was younger, I personally had a penchant for a brighter and more trebly tone, which was not to everyone’s taste. As I got older, I appreciated more warmth and rounded out midrange while keeping undesirable boxiness at bay. Although we don’t possess the sound engineer’s actual ears, we do have our own personal preferences and tonal tastes.

Rather than being lost at sea, crystallising your references by identifying what you like in specific recordings will really help you in establishing your sonic bearings and the direction you want to go. You then have something to aim for when improving your sound rather than blindly making adjustments to “optimise” your tone in the hope of overall betterment. There’s a lot you can do to EQ your sound. And remember, the speaker designer has already done a lot of this work for you.

In our next installment we’ll look more at how we can best set up our speaker locations and make them “disappear” sonically. As long as we’re somewhat or largely confined to our homes these days, let’s maximise our opportunity to get the most out of our music listening.

Tilting speakers back can work for guitar amps too! A Marshall 4 x 12-inch speaker cabinet with the top two speakers angled.

Header image courtesy of Audio Den.

Kate Bush: Musical Heights

Kate Bush: Musical Heights

Kate Bush: Musical Heights

Anne E. Johnson

There was always music, poetry, and dancing in the house when Kate Bush was growing up in Kent, England. Both her parents and her two older brothers were amateur musicians, and soon Kate was teaching herself to play piano and write songs. She added violin, organ, and interpretive dancing into the mix, not to mention a true poet’s eye for describing the world. The result was the wide-ranging, eclectic, and thoroughly original musical phenomenon that is Kate Bush.

In her teens, she put dozens of her songs on a demo tape and sent it around to record companies, who ignored it. But when it got into the hands of Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour, who knew her brothers, her career had a chance. Gilmour was so impressed at Bush’s talent that he paid for her to make some high-quality demos to attract EMI. He even got Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick to help out.

The 19-year-old entered the recording business with a roar: Her debut album, The Kick Inside (1978), included the song “Wuthering Heights,” which reached the No. 1 position on the UK singles charts. In all, the album yielded five singles, which is rare for a debut.

Among the album-only tracks was “James and the Cold Gun,” which opened side two. Ironically, this was EMI’s choice for the album’s first single because of its rock flavor, but the young songwriter was not afraid to insist on how she should be introduced to the world. In retrospect, knowing her range, it’s hard to imagine this distinctive song would have pigeon-holed her into a more conventional output, but she was probably right at the time.


Despite her huge success in the UK, America still hadn’t caught on. After The Kick Inside laid an egg in the US, her second album, Lionheart (1978), wasn’t even released stateside until she’d begun to amass a cult following in 1984. Lionheart did perform well in the UK; its biggest single was “Wow.” As with her first album, Bush used a combination of EMI-provided session musicians and members of her own KT Bush Band, including her brother Paddy on harmonica and mandolin.

The song “In the Warm Room,” with ethereal vocals stretching into Bush’s exceptionally high register, exemplifies her unusual mix of cabaret, jazz, modern folk, and prog rock.


Her popularity in the UK continued to grow. Never for Ever (1980) was her first No. 1 album, making her the first female British artist to win that spot. All three of its singles reached the Top 20, and “Babooshka” sold nearly as well as “Wuthering Heights.”

Cinema had a big influence on the creation of this album. For example, there’s “Delius,” inspired by the Ken Russell film Song of Summer, about the composer Frederick Delius. And Bush looked to another British film, The Innocents, as the starting point for the track “Infant Kiss,” which tells of a woman who tries to come to terms with her desire for the young ward in her care.


In one of those industry ironies that makes indie rock what it is, it was Bush’s oddest, least “marketable” album that finally broke her into the American market. She produced The Dreaming (1982) herself, accepting no outside help or smoothing down to make the work more palatable. As a result, impressionable youth – especially girls – were gripped by its untethered freedom of expression. Björk is among those who heard their own nascent voices reflected in Bush’s music. The payoff wasn’t immediate, but it was permanent.

The Dreaming was such an individual effort that Bush did not even use a band, instead relying on a Fairlight CMI digital synthesizer to imitate instrumental sounds. Nowadays, when everyone can get GarageBand in their phone, that doesn’t sound like a big deal, but in 1982 it was a bold, radical move. “Pull Out the Pin” has a rhythmic freedom and a range of textures that match its amorphous lyrics that seem to focus as much on the phonetic link between the words “buddha” and “bullet” as on any message or meaning.


While The Dreaming wasn’t a huge seller anywhere despite its long-term importance, Hounds of Love (1985) put Bush back on top of the UK charts. She even managed the No. 30 spot on the Billboard 200, which was her best US showing. Those are amazing numbers considering the B side is a seven-track prog-rock concept piece, The Ninth Wave, inspired by the poetry of Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Side A’s “Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)” was the big hit.

There’s a lot of interesting and innovative music-making on this album, including “Hello Earth,” from the Ninth Wave song cycle. Bush brings in some guests here, including Irish uilleann (elbow) pipes virtuoso Liam O’Flynn and Irish bouzouki player Dónal Lunny, both from the band Planxty. (The bouzouki entered Irish music in the late 1960s, when some Irish musicians went on a dig to Greece and were introduced to the instrument.) The revered British choral conductor and arranger Richard Hickox leads his choir in a Georgian folk song as part of the track as well.


Her commercial success continued with The Sensual World (1989). And it wasn’t just consumers who loved her; she consistently attracted some of the most interesting artists to participate in her recording sessions. To name just a few, The Sensual World personnel line-up includes Gilmour, Lunny, violinist Nigel Kennedy, and the Balanescu String Quartet with custom arrangements by Michael Nyman.

Yet, despite an army of colleagues, Bush creates one of the album’s most intriguing moments all by herself when she layers her own voice in the opening of “Rocket’s Tail.” The result has the mesmerizing nasal sound of a Bulgarian choir. And because it’s Kate Bush, she doesn’t just give the listener a taste and then move on, but stays with that intense a cappella experience for a full 90 seconds before the hard-rock instrumental arrangement comes crashing in.


At this point, Bush’s fans were legion and openly embraced her oddities. Thus, when she released The Red Shoes (1993) in conjunction with her own experimental short film, The Line, the Cross and the Curve (starring herself and Miranda Richardson), everyone was happily on board; the album/soundtrack was a smash in the UK and a decent hit in America.

A perfect amalgam of Bush’s connection with spirituality, music, and poetry can be found in the song “Lily.” Its namesake is British healer Lily Cornford, born in 1906, founder of the Maitreya School of Healing and a longtime friend and adviser to Bush. Cornford herself opens the track with a mantra.


After The Red Shoes, at the height of her fame, Bush took a 12-year hiatus from touring and recording to raise a child. When she returned to the studio for 2005’s Aerial she had so much material that it ended up being her first double album – really two albums in one, called A Sea of Honey and A Sky of Honey, respectively.

Her most recent studio release was in 2011, when 50 Words for Snow reached the No. 7 spot on the Billboard Independent Albums list. True-blue fans were not scared away by the songs “Lake Tahoe” and “Misty,” each lasting well over 10 minutes. “Lake Tahoe” is like a mini-opera, alternating between countertenors Michael Wood and Stefan Roberts, singing in a dissonant but lyrical chorale style reminiscent of Benjamin Britten, and Bush singing a mournful, bluesy ballad.


Will there be another album? No one knows, perhaps not even the artist herself. If you need more than the official catalogue, you can enjoy plenty of covers and rare tracks on the special release The Other Sides (2019).

Header image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Stephen Luff, cropped to fit format.

Jefferson Airplane's Scheduled Stop

Jefferson Airplane's Scheduled Stop

Jefferson Airplane's Scheduled Stop

Ken Sander

I had been back in New York for a few months when my sister Ellen called and asked if I wanted to go with her to see Jefferson Airplane at Queens College. It was 1970. Sure, I replied, so she picked me up in a town car and we were driven from Manhattan out to Queens. She was on assignment for some rock magazine to do a story on the band. When we got there, we went in the backstage entrance. She asked one of the backstage security people where Grace Slick’s dressing room was. “Down the hall and first door on the right once you go around the corner.”

Standing outside her dressing room in the hallway was a very dressed up Grace Slick. She looked over at us walking up and said, “Hi Ellen!” (My sister knew everyone.) “Hey Grace, how is it going?” she asked. “Good,” Grace answered. “Grace, this is my little brother Kenny,” and Grace turned to me and said, “hi, little brother Kenny.” A little chit chat and Ellen asked, “can I leave him with you? I have to talk with the band.” Grace says sure and invites me into her dressing room. Actually, it was an empty classroom which had half of the desks and chairs pushed out of the way and the windows papered over.

Grace Slick in 1967.
Grace Slick in 1967.


Inside Grace’s dressing room were a few of her girlfriends. They were not all dressed up like Grace was, though Grace was going on stage. They looked like they have never seen the inside of a beauty parlor. Big floor-length flowing skirts, peasant blouses, no bras or makeup; they looked like clean, scrubbed hippie chicks who I assumed probably, possibly lived on a commune. We each took a chair, and we made a circle with Grace at the top of the circle and her back to the door. “Should we do some goodies?” Grace asked with a naughty smile and she pulled out her make up mirror. After partaking she passed it to her left and it moved around the room. It got to me, I did what everyone else did, and Grace said to me, “so you’re Ellen’s little brother?” I inwardly cringed. “Yes,” I said, and Grace looked at me for a few seconds is if she was considering saying something and then the moment passed, and she turned to one of her friends. To this day I wonder what she was thinking.

The show was held in a big theater and Jefferson Airplane were tight. Grace sounded good but, the sound was a little bouncy and the sound man did not hear that or did not know to simply turn the amplification down a tad, which would have solved the echo problem.

That Saturday, Jefferson Airplane was doing a free concert in Central Park at Sheep Meadow. This was something the Airplane liked to do and in fact they did many free concerts around the world. Besides there being no charge for tickets, the Airplane themselves incurred about two thousand dollars of expenses including the rental of sound equipment and the stage, and various fees. The area was cordoned off by only a thin rope and about 5,000 people showed up. It was crowded but comfortable and everyone was sitting on the lawn of soft green grass facing the stage. Back then everyone stayed in their seats.

When the Airplane took the stage, they brought buckets filled with pieces of Bazooka bubble gum. They threw the individual wrapped pieces of Bazooka bubble gum out to the audience. On the sides of the roped-off area, crew members did the same. They made sure everyone got some Bazooka gum.

Jefferson Airplane, circa 1970. Jefferson Airplane, circa 1970.

Then the Airplane started to play, and the sound was good for an outdoor concert and the audience was into it. I noticed a few pieces of gum being lobbed up to the stage, and then off to my right and a little behind me this kid stood up and threw one of the Bazooka gum pieces as hard as he could right at the performers on stage. He really put some zip on it and it would have hurt anyone it hit. Fortunately, it hit no one and the Airplane were unaware of it.

But Bill Graham (the famous concert promoter), who was standing at stage left, noticed it. Even though he was easily 200 feet away, Bill saw exactly who threw it. Bill came off the stage and started walking on the outside of the ropes towards the back of the audience, all the while staring at the teenager. The kid was unaware that Bill Graham was fixated on him. Bill lifted the rope and stepped into the audience and made his way towards the kid. Aside from Bill Graham I am probably the only one aware of what’s going on.

Stepping behind the kid, Bill yanks him to his feet and starts yelling at him. This guy is 18 or 19 years old and maybe 150 pounds. He is stunned as Bill angrily asks him, “what the hell were you thinking? Didn’t you know you could seriously injure one of the performers? That is the thanks the Airplane get for doing a free concert?” The kid is really shaken; Bill is really ferocious. After a few minutes of bawling the kid out Bill lets go of him and the kid sinks to the ground. Bill turns and walks back to the rope and steps over it. No one threw any more Bazooka gum that day.


The free concert was one of those special afternoon events that required police and parks department approval. The show lasted a little over an hour. When it was over, volunteers handed out plastic bags and asked the everyone pick up their garbage. We all did and then crowd started standing up and leaving. As the audience thinned out, I heard someone call my name and it was this guy Lance. I had met him a few times at Dr. Generosity’s, my favorite watering hole (not to be confused with the former Dr. Generosity’s on Long Island where the New York Islanders used to hang out). )With him was this beautiful girl; she looked like she was a model. She was 5 foot 8 and very slim. An American beauty, she looked like she was from the country, natural and wholesome as a nature scene.

Lance says, “do you want to smoke?” “Sure, why not,” I answer. So we go into the Ramble. The Ramble is a really overgrown part of Central Park and so thick that you can’t see very far. There are footpaths everywhere but still, because of the thickness of the vegetation it gives you a feeling of privacy. Lance pulls out a joint and lights it up. A minute or two later a New York City uniformed policeman heading north walks in on us and Lance drops the J. The cop looks down at it and says, “Do you guys want to get arrested?” and in unison we all say “no!” “Okay,” he says, “tell you what. I will let this go if you don’t do this anymore. If you do it again, I will arrest you all.” “Thank you, officer, we will not,” and he walked on his way, continuing through the Ramble.

The Ramble, Central Park, Manhattan. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Phil Whitehouse. The Ramble, Central Park, Manhattan. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Phil Whitehouse.


We just stood there in shock and then Lance picked up the J and I exclaimed, “what are you doing?” Lance said, “he is gone, don’t worry about it!” and took a puff. Getting busted for smoking pot was a big deal in this country back then, and could even result in jail time. As if on cue, a moment later another police officer walking in the same direction came into view and Lance again dropped the J. But this cop says to Lance, “how dumb are you? We give you a friggin break and it means nothing. What kind of stupid are you?”

Then the first cop came back, shaking his head. We are petrified. The original cop says, “I guess we will have to arrest you.” At that very moment Lance drops a baggie on the ground hoping no one would notice. It was a clumsy move, and everyone saw it. “That’s it,” it the cop says, “now you are under arrest,” while picking up the baggie that held a couple of reds (Seconal sleeping pills). They cuffed Lance’s hands behind his back and started taking him away. But they left us alone. Allison and I looked at each other both of us relieved like we just escaped death or some horrible fate.

We walked back to Sheep Meadow and saw the last of the stage and assorted gear being loaded into a truck. Volunteers were picking up the remaining trash and all evidence of a concert having taken place was being effectively removed.


Allison and I went back to my apartment in Murray Hill. She told me she was from Oklahoma City and her father had been Oklahoma City’s district attorney. He had been murdered in his office. A convict who that very day was released from prison had walked into her father’s office and shot him to death. Her father had prosecuted him three years prior and this man had been sentenced to prison. I was stunned; my heart went out to her. I was really upset. Allison was more pragmatic about it and she said she had been living with it for a few years and had accepted it. The night moved on and we were getting closer. She spent the night and Sunday evening she went back to her apartment.

Allison was living with three other models in one of those sponsored apartments for models. The big modeling agencies kept these large apartments (with a minimum of three bedrooms) for when their models were in town. They paid a reasonable rent and could leave at any time and move to other cities like Paris, Rome, Los Angeles, London, Tokyo and of course New York if they got work in any of those locations. All the big agencies had apartments in those cities for their clients (the models they represented). There were no leases; these were temporary residential slots managed by the specific agencies for their newer, younger girls.

These dormitories were perfect incubators for new working models, part of their getting schooled on the ins and outs of the business of being a professional model. Agencies never wanted to hear “I didn’t know,” or “nobody told me.” If you made the cut, and these girls did, then the booking agencies wanted to integrate the new talent into the business as seamlessly, efficiently, and quickly as possible. After knowing Allison for several weeks, her agency booked her for some runway work in Paris and off she went.

A few weeks later I am at Dr. G’s (Dr. Generosity’s). it was located on Second Avenue and the corner of 73rd Street. Peanuts and sawdust on the floor, good beer, and music from a great juke box. The food was excellent pub grub. I loved their lobster bisque and RBG (roast beef and garlic) and Reuben sandwiches. Sunday nights, some of the Jets and Giants would come in after the game to drink and socialize. That was when the teams played a home game. Sometimes the visiting teams would come in, too. Even the night before a game – if they had a pregame curfew they’d leave but some would sneak back. Joe Namath came in occasionally during the week; he lived nearby.

Sometimes Dr. G’s would get so crowded that Barry the owner would work the door and do a down-home style of manning the velvet rope barrier. It was a packed busy place that had a long bar and a bunch of different size tables, and one pinball machine that was always being used.

I see Lance at the bar. He walks over to me and says, “why didn’t you come to the police station and try to bail me out?” I looked at him and said, “I do not even know your last name, so how  would I find you?” He looked annoyed and shook his head. I noticed that he did not mention or ask about Allison. Though Allison and I never talked about him either. Allison and I never saw each other again. Time and distance will do that.

Header image : Jefferson Airplane in 1974.

Role Models

Role Models

Role Models

B. Jan Montana

Roy Hall’s article in the last issue triggered some disquieting school memories of my own. He reminded me of the nasty habit of many public school teachers in the 1950s and 1960s to read test scores in front of the whole class, as if they could somehow shame non-academic students into excelling at subjects for which they had no aptitude.

One of our teachers would venture a step further than that. She praised academic students like Leah and Ken as role models, and cast Donny and some others as lazy. There’s nothing like tearing down a kid’s self-esteem in public to inspire him to excel.

Donny had failed the fourth grade, but he was anything but lazy. He lived four doors down from me, and when most kids were watching TV, he could be seen working late into the evening in his father’s weathered, single-car garage, even when it was really cold.

One summer, he’d watched his father rebuild the family lawn mower, an experience that intrigued him like nothing in school. He asked to practice on trashed lawn mowers stored for parts at the local hardware store, and managed to resurrect about half of them. Before long, Donny was in demand fixing other people’s lawnmowers.  No-one rebuilds garden appliances these days as replacements can be bought so cheaply, but at that time, a lawn mower cost the equivalent of two week’s wages for most people in my neighborhood. They had them rebuilt because a new one wasn’t a viable option.

Donny didn’t know prepositions from conjunctions, but he could analyze an electrical or carburetion problem in minutes. He never grasped trigonometry, but he understood torque values and tolerances. He couldn’t locate Ecuador or Marseille on a map, but could find obscure parts that other shops said were unobtainable.

I liked Donny; we often went fishing together. But with the lawnmower repair business, he didn’t have time for that – nor homework, so he paid me to do it. I was happy to help a friend, and made some good money in the process.

We had something else in common – neither of us liked school, but for different reasons. At the time, the educational system was geared towards the slowest common denominator, much like TV today, so the academic kids were bored to tears. I always took a library book to class in order to experience something stimulating. When the local equivalent of intelligence tests was administered upon leaving public school, I scored in the high 90th percentile. Instead of expressing delight, my parents berated me for not getting better grades.

I remember my mother asking one of my teachers on parent-teacher night, “What’s the matter with him?” That was another reason I identified with Donny.

In contrast, Donny’s mother asked our principal a different question: “what’s the matter with this school’s teaching system?” That was a revelation to me. Perhaps so many Jewish kids do well because they feel their parents are their allies, rather than conspirators with the establishment?

In college, I read a book called Summerhill: A Radical Approach to Child Rearing, about a reform school in England. One chapter told the story of a new kid who threw sand against an exterior door that a staff member was painting. The staff member picked up a handful of sand himself, and threw it at the door also. The kid started laughing and the two of them gleefully covered the door in sand. When they were spent, the teacher said, “you know we’re going to have to clean up this mess and start all over again, don’t you?” And they did.

Rather than take it as a personal insult, this enlightened teacher saw the student’s behavior as a cry for attention, and turned it from a disciplinary event, which would have reinforced the kid’s negative self-image, into a life-affirming experience. I remember thinking that Donny and I could have benefitted from such an approach.

While all the other kids were riding Schwinn Sting-Ray bicycles, Donny bought a rusted ’49 Chevrolet fastback that rattled like an agricultural combine. He was two years shy of driving age, but said he liked the style. He soon had the engine torn down to the crank. A few weeks later, with his dad’s help, the car purred like a kitten. Word got around and he started tuning up neighbors’ cars. It wasn’t long before he was rebuilding heads and replacing pistons and rings. His services were in demand for the same reason neighbors had to squeeze as much life as possible from their lawn mowers.

Courtesy of Pexels/cottonbro. Courtesy of Pexels/cottonbro.

Two months prior to Donny turning 16, he failed to return to school for his last semester. No one forced him. On his 16th birthday, he started working at a local garage. Finally in a setting where his talents were understood and appreciated, Donny went from being a pariah to a star. He would have been much better off being educated in a medieval-style apprenticeship program than the “enlightened” academic system.

I finished high school a few months later and moved to a nearby town to take a job as a quality control inspector at a Goodyear rubber plant. The following year, I had enough money saved to start college in Toronto. I was up to my belt in debt when I graduated.

It was 10 years before I returned to my home town. I looked Donny up in the white pages and made arrangements to visit. He and his charming French-Canadian wife lived in a house with giant windows overlooking the golf course and beyond that, the bay.

Turns out he bought the garage where he started working at 16, and several others over the following years. Then he sold them all to establish an engine rebuilding facility which employed 31, some of whom were fellow students a decade earlier. He told me he had engine rebuilding contracts with most of the car dealers in town.

“What ever happened to Leah and Ken?” I asked, referring to the role models of our middle school teacher.

“You haven’t heard?  Leah got pregnant in grade 10 and dropped out of high school. She’s on welfare and raising her kid by herself. Ken started college in an engineering program, but got so addicted to meth, his parents forced him into a treatment center. He’s still living with them so they can keep an eye on him.”

“Lazy Donny” went on to become the president of the local business council. Last I heard, he’d retired at age 57 to Marseille in France, the ancestral home of his wife’s family. He bought a boat and spends much of his time fishing, just like when we were kids.

Marseille, France. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Chensiyuan. Marseille, France. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Chensiyuan.

Octave Records' New System Setup Disc and Book

Octave Records' New System Setup Disc and Book

Octave Records' New System Setup Disc and Book

Frank Doris

Octave Records has two new announcements this time out. The Audiophile Reference Disc SACD was created to help listeners get the best out of their stereo systems, by providing reference-quality music and test tracks.

The release of the disc coincides with the debut of the book Audiophile’s Guide: The Stereo, a comprehensive guide to system setup by PS Audio CEO Paul McGowan, and a companion to the disc.

The Audiophile Reference Disc is playable on any SACD, CD, DVD, or Blu-ray player. It also comes with a second DVD data disc containing DSD, high-resolution and standard-resolution PCM files, available for ripping to a hard drive or playing in a player. In addition, when used with PS Audio transports and DACs, the SACD DSD layer will be sent from the transport to the DAC for playback.

The Audiophile Reference Disc and Audiophile's Guide: The Stereo Book.

The master DSD and PCM files are also available for purchase and download from psaudio.com at this link.

As Paul points out, “For years I have wanted to put together a step-by-step instruction book with specific recordings tuned to each instructional step. After nearly 50 years of setting up and adjusting 2-channel audio systems, a pattern began to develop. In nearly every case, owners of high-end audio systems were making the same basic setup errors: speakers too close to the front wall, with too much toe-in; or with the soundstage forward of the speakers. The speakers didn’t ‘disappear’ as they should when set up properly.

What I discovered is that in setting up their system, listeners all had their favorite tracks where their system sounded right – but those tracks weren’t themselves right. At the back of my mind I kept wishing for a set of known reference recordings that were specific to setup instructions. Former setup discs were great for many things, but they were not specific to the basics of setup and they didn’t have an accompanying guide book.”

The Audiophile Reference Disc begins with a series of tracks for system setup starting points, including left, right and phantom center channel identification, and checking for correct phase (polarity). Subsequent music tracks facilitate more sophisticated evaluations like in-room bass response, soundstage width and depth, resolution, a system burn-in track and more.

The Audiophile Reference Disc was designed to be used in conjunction with The Audiophile’s Guide book. The Guide details each step in the stereo setup instructional process, and a corresponding reference audio track is designated to check and verify the results. The disc and book go over every aspect of getting the most out of stereo system reproduction, from a single voice to the most complex and dynamic musical passages.

Recorded and mastered using Octave Records’ exclusive DSDDirect Mastered 192kHz/24-bit process and 96kHz/24-bit and 44.1kHz/16-bit PCM, The Audiophile Reference Disc was produced using state-of-the-art high-resolution audio technology and was created for use as a true reference-quality system-evaluation tool. The disc was produced by Octave Records’ Giselle Collazo and Jessica Carson and mastered and mixed by Octave engineer Gus Skinas and Giselle. Over many weeks of mixing, each track was brought into PS Audio’s Music Room Two and auditioned on the reference system, based around Infinity IRS V loudspeakers. Paul notes, “I had the final say on what got accepted and what had to go back for additional tuning and tweaking. It was a long, long process of back and forth until we were satisfied.”

Audiophile’s Guide: The Stereo Book is subtitled “Unlock the Secrets to Great Sound” and the book explains how to achieve this. The Guide begins with a history of stereophonic sound and moves into chapters on what to listen for and how to achieve the best from an audio system, covering topics like establishing a budget, what to buy and what not to, analog vs. digital, tubes vs. solid-state, achieving a spacious “3-D” sound from loudspeakers, tuning the system to the listening room, system tweaking and fine-tuning and much more. The book can be read as a standalone reference, or used in conjunction with The Audiophile Reference Disc.

Paul adds, “The types of tracks we needed on the disc were obvious from what was required in the Guide. For example, ‘Dualities’ (a previously unreleased track by Octave Records artist Clandestine Amigo) was an obvious choice, because once you get the soundstage and imaging depth working correctly on your system, you need a way to verify you have it right.

Jessica Carson of Clandestine Amigo.
Jessica Carson of Clandestine Amigo.

During the recording of this song, we came up with the idea of measuring the distance from the singers to the microphones. Jessica and Giselle sing the first verse from three feet away, then six and nine feet away on the second and third verses. On a good system, you can hear the difference in their distances from the Tim de Paravicini-modified AKG C24 Blumlein stereo mic. Some listeners who have highly resolving systems will notice a distinct rumble on that particular track. It’s the air conditioning unit atop the roof of our warehouse where this was recorded. I consider it an Easter egg of sorts—which is why we left it in.”

Other tracks include solo acoustic and electric piano, solo acoustic guitar, live studio recordings of small and medium-sized groups, and other musical variety. “Slow Moving Ferns” delivers sonic fireworks via 32 tracks of analog and digital synthesizers recorded in pure DSD directly into Octave’s Sonoma multitrack recorder. The disc also features an all-out system-workout drum track, “Transmogrification.” It was recorded by Banshee Tree drummer Michelle Pietrafitta in PS Audio’s warehouse using the Tim de Paravicini-modified Blumlein stereo C24, along with Shure Beta 52, and SM7B Soundelux U195, beyerdynamic M201, Telefunken M80 and Audix D4 mics. This track has serious dynamic impact and if your system is up to the task, you’ll feel the bass drum hit you in the chest. Play it loud!

Chris Brunhaver and Giselle Collazo in the studio. Chris Brunhaver and Giselle Collazo in the studio.

Two Cool EPs and a Sad Tribute to a Fallen Son

Two Cool EPs and a Sad Tribute to a Fallen Son

Two Cool EPs and a Sad Tribute to a Fallen Son

Tom Gibbs

Death Cab for Cutie – The Georgia EP

Seattle-area band Death Cab for Cutie started in 1997 as a solo project for singer/guitarist and keyboardist Ben Gibbard, but those plans were soon abandoned as Gibbard’s efforts ultimately developed into a full-blown band. With nine studio releases to their credit, they came to my attention in the early 2000s when my daughter suggested I should take a listen. Over time, I’ve acquired a number of their albums; the band achieved mainstream success when several songs from 2003’s Transatlanticism were conscripted for use in both movies and television series. The follow-up album, Plans, achieved platinum sales status, bringing the band both commercial success and critical acclaim. This new release, The Georgia EP, marks their first new music since 2018’s Thank You For Today.

Ben Gibbard and Death Cab for Cutie have always been politically active – especially with getting out the vote – and they recently have been very vocal supporters of Stacy Abrams’ Fair Fight Action organization. The organization is predominantly focused on free and fair elections in America, and guaranteeing that everyone’s right to vote is recognized and unchallenged by political parties. In light of the 2020 election results – which created two US Senate seat runoffs in the state of Georgia – Gibbard wanted to do something to help raise money for Abrams’ cause. He came up with the idea of The Georgia EP; it was very quickly recorded by the band in Gibbard’s home studio, and was released for only one day on December 4, 2020 on the Bandcamp site. The EP raised $100,000 in a single day; that helped to significantly propel Abrams’ efforts in Georgia, along with wins by the two candidates they supported. The band recently supported Fair Fight Action through their participation in the Good Music to Avert the Collapse of American Democracy compilation.

Now that we’re in January 2021, The Georgia EP has been released for streaming and download on all the major sites, and it also has been made available for preorder as a peach-colored vinyl EP. The vinyl EP will ship later this year, and preorders are currently being taken on Death Cab for Cutie’s website; the EP sells for $16, and is designed as something of a treat for everyone who helped contribute to the concept’s success back on December 4th. While only a scant 17 minutes in length, the EP consists of five cover tunes from a roster of Georgia-based artists. It features covers of songs by R.E.M. (“Fall on Me”), TLC (“Waterfalls”), Neutral Milk Hotel (“The King of Carrot Flowers, Pt. 1”), Cat Power (“Metal Heart”), and the late Vic Chesnutt (“Flirted With You All My Life”). The band had produced a YouTube video that offered information on the project; the fundraising aspect of the project has ended, but hey – the guys in the band need to make a buck or two, and who’s not interested in obtaining a cool colored vinyl LP?

There’s nothing here that’s particularly groundbreaking, but the five covers are entertaining as hell; I mean, Death Cab for Cutie covering TLC’s “Waterfalls”? Whodathunkit! Gibbard channels a pretty great Michael Stipe vibe in the cover of R.E.M.’s “Fall On Me.” And their cover of Vic Chesnutt’s “Flirted With You All My Life” is one of the EP’s highlights; the late artist was a local Athens, Georgia fixture for years who – despite being championed by R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe – never quite achieved mainstream acceptance. The band’s cover of Cat Power’s “Metal Heart” is both moving and majestic in scope, with some pretty great guitar work towards the song’s end.

The sound quality of The Georgia EP was consistently great via Qobuz’s 24/44.1 digital stream, and the album has prodigious quantities of subterranean bass that literally shook my home’s foundation. I really enjoyed this release, and it’s well worth your time to check it out! Highly recommended, and I’ve already ordered my copy of the EP.

Atlantic Records, Limited Edition vinyl EP (download/streaming from Bandcamp, Qobuz, Tidal, Amazon Music, Google Play Music, Spotify, YouTube, Apple Music, Pandora, Deezer, TuneIn)


Steve Earle and the Dukes – J.T.

J.T. is Steve Earle’s homage to his late son, Justin Townes Earle, who died of an accidental drug overdose last August at age 38; he ingested a mixture of cocaine that had unknowingly been laced with fentanyl – usually an exceptionally deadly combination. Steve Earle was estranged from his son for much of his life; he was constantly on the road touring and struggling through addiction issues of his own, while his young, neglected son suffered a variety of his own addictions and numerous stints in rehab. Along with long stretches of itinerancy and general juvenile delinquency; as a youth, Justin Townes Earle was once heard to say that he was “lucky to have gotten out of it alive.” When he first achieved recognition for his early work as a musician, he was once asked what it was like to be Steve Earle’s son. “I don’t even know Steve Earle!” was his response.

In an interview prior to his death, he stated, “I can’t get a job at McDonald’s because of my criminal record. So if I don’t play music, I sell dope. I’m a criminal, and if I don’t play music, I’d probably be in prison or dead.” Justin Townes and Steve Earle eventually reconciled their differences, and though it was a work in progress, seemed to be making a good faith effort to put the past behind them. They were even label mates at New West Records; it’s really a shame that the younger Earle’s life was so tragically cut short. Steve Earle’s new album, J.T., serves multiple purposes; despite being overwhelmingly upbeat in nature, it’s definitely an expression of a father’s grief for his dead son. At the same time, it celebrates the impressive level of Justin Townes’ musical accomplishments. All proceeds from the album’s sales will go into a trust for Justin Townes Earle’s young daughter.

The album’s eleven songs consist of ten Justin Townes Earle originals scattered across his body of work. Steve Earle is accompanied as always by his backing band the Dukes, and the recordings here emphasize an energy and enthusiasm that’s anything but sadness and despair. The album opens with the rowdy and unrestrained “I Don’t Care,” which is followed with equally uptempo offerings of “Maria,” “They Killed John Henry,” and “Harlem River Blues.” Rather than a somber New Orleans wake, the atmosphere is more closely akin to a hoedown. You can credit Steve Earle’s backing band with providing the propulsion he needed to complete what must surely have been a difficult project for him. All that said, J.T. is not without its more somber moments. The drone-like “Far Away in Another Town” and the remorse of “Turn Out My Lights” make abundantly clear the trouble and turmoil that Justin Townes contended with personally and professionally. I mean, at one point, Steve Earle actually kicked Justin Townes out of his band because of his rampant drug use. With the final song, “Last Words,” penned by the elder Earle as a father’s final farewell to his son, he sings, “I was there when you were born…the last words from me were ‘I love you too.’” Steve Earle goes on to plumb the roots of Justin Townes’ troubles: “I don’t know why you hurt so bad. I just know you did and I feel so sad/You made me laugh and made me cry/I loved you for all your life.”

J.T. is a fitting tribute and sad epilogue to a troubled father-son relationship, and is well worth taking the time to give it a listen. The 24/96 digital files on Qobuz sounded superb; for yet another album that was thrown together in the midst of the pandemic, it’s shockingly well done. I can’t recommend J.T. highly enough.

New West Records, CD, LP (download/streaming Bandcamp, Qobuz, Tidal, Amazon, Google Play Music, Pandora, Deezer, Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube, TuneIn)


Judy Stuart – The Apostolic Session EP

I regularly get releases from Jim Eigo at Jazz Promo Services , often featuring incredible offerings, outrageously good recordings by previously unknown-to-me artists that were completely off my radar. At the other end of the spectrum, some of the recordings are less than memorable. When Jim contacted me about this upcoming 10-inch vinyl EP release, my interest was definitely piqued, and never being one to turn down vinyl of any provenance, I responded in the affirmative to send it on.

Upon arrival, I was impressed with the album’s packaging, which features a really nice tip-on style jacket on heavy paperboard, with a cool, noir-ish cover design, along with a very nice printed insert (also on heavy stock) with some biographical information about Judy Stuart and the session in 1969 that produced this EP. The 45 RPM EP appears to be pressed on 180-gram vinyl of indeterminate origin, although “Made in the USA” appears on the LP and throughout the packaging. While my first impression was to head to the internet to try and get more background on Judy Stuart, that proved totally fruitless other than a link to the Jazz Promo Services website, which featured scant information about the artist. Unfazed, I pulled out the enclosed insert from the EP, and in the first few sentences of the essay about the project, they admonish you not to attempt to find any information about Ms. Stuart on the ’net – because there’s nothing there! It’s almost like she never existed.

The project was initially undertaken as sort of a showcase for the talents of Judy Stuart; apparently, Vanguard records was putting together an upcoming quadraphonic LP that featured a mix of their stable of folk and jazz artists, and it was hoped that at least one of Judy’s songs would find inclusion. It was done with the intent of exposing her to a greater audience, and especially in consideration of the relative popularity of free jazz at the time. That apparently didn’t happen, even though at the time of the recording it was hoped that a record deal would be forthcoming. The sessions were never released, and Judy Stuart virtually faded into almost complete obscurity.

She was born Judy Pizzarelli into a New Jersey family of musicians; her musical relations include both Bucky and John Pizzarelli. She and her sister Joan sang on a New York radio children’s show, and they also appeared on the Ted Mack Original Amateur Hour. Joan quit the biz, but Judy continued, changing her name to Judy Stuart somewhere in the sixties, and spent eight years doing club dates with both small and large bands. She performed regularly, authored a number of plays, and even auditioned for an appearance on The Merv Griffin Show. The tune she chose for her audition was “FBI: Federal Bureau of Insanity,” which the show’s producers watched with apparent horror. Needless to say, she didn’t get the gig. After almost 50 years, the tapes were rediscovered, and the project finally moved forward for the current EP; unfortunately, Judy Stuart died before the EP could be released.

My initial listening didn’t take long – the 45 RPM EP only consists of two songs, one per side, and clocks in at about 12 minutes in total length. My first written note that characterized Judy Stuart’s voice was “Lene Lovich meets Yoko Ono.” Don’t get me wrong, it’s not quite as out there as most of Yoko’s fingernails-on-chalkboard output, but this is definitely free jazz fusion meets Woodstock-era rock, to say the least. The recording is surprisingly great, and displays a really wide and deep soundstage; the very first thing that grabbed me on side one was drummer Shelly Rusten’s propulsive downbeat. His rock solid drumming drives both of these tunes to greater heights. The drum kit occupies a very large portion of the soundstage, but when the guitars and keyboards start chiming in – think in terms of more out-there Miles Davis of the same vintage, like Bitches Brew – well, you get the picture! This was obviously a very happening session, and with the large mix of acoustic and electric instrumentation, well – there’s a lot going on here! Judy Stuart’s over-the-top vocals are definitely that; but seem a tad flat in comparison to the otherwise outstanding mix of instrumentation.

The EP was flawless in every way; it was perfectly flat, and had no scratches or surface noise of any kind. On the accompanying media leaflet that arrived with the EP, there’s mention of digital files being eventually made available on Bandcamp, Soundcloud, and YouTube, so maybe there’s hope that a wider audience can sample this most outrageous music making digitally and soon. Online purchase of the vinyl EP is available here. For the more adventurous among you, this EP is highly recommended.

Inky Dot Media, 45RPM Vinyl EP (no digital streaming or download currently available)


Issue 130

Frank Doris