Issue 153

Issue 153

Issue 153

Frank Doris

Happy New Year! I have a perhaps selfish New Year’s wish – that 2022 will be an easier year.

The Grammy Awards are coming up on January 31, 2022. But if it wasn't for the people behind the scenes – the engineers, mixers, tape ops and others – none of the music would happen. Yet they barely get recognized. For example, Jim Anderson, past president of the AES whose recordings have earned 28 Grammy nominations (including the recently-nominated Patricia Barber album Clique! reviewed by Tom Gibbs in Issue 144), told me the Recording Academy didn’t even nominate an award for Best Immersive Audio Album in 2020. (The stated reason was that COVID-19 didn’t allow the judging committee to meet. The winner will be announced this year, along with the 2021 honoree.)

Here’s to the unsung heroes of the audio world. They may not get the wardrobe consultants, makeup artists and airtime, but they are vital in creating the music that’s such an important part of our lives. (In an upcoming issue we’ll be profiling Jim Anderson and his partner in life and music, producer/engineer Ulrike Schwarz, who have more than 60 years of combined experience in audio.)

In this issue: Cliff Chenfeld gives us his favorite songs and albums of 2021. Anne E. Johnson profiles jazz drumming legend Elvin Jones, and pop/country songstress Bobbie Gentry, who walked away from fame at the height of it all. Ray Chelstowski interviews pop songwriting powerhouse Marshall Crenshaw. Tom Gibbs improves the optics of his streaming audio system. Rudy Radelic concludes his epic series on Burt Bacharach. I cover the latest Octave Records release, The Moon Leans In by singer/songwriter Thom LaFond. Tom Methans indulges in a Dirty Weekend – the Zu Audio speaker, that is. Alón Sagee misses a trusted listening companion.

Rich Isaacs finds some mind-blowing YouTube videos, of music…and more. J.I. Agnew provides Part Three of his series on record-cutting lathes. Andy Schaub proffers a parody for vinyl enthusiasts. B. Jan Montana continues his long journey. John Seetoo offers more coverage of AES Show Fall 2021 with a session with St. Vincent and a look at audio archiving. Russ Welton asks: when it comes to speakers, how much power is enough? Adrian Wu goes audio system shopping with two very different customers. Ken Kessler unravels more information about reel-to-reel tape. We kick off 2022 with a New Year’s resolution, the future sound of London, magnetic attraction, and a pleasure dome.

Staff Writers:

J.I. Agnew, Ray Chelstowski, Cliff Chenfeld, Jay Jay French, Tom Gibbs, Roy Hall, Rich Isaacs, Anne E. Johnson, Don Kaplan, Ken Kessler, Don Lindich, Stuart Marvin, Tom Methans, B. Jan Montana, Rudy Radelic, Tim Riley, Wayne Robins, Alón Sagee, Ken Sander, John Seetoo, Dan Schwartz, Russ Welton, WL Woodward, Adrian Wu

Contributing Editors:
Ivan Berger, Steven Bryan Bieler, Jack Flory, Harris Fogel, Robert Heiblim, Steve Kindig, Ed Kwok, Andy Schaub, David Snyder, Bob Wood

“Cartoon Bob” D’Amico

James Whitworth, Peter Xeni

Parting Shots:
James Schrimpf, B. Jan Montana, Rich Isaacs (and others)

Audio Anthropology Photos:
Howard Kneller, Steve Rowell

Frank Doris

Paul McGowan

Advertising Sales:
No one. We are free from advertising and subscribing to Copper is free.

 – FD

The Audiophile’s Cat

The Audiophile’s Cat

The Audiophile’s Cat

Alón Sagee

A few days ago, Hobbes, our creamsicle-colored fur-ball of 12 years was eaten by a hungry coyote. I’m trying my best not to be angry at the coyote (bastard!) that took away a huge part of our family. Forgive me if I have not been able to muster up enough Zen to be wholly successful in that endeavor.

Animals abound here in the wilds of our suburbia, which is nestled between a bay and the wilderness of a state park. Being this close to nature is something we love about our home, and yes, I do realize that these opportunistic predators, who often howl their dark choruses mere steps from our doors, are just doing what they do – unemotionally hunting down prey to feed their own families and survive the cold nights in this valley… They likely never had the thought that what they are killing is anything more than their next meal (bastards bastards bastards!).

My wife, whose heart is also shattered, pointed out that Hobbes, regardless of all the fancy food we fed him, was also a skilled predator and did much damage in his career…“yeah, but he was our predator!” I heard myself saying.

I feel compelled to write this not only as memorial to a beloved pet, the loss of which I’m sure most of us have experienced in our lives, but as testament to the clear, honest and usually unrestrained communication our domesticated animals can convey to us about our lives – even the quality of sound emanating from our elaborate audio systems.

There. I said it.

For over a decade, just about every time I set myself up for a listening session in my comfy chair smack dab in the room’s sweet spot, Hobbes would show up, insisting on lap privileges.

I realize that as cute as that is, it in itself does not seem very remarkable – but what did surprise me at first was the real-time feedback he offered on the fidelity of music reproduction, as well as his preferences of style, loudness and genre. His omni-directional ears were the key. Once I understood the meaning of their movement, or lack thereof, I knew I had a fellow aficionado in position, relaxed and ready to pass judgement on the sounds swirling around us.

When I’m auditioning or reviewing a component, speakers, tweak, or music selection, I listen at realistic acoustic concert levels, or at least with enough sonic pressure to load the room. So, here is how my cat shared his experience with me through the coded language of his ears (this could give new meaning to the term “fuzzy logic!”):

Both ears back, or both twitching rapidly: “Turn it off! Turn it off!” This verdict was usually the result of listening to a sloppy, compressed mass-market recording or an ill-conceived component that simply sounded terrible in my revealing system. If I didn’t act fast, Hobbes would immediately leap off my lap, his sharp claws engaged –– which I also imagine left that wild dog licking his wounds and sorry he picked my boy as a target! Although the feral canine eventually prevailed, it was likely with the unfair assistance of an extended pack of howling cohorts.

One ear stretching forward, one back: “Give me a minute, I’m evaluating…stand by for feedback.” I eventually learned that most challenging for my fur-clad assistant, regardless of musical genre or the effect of a foreign component inserted into a system he knew and counted on, was stridency. He was fine with any system changes, or music selections as long as they netted a rich, effortless and pleasing musical soundscape.

Both ears in neutral position: “OK, this is acceptable, you have my permission to buy this component, or continue listening to this music. I’ll be purring from this point on…”

For me, this was the coveted holy grail of inter-species collaboration.

I miss my furry orange companion and keep expecting him to waltz into my listening room at any a given moment and claim his rightful post on my lap, ears ready to render unembellished feedback on my varied audiophile adventures.

If you have (or had) an audiophile pet of your own, please share your favorite anecdotes with our extended community by leaving a comment. Thanks for reading!

Alón Sagee is Chairman and Chief Troublemaker of the San Francisco Audiophile Society. Alón’s writings for Copper can be found in the following issues:

Elvin Jones: Hall of Fame Drummer

Elvin Jones: Hall of Fame Drummer

Elvin Jones: Hall of Fame Drummer

Anne E. Johnson

There must have been some great music at home when drummer Elvin Jones was growing up in Pontiac, Michigan. He and his brothers, trumpeter Thad and pianist Hank, all turned out to be first-rate jazz virtuosos.

As a child, Elvin Jones was thrilled by the sound of drums when parades came through his neighborhood, especially for the circus. In high school he got a chance to play in the marching band on borrowed drums, but it was when he got out of the Army in 1949 that he bought his own set and started getting serious about a music career. Soon he had a gig playing drums at a club in Detroit.

Then it was time for the inevitable move to New York. He showed up with the dream of playing for Benny Goodman. Goodman listened and said no thanks. But that blow may have been a blessing in disguise. By the mid-1950s, Jones was landing live and studio work with some heavy hitters, including Charles Mingus and Sonny Rollins. And the biggest opportunity of his career came in 1962: the role of drummer in the John Coltrane Quartet.

Although he split from the Coltrane group in 1966, Jones never lacked for work. Always happy to provide rhythm for friends’ projects, he made over 100 albums. In the early 1980s he started his own orchestra, the Elvin Jones Jazz Machine, which he kept going with often-changing personnel for nearly two decades. Hoping to pay his success forward, especially to the Black community, Jones often performed or taught in schools and prisons. He died in 2004 at the age of 76.

Enjoy these eight great tracks by Elvin Jones.

  1. Track: “Four and Six”
    Album: Elvin!
    Label: Riverside
    Year: 1962

Jones was backed by his brothers plus a handful of other solid sidemen on the Elvin! album. By this point he was well established in New York. By 1962, Riverside was reaching the end of its run as an influential jazz label. It went bankrupt in 1964. Co-founder Orrin Keepnews produced for Jones.

“Four and Six” is a tune by Oliver Nelson, a composer who played saxophone and clarinet. When Elvin! was in the works, Nelson was a particularly hot name on the jazz scene, thanks to his groundbreaking 1961 album The Blues and the Abstract Truth, on the Impulse! label. The sultry bassline on this track is provided by Art Davis.


  1. Track: “Tintiyana”
    Album: Midnight Walk
    Label: Atlantic
    Year: 1966

The Midnight Walk album finds Jones in a septet, including his brother Thad on trumpet. The tracks are mostly original material composed by individual members of the ensemble. Pianist Dollar Brand (later Abdullah Ibrahim) wrote “Tintiyana.”

Jones was noted for his love of polyrhythms. Brand’s piano introduction sets up at least two meters at once for the drummer to play with when he enters at 1:40, in what seems to be a third rhythmic pattern, while the horns deliver a melody in 6/8. The density of the resulting syncopation is dizzying.


  1. Track: “Shinjitu”
    Album: Coalition
    Label: “Blue Note”
    Year: 1970

In 1966 Jones married his second wife, Keiko Jones. The Japanese pianist would remain at his side, even touring with him, for the rest of Elvin’s life. Although her training was in classical music, she absorbed the jazz that surrounded her marriage and turned it into compositions for her husband.

One example is “Shinjitu,” the opening track on Coalition. Jones recorded this multiple times and performed it often, including at John Coltrane’s memorial service in 1967. The Asian-influenced melody is pentatonic, leaving out the second and sixth notes of the scale. Cuban percussionist Candido Camero provides the atmospheric tambourine.


  1. Track: “What’s Up? – That’s It”
    Album: Mr. Jones
    Label: Blue Note
    Year: 1973

Of the many records Jones made for Blue Note, Mr. Jones is one of the best. It’s produced by Blue Note regulars Francis Wolff (who also functioned as the label’s photographer) and George Butler. It’s a typically high-quality collection of musicians. This track is heavy on the saxophones: Pepper Adams plays baritone, Steve Grossman plays tenor, and Dave Liebman is on soprano. Jones’ drum set is enhanced by the percussion of Carlos Valdes and Frank Ippolito.

Gene Perla, who covers acoustic and electric bass for this album, composed the bebop tune “What’s Up? – That’s It.” Even if it’s  just to be amazed at Jones’ rhythm and volume control on the opening roll alone, this great piece is worth a listen.


  1. Track: “Inner Space”
    Album: The Prime Element
    Label: Blue Note
    Year: 1976

Blue Note rifled through its archives of unreleased material to put together The Prime Element, which consisted of studio tracks from 1969 and 1973. Given that the two-LP set featured only a couple of tracks per side, one wonders if these were tunes that spun out too long during sessions and wouldn’t fit on standard albums.

From the 1973 sessions comes Chick Corea’s “Inner Space.” It’s a dissonant post-bop exploration punctuated by Jones’ hi-hat work. George Coleman and Steve Farrell trade off tenor sax solos, and Lee Morgan makes a gorgeous appearance on trumpet. Starting around 4:40, Jones takes a solo, finding timbres and registers most people don’t even know are available on a drum kit.


  1. Track: “Moon Dance”
    Album: Time Capsule
    Label: Vanguard
    Year: 1977

For Time Capsule, Jones and company went for a funk vibe, a choice very much of its time in 1977.

Jones brushes the cymbals like they’re fairy wings on “Moon Dance.” This is not the Van Morrison song, but a bossa nova by alto saxophonist Bunky Green, who also plays here. There are also notable solos on electric piano by Kenny Barron and, perhaps the track’s highlight, by guitarist Ryo Kawasaki.


  1. Track: “Sweet Mama”
    Album: Very R.A.R.E.
    Label: Trio
    Year: 1980

Although the tracks for Very R.A.R.E. were recorded at the Van Gelder Studios in New Jersey where Jones often played, the album was first released on the Japanese Trio label. It represents a change from the many septet and octet albums of the 1970s, featuring only a traditional jazz quartet comprising Jones, Art Pepper on alto sax, Roland Hanna on piano, and Richard Davis on bass.

“Sweet Mama” is another Gene Perla tune. It’s designed like a rondo, with a recurring chorus in which the saxophone melody is divided into clear statements, laid against a rhythmically spidering drum part. Each time we hear that chorus, it’s followed by new, contrasting material.


  1. Track: “Bekei”
    Album: Momentum Space
    Label: Verve
    Year: 1998

Blue Note, Vanguard, Verve – Jones played for many of jazz’s top labels. Momentum Space, on Verve, is a trio effort co-starring Dewey Redman on saxophone and Cecil Taylor on piano. It is from very late in Jones’ career, when he was 70.

Most of the tracks are credited to Taylor, but Jones wrote the drums-only “Bekei.” This is mesmerizing, experimental stuff. The drums seem to become a living creature wandering, walking, running, crashing through a forest. The technique involved is truly astonishing.

A Tale of Two Different Systems

A Tale of Two Different Systems

A Tale of Two Different Systems

Adrian Wu

I was recently asked by two friends (independently of one another) to help them build their new audio systems.

Other than replacing my phono cartridge with another of the same model recently, I have not bought a new piece of hi-fi equipment since buying my current DAC about seven years ago. Not having kept up with reviews of new equipment, I am quite outdated on what is available on the market. I have therefore subscribed to The Absolute Sound and Stereophile in a bid to brush up on my knowledge.

To help my friends with their systems, I had to first understand their needs. My old friend Freddie is getting ready for his retirement two years from now. He just bought a house, and is currently planning its renovation. He wants to have a dedicated room for music and movies, and prudently decided to incorporate acoustic treatment during the renovation. To make life more difficult for me, Freddie’s wife is one of the most popular pop/folk singers of her generation in Hong Kong; if you have ever watched some of the Hong Kong TV series from the 1970s and 1980s and are familiar with the theme songs, you would know her voice. Freddie himself is highly knowledgeable in Cantonese opera. He is also getting into classical music, especially large-scale orchestral masterpieces. He has been using CD as his main source for the past three decades, but he had also wisely put all his LPs into storage (rather than getting rid of them), and he now wants to get back into vinyl playback. He initially reached out to a friend who distributes several extremely exotic brands of high-end equipment. However, after visiting his friend’s showroom several times, he became utterly confounded. He told me he found the sound very unnatural, and could not relate to the price tags at all. In fact, he listened to a recording of a famous Cantonese opera singer, and did not even recognize her voice, even though he had known her personally for more than three decades!

Freddie is currently using a pair of Magico S5 loudspeakers, which he drives with a Gryphon integrated amplifier. The Magico speakers have a claimed sensitivity of 88 dB at 2.83V, but having a nominal 4-ohm impedance, the figure is in reality 85 dB at 1W. Even though the Gryphon is rated at 600 watts into 4 ohms, he notices that the soundstage collapses during loud and complex orchestral passages. I get the feeling that Freddie places more emphasis on the visceral aspects of the sound, such as the dynamics, soundstage, imaging and transparency. After listening to my horn setup, he decided that he wants a system that can get close to life-like dynamics.


Magico S5 loudspeakers.


Those of you who have read my previous articles should know by now that I am quite opinionated on the best way to achieve good sound. I count dynamics and tonal balance as the two most important qualities. I strongly believe that in order to achieve anything that remotely resembles real-world dynamics, one needs to have sensitive speakers. Here, I am talking about a minimum sensitivity of 95 dB/1W/1m, and preferably greater than 100dB. Some people will argue that power comes cheap nowadays. However, driving insensitive (inefficient) speakers with powerful amplifiers comes with its own set of problems. Most inefficient speakers usually have rather nasty impedance curves, which means merely looking at amplifier power output figures would not account for how well an amplifier can drive such speakers.

Also, high power means increased heat dissipation at a loudspeaker driver’s voice coil, and the associated rise in temperature will result in thermal compression. Amplifier distortion levels also go up as power output increases. Furthermore, high-power amplifiers often employ parallel output devices, and it is difficult to find perfectly matched transistors or tubes. Any mismatch will again increase distortion. High-quality, high-power amplifiers are therefore expensive. With high-sensitivity speakers, on the other hand, an amplifier can stay in Class A operation most if not all of the time. Efficient driver designs such as compression drivers have much smaller diaphragm excursions, thus lowering driver distortion by an order of magnitude, and they also have a much faster transient response. I also strongly believe in doing away with passive crossovers. These networks complicate the impedance behavior, reduce power efficiency, and invariably muddy the sound even if they make use of very high-quality components.

Freddie had spent a significant sum on his Magico speakers not so long ago, and he also likes their character. He is therefore reluctant to change them. He is keen to find an amplifier that will transform the sound of the speakers. He went back to the dealer who sold him the system, and the dealer recommended auditioning a pair of monoblocks from Constellation Audio. My friend was indeed very impressed with the sound, until he found out how much the amplifiers cost and almost fell out of his chair. At least, he now knows what his speakers are capable of.

I took Freddie to visit my friend Edward at his showroom. I remember hearing Edward’s setup at this summer’s Hong Kong high-end audio show and came away mightily impressed. He had a pair of Kaiser Acoustics loudspeakers driven by Kondo tube electronics. He actually sold that pair of speakers at the show, and in any case, the cost of this setup is, shall we say, slightly out of our price range. Edward promised that he would put something together appropriate to Freddie’s needs. Two weeks later, we went back to the showroom. Since Freddie wanted to buy a record player, Edward had set up the SME Synergy, which is an integrated package of turntable, tonearm (SME IV), cartridge (Ortofon MC Windfeld Ti) and phono preamplifier (designed by Nagra). Since I am a fan of SME (3012 tonearm), Ortofon (SPU Classic) and Nagra (IV-S and T-Audio tape machines), this sounded very exciting to me. The record player has the legendary SME build quality: smooth, solid, no-nonsense, form follows function.

SME Synergy turntable system.


Amplification duty was fulfilled by a preamp and stereo power amplifier from YS Sound of Japan, driving a pair of Zellaton Plural EVO speakers. While the speakers are comparable to Freddie’s Magico, the amplifiers are even more expensive than the Constellation. Edward also had a surprise for us. He did not recognize Freddie’s wife during our first meeting, since everyone was masked. However, he soon figured it out after we left. He pulled out an LP of the first commercial recording she made, at the age of 16! This was well before she became famous, and few people even know this record exists. The sound quality of the LP was, to put it politely, serviceable. We listened to a range of recordings including large orchestral works, vocal, jazz, and some classic rock. The record player acquitted itself well. It has good pitch stability and dynamics. It doesn’t quite achieve the transient attack of my modified Garrard 301, but nonetheless, it sounds solid and rhythmic. Most importantly, it does not blur the leading edge of notes or have audible wow on piano music like many belt-drive tables. It sensibly uses a very short rubber belt between the motor pulley and the sub-platter, minimizing the stretching of the belt while maintaining a tight coupling. I thought the whole package represented excellent value for the sound and the build quality.

I told Freddie that the best course of action would be to wait until his music room is ready, and I will then arrange the loan of several amplifiers for home auditioning. I suspect the top-end amplifiers from manufacturers such as Parasound and Bryston, known for their excellent price/performance ratios, will fulfill Freddie’s requirement. There might perhaps be other tweaks that we can employ to improve the sound without having to change the amplifier.

Beatrice is a family friend going back to my school days. She was in fact my older sister’s classmate. She is a very knowledgeable enthusiast of jazz and classical music. She too has just bought a new flat, which she is currently renovating. The living room will be much more spacious than her current abode, and she is keen to acquire a new music system. I tried to persuade her to include acoustic treatment in her architectural plan, and even introduced her to my friend James the architectural acoustics expert. However, she is resistant to the idea of spoiling the aesthetics of the living room in order to improve the sound. I will therefore wait until the room is ready, and then try to correct any potential problems in ways that are aesthetically acceptable. Her current system is comprised of an early Quad CD player, 44 preamplifier and 405 amplifier, and a pair of Rogers LS3/5a speakers, which her brother bought for her once upon a time. I told her that the electronics are not worth keeping, and she is better off with new floorstanding speakers, given the larger size of the new living room and the fact that she enjoys orchestral music. The LS3/5as are small enough to put into storage, and these speakers also fetch a pretty penny on the second-hand market in Hong Kong. She has a budget of HK$200,000 (US$25,000), and wants to continue to enjoy her large collection of CDs. From our conversations, I gather she places more emphasis on the tonality of the sound and its emotional impact on the listener.


Rogers LS3/5a loudspeakers. There’s a reason these have been around for a very long time.


Thinking that she is used to the classic British hi-fi sound, I took her to audition Tannoy speakers. The distributor’s showroom had a pair of Westminster Royal GR on demo, which were too large and too expensive for my friend. They also had a pair of Turnberry GR on demo, which we listened to. The speakers were driven by Esoteric amplifiers from Japan. The speakers each have a single 10-inch dual-concentric driver, which is the dual-concentric driver I prefer, finding the larger drivers too slow for my taste. My friend found the sound lacking in treble energy; and that the ambience of the acoustic space could have been better, and the soundstage was constricted and lacked depth. The driver sits too low for the typical seating height of a listener, and I suspect the off-axis response of the dome tweeter rolls off quite quickly. After tilting the speakers back, there was some improvement, but I still thought the high frequencies should have been better. The speakers are also quite polite in terms of dynamics. They sounded nice with chamber and vocal music, and were never strident, but their performance with orchestral music did not excite me. Worse still, the distributor did not have stock and estimated a waiting time of at least six months. Supply chain problems, apparently.

I then remembered reading a review of a rather unusual speaker called the Zu Audio Soul VI. This company is based in Utah, and they produce high-sensitivity loudspeakers with full range drivers that do not employ passive crossovers. This immediately ticked several boxes on my list. They are also very reasonably priced, and their Hong Kong distributor is a well-established specialist in tube audio. I arranged an audition, and upon arrival at the shop, which is located in a grassroots district of Kowloon, we found ourselves in a showroom crammed full of a vast array of antique and modern tube equipment, as well as exotic NOS tubes in display cabinets.

It turned out that they did not have the Soul VI, as it had only just been released. My friend, however spied a handsome pair of larger speakers in white at the back. They were the top of the range Definition IV, which the dealer was willing to sell at half price since a newer model would be arriving in the spring. Each speaker has two of Zu’s in-house designed 10-inch full range drivers, made of treated paper pulp. They are augmented by a horn tweeter based on the Radian 850 compression driver, and a 12-inch bottom-firing powered subwoofer. The level, corner frequency, phase and parametric EQ adjustments for the subwoofer are at the back of the speakers, allowing the user to tailor the bass response according to the room acoustics. The full-range drivers do not employ crossovers. The result is an 8-ohm speaker with a sensitivity of 101 dB/1W/1m and a very benign impedance curve.


Zu Audio Definition IV loudspeakers.


As my friend will continue to listen to CDs, an Audio Note UK CD player was used. We initially auditioned the speakers with the Rogue Audio Cronus Magnum III integrated amplifier, which uses push-pull KT90 beam tetrodes for output. My initial impression was not too positive, since the string tone did not sound right, and the amp was quickly changed to a Melody Marklos integrated amplifier using four 2A3 directly-heated triodes per channel in parallel push-pull configuration. The missing overtones of the strings were immediately restored, giving the sound more body. I was very surprised by how great the difference was between the two amps; the first amp made the string instruments sound hard and artificial, whereas the second amp restored the resonance of the sound box, giving the sound back its character and warmth. Similar to my horn speakers at home, these speakers magnify the most minute details. I suspect this might be due to the lack of a crossover and the high sensitivity of the drivers, allowing subtle differences to come through loud and clear.

We then changed to an Audio Note UK Meishu Tonmeister single-ended 300B integrated amplifier. The sound took another leap forward. We could now hear the subtler dynamic changes, and the small inflections in the bowing of the strings and the shaping of the phrases. There was a spaciousness to the soundstage, and the music flowed with ease. The system gained the ability to make one think, even for a fleeting moment, that the performance was real. This is one of the few systems I have heard that make CDs sound great.

Suitably impressed with this setup, we made another appointment for a re-audition two weeks later. This time, I brought some of my favorite demonstration LPs to play on the Nottingham Hyperspace turntable. This system sounded relaxed, and never gave an impression of being over-taxed even with highly dynamic large-scale orchestral music. The tone just sounded right, which is more than I can say for many high-end systems I have heard, regardless of their cost. You could tell a viola from a violin, and you would not confuse an oboe for a clarinet. Most importantly, the system could effectively convey the emotional impact of a performance. With the sound of this system, I found more similarities than differences to my system at home. My system also uses 300B triodes, but in a push-pull configuration. However, I use plasma tweeters and field coil drivers, and the cost of the raw drivers alone is more than what these Zu speakers cost at list price. And, I have to go to the trouble of using an electronic crossover and tri-amplification, with all the attendant complications. Of course, the Zu speakers do not reach the same level of dynamism as my speakers, nor do they have the same scale of presentation, but they are also physically a lot smaller. After two hours of listening, my friend took out her credit card and bought the system.

The experience of the past two months has left me rather confused. I originally thought that it should not be difficult to help Freddie with his quest, given the much larger budget he has at his disposal. It turned out that his insistence in only looking at equipment with a high reputation amongst hi-fi reviewers has become a handicap. On the other hand, my friend Beatrice, who has absolutely no knowledge whatsoever of high-end audio, and who has never read a hi-fi magazine in her life, managed to find the perfect system for herself. This reminds me of a very wealthy friend who is an accomplished amateur cellist. He was the first in Hong Kong to buy a pair of the top model from a very well-known high-end loudspeaker brand. He later heard another pair of speakers at a friend’s place that cost about 1/50th of his speakers at home, and he was sufficiently impressed to buy a pair himself. He confessed to me that he normally listens to this pair of cheap(er) speakers, and only uses his expensive speakers when friends come to visit.

Header image: Zellaton Plural EVO loudspeakers.

Fun With YouTube

Fun With YouTube

Fun With YouTube

Rich Isaacs

YouTube is an amazing place. You can see stuff there that you never imagined. You can also spend the rest of your life chasing videos that come up as suggestions on the right-hand side of the screen. It’s a real problem when there is more than one of interest in that lineup – if you click on one, the others disappear and you will get a completely different set of suggestions. I’ve taken to writing down all the titles I want to check out before I leave any page. Of course, another rabbit hole is checking out the comments for any given video.

The musical talent on display can be mind-boggling. I’ve gathered a few that made my jaw drop, along with some non-music-related ones that I found particularly entertaining.

Kid Shreds on Accordion

Thirty-eight-year-old Ukrainian bayan (button accordion) player Alexander Hrustevich was featured in one of Paul’s Posts some time back. That video showed him at a later stage in life than this one. I can’t tell how old he is here, but he looks like a teenager. The dexterity on display as he plays an excerpt from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons will blow your mind. He creates a positively orchestral sound using all his fingers.

The comments are all laudatory, but my favorite one is “That is some kick ass accordianizing (sic). What goes on in someone’s brain to make them capable of that? I have trouble chewing gum and typin…urk…gargh… …medic…”


Dirty Loops

A bass-playing friend of mine turned me on to these guys. If you haven’t heard or seen them, buckle up. Hailing from Stockholm, Sweden, Dirty Loops is a trio comprised of Jonah Nilsson (keyboards and vocals), Henrik Linder (bass), and Aron Mellergård (drums). True to their name, some pre-programmed sounds are included in the mix, but their instrumental prowess is really impressive. With star-quality looks and a strong pop-soul voice, Jonah is the front man, but musicianship is the real star here. The rhythm section is a monster. Henrik plays a five-string (fretless?) electric bass, and Aron kills it on the drums. This track (“Work Sh*t Out”) starts out poppy and then veers into full-on heavy jazz fusion.

Even the credits on this professionally produced video are worth checking out, as there’s a good bit of humor on display (Liaison to the UN, among others).

Favorite comment: “Find someone that looks at you like this bass player looks at the drummer!”


Carry On Wayward Son

A very young (10?) Japanese girl walks onto the stage for a recital wearing black Capri pants and a purple hoodie, a long white feather boa and a black hat. She sits down at a large, two-manual electronic keyboard, flips her boa out of the way, and proceeds to perform a spot-on rendition of the Kansas hit. Sure, the drums are pre-programmed, but she is covering all the instruments (solos included) with both hands and both feet. A year later, she did a killer performance of Rush’s “YYZ.” A most unlikely prog rock fan with incredible talent.


Steve Moore – The Mad Drummer

What fun! I stumbled onto this one because the heading was “This drummer is at the wrong gig.” Watch with glee as Steve Moore (drummer for cheesy-cool cover band Rick K and the Allnighters) mugs, flails and twirls his sticks while keeping a solid beat as the band does ZZ Top‘s “Sharp Dressed Man.“ If this doesn’t segue directly into their performance of “Wipeout,” find it – frontman Rick K joins Steve on the same drum set for a crazy choreographed performance that must have taken a fair bit of rehearsal. I’d pay to see them.


Antoine Baril – One Man Genesis

This is not fair. No one, I mean no one, should have the breadth of instrumental talent on display here, without giving me one-tenth of it. The music of early Genesis is some of my favorite listening, and it is not simple stuff. Canadian Antoine Baril plays all the instruments (keyboards, bass, guitar, and drums) to create a faithful medley of instrumental passages. To top it off, he did the video shoot and editing himself! (He’s done the same with music from Yes and Rush.) A few years back, he was a member of the most authentic Genesis tribute band, The Musical Box, playing the Phil Collins drum parts.


Backyard Squirrel Maze 1.0 – Ninja Warrior Course

Former NASA engineer Mark Rober is one twisted, talented, and entertaining guy. The first creation of his that I ran across was a glitter bomb package designed to exact revenge on “porch pirates.” This one came about because of his frustration with supposedly “squirrel-proof” bird feeders. The obstacles he puts in the squirrels’ way are hilarious. There’s a 2.0 version, as well, with different challenges for the squirrels.

He’s done so many outrageous feats of engineering that you could spend a lot of time just following his videos.


Automatic Strike Bowling Ball

Another Rober invention. I’m a league bowler, so when I saw the heading for this one, I had to check it out. He took a bowling ball, hollowed it out, and installed some electro-mechanical wizardry that allows him to control the movement of the ball with a transmitter on his back, simply by leaning his body in the desired direction. I need this.


Right Up Our Alley

This is an amazing continuous-flight drone video that begins across the street from a bowling alley, zooming in and all around the lanes and snack bar, even going behind the lanes along a very narrow pathway where the pin-setting machinery resides before coming out again, only to follow a ball right into the pins. The snippets of conversations that they captured are pretty interesting, too. I’m guessing that they had to take a number of tries before getting this one.


I hope that most, if not all, of these were new to you (and of interest). There’s plenty more where they came from.

Header image: Dirty Loops.

Bobbie Gentry: Enjoying Fame…and Solitude

Bobbie Gentry: Enjoying Fame…and Solitude

Bobbie Gentry: Enjoying Fame…and Solitude

Anne E. Johnson

Born in 1942 as Roberta Streeter, country singer Bobbie Gentry was raised by her father and grandparents in rural Mississippi. She wrote her first song, about the family dog, when she was seven. And while she only made a handful of albums, she is remembered today as a pioneer for women songwriters in the music industry.

When she went to live with her mother in California as a teen, Streeter gave herself her stage name, Ruby Gentry (later changed to Bobbie), after the title character in a 1952 Jennifer Jones film. The start of her career was hardly typical of a country star. While gigging at night in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, she studied philosophy at UCLA and then music theory and composition at the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music.

Titan Records signed her to record duets with Jody Reynolds in 1966 after the two had performed some concerts together. While those singles didn’t go anywhere, the experience got her foot further in the door of the music industry. In 1967, things really started happening for Gentry. Her launch to success was made possible by an extraordinary song that she wrote. “Ode to Billie Joe” is a story, almost a prose-poem, that captures in detail a family’s reaction over dinner to hearing about the suicide of a local young man. The more you listen to it, the more you want it to turn into a novel.

Intrigued by the demo, Capitol Records offered Gentry a contract. Soon much of America was listening to Billie Joe’s strange tale. Her hometown in Mississippi named September 30 Bobbie Gentry Day. Taking advantage of the single’s momentum, Capitol named Gentry’s first album Ode to Billie Joe (1967). All but one of its ten tracks were Gentry originals, including the autobiographical “Chickasaw County Child.” Jimmy Haskell wrote the syncopated string arrangements. Her style is a distinctive blend of blues, country, and folk rock.


The success of the first album was in part thanks to the vision of producer Kelly Gordon, who would go on to produce several of Gentry’s albums. He took the helm again for The Delta Sweete (1968). Some critics refer to this record’s style as blue-eyed soul, but soul-flavored country might be the better label. Gentry’s rich, husky voice always sounds as authentic as it is whimsical.

This is a concept album, in a way, exploring many aspects of life in the American South. Writing only about half the tracks herself, Gentry used the opportunity to demonstrate her idiosyncratic taste in songs. The most interesting songwriters often have the keenest ear for other artists’ music, and Gentry was no exception. Among the covers on The Delta Sweete is Mose Allison’s “Parchman Farm.”


Later in 1968, Capitol released Local Gentry. The title came from a Las Vegas show that she and her sisters had developed for Howard Hughes, who owned Caesar’s Palace, where they were billed as the Local Gentry.

Three of the tracks on this album are Beatles covers: “Eleanor Rigby,” “The Fool on the Hill,” and “Here, There and Everywhere.” Her voice is in its prime, dark and complex, which gives the Lennon/McCartney numbers added weight. Gentry shows that she’s learned a lot from the Beatles in “Casket Vignette,” a sardonic and macabre song she wrote about choosing the fabric to line a late husband’s coffin.


Despite all her touring and the residency in Las Vegas, Gentry laid down enough tracks in 1968 to fill a third album that year. This was a collection of duets called Bobbie Gentry and Glen Campbell. Commercially, it was a massive success; artistically, it allowed Gentry to lean into her country roots while giving Campbell – royalty of country music by that time – a chance to explore some material from the contemporary pop world, such as Simon and Garfunkel’s arrangement of “Scarborough Fair/Canticle.”

Two of the singles, “All I Have to Do Is Dream” and “Little Green Apples,” quickly turned into hits. Another fine track, particularly because of its vocal arrangement reminiscent of bluegrass mountain harmony, is John Hartford’s “Gentle on My Mind.”


Gentry’s next solo album, Touch ’Em with Love, followed in 1969. She recorded this one in Nashville, with Kelso Herston as producer. A guitarist and songwriter himself, Herston also worked in the studio with Wanda Jackson and Sonny James. Capitol was keen to push Gentry further into the blue-eyed soul sound and farther from country, since her previous two solo albums hadn’t sold as well as anticipated.

Another change is that only one of the tracks was written by Gentry. But when the covers are as interesting as Jimmy Webb’s “Where’s the Playground, Johnny,” that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Glen Campbell had released this same song as a single just a few months earlier, and had quite a success with it. Gentry’s version did not get the same attention, but her heartfelt singing makes hers the better recording.


Capitol’s attempts to bump up Gentry’s numbers didn’t have much impact on Touch ’Em with Love, but she fared better with Fancy in 1970. This sold especially well in the UK, where country- and blues-tinged pop music was all the rage. Gentry’s own song, “Fancy,” opened the album and was a hit single, as was “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” (although not as big as Dionne Warwick’s version).

Again, the album includes a lot of worthwhile covers. Among them is Leon Russell’s “Delta Man.” The New Orleans-style arrangement by Tommy Oliver was performed by unnamed session musicians at Rick Hall’s celebrated FAME studios at Muscle Shoals, Alabama.


Patchwork (1971) was Gentry’s seventh album in five years. Capitol was constantly after her to control her style. Music critics seemed to be unable to write about her work without using the word “sexy.” The hassles of the music industry were outweighing the benefits, and this gifted and intelligent woman was reaching the end of her patience. So she committed herself to this one more album.

For the first time, she took on the responsibilities of producer herself and crafted a country album the way she wanted to. She also wrote all the songs herself; one gets a sense of what she would have wanted all her albums to sound like if she’d been in charge of them. The record bombed commercially, but not critically. She had crafted something she could be proud of.

A highlight is “Billy the Kid.” This is not your (great-)grandfather’s “Billy the Kid.” Unlike the 1927 song of that title that Marty Robbins made into a hit, Gentry focuses with dark humor on the anti-hero’s psychology and how society mishandled him.


Gentry was tired of being a celebrity and a sex symbol. Although she continued to make occasional appearances for the next ten years, after Patchwork she never made another record. In 1982, at the age of 40, she officially retired and has kept her life private since then. Her career may have been short, but it mattered a lot.

Pilgrimage to Sturgis. Part 11

Pilgrimage to Sturgis. Part 11

Pilgrimage to Sturgis. Part 11

B. Jan Montana

Melody was at my cabin door at 7 am just like the morning before. We enjoyed another great breakfast with her parents and their guests at the trout fishing lodge. When I told her I’d better get back to Spearfish City Campground before the renegades sent out search parties, she asked to go with me. I looked over at her dad. He approved with a shrug and a nod, just like the day before.

The ride to Spearfish was gorgeous, with a bright sun glistening off every pond, lake, and creek. My BMW R90S was purring like a kitten and everything seemed right with the world. The sign at the outskirts of the city appeared all too soon.

The streets were still relatively quiet, as was the campground, but there was something missing from my campsite. There were no renegades. There was an old guy sitting at one of the two picnic tables on my site. He was making some coffee on a backpacking stove. Nearby was his tent and a well-used Gold Wing.

“You must be Montana,” he said; “Candy asked me to tell you that your group left yesterday. She wanted me to give you this.” He held out a piece of paper.

We got off my bike and walked to the picnic table.

“You want some coffee?” he asked. “Sure do,” Melody responded. We sat down and read Candy’s note.

“Dear Montana, Mr. Thurston asked if he could park in your site, and as we were packing up anyway, we said OK. He’s a very nice man so I hope you don’t mind. We had to leave for Des Moines to attend Red’s funeral. He has an aunt there. We’ll only be there for a day, then we’re heading home to Minneapolis. Chip wants you to come visit and stay at his house. Please say yes?”

Mr. Thurston handed us both a cup of coffee and proceeded to make some oatmeal. “I’ve got extra,” he offered, but we declined as we were still stuffed with the breakfast Melody’s parents had provided.

“Where are you from, Mr. Thurston?” I asked.

“Please, call me Bert. I’m originally from Seattle, where I started a commercial packaging business.”

“So how long have you been on the road?”

“Six years.”

We must have responded with a puzzled look.

“Let me explain. A couple of years after my wife died, I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given six months to live. That brought me to my knees. First my wife and now this? My son knew that I’d always wanted to ride coast to coast on a motorcycle and he convinced me that now was the time. So I put him in charge of my business, bought this Gold Wing, and took off. That was six years ago and I’ve been doing it ever since except for the winter months, which I spend at my place in Palm Springs.”


A 1988 Honda Gold Wing GL1500.


“You look pretty darn healthy for a guy with cancer,” Melody commented. “What happened to the six-month prognosis?”

“That’s what I wondered,” Bert responded, “So, last summer I went back to Seattle to see my oncologist. He thought he was seeing a ghost. I’ve never seen a doctor so bewildered. He repeated all the tests and told me I was cancer-free!”

“Maybe he got the tests wrong the first time?” Melody suggested.

“First thing he did was check his files, and he told me he got nothing wrong. He said I must have had a spontaneous remission. Apparently this is very rare, but it happens. Go figure!”

“There’s got to be more to it than that, Mr. Thurston; there’s something else at play here.” I ventured.

“I thought so too, “Bert responded, “so I spent much of last winter doing research in Palm Springs.

I learned that the most common precursor to illness is not genetics or lifestyle, it’s loneliness and alienation. But I was always too busy for that, so it had to be something else.

The second most common precursor is stress. I had lots of that. Running a factory will stress anyone out. My days were consumed with worry about deadlines, cash flow, employee morale, customer dissatisfaction, supply chains, and lawsuits. I’d wake up each morning in fear of what could go wrong.

But since I’ve retired, I don’t worry about anything. I’m loving life. I never know where I’ll end up today and couldn’t care less. And I have all day to chat with nice folks like you.”

“That’s a big change in lifestyle,” Melody remarked; “maybe that’s why the illness went away?”

“I’m quite sure it is my dear. I’ve learned that once the stress was gone, so were the stress hormones that triggered the cancer. That gave my body the opportunity to heal itself. I want to read you a quote that I carry with me all the time.”


Formation of new blood vessels. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/r Piotr Cywoniuk, Foundation of Research and Science Development, Poland.


He fumbled for a card in his wallet. “OK, it’s by Steve Cole, an epigeneticist at UCLA’s School of Medicine. ‘A cell is a machine for turning experience into biology.’

When my primary experience was stress, my body’s cells were constantly on full alert for the flight or fight response. Now that the stress is gone, they use that energy for renewal and regeneration. As a result, I feel happy, healthy, and wake up exhilarated.”

“That’s brilliant, Mr. Thurston; I’d never thought of illness that way,” Melody said. “If you don’t mind, how old are you now?”

“Please, Montana, call me Bert. I’m 72 and partying in the Black Hills with a bunch of people half my age. I’ve put 190,000 miles on my bike and seen almost every part of the continental US. Next summer, I’m riding to Alaska.”

“Wow, I’ve been there, that’ll be quite a challenge!” I remarked.

“I can hardly wait!” he exclaimed.

We chatted for a long time. Bert was excited to tell us about his travels. We were pleased to listen.

One incident I remember was about a flat tire he got on Highway 2 in Idaho. It’s a lonely road, and near dark, a passing rancher offered help. He loaded the Gold Wing onto the forks of his tractor and Bert sat on the fender. Bert spent the night with the man’s family, and the next day, they loaded his bike unto a pickup truck. The rancher’s son drove it to a dealer in Spokane, Washington, where Bert had a fresh tire installed. He took the kid out to lunch, but he refused to take any money. So Bert mailed the family a check.

When it became apparent that Melody was getting antsy, Bert declared, “Now if you don’t mind, I’ve got to get ready to watch the flat track races in Sturgis.”

As Bert wandered off to wash his dishes, Melody and I talked about the day’s plans.

“Well,” she said, “You can spend the day on the freeway trying to catch up with your group, or we can enjoy one of the most magical experiences that you’ll ever have.

“I thought we did that in the Badlands yesterday.”

She smiled.

“You be the navigator?” I said.

We gassed up on the outskirts of Spearfish and Melody directed me west on I-90, then north towards Belle Fourche in the direction of the swimming hole the renegades had taken me to the week prior. A few miles shy of that, we turned left onto a farm road. It was a dusty ride past a mile of corn fields. I assumed we’d pull into the driveway of a Victorian farmhouse on the right, but Melody waved me on.

Judging by the row of trees, I knew we were getting near the river. We turned left into a dusty parking lot. An Airstream trailer was parked near the water. Several cars were parked nearby. There was no-one in sight, and I wondered what the hell we were doing.

“Park here,” Melody ordered, “and take off your clothes.”


“Just strip,” she responded as she removed her own clothes. “I want you to meet someone.” We stuffed the clothes into my saddlebags, she grabbed her satchel, and we were off.

We pranced like pixies down a narrow, twisting trail through the huge boulders and the trees. I was praying we wouldn’t come across any Sunday school kids. “Who are we visiting?” I asked.

“He’s a religious studies professor at my school. We call him The Bhagwan. Keep going!”

When we got to a clearing in the trees, I saw a dozen naked college-age kids sitting cross-legged in a semicircle facing a gangly guy about twice their age. He had long, graying yellow hair and a scraggly beard.

No-one looked up at us as we approached, though they must have heard us coming.

Previous installments in this series appeared in Issues 143, 144145146147148149.150, 151 and 152 – Ed.]

Choosing New Speakers: Power-Handling Considerations

Choosing New Speakers: Power-Handling Considerations

Choosing New Speakers: Power-Handling Considerations

Russ Welton

In Part Two of this series (Issue 149), we examined the reality that accurate speaker sensitivity ratings have a direct bearing on how suitable the ratings may be when considering varying room sizes and the listener’s distance from the speakers. We also looked at power requirements for driving speakers sufficiently for those respective room sizes. A speaker with a higher sensitivity will produce a greater perceivable volume at a fixed distance and amount of power than one with a lower sensitivity.

Bigger rooms may require more power to be delivered to the speakers in order to achieve the same volume, due to a greater distance to the listening area than would be necessary in a smaller room with a shorter listening distance from the speakers.

Many audiophiles know and appreciate these facts. Some will decide that what they want are speakers with high sensitivity, regardless of room size. It’s a way to maximize the performance and value of your power amplifiers. Why so? Because it affords more headroom from our power amps, which do not have to work so hard with speakers that are more sensitive. A smaller room is also “kinder” and less demanding of a power amp when paired with high-sensitivity speakers than if the speakers are used in a larger room.

Sometimes, when looking at buying a speaker, certain specifications are not readily made available to us, even something as seemingly fundamental as a frequency response graph. Instead, we are just provided with, for example, a frequency response spec of, say, 41 Hz – 30 kHz +/-3 dB. In its own right, this is not hugely informative about what our speaker is capable of, let alone tell us anything that is all that informative about the speaker’s sonic qualities. One could say that this spec basically states that it is a working speaker, functioning within basic parameters, and nothing more!


Frequency response measurement of a woofer. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Oliokia. Frequency response measurement of a woofer. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Oliokia.

Let’s make sure that we have the correct amount of amplifier power for our needs in the first place.

Variations in power (and volume) can alter the tonal balance and frequency response of the speaker. (This is on top of the fact that different speakers will have different frequency responses and this too can be part of their tonal character.) We often see 2-way and 3-way loudspeaker designs where the frequency range is split between the bass/midrange and tweeter, or bass, midrange and tweeter drivers. As varying amounts of power are put through the drivers in a speaker, so too, the character of the sound may vary at different frequencies. The different drivers exhibit variations in their audio character as a result of their construction – driver and spider materials, magnets, voice coil/motor design, cabinet colorations and other factors.

An example may be that of a speaker cone which physically changes its shape as it is subject to more power being put through it. As such, it may vary in its measurable frequency response for a given frequency and volume, to say nothing of intermodulation distortion, where two or more signals are played together. These types of effects are reduced and made less noticeable in speakers with good-quality crossovers, drivers and cabinets, and which integrate and time-align everything well.

There is another advantage to mating high-sensitivity speakers with higher-powered amps: this provides more headroom, or power in reserve, that is available to feed our speakers’ demand to respond dynamically to the program material. Again, many of us may already appreciate and understand this, but just how much headroom do we actually need, and is it really that important?

Imagine the following typical scenario: You purchase a 100-watt power amp that is able to give you a nominal/rated 100 dB sound pressure level, and connect up your stereo speakers which are rated at 85 dB sensitivity. (Typically, the manufacturer will not stipulate at what distance the power amp will deliver those 100 watts. Instead, you may get a rating of how much power it will deliver to an 8-ohm-nominal speaker at 1 meter at 2.83 volts output. Not particularly helpful.) However, for a reasonably-sized room of 6,000 cubic feet, these would effectively now have a 75 dB sensitivity at a typical listening position. Good-quality speakers will handle a peak of about 20 dB above their nominal rating, so for short bursts, the speaker should handle 105 dB output. But, what about your 100-watt power amp in such a situation? Suddenly it’s being asked to produce 5 dB more demanded of it than it can deliver, and as a result you either experience a very nasty audible distortion from the power amp clipping, or perhaps the amp switches itself off to protect its circuitry. Neither is a desirable outcome.

If instead you now double the output of your power amp to 200 watts, you have increased your maximum SPL capability to 103dB, approximately doubling of sound intensity (though keep in mind that a 10 dB increase is necessary for the sound to be perceived as twice as loud). Even now, you are still two dB shy of being able to comfortably handle the 105 dB peak or burst. If you again double the power to 400 watts, your power amp is only now capable of outputting 106 dB, or in other words, just 1 dB of headroom when it comes to handling bursts of peak output volume.

Need power? The Constellation Audio Hercules II monoblock amplifier can deliver 1,100 watts into 8 ohms. Need power? The Constellation Audio Hercules II monoblock amplifier can deliver 1,100 watts into 8 ohms.

The point of the example is to illustrate the advantage of considering buying higher-sensitivity speakers that can actually deliver the peaks they may be subjected to, without subjecting the power amplifier to demands it can’t meet. When playing in larger rooms that necessitate more powerful amplification to cover larger distances to the listening position anyway, this makes consummate good sense, but perhaps your setup would benefit from a larger power amp than you may have initially considered was adequate anyway, if you wish to avoid amplifier clipping and possible damage of your equipment.

If you are generally listening at lower volumes, then these considerations may not initially concern you at all. However, if you want to optimally set up or calibrate your system to sound its best at reference volume levels (for example 75dB), with everything in proportional balance, (and in the case of a home theater/multichannel audio system, with the correct levels and speaker distances programmed into your A/V receiver), you may then actually enjoy it far more when played at much lower volume levels.

But hang on a moment. We may have determined that more clean power is a good thing, but is it really the case that higher-sensitivity speakers can handle more power for dynamic bursts and peaks? If we assume that the answer to that question is yes, does this really help us answer the following which is still somewhat shrouded in mystery: “How loudly are my speakers capable of playing?” And, perhaps equally significantly, “How long might my speakers survive if they are subject to frequent peaks in output?”

These are pertinent questions, because as many of us know, actual power delivery will often be vastly reduced when we run multiple speakers in a surround system of 5.1, 7.4, or larger. Selecting adequate power for your stereo system may be all that matters to many if not most readers, but it may be of equal or greater significance for those of us who use the same power amp(s) for both stereo and home theater in the same system. However you may operate your dedicated equipment, it would be good to know just exactly what demands we are putting on our systems and what their power handling capabilities truly are. Can anything help us make more informed choices in this regard?

In a coming article we will consider some helpful information and new software that can assist us in demystifying this clouded question.

Header image: Kaiser Acoustics Kawero Vivace loudspeakers. From the Kaiser Acoustics website.

Reeling 'Em In

Reeling 'Em In

Reeling 'Em In

Frank Doris

Simple design, good sound: A Dynaco Mark III mono power amplifier, in Dynakit kit version. Introduced in 1957, Dynaco was known to some as the "poor man's Mcintosh."

Rear and side views of the Dynaco Mark III. Photos by Howard Kneller, from The Audio Classics Collection.

Tell me Jack White wouldn't want one of these! Oh, wait...he already has one. 1940s Voice-O-Graph ad. Courtesy of Martin Theophilus/the Museum of Magnetic Sound Recording.

Magnetic attraction: 1959 Telefunken ad, courtesy of Martin Theophilus/the Museum of Magnetic Sound Recording.

Mm-mm-good! Ampex MM-1200 multitrack recorder ad, 1977. Courtesy of Martin Theophilus/the Museum of Magnetic Sound Recording.

Howard Kneller’s audio and art photography can be found on Instagram (@howardkneller, @howardkneller.photog) and Facebook (@howardkneller).

The Future Sound of London

The Future Sound of London

The Future Sound of London

Peter Xeni
Handel cancels his future streaming service. "We will, we will rock you...We will, we will rock you..."




Andy Schaub

To the tune of “Royals” by Lorde

I’ve never seen a diamond except on a stylus
I cut my teeth on Discwasher and Zerostat
And I’m not proud of my streaming DAC
In a big black box, looks impressive
But every song’s like
Gold teeth chomping on glass menageries of spinning CDs
Bloodstains, flywheels, trashin’ the 45 rpms from Music Matters
We don’t care
We’re spinning Goldmunds in our dreams
But everybody’s like
Roon, Spotify, TIDAL on your iPhone
Jet planes, VPI, miles of gold cables
We don’t care
We aren’t caught up in your love affair

And we’ll always love vinyls (vinyls)
It just runs in our blood
That kind of luxe is just for us
We crave a different kind of buzz
Let me be your tonearm (baby)
You can call me unipivot
And baby, I’ll track (I’ll track, I’ll track, I’ll track)
Let me live that fantasy

My friends and I, we’ve cracked the code
We count our dollars as they flow into the ether
And everyone who knows us knows
That we’re not OK with this, we didn’t come from money
But every song’s like got some noise but still we love it
RCA, Decca, trippin’ in the listening room
Bloodstains, Doshi, trashin’ the hotel room at CES
We don’t care
We’re spinning vinyls in our dreams
But everybody’s like
Jarrett, Yo-Yo, Lorde in Copper, sort of
Jet planes, Fremer, tigers on a gold leash
We don’t care
We aren’t caught up in your love affair

And we’ll always love vinyls
It don’t run except at 33 and a third for us
That kind of luxe is surely us
We crave a JRT Dark Star kind of buzz
Let me be your tonearm (sadly not Jelco anymore)
You can call me DJ Andy
And baby, I’ll rule (I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule)
Let me live that fantasy

Oh (oh, oh)
It’s bigger than we ever dreamed
And I’m in love with being king
Oh (oh, oh)
Life is great without a CD player
We aren’t caught up in your love affair

And we’ll never love CDs (yada)
It don’t run at 24/192 for us
That kind of bandwidth just ain’t for us
We crave a different kind of beat
Let me play you vinyls
You can call me on another day, please
And baby, I’ll spin (I’ll spin, I’ll spin, I’ll spin)
Let me live that fantasy

Header image courtesy of Pexels.com/cottonbro.

Octave Records Releases The Moon Leans In  by Singer/Songwriter Thom LaFond

Octave Records Releases The Moon Leans In  by Singer/Songwriter Thom LaFond

Octave Records Releases The Moon Leans In by Singer/Songwriter Thom LaFond

Frank Doris

Octave Records’ newest release is The Moon Leans In by singer/songwriter/guitarist Thom LaFond. The album offers a broad range of moods and styles, from stripped-down acoustic instrument-based songs to upbeat, up-tempo cuts, and even some early jazz and swing influences.

The Moon Leans In has Thom going for a vocal-centric and conversational style, and has him leading two different quartets during the recording. The majority of the tracks feature Thom and musicians playing mostly live with some overdubs, with Thom on electric guitar, vocals, synthesizer, piano and acoustic guitar, accompanied by Enion Pelta (6-string violin, backing vocals), Chris Duffy (5-string electric bass), Forrest Kelley (drums), Zea Stallings (backing vocals) and Katie Mintle (backing vocals). “To the Moon” and “So Busy in the Wild” showcase Thom and an acoustic swing quartet playing live in the studio, including Michelle Pietrafitta (drums), Jeremy Mohney (alto sax) and John Heiland (acoustic bass).

Thom LaFond. Thom LaFond.

The album was recorded at Animal Lane Studios in Lyons, Colorado using Octave Records’ Pure DSD process and the Sonoma multi-track DSD recording system, and mixed at PS Audio in Boulder, CO. The Moon Leans In is available as a limited-edition release of 1,000 hybrid SACD discs with the master DSD layer and a CD layer. In addition, the album can be purchased as a download bundle including DSD64, DSDDirect Mastered 192kHz/24-bit, 96kHz/24-bit and 44.1kHz/16-bit PCM.

“When I play acoustic guitar, I get more intricate with the arrangements, and when I’m on piano I tend to lean more towards a swing kind of improvised jamming feel,” said Thom. The Moon Leans In showcases this stylistic diversity, from the poetic title track with its loping 3/4-time bounce, to the swing quartet tracks, and the upbeat “Isolation Hymn,” an ironic look at the social distancing everyone’s had to go through.

The Moon Leans In was produced by Thom LaFond, recorded and mixed by Jay Elliott, and mastered by Gus Skinas. Jessica Carson was the executive producer. “I like to play music for people, but sometimes I just like being alone, and playing music for the moon is something that feels good to me.”

We asked Thom for some thoughts about the new album.

Frank Doris: What does the title The Moon Leans In mean?

Thom LaFond: I have a kind of fascination with the moon. On some nights when the moon is close, it seems like it’s coming to listen. I’m someone who likes to stay up all night playing songs. I like to play music for people, but sometimes I just like being alone, and playing music for the moon is something that feels good to me.

FD: I like the fact that you have different musical elements, and some of it almost sounds like swing or ragtime. How did you decide on getting the players for the album?

TL: I’ve known Chris Duffy since I was about 15. We had started a band when I was 16 and he comes to play on all my recordings. My current housemate, John Heiland, is the bass player on the swing tracks. I had different bands for the record, the acoustic band where I played piano, and the [swing quartet with] upright bass, saxophone and drums. And then, more of an electric band where I play electric guitar and there’s a louder drum kit, an electric bass and a violin. We recorded over the course of four days.


Chris Duffy. Chris Duffy.


FD: How do you write your songs? I ask everybody that. Do they just pop into your brain when you’re looking at a menu in a restaurant or something, or do you spend years writing them?

TL: I start with a kind of a rhythmic vocal melody. And then I just improvise words to that melody. Lately I’ve been doing improv takes where I make up words and then I listen back and edit the crap out of them. I’ll have a hundred Voice Memos [on my phone] that I’ll listen back to and I’ll take one line from each of them.

For the album, it was kind of a mixture of that and rewriting the verses to some of them in the studio to better fit the music. Once you start recording a song you think, oh man, I went right to that chorus without really saying anything in that verse. Or maybe I need two extra verses (laughs). I think I could push a little further.

FD: How did you get hooked up with Octave Records?

TL: (Producer) Jessica (Carson) called me to do a jazz session on guitar. A couple weeks later they called me back because they’d heard I do synthesizer composition and wanted a track for The Audiophile’s Guide: The Stereo album. Gus Skinas sat me down – he’d lined up a bunch of synthesizers – and said, “okay, now compose something!” [It’s the track “Slow Moving Ferns” – Ed.] After that, they asked me to do a complete album.

Forrest Kelley. Forrest Kelley.


TL: I really, really love acoustic music, the sound of hearing an acoustic band in a room. Jessica was also interested in having stylistic variation. Most record labels insist that you reign your music into one “brand.” That wasn’t something Octave was interested in.

FD: An obvious question: how did COVID affect your mood and songwriting?

TL: At the beginning of the pandemic, I spent all my savings on a video camera. I went out in my yard every day and recorded a song, and posted it on YouTube or [social media] the next day. And I was getting the largest audience I’d ever found. I eventually got comfortable just filming every day. I left the camera in the corner of the studio for every take that we recorded for The Moon Leans In.

FD: When you’re a musician, you don’t want to work in a vacuum, you know!

TL: It’s true. It’s true.

FD: What’s next?

TL: We did an entire album of swing music by saxophonist Jeremy Mohney, where I’m the producer. It features three decades of swing, from Dixieland into the late 1940s. It’s music I’m really passionate about.

Jeremy Mohney. Jeremy Mohney.

Around the World in 80 Lathes, Part Three

Around the World in 80 Lathes, Part Three

Around the World in 80 Lathes, Part Three

J.I. Agnew

In previous installments (Issue 151 and Issue 152), J.I. Agnew presented a historical overview of record-cutting lathes, and looked at some models from Neumann.)


The suspension unit of the Neumann VMS-80 record-cutting lathe was similar (but not identical) to the one used on the previous VMS-70. Both had electronic groove depth control, electronic cutter head drop and lift, and an oil dashpot to provide damping. The pitch control computer used on the VMS-80 and VMS-82 was another milestone for Neumann, leaving behind their earlier systems.

Technical details of the inner workings aside, the most notable change was a departure from the 0.6-revolution delay system used by Neumann in all their pitch automation systems since the 1930s, and the introduction of a new standard: The 0.5 revolution delay.

In English, this refers to the delay required between the program signal and the preview signal. The preview signal is an additional signal, arriving in advance of the program signal, but fed to the lathe’s control electronics to enable the pitch and depth control automation systems to operate. Both the program and preview signals are the same audio signal, but with a time delay for the program signal, to allow time for the mechanical moving parts of the lathe to speed up or slow down as required.

A Studer preview head tape machine, used at Salt Mastering, Brooklyn, NY. Courtesy of Paul Gold. A Studer preview head tape machine, used at Salt Mastering, Brooklyn, NY. Courtesy of Paul Gold.

In the analog days, this was accomplished by means of a preview-head tape machine, of which very few were ever made, (see Issue 143 and Issue 135 for some examples). In the brave new world of the 1980s, many facilities had moved on to the use of digital delay lines (DDL) to delay the program signal, which was the beginning of the end of all-analog signal paths for cutting master disks for vinyl record manufacturing, even when the source was an all-analog recording on tape. 

With the move to a 0.5-revolution (platter revolution) delay, Neumann effectively rendered the VMS-80 and VMS-82 incompatible with all existing preview head tape machines (although Studer and Telefunken offered conversion kits, allowing the continued use of their existing products with the new Neumann lathe, and the final MCI preview head tape machine to be developed took this into account from the onset), even when these were used with earlier Neumann lathes, which made the use of DDL systems much more economically appealing, accelerating the death of 100-percent analog sound.

The pitch control system was what we call “land-based,” and calculated the land between the grooves as a function of groove depth, diameter, the dynamics of the music, and a user setting for minimum land to be maintained. The minimum land could be set to zero, allowing the adjacent grooves to actually touch each other. The pitch computer calculated the angular position of the platter and adjusted pitch and depth so that the grooves could be nested together most efficiently. This system made it easy to cut much longer sides at much higher levels, even for a relatively inexperienced operator. This feature alone turned the VMS-80 into a real asset, as it made it possible to just purchase your competitive advantage, instead of having to painstakingly develop it over many years of excessive perspiration, hunched over a manually-controlled lathe in a hot cutting room, ruining lacquer disks faster than you could buy them, and trying to fit all the music into a disk with no mishaps.

An average operator of a VMS-80 could cut records that were as loud or even louder, and with longer side duration, than what a very experienced mastering engineer could achieve using a much less technologically sophisticated machine. Unfortunately, this did not necessarily mean that these records would sound better, in audiophile terms. Just louder and longer, which was apparently enough to make the average consumer feel that they were getting more music for their dollar. For the businesses using the VMS-80, it greatly reduced the rejection ratio for lacquers. No matter who was cutting, it would somehow work.

The vacuum platter on a VMS-82 DMM lathe, but connected to cut lacquer using a lacquer suspension box and a Neumann SX-74 cutter head. Courtesy of Scott Hull, owner/chief engineer, Masterdisk, Peekskill, NY. The vacuum platter on a VMS-82 DMM lathe, but connected to cut lacquer using a lacquer suspension box and a Neumann SX-74 cutter head. Courtesy of Scott Hull, owner/chief engineer, Masterdisk, Peekskill, NY.

The vacuum platter on the VMS-80 and VMS-82 was also a new design, smaller and with a hidden, permanently attached vacuum fitting underneath the platter, instead of the traditional approach of a tube needing to be connected by the operator to the center spindle from above. The less an operator needed to do, the better for their ’80s hairdo.

The platter was adjustable in a very similar manner to the earlier models, to eliminate any platter run-out (in mechanical terms). As the Neumann platters were quite well made, the top surface was already significantly flatter than any other machine made by their competitors, and the adjustment resulted in a very accurate rotating system. The platter bearings were hydrodynamic, running in oil and designed to prevent metal-to-metal contact. The shaft would run on an oil film.

The speed regulation of the turntable motor was accomplished by means of an optical tachometer, which generated electrical pulses corresponding to the reflected light off of the teeth of a stroboscopic disk, sensed by a light-dependent sensor. The frequency of the generated pulses depended on the platter speed, and the servo control system would constantly adjust the drive to the DC motor to maintain a stable speed.

Next to the platter bearing, there was a dovetail slide with a leadscrew, which advanced the cutter head across the disk. The dovetail slide ways were located below the platter and an L-shaped carriage arm would hold the suspension unit (containing the electronic depth control system, the head lift/drop system and the oil dashpot) and cutter head above the platter.

The control panel of the lathe even had a stylus hours counter, so the operator could keep track of how long the cutting stylus had been in use.

Gone were the days of using your ears to determine this based on sound quality. The modern, fast-paced world of the 1980s demanded that no time was wasted on meaningless exercises. The facility would determine how many hours the stylus needed to be used to maximize profit, the management would give the operators a number, and everyone could then happily go about their business while still having enough time to maintain that mullet hairdo, essential for maximum coolness points at the weekend synth-pop party which you would attend to lure in more customers who wouldn’t care much if the stylus was only replaced at set hour intervals.

Admittedly, it was a useful feature, as one could also choose to use it simply to keep track of how long the styli were lasting, when comparing the products of different manufacturers, and still use their ears to determine when it needed to be thrown out. The VMS-80 and VMS-82 were the only disk mastering lathes that came with a built-in stylus hours meter from the factory.

Another innovation was the updated illumination system on the Leitz groove inspection microscope, which was mounted on its own slide tube, above the platter. Unlike previous microscope installations, this one had remote illumination, transmitted through optical fibers to the bottom of the objective lens. Two optical fibers were arranged in a 45/45 configuration to illuminate each groove wall directly, eliminating shadows and improving visibility. The microscope assembly also had the option of mounting a Newicon camera picture tube, which could be used to display the groove image on a TV monitor, to entertain the (mullet-bearing) studio guests.

The 1980s was the decade of glitter, strange haircuts, and especially in Germany, strange music (ever heard of Einstürzende Neubauten?), so Neumann engineers did the geeky equivalent: magnified Groove images displayed in real time, in color, on a TV monitor.

So, what do you think happens when product support is suddenly withdrawn from a highly proprietary and regulated system such as DMM?

No more blank disks, no more styli, no more fun!

By the 1990s, flannel shirts and long hair had replaced glitter and mullets, and Nirvana has become more popular than Einstürzende Neubauten, so Teldec and Neumann decided to finally leave the disk mastering market altogether. For a very long time, nobody even attempted to take their place.

As lacquer blanks were a much older technology that was not regulated by patents, there were a couple of manufacturers still left operating (well, until one bought out the other to shut them down and eliminate competition), as well as a couple of cutting styli manufacturers (up until there was only one left, who was owned by one of the lacquer manufacturers, who refused to sell styli unless you were also purchasing a certain amount of their lacquers each month, trying to drive the competing lacquer manufacturer out of business).

As the mechanical system of the VMS-82 DMM lathe was almost identical to the VMS-80 lacquer lathe, and the latter was made in much greater numbers, several of the very few VMS-82 lathes in existence were converted to cut lacquer, using VMS-80 parts, which were still more or less obtainable. When converted, a VMS-82 essentially became a VMS-80, with very few differences.

Scott Hull inspecting and replacing the cutting stylus on an SX-74 cutter head, using the special microscope provided by Neumann for this purpose. Courtesy of Scott Hull. Scott Hull inspecting and replacing the cutting stylus on an SX-74 cutter head, using the special microscope provided by Neumann for this purpose. Courtesy of Scott Hull.

A few more were scrapped, and one was confiscated by the US Federal Government, so in the present day, there are very few original VMS-82 DMM lathes still in operation.

In regular commercial service, they are all located in Europe, with the largest concentration found in one of Europe’s biggest record pressing plants, in the former Eastern Bloc. In the US, only the Church of Scientology owns VMS-82 DMM lathes, but they only use them for their own internal purposes. The last VMS-82 DMM lathe in commercial use in the US was at Europadisk, up until they folded in 2005.

Of the ones in Europe, most are operated by pressing plants that have the advantage of being able to recycle the DMM blanks and make new ones, enjoying significant cost savings, in their galvanic plating department. They are not common in independent mastering studios, as the cost advantage is largely lost, or even becomes a disadvantage, if you do not have your own electroplating equipment and need to buy the blanks from someone who does. Of the very few independent studios that have a VMS-82, the one that uses it for audiophile-grade products, where sound quality of the essence, is Pauler Acoustics, in Northeim, Germany (see Issues 147, 148, 149 and 150) for a discussion of their DMM Dubplate, Vol. 1 DMM disk).

Hendrik Pauler inspecting a DMM disk, cut on the Neumann VMS-82 lathe at Pauler Acoustics in Northeim, Germany. Courtesy of Stockfisch Records. Hendrik Pauler inspecting a DMM disk, cut on the Neumann VMS-82 lathe at Pauler Acoustics in Northeim, Germany. Courtesy of Stockfisch Records.


VMS-80 machines are much more common and can be found in active service, in pressing plants and independent mastering facilities on both sides of the pond. A well-known example of a VMS-82 DMM lathe that has been converted to cut lacquer, with an SX-74 cutter head, is Scott Hull’s lathe at Masterdisk, In Peekskill, New York.


Scott Hull using the horizontal microscope on the VMS-82 carriage to inspect the stylus-disk interface. Courtesy of Scott Hull. Scott Hull using the horizontal microscope on the VMS-82 carriage to inspect the stylus-disk interface. Courtesy of Scott Hull.

Both the VMS-80 and the VMS-82 were the most highly-automated disk mastering lathes ever to be built. They could be programmed to do spirals (grooves) between songs, start cutting and automatically do the lead-out and lift the cutter head at the end, and even change pitch and depth settings, all from command signals supplied by a digital audio workstation. The operator could largely sit and watch as the machine did the work. On the other hand, they are also used in some of the world’s most respected mastering facilities, by very experienced engineers, who use the lathe’s technical advantages in addition to their own skill.

An option of a second microscope was also offered, horizontally mounted on the carriage arm, which would focus on the stylus from the side and move in conjunction with it, so the stylus remained in focus along the entire side of the record. This could be also be hooked up to a TV monitor (or perhaps a cinema projector if you had a rich social life) to keep life interesting for the operator (since there wasn’t much left to do anymore, other than combing your hair, being careful not to shed any of your dandruff, hair, or worse on the disk, which might result in clicks and pops, if the debris stays there and is plated over) and to show off to your friends working in more mundane sectors.

Around that time, Neumann also presented a lathe that could mechanically cut a CD master, in a similar manner to how vinyl record masters were cut. This didn’t ever catch on, as CD masters could also be laser-cut using even more automated machines. Neumann never made anything resembling a lathe again and was eventually bought out by Sennheiser Group in 1991.

The highly-specialized manufacturing equipment and human resources used to make their mastering lathes are now long gone, never to return.

Scott Hull inspecting the stylus-groove interface while cutting, and holding a blow gun and hose for compressed nitrogen on one hand, in front of his Neumann VMS-82 lathe at Masterdisk. Courtesy of Scott Hull. Scott Hull inspecting the stylus/groove interface while cutting, and holding a blow gun and hose for compressed nitrogen in one hand, in front of his Neumann VMS-82 lathe at Masterdisk. Courtesy of Scott Hull.

Postscript: a brief discussion of the geometric parameter differences between cutting lacquer and DMM can be found in Issues 147 through 150 and Issues 125 – 126, for those interested in diving deeper into this subject. These parameters are defined by the design of the cutter head and lathe suspension systems and cannot be altered without modifications. When converting a Neumann VMS-82 DMM lathe to cut lacquer, the geometric parameters are also changed, to suit the different medium.

Header image: a complete Neumann VMS-82 lathe setup (converted to cut lacquer), with a video monitor at the right, control panel on the left and cutting amplifier rack below the control panel, at Abbey Road Studios, London, UK. Photo courtesy of Miles Showell, freelance mastering engineer based at Abbey Road.

AES Show Fall 2021 Highlights, Part Three

AES Show Fall 2021 Highlights, Part Three

AES Show Fall 2021 Highlights, Part Three

John Seetoo

In the fourth quarter of 2021, the Audio Engineering Society (AES) held its annual fall show online in October, because of the pandemic still being in effect. The show seminars and interviews were recorded for on-demand viewing, so once again (as was the case in 2020), attendees and reporters could still participate virtually. Part Two of this series (Issue 152) included a look at keynote speaker and Grammy award-winning producer Peter Asher, coverage of a seminar on stereo panning and balancing in recording, and a workshop on controlling low frequencies when tuning a listening environment. Part One (Issue 151) featured a symposium with electronic instrument designers of the Prophet-5 and Oberheim OBX-1a synthesizers, and a discussion about PA system optimization in recording studios and venues..

Platinum Producers (St. Vincent Interview)

Under the stage name of St. Vincent (taken from a Nick Cave song), Annie Clark has become a critically acclaimed singer, songwriter, producer and guitarist, and has garnered multiple Grammy awards for her art-rock albums and her unique and stylized approach to creating sounds. Similarly, she is the only female rock guitarist with a signature guitar model, which she designed from the ground up without having it based on a pre-existing template. She has also written screenplays and acted in films.

Although best known for his Grammy award-winning work in country music with artists like Glen Campbell, Jennifer Nettles, and Eric Church, Julian Raymond is also an A&R executive for Big Machine Recordsand has worked with Cheap Trick, Fleetwood Mac, Kottonmouth Kings, and others.

Raymond interviewed Clark about a variety of music production and other topics that provided some of the perspectives and ideas that permeate her recordings. Witty, humorous and articulate, she was impressively candid and self-reflecting.

The interview started with Clark’s work on the film The Nowhere Inn, a faux documentary written by and starring St. Vincent and Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney. Clark amusingly recalled her “rookie move” of foolishly composing the score before the editing for the film was completed, resulting in her “chasing her tail” for months, trying to rewrite and modify all of the music to fit the on-screen images.

Born and bred in Tulsa (home of Wanda Jackson and J.J. Cale) and later Dallas, Clark notes that the Dallas music scene of her teens had some freakish music acts that influenced her tastes, artists like Gibby Haynes and The Butthole Surfers and The 13th Floor Elevators. She attributed this to an outgrowth of religiosity, a reaction to social norms, and a lot of acid.

Julian Raymond and St. Vincent. Courtesy of AES. Julian Raymond and St. Vincent. Courtesy of AES.

Another local band that she cited was Tripping Daisies, some of whose members she played with in the Dallas music scene after starting her first gigs at age 15.

Annie Clark noted she was grateful that she was born during a time when music was still very much guitar-driven, which allowed her to gravitate towards the guitar as her primary instrument. If she had come from a different era, she saw herself possibly based more around an Akai MPC (sampler and sequencer) or a laptop, which would have changed her entire approach towards creating music.

She recalled her stint at the Berklee School of Music as fascinating because of her exposure to jazz music theory, where dissecting a Charles Mingus composition contained lessons that never materialized in her own works until her recent Daddy’s Home album, which has, in her words, “chords with lots of numbers, y’know.” Her summation of music school was that “it gives one the tools and skills to become an artist, but cannot teach someone how to be an artist.” She jokingly likened Berklee to “a very, very expensive trade school.”

Joining The Polyphonic Spree as their guitarist gave Clark her first taste of touring, including opening for her idols, Sonic Youth.

Having been a longtime fan, Julian Redmond went into detail in asking about St. Vincent’s record catalog and his favorite song from each album.

He cited her debut, Marry Me (2007) and in particular the song, “Your Lips Are Red” as one of those records that are just so good that it made him consider quitting the music business. Clark replied that “Your Lips Are Red” was actually a murder ballad, and that the Marry Me record, in retrospect, is probably the most successful musical fusion of her influences at a given point in time – in this case, Nick Cave, and Stravinsky-type strings, and also gave a shout out about keyboardist Mike Garson’s playing on the record and his ability to go “from Debussy to outer space and back again.”

She likened looking back at her catalog to viewing one’s high school yearbook photos. During college, they might seem embarrassing, but over the course of more years, a greater appreciation for that moment in time can settle in, and in fact, some songs from Marry Me are being considered for being played again in upcoming performances.

She related her bare-bones recording setup for the album as consisting of an Audio-Technica mic purchased from from Guitar Center, an Avid M-Box USB interface (into which she plugged her guitar directly, as she could not afford an external guitar preamp at the time), and a computer – with the majority of it recorded in her childhood bedroom. Clark laughingly noted the exceptions were her neophyte attempts to record her family piano in the living room with the mic inadvertently overloading, and her trips to Birmingham, Alabama, where the drummer from the Polyphonic Spree lived, and she was able to record drums and overdubs there. An engineering friend, Daniel Farris, helped. Exposure to some of David Bowie’s late 1970s and 1980s records, like Scary Monsters, would become hugely influential Marry Me and later works.

St. Vincent. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Justin Higuchi. St. Vincent. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Justin Higuchi.

Comparing it to a “1940s film score,” Redmond gushed over how impressed he was with the song and production of “Just The Same, But Brand New” from the Actor album. Clark wrote the song at the home of her uncle, Tuck Andress (guitarist extraordinaire of jazz vocal duo Tuck and Patti), thought it would be the perfect ending for the album, and admittedly ruined that idea by adding an extra last song on a spur-of-the-moment decision.

Recorded on analog tape with Scott Solter in rural North Carolina, Clark recounted Solter’s increasing mental instability and her feeling of being trapped in the middle of nowhere with him, scheming more about how to get the tapes smuggled out than about her own safety. Without going into detail, she summed up the experience: “Maybe don’t introduce polyamory on the day we start a record with your engineer and your wife –maybe do that on your record, but not on mine!” Returning back to Texas with her tapes, the songs were in various stages of completion, along with lots of brass and string parts, and she finished the songs around these ideas and sketches with producer John Congleton.

Raymond considers “Cheerleader” from Strange Mercy to be the best alt-rock song of all time. He pointed out a distinct Beatles vibe, which Clark acknowledged, and that the record was written during an emotionally difficult period for her in New York. With some of the songs completed, she went to Seattle, rented out Jason McGerr’s (Death Cab For Cutie drummer) studio and worked in isolation for weeks, later finishing the album in Texas with Congleton.

Love This Giant, her collaboration with David Byrne, had its genesis when she met the former Talking Heads leader at a charity event (which featured original music from Björk, and The Dirty Projectors.) Asked by the promoter to collaborate on some music for the charity, she and Byrne started and then kept going until they had an album’s worth of new material. Although they were both in New York City, they worked remotely, e-mailing files to each other and then contributing new parts. She remembered the experience fondly and exclaimed that she learned a lot about showmanship and playing live with a horn section from her subsequent tour with Byrne.

“I Prefer Your Love” from the St. Vincent album is a personal song written for her mother. after a bout of insomnia and the subsequent news of her mother’s heart attack,. St. Vincent was her first Grammy award win (for Best Alternative Music Album). She also felt that during the making of that record, it signaled the turning point where she fully embraced the persona of St. Vincent as a separate entity from herself and as an extension of her musical work.

Raymond stated that the song “New York” from the album Masseduction redefined and replaced Lou Reed’s “Walk On the Wild Side” for him as his personal iconic New York song. St. Vincent joked that although she won another Grammy that year for “Masseducation,” she imploded her commercial radio prospects with her insertion of true-to-life profanity into the lyrics of “New York.”

Proclaiming the Daddy’s Home record as “an artistic pinnacle,” Raymond name-checked all of the New York, Lou Reed, Andy Warhol, 1960s and 1970s sonic ideas, psychedelic Pink Floyd, and Berlin-era Bowie elements that crop up in the album, citing “Live In The Dream” and “The Laughing Man” as standout tracks.

The humming interludes on the record, Clark said, were portions of a single song, chopped up into small chunks akin to “a palate cleanser” or a “Texas breeze” in between the heavier New York-minded songs. The song was originally conceived as a tribute to her mother’s and sisters’ stoicism and inner strength during her father’s incarceration for financial fraud. She joked that her obsession with Pro Tools in getting the interludes timed down to the millisecond was a result of being quarantined during the pandemic.

“Live In The Dream” was, in Clark’s words, “a tip of the hat 120 percent to Pink Floyd,” with a dose of gritty downtown New York circa 1970 – 1976 mixed in, along with influences from records from that period by Steely Dan and Stevie Wonder. Unlike the structured musical approach and accusatory lyrics of her past records, Clark created Daddy’s Home as a more groove-oriented series of stories about people struggling to get by.

“…At the Holiday Party” (from Daddy’s Home), a song where she worked with producer Jack Antonoff for the first time, was a result of Clark “finally getting the Stones” and songs like “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” with themes of “trying to hide sadness through [the acquisition of] material goods, and how we often reveal ourselves though the things we are trying hardest to hide.”

She was effusive in her praise for Antonoff, who also contributed drums, bass, Wurlitzer electric piano and clavinet, and had a sympathetic musical telepathy with her in translating ideas immediately into musical parts over a scant five days of working together at Electric Lady Studios in New York.

At the conclusion of the interview, Clark and Redmond shared film-scoring war stories, where in Redmond’s case, he had a bitter fight with a producer over a song he had written, and the director backed Redmond up. The song subsequently got an Oscar nomination. Clark had had a similar problem, resulting in her asking, “Why did you hire me if you want an acoustic guitar?”

They also discussed her signature Ernie Ball Music Man guitar, which she created from scratch (see photo above). The angular shape was inspired by performance artist Klaus Nomi, and Clark personally came up with the various electronics configurations and paint job options.

Archival Albums: Curation, Preservation, and Mastering

As an integral part of our cultural heritage, the upkeep and preservation of historic recordings for future generations is crucial.

Moderated by Peerless Mastering’s Chief Engineer, Maria Rice, Archival Albums: Curation, Preservation, and Mastering featured comments from her colleague at Peerless, Jeff Lipton, as well as from Grammy award winner and Country Music Hall of Fame preservation engineer Alan Stoker, and mastering and preservation engineer Anna Frick of Airshow Mastering.

All of the panelists got their start in audio working on analog tape, an experience that definitely influences and informs their mastering and curating work. Stoker was manager of Nashville’s RCA Studios in the 1980s, and handled their first preservation transfers from the original radio station acetate discs and analog tapes when RCA built its first archiving lab during that era.


 Anna Frick, Jeff Lipton, Alan Stoker and Maria Rice. Courtesy of AES. Anna Frick, Jeff Lipton, Alan Stoker and Maria Rice. Courtesy of AES.

In the early days, Stoker recalled transfers would be flat (with RIAA curve defeated), acetates done from right off the turntable, recorded at 15 ips in mono. One trick was to use a stereo cartridge in conjunction with a transient noise suppressor. With this setup, the output from the stereo cartridge would continually be switched to the quieter side, enabling the cleanest possible transfer to tape. Some of the archival recordings Stoker used this process on include:

  • 1939 – First-ever Grand Ole Opry recording (now part of the Library of Congress archives)
  • Elvis Presley’s first recording (from a 1954 acetate demo recorded for Elvis’ mother)
  • The first-ever recordings by Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis

Stoker played a video about the 2015 digital transfer he performed on the Elvis acetate after it was acquired by Jack White.

Screen shot of video featuring the original acetate recorded by Elvis Presley at Sun Studios. Courtesy of AES.

Screen shot of video featuring the original acetate recorded by Elvis Presley at Sun Studios. Courtesy of AES.


After White handed the surprisingly good-condition disc over to Stoker:

  • It was cleaned with distilled water.
  • He then carefully listened for surface noise or any disc imperfections that might cause the stylus to track inaccurately, using both elliptical and conical styli to play back the record at various groove depths. To cleanly transfer a disc, Stoker will usually attempt to have the stylus ride above the sections where embedded wear cause noise.
    Jack White with Alan Stoker. Photo courtesy of AES. Jack White with Alan Stoker. Photo courtesy of AES.

    Stoker noted that he had performed a digital transfer on that same acetate for the previous owner back in the 1980s, which appeared on an RCA Elvis Presley CD box sets.

    He also mentioned that most of the archival and curation work he handles is due to the acquisitions program of the Country Music Hall of Fame Museum, which has over 250,000 discs and 35,000 78 rpm records. They come from radio stations, personal collections, and owners from across the country. There is also an active program for the digitization of the Country Music Hall of Fame’s enormous analog tape library, which includes thousands of radio show broadcasts and other historic music recordings. Much of the library’s video and audio content is accessible in person via appointment, and digital streaming of selected material is available online.

    At Airshow Mastering in Colorado, Frick noted that their studio receives a substantial amount of institutional recordings for digitization, which also require extensive cross-referencing information for cataloguing purposes. She uses FileMaker to create a customized data record for each client from her templates.

    The sound sources range from records to Sony digital 1630 tapes, to a great deal of analog cassettes (much of it consisting of live Grateful Dead performances). When not constrained by budgets, they are able to apply the Plangent Processes system during transfers, which uses software and tracking of tape recorder bias frequencies to reduce wow and flutter from the source material tapes and also reduce sonic artifacts and unwanted noises.

    Frick recalled her first exposure to the Plangent process with an A/B comparison of a processed recording versus a flat transfer of a Doc Watson master. She said that the differences were startling, and that the improved audio quality resulting from the Plangent process made her much more keenly aware of the brilliance of Watson’s guitar playing, which had been recorded decades before she was born.

    Lipton, also a data specialist, started Peerless Mastering in his Massachusetts bedroom in 1994, and the work that came in as a result of positive word-of-mouth referrals allowed for the business to grow to the point where Peerless was able to design and build separate acoustically accurate rooms for their mastering jobs. The paneled walls of Room B (where Maria Rice was moderating from) reflect the sound up to the ceiling, where there is a 5-foot layer of acoustic treatment to deaden the room from any reverberation. From Lipton’s location, Room A was designed to be an acoustically flat environment from 10 Hz to 35 kHz, and is used for 5.1 mastering (with a 7.1 upgrade scheduled for 2022).

    In making distinctions between the various subcategories of audio archiving, Stoker indicated that most of the work he does is preservation, i.e., creating a pristine version for safekeeping, with high-quality copies to enable succeeding generations of listeners to hear them with optimum clarity.

    Restoration involves the use of notch and peak filters and parametric EQ to bring out the best sonic qualities of a recording before printing the best-possible version. Clicks or pops from analog tape have to be physically cut out with a razor. Stoker laughingly noted that the first time he saw a waveform on a screen and could use a stylus on a computer program to remove ticks and pops from audio, “it blew my mind – it was like a dream come true.”

    All digitization for the Country Music Hall of Fame library is conducted at 96 kHz/48-bit resolution into Cubase, with 48/24 derivative files and access files at 44.1 kHz CD-quality. The preservation files are never touched again.

    Frick said she normally works at 96 kHz/24-bit but is currently on a special project that requested 128 kHz resolution. A good deal of her work involves client education, including teaching the clients how to back up files, why the preservation master should never be touched once it is created, how to work off derivative files, and other considerations.

    As the bulk of Peerless’ mastering work is for commercial release, Lipton explained how they always keep an extra copy of an initial flat transfer of every project before it undergoes any processing, depending on the client’s requirements. Lipton deploys multiple servers for automatic redundancies and backup in all data-handling functions, in addition to additional cloud servers, hard drive and even CD-R backups.

    A key benefit of their intensive record-keeping of files attached to every project at Peerless is the ability to recall any of them over the last two to three decades, and to have all of the pertinent information about that project instantly available.

    Since restoration projects often come in with DAT tapes as source material, older digital technology is known to have a certain sonic “coldness” due to the limited harmonic content of the recordings as the result of using older A-to-D converters. In these cases, Peerless will use certain techniques to “warm them up.” This could involve the use of analog tube EQ or compression, or even printing to analog tape, to avoid the sterility of older direct-to digital recording and mixing. Since he started in the 1990s, Lipton seemed relieved to have avoided the razor blade experiences of analog veterans like Stoker, and he prefers to use the CEDAR noise reduction system for removing pops and clicks on source material.

    On the topic of over-enhancement and perhaps overly tampering with the sonic character of the original source material, Frick noted that on spoken-word projects, intelligibility has the greatest priority, even if the voice may get momentarily altered unnaturally in achieving that goal. With music, preservation of a performance is crucial, but the area is considerably more gray as to where to draw the line.

    Stoker makes his critical judgments based upon his decades of intensive listening to live music, and opts for keeping the sound of live music as his guideline, so any unnatural sounds to instruments with which he is familiar will alert him to potential heavy-handedness with his sonic processing. He noted that it’s too easy to overdo things with digital, so he advised stepping away to listen with fresh ears the next day to reassess and undo, if needed. Stoker has even chosen to leave background noise in when its removal kept the music from sounding “alive.”

    Rice spoke of compilation project challenges where source material can come from a range of different formats. Lipton said the goal was to perform changes to the material as minimally as possible to preserve the original music’s integrity, maintain a uniformity of audio clarity and eliminate distracting noise and other artifacts, while avoiding sterility.

    On the topic of preserving recordings that are integral to the preservation of cultural history (versus simply doing reissues of commercially popular music), Frick cited a project she worked on involving the musical oral history of the Navajo tribe. It included field recordings and some religious and ceremonial chants and prayers that would otherwise have become lost to the current generation. The project also preserved vocabulary and other parts of the language that have since fallen into colloquial disuse.

    Stoker cited his work on 1930s radio broadcasts as archiving all-important aspects of American history, since radio has undergone so many changes over the past century. He noted that leading up to and through the World War II era, radio would have separate programs and time slots for children, housewives, blue collar workers, and other targeted listening demographics.

    In summary, among the current and future challenges of archiving, all the participants acknowledged the fact that everything that’s newly-recorded is predominantly already in digital format and is now designed for streaming. As a result, the sound itself requires limited to no processing, but data management, creating metadata reference information for cataloging and library purposes, and creating links for other databases of all are becoming more ubiquitous. The ease of digital recording makes organizing the current increased volume of files a daunting task.

    Citing how digital filenames get truncated when using an iPhone or other device, and how transfer of files to multiple devices can often obscure their identification, Frick ruefully noted, “I don’t envy the next generation who will have to wade through all of these [altered] filenames.”

    Header image: St. Vincent, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Thomson200.

    Back to My Reel-to-Reel Roots, Part Six: Rock On (or Not)

    Back to My Reel-to-Reel Roots, Part Six: Rock On (or Not)

    Back to My Reel-to-Reel Roots, Part Six: Rock On (or Not)

    Ken Kessler

    After the last issue’s epic coverage of the Beatles’ Get Back film, and my diatribe about the British mono open-reel tapes, you may have overdosed on the Fab Four. Please allow me to refer to them again in this installment, as they represent a key element of the rock-music-on-reel-to-reel saga, and not just because they’re the reason I’m now an open-reel fetishist. Bear with me.

    Repeatedly, I have noted and bemoaned the dearth of rock tapes, or, more precisely, “rock era” tapes. And not just the actual availability, as they were plentiful and nowadays they are snapped up in seconds when they appear on online selling sites: it’s the condition that’s the worry. I stress this repeatedly to warn off any of you who want to get (back) into open-reel tape, but who favor any genres other than classical, jazz, easy listening, popular “hit parade” music of the Sinatra/Streisand/Ella/Tony sort, world music, or show tunes and soundtracks.

    By other genres, I mean, in addition to rock and roll, heavy rock, stadium rock, hard rock and other genres with “rock” in their names; heavy metal, hair metal, thrash, country and western, folk music, soul, blues, MOR and anything that wouldn’t necessarily have appealed to “grown-ups” in the 1950s and 1960s had, say, Van Halen or even Led Zeppelin existed back then. That said, crossover acts or those with broad audiences including Neil Diamond, the Carpenters, the Fifth Dimension, Blood Sweat & Tears, Peter Paul & Mary, the Kingston Trio, Loretta Lynn, Glen Campbell, Chicago, et al, were well-represented with reel-to-reel tapes.

    To recap why rock was so ill-served, we must first deal with a couple of inescapable facts; my conjecture can wait. The first concern is time-related. The age of pre-recorded open-reel tapes from the major labels corresponded with the birth of hi-fi separates and, more precisely, the arrival of stereo, while it died around the mid-1980s because the cassette challenged it for convenience, price, and practicality, e.g. in-car playback and personal hi-fi usage, neither of which suited open-reel tapes, or LPs for that matter. Furthermore, it was never truly mainstream. Think of its market as similar to One-Step LPs and 45 rpm 180-gram vinyl today. Early hi-fi buyers and especially tape users were, to put it mildly, well-heeled.

    As for rock-era music, such genres started out as singles-centric, with album purchases only taking off post-Beatles, arguably from Rubber Soul onwards, and after the Beach Boys gave us Pet Sounds, by which time the aforementioned cassette was about to rear its ugly little head(s). And the Beatles are crucial to this study, because they were the source of much controversy and mystery in the pre-recorded tape ethos.

    Last issue, I alerted you to the vile 3-3/4 ips mono two-track tapes issued in the UK, the Beatles’ titles produced from 1963-1967. In 1968, but ending around 1970, EMI reissued the Beatles albums in stereo open-reel form, on 5-inch spools with plastic cases not dissimilar to cassette boxes. What causes collectors to need defibrillators is finding out that EMI also released, in this second tape series, both mono and stereo versions of the White Album, Abbey Road and Let It Be, titles which were not released in the earlier 4-inch spool editions. They also added a stereo edition of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band  housed in the same plastic jewel boxes, more of which anon.

    It goes without saying that those four (or seven if you want the three in mono as well)  rank among the rarest of all Beatles tapes, regardless of national origin. If clean copies of the 7-1/2 ips US Revolver are snapped up at present at $300 a pop on eBay, I cannot imagine what the second series stereo UK tapes would command. What baffles me is that the risible, earlier mono tapes can fetch sums similar to the far more desirable – in sonic terms – 7-1/2 ips US tapes on Capitol. And that means as much as £150 for a sonic catastrophe.

    As with its British cousins at EMI, Capitol was driven to reissue the Beatles open-reel tapes in a higher-quality form from 1967-8 (also notable by the boxes bearing blue edges), having originally released them at 3-3/4 ips “two-on-one” tapes, when the boxes were brown-edged; some of the earliest editions came on 5-inch spools according to one online source. It illustrates the cheapo reasoning and contempt for rock held by the labels, despite the Beatles probably earning more for Capitol and EMI than all of their other artists combined.

    I stress this because the Beatles’ catalogue in particular serves as synecdoche for rock music vis-à-vis open-reel tape in terms of number of titles, tape speeds, label support and other issues. Why this matters, as part of the concern about time’s relationship to the sale of open-reel tapes, is that rock music didn’t get the attention it deserved until hi-fi became affordable in the mid to late 1960s, by which time it was too late for rock to be properly represented on open-reel.

    This was entirely thanks to the arrival of entry-level Japanese electronics, greater disposable income in the youth demographic, and hi-fi outlets catering to college students or others who weren’t in the McIntosh/Marantz/Fisher/Bozak earning bracket of the previous decade. Hi-fi itself became mainstream, while rock music was populist from the outset.

    As you can see, open-reel tapes for the rock audience thus enjoyed only a small window of opportunity. Rock fans were latecomers to decent hi-fi equipment, and  unfortunately for open-reel tape’s future, the widespread ownership of hi-fi among the young corresponded with the cassette’s ascent. Indeed, as a young audiophile in 1968, I only recall two or three of my equally fanatical contemporaries having open-reel machines, and one of those was a son of super-wealthy parents who bought him a Crown 800 series deck for use in his dorm room. The rest of us used cassettes for taping needs.

    Mentioned before, however, were rock or rock-affiliated performers who did sell well on open-reel tape, and it’s clear that, whatever you think of their work, sound quality was a major selling point. Judging by what I have monitored in tape sales, and by the profusion of copies which I have seen offered, it appears that the aforementioned Neil Diamond, the Carpenters, the Fifth Dimension, Blood Sweat & Tears, Peter, Paul and Mary, the Kingston Trio, Glen Campbell, and Chicago shifted significant numbers of pre-recorded open-reel tapes.

    It’s the second concern which will bother you more if you’ve reconciled your taste with what is on offer. [This acclimating to repertoire limitations is not unique to reel-to-reel. If, like my friend Steve Harris, who was my former boss at Hi-Fi News, you prefer 78s, you know that there ain’t much after 1958, and you need to go to India for Beatles 78s.] The worry is about condition. Simply put, nearly all of the rock tapes I’ve seen and/or acquired were treated with the sort of disdain drivers reserve for rental cars.

    When one considers how expensive tapes were – double that of LPs – you’d have thought their owners and users would have shown concern for matters such as proper spooling, cleaning heads, demagnetizing, fitting leader tape and tails, and even something as simple as flipping over the spool when changing sides on machines without auto-reverse. Every time I receive a shipment of tapes, I dread opening the rock titles. Even the boxes have been treated like sh*t.

    This, however, involves speculation, partly based on the number of tape boxes I have opened which smell like burning cannabis. It is no stretch to assume that someone listening to a Doors or Jefferson Airplane album on open-reel tape in 1969 was whacked out of his or her head, and tape hygiene and spooling procedures would hardly matter to someone who looked like the inspiration for a Robert Crumb comic.

    I stopped counting the number of rock tapes I have acquired which are missing the first few feet of tape, resulting in the first song on Side 1 and the last song on Side 2 being truncated. Partly to blame are the labels for not fitting leader tape and tail (as mentioned in the last issue, something of which EMI undertook, even to the point of printing leader tape with the album’s title on it). As a result, the ends of these tapes are chewed beyond salvation. You can imagine the knots and tears, the tangles and stretches and – worse – missing segments because some early stoner accidentally hit the Record button.

    As for current availability, fellow collector Peter Thomas of PMC loudspeakers fame posits that the good ones were snapped up years ago by prescient open-reel enthusiasts. My curse is that I am a latecomer, so I am scooping up hundreds of titles in the hopes that some gems might be buried in amongst the Mantovani and Peter Nero tapes.

    It does still happen. One job lot of 40 tapes I bought on eBay included a decent copy of the Casino Royale soundtrack. As the LP can fetch $1,500, what’s the original open reel tape worth? The box of tapes, by the way, cost me $150.

    Another surprise was a second copy of The Best of Sonny and Cher. This didn’t bother me because I trade or sell my duplicates after cleaning them up (to be discussed in a future column). Then I noticed: one copy was 7-1/2 ips, the other 3-3/4 ips. As a hi-fi reviewer, this gave me the perfect tools for comparing tape speeds.

    Spot the difference: two versions of The Best of Sonny and Cher on open-reel tape. Spot the difference: two versions of The Best of Sonny and Cher on open-reel tape.

    Back to the Beatles. Collectors also cherish anything Beatles-related. You would be staggered by the number of tapes with covers of Beatles songs, from Tony Bennett to Percy Faith, to well, everyone, but sometimes you find a real treasure. Not only was this tape unknown to me, it was also on a 5-inch spool: The Beatles Hits In Brass and Percussion on no less than Audio Fidelity. Value? Anyone’s guess. (See this article’s header image.)

    But there are risks with rock tapes, far more than with popular or classical, as all are invariably sold as “untested” on eBay; you’re pretty safe with a copy of Camelot or anything from Leonard Bernstein. You can just picture the original owner, with his perfectly maintained ReVox G36. But in all fairness to the vendor, it was made clear that the vast sum I was spending on a rare UK stereo Series 2 copy of Sgt. Pepper‘s in the plastic box might not contain the right tape. I took the gamble.

    Alas, the vendor was right: someone had recorded gobbledegook over all but about 10 minutes of side 2. And still it remains the only copy I have ever seen of any of the Series 2 British Beatles tapes. I won’t tell you what I paid for what is now just an empty box with a paper Beatles insert. By pure coincidence, as I was writing this, someone posted on eBay.co.uk a nearly complete set of the Beatles’ UK pre-recorded tapes, 12 titles including all of the Series 1 mono versions and three of the four Series 2 stereos, for a Buy It Now price of £1,500, or a few bucks over $2,000.

    If the tone of this particular entry in the series is too negative for you, my apologies. But don’t blame me. Blame the stoners who didn’t know how to treat open-reel tapes back in the 1960s and 1970s. When you do find clean rock tapes on offer, the following artists can match or even exceed the Beatles for high prices: Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones. Curiously, Dylan tapes are usually priced in the $50 – $75 region, but nobody blinks at $500 for a copy of The Dark Side of the Moon.

    Screen shot of a couple of recent eBay auctions. Sticker shock: a couple of recent eBay auctions.

    There is no consistency about pricing, no “norms” because this niche is so small. A dozen sources, from Discogs to eBay to rarerecords.net can give you accurate values for, say, a mint first pressing of the Doors eponymous debut. The open-reel tape? All over the place, from $30 to $250. There are no “market values” or “going rates” for any open-reel tapes. But now you can see why a love for pre-recorded reel-to-reel tapes, especially if rock is your preference, requires fortitude.

    And possibly restraint: after just passing the 2,500 tapes mark, I am now heading – as one colleague noted – for an intervention.

    Welcome to the Pleasure Dome

    Welcome to the Pleasure Dome

    Welcome to the Pleasure Dome

    James Schrimpf

    This streamlined dome lounge car was built for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. They were known as "Pleasure Domes," named for the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem "Kubla Khan." The photo was taken in the Santa Fe Railyard district.

    Marshall Crenshaw: Songwriting Mastery Revisited with #447

    Marshall Crenshaw: Songwriting Mastery Revisited with #447

    Marshall Crenshaw: Songwriting Mastery Revisited with #447

    Ray Chelstowski

    Marshall Crenshaw’s career began in perhaps the most poetic of fashion – he played John Lennon in the Broadway musical Beatlemania. From there his career was propelled with a steady stream of pop-hook rock singles throughout the 1980s. The music was immediately approachable and stuck with you because of how masterfully constructed they were, right from the ground up. There were textures and subtle complexities that made songs like “Whenever You’re On My Mind,” “Cynical Girl” and perhaps his biggest hit, “Someday, Someway” more than just irresistible ear candy. They reflected the songwriting mastery of an artist whose talents and creativity would expand with each release.

    Crenshaw found himself at Razor & Tie Records in the 1990s, and there, with artists like Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers, and Dar Williams, he was afforded the opportunity to really stretch his creative borders and make music on his own terms. This resulted in a series of records that he has begun to reissue on his own label, Shiny-Tone. He now is re-releasing 1997’s #447, an album of incredible dexterity and artistic daring. Long regarded among his finest work, #447 comes with two new singles that fit within the original tracks like proper soul mates. Wire to wire, it’s a stunning expression of Crenshaw’s abilities as a writer, musician, and arranger.


    Marshall Crenshaw, #447, album cover. Marshall Crenshaw, #447, album cover.

    We caught up with Crenshaw during a late fall/early winter tour he was participating in with rock outfit The Smithereens. Standing in for the late lead singer Pat DiNizio, Crenshaw’s vocals fit perfectly with the band’s body of work and continue to demonstrate this artist’s broad collaborative capabilities. We talked about that experience and what it was like to revisit #447 and bring it forward once more to a broader audience.

    Ray Chelstowski: How did you get to Razor & Tie after just one album with MCA?

    Marshall Crenshaw: I got invited to participate in a multi-artist Arthur Alexander tribute album that they were going to put out. I went to the session and I just overdubbed a vocal, I don’t think that I even played guitar on it. The principals of the label were there, they introduced themselves to me, and we hit it off. That was it. It was a personal one-on-one situation and they expressed interest in working with me.

    RC: How were you able to get back the rights to these Razor & Tie records and re-release them?

    MC: It was really simple. I just happened to have [had] a really good lawyer at that time. He put a clause in the contract [stating] that everything would revert back to me later after a certain period of time. I didn’t ask him to do it, but I’m glad that he did.

    RC: There’s a terrific 49-second-long rock jam, “Opening,” that opens the album. Was that always the plan or did it happen in the moment?


    MC: No, it wasn’t spontaneous in terms of conception. But it did just sort of pop into my head, this little nonsense song that’s all about rock. As soon as I got the idea I set up one microphone and just played the drums and pulled it all up from there. I then asked this guy Paul Shapiro (tenor sax), who I haven’t seen since the session, to take the three tracks I gave him and go nuts, just fill them up. It’s a good track, right?

    RC: You included an instrumental, “West of Bald Knob,” on the record. That seemed like a bit of a departure for you. What prompted that?

    MC: Well, the first “album” album that I did for Razor & Tie was called Miracle of Science, and there was an instrumental tune on that album. That was the first time that I did [one]. All of these things, like the opening track and the instrumentals, are things that I wouldn’t have been allowed to do when I was at Warner Brothers and MCA Records. Or, I would have at least been discouraged to pursue them. But they just seemed like natural things to me. I grew up with 1950s and 1960s Top 40 radio and there were rock instrumental hit records back then, like Duane Eddy and the Ventures, all of that cool stuff that I loved. Whenever I wrote a song it always began as a piece of music with no lyrics. But there just happened to be this one particular instance where I couldn’t put any words to this melody that were at least “worthy” of the melody. Every word that I tried just didn’t track the song down. So, I decided to take the leap and make it an instrumental. I just kept doing it. I think that every record that I have done since includes at least one instrumental.


    RC: You also worked here with world-class musicians like David Sancious (keyboardist for the E-Street Band), Bill Lloyd (guitars, Foster & Lloyd), and Greg Leisz (Ryan Adams, Eric Clapton, John Mayer, Jackson Browne and others). Did Razor & Tie also give you the freedom to recruit these types of players?

    MC: Well you could say so, because their approach was completely hands-off. It was perfect for me and that allowed me to go about making the record however I liked. That’s one thing I’m really conscious of and thankful for. I know a lot of great people and have worked with a lot of great people, musicians and artists, that is. Razor & Tie didn’t have an A&R (artists & repertoire) department so I was off on my own, autonomous.

    RC: You’ve said #447 is part of an album pair with Miracle Of Science. What do you think creates this bond?

    MC: Well I was in a really good head space at that time and could really think clearly. It was a period when I could completely set my own agenda and was inspired and motivated. That’s kind of how that worked. Now with the passage of time, as I look back at my records I think of the first two, where I was also in a really good head space with a real sense of freedom and certainty about what I was doing. For my third fourth and fifth Warner Brothers albums it was a whole different world. After the second album we all realized that the relationship had gone into the ditch, to the degree that I actually politely asked to be released from my contract, but they wouldn’t do it. But those first two Warner records and the two Razor & Tie records are kind of pure in a way.


    Marshall Crenshaw, Miracle of Science, album cover. Marshall Crenshaw, Miracle of Science, album cover.

    RC: The new songs fit perfectly into the track list. Did you write them with this album in mind or were they sitting on the shelf?

    MC: Well, they are actually stand-alone singles in my mind. If you buy the vinyl you actually get a 45 rpm record inside the album cover that has the two new songs on it. I actually structured the licensing deal with MegaForce Records that it was incumbent upon me to deliver some new songs for the rerelease of the Razor & Tie records. I got some help on the song “Will of the Wind” from a guy named Greg Turner. I felt really inspired on that one. And “Santa Fe” is one of Greg’s songs that I always liked a lot. It was the first time that I had recorded anything in a long while and it was really a gas to do.

    RC: In addition to the new songs, were there any other adjustments that you made to the record?

    MC: There’s one little change I made on the album and it’s on a track called “Right There In Front Of Me.” At the end of the title I put the word “demo” in parentheses. It was a song that I didn’t write for myself to sing. I wrote it at the request of an A&R person who was developing a pop act, kind of like the band Hanson. It’s possible that they didn’t like it. It’s also possible that because I wrote it myself, the manager of the group wasn’t going to get any points on the song. That may be why they didn’t use it. At the time I just didn’t want it to go to waste so I put it on my album. I wasn’t really written for the album so that’s why I added the word “demo.”


    RC: You seem to have toured regularly since the early nineties and your collection of live records is a testament to that commitment to the road. What’s next?

    MC: In late spring there’s going to be a 40th anniversary re-issue of my first album, and I got back the copyrights to that one. I did a licensing deal for the Warner albums with Yep Roc Records. So, there’s that. And every year for almost nine years in a row I’ve done tour dates with the Bottle Rockets. They would start the show, then I’d come out and we’d play together. This helped form a real bond with those guys. But during lockdown, Brian Henneman, the leader of the band, decided that he liked staying home and wanted to do just that for the balance of his life. So, that seemed like the end of the band. But the three remaining members are still out there making music so I’m going to do some shows with them.

    RC: You have been out doing dates with The Smithereens as their lead vocalist. That has to be fun!

    MC: Oh absolutely! That’s exactly what it is. It’s fun. The social experience is really great; I like hanging around with those guys. We just played the other week and the other person who sings with them occasionally is Robin Wilson from the Gin Blossoms. At that show we were both on stage the entire time with each of us singing different songs in the set, and a few where we traded verses. It’s fun to play with a really great rock and roll band and [in] a situation where nothing is really my responsibility, which I really like. Though, I’ve got gigs of my own coming up, which helps me maintain a balance.


    Header image courtesy of Tom Schierlitz.

    New Year's Resolution

    New Year's Resolution

    New Year's Resolution

    James Whitworth

    Improving Digital Streaming with a Gigabit Ethernet Media Converter System

    Improving Digital Streaming with a Gigabit Ethernet Media Converter System

    Improving Digital Streaming with a Gigabit Ethernet Media Converter System

    Tom Gibbs

    I’ve been involved in digital music streaming for around eight or nine years now, but have only truly taken a really deep dive in the last few years. Recently, I’ve had the good fortune to evaluate several exceptionally good turnkey streaming setups, including the Euphony Summus Server/endpoint system that is the cornerstone of my home system. But my initial involvement with digital audio was more as a tinkerer, and there’s a whole cottage industry of home-brew designs (mostly based on Intel NUC or Raspberry PI configurations) out there. At almost ten years into this voyage, my personal experience tells me that the DIY route is not for the faint-of-heart. Dealing with the hardware configurations isn’t horrific, it’s mainly the buggy, mind-numbingly stressful DLNA or UPnP open source software implementations needed to create a working music server. Trust me, I’ve been there, done that!

    And along the way, some of the most useful hacks and hardware ancillaries intended to elevate the performance of digital music streaming have seemed to elude me, for whatever reason. One of them involves my current subject, which is employing a Gigabit Ethernet media converter setup in combination with my digital streaming system. I’d been reading about the ease of incorporating one for probably nearly four years now, but for whatever reason, my interest had never been taken to the next level, until just last week, when I caved and spent the $90 necessary to make it happen, at my local Micro Center. And although my previous goal for setting up an Ethernet to fiber conversion scheme was strictly to improve sound quality, that’s recently been augmented by another, previously unknown (to me, at least) rationale for this setup. That is, to implement complete protection of your Ethernet-connected equipment from network-related lightning damage, which can be an extremely vexing problem in any audio setup.

    Home Ethernet equipment and cabling can easily introduce unacceptable levels of digital noise into your playback environment. For me, that was initially the big selling point of ethernet to fiber conversion – lowering the noise floor. At the point several years ago when my digital streaming experience had begun to step up to the next level, I still was pretty much oblivious to the need for outboard improvements. Part of my lack of enthusiasm for optical conversion had to do with my perception of optical in general, which was mainly focused around the popular Toslink optical connection. Yes, Toslink is optical, but it has limited bandwidth, which limits its usefulness with uncompressed digital audio signals, and it’s widely considered, by those in the know, to be the very last choice for digital audio connections.

    The Sonore Signature Rendu SE is one of the few optically-equipped digital streamers that currently exists.

    The Sonore Signature Optical Rendu…and the Fidelizer EtherStream Network Switch

    I had the pleasure to review the Sonore Signature Optical Rendu SE a couple of years ago, a device that had a built-in multi-mode optical digital input. The unit came supplied with a Gigabit Ethernet media converter, which took the incoming copper cable Ethernet signal and converted it to a multi-mode optical signal. That plugged directly from the media converter, via a multi-mode optical cable, into the Signature Optical Rendu. Sonore touted this connection as being audibly superior, and I couldn’t argue with that based on my evaluation – the resulting sound had a level of transparency and clarity that simply blew me away with its goodness. At the time, that optical connection was the single biggest improvement in digital streaming I’d yet experienced – the Sonore was a digital streaming dream system, without a doubt. I feel pretty certain that systems like the Sonore, with its built-in optical capabilities, are the streamers of the not-too-distant future. But for whatever reason, units with built-in optical ports are few and far between on the current market. By having the optical capability built into the unit, you’re bypassing an entire conversion stage, which ultimately should be a good thing.

    Another aspect of optimizing the Sonore setup was that Adrian Lebena (Sonore’s head honcho) insisted that the media converter should be powered by a linear power supply rather than a wall wart. I happened to have an Uptone Audio UltraCap LPS-1 on hand that matched the voltage requirement for their supplied media converter, and it worked perfectly. My experiences with linear power supplies have definitely shown me that using one can significantly enhance the performance of the attached equipment. The LPS-1 in combination with Sonore’s optical module proved to me that Adrian was correct when he insisted that noise from a substandard power supply could degrade the sound of the Signature Optical Rendu. Also, in my recent online explorations of fiber media conversion, where dual converters are employed, I’ve found numerous references to the importance of providing a good power supply to the media converter that’s nearest to your audio stack. The media converter at the beginning of the run is ahead of the fiber cable implementation, so no noise from it can move to the second converter – the optical cable is impervious to electrical noise of any kind.

    The UpTone Audio LPS series of linear power supplies provide an excellent source of stable power to fiber media converters.

    Despite this positive experience, and for whatever reason, my brain didn’t completely latch onto the whole Ethernet-to-optical conversion concept. Days after the Sonore unit left my system and returned to the manufacturer, I received a new EtherStream network switch from Fidelizer. This takes a top-of-the-line Cisco switch and replaces many of the interior circuit board parts with an upgraded selection of capacitors and resistors, and an improved power supply. Yeah, I know, a switch is a switch, right? That’s not what my ears told me – the EtherStream definitely lifted my streaming experience to a level that came within an eyelash of the goodness of the optical setup with the Signature Optical Rendu. And, when used in combination with my Ethernet-connected Sonore UltraRendu, offered surprisingly good sound. The EtherStream stayed in my system for over a year, and I didn’t spend too much time bemoaning the loss of the Sonore Signature Optical unit. Especially after the Euphony Summus system showed up!

    The $400 EtherStream ended up getting returned to the manufacturer about the same time as I experienced my system failure in August, and I replaced it with a $40 managed Ethernet switch. I didn’t think too much at the time about the impact of the new switch on my sound quality, as my system was essentially limping along for months. But when I got the system back up and running again in mid-November, I immediately felt it sounded…less perfect than it did with the EtherStream in place. That’s the point when I really started thinking hard about possibly finally going the fiber media conversion route.

    Gigabit Ethernet Media Converters – the Basic Concept

    The concept of incorporating a Gigabit media converter revolves around taking the noise-prone copper-wired Ethernet connection and converting it to an optical signal. One media converter unit is required to convert the incoming signal from Ethernet to optical. An optical cable is then connected to the media converter, which in turn connects to a second media converter. The network signal then gets reconverted from optical back to Ethernet. The advantage to this setup is that once the Ethernet signal has been converted to optical, this completely eliminates any electrical noise from the signal path. At the endpoint of the setup, a small length of network cable then connects to the Ethernet port of the second media converter, and in turn to your streaming equipment. The network cable should be as short as possible, so that it won’t act as an antenna for any RF signals that might get attracted by a longer cable. A number of configurations are possible in a Gigabit media conversion setup, and those configurations run a broad range of prices. Mine is at the low end of the spectrum, but you could easily spend several hundred dollars (or more) to accomplish the same thing.

    TP Link's entry level Gigabit Ethernet Media Converter is an excellent performer despite its low price.
    The entry-level setup requires a pair of Gigabit media converters, a pair of SFP transceivers, and a fiber optic cable. Media converters come in iterations from 10Mbps, 100Mbps, 1G, 2.5 G, or 10G, all depending on your available bandwidth and system needs. That said, most high end streaming equipment requires Gigabit capability, so a 1G media converter is the baseline minimum for high-resolution digital file streaming. The converter units come in a surprisingly vast array of configurations; the entry level units feature an ethernet port, an SFP (small form factor pluggable) input cage (more about that later), and a power input port. That said, there are media converters that have the optical transceiver built in, but they’re understandably more expensive. And you have to choose from a couple of optical form factors; your choices include single-mode and multi-mode optical. The single-mode connections have a single-tipped connector, and their cables can carry a robust optical signal for hundreds of feet with no degradation. The multi-mode connections have dual-tipped connectors, but have less robust bandwidth that’s also limited to shorter distances. While greater bandwidth and cable length is important for large-scale optical networks, the needs of most audio implementations of fiber media conversion are much smaller in scale, making the multi-mode transceivers and cabling perfect for audio applications.
    Ubiquiti's 1G multi-mode SFP modules are top-rated performers.

    The SFP transceiver is a module that plugs into a media converter and facilitates the conversion from Ethernet to fiber optic. SFP transceivers are available in both single- and multi-mode configurations, and have varying speed capabilities. So, if you decide to go with a media converter that only includes an SFP cage input (they’re more common), you’ll need to choose an SFP transceiver module that matches the capabilities of the media converter. As with media converters, pricing for SFP units is all over the place. You’ll need a pair of them, but you can easily pay as much for a single transceiver as I paid for my entire setup!


    Micro Connectors' multi mode optical cables are capable of 10G speed performance.

    The only remaining necessary item is a good optical digital cable that matches either the single- or multi-mode setup of your system. The good news is that optical cables tend to all be 10 GbE-capable, so should you decide to later upgrade your system speed (10 GbE and other standards are becoming available), your cabling will already be compatible with your new system. And the length of the cable isn’t important here – it can be 1 meter, or 10 meters, whatever length is necessary to make the setup work in your system. However, it’s definitely preferable to use a longer optical cable and a very short Ethernet cable on the end with the audio equipment.

    My Gigabit Media Converter Setup

    I obtained everything for this project at my local Micro Center. The pair of TP Link media converters I chose retail for $25 each, and are very similar in design, capabilities, and price to many I’ve seen in online discussions of implementing this process. They’re definitely baseline units, with an SFP cage input that requires the purchase of an SFP transceiver module. The pair of 1 Gigabit, multi-mode SFP transceivers that I chose are manufactured by Ubiquiti, and despite the low $22 price for the pair, they get very high marks for their build quality and functionality. And for $18, the 3-meter Micro Connectors multi-mode optical cable I selected for connecting the SFP transceivers in the two media converters worked perfectly for my particular setup. I decided to go with multi-mode for everything, mainly because single-mode would definitely have been overkill in my system, and the cost savings of multi-mode (about half the cost) versus single-mode was substantial.

    The second TP Link Media converter sits beside my Euphony Audio digital streaming stack, and is powered by a Keces P8 linear power supply.

    Having set up the Sonore Signature Optical Rendu at the time of that review, I basically knew the drill, but with two media converters versus the one needed for the Sonore setup, the process was a bit more involved. It only took about ten minutes tops, though, before I had music up and running again. There were no drivers or anything else software-related that needed any attention during the setup. The voltage requirements of the TP Link media converters were slightly higher (9V) than my UpTone LPS-1 (7V max) was listed as being comfortable with. I reached out to Alex Crespi at UpTone Audio, and he basically told me that I should just try it, it probably would be fine, and if it didn’t have enough juice to power the unit, no harm would be done to either unit. I remembered afterwards that the Keces P8 Linear Power Supply I currently have in the stack had a configurable second output tap, and I was able to set that to 9 volts for the media converter nearest my Euphony Audio stack. I used the Keces P8 to power that unit, and used the supplied wall wart to power the unit on the network side. Everything worked perfectly; afterwards, I looked at the Sonore website, and their media converters (especially the ones that look virtually identical to the TP Link) show acceptable power ranges of 6 – 9 volts, and they were initially designed to work well with UpTone LPS’s. So when the Keces unit needs to go back to the manufacturer, I’ll just sub the UpTone LPS-1 – it should work just fine.

      The first TP Link media converter is located in the network room that's adjacent to my listening room.

    The first media converter unit sits on a table top near all my network equipment, in the room behind my listening room. It’s currently directly connected to my cable modem/router, and I’ve completely bypassed my network switch. The 3-meter multi-mode optical cable runs through an opening in my keystone jack array and into the listening room, where it connects with the second unit that sits beside the Euphony Audio streaming stack. The Keces LPS sits on another rack adjacent to everything else in the streaming stack. It’s convenient, and has thus far has worked perfectly. I plan on playing about with the connection to my cable modem/router, and will take a listen to how everything sounds with the network switch in the loop to see if it has any impact on the sound.


    So how does it sound? I’d say that the status quo has definitely been restored. When I replaced the EtherStream switch in my system with the stock switch, I wasn’t too happy with my system’s sound. I then bypassed the switch, using a direct connection from my cable modem/router to the Euphony stack. I wasn’t exactly ecstatic with that, either. But with the fiber media conversion setup now in place, I actually feel the sound quality exceeds any previous incarnation of my digital streaming system. Notice I said feel – this is not just me working all this out in my brain, this is an emotional response to more accurately portrayed music. The noise floor is significantly lower, and there’s zero possibility of any digital hash or noise interfering with the music – the music playing sounds so much more…musical.

    As I mentioned earlier, a key advantage of having an optical media converter in the chain is the added benefit of totally isolating your expensive Ethernet-connected audio (and other) equipment from the effects of a lightning strike. The optical cable is non-metallic, and can’t carry a deadly electrical surge, so damage due to lightning via Ethernet will no longer be a consideration. This a welcome level of protection.

    Yeah, I know – fire up the flamethrowers! Ethernet is just Ethernet – as with everything digital, it’s just transmitting ones and zeros, and the differences between Ethernet and optical can’t be that significant. Whatever. Is a switch just a switch? Not necessarily. Is a cable just a cable? Not necessarily. It’s all system-dependent, but I firmly believe that inserting an optical connection into a copper-wired network chain will make a significant improvement in any digital streaming system’s musicality. Period. Best $100 I ever spent!

    Header image: the Fidelizer EtherStream network switch is a superb – if a bit pricey – performer.

    All images courtesy of Sonore, Fidelizer, UpTone Audio, Micro Center and the author.

    Burt Bacharach: The Post-Hal David Years

    Burt Bacharach: The Post-Hal David Years

    Burt Bacharach: The Post-Hal David Years

    Rudy Radelic

    The Burt Bacharach and Hal David songwriting team was one for history! However, they had a falling out in the mid-1970s, and then Bacharach worked with other lyricists. While his recordings from his post-David period are few, there are still many highlights from these later years. Burt Bacharach is still active today, his most recent recordings featuring a collaboration with Daniel Tashian. While we could go on for several more installments, Bacharach’s tunes have been covered so many times by so many artists and bands that it would ultimately be a futile, never-ending effort.

    With that in mind, our final installment features primarily Bacharach’s own recordings since his split with Hal David, along with a couple of career highlights.

    Although Bacharach did split with Hal David following the fiasco that was the Lost Horizon film soundtrack, they regrouped temporarily for a 1975 Motown album by Stephanie Mills called For the First Time. Bacharach would cover the same tune on his album Futures.


    Perhaps the best-known highlight in Bacharach’s career was penning the song “That’s What Friends Are For.” Originally recorded by Rod Stewart in 1982, Dionne Warwick later arranged for the song to be done under the name of “Dionne and Friends” as a fundraiser in 1985, featuring a collaboration with Gladys Knight, Elton John and Stevie Wonder. Bacharach and his then-wife Carole Bayer Sager wrote the music and lyrics, and this version of the song went on to win two Grammy awards and topped the Billboard Hot 100 for four weeks.


    After composing the tune “God Give Me Strength” for the film Grace of my Heart, collaborators Bacharach and Elvis Costello decided to complete an album together. It seemed the most unlikely pairing – composer and easy-listening pop music composer with the former angry young man of punk rock. But what a pairing it turned out to be, producing the album Painted from Memory. In all his post-Hal David years, Bacharach has never had such a formidable writing partner as Costello – it is a high-water mark in both of their musical careers. “I Still Have That Other Girl” won a 1998 Grammy Award for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals.


    2005 found Bacharach returning to the studio to record a new, mostly instrumental album under his own name, his first in decades. While the album is the typical assemblage of well-known guest musicians, notable is the participation of Dr. Dre (who provided some of the beats) and Tonio K. (as a lyrical collaborator). Elvis Costello would return to sing a part on the following tune, “Who Are These People?”, which was Bacharach’s version of a protest song for the political situation in the US at the time. The album was slickly-produced but did not have much in the way of memorable songs on it. The following was the single from the album, with an alternate version featuring an explicit lyric.


    Another collaboration paired Bacharach with Ronald Isley, lead singer and founder of The Isley Brothers. As with past projects, Bacharach fills the role of producer, arranger and conductor on this 2003 recording. Here is their version of the classic “Make It Easy On Yourself.”


    In 1986, another Bacharach/Bayer Sager tune topped the charts. “On My Own,” featuring the pairing of Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald, hit Number One the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks, and would be the biggest hit single for both artists.


    One of Bacharach’s most recent collaborations is with songwriter Daniel Tashian, which resulted in the Grammy-nominated EP Blue Umbrella, released early in 2020. Here is the title track from that release.


    In December 2020, Bacharach released a few more tunes in a collaboration with Melody Federer. One of them is: “The Sun Also Rises.”


    To wrap our series on Burt Bacharach up, here is a video of the maestro himself, performing his favorite tune – “Alfie.”


    Still active at 92, Burt Bacharach has stopped touring but continues to compose and collaborate. To keep up with the latest news or dive deeper into his many recordings and compositions, the Bacharach Online web site has it all – news, discography, lyrics, media, tour schedule and a discussion forum. Online streaming sources are chock-full of great albums that Bacharach had a hand in arranging, conducting and producing, and his songs with Hal David have become modern day pop standards. Go forth and explore the immense body of work Bacharach has created, and continues to create to this day!

    Previous installments in this series appeared in Issues 146, 147, 148, 149, and 151.

    Top Tracks of 2021

    Top Tracks of 2021

    Top Tracks of 2021

    Cliff Chenfeld

    It’s been a wonderful year for new music, and my favorites of 2021 are listed below. You can find them all on my Spotify playlist Be Here Now, which I regularly update with new recordings:


    Perhaps because music is such a tonic for these crazy times, new recordings occupy an even more essential place than they would otherwise. And, when live music returned earlier this year, it was pure joy. I was so grateful to bond with other humans in our collective love of music and experience the transformative magic that only live concerts can provide. Some of my favorite shows in 2021 included LCD Soundsystem, St. Vincent, Neal Francis, Noga Erez, Woods, Wolf Alice, Yo La Tango, Wilco, Foo Fighters and Laura Marling.

    We live in a golden age of music with a vast release of quality new recordings available instantaneously. Sifting through the clutter, though, can be a challenge. I hope that this year-end summary will help you discover amazing artists that you will enjoy for many years.

    My top tracks of 2021:

    Big Red Machine (featuring Fleet Foxes) – “Phoenix”
    Wolf Alice – “The Last Man On Earth”




    Lord Huron – “Mine Forever”
    Rüfüs Du Sol – “Alive”
    St. Vincent – “Down and Out Downtown”
    Sofi Tukker – “Sun Came Up”




    London Grammar – “How Does It Feel”
    Aaron Frazier – “Bad News”
    Japanese Breakfast – “Paprika”
    Parcels – “Comingback”
    Devon Gilfillian – “Unchained”
    Sault – “Wildfires”
    Mitski – “Working for the Knife”
    Celeste – “Stop This Flame”
    The Weather Station – “Robber”
    Strands Of Oak – “Galacticana”
    Fleet Foxes – “Can I Believe You”
    Curtis Harding – “Hopeful”
    Yola – “Starlight”
    Wet Leg – “Chaise Longue”
    The War on Drugs – “I Don’t Live Here Anymore”
    Sharon Van Etten & Angel Olsen – “Like I Used To”
    Woods – “Strange To Explain”
    Girl in Red – “Serotonin”
    Mdou Moctar – “Chismiten”
    Tempesst – “High On My Own”
    Knocks/Foster the People – “All About You”
    Jungle – “Keep Moving”
    Tim Heidecker/Weyes Blood – “Oh How We Drift Away”
    Turnstile – “Blackout”
    Neal Francis – “Can’t Stop the Rain”




    Torres – “Don’t Go Puttin’ Wishes In My Head”
    Parquet Courts – “Walking at a Downtown Pace”
    Lindsey Buckingham – “On the Wrong Side”
    Noga Erez – “End of the Road”




    Gruff Rhys – “Negative Vibes”
    Typhoon – “Empire Builder”
    Lizzo – “Rumors” feat. Cardi B
    Tom Odell – “lose you again”
    Foo Fighters – “Making A Fire” (Mark Ronson remix)
    Brandi Carlile – “Right On Time”
    Altin Gün – “Yuce Dag Basinda”
    Morgan Wade – “Wilder Days”
    Bachelor – “Stay In The Car”
    Tame Impala – “No Choice”
    Unknown Mortal Orchestra – “That Life”
    Waaves – “Sinking Feeling”
    Glass Animals – “Heat Waves”


    Yebba – “Boomerang”
    Nation of Language – “Across That Fine Line”
    This Is The Kit – “Coming to Get You Nowhere”
    Blitzen Trapper – “Masonic Temple Microdose #1”
    Ball Park Music – “Cherub”
    Mannequin Pussy – “To Lose You”
    Fruit Bats – “The Balcony”
    Har Mar Superstar – “Don’t You Go Forgetting About Me Now”
    Middle Kids – “Questions”
    Bureau de Fatigue – “Laundromat”
    Aaron Lee Tasjan – “Up All Night”
    Iceage – “Shelter Song”
    Washed Out – “Time to Walk Away”
    Westerman – “Confirmation”
    Briston Maroney – “Freaking Out on the Interstate”
    Dräger – “Psycho Narcissistic Paranoia (Temples Remix)”
    Arlo Parks – “Too Good”
    Halsey – “I’m Not a Woman, I’m a God”
    Holly Humberstone – “Falling Asleep at the Wheel”
    The Avalanches – “Running Red Lights”


    Roosevelt – “Feels Right”
    Low – “Days Like These”
    Lucy Dacus – “Hot and Heavy”
    Cory Henry – “Happy Days”
    Clairo – “Amoeba”
    Silk Sonic – “Leave the Door Open”
    Goat Girl – “Sad Cowboy”
    Courtney Barnett – “Rae Street”
    Hand Habits – “Fourth of July”
    Kunzite – “Jupiter”
    Tennis – “Need Your Love”
    Half Waif – “Swimmer”
    Bartees Strange – “Weights”
    The Neighbourhood – “Stargazing”
    Richard Dawson – “Lily”
    Elderbrook – “Inner Light”
    Deep Sea Diver (featuring Sharon Van Etten) – “Impossible Weight”
    Royal Blood – “Trouble Coming”
    Porter Robinson – “Look at the Sky”
    Brandee Younger – “Reclamation”
    Mndsgn – Medium Rare”


    Kasey Musgraves – “Justified”
    Bobby Gillespie, Jehnny Beth – “Chase It Down”
    Villagers – “The First Day”
    Freedom Fly – “Le Point Zero”
    Pale Jay – “Dos Uvas”
    Irreversible Entanglements – “Open the Gates”
    Twin Shadow – “Alemania”
    Dry Cleaning – “Scratchcard Lanyard”
    Arooj Aftab – “Last Night”

    Top Albums of 2021:

    Like many people, I wish I listened to complete albums more often. I’m glad I was able to give these the time they deserve:
    Wolf Alice – Blue Weekend
    The War on Drugs – I Don’t Live Here Anymore
    Parcels – Day/Night
    St. Vincent – Daddy’s Home
    The Weather Station – Ignorance
    London Grammar – Californian Soil
    Lord Huron – Long Lost
    Rüfüs Du Sol – Surrender
    Devon Gilfillian – Black Hole Rainbow
    Japanese Breakfast – Jubilee
    Curtis Harding – If Words Were Flowers
    Lindsey Buckingham – Lindsey Buckingham
    The Avalanches – We Will Always Love You
    Turnstile – Glow On

    Header image: Big Red Machine, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Raph_PH.

    The Dirty Weekend is Over

    The Dirty Weekend is Over

    The Dirty Weekend is Over

    Tom Methans

    I never considered it my place to push or review products. Any component I’ve ever talked about has been in the vein of, “Hey, it works for me; maybe you’ll like it too.” But my Zu Audio speakers are a bit different. Unfortunately, I’m now free to heap praise on them after a sad announcement from Zu Audio informing us that their iconic entry-level Omen Dirty Weekend (DW for short) loudspeaker has been discontinued after eleven successful years.

    The DW Mk. 1 started as way to reuse surplus and refurbished drivers from trade-ins, and eventually evolved into the sought-after Mk. II with upgraded drivers and parts. It became simultaneously a best-kept secret, a cult favorite, and one of the greatest audio bargains out there. Built a few times a year and selling-out immediately, DWs didn’t need mass-marketing campaigns. Word of mouth, customer testimonials, and the well-imagined Zu Audio website were enough to pique the interests of budget-minded audiophiles like myself. And if you’ve been to the Zu room at an audio show, you already know their best sales strategy was demoing their speakers with energetic, loud, hip music like many of us listen to at home.

    Despite encountering some of the usual skepticism around imperfect measurements, bad reviews, and whether they can be used for serious jazz and classical music, this company has a way of grabbing on to new customers who never want to part ways. I’ve also often read that one either loves or hates Zu speakers, but isn’t that the case with any brand? My DWs are in my living room, where I spend nearly every waking moment. The left channel is less than two meters from me as I write this. I better love them, both their sound and design, or I made a huge blunder. A speaker is not something to be lukewarm about.

    I don’t remember how I stumbled upon Zu Audio – maybe in Stereophile – but I’m positive the name caught my eye because I figured it was a German brand. The German word “zu” means “to,” “for,” “into,” or “too” in English. Upon studying their website and learning more about the company, I felt an affinity with Zu’s philosophy and their young crew of seven in Utah. No matter the origin of the name, which I still don’t know, I was dying to get rid of my cheap little Wharfedales and get back to efficient American floorstanders. For the no-brainer price of $999 per pair, I was willing to wait a few weeks until they were assembled and broken-in. Compared to the quality of other stuff on the market, these speakers were heads above the rest. Although they’re not exactly like my three-way speakers from high school, the DWs still have the vibe I remember from the old days, a 50-lb. wooden rectangle that cranks.

    Zu Audio Omen Dirty Weekend loudspeakers. Zu Audio Omen Dirty Weekend loudspeakers.


    Once I hooked them up, I never considered upgrading to the full-scale Omen II at twice the price, and I was not alone. People were so enthusiastic about the Dirty Weekends that I started a Facebook group for Zu fans in 2018. One of my surveys showed that nearly 50 percent of members owned the entry-level Dirty Weekend, compared to all other Zu models. Some group members were indeed interested in upgrading, but it didn’t seem pressing because the DWs delivered so much for the money. The speaker might have been intended to offer a taste of what Zu could do, yet it delivered most of the menu – alas, without putting more pre-owned DWs into circulation for auditioning and perhaps without selling Zu’s more-expensive models.

    Meanwhile, orders kept rolling in for the limited build dates of Dirty Weekends. The Facebook group was loaded with messages from excited new Zu converts counting down to the next DW sale or delivery date. COVID-19 stimulus checks flooded the market, boosting sales of home entertainment products across America. Depending upon the amount of your check, it could have also covered a custom paint job or upgraded capacitors in a new set of DWs. Nevertheless, by late 2020, consumers started seeing shortages and delays. Some Zu buyers waited extra weeks and then months for their Dirty Weekends to arrive, and others are still waiting patiently into 2022 to receive the last sets of these beloved speakers.

    Though more recent customers paid $1,199 for their DWs, it still was not enough to turn a profit after factoring the cost of parts, labor, and all associated shipping. Despite the accusations of hoaxes, deep state manipulation, and corporate greed, supply chain problems are real. Raw materials are scarcer and more expensive as worldwide production and distribution issues further exacerbate domestic shipping delays. Unless one is directly involved with commerce, it might be easy to believe conspiracy theories around price increases and scarcity. I’d rather believe Zu Audio’s Sean Casey, Founder/Industrialist-Propagandist (his official job title), and Gerrit Koer, Anti-Conformist and Go-to-Guy (his official job title), over any armchair economist or bunker podcaster.

    “We’ve learned that in the prevailing labor and supplies environment, Zu cannot profitably build and sell a Zu-quality speaker at the Omen Dirty Weekend price. At best it’s been a break-even proposition, but if we are really honest with ourselves about the true costs of the promotion, it’s a money-loser, which of course we cannot sustain.”

    Dirty Weekend in blue finish. Dirty Weekend in blue finish.


    The more significant point is that Zu chose to discontinue a popular item instead of compromising quality – like so many companies had done long before the pandemic. Zu could have contracted with a multi-brand factory, where Zu badges are slapped onto plastic speakers and sold at a healthier profit, or made them just bad enough to ensure upgrades. They could have also launched a souped-up version of the DW and charged more by adding a bunch of meaningless bells and whistles. It would be easy to do just by repeating the words “proprietary” and “trademark technology,” and mentioning lots of esoteric materials in the spec sheet – precisely why I avoided big-box store speakers in favor of Zu.

    I consider myself lucky that I got a pair of Dirty Weekends – one of my better audio decisions. After three years of listening, I am still enjoying them. Sure, if I won the lottery and had a dedicated audio room, I would love to own Zu Definitions (now up to Mk. IV status with the Series 6 announced for spring 2022), sort of a monster version of the DW with built-in subwoofers weighing in at 150 lbs. and $8,450 each. Not that it matters, but my upgrade window is long-gone. However, the one-year trade-in policy remains in effect for new buyers, and fortunately, there will still be occasional DWs available to other budget-minded audiophiles. I hope people still manage to get a pair – even as a secondary party set – because Dirty Weekends are so much fun, and loud, realistic, and good-looking. To anyone else who intended to get a new set in the unpredictable future, remember what George Harrison sang, “all things must pass.” Whether it’s good or bad, nothing lasts forever, especially a great audio bargain.