Issue 159

Time Passages

Time Passages

Frank Doris

It is with deep sadness that we report the passing of WL “Woody” Woodward, one of Copper’s most beloved writers, and director of operations at PS Audio. His singular writing style and wit were unmistakable. He will be greatly missed.

A heads up: beginning with Issue 160 on April 11, Copper will be publishing on Sunday rather than Monday mornings. This way everyone will be able to get a jump on reading a new issue on the weekend instead of at the beginning of a busy work week.

In this issue: I remember Copper’s WL “Woody” Woodward and cover Octave Records’ new Audiophile Masters, Volume V. Ray Chelstowski interviews the Knack’s bassist Prescott Niles about his career and the upcoming Knack live album. Tom Methans meets Frank Sinatra a second time. Jack Flory remembers a day when his musical life changed. J.I. Agnew looks more closely into the workings of a classic Neumann lathe. Anne E. Johnson writes about Everything But the Girl, and eclectic clarinetist Don Byron. B. Jan listens to some relationship advice. Tom Gibbs does some sleuthing and discovers the story of the New York Audio loudspeaker company. Rich Isaacs recommends 10 more outstanding music documentaries.

Rudy Radelic enjoys his SweetVinyl SugarCube SC-1 Plus noise removal unit. Stuart Marvin sees through the murky landscape of music creation and ownership. Ken Kessler investigates high crimes and misdemeanors in reel-to-reel tapes. John Seetoo concludes his series with immersive audio’s power couple, Jim Anderson and Ulrike Schwarz. Andy Schaub takes Time for a Pink Floyd sendup. Andrew Daly interviews veteran rocker John Sloman about his new Two Rivers solo album and long career with Uriah Heep, UFO and others. Russ Welton concludes his thoughts on parametric equalization and loudspeakers. Copper reader Craig Evans shares his journey through music and audio. We wrap up the issue with an impatient audiophile, surrounded by memories, with something for everyone, and a silver lining.

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, Andrew Daly, Jack Flory, Harris Fogel, 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

John Sloman: Rocking With Lone Star, Uriah Heep, UFO, and On His Own

John Sloman: Rocking With Lone Star, Uriah Heep, UFO, and On His Own

John Sloman: Rocking With Lone Star, Uriah Heep, UFO, and On His Own

Andrew Daly

We recently dug in with veteran front man and dynamic rock vocalist, John Sloman, a man whose career in music has spanned nearly fifty years, and one who remains as creative and active as ever.

Sloman first burst onto the scene in the late 1970s with underexposed Welsh cult act Lone Star, before transitioning to bigger stages in the early 1980s through a series of high-profile gigs with Uriah Heep, UFO, and Gary Moore.

While Sloman’s stead with each of these three acts came to be defined by various trials and tribulations, they were also fruitful, and imperative to the singer’s greater development as a solo artist, a journey which officially began with the release of Sloman’s 1989 record, Disappearances Can Be Deceptive.

In the 33 years since, Sloman has continued to defy expectations, as well as genre restrictions through his inventive songwriting, flair for the dramatic, and creative spurts, which keep Sloman pushing his music forward for current and future generations to feast on.

I recently sat down with the veteran front man to discuss his long musical career, as well as his new album Two Rivers, what’s coming up next, and a whole lot more.


John Sloman.

John Sloman.


Andrew Daly: John, thanks for taking the time. How have you been holding up?

John Sloman: Well, Andrew, I’ve been waiting for the world to return to some kind of normality. And just when I thought it was beginning to happen, someone started to beat the war drums. It almost seems like some people want chaos in the world. And do all they can to achieve it.

AD: You have a brand-new album out (released March 25). Take me through the writing and recording of Two Rivers.

JS: Two Rivers is about growing up in Cardiff [Wales], leaving Cardiff to live in London, and the tug of love between those two cities that has prevailed for several decades, eventually driving me to express publicly what was for many years, private thoughts and emotions. There are songs about people I’ve known, loved, and lost. And songs about things, such as an old biscuit tin I recalled from my childhood, which was festooned with images of Elizabethan London, which I would study almost in a meditative state while imagining all kinds of scenarios taking place between people of that time on the banks of the River Thames.

During the writing process, I had this sense of finality. As if I was both acknowledging and saying goodbye to people and places I have known. People who had been there for me but were no longer on this planet. I felt a deep connection to them throughout the whole writing and recording process. And of course, I wanted to acknowledge my home town, the place I left all those years ago, and to celebrate it.

The album was recorded at home, using mostly acoustic instruments. Acoustic guitar, mandolin, harmonium, African drum, various shakers, and piano. The only non-acoustic instrument was the Mellotron [keyboard], which I feel helps to place some of the songs in the space and time and was required by the lyrical content.

AD: This is your first solo outing since 2019’s Metamorph. How has Two Rivers progressed from where you left off?

JS: Metamorph was all about me giving myself the freedom to express my rampant eclecticism, with the opening track, “Night Of The Metamorph,” depicting a teenage me consulting a mystic known as the Metamorph. For this little bit of self-mockery, I pitch-shifted my voice, lowering it for the Metamorph character, and raising it for the young me. I had a lot of fun making Metamorph. There were personal aspects to that album. But Two Rivers is an entirely personal statement. I did, however, as on “Night of The Metamorph,” pitch shift my voice on one track, “The Last Coalminer,” where I wanted to disappear into the character of a Welsh coalminer. I’ll leave it up to the listener to tell me if I was successful in this endeavor.

AD: Since you hail from Cardiff, Two Rivers seems to be a bit of an homage to home for you. Tell us more.

JS: Cardiff, Wales is in my blood. I write this on St David’s Day, a big day in Wales. When I was in primary school, on St David’s Day, kids dressed up in armor, swords, and shields. And the school playing fields resembled a medieval battleground. The connection with our historical past was powerful. So, when I left, that connection only seemed to strengthen. After all, when Neil Armstrong stood on the moon looking back at the Earth, did he feel less human? Or more so?

AD: Having been in the business for a long time, I’m sure you’ve amassed a lot of musicians you might call on for your records. That being said, are there any old friends featured on Two Rivers?

JS: Even though I have many musician friends I could have called on to assist with Two Rivers, I played and produced the whole thing myself. But I don’t rule out involving some friends on some future album project.


AD: I wanted to go back a bit. If you would, take me through your earliest memories of music. Where did it all begin for you?

JS: My mum tells me I used to rock in my pram to a bluegrass song called “Last Train to San Fernando.” But my earliest conscious musical memories are of my grandmother teaching me a Bing Crosby song called “True Love,” and [of] being part of this song and dance troupe when I was seven through ’til around ten, performing old vaudeville songs such as this other bluegrass song, “Are You From Dixie.” I had some piano lessons as a kid but was always trying to play stuff from the pop chart instead of practicing the piece my piano teacher, Miss Jenkins, had taught me. I loved all music – The Beatles, The Kinks, The Beach Boys, Little Stevie Wonder, Leonard Bernstein, Rodgers and Hammerstein. By this time, I was desperate to be in a band but I was too shy to say so. Then, one day, a classmate at school said, “Hey John, you sing…wanna form a band?” That was the moment that changed everything.

AD: One of your earliest recordings, if not the earliest, is Lone Star’s Firing on All Six. What do you remember about that record?

JS: I wasn’t the original Lone Star vocalist but I knew the guys while they were writing and rehearsing the material in this community hall in a place called Cogan. I’d been in a few studios but really, Firing on All Six was the first time I did anything worth hearing. At the end of the recording, I wasn’t happy with what I’d recorded, and begged the producer, Gary Lyons, to let me redo the vocals. You can imagine his response.

AD: In short order, you recorded two classic albums, Conquest with Uriah Heep, and The Wild, the Willing and the Innocent with UFO. Walk me through that period in your history.

JS: Of the two albums you mention, Conquest is the only one I [was] actually featured on. My [being] on the UFO album is not officially acknowledged.

Here’s the short version of the story. I’d been asked to join UFO but I was in Heep at the time, so declined the offer. I was then asked to play on the album, and I contributed piano to three tracks. Months later, I heard one of the tracks on the Top of The Pops music show. It was the single, “Lonely Hearts.” I instantly recognized my piano parts. The band’s manager subsequently denied it was me, adding that my contribution had been erased from the recording. To this day, I’ve never set eyes on the album cover, in order to confirm this.

Conquest was recorded immediately after I joined Heep. It was 70 percent recorded before I joined the band. I added two of my songs, “No Return,” [and] “Won’t Have To Wait Too Long,” to the existing album. Much has been said about Conquest, good and bad, but mostly bad. As though every album Heep recorded prior to Conquest was on a par with Sgt. Pepper or Pet Sounds. I feel no connection whatsoever to the album.

AD: Around that time, you bounced from Uriah Heep to UFO to Gary Moore very quickly. Ultimately, why didn’t you stick with any of the three long-term?

JS: My tenure with Heep was around 18 months, but when you take into consideration that a “Heep Year” is equal to ten regular years, my time in Uriah Heep seemed much longer than 18 months. As I explained earlier, the UFO thing was confined to a couple of tracks on the album, if at all. The Gary Moore thing was a British tour followed by a Japanese tour, on which a live album was recorded. I have never been so happy to see the end of a tour as I was at the end of that tour.

AD: You officially launched your solo career in 1989 with the release of Disappearances Can Be Deceptive. How have you progressed in that time?

JS: Disappearances Can Be Deceptive was my baptism of fire, from which it took me a long time to recover, but I did. Back then, I had to fight for creative control – everybody did. When people in the music business stopped calling me, and I stopped calling them, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. When I look back on some of the crap I took, I want to jump in a time machine so I can a), slap the niceness out of me, and b), slap the assholeness out of them.


AD: I wanted to touch on your appearance on [former Motörhead and Fastway guitarist] Fast Eddie Clarke’s 1994 album, It Ain’t Over ’Till It’s Over. What were your impressions of Eddie? What do you recall regarding the sessions?

JS: I can’t remember how I ended up working on Eddie’s album. Motörhead was on Heep’s label. So, there was a connection. Also, my girlfriend worked at their management. I liked Eddie. We did the session at a studio in North London, across the road from Bronze Records.

AD: You also guested on Praying Mantis’s 2003 record, The Journey Goes On. How did you end up getting the gig?

JS: The Praying Mantis album came about through Dennis Stratton, who I used to run into in various Soho drinking establishments. I liked Dennis, so when he called me about doing the album, I didn’t need to think about it. The band wanted me to record more tracks, as well as do some Japanese dates, but I was busy with an album called 13 Storeys. I think I did three tracks in all.

AD: Unlike some of your contemporaries, you’ve done an incredible job maintaining your multi-octave range. What’s your secret?

JS: When I was young, I didn’t warm my voice up before singing, other than [having] a shot of brandy. Then, I got older, a bit wiser, and got into some vocal exercises, all of which sound ludicrous. If you’ve lived next door to a vocalist, you’ll know what I mean. You’d be forgiven for thinking some serious animal abuse was taking place.

AD: Last one. You’re a bit of a musician nomad, John. What’s next on your docket now that your latest record is out in the world?

JS: You are entirely correct in referring to me as a musical nomad. It’s good to keep people guessing – even oneself. I’m already well into recording the next album, which, according to my neighbors, has quite a rock edge to it.

Photos courtesy of Jeff Moh.

A Music Lover’s Journey

A Music Lover’s Journey

A Music Lover’s Journey

Craig Evans

I’m serious when I tell you this stuff keeps me up at night. The following recounting of musical experiences and personal reference points is not meant to be a boastful muscle-flexing exercise to shout, “look at me!” but more a measured outpouring of my musical journey, and for others to see the origin of my obsessions and learn about what makes me tick. Whatever we do as a job or hobby will always stir emotion if done for any length, along with an “I wouldn’t do it like that” mentality, and possibly an “I can do it better” attitude, by virtue of our own badge of honor gained from hours spent woodshedding.

If you are exposed to a sound repeatedly for months, and in my case decades, then the brain creates a neural pathway of the experience which, when re-triggered through music listening sessions, can ignite and fire up the neurons which go off like firecrackers in your head, constantly measuring the current experience of music against previous memories in some sort of aural war of notes. This can be both a blessing and a curse. I have exacting memories of my experiences of playing the violin from age eight (and took grades in), and of playing electric and acoustic guitar (which I’ve played daily for over 40 years), drums, (which I have played in an international touring situation). I can also relate to the sound of grand pianos and Hammond organs, which I have sat within three feet of for decades. All of this has profoundly rubbed off and helped to create the demons in my head.

I like to hear the texture and grittiness of the bow on a violin; when a bow has rosin applied to it, the horsehair touches the string in a tactile way and has very specific tone and resonance characteristics. This sound is presented differently when listening in an audience, versus how you hear the sound in your head – literally – when your chin is in contact with the violin’s chin rest and your head becomes a resonant chamber as a result. You hear body, a midrange texture, with a grittiness and smooth, sweet highs. The wood of the body of the instrument also takes center stage.

The guitar has been a lifeboat for me. It’s been there for me through the very worst of times, and my guitar was and still is an extension of my inner self. When I first heard Jimi Hendrix’s blinding technique and tone it drew me to wanting to hear more of that through and behind the hi-fi speaker, as a sort of window to another world so to speak, and to create an almost palpable belief that the artist (any artist, not just Hendrix) is electronically connected and imparting energy into the cone of the speaker driver.


I like a holographic soundstage with instruments placed in air, floating if you will; but when hearing an electric guitar in particular, I want to get a sense of the visceral impact onto the paper of the guitar amp’s 12-inch driver (most guitar amps use 12-inch or multiple 12-inch speakers). When a child and learning guitar, I remember the tactile feel of touching the guitar amplifier’s speaker cone after striking the string, and seeing the diaphragm move with the lower notes when the guitar strings were struck with force. When I hear Hendrix or Beck or Page the feel I like is for the guitar to be projecting through the driver as it closely replicates the feeling of hearing the guitar through an amp.

When you stand to the side of an amp and play, the tone you hear is different to what you hear out front of the amplifier (or speaker cabinet, in the case of a separate amp head and cabinet rig). The room gives a chance for the speaker cone to breathe and let go of lots of frequencies. Yet there are many variables. Is the cabinet close-backed or open-backed? Would that speaker benefit from a beam-blocker in front of it to cancel out high frequencies? These factors will make a difference as to how the driver will perform, not to mention where the mic is placed, and what kind of mic is used, if the amplifier/speaker is mic’d for live or recorded sound. Turning an open-backed cabinet around and miking up from the rear takes away harsh edgy sounds when going through a PA.

When striking a string and playing in a state where everything is simply flowing, this is the pinnacle of connecting with music. I’m not saying this to boast, I’m mentioning it because I know many musicians can relate to this if they have been playing in the moment and allowing the music to flow. Many times I’ve played something for the first time in an improv situation and been floored at what comes out when listening back to the recording. I have obsessed for endless hours about the differences between alnico and ceramic magnets in speakers, high-end vs. standard cables, alnico 3 vs alnico 5 magnets in guitar pickups, germanium vs. silicon transistors in old fuzz pedals, flatwound vs. roundwound strings, alder vs. ash wood in bodies, the difference between maple and rosewood fingerboards, or nickel vs. stainless steel frets, and the list goes on and on. All of these have things can have audible differences, and after a lifetime of comparisons, in addition to all the experiences of hearing live music, I have a multitude of sonic reference points in my heart and soul. They make for a heady combination, and a high bar to attain if I am to truly enjoy reproduced music as I hear it in my head.

I’m not always entirely convinced of the reality when hearing recorded music. When I record some guitar in a recording studio booth and listen back to it in a control room, the feeling is watered down, and a facsimile has been created that most of the time, does not contain the same intent or emotion to truly feel the emotional connection over repeated plays. The ideal of an audio system should be to enable the listener to receive the spirit of the player through the conduit of technology.

Kick (bass) drums sound completely different when you hear the head being struck with a beater on a pedal when you push it with your own foot, as opposed to listening to the recorded sound. Did the engineer mic up the front head or the back head? Did the drum have a hole cut in the head and was the mic placed outside or inside the hole? Were two mics used to get a mix of the beater’s attack and the resonance of the shell? I like to feel the kick sound as tactile and visceral as possible, and when the engineer has done his job and it’s recorded that way, then that’s where I get juicy feelings and start to engage.

I have experienced something truly magical lately with my hi-fi journey. The Tribute passive preamplifier has become my comfort blanket, and is a keeper, especially when listening to certain types of music such as ECM label artists, in particular Mathias Eick, and the Alboran Trio. My Audio Detail Chela tube preamplifier has been a complete revelation, and after a couple of sleepless nights resulting from an overload of musical yumminess it has forced my hand into writing this collection of words. I’ve never heard solo violin replicated so authentically as I have with the Tribute and Audio Detail combination. it’s truly a revelation and has provided many shakings of the head and “is this for real?” moments recently.

I have been truly blessed in my hi-fi journey, which started as a teenager. For my 18th birthday, my father bought me my first stereo system, which consisted of Mission 707 speakers, a Yamaha integrated amplifier and CD player, and a Dual 505 turntable on a Target Audio Products rack, and this was a stepping stone to all of the following levels I’ve passed through. When I returned to hi-fi in 2014 after a break, I bought a Linn LP12 and upgraded it to a high standard, I had Exposure electronics, Neat Speakers and Chord cables. I have a great group of friends who feed my passion in recording music, in playing and listening to live music, and in the search for hi-fi gear. I have discovered Lampizator DACs, made in Poland, and my UK dealer Greg at G Point Audio has helped me along with his portfolio of products that has really scratched my itch. My latest acquisition has been my hORNS FP15 MK 2 speakers, delivered just before last Christmas, and these have been a true revelation.

However hard I try, I cannot separate the musical experiences I have had, coupled with my strong and opinionated approach to recorded music, songwriting, playing and production, and in particular, listening to guitar players and singers, from my opinions about hi-fi gear.

I’m sure you get the idea of how much music means to me when I sit down in a listening chair. Being as passionate about it as I am, I could certainly be much stronger in my distaste for certain guitar players or singers, especially when I hear a poorly-executed and not-human-like vibrato. Then my head goes off like a firecracker with thoughts like, “slow it down.” “Where’s the feeling in that phrase?” “Fewer notes for god’s sake!” “Your high-hat pattern was straight out of Play in a Day, Book One,” etc. etc., but I always try to remain respectful. The emotional and monetary investment in a high-end audio system is worth it when it provides an almost metaphysical experience. It makes the hours and hours of searching for the answer to the equations that sometimes don’t add up when pursuing audio gear seem worth it.


Craig's system as it is today. He’ll be moving soon and getting a bigger listening room, so the journey will continue…

Craig’s system as it is today. He’ll be moving soon and getting a bigger listening room, so the journey will continue…


I have even thought many times about seeking psychotherapy, to calm my head and thoughts and quiet my spirit, but I feel that this would negatively affect the “sensitivity control” of my brain’s receptors, and I want to allow the true spirit of music to ignite my senses when the reproduction of the music is done correctly. As an aside, I have heard more and more music via the ECM Records label that truly engages my heart, and not my hands in reaching for the score card paddles as would happen in judging a dance competition.

Music is a truly wonderful thing and every single track will appear like a snowflake to the multitudes who hear it. We all hear differently, and we will all hopefully finish a listening session having being transported to a special world where the extremes of its beauty cause us to stop and become awestruck.

Wherever you are in your journey in hi-fi, just remember that when you stream that track or purchase that download, or take delivery of that vinyl record or CD, remember the artist and what it took to bring you that piece of recorded work. Then grab your favorite drink, kick off your shoes, and embrace the moment.


About Craig Evans

I worked in print and media for 35 years and around 10 years became a foster caregiver. I studied at art college and in the last few years have returned to fine art, and even had a solo exhibition, a huge thrill.


Craig today.


My hi-fi journey started as a young teen when I heard my friend’s father’s system, which was a BSR turntable, a Teleton amp, and Wharfedale speakers. My father bought me my first system when I was 18, which consisted of a Dual turntable, Yamaha electronics and Mission 707 speakers.

My love of music and guitar playing has been a constant in my life since the age of 12, and both have bought me great joy. I became close friends with Australian guitarist Gwyn Ashton in 1997 and have toured with him throughout Europe as a tech, and sat in with him a few times. I have enjoyed helping Gwyn build guitars for the road. We’ve had endless hours of shootouts and comparisons with guitars, pickups, pedals, cables, amps, speakers, and just many years of fun.

I have a few close friends who share my passion for hi-fi, and enjoy connecting with like-minded folk. Life has had its twists and turns, but holding fast to the people I love and keeping my hobbies and interests as part of my day-to-day gets me through. Thank you for taking time out to read about my journey, and I wish you all a very happy, peaceful and fun-filled life.

Header image: Craig Evans, circa 1985.

10 More Great Music Documentaries

10 More Great Music Documentaries

10 More Great Music Documentaries

Rich Isaacs

A lot of people turned to binge watching during the pandemic lockdowns. Although I wasn’t binging, I did take the opportunity to check out a number of documentaries about bands, events, and people associated with the music industry. Almost all are available on DVDs from Netflix, and/or through streaming on Netflix or rental from Amazon Prime or YouTube. Here are more fascinating looks at musicians, labels, and even a record store. All are highly recommended.

Laurel Canyon in Southern California in the mid-to-late 1960s was home to a unique confluence of musical talent, ideas, and camaraderie. Artists such as the Byrds, the Mamas & The Papas, Buffalo Springfield, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Frank Zappa, the Monkees, and many more made the canyon their home. Others, including Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan, found their way there to visit. The rich history of this time and place has spawned numerous documentaries.

Echo in the Canyon

This look at the Laurel Canyon music scene was released a few years ago. The movie is about a 50-50 split between a) footage of the planning and performance of a tribute concert organized by Bob Dylan’s son, Jakob, with contemporary musicians including Beck, Fiona Apple, Regina Spektor, and others; and b) archival footage and more recent interviews with David Crosby, Roger McGuinn, Michelle Phillips, Ringo Starr, Jackson Browne, Eric Clapton, Graham Nash, and Stephen Stills.


Legends of the Canyon

Legends of the Canyon was a prior documentary about the same scene, narrated by rock photographer Henry Diltz. There is some overlap with Echo, but this features more historic footage, and I think it is the superior film. It appears to be currently unavailable for streaming, and is a bit pricey on the used DVD market.


The Legends of Laurel Canyon

If you want more on this magical place, here’s a special done by a Los Angeles TV station. You can see it in its entirety with the link below


There’s also this, episode 1 of a Laurel Canyon miniseries by Wolf River Music Television on YouTube.


Les Paul: Chasing Sound

Les Paul comes across as a pretty sweet guy in this documentary that was part of PBS’s American Masters series. He was so much more than just the designer of the iconic Gibson electric guitar that bears his name (some used copies of which are offered on eBay at six-figure prices). Les was an inventor as well as a popular music superstar (with his wife, Mary Ford in the 1950s). Wisconsin-born Lester William Polsfuss is generally credited with originating sound-on-sound recording, overdubbing, and multi-tracking. He was still performing weekly at a club in New York in his 80s.


Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World

Link Wray’s “Rumble” is the jumping off point for this PBS look at Native Americans in the music world. I was quite surprised by the number of well-known and lesser-known artists with indigenous heritage. Jimi Hendrix, Robbie Robertson, Jesse Ed Davis, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and bands like Redbone are among the featured performers.


All Things Must Pass

You might be excused for thinking it’s about George Harrison, but All Things Must Pass covers the rise and fall of Tower Records, probably the world’s best-known music retailer. Colin Hanks (Tom’s son) directed this in-depth look at the iconic chain. From its beginnings as a side venture in founder Russ Solomon’s father’s drug store in Sacramento in 1941, through the expansion into four continents that ultimately led to its demise, the story is an intriguing one. Highly recommended.


Searching for Sugarman

This one unfolds like a mystery novel. Obscure Detroit singer-songwriter Sixto Rodriguez recorded and released a pair of albums in the early 1970s that, while largely ignored in America, inexplicably became huge underground hits in South Africa. Rumors of his demise circulated, including an onstage suicide scenario. A couple of fans set out to learn the true story of this enigmatic artist, making startling discoveries in the process. Saying any more would ruin the suspense.


The Stax Records Story

Here’s another rags-to-riches-to-rags story, but with a lot more intrigue than the Tower Records saga. From its beginnings as a country, rockabilly, and pop label called Satellite Records, founded by siblings Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton, Stax evolved into a racially integrated soul music powerhouse that would rival Motown. White and Black musicians worked together to create a funky, unique sound. Booker T. & the M.G.’s, a racially balanced group, was the house band. Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Isaac Hayes, and The Staple Singers were among their biggest acts, with Hayes and David Porter writing a lot of the hits. An association with Atlantic Records helped build the label until things went south. It turned out that their contract had given all rights to the back catalogue to Atlantic. Stax rose again as an independent label with massive hits by Isaac Hayes. Their peak was probably reached with the massive Wattstax concert in Los Angeles, which was filmed and also released as an album. Subsequent financial problems resulted in bankruptcy and the sale of the label to Fantasy and then Concord.


A Band Called Death

I honestly don’t know what possessed me to rent this video, as I am not particularly a fan of punk or hardcore metal. I’m glad I did, though, because it is the unique story of three African American brothers from Detroit who fell in love with the sound of the Who and high-energy punk bands. To the consternation of their neighbors, they formed a band and played hard, fast, and loud. Despite garnering interest from major record labels, their steadfast reluctance to change the name of the band kept them from obtaining a contract. A self-produced single was all but forgotten when a punk music blogger came across one decades later. His promotion of the track led to one of the brothers’ nephews discovering the secret of his uncle’s past, and the formation of a new band to play the music of Death.


Young @ Heart

Septuagenarians, octogenarians, and nonagenarians, oh my! In a completely different vein, this is the story of a retirement home chorus that performs contemporary rock and roll songs with band accompaniment. Thrill to the sound of retirees pouring their (young) hearts into such unlikely numbers as The Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated,” and the Talking Heads’ “Road to Nowhere.” The chorus has performed internationally to enthusiastic audiences. This is a “feel good” movie, for sure.


I think you’ll find more than a few of these to be worth watching. I thoroughly enjoyed every one.

Header image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Victor Chapa.

The Day the Music Died

The Day the Music Died

The Day the Music Died

Jack Flory

Dear intrepid reader: I’m sure when you first saw the title of this article, you naturally assumed I would work Don McLean’s song of the same name into it. Sorry, I have no such intention. While that was a profoundly sad day for Don, this is a story of a more personal note. However, I can assure you that no levees or Chevys were harmed in any way for this article. Read on.

Thanks for sharing. Perhaps you’ve heard a mother say that to a child who’s just committed a faux pas and needed a not-so-subtle shaming rebuke. My brother and I were raised at an early age to share everything. Music was no exception. And so, we naturally built a common music library together without the need for such admonishment.

It began with the 1985 BMW 325e I drove. The 325e had a tremendous Blaupunkt sound system in it, albeit cassette tape-based. The system really brought out the production of Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms and had the best balance of space and silence of any car audio we had ever listened to.

My brother and I both had chocolate Labrador Retrievers from the same litter. We would meet at the family cabin, go inside, light a fire in the wood stove, feed and water the pups, and then let them neck wrestle. We’d each grab a beer and go back out to listen to music in the BMW. When we needed another beer, we’d go back in to check up on the little heathens (they were always OK), grab another beer, and head back out to the BMW for more music. We’d repeat as necessary until the cabin warmed up. All four of us were happy and the little miscreants would be worn out and slept well. So did we.


1985 BMW 325e in Gazelle Beige, which is the color of road dirt. Don’t lean on it, or you’ll get a big surprise. It had a cockpit that felt like a fighter jet and crazy performance off the line. It also got 38 miles per gallon! https://germancarsforsaleblog.com/

1985 BMW 325e in Gazelle Beige, which is the color of road dirt. Don’t lean on it, or you’ll get a big surprise. It had a cockpit that felt like a fighter jet and crazy performance off the line. It also got 38 miles per gallon! From German Cars for Sale Blog.


Our music library started about the time the first iPod hit the market. Remember the one that had the non-moving steering wheel on the front and was about an inch thick? The early iPods had little memory by today’s standards, so CDs were ripped as low-resolution MP3s and later low-resolution AACs to save space. I later sold that unit to a collector for what I had paid for it, so it wasn’t a compete boat anchor in the end. It kept me company on many an airplane ride.

First-generation Apple iPod. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

First-generation Apple iPod. Courtesy of Wikipedia.


To feed the hungry iPod, we both started buying CDs. My brother had a subscription to one of those services that allowed you to select several CDs on a regular basis and then they padded the order with CDs they wanted you to have. Their selection included genres such as dance music, which we would never have picked by choice. Together, we amassed just shy of 500 gigabytes of ripped music in a very eclectic library.

Along the way, my brother inherited the family farm. As with all new owners, existing structures get remodeled to the new owner’s vision. And so it was with the farm. The first major improvement was an outdoor wood-burning boiler. The farmhouse, built in the 1800s, had no insulation and the heating oil bills were killing him. My brother was young and in good shape, so he didn’t mind the exercise he got from cutting 14 cords of wood each year. The gas, oil and maintenance on the chainsaws was far less than the cost of heating oil. Just toss in a couple of logs once or twice a day and the boiler took care of itself. To feed the hungry furnace, the wood was stacked to cure under a tarp behind one of the outbuildings, which was in close proximity.

The next project was to convert that outbuilding into a small shop, a larger family gym, some storage, and an office upstairs. Of course, the gym and office would be heated by the furnace; just cut more wood.

When the project was complete, the gym equipment was moved in, along with a small music system and the music library CDs. After all, you had to have tunes to lift iron. Maybe one of the best was INXS’ “Suicide Blonde.” There’s nothing finer to listen to while doing arm curls.

The storage area had two Sandusky cabinets filled with ammunition from my brother’s days as a competitive smallbore marksman. He was a collegiate smallbore competitor and had attended the Olympic Development Program. He had attracted the attention of ammunition manufacturers, who showered him with free ammo for practice. Competitors at that level can burn several thousand rounds per month.

Monday, April 15, 2010 began just like any other day. Haul the burnable trash out to the burn barrel, throw in a match, get the kids in the car and drive them out to the school bus. On the way back, my brother noticed a lot of black smoke and thought someone had a big fire. As he got closer, he realized he had a big fire. The building was completely ablaze in minutes. Little did we know that we would be “Burning Down the House.”


The conflagration after only a few minutes. The fire department had not yet arrived. To the right you can see the framework that held the tarp and the remains of the firewood on fire.

The conflagration after only a few minutes. The fire department had not yet arrived. To the right you can see the framework that held the tarp and the remains of the firewood on fire.


The theory is that sparks jumped from the burn barrel, which had been moved the day before in order to cut the grass below it, to the tarp. As the tarp burned, it lit the vinyl siding of the building on fire. As the wall burned, it heated up the ammunition and it all went up as well, creating an intense conflagration. Contrary to popular notion, modern smokeless power, unlike traditional black powder, does not explode. It burns, but very rapidly, and produces enormous heat. The heat was so high that the brass from the ammunition and the copper from two antique apple butter kettles completely disappeared. The only trace left of the kettles was their iron rims and bails.

When they began the cleanup and went to raze the building, they found a big pool of lead in the storage area, several inches thick. Or perhaps it was an amalgam of lead and brass from the ammunition and copper from the kettles. It weighed so much that the back wheels of a front-end loader came off the ground when they tried to pry the pool of lead up from the concrete floor.


1985 BMW 325e in Gazelle Beige, which is the color of road dirt. Don’t lean on it, or you’ll get a big surprise. It had a cockpit that felt like a fighter jet and crazy performance off the line. It also got 38 miles per gallon!

Pennsylvania Dutch apple butter kettle with iron bail (image source unknown).


Structural fires can exhibit exceptionally odd and anomalous behavior. The shop area at the far end of the picture above went virtually unscathed. That might have been due to the arrival of the fire department, or the fact that the source of the fire was at the near end of the building in the storage area.

Despite the intense heat in the storage area at the bottom of the stairs to the office area, some of the items in the office didn’t completely disappear. The laptop computer, while a complete loss, still had intact parts. Yes, of course the laptop was backed up – and the backups were sitting on the desk right alongside the computer. Duh. Lesson learned.

A 1985 Fender American Deluxe Jazz Bass (similar to the one pictured at left) was artistically customized. The fire converted it to a headless design and the sunburst finish became charcoal gray after immolation.

One of the big losses was a custom-made bass guitar. It started as a maple tree on the property; the tree was deceased and originally scheduled to be firewood, but it turned out to be heavily figured birdseye maple. My brother commissioned a retired luthier from Nazareth, Pennsylvania to build the bass. It was finished in emerald green lacquer with an ebony neck. It was a gorgeous instrument. Unfortunately, all the pictures have been lost along with the bass.

All of those things can be replaced, albeit at considerable cost. But the bigger loss was the CD library. All of the CDs melted together into a shiny mass of plastic, but didn’t combust. They were all ripped at low resolution and we’d love to re-rip them in a new lossless format, such as FLAC or ALAC, but we can’t. Many of them are out of print.

Gone are classic CDs by Grover Washington Jr, every album by Rush and Kansas, some great ones by Pat Metheny, and some outliers (for us) such as Black Sabbath. The really unfortunate losses are some great guitar discs by Larry Carlton, Lee Ritenour, Joe Pass, and others. The greatest irony of all was King Crimson’s Discipline, lying on top of the pile, its bright red background melted into a twist that mimicked the Escher-like grey twisted knot design on the album cover.

And that’s how the music died. All we have left are the low-resolution MP3s. Slowly, and as available, we’re replacing some of our losses, but we’ve learned our lesson. We now shop in the used record store for only the classic releases in good condition.


About The Author

After surviving a misguided youth, the author briefly dabbled in civil engineering and professional photography. Facing bankruptcy, he found his true calling as a software engineer. He spent the last 25 years of his career writing device drivers, firmware, protocol stacks, engineering specifications and documentation. Sadly, he’s learned the hard way not to play with matches.

The SweetVinyl SugarCube SC-1 Plus, Part Two

The SweetVinyl SugarCube SC-1 Plus, Part Two

The SweetVinyl SugarCube SC-1 Plus, Part Two

Rudy Radelic

I have had the SweetVinyl SugarCube SC-1 Plus going on three months now.  In my last article about the SC-1 Plus (Issue 154), I explained the SugarCube’s functions, and gave my initial impressions of how well it removed pops and clicks from records.

I am happy to say that the SC-1 Plus has been exceeding my expectations each time I play a record – its effectiveness never ceases to amaze me, as well as its transparency. (Other SugarCube models are available, including two with built-in phono stages.) The journey back through my record collection has been a revelation. Many records I had given up on are now getting played regularly:

  • That handful of noisy Maynard Ferguson records on Roulette.
  • A decades-old (and long-ago mistreated) local ballroom dancing record which I grew up playing.
  • That allegedly “really nice near-mint pressing” of Genesis’ Wind and Wuthering I purchased that was peppered with minor scratches.
  • A Mobile Fidelity cut of Supertramp’s Crime of the Century that had an unfortunate “fumbled on the way to the turntable” incident decades ago, inflicted upon the album’s first track.

Just a quick adjustment to the SugarCube’s click and pop removal setting is all that is needed. Leaving it on its recommended default setting of “3” is often perfect, with the more unfortunate records needing it tweaked higher.

I have also stepped up my vinyl digitizing project. I have hundreds of records which have never had a digital release, and it is a relief to finally be able to archive them digitally and play them back on any system in the house, or copy them to a 512 GB SD Card to play in my daily driver. The SugarCube saves me a lot of editing time. In the past, the click and pop plugins for my sound editor needed a lot of fussing to get them set to a level that wouldn’t harm the music, but remove as much of the noise as possible. The SugarCube is advanced enough that one quick adjustment dials in as much repair as needed. Once recorded, I open the file in the editor, split the tracks (fading to zero between tracks), trim the ends, and the editing is done in minutes. Another couple of minutes to tag the files (using MP3Tag and accessing data from Discogs) and the job is completed. All told, I can have an album ready to use within 15 – 20 minutes.

The SugarCube has a couple more tricks up its sleeve.

Another feature available to clean up records is the SVNR – SweetVinyl Noise Reduction – system that helps reduce any steady-state noise that exists behind the music. It is simple to use, but it does require you to access the feature through a phone/tablet app or a web browser – there are no front panel controls for it. To use SVNR, you first press the “Start” button in the app. Second, lower your stylus to the record. The lead-in groove is then sampled to create a fingerprint of the background noise. Finally, adjust the amount of noise reduction using a slider in the app.

Traditionally, I am not a fan of any type of noise reduction like this. And I would generally not use it on most of the records I own. I have used a similar type of noise reduction in software (as plugins for a sound file editor), and have always found them to be overly intrusive, leaving behind numerous digital artifacts and sucking the life out of the music.

However, I have found that SVNR is the least-intrusive, if not the most invisible, noise reduction system I have used, compared to similar filters on a computer that have always left noticeable artifacts behind. Used on older, beaten-up records, where hearing the music cleanly is a revelation, the SVNR does an impressive job. It is kind of spooky to hear a trashed record come out playing so clean. Adjusting the SVNR is a tradeoff, since too high of a setting may create a closed-in sensation to the sound. It is almost unnaturally quiet. But set properly, it can help the worst of records sound much better.

Listeners with better ears than mine may be able to hear some detrimental effects of using SVNR, but aside from a few traces here and there, I heard none of the gross artifacts I’ve heard in computer-based filters I have tried. For records with an already low noise floor, SVNR is unnecessary. I reserve it for only the worst of the records I own. In their documentation, SweetVinyl points out that SVNR is made for any type of steady-state noise, including from tape and 78 RPM shellac discs. Not having either source in my system at the moment, unfortunately, I cannot experiment with them.

With highly-compromised records, though, it is a pleasure to hear decades of noise stripped from the music. The process is not perfect, and as I’ve mentioned before, the unit cannot fix record wear (groove burn), skips, stuck grooves, long scuffs, and certain types of low-level background noise. But the noise it does remove greatly helps in listening to these old records. Stored in my basement are a couple of boxes of older LPs from my parents’ collection that have seen better days, and the small number I have retrieved, cleaned and played through the SugarCube have really surprised me.

One example is a record my dad purchased probably back in the mid-1960s when ballroom dancing was still popular. A local band, led by Frank Lozano (performing as Panchito and His Orchestra), recorded this set of dance tunes for a small local label (Hanf Records) named after the label owners’ dance studio. Having come across the familiar pink and black jacket, it took me back to a childhood of playing any record in the house that I could get my hands on. And in those years, putting records back in their jackets was not a priority.

Here are two tracks, and a portion of a third, from side two of the record. The first sample was processed through the SugarCube SC-1 Plus on some of its highest settings, where the sample that follows is without the SC-1 Plus working its magic. You will still hear some of the damage on the record, but most of it has been removed. Highlights to listen for are the beginning of this sample, then at 2:40 and 4:50 between the tracks – the amount of noise removed in silent sections is noteworthy. Starting at 5:40 is the unprocessed sample, with the second and third track transitions at 8:20 and 10:30.


You can also check out some complete albums I have digitized by Randy Van Horne and his Swinging Choir, The Buffalo Bills, The Julius Wechter Quartet and J&K (J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding).

Finally, let’s talk about the connectivity of the SC-1 Plus. It offers a full set of digital outputs, both optical and coaxial S/PDIF as well as a USB output that can connect to a computer or external DAC. (In my system, I run the coaxial output to a PS Audio DirectStream Junior, with the USB output going to a nearby computer.) The routing controls are found in the phone/browser interface. Visual feedback is shown on the Routing page in the browser or app.

The default option which most owners will use is the click and pop repair between the SugarCube’s analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog converters.


Screen shot of Repair mode.

Screen shot of Repair mode.


The Bypass option lets you bypass the SugarCube completely, using a physical relay between the input and output. As you can see, the Routing page makes it clear how the SugarCube routes the signal.


Screen shot of the Bypass setting.

Screen shot of the Bypass setting.


Bridging mode lets you send the signal to the external USB output and line output simultaneously.

The Digital section of the menu on the left gives you four choices. The SugarCube selection inserts itself between input and output – the analog signal passes through the analog-to-digital converter (ADC), the SugarCube software, and is converted back to analog via the digital-to-analog converter (DAC).

The choices below offer further options, but in the digital realm in terms of output. The External selection lets you use the USB output to send the signal to an external DAC, as opposed to using the optical or coaxial digital outputs.

Repair Record lets you send your SugarCube’s output to an attached computer, where you can record the audio using an appropriate application on the computer (such as a digital editor). The computer must be able to accept a 24-bit, 192 kHz digital input signal over the USB connection.

Repair Playback offers another choice. You can play back audio from your computer through the same USB connection (such as a recording of an LP, 78 or tape), and let the SugarCube clean it. The output is then sent through the SugarCube’s own DAC to the analog outputs, or through the optical and coaxial connections.

I’ve had a few issues getting Repair Record to work (the computer would not sync with the SugarCube’s 24-bit/192 kHz output), but found it most reliable to always start on the Bypass setting, then switch to any of the modes below. Doing so, I was able to get audio into the computer to record it.

The SC-1 Plus offers an EQ setting, a particularly noteworthy feature for collectors of early monaural LPs and some shellac 78 RPM records. This is an offset applied against the standard RIAA equalization which has been in use for several decades.


Screen shot of EQ settings.

Screen shot of EQ settings.


One final important setting is the input level. If your phono stage has a higher gain, too much input will cause clipping in the SugarCube. The unit offers four settings. The default is +0 dB. If the input is too high in level, you can choose from among –6 dB, –12 dB and –18 dB to trim back the output so there is no digital clipping. On output, though, a similar change is applied, increasing the level back to its original input level. (For example, if you apply –6dB on the input, the output is raised by +6dB to compensate.) Once this is set, there is no reason to touch it unless you change your phono stage or cartridge.

Do I have a wish list for possible additional features? Sure. I have already suggested a monaural setting to the folks at SweetVinyl. When playing and recording monaural LPs, you can achieve even more noise reduction by summing the channels together, and most modern preamplifiers do not offer a monaural switch. A rumble filter would also be welcome, for those records that have low-level warpage. (Since the SugarCube SC-1 Plus also offers different playback curves via its EQ function, adding a rumble filter, rolling off somewhere below 20 Hz, should not be too difficult to accomplish.)

Am I glad to own the SugarCube SC-1 Plus? Absolutely. For the records I just want to play and enjoy, it is a pleasure to use. I no longer have to bounce a digitized version out to a computer to (somewhat) clean it up with currently-available software. Recording my rarities to digital has also been a revelation, saving me a lot of editing work (with less-than-efficient editor plugins) and giving me far better results than I have ever had before. I can strongly recommend the SugarCube SC-1 Plus to any serious record collector.

Back to My Reel-to Reel-Roots, Part 11

Back to My Reel-to Reel-Roots, Part 11

Back to My Reel-to Reel-Roots, Part 11

Ken Kessler

High Crimes and Misdemeanors

Nobody ever accused the record labels of unnecessary largesse. While the audiophile companies like Impex, Analogue Productions, Mobile Fidelity, Speakers Corner, Intervention and others show care and diligence above and beyond the call, by thinking and acting just like the collectors, music lovers, and audiophiles they serve, the majors have the morality of fast-food chains. Just compare the quality of any audiophile label’s LP sleeves with those of any mass-market releases if you don’t believe me, let alone the grade of the inner sleeves.

It’s all about the bucks and cutting corners and generally taking the cheapest route – and it was true even for premium products like pre-recorded reel-to-reel tapes way back when. As a reminder, I have in front of me a 1/4-track tape – not even the premium 1/2-track edition of the same title – and the manufacturer’s printed-on-the-box price in 1960 was $9.95. That’s $96 in 2022 dollars. And we earn a lot more than they did in 1960.

Make no mistake: aside from promotional samplers, such as the Realistic-branded tapes for RadioShack stores selling for $3.95, pre-recorded open-reel tapes always cost more than the equivalent LPs. When open-reel tapes first appeared, though, they were as luxurious and high-end as today’s 180-gram or 200-gram 45 rpm limited-edition, boxed LPs.

This inexorable decline in the quality of commercial tapes is yet another of the historic rediscoveries I’ve made by turning my clock back to what was the original audiophile era. All you have to do to repeat my learning experience is to acquire a few tapes by a single favorite artist or tapes from a single label, over as short as a 10-year span, to see how the record companies made everything cheaper. Think of any singer or conductor who had a long contract, and who issued a steady flow of titles. You will be shocked by the degradation.

Just as hard-hitting an illustration of this downgrading comes through comparing an early tape to its later release; for example, any best-selling soundtracks or classical albums which stayed in the catalogue for years. I have six different copies of one favorite (which I will not name as I was not put on this planet to subsidize lawyers) spanning 15 years, and you don’t need any set of particular forensic skills to detect how everything from the tape stock to the quality of the box to the tape speed was downgraded.

Only rarely, as in the case of the Beatles, did the packaging or the tape quality go up, as when Capitol Records realized that the Fab Four was the biggest musical act ever. The label stopped releasing the Beatles’ albums as economy-minded 3-3/4 ips 2-on-1 tapes and reissued them at 7-1/2 ips. Better late than never, I guess, when you appreciate the cash cow that happens to be in your barnyard.

Sadly, it’s exactly like the makers of candy bars shaving off a gram or two of chocolate while the price stays the same, rather than raise the price and thus aggravate customers who see the immediate pain of inflation: it’s blatantly obvious when you see a piece of candy go from $1.49 to $1.79, but not so noticeable is a 3-ounce candy bar suddenly dropping to 2.8 oz. Only much later do you realize that the peanut butter cup is much smaller than you recall…and it ain’t nostalgia at play.

Record labels were once the leaders in recording technology, and one cannot praise enough the geniuses in the studios of Capitol, CBS, RCA, EMI, Decca or a few others. But – as seen with the BBC’s decline – commerce always trumps worth. To facilitate the decline in tape quality over its first decade, from sound quality which is still to be bettered 65 years later to something less astounding, the record labels made moves far more egregious than using cheaper boxes, nastier tape and thinner spools, which I’ll get to in a bit. Instead, they weakened the core product.

Sadly, the biggest enabler was the actual technology they were promoting to the very end as the best-sounding format of them all. Just as the deaf morons in the music biz circa 2022 try to get the masses to believe that streaming sounds as good as LPs (or CDs, cassettes or whatever other source you can name), so did the record labels a half-century ago try to convince the public that every new development in tape technology was desirable and an advancement. You cannot believe the raves they applied to moves which technically halved the quality, just as idiots still insist that anything digital is automatically superior to anything analogue.

As the blank tape and tape deck manufacturers created different tape formulations and devised new head configurations (see Part 11 in this series in Copper issue 158 for an example of early stereo conversions), the record industry swiftly moved from the first stereo configuration of 7-1/2 ips, 2-track tapes to 7-1/2 ips, 1/4-track tapes. This immediately halved the amount of tape needed for the same playing time. Ker-ching!!! Instant savings in raw tape! Unfortunately, the quality dropped, too, and I have enough early tapes issued in both formats to demonstrate to anyone who cares to sit in my listening room that the difference is audible.

(Note: Debate rages as to which compromise causes the greater degree of loss in quality: going from 1/2-track to 1/4-track, or dropping speeds from 15 ips to 7-1/2 ips to 3-3/4 ips. The consensus, according to my mentors, is that irrespective of speed, moving from 1/2-track to 1/4-track is the greater loss. As for slower speeds, it is arguable that the quality loss incurred by moving from 7-1/2 ips to 3-3/4 ips is more audible than the drop from 15 ips to 7-1/2 ips. Before you hit Send on your “F*ck you, Kessler!” e-mail, I emphasize that this is NOT a statement of fact, merely a gathering of opinions from professionals with whom I have discussed it. Obviously, a 15 ips 1/2-track tape betters the rest, but I am concerned only with pre-1980 commercial tapes. I mention these permutations only for you to gauge precisely how the record industry chose to economize.)

Next came the speed drop to 3-3/4 ips, halving the amount of tape needed once again. Hooray! sang the accountants and shareholders. Far be it for me to defend the music industry, but it is worth noting that 7-1/2 ips tapes did not disappear altogether, though it seems that the 1/2-track tapes of the format’s early days were fully supplanted by 1/4-track tapes by 1960.

As for the continued use of the higher speed, and not counting the aforementioned upgrade to the Beatles catalogue in the USA as late as 1970, certain labels and specific artists continued with 7-1/2 ips 1/4-track tapes long after the slower speed became common. Indeed, I have precious few classical tapes which were not released at 7-1/2 ips, while some artists such as Andy Williams and Herb Alpert were afforded the higher speed for most of their tape releases. (I like to think Williams and Alpert insisted on the better sound quality – closet audiophiles perhaps?)

Then came the physical cost-cutting. Box quality was an early victim of downgrading, and one can easily follow the trail from substantial, cloth-hinged boxes to thin card. The relative quality of the boxes is readily apparent due to the passage of time: 1950s Jackie Gleason titles in Capitol Records “brown boxes,” the cloth-hinged South Pacific soundtracks, early Johnny Mathis and the like versus the later releases, ad nauseam, which the years have shown suffered poor protection. Along with learning how to splice and attach leader tape, I also learned how to reinforce the box spines with clear 2-inch-wide packing tape.

Speaking of splicing, another area of record label penny-pinching was the fitting of leader tape and tail, or the failure thereof. A rough estimate from my collection of 2,500 tapes is that only one in 50 left the factory with both. How do I know that the leader and tail weren’t merely discarded or sacrificed by the early owners? Simple: I have now acquired at least a dozen sealed, NOS (new old stock) tapes, all from major labels and by name artists, and not one had leader or tail.

Spool quality, too, dropped, from thick, precision-molded plastic to some spools so thin that they warp. One tape’s spool – I date it around 1975 – was so thin that I was reminded of the worst scam ever foisted on pre-recorded music: those horrible RCA Dynaflex LPs which weren’t much thicker than freebie flexi-discs. This spool was so thin that it couldn’t be gripped by the trident spindles on any of four tape decks, the spindles with the cross-section like a Mercedes-Benz logo and a specific range of height travel, which suggests that it didn’t even adhere to industry standards. To keep it from rattling and shimmying, I had to play it on tape decks like the Denon DH-710F, with a smooth spindle and a friction grip rather than a trident spindle.


Bent out of shape: our editor demonstrates the flimsiness of a 1974 RCA Dynaflex record.

Bent out of shape: our editor demonstrates the flimsiness of a 1974 RCA Dynaflex record.


They didn’t stop there. To save on production costs, the boxes often used the exact same front and back artwork as the LP, which kinda sucked when the A- and B-sides were flipped, or – worse – the track order changed. When an album’s track order was carefully sequenced, this was an insult to the artist as well as the customer.

It has been suggested by one colleague that this might have been due to the playing times of the two sides, as the labels preferred to avoid an imbalance, where one of the sides finished earlier than the other, leading to a long silence at the end of one of the sides; most of the tapes I have seem to be within ±3 minutes from A-side to B-side. However, I have more than a few classical tapes where, in the interest of not interrupting a movement, one side is far longer than the other. Does it bother me? Not at all. But did ruining Buffalo Springfield’s Last Time Around with a messed-up track listing upset me? You bet your head demagnetizer: as a hard-core Buffalo Springboy, I ended up buying two copies because I thought the first had been reprogrammed by some putz with two tape decks. It cost me $65 to find out that the record label had done it.


Note the track listing on the box versus the track listing on the tape. Why?!

Note the track listing on the box versus the track listing on the tape. Why?!


Ironically, the dearer 7-1/2 ips 1/2-track versions of tapes that were released both in that format and also as 1/4-track tapes (albeit at the same speed) contained less material. I have a number of these and the 1/2-track version often had three or four fewer songs on it, though most were identical. The labels would publish both track listings on the box, so there was no deceit and you knew which songs you were losing if you opted for 1/2-track, while the boxes and the labels on the spools would have an ink stamp or sticker to indicate that the tape was 1/4-track rather than 1/2-track.

If the above sounds like I am being anally-retentive, or that I suffer from OCD, well, that pretty much defines all audiophiles. We are anally-retentive and obsessive. So, be warned: the next time, I will terrify you with even worse horror stories…appalling treatment of tapes from the original purchasers themselves.

Header image: for KK’s money, the best of the commercial tape spools.

Using EQ With Speakers: Some Limitations

Using EQ With Speakers: Some Limitations

Using EQ With Speakers: Some Limitations

Russ Welton

In a previous article (Issue 158), we considered how it would possible to make meaningful adjustments to the in-room frequency response curve of our loudspeakers, by the use of a parametric EQ. We examined how we could find the frequencies we wanted to “edit” and which Q (or degree) of bandwidth we would want to adjust, using an analogy to f-stops in photography. (To recap: a parametric equalizer can adjust both the frequency range and the amount of peak or dip in the EQ curve applied.)

However, there are real-world limitations in what we can hope to achieve by making adjustments in the in-room response curve, so it seems like good idea to address what some of these limitations may be and why they exist in the way that they do.

One of the more common limitations that room correction software has, when used with a typical at-home speaker set up, is the expectation that with parametric EQ one should be able to make compensations for poor frequency response from the speaker itself. The reasoning may go something along the lines of, “I’m investing my money in high-quality room correction software and hardware in my A/V receiver (or preamp/processor), so I can save on putting more money into the speakers.” After all, the room correction software will offset the limitations of the speaker in the room because one can just boost the null points and trim off the peaks, right?

Although it is true you can boost some frequencies and cut others, the significance of having higher-quality rather than budget speakers in the first place cannot be underestimated. If you purchase lower-grade speakers with poor off-axis response and low sensitivity ratings, no amount of parametric (or graphic) can compensate for those limitations.

It’s true that a good parametric EQ will allow you to effectively boost and cut frequencies. However, keep in mind that it does this by increasing or decreasing them in the audio signal coming from the source material, before it gets to the speakers. The job of the parametric EQ is not really designed to compensate for the nulls that are a personality trait of your room/speaker interaction’s “frequency response.” If you have a huge dip in frequency at a given bandwidth, then no amount of boosting that null will really help to improve your sound. The null may well be a fundamental characteristic “suckout” of the room itself and simply trying to add more and more gain at that frequency could require more and more compensation than is healthy for a parametric EQ – and an amplifier – to provide. (Many software programs may allow you to boost or cut your dB by as much as 6 dB either way, which equates to a gigantic 12 dB range.)


Yamaha on-screen parametric equalizer menu showing adjustment capability for frequency, bandwidth (Q) and dB.

Yamaha on-screen parametric equalizer menu showing adjustment capability for frequency, bandwidth (Q) and dB.


If you have a huge null that is more than a nominal few dB to deal with, you might put extreme power demands on your amplifier’s power supply and/or subwoofer’s power amp stage, and you might also be forcing your loudspeakers’ (and/or subwoofer’s) bass drivers to operate with an excessive amount of excursion that will likely sound poor or even tax the voice coil drivers well beyond their design parameters. (If you’ve ever heard a woofer bottom out, it’s not a pretty sound!)

When making an edit to our frequency response curve using EQ, it should be best viewed as a means of refining or fine-tuning a system, rather than trying to coax your speakers to make “something out of nothing.” Also, be aware that for every edit you make in boosting or cutting your frequency response, you are literally distorting the original signal.

So, the thought is that, less is more when it comes to making these tweaks. And that’s what they really should be – tweaks, rather than great carvings or boosts to your sound. If you have run your room correction software correctly, it’s likely it will already have done some volume balancing for the levels of each speaker and/or channel. Sometimes, these can already be at a surprisingly severe dB level.

Returning to the use of parametric EQ: often the software (whether in an A/V receiver or preamp/processor or on a computer) will allow you to make greater adjustments than is healthy for your system and for your ears. For example, it’s unlikely you would want to make a 6 dB boost at a Q of 0.4 with a center frequency of 60 Hz, because this will produce such a wide bass boost across three octaves that it will mush out your sound and strain your drivers.

We’ve noted that adding in too many adjustments detract from the “pure” audio signal, and that trying to compensate for a severe low-frequency null in the room could tax your amplifier and speakers. But you could damage your tweeter if you try to flatten out its octave drop-off curve using EQ, by adding so much power back into the response curve that you destroy your tweeter (and maybe even midrange drivers) in the quest for a flatter high end frequency response. How is this even possible?

It is related to the fact that the measured frequency response of the room, and what you see plotted as a curved line (in room measurement software), is not what you actually hear, nor what is being produced by the speakers. Your tweeter, if it has extended high-frequency response, may produce sound at frequencies beyond what your measurement microphone will be able to pick up. (Some ultrasonic microphones are sensitive up to 40 kHz but often not highly accurate, due to limitations of their diaphragms.) Before you decry this as complete nonsensical idiocy, let’s take a step back and look at how the response curve is generated in the first place – and this is perhaps the most pertinent reason why some people will frown on room correction software altogether.

The room measurements are made with a microphone, which interprets the sound in a way that is not the same as the human ear(s). We have a pair of ears for one thing, not just one, and a highly interpolative sound-filtering and compiling brain. Also, some of you will have observed, that by moving the measurement microphone just very small distances left or right from the primary on-axis listening position, you will see that the response curve varies, sometimes wildly. It is for this reason (and no doubt many others) that many room-correction software programs have been improved over the years to encourage more localized sampling close to the primary listening seat, rather than processing a summative set of data obtained from radically different microphone placements throughout a room, such as in the corners or close to the back wall.

What about comb filtering? This occurs when a sound arrives at our ears, or microphone, with a very small delay between the signals. The result: dips and peaks at certain frequencies that are sharp enough to look like the teeth of a comb when seen graphically. In the case of our ears, sound arrives at each ear at slightly different times and is interpreted by the brain as a spatial cue. But if you measure a room’s response with a microphone placed in those radically different locations (as recommended in some historical room-correction setup software), the measurements can be subject to comb filtering, which affects the accuracy of the room correction. With more modern room correction, more localized samples are usually called for, as this is far more representative of what the listener may hear. (Comb filtering may be accommodated for to some extent, a subject which is beyond the scope of this article.)


You can see why it's called comb filtering. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Oli Filth.

You can see why it’s called comb filtering. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Oli Filth.


Returning to making effective EQ changes: if you follow the principle of keeping the adjustments minimal, you may well be surprised by how much improvement you can make to your sound that you can actually hear and enjoy, as opposed to applying an overly-heavily-modified response curve that looks like what should sound good, but whose disadvantages outweigh the theoretical sonic benefits.


Postscript: in a perhaps related area of interest, you might want to check out the Polk Legend L800 loudspeaker. It’s been designed to cancel out interaural crosstalk interference from each speaker, using a technology the company calls SDA, or Stereo Dimensional Array. In real life, your left ear hears what your right ear hears, but with a slight delay, and vice versa for the right ear. This provides vital locational cues. However, with stereo speakers, ideally only the left ear should hear the left speaker, and the right ear the right speaker: but this doesn’t happen. Both ears hear signals from both speakers – interaural crosstalk. The L800 employs dedicated stereo main driver arrays, and separate stereo cancellation arrays, which deliver interaural crosstalk cancellation signals to your ears. SDA is designed to create a wider stereo soundstage with highly focused imaging.

Polk Legend L800 loudspeakers.

Polk Legend L800 loudspeakers.


Header image: graph showing parametric equalization. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Matias.Reccius.

Still Got the Knack: Rock Bassist Prescott Niles

Still Got the Knack: Rock Bassist Prescott Niles

Still Got the Knack: Rock Bassist Prescott Niles

Ray Chelstowski

The Knack officially arrived on the scene in June of 1979 and set the music world on fire with their mesmerizing rocker “My Sharona.” It was Capitol Records’ fastest Gold record debut single since the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” The song is largely a rhythm section affair and begins with an unforgettable and hypnotic bass line that is now part of rock’s great legacy.

The debut album, Get the Knack, sold over one million copies in less than two months and spent five weeks at Number 1 on the Billboard albums chart. While Rolling Stone would label them as “the new Fab Four,” the Knack created a sound that was entirely their own. It begins and sits with the signature bottom that bassist Prescott Niles and drummer Bruce Gary would provide to each and every song. This was especially true live.

The band’s live shows were an electric affair, full of energy. They embodied more of a punk attitude than the “new wave” label the media would quickly attach to their music. Live recordings like Havin’ a Rave-Up! Live in Los Angeles from 1978 cast a light on how tight, talented and versatile singer/guitarist Doug Fieger, guitarist Berton Averre, Niles, and Gary really were. It’s also why, after a 1982 breakup, their return in the late 1980s and 1990s was so widely and warmly welcomed. Unfortunately, their reunion would end with Fieger’s death in 2010 at the age of 57.

That, however, hasn’t seen interest wane in The Knack, with Smile Records about to release a compelling new live album on Record Store Day, April 23, 2022. Recorded in Hollywood on September 25, 2001, just two weeks after the events of 9/11, Live at the House of Blues captures a 70-minute set and features the Knack’s founding trio of Fieger, Averre, and Niles, alongside drummer Dave Henderson. It’s a solid addition to the band’s already strong catalog of live music.


The Knack Live at the House of Blues, album cover.

The Knack Live at the House of Blues, album cover.


Copper had the opportunity to speak with Prescott Niles about the band’s legacy, and his rich rock past and present, including his ongoing role in the group Missing Persons.

Ray Chelstowski: The concert captured on the new album was held two weeks after 9/11. Was it a tough call to go forward after an event like that?

Prescott Niles: I used to have an inside joke with Berton that “whatever could go wrong will go wrong.” I called it “Knack Karma.” So, after we played the House of Blues we had a record release party. While we were at the party everyone’s attention turned to the news on the TVs because it was being announced that the Gulf War had just started. I looked at Berton and said, “we’re done!” No one really cared about a new Knack album after that.

RC: What’s another example of “Knack Karma?”

PN: Sometimes when we would play Detroit, Doug’s brother would introduce us. Geoffrey Fieger is a big-time lawyer. At one point he represented Jack Kevorkian (the late right-to-die activist). So, we are playing a show there, maybe in 1998 or so, and Jeffrey comes backstage to meet with us before introducing the band and he’s with this old guy. I asked, “Is that Doug’s uncle or something?” It wasn’t. Geoffrey [had] brought Kevorkian to our dressing room! Can you imagine that? I had nothing against what he was doing; I just couldn’t believe that Geoffrey brought him to a Knack concert. Everyone shook Kevorkian’s hand. I didn’t. Four days later Doug got really sick. A week later our tour drummer Terry Bozzio got bronchitis. The tour ended in just two weeks. What do you call that? It was a Twilight Zone moment!


RC: You and drummer Bruce Gary had an electric symmetry together. Was it like that from the beginning?

PN: I lived in England from 1973 to 1975. And I came back to LA a couple of times. It was a great time music-wise in London. This was the glam rock period. We had a band we’d put together with a Scottish drummer. He unfortunately got into heroin, so we had to audition other drummers when we came back to LA. One of the people we auditioned was Bruce Gary. Then we went to New York and auditioned a few other drummers, one who was named Mark Bell. He ended up playing in the Ramones and replaced their original drummer. We returned to England and were assuming we’d have Bruce Gary play drums for us. Instead, in the two weeks before Bruce was supposed to join our band, he had met Jack Bruce and decided to play with him, Mick Taylor, and others. So, we never got to play with him.

When our group broke up I got to speaking with Bruce [Gary] again and he told me he was with a group in LA and that they were going to open up for John Mayall. He thought it would be great if I could join them on bass and got me a ticket back to the States through management. We played one gig at the Whiskey [a Go Go] and the group broke up. Bruce went back to England again. So here were two chances to work with Bruce that didn’t work out.

Then fast forward to 1978. Bruce calls me and tells me he’s with a new group that I’d be great for. He was playing with Doug and Berton. They were cutting demos and Doug was playing bass but he wanted to play rhythm guitar, and that was it. Our first gig was at the Whiskey, June 1, 1978, and it was like magic. We knew that we had it and knew we were really going somewhere.


RC: The Knack is often compared to bands from that period like the Romantics, the Cars, and Cheap Trick.

PN: Well, Cheap Trick preceded The Knack, and Robin Zander is just a great singer. They were a real tight rock/pop band and their guitarist, Rick Nielsen, was a real comic book character. So, they had an entirely different appeal. They were very clever. The Cars on the other hand were very formulaic. They had great songs and a great look but as a live act they really stayed within their own pocket.


Dale Bozzio of Missing Persons and Prescott Niles. Courtesy of Prescott Niles.

Dale Bozzio of Missing Persons and Prescott Niles. Courtesy of Prescott Niles.


RC: You often covered a wide range of music when you performed live, including The Monkees’ “Last Train To Clarksville.” Was there anything that was off limits?

PN: When we started out in LA our sound was different and we really got people going with it. What a lot of people don’t know is that we had a lot of people join us on stage and jam. Eddie Money came up once and we did “Two Tickets [to Paradise]” with him. Tom Petty jammed with us at the Troubadour. Bruce Springsteen also jammed with us. Later on, Ray Manzarek of the Doors came up and we did some of their songs. I was always prideful of the fact that real musicians wanted to play with us, which at that time was rare.

RC: Your bass line owns the opening to “My Sharona.” At what point in playing that during the first rehearsals did you know that you guys had something big?

PN: Mike Chapman [the producer] knew we had a hit with “My Sharona.” When the album was put together and released, the label didn’t release a single. Instead, they gave the entire album to radio and “My Sharona” became the most requested song in America. It happened in two days. Capitol Records had to rush-release “My Sharona” two weeks later. So the album went to number one before the single did, which I’m very proud of.


The Knack's 1980 tour book.

The Knack’s 1980 tour book.


RC: You almost recorded the album as quickly as it charted.

PN: Again, we recorded the album with Mike Chapman when he was also working with Blondie on the single “Heart of Glass” for the Parallel Lines album. We came into Whitney Recording Studios in Glendale (California), did the whole album, mixed and mastered it in a month. When we finished, Blondie was still working on their “Heart of Glass” single. It was an example of how fast we worked. When we got together we were electric. We were what I call “one-take wonders!”

RC: Get The Knack has one of rock’s most iconic and memorable covers. Was it always intended to be a tip of the hat to the Beatles?

PN: First of all, Doug was Beatle-obsessed. We all were. A friend of mine, Randee St. Nicholas, who is married to Nick St. Nicholas of Steppenwolf, was an aspiring artist. We had no money for a photo shoot so I asked Randee if she wanted to shoot us. She said sure, and shot that album cover. If you look her up now you’ll see that she’s shot everybody. But we were her first album cover, it was just improv, and now it’s a classic.


The late Doug Fieger and Prescott Niles of the Knack. Courtesy of Prescott Niles.

The late Doug Fieger and Prescott Niles of the Knack. Courtesy of Prescott Niles.


RC: You have so many stories of your encounters with famous rock musicians. How did your time with George Harrison come about?

PN: When I lived in London I became friends with [former Rolling Stones guitarist] Mick Taylor’s wife, Rose. We would go dancing and I met George one night. In 1986 I got a call from a producer named Bob Rose. Apparently my name had come up and he was doing a session with someone but wouldn’t tell me who it was. So, I went to the studio and Jim Keltner was drumming. At that point I was told we would be playing behind George Harrison. After I got over the initial shock I remembered that I had met him and he of course knew the Knack. I was playing off charts, and I tracked with him in the control room, which was great. He hadn’t been recording for some time. So, as we are playing I’m following the chart and trying not to get ahead of the beat. We finished the track and it sounded really good. I got a rough cut of [the song] “Someplace Else,” and George and the producer went back to England. I was supposed to join them and do some other tracks but they ended up cutting another version of the song and I never got a chance to play with him again.


RC: What’s next?

PN: In May, I am playing bass with Missing Persons for this big festival in Pasadena called “Cruel World,” which features a ton of acts including Morrissey and Blondie. I’ve known Dale Bozzio for a very long time and we’ve been playing shows together for a decade. I also perform with Gary Myrick, who had the hit “She Talks In Stereo” with Gary Myrick and the Figures. And, there’s a new guitar player, Rocky Kramer, who’s from Finland. A movie is being made about him and I’m in the film. Lastly, I played on an album called American Train Music. It came out a few months ago. Carla Olson from the Textones put it together and we did a version of “Train Kept A-Rollin’” together. Do we have time to talk about what my kids are up to?

RC: Prescott Niles’ adult kids, Gabe, Noah and Olivia, have founded an LA-based band called Gateway Drugs. The band has released a pair of LPs and proudly carry the Niles musical legacy forward for a new generation of listeners to enjoy and share.


Header image courtesy of Prescott Niles.

Around the World In 80 Lathes, Part Nine

Around the World In 80 Lathes, Part Nine

Around the World In 80 Lathes, Part Nine

J.I. Agnew

Previous installments covered the earlier history of Neumann lathes.

Neumann record-cutting lathes came with a groove inspection microscope, which slid across the platter on a monorail guide with a rack and pinion arrangement, controlled by means of a large knurled knob on top of the microscope. The microscope itself was manufactured by Leitz, which was also known for manufacturing Leica photographic cameras, the Focomat series of photographic enlargers for darkroom printing, a wide range of exceptional-quality lenses (for cameras, enlargers, projectors and various other applications), and of course, all types of microscopes. Their groove inspection microscopes featured through-the-lens internal illumination, to do away with the awkward placement of heat-emitting light sources in uncomfortable proximity to the heat-sensitive lacquer master disks. Interestingly, some years ago, I managed to acquire a very rare and old Lorch precision lathe, which had been used for many decades at the Leitz factory in Wetzlar, Germany, and had probably played a major role in manufacturing parts for the groove inspection microscopes used on Neumann disk recording lathes, judging from the setup of the Lorch and the specialized tooling that came with it!


The illumination system to the side of the objective lens on the Leitz groove inspection microscope.

The illumination system to the side of the objective lens on the Leitz groove inspection microscope.


The platter itself, a true example of German overcomplicated engineering, was a combination of several machined castings, weighing a total of over 100 pounds! The top part, containing the vacuum ports to clamp the lacquer disks down via suction, rested on three leveling adjusters, which were intended to eliminate vertical runout. Through careful adjustment, it was possible to achieve a TIR (total indicator runout) of 0.000078″ (0,002 mm), measured on the outer diameter of the 16-inch platter!


The microscope arm, bolted to the platter end of the Neumann lathe bed, carries the slide rail on which the groove inspection microscope can travel.

The microscope arm, bolted to the platter end of the Neumann lathe bed, carries the slide rail on which the groove inspection microscope can travel.


The oil coupler under the platter isolated the relatively noisy Lyrec motor from the platter, ensuring a very low amount of rumble.


The Neumann oil-coupler on a VMS-70 lathe, decoupling the vacuum platter from the Lyrec SM-8 motor.

The Neumann oil-coupler on a VMS-70 lathe, decoupling the vacuum platter from the Lyrec SM-8 motor.


This was a development that built upon the early Western Electric Kingsbury bearing oil coupler, seen on their early lathes and known as the Western Electric Type RA1388 drive. The idea is kind of similar to how an automatic transmission works in a car. There is no direct mechanical connection between the input shaft (connected to the engine in a car or to the electric motor on a lathe) and the output shaft (in a gross oversimplification, connected to the driveshaft that transmits motion to the wheels in a car, or to the platter on a lathe). The rotary motion, and most importantly, torque, is transmitted through a fluid coupling. It is only the fluid that connects the two shafts, acting upon an impeller. This fluid is automatic transmission fluid (ATF) in motor vehicles and industrial mineral oil on the Neumann lathe oil coupler.


Neumann VMS-70 oil coupler.

Neumann VMS-70 oil coupler.


But, this is where the similarity ends, as the oil couplers found on lathes and automotive transmissions are very differently designed, since they need to deal with vastly different operating conditions, speed ranges and accuracy specifications. Modern automatic transmissions also feature a torque converter with a lock-up function, which mechanically locks the input and output shafts together at cruising speeds, no longer relying on the fluid to transmit torque and thereby eliminating slip and increasing efficiency. Neumann, unlike Western Electric, also used a spring-loaded mechanical lock-up system, to improve upon the amount of time it would have otherwise taken for the fluid to spin the massively heavy platter up to speed and to reduce any possibility for transient speed errors in the system.


Neumann VMS-70 oil coupler.

Neumann VMS-70 oil coupler.


The platter motor was the Lyrec SM-8, manufactured by the company in Denmark. This was a floorstanding beast, intended for direct-drive applications. However, unlike the Technics SP-10 and the EMT 950 direct-drive turntables popular in audiophile circles, the Lyrec motor did not use any motor control electronics! It was a synchronous AC motor, which locked its speed onto the frequency of the AC power used to drive it. For those of you familiar with the operation of synchronous AC motors, yes, it did have the massive number of poles needed to spin at 33-1/3, 45 and 78 rpm, and of course there were different versions made for 50 Hz (Europe) and 60 Hz operation (North America and Japan).


The Lyrec SM-8 direct-drive synchronous AC motor, driving the platter on a Neumann VMS-70 lathe.

The Lyrec SM-8 direct-drive synchronous AC motor, driving the platter on a Neumann VMS-70 lathe.


The different speeds were achieved by essentially stacking three different motors on top of each other! Each motor had the correct number of poles machined for each platter speed, so an SM-8 essentially contained three synchronous rotors and three synchronous stators, one on top of the other. These synchronous motors were, however, not self-starting! To initiate the starting, a separate induction motor was used, on top of the three synchronous motors! Each SM-8 therefore consisted of no less than four different motors, sharing a common shaft. Just when you thought the German engineering community was intense!


The coupler connecting the Lyrec SM-8 motor to the driveshaft that goes up to the oil coupler, on a Neumann VMS-70 disk mastering lathe.

The coupler connecting the Lyrec SM-8 motor to the driveshaft that goes up to the oil coupler, on a Neumann VMS-70 disk mastering lathe.


The cost of these Lyrec motors was also about as intense as you would expect it to be for such a level of complexity. For each frequency version, there were single-phase and three-phase variants. The single-phase types relied on capacitors to accomplish the (electrical) phase shift needed to run the motor. The three-phase types did not need capacitors, and are very rarely seen nowadays. As would be expected, the torque pulses of the three-phase versions were of lower amplitude but at a higher frequency.


The driveshaft coupler at the underside of the Neumann VMS-70 lathe bed.

The driveshaft coupler at the underside of the Neumann VMS-70 lathe bed.


The speed stability and rumble performance of the entire system was excellent, but soon after the introduction of the Neumann VMS-70 lathe, aftermarket drive systems began to emerge to replace the Lyrec motor, which had already been used on earlier Neumann models and considered by some to be somewhat out of fashion.

One of these systems was the Technics SP-02, similar in many ways to the Technics SP-10 drive system (an electronically-controlled phase-locked-loop system), but bigger and designed to directly bolt on to the Neumann lathe bed, where the oil-coupler would normally go, with a flange on top, which would directly accept the original Neumann 16-inch vacuum platter. The electronics were housed in a separate 19-inch rack enclosure. Very few of these were ever made.

A similar aftermarket system was marketed by Denon. The cost was astronomical, so these were not exactly popular. Nowadays, if you can find one, even the combined GDP of a few small countries wouldn’t be enough to pay for it. The Lyrec SM-8, which was built like a tank and was simple enough to not have electronics that would expire long before the mechanical parts (as was the case with many electronic speed control systems), still remains the most common drive system for a Neumann lathe.

The Neumann SX-74 was introduced in 1974 as the cutter head of choice for the VMS-70 system. It was an upgrade of the very similar SX-68, a stereophonic feedback cutter head employing the 45/45  system, as used by Westrex for their stereophonic cutter heads. The origins of the design date back to Alan Dower Blumlein, who had invented this configuration a few decades too early. The world wasn’t ready for it at the time, so it did not find any commercial application until Westrex revived it in 1958. The SX-74 featured square-cross-section aluminum coil wire for improved coil packing efficiency and low mass, as well as high-temperature materials that could withstand temperatures in excess of 200°C.

The cutter head and the associated electronics will be examined in greater detail in the next episode.

Previous installments appeared in Issues 158, 157, 156, 155, 154153, 152, and 151.

Header image: the Leitz groove inspection microscope on a Neumann VMS-70 disk mastering lathe.
All photos courtesy of Greg Reierson, Rare Form Mastering, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Jim Anderson and Ulrike Schwarz: Immersive Audio’s Power Couple, Part Four

Jim Anderson and Ulrike Schwarz: Immersive Audio’s Power Couple, Part Four

Jim Anderson and Ulrike Schwarz: Immersive Audio’s Power Couple, Part Four

John Seetoo

With multiple Grammy Award wins and nominations to their credit, as well as European awards such as the Echo Klassik and Le Diamant d’Opera, Jim Anderson and Ulrike Schwarz have a unique personal and professional partnership that has resulted in a wide range of critically-acclaimed, co-produced and co-engineered recordings. Currently, the duo is up for a 2021 Best Immersive Recording Grammy nomination for jazz artist Patricia Barber’s Clique (reviewed by Tom Gibbs in Issue 144). Part One of our interview in Issue 156 included their thoughts on making their mixing techniques as “invisible” as possible, and in working with live orchestras and big bands, and discussed their favorite recordings done by each other.

Part Two (Issue 157) delved into their earlier work using analog tape, their approaches towards recording unfamiliar instruments and different types of ethnic and regional music, and their transition into digital recording. Issue 158 and Part Three explored their appreciation for Leonard Bernstein, Henry Mancini, and Glenn Gould, as well as their early histories in mixing for immersive audio; details about their home studio, which rivals many professional surround-sound establishments; and some of the differences between the equipment they choose for work as engineers as opposed to what they listen with for pleasure as audiophiles. This installment goes further into the latter topic, and concludes the series.

Ulrike Schwarz: I [listened to] McIntosh (tube amps) for 12 hours a day [for a while]. And those were very, very nice ones. I’ve heard [our recording of Patricia Barber’s Clique] on Wilsons – on the WAMMs, or whatever they’re called. I mean, it’s just kind of fun. But I do prefer the Magico [S5] – that to me, is more musical. [The latest version of the Wilson Audio WAMM is the WAMM Master Chronosonic – Ed.]

I bought a PMC 5.1 [speaker] setup (models TB2+ and TLE1) for my home because I was having trouble mixing non-classical content on the ARD (national German broadcasting network) standard speakers, the Geithain 901. There is a range between 200 to 400 Hz that is so indistinguishable on the Geithains that I felt the need to check myself at home. I also had a pair of Dynaudio BLM06 active speakers stored at Studio 2 of the Bavarian Radio studio building that I would use for jazz recordings.

Also, I like listening to our [radio] broadcasts and DVD-Audio, SACD and Blu-rays at home in 5.1.

But it kind of blends. I wouldn’t want to have too-forgiving speakers even to listen to for fun because I would be looking for things [to hear that weren’t there]. Jim was talking about Revel [speakers], and I don’t get along with the Revels.

Jim Anderson: The reason I brought those up was [that] we were using them in mastering and I found them to be actually pretty nice, but I think we found stuff we like better. So yes, if Magico wants to give us a pair, we’ll be very happy to take them. They know we’re very good at evaluating equipment.

John Seetoo: Regarding Patricia Barber: congratulations on the latest Grammy nomination (for Clique). You have quite a number of records that you’ve done together. First part of my next question: what was different about producing Clique versus, say, Barber’s Café Blue or Modern Cool or your other records? And, is there a particular methodology or chemistry that you have working with Patricia that make your collaborations so productive?

JA: Thank you. I’ve said this before in other interviews, but every time we’ve gone into the studio, I have always tried to look at, what’s the state of the art today? Every time we’ve gone in the studio, there have been changes, incremental changes.

Café Blue was done with a 16-bit [D/A] converter for me to mix with at the time, and that was the best we had. And then we stepped up when it came to Modern Cool. We started working in a higher-[resolution] format, [with] higher track counts and all that kind of thing. Every time we’ve stepped up, we’ve always addressed what [the state of the art] is at the moment.

The other thing about Café Blue was, I built a live [reverb] chamber in the stairwell. And that was the reverb that everybody kind of fell in love with at the time. An “analog” live chamber that was built with microphones and speakers – just the way you do [it] at Capitol Records [Studios], you know, you have a very live room [in which] you put in microphones and speakers, and that’s the reverb.

But when we started getting along to Patricia’s album Verse, Sony sent me a DRE-S777 [sampling digital] reverb, and I did a convolution of that stairwell. And I still have it, if I need it. So, I was able to go from setting up a live chamber to actually using a convolution of the live chamber. [Convolution reverb uses digital recordings of real spaces to apply the reverb effect – Ed.]

And then, when we got to Smash, I had just done the Modern Cool remix in surround at Skywalker [Sound]. And so [they asked], “where would you like to mix?” “Skywalker!” [Their reply was] “Sure!” We’ve [gone] out there since 2012 when we want to mix Patty. So again, that’s another way that we can move up.

When we got to the last two albums: Higher, and Clique, we started looking around, saying, “okay, how can we increase the technical aspect of the recordings?”

That’s when we got into high-resolution 352.8 kHz, and starting working in DXD [the Digital eXtreme Definition PCM format at 352.8 kHz/24-bit – Ed.]. So, we mixed Higher first, because that was coming out first. Then a year later, we went out [to Skywalker]. And we were able to, again, for this last record, use the Merging Technologies, what’s it called?


JA: We put [this] really excellent [digital master] clock in the system. And all of a sudden, oh, my gosh, the recording just locked together. I think that’s what makes Clique kind of really work. It’s the stability of the image.

The other thing that we did with both Higher and Clique was that we really paid attention to every aspect of electrification of all the equipment. Every AC cable was replaced with Essential Sound Products’ MusicCord. We also use the Essential Sound Products Power Distributor. We really paid attention to the power [going] to the clocking and all that kind of thing. We’ve stepped up the game every time that we’ve stepped into the studio with Patty.

US: At Skywalker we bring in, of course, the audio interface and the tracks, obviously, but also, I brought in all the patch cables and snakes that we sometimes use. We fly five bags of metal out to California.


Ulrike Schwarz.

Ulrike Schwarz.


JA: At the same time, I don’t want Patty to be aware of any of this stuff. Because basically, she wants to walk into the studio at three o’clock and start recording. So, I’ll have the band come in at about one o’clock. We’ll soundcheck them, we’ll get everybody comfortable.

And then I’ll have Patty set up. She’ll come in, and she’ll just put on the headphones and see if she feels comfortable – and then go from there. What I try [to create], essentially, for her, is [that] we’re basically doing the same record ever since Café Blue up until fifteen records later. To her, it’s the same situation: That’s so she’s comfortable, she can sit down, she knows it’s gonna be a good product. And it’s really so they can just perform.

That’s always the issue. Trying not to get the tech… you know, this goes back to the first question on trying not to get the technology in the way of the performance. She can come in, sit down and then when she hears the first playback, she’ll say, “oh, that’s fine.”

And the thing is, I try to get the best sound I can on every instrument and then blend that together, so she just sits on top of the whole thing. And she’s really appreciative of the efforts that we put forward for her.

US: I think actually, Jim is underplaying this a little bit. If you’ve been with a person for 30 years, I think it’s more than just giving stability. I mean, you’re friends with her. And that, of course, makes it much, much better, much easier for her to give out, because it is a vulnerable situation for the singer and the band and everything to be there. And just to see that you have the stability and the friend on the other side – I would think is a very big part of why this [arrangement] works so well.

JS: Do either or both of you think immersive audio will catch on more commercially with a wider audience outside of the home theater and audiophile markets? Do you think that the video game sector might be the first of other potential applications for immersive audio?

JA: At the Audio Engineering Society (AES), we did a [seminar] on gaming audio 20 years ago. And they essentially were doing immersive sound [even] back then. Even on the most basic of games. I think when it comes to immersive sound, you can be a lot more creative, in just creating atmospheres and things like that. In VR, audio is usually about five years behind the visual. So, I think we’re now catching up to where VR was when we first put on Oculus glasses and said, “wow, isn’t that great? Too bad it doesn’t sound that good.”

Now it’s starting to get to the point where you really have a [true] immersive sound [in gaming and VR]. And so, I think that the play now is getting an immersive sound out of just a pair of speakers; I think it’s going to be difficult for really quite a while. Probably eventually, that’ll improve. But, are people really going to be as crazy as we are and have a room that has six speakers sitting in it? Or more?

We find with [Dolby] Atmos, [the sound from] a soundbar is actually not bad and pretty convincing. And so, I think if you can make it pretty easy for the consumer, it’s kind of a drop kick or a forward pass or whatever it would be. Make it easy for the consumer to understand how it gets set up, so they can set it up properly and it’s effective in their room architecture. I think that is what’s going to really make it work.


Jim Anderson behind the board with Ulrike Schwarz looking on.

Jim Anderson behind the board with Ulrike Schwarz looking on.


US: I think the [potential] immersive aspect of [listening in] airports and headphones; that is something that the overwhelming amount of people will listen to. Again, the acoustic and the room thing is great. But I think what is happening with Apple immersive or whatever it’s called at the moment [Spatial Audio with support for Dolby Atmos – Ed.] is that they’re banking on all this kind of binaural 2-channel immersiveness. I think that [still] really has to develop because [a lot of it] at the moment still sounds like phased stuff in the back, and neither Atmos nor 360 really works yet, but that’s also due to the heavy data reduction. If you could take like a real immersive-channel bass mix, and then play it against the same version in Atmos, you don’t want to hear the Atmos. There’s something to be said for bandwidth. And then for getting better tools to make a – let’s say a channel-based immersive [recording] and turn that into a 2-channel version. I’m still looking for binaural audio to catch on – that is the one that will work at some point.

But, for example, coming back to the Japanese and their 22.2 system [covered in Part Three, Issue 158], they broadcast the Olympics, the Tokyo Olympics in a binaural version. And that’s the best thing I’ve ever heard in binaural, so there is a way to do this. I think with digital transmission and everything, it’s possible.

JA: We were listening to the BBC Olympics coverage. And if you listened to the atmosphere of the live broadcast coming from Tokyo, you could tell that, especially listening through headphones, that thing was a really good immersive [sonic] bed that they were working on; then putting an announcer on top of it. And so, I think it’s gonna come along. In fact, I think more and more television will be done immersively. And then, of course, iPads and computers and things like that. We’ll be sitting here and we’ll have this kind of little “immersive ball” sitting in front of us.

US: They’re doing it already.

JA: Yeah, they are doing it already. So, it will become more ubiquitous as time goes by. I think the whole thing is just starting. And it’s nice that we’re in the pioneering stage and we’ve been able to make a bit of an impact on this already.

JS: Fascinating. Jim, you’ve been president of AES, and you’ve also given presentations at Capital Audio Fest, a high-end audio consumer show. What do you feel are the differences and similarities between the pro and consumer audio equipment markets, and what do people in the pro industry and audiophiles listen for? Ulrike – your experiences as well?

JA: Well, when you talk about the Audio Engineering Society, it’s multifaceted, in that you have researchers doing serious research in audio, and then you have educators. Then you also have practitioners, people in the studios working, so you have those three streams that really come together. But it never really branched over into the audiophile [community], which is a whole other world.

I don’t know many educators who can afford to be an audiophile. I don’t know many researchers that have the time to step out of their research laboratories and become audiophiles. It used to be said [about] old recording engineers from back in the ’70s: they had a pair of Advents and a good amplifier. And that was about basically what almost every recording engineer had in their house, because if you were walking into a recording studio, [you were thinking:] “why do I need to spend a lot of money on a [home stereo] system when that’s what I do daily?” So, they would usually have something that was adequate. [Or] better than adequate, shall we say, something really good, but not embarrassing. It’s very funny, these worlds. I don’t know that they ever would really come together.

Practicing recording engineers usually never spend much time with each other, except at conventions. (laughs) That was the whole thing about the pandemic; the last couple of years, recording engineers would go into a room for 12 hours or more, and then come out…

US: …a month later…

JA: …and then, I was saying to a lot of people, “Welcome to my world, and this is what we’ve been doing for 40 years. Going into a room and never coming out, never seeing anybody.” It’s pretty solitary work. You might be spending time with the assistants and the producers, and maybe the musicians, but that’s about it. And usually, you don’t want anybody that’s not involved in the project hanging around, because it’s such concentrated work.

So as far as, let’s say, audiophiles and professional audio [people]: do they ever really get together?


Ulrike and Jim.

Ulrike and Jim.


US: No, [it] happens. But there have been no initiatives to [have everyone] come closer. [However}, I know that the boss of the VDT, the German Tonmeister Association [Verband Deutscher Tonmeister] and the people of the German high-end societies are now mutually like associate members of each other. And they’re trying to get a little bit closer together. Of course, they are professionals. When it comes to cables, for example, we had people from the IRT do measurements and [they] said, “you know, this great cable is what you need.”

And then of course, some audiophile comes in; “but if you take this cable, everything is so much better.” And the [IRT people] had to say, “yeah, well, we measured it, [but] we have to lay out five kilometers of it, and you want $1,000 per meter.” So, this is not going to happen in a professional surrounding.

(Ulrike notes: The ARD Network had a famous research institute called Institut für Rundfunktechnik (Institute for Broadcast Technology), IRT. In the same manner, Radio France has IRCAM and NHK runs NHK STRL in Japan as their own research laboratories. Unfortunately, the IRT was closed in 2021 due to lack of funding by the ARD Network.)

There are things where a broadcaster, for example – you just [have to] make it sound very good; you have to make it sound clear. There is a focus on what you have to do. And the audiophile worries about perfecting it, making it even better and even better. And sometimes, “audiophile” can turn into voodoo. In a broadcast system, you just don’t have time for that.

JA: But at the same time, Ulrike and I love going to the Munich high-end show [HIGH END Munich]. We also love going to the professionals of the VDT shows and the AES conventions and things like that. We love crossing [over with] those things. At the same time, we love presenting at the high-end shows, and explaining, because not a lot of people really understand what it takes to make a recording. So, we can play a recording, explain it, and kind of clarify, because there’s a lot of, as Ulrike said, “voodoo.” There are a lot of misunderstandings about how recordings are made. Some of them are just practical. And some of them are…you don’t want to know how the sausage is made, really.

US: And the other thing between audiophiles and professionals is that some of [the products] might [use] the exact same components, but they have to look very different to a pro and to an audiophile. I mean, we usually don’t get the stainless-steel brushed exterior, but maybe the same chip.

I was taken [aback] when I was at the last VDT conference and I played the Clique album and I had my DXD file and had my cables with me and the whole thing. Somebody from a radio station tried to tell me how much BS all of that was and said, “well, if you measure blah, blah, blah, this will come out that way…” And at some point, I had to stop him and say, “do you have a recording that sounds like [what I’m playing]? Because we can talk about all of these things that are “not necessary.” But on the other hand, we notice how each time we put in another one of these power cables, and how we cleaned up the power, how we cleaned up the cables, how we did the clock: the recording got better and the noise floor just completely disappeared into nothing.” There is a peak people sometimes will not match, let’s put it that way. (laughs)

JA: Ulrike just got done cutting vinyl with [mastering engineer] Scott Hull yesterday on Clique. We’re making sure that the quality comes down to what audiophiles will hear in the long run. It’s not like some [people] think we go do a recording and then we just kind of let it go off into the ether. We really kind of try to maintain quality all through every format.

US: Every format that comes out.

JS: One last question: AES has always been big on encouraging the next generation of audio professionals, in their efforts in education and in networking. What advice would both of you give to younger people who want to work in the audio industry?

US: Oh, I thought I wanted to give it to The Professor! (laughs) So, okay, the professor says I started well! I think you have to realize that it’s a gift, like every profession, then you really have to…first of all, you have to want it, you have to work really hard. And you have to sustain it through times that are not easy. I mean, that’s kind of general advice to every young person, I would say.

JA: People that come to New York City think, “Oh, well, wouldn’t it be great to live here!” – until they live here, and then they realize it’s not as [much] fun as it is to visit. The audio industry is like that. A friend of mine used to say, “is that perhaps the lifestyle you want?” You may not; if you went to the studio, you may not see your family for days, weeks, months…Kevin Killen went off to do work with Peter Gabriel, and he was supposed to be there for a month or two, and he ended up being there for like nine months. He came back with a wonderful record, but at the same time, you have no idea what’s going to happen sometimes.

I think the most valuable education that I can offer, especially [through] my work at New York University, is my critical listening class in teaching people how to listen to a recording, so they can evaluate it. And then you can either fix it, you can improve it, you can do anything you want, but you have a vocabulary that you can [use to] talk with other professionals, and you can talk among yourselves and be very precise and very exact in what it is you’re trying to do and how you need to fix it, or how you might need to improve it, or what you’re trying to achieve.

So, I think: a good program [in how to listen]. You can learn the technique anywhere. You can go to a trade school and learn how to make a recording. But the trick, though, is musical taste. Also, history – do you understand the history of a style of recording, of jazz recording? If somebody said, “I want this to sound like a Blue Note record,” do you know how to do that? Or if you want to make it sound like a Columbia jazz record from the ’50s, do you know how to do that?

And so, you have to be a bit of a historian, you have to be a technician, you have to be an engineer. And then also at the same time, you might have to be a producer.

I mean, I know how to take apart a Steinway piano in case somebody drops a pencil in the middle of the action, which has happened at three in the morning. You have to get the screwdriver out and pull out the action and get the pencil out so you can keep recording. There are all kinds of little things that you don’t know you need to know until it actually happens to you!

US: And then there is, of course, the entrepreneurial aspect to it. I think that’s become more and more important, because the way Jim and I started was [that] we were both at these really big companies. We had a job that paid, and everything was taken care of. And these jobs are very rare at this point.

I’m very thankful that I could make all my mistakes under the big umbrella of this large company, because now, it is so much more expensive than when we would make mistakes [then], because the time probably wouldn’t come back.

So, you have to build your entrepreneurial chops as well. You have to know which direction you are going because you can’t do it all. You have to love basically the type of music that you’re doing. You have to love it. I mean, I probably would be not very good at hip-hop, because I don’t know much about it. And I haven’t listened to [it] enough to even evaluate it. So, you have to be clear on what your specialties are, then you have to also turn that, I think, into a business model, at this point. Because, again, the big jobs in studios or in big recording companies are not that frequent anymore.

JA: At NYU, we always say, “making the recording is the easy part.” It’s what you do after that. How do you get the word out that you have this recording, [and] distribute [it]? Do you know all the business aspects? Well, those are some of the most important things that somebody can learn about getting into the industry. It really is [about] relying upon yourself or your team, and being entrepreneurial.

JS: That’s fantastic advice. Thank you again for being so generous with your time and being such engaging interviewees.

Octave Records Releases <em>Audiophile Masters, Volume V</em>

Octave Records Releases <em>Audiophile Masters, Volume V</em>

Octave Records Releases Audiophile Masters, Volume V

Frank Doris

Octave Records has released Audiophile Masters, Volume V, the latest in its series of reference-quality music sampler discs. Volume V features world-renowned cellist Zuill Bailey playing a selection from the Bach Cello Suites, plus jazz from the Briana Harris Quintet and Tom Amend, the rock and pop of Foxfeather, Augustus and others, the stunning acoustic guitar duo of Taylor Sims and Kyle Donovan, and other selections.

All the tracks (except one) were recorded in pure DSD using Octave Records’ Sonoma DSD recording system at Animal Lane Studios in Lyons, Colorado, Vernon Barn in Longmont, CO. Zuill Bailey’s piece was recorded on a Pyramix system at the Mesa Arts Center in Mesa, Arizona. Like all the recordings in the Audiophile Masters series, Volume V offers a diverse range of artists and musical styles, all with reference-quality sound.


Zoe Berman.

Zoe Berman.


Audiophile Masters, Volume V (SRP: $29) is playable on any SACD, CD, DVD, or Blu-ray player. It also has a high-resolution DSD layer that is accessible only using a PS Audio SACD transport, or by copying the DSD tracks on the included DVD data discs. In addition, the master DSD and PCM files are available for purchase and download from psaudio.com at this link. Audiophile Masters, Vol. V was recorded, mixed and produced by Steven Vidaic, Jay Elliott, Robert Friedrich, Gus Skinas, and Zach Balch, with Giselle Collazo as an assistant engineer. It was mastered by Gus Skinas.

The album begins with the return of More Than Physics and “My Nitride Heart,” featuring Jonathan Sadler on marimba and Clint Wilcox on handpans, a steel-drum-like instrument that sounds both earthy and otherworldly. Jazz aficionados will find much to enjoy with the ¾-time bounce of the Briana Harris Quintet’s “Thin Places,” the organ-fueled avant-jazz of “Concatenate” by the Tom Amend Trio, and Zoe Berman’s swinging vocals on “Perfect Storm.” Other highlights include the Gypsy-guitar-influenced “Lowland” by acoustic guitar virtuosos Taylor Sims and Kyle Donovan, the Americana-flavored Many Mountains on “Endless Time,” and more.


Dustin Moran and Katie Nelson of Many Mountains.

Dustin Moran and Katie Nelson of Many Mountains.


Audiophile Masters, Volume V also features a spellbinding performance by Zuill Bailey, considered to be one of the finest cellists in the world. He is showcased here on Bach’s BMV 1007 Suite No. 1 in G Major for solo cello, in a recording that captures the remarkable acoustics of the Mesa Arts Center and every nuance of Bailey’s emotive, virtuoso playing.

The track listing for Audiophile Masters, Volume V is as follows:

  1. “My Nitride Heart – More Than Physics
  2. “Thin Places” – Briana Harris Quintet
  3. “The Nature of Things” – Foxfeather
  4. “She’ll Be Right” – Joe D’Esposito
  5. “Endless Time” – Many Mountains
  6. BMV 1007 Suite No. 1 in G Major – Zuill Bailey
  7. “Concatenate” – Tom Amend Trio
  8. “Perfect Storm” – Zoe Berman
  9. “Lowland” – Taylor Sims and Kyle Donovan
  10. “Diana” – Augustus


Clint Wilcox and Jonathan Sadler of More Than Physics.

Clint Wilcox and Jonathan Sadler of More Than Physics.

The Murky Landscape of Music Creation and Ownership

The Murky Landscape of Music Creation and Ownership

The Murky Landscape of Music Creation and Ownership

Stuart Marvin

The origins of music are generally linked to mythological, religious, and/or philosophical beliefs. Ancient Chinese musical instrumentation, for example, was used in order to appeal to the supernatural, for dance, and for spiritual expression. During the Byzantine Empire, music was used in church services, dramas, ballets, banquets, festivals and sports. The origins of jazz are linked to both European musical structure and African rhythms. Jazz can also be traced back to ragtime and the blues. Given music’s rich history covering thousands of years and many different cultures, is it a stretch to say that all music – in varying degrees – is derivative?

Archeologists tell us the oldest musical instruments known to man are bone flutes dating to 40,000 years ago. Neanderthals crafted these ancient flutes from the bones of young bears, large birds, and the ivory of mammoths. Scholars have debated whether the flute holes were natural teeth marks created by animals on the hunt, though their symmetry and spacing strongly suggest they were man-made.

Is it possible that Neanderthal “flautists” dabbled in a form of music creation? They clearly lacked the brainpower to compose by any standard that we know, but who’s to say that stringing together a few notes didn’t make for an original composition? Of course, there were no copyright laws to safeguard against infringement, though any dispute could easily be settled with a spear or rock to the head. Yep, jurisprudence comes in many shapes and sizes.

In a more modern-day scenario, the guitarist/songwriter Eric Clapton traces his musical roots to guitarists Big Bill Broonzy, Muddy Waters and others. In his autobiography, Clapton notes, “I would take the bits that I could copy from a combination of the electric blues players I liked, like John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, and Chuck Berry, and the acoustic players like Big Bill Broonzy, and amalgamate them into one, trying to find a phraseology that would encompass all these different artists.”

So, where does the line between emulation and appropriation begin and end? It’s a nice tribute and compliment when Clapton (and others) acknowledge the influence their musical idols have had on their own music. Given his public acknowledgment, could a crafty musicologist build a case for appropriation filed by an heir of one of Clapton’s idols? Yes, a 12-bar blues progression is both foundational and somewhat timeless, but who knows? Seemingly anyone can sue anybody for just about anything these days. A greedy attorney might say to a prospective plaintiff, “We got a real good case here (aka money). Of course, you’ll need to exhibit outrage about protecting your late Uncle Bill’s legacy, with lots of righteous indignation.”

Many of us are familiar with the widely publicized copyright infringement case between Led Zeppelin and the estate of the late Randy California, founder of the band Spirit. Led Zep was accused of appropriating (okay, stealing) the opening riff to “Stairway To Heaven” from Spirit’s song “Taurus,” released in 1968 and written by California. By 2008 it was estimated that “Stairway” had amassed $562 million in royalties, so a successful lawsuit could have potentially yielded millions in past and future royalty payments. Essentially, the estate viewed “Stairway to Heaven” more like “Stairway to Seven,” as in a possible seven-plus-figure payout. (In the YouTube video below, the “Taurus” riff comes in at about 0:45.)


In court documents the estate of Randy California claimed that, since both bands often were on the same concert bill in 1970, before “Stairway to Heaven” was conceived, Led Zep had frequent exposure to the alleged similar-sounding “Taurus.” Ultimately, a judge and jury agreed with musicologists’ testimony that the chord progressions in “Stairway” had been in use for decades. The estate was then denied a second time on appeal.

Another infringement case in 1991 involved Vanilla Ice and his hit record “Ice Ice Baby.” Without credit or permission, the Iceman sampled elements of the song “Under Pressure,” recorded by David Bowie and Queen. The case was settled confidentially with Ice having to pony up a sum of money.

More recently, pop star Dua Lipa was teed up with two copyright suits claiming infringement on her hit song “Levitating.” One suit claims the song is “substantially similar” to both the 1979 Cory Daye song “Wiggle and Giggle All Night,” and the 1980 Miguel Bosé song “Don Diablo.” The second suit was filed on behalf of the reggae band Artikal Sound System, claiming “Levitating” infringes on their 2017 song “Live Your Life.”


Forensic musicologists are often called upon as expert witnesses in cases of copyright infringement. Most have a doctoral degree in music, with a focus on music history, theory, and/or composition. They may also be composers, conductors, performers and/or educators. Their legal qualifications are not as relevant as their “expert” musical opinions. In 1923, British justice John Astbury stated, “infringement of copyright in music is not a question of note-for-note comparison, but whether the substance of the original copyright work is taken or not. It falls to be determined by the ear, as well as by the eye.” Whether by ear or eye, none of this is what you’d call an exact science. It’s all quite subjective.

Looking towards the future, technology will undoubtedly play a large role in cases of infringement and provenance. Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and forensic linguistics, for example, can determine with a high degree of accuracy if a range of writings allegedly penned by two different people were written by the same person. It’s based on patterns and word usage. Similarly, the art field is already using blockchain technology to track the provenance and authenticity of artists’ creations (paintings, photographs, sculptures, etc.), an important step for an industry that’s historically vulnerable to fraud.

In regards to safeguarding a musician’s creation and provenance, Yvette Liebesman, a law professor at St. Louis University, has proposed a system called Mega-Element Analysis. In this system, computers would compare elements of a song against a database of similar songs, though the amount of data and manpower required to make the system operational and effective may be prohibitive. Two researchers, professor Daniel Müllensiefen and Dr. Marc Pendzich, have developed a system that compares elements of a song’s melody that are copyrightable using MIDI files, a cornerstone of music production software. A MIDI file – short for Musical Instrument Digital Interface – can identify every note played by every instrument, and can be used to isolate variables like timing, pitch, and tempo. Many view MIDI files as sheet music for the 21st century. Though the Mullensiefen-Pendzich system is not without limitations, it has yielded strong results in beta-type testing on copyright infringement cases.

The process of music creation today has never been as different or as easy. There’s an assortment of music production software available to aid aspiring composers with content development. It’s no wonder roughly 60,000 songs are uploaded to Spotify every day. A musician no longer needs access to a professional studio, or gobs of money for expensive equipment. The really good software is designed with a friendly, easy-to-use interface. Essentially, the production software becomes a music-writing partner, delivering both speed and efficiency to either a seasoned or novice composer.

For example, Mixed in Key, a leading music-production software company, offers composers a suite of plugins. Their “Captain Chords” plugin lays down the framework for a song, “Captain Deep” adds some bass, “Captain Melody” delivers, well, melody, “Captain Beat” imports drums, and “Captain Play” brings it all together. All a musician needs is a germ of an idea, and in theory (or practice) the software can build the rest.


Screen shot, Captain Chords music production software. From the Mixed in Key website.

Screen shot, Captain Chords music production software. From the Mixed in Key website.


I see no harm in using music production software for creative stimulation, but an over-reliance on its use certainly lacks in originality. It also has the potential for dehumanizing, commoditizing and automating the entire music creation process. Perhaps I’m too much of an old-school purist, but there’s a sense of artificiality to the process that, well, almost feels like cheating. It’s a bit like if a student driver took their road test in a self-driving car.  My friend Dan, an aspiring musician in his own right, succinctly sums it all up this way: “the (software) tools should be used to break the kink in the flow, not as a musical crutch to stand on.”Yes, modern-day technology can be both a blessing and a curse, depending on how it is utilized. When technology is used as a tool for learning, creative stimulation and so on, it has great value. If and when the technology fundamentally becomes the end product – especially in fields historically driven by an artist’s creative and imaginative thinking – then that’s where I believe lines can get blurry and even crossed.

Hopefully, advances in technology will help keep the provenance of artists’ music clean and unencumbered, certainly a desirable and worthy goal. Let’s also hope that modern-day music production software doesn’t lead to a decline in both artists’ creativity and originality.

In sum, music has never been easier to both create and distribute. That’s great news for music creators! The bad news is, given the vast amount of content available today across an array of streaming services, both discovery and curation for music lovers has become increasingly more challenging.

Header image: Aurignacian flute made from an animal bone, from circa 33,000 to 37,000 years ago. Courtesy of Wikipedia/José-Manuel Benito.

Three Days With Frank Sinatra, Part Two: Graduation Day

Three Days With Frank Sinatra, Part Two: Graduation Day

Three Days With Frank Sinatra, Part Two: Graduation Day

Tom Methans

It had been a year since I saw Frank Sinatra last. (Part One of this series appears in Issue 158.) The sauce-making story got plenty of mileage and I felt like it had elevated my standing in society, especially with adults. Anyone remotely acquainted with Frank learned that I had cooked with him. And, suddenly, I was also an authority on marinara. There’s nothing worse than a know-it-all eight-grader who critiques an old family recipe whenever someone mentioned grandma’s secret ingredient, which could be as egregious as ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, cilantro, cinnamon, brown sugar, or baking soda. We (Frank and I) would never add that stuff to tomato sauce, so, if you’re doing it, you better knock it off.

I wanted to imagine Mr. S. also mentioning me to his circle of friends from Los Angeles to Palm Springs and Las Vegas to Lake Tahoe. “If you’re ever at Bill and Judy’s house in New York and you need help cooking, make sure you ask for Tommy. There’re two other kids there, but they wouldn’t know how to add hot water to a teabag.” If that’s what he was saying, I would have to agree with him wholeheartedly. Certainly, there was no way my house-mates, Nicky and Christina, would have been any help at all.

Nicky, 12, and Christina, 14, were Bill and Judy Green’s children, and among my sole companions on the isolated estate that Bill and Judy owned. The kids and I spent nearly every day together for a few years before they went off to boarding school, but our relationships were complex, and with an undeniable boundary between us.

I was always the “live-in couple’s son.” When introduced, that title made it clear that I wasn’t a relative, neighbor, or friend but rather part and parcel of the manor like a tractor, tennis racquet, or pet. If it were during the Gilded Age, I wouldn’t have been allowed beyond the pantry, let alone into their rooms, but even so there were still subtle rules. One had to know when to disappear into the background. When the family was dining, entertaining, or otherwise occupied, I stayed out of sight in our quarters above the kitchen and mudroom. The same applied when the kids had their real friends over. They would sometimes invite me to hang out, but I was expected to know when not to insinuate myself. Plus, I thought I was way cooler than anyone from Rippowam Cisqua, Nicky and Christina’s fancy private school.

Though located near each other, Fox Lane Middle School and Rippowam Cisqua (Ripp for short) were separate worlds. My bus came earlier. I waited at the bottom of the hill with the gardener’s sons to board a bus loaded with scrappy kids in work boots, flannel, and a sea of Bob Seger, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and .38 Special T-shirts – definitely not my milieu. I associated with artsy outsiders, stoners, and hippies. Cisquans departed leisurely an hour later, well-rested and neatly groomed in their wool blazers, tartan prints, and Bass penny loafers. I can guarantee that there were a few self-described rebels who wore some Grateful Dead tie-dye under their uniforms. For some reason, trust fund kids loved the Grateful Dead. The schools had little in common except maybe the town’s movie house, video arcade, and drug dealers. Otherwise, there was no reason to interact. So, imagine my surprise when I had to attend Christina’s ninth-grade graduation at that very school which no Fox Laner ever visited – unless they were doing some landscaping.

With my parents out running errands and the Greens already at Ripp for Commencement 1979, I decided to spend the morning listening to records in the Green’s salon among photos of Andy Warhol, Claudette Colbert, and Truman Capote as company. People have often asked me what it was like to live in millionaires’ mansions, assuming that the amenities, celebrities, and expensive toys were the best part.  Yes, the quality of life was nice, but I just liked the occasion freedom to listen to music at deafening volumes for a few hours. That might not sound like a luxury to some people, but I haven’t been able to do much of that since I lived on estates with far-flung neighbors. And it’s certainly the last time I played music in a nice big room.

The spacious salon was packed with cozy places to sit and the attached porch had expansive views of the property overlooking the fish ponds and woods. A bar provided the perfect opportunity to sample small measures of alcohol poured into a teacup. My favorites were the sweet liqueurs. This might have been the time I fell in love with Sambuca, that sticky anise-syrup, with an alcoholic wallop, but any booze would have sufficed.

I had barely gotten the chance to sip my midday aperitif and spin my first album before a frantic knocking and bell-ringing interrupted me. Figuring it was just a delivery man, I made my way leisurely through the foyer as the ringer became more impatient. When I opened the door, who was standing there but my old friend Frank Sinatra and his driver.

“Where the hell is everyone?” he fumed.

“Oh, hi!” I replied, as if Frank would be just as thrilled to see his marinara-cooking buddy from last summer.

“They’re at Christina’s thing,” I replied, still waiting to be recognized with a warm greeting.

“I thought we were leaving from here. How would we know where the damn school is?” hissed Mr. S.

“You know how to get there?” asked the driver wearing sunglasses, a brown suit, and a trench coat in June. If I were looking for a man with a gun, I probably found him. This guy was no hairdresser.

I could have saved myself a lot of trouble by playing dumb and saying I didn’t know, but a pissed-off Mr. S. and a sweaty bodyguard can be intimidating. “Yeah…uh, you go down Oregon Road and then left, then you turn again, and it’s sorta off the highway near Bedford…”

Frank had had enough. “Get your shoes,” he interrupted. “You’ll take us there.” (Ever since, there is not an instance when I don’t think about his line in “New York, New York” when he sings, “these vagabond shoooze.”) Other than quickly donning some sneakers, I didn’t get a chance to throw on any fresh clothes.


“Okay… again… I don’t actually work here,” I thought to myself.

Frank’s wife, Barbara, was already settled in the back seat of the car – a big fancy sedan but not a limo, so Frank was seated directly behind me.

“Good morning, Mrs. Sinatra,” I greeted her formally like all of the Green’s visitors. She said nothing. I wasn’t sure if she was being aloof, angry at Frank, or possibly annoyed with me for some reason. It happened sometimes, and I learned to take it in stride and not get too rattled. Guests were not obliged to make small-talk with me. Barbara looked through the side window and stayed silent as we turned left onto Byram Lake Road. The estate was just an hour north of New York City, but the surroundings were rural, with few houses being visible from the road. It was usually a relaxing, scenic drive with no other traffic on the road, but this was a high-stakes ride. Although I had gone with my stepfather to pick the kids up from their frequent after-school activities, I never paid attention to road signs, which Frank demanded to know in advance. I had to guess the direction at each fork in the road according to landmarks. Then we approached the final intersection of our trip. Jesus, left or right at the gas station? If we went the wrong way, we would be lost and late for the event. The stone-faced driver stared forward through his sunglasses as the car filled with tension.

“Which way are we goin’?!” Frank bellowed in my left ear.

I was nervous; “right” was my best guess. As I resigned myself to the consequences of not memorizing the school’s location from all those field hockey and lacrosse practices, there was Rippowam Cisqua. I had gotten them there! “Good job, pal,” grunted the driver. Yeah, thanks to me, he didn’t have Mr. S. yelling at him from the back seat. How would they have gotten to school without me?!

I felt good about my accomplishment and fully expected a $10 tip upon being returned to the house forthwith, but the car was parked and Frank, Barbara, and the driver disappeared into the school. I guess I could have gone in with them, but there was no way I wanted to see Christina’s graduation now. Besides, I wasn’t invited, and she never came to any of my school events. As I leaned on the car and watched everyone in their formal wear, I suddenly became very self-conscious in my dirty sneakers, tattered jeans, and Queen T-shirt. I felt as if everyone was wondering why some townie was leaning on someone’s nice car. To the casual onlooker, I’m sure it looked like I was either there to steal a radio or change a tire. They didn’t know I’d arrived with a celebrity. I got back in the car, slumped back in my seat, and kept out of sight. The driver didn’t think to leave me the keys so I could turn on the air-conditioning or listen to the radio. Even if I could have figured out the car phone, there was no one to call. I didn’t even have money for a taxi.

The day had started out so promising, but there I was, abandoned miles from home in that parking lot with nothing but time to think. Thirteen is as good as any age for existential introspection. It was the first time in my life that I became so acutely aware of my place in their world: after fulfilling my function, I could be discarded and forgotten. Although we lived together in a strangely intimate setting, I wasn’t going to be part of the Green’s family, and, as much as I wanted it, Frank and I were not going to be buddies – I’m not sure he remembered me from the previous year.  Meanwhile, I don’t even remember how I got home that day. I was rattled.

Mr. S. returned to California after Christina’s graduation. He still came to the Green’s houses, but face time with Frank was done. Our final encounter would be by proxy, a small gesture of thanks for all my effort and assistance.

No Turning Back

No Turning Back

No Turning Back

Peter Xeni
"He spent his retirement money on a Surround Sound system to relive his youth, but it sounded awful without his kaftan and quadraphonic records.

Pilgrimage to Sturgis, Part 17

Pilgrimage to Sturgis, Part 17

Pilgrimage to Sturgis, Part 17

B. Jan Montana

Some of the seniors dropped in briefly for coffee after Lonnie Many Bears and his grandson left the saloon by the trout pond. Other than that, it was quiet for a couple of hours until a group of a half dozen riders pulled up. They were dressed like all the other Harley riders in black leather and denim, but their clothes were clean. Also, they were about twice as old as the rest of the 20s and 30s Sturgis crowd. Their boots clomped on the wooden floor as they made their way to bar.

They were disappointed we didn’t carry any tap beer, but made their choices from the bottles set in a row behind the bar. They didn’t talk about bikes or women like what most of the other guys talked about; they discussed medical issues. But not the kind of medical issues that plague old men – turns out they were a bunch of doctors who gathered every year in Sturgis.

As they ordered their second round of beers, I asked where they were from. They hailed from the East Coast, the West Coast, and points in between. They’d met at various conferences, and when they discovered there were several bikers among them, they started organizing rides to Sturgis.

“This is a perfect stress reliever,” one of them said. “It’s our ninth year.”

“Your wives don’t object?” I asked.

“Some of us are retired and our wives are happy to have us out of the house for a while.” They laughed.

“Well, except for Connor. He’s been married for 32 years and they are still like newlyweds. His wife hates to see him leave.”

“I’m still working, so I’m not hanging around the house all day like you Fred,” Connor responded. They all laughed.

“So how have you guys stayed in love for so long, Connor?” Fred asked.

“When I was a little kid, my father taught me that people love each other to the degree to which they meet each other’s needs. Conversely, they stop loving each other when they stop meeting each other’s needs. That’s the best marital advice anyone could receive.”

“God, that sounds so mechanical.”

“My mother hated that saying, because she believed that love was magical. The example she liked to use was the mother/baby bond. But there’s been some good studies which show that that bond is not sacrosanct. If the mother stops feeding the child, it’ll soon bond with whoever will.”

“So, what’s in it for the mother?”

“The mother’s brain is flooded with dopamine when she cares for her child. That’s the reward hormone – same hormone that is stimulated during sex, winning competitions, and some legal and illegal drugs.”

Fred asked, “What about friendship? There’s no sex or competition there. Why do guys like us ride all the way to Sturgis to party with each other?”

“Most males won’t admit it, but the imperative for male bonding is as deeply embedded in the male psyche as maternal instincts are in the female psyche. Adult males have a psychological need to gather in groups on a regular basis. Lack of that bonding expresses in destructive, or more commonly, self-destructive behavior.

From an evolutionary perspective, male bonding makes a great deal of sense. In hunting or war, groups of men who were bonded to each other were more likely to be successful than those who weren’t. The military has capitalized on this fact for millennia. The need for camaraderie is, in part, what makes motorcycle trips like the one we are on so special. That also applies to team sports, fishing and hunting trips and so on.

I once counseled a couple where the wife resented her husband for spending so much time working on hot rods with his buddies. She was convinced that hot rods were more important to him than she was. That feeling threatened their relationship.

He couldn’t understand why she wanted to deny him the relaxing pleasure of putzing with hot rods in his free time.

Once I explained the imperative for male bonding, she didn’t feel threatened anymore. He agreed to limit his avocation to Saturdays so they’d be together in the evenings.”

“So, what do you do to keep your romance alive, Connor?”

“I’ve got a whole theory about that John, and it’s pretty long. You sure you want to hear it?”

“You bet,” Fred interjected; “you’re the psychologist.” Everyone nodded in agreement.

“OK,” Connor responded, “Other than health, I believe there’s no greater boon to a man’s life than a loving, devoted spouse. Men tolerate poverty with a loving spouse much better than they enjoy wealth alone. You don’t want to end up living in filth in a Las Vegas penthouse like Howard Hughes. So, I think men should spend as much energy on sustaining a loving spousal relationship as they do on their careers.

Some men think a marriage is like an alarm clock radio. You get one, plug it in, set the time and it’ll sing to you on cue for ever after. But relationships are much more like gardens. They need constant tending.”

John asked, “What do you mean by that – what are we supposed to tend?”

“You should tend to her needs John; most importantly, her emotional needs. Think about this. The happiest time in a woman’s life was when she was the apple of her daddy’s eye. She felt the most secure, loved, and cherished while bouncing on his knee. Women spend the rest of their lives looking to recapture that cherished feeling, and the man who knows this has the key to the kingdom of marital bliss.

If she cannot rediscover that feeling in her marriage, she’ll act out in ways that seem illogical and irrational. Her man will be constantly perplexed by her volatility. No matter what he does or what he gives her, it’s just not enough.

If, on the other hand, she feels cherished, she’ll put up with almost anything from him – like disappearing for 10 days to party with his motorcycle buddies in Sturgis. She’ll also tolerate his obsession with vintage cars, football, or audio equipment. She may even make an effort to share those passions. I can’t get my wife on the bike, but she’ll listen to classical music or watch the Super Bowl with me.


“If you cherish her, she’ll value you and indulge your passions. So I go to great lengths to convince her that she is cherished. I remind her constantly how much I appreciate her for who she is, and what she does to make our house a home. I address her by pet names and send her flowers and cards for no special reason. I engage her in dialogue often so she has a chance to share what’s important to her. I keep her car washed and gassed. I kiss her goodnight all over her head like her daddy would, which makes her chuckle like a little girl. I often bring her coffee or breakfast in bed. I hug and kiss her every time she arrives to, or leaves the house. Most importantly, I always compliment her around family and friends, which makes her beam. I do whatever it takes to make her feel cherished.”


Courtesy of Pexels.com/Mike Jones.

Courtesy of Pexels.com/Mike Jones.


“When do you have time for work, Connor?” Fred snarked. Everyone chuckled.

“Most American men spend three to four hours a day in front of the TV, Fred, but spending an hour a day of that time on your marriage is a much better investment.”

“You’re assuming of course, that the two parties are madly in love with each other.”

“You were madly in love when you got married Fred. You’ve got to feed that flame to keep it alive.”

“In all fairness, that assumes the two parties are well-matched.”

“You’ll be surprised at how much the match improves if you both make a conscious effort to meet each other’s needs.”

“My son is about to marry a woman who, we believe, is just not a good match for him. What qualities do you think makes a perfect match?”

“No such thing as a perfect match, Darren. You have to learn to tolerate each others’ foibles. But if you’re a young man looking for a spouse, the last thing you should seek is movie star beauty. Beauty is fleeting anyway. My first wife was a fox and she’d been spoiled all her life. She was a single child and her parents doted on her. Her attitude towards marriage was, ‘Hey, my job is to look good; the rest is up to you.’ I got to hate the fox I once adored. That marriage lasted just over a year.”

“I’ll bet it was a fun year though, Connor.” Fred laughed.

“It was the most frustrating year of my life. So, I did some research into what it takes for two personalities to succeed in a marriage.”

“I thought you might have some ideas on that subject!” Darren exclaimed.

“Ideally, both spouses should have grown up with positive role models in their parents. That’s not often the case, but that’s the ideal. When kids learn nurturing behavior during their formative years, those lessons stay with them for life. If a man finds a potential spouse with an upbringing like that, he should hang on to her.

Secondly, the odds of a successful marriage are far better if their backgrounds, beliefs, and interests are as similar as possible. They’ll have a tough time understanding each other if one was brought up in wealth and the other in poverty; if one was brought up religious and the other irreligious; if one was brought up with family values and the other with hippie values; if one has always been active in sports, and the other is a bookworm.”

Fred commented, “I thought opposites attract!”

“It’s true that opposites attract, but only in temperament. If one is a Type A, the other should be a Type B. Two Type As will constantly be at odds, two Type Bs will bore each other to death. Other than that, they should be as similar as possible.

Understand that I’m making generalizations here. Of course there will always be exceptions. But a man looking for a spouse would be wise to keep these factors in mind.”

“My son married a very sweet girl and he treated her like a queen, yet she turned into an ogre. What can he do about that?” John asked.

“I haven’t met your son nor his wife, so I don’t really know John. But what commonly happens in deteriorating relationships, aside from failing to meet each others’ needs, is that the spouses don’t make clear where their fences are. Good fences make good neighbors, but if there is no fence, or if the fence is moved all the time, confusion and resentment develops, and that tends to escalate frustration and alienation over time.

For example, the wife of a couple I once counseled was infuriated every time he failed to close the garden gate. Sometimes, he’d leave the house with the gate wide open, which she felt threatened her security. “Anyone could walk into the back yard and enter the house through an open window,” she said.

He knew she didn’t like the gate being left open, but had no idea how much it irked her until she blew up in my office and expressed her anger. He was surprised. He hadn’t believed this issue was such a big deal.

I explained to her that it’s not enough to tell a man something, it’s just as important to tell him how important it is. Unlike women, men do not have a sixth sense about such things. They need to have it spelled out.

The husband agreed, and explained that he went to great lengths to meet some of her other requests, only to find out they weren’t really scoring him many points. He was frustrated by her failure to clarify things.

So, we set up a simple exercise to eliminate this problem. Anytime either of them made any kind of request, it would be accompanied by a numerical value, 10 being extremely important and 1 meaning a slight preference. I suggested they use this method while trying to negotiate agreements as well, each partner adding a numerical value to their argument to indicate how important it was.

If she wanted to them to attend her nephew’s birthday party, and he wanted to watch football at a friend’s house, the higher number would prevail. This required them to be totally honest with one another.

The husband was grateful because it allowed him to make better judgements. The wife was pleased because she finally felt she was being heard. She said in a subsequent session that he never left the gate open again. He felt she was being more reasonable in her demands. This technique eased a great deal of tension in their relationship and as a result, it noticeably improved.”

“Did you write this stuff down on paper somewhere, Connor?” John asked.

“I did.”

“I’d love a copy.”

“Me too,” the others piped in.”

Melody’s dad came in just before 6:00 pm to close the bar, but there were still so many patrons, he started to clear tables instead.

The doctors kept ordering more beers, so I suggested it might be time for something to eat. They asked to be shown the menu, so I proclaimed: ‘Hamburgers, cheeseburgers, bacon burgers, and bacon cheeseburgers.”

“I’ll have the oysters!” Fred joked.

They all laughed and ordered burgers.



Connor asked if we had any cabins available.

“I’ll find out,” I responded.

I talked to Melody’s dad, who referred me to Melody’s mom, who was now in the kitchen with Melody.

“You’re in luck, Connor, we’ve got three cabins available and they all have a pair of twin beds. If you guys double up, there’ll be room for everyone in your party.”

He gave me a credit card and said, “Just book ’em. I don’t want these guys riding back to Rapid City in the dark.”

I understood.

Previous installments appeared in Issues 143144145146147148149150151152153154155156, 157 and 158.

Header image courtesy of Pexels.com/Sofia Shultz.

"Time," Part Two

"Time," Part Two

"Time," Part Two

Andy Schaub

As if from The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd…

Spinning away the CDs that make up a bright day
Hall and Oates play in the hours that make up the night
Beyoncé on a CD you rip to a NAS like a QNAP
Waiting for Gracenote to give you the track list and pictures of Lana Del Rey
Tired of your Nakamichi 550 eating D-cells all the long day

You are young and life wants fame, you are old but — The Song Remains the Same,
Then you find that Ten Years After have lost all their Cricklewood Greens
No one told you when to run, you missed the little red button (on older Linns).

The sun is the same, but you’re not, in any real way…
…Like a 30-year-old spinning disc that’s seen better days
RCAs run forever on Well-Tempered Arms and ’tables

Every song is getting shorter, The Entertainer is now down to 5:04 and 1/2 (“like another can of beans”)
Tunes that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled starts
Hanging on in quiet desperation to be sung by Lana Del Rey (“feet don’t fail me now”)
The time is gone, this song is nigh, thought I’d something more to pen

Here, here again
I like to be here where I can (to jam with my ELAC Debut 6.2s)
And when I come home and am running at 32.22 rpm
It’s good to warm my bones beside the JRT Rossini

Far away across the Bay
The tolling of the Basil bell that mourns the death of common sense
Calls the faithful to their lifestyle nonsense
To hear the softly spoken spells no more

(“The road is long, we carry on“ – Lana Del Rey)


Well Tempered Lab Amadeus 254 GT turntable.


Header image: Pink Floyd.

Head Land

Head Land

Head Land

Russ Welton

This photo is called Head Land because of the dreamlike cloud formation and its heady feel. Taken at Gara Point, South Devon, UK, at the mouth of the Yealm estuary, which is home to peregrines, wild oysters and historic cottages.historic cottages.

Something for Everyone

Something for Everyone

Something for Everyone

Frank Doris

Make that more than 100 years. 1975 ad for the imaginatively-named Garrard Zero Tracking Error Tonearm. When it comes to vinyl playback, everyone’s got an angle.


Ken Kessler: in your dreams! Scotch magnetic tape ad, 1958. Courtesy of Martin Theophilus/the Museum of Magnetic Sound Recording.


It’s safe to say that every one of us of a certain age had a receiver like this at some point. Sansui 2000X, circa early-to-mid 1970s.


And you thought only vintage Marantz receivers had cool front-panel fonts! Photos courtesy of Howard Kneller; taken at Angry Mom Records, Ithaca, New York.


We’d love to know what those unusual techniques in sound recording were, and more about this whole rig, for that matter. Radio Electronics, May 1950.


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

Clarinetist Don Byron: You Can't Pin Him Down

Clarinetist Don Byron: You Can't Pin Him Down

Clarinetist Don Byron: You Can't Pin Him Down

Anne E. Johnson

Some things in this world are impossible to pin down. Clarinetist Don Byron’s favorite genre seems to be one of them. Jazz? Yes, but jazz is a whole universe of genres. And what about his early fascination with klezmer? And don’t forget classical and funk. All in all, we’re better off just letting Byron be Byron rather than trying to hang a label on him.

Byron’s interested in klezmer started in the 1960s, when he was growing up in a Jewish neighborhood in the Bronx. That’s also when his parents used to play Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis records, which influenced him just as much. Even his clarinet heroes played in diverse styles, from the toe-tapping swing of Artie Shaw to the cool jazz of Tony Scott.

After Byron graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music, he headed to New York, where he got involved in the avant-garde jazz scene. His distinctively dissonant, rhythmically detached sound – a feature developed during those years – is recognizable in all his recordings, no matter the genre.

Over the decades, Byron has also been active in new classical music, working on commissions with the Kronos Quartet and others. Besides being a sought-after teacher, he also served as the artistic director of jazz for the Brooklyn Academy of Music in the late 1990s. During the pandemic, he was one of three Virtual Visiting Artists to teach online for the renowned new-music program at MIT.

Enjoy these eight great tracks by Don Byron.

  1. Track: “Tuskegee Strutter’s Ball”
    Album: Tuskegee Experiments
    Label: Elektra
    Year: 1992

When Byron burst onto the scene with his remarkable debut album in 1992, he did not hide the rage that fueled it. He called the project Tuskegee Experiments, referring to the horrific medical testing done by the US government on Black people with syphilis in the mid-20th century. The hissing, screaming, and weeping that emerged from his instrument are something to behold.

But there’s also sardonic wit, as in the track “Tuskegee Strutter’s Ball,” which nods toward the Shelton Brooks tune “Darktown Strutter’s Ball,” which was a huge hit in the 1920s and ’30s. With breathtaking virtuosity, Byron oscillates between angular, pointillistic dissonances and fluid, figured lines that conjure up a stride pianist’s right hand. Standout guest artists include Pheeroan akLaff on drums and Greta Buck on violin.


  1. Track: “Shelby Steele Would Be Mowing Your Lawn”
    Album: Music for Six Musicians
    Label: Nonesuch
    Year: 1995

Starting with the stunning Jacob Lawrence painting on the cover, everything about Music for Six Musicians is fascinating and insightful. The titular players are Byron, pianist Edsel Gomez, cornetist Graham Haynes, bassist Kenny Davis, drummer Ben Wittman, and percussionist Jerry Gonzalez. Bill Frisell, who has worked a lot with Byron, has a guest spot on guitar.

This is another politically-driven set of tunes. The title of “Shelby Steele Would Be Mowing Your Lawn” references the conservative Black social critic whose controversial work in the 1970s placed part of the blame for racial inequality onto the shoulders of African Americans. But you can also just listen to it as abstract music: this complex piece combines a bebop-inspired use of parallel harmony in the horns, free-jazz piano chords, and an Afro-Caribbean groove on the congas.


  1. Track: “Blue Bubbles”
    Album: Bug Music
    Label: Nonesuch
    Year: 1996

Bug Music showcases some old swing by the likes of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. Yet about half the tracks are by Raymond Scott, a pianist and bandleader known for his innovations in electronic instruments. The fact that Byron combines the Scott tribute with Ellington tracks is a typical display of his naturally all-encompassing view of music. The album represents a certain cross section of the second quarter of the 20th century.

“Blue Bubbles” was co-written by Ellington and trumpeter Bubber Miley in 1927. Byron approaches the tune with great good humor, teasing the audience into thinking he’s going to play this in a traditional style, only to bend notes or screech in his top register when we become complacent. At the piano, doing his best Duke-Ellington-refracted-through-time, is Uri Caine.


  1. Track: “Happy Together/If 6 Was 9”
    Album: Nu Blaxploitation
    Label: Blue Note
  2. Year: 1998

Byron brings in the funk for Nu Blaxploitation, a joyous journey through that boisterously sexy offshoot of soul. Of course, such an endeavor requires the perfect bass player, which Byron has in Reggie Washington, as part of the group Existential Dred.

One of many highlights is this medley of Jimi Hendrix’s “If 6 Was 9” and the Turtles hit “Happy Together,” in a Jamaican-flavored deconstruction. It is sung in disjointed slow motion by Dean Bowman, with everyone else, including Byron, providing backing vocals.


  1. Track: “I’ll Follow the Sun”
    Album: A Fine Line: Arias and Lieder
    Label: Blue Note
    Year: 2000

Lest we forget that Byron had top-notch conservatory training in Boston before starting his jazz career, his classical sensibilities are on display in A Fine Line: Arias and Lieder. But this is a Don Byron album, so it’s many things at once, reaching far beyond classical music.

For one thing, there’s the egalitarian concept of what constitutes Lieder. You can practically hear him saying, “It just means ‘songs,’ man, so it can be anything.” Hence the presence of John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s “I’ll Follow the Sun.” The delicate lyricism of Byron’s playing, especially entwined with Bill Frisell’s guitar line, is a sun worth following.


  1. Track: “Abie the Fishman”
    Album: Ivey-Divey
    Label: Blue Note
    Year: 2004

Ivey-Divey is a fun-filled blend of post-bop and avant-garde. It finds Byron in a quintet of equally daring associates, including Jason Moran on piano and Jack DeJohnette on drums. The track list ranges from standards like “I Cover the Waterfront” and “Somebody Loves Me” to new compositions like this one by Byron called “Abie the Fishman.”

This tune is a good example of the difference between avant-garde and free jazz. The former, which this is, typically has experimental harmonies and rhythms while holding together as a unified and structured whole, as opposed to the meandering and unfettered meditation one finds in free jazz.


  1. Track: “Pucker Up, Buttercup”
    Album: Do the Boomerang: The Music of Junior Walker
    Label: Blue Note
    Year: 2006

Junior Walker, a.k.a. Autry DeWalt II, was a saxophonist and singer whose specialty was not jazz, but R&B. He spent his career primarily in Motown. So here we have another tendril of the floral canopy that makes up Don Byron’s musical interests.

Walker and his All Stars recorded “Pucker Up, Buttercup” in 1966. Although Walker did compose a lot of his own music, this tune is credited to his bandmates Johnny Bristol, Danny Coggins, and Harvey Fuqua. Responding phrase by phrase to Dean Bowman’s vocals is Byron blowing a mean tenor saxophone. George Colligan’s Hammond organ makes the track sparkle.


  1. Track: “Hide Me in Thy Bosom”
    Album: Love, Peace, and Soul
    Label: Savoy
    Year: 2011

Love, Peace, and Soul is a tribute to the Reverend Thomas A. Dorsey (1899 – 1993). This musician and preacher – not to be confused with bandleader Tommy Dorsey! – is often called the father of gospel music because he preserved some traditional African elements in the genre.

Dorsey wrote many songs, including “Hide Me in Thy Bosom.” It’s performed here by a small group led by Byron and calling itself the New Gospel Quintet. The vocalist is D.K. Dyson, whose voice has an impressive flexibility and nuanced intonation.


Header image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Ed Newman.

<em>Copper</em> and PS Audio's WL "Woody" Woodward: In Memoriam

<em>Copper</em> and PS Audio's WL "Woody" Woodward: In Memoriam

Copper and PS Audio's WL "Woody" Woodward: In Memoriam

Frank Doris

It was the kind of message you never want to get. On March 16, 2022, Paul McGowan informed me that Copper writer and PS Audio director of operations WL “Woody” Woodward had passed away suddenly at age 67. He was one of the magazine’s most beloved writers, with a uniquely entertaining style and unmistakable wit.

About a week before he passed, Woody had complained of heartburn and, like so many other guys, tried to shrug it off, but his wife insisted he go to the emergency room. It was discovered that he needed open heart surgery. PS Audio president Jim Laib called to let me know. Soon after, Woody had the operation and had four stents put in. Everyone thought he’d gotten through it. Then the unexpected happened. About a week later I got the news that Woody had passed.

I’m writing this tribute a few days after I heard the news, as I’ve been simply incapable of doing it until now. I’m still shocked and saddened. So, if this tribute is a little disjointed, I hope it makes up for that by conveying the warmth and the love we all had for the guy.

I only met Woody in person once, in January 2020 during a trip to PS Audio shortly before the lockdown. (We’d been talking and e-mailing for a couple of months before our meeting, having signed on as Copper’s editor in late October, 2019.) He was a big guy, tall, with longish grayish hair, looking like a cross between a cowboy and a child of the Sixties. He had a big smile and a strong handshake and immediately made me feel at home. We hung out for a good portion of the two days I visited PS Audio HQ. He alternated between showing me around the facility, joining us for lunch, or excusing himself because he had a pressing matter to deal with – and then returning to hang out some more as soon as he could extricate himself from whatever fire drill required his attention.

However, I subsequently got to know him well, since we communicated countless times, up until just a few weeks ago. We always had a great time working with each other, although sometimes he’d tell me he didn’t like an edit that I had done to one of his “Woodyisms,” his very deliberate use of language in a certain way, which I sometimes thought were typos or misspellings or incomplete sentences. Here are a few full-force examples of the guy’s words:

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

“By the way. I’ve been waiting to say this somewhere. “Since I’ve Been Loving You” off Zeppelin III is hands down the best studio rock blues recording ever done. Stop, just stop. I’m right and you know it.”

“I would trade in my IRA to experience 1963 to 1985 again. Of course, I only have $600 in my IRA but…I’d still do it.”

“Just relax. If yer reading this, you have nothing better to do.”

Woody and I shared similar musical backgrounds. He had played bass around the 1970s and 1980s in clubs and dives in Connecticut. I had played guitar in similar Long Island and upstate New York venues, from big clubs to establishments with non-working toilets. We shared many stories of nights where we attained nirvana in the cosmic musical zone or played to a handful of people in a dead room; tales of broken-down vans, club owners who didn’t want to pay you at the end of the night, appreciative audiences, hostile crowds, bliss and burnout. No surprise we hit it off.

He had an enthusiasm for music and musicians that never diminished one iota during the time I knew him. It certainly didn’t ever wane in his Copper writing. I think the odds are good that the last thing he heard in his head before moving on to The Great Gig In the Sky was a song.

He was as down to earth and funny in real life as he was in Copper. Yet he could really get down to it when needed. I didn’t work with Woody day-to-day at PS Audio, but you don’t become a successful director of operations by being scatterbrained and disorganized. One of his many e-mails to me said something like, “it’s coming up on inventory time. You’re not going to hear from me for a week.” Or, I’d hear from him on a weekday afternoon, all-too-close to the last deadline minute, saying not to worry, the article would be in by the next morning. It always was…up until a couple of months ago. Then, more regularly, he’d send me e-mails advising that he’d have to miss an issue. I thought it was because he was overworked, like so many of us have been since the pandemic hit. I didn’t pry.

Woody left us with a legacy of entertaining, informative, thought-provoking and sometimes simply delightful writing. Copper had a tradition of publishing one of his holiday stories every season. They were heartfelt, sometimes brutally honest, often poetic: “The hush of the night outside before Santa came. I guess the hush of winter is the same every night. But the week before Christmas. With the cold you couldn’t feel because something else was happening. A celebration. Even if you grew up in Florida next to a freeway, the ambient sound would bow to the sound of the world holding its breath.”

The man had heart.

A few more choice Woody passages:

“We’ve probably all been to hoot nights. As soon as you learn more than two songs, you hang out at open mike nights to get your big break. That practically never happens, but what does happen is that you discover the nuances, frights and sweats of playing for an audience who couldn’t care less.”

“He was born when lightning struck a distillery near Pomona, somewhere between All Saint’s Day and All Fool’s Day. His essence spilled out of a busted bottle of Chivas Regal and puddled on Fremont Street where it began to distill from vinegar to diamonds.”

“How do you get that good at 16? You know how. You start playing in the flippin’ womb. Must’ve been hell on mom.”

One day Woody told me he wanted to write an article about bassist extraordinaire Victor Wooten’s book, The Music Lesson. I immediately said yes – if you’re familiar with Wooten’s work with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, you’ll know why. I hadn’t read the book, and Woody told me I simply had to, and sent me a copy.

I will cherish it. As I, and everyone who knew him, will cherish the moments we spent talking, hanging, listening to music, and living life with him.

A Selected WL Woodward Articleography (I know you’d approve of the neologism, my friend):

The Music Lesson

The Sounds of Christmas: Batteries Not Included, Redux

Tom Waits: Our Beat Storyteller, Part One

Tom Waits: Our Beat Storyteller, Part Two

Tom Waits: Our Beat Storyteller, Part Three

Steely Dan: Do It Again

The Adventures of Jeff Beck: First Movement

Chick Corea Returns to Forever

The Mystery of the New York Acoustics Nova 1 Loudspeakers – Solved

The Mystery of the New York Acoustics Nova 1 Loudspeakers – Solved

The Mystery of the New York Acoustics Nova 1 Loudspeakers – Solved

Tom Gibbs

Roy Brunjes was a petroleum engineering graduate of Penn State University, and worked for thirty years with Texaco, including a ten-year stint in England as part of the North Sea oil project. His expertise was vital to help bring much-needed deep-water oil reserves up from an inhospitable, rough-seas environment to a world held hostage by the ongoing global oil embargo. Upon his return stateside in the eighties, Roy settled in Stamford, Connecticut, and began working for Manufacturers Hanover Trust’s energy division. Eventually growing tired of the daily commute into New York City’s financial district, Roy started his own successful energy consulting firm, with a client list that included Manufacturers Hanover Trust and Norway’s Saga Petroleum, among others. He lived the life, and seemingly had it all, but after many years of almost complete focus on his work, he wanted a little something more. Something that would give his life not only an elevated level of enjoyment, but perhaps even a more spiritual purpose; something that would allow him to experience a generous taste of the infinite.

Take a moment to ponder this: who is the one person who knows the content of your wildest dreams? The person who knows what keeps you up at night, what you just can’t live without? The person that might be able to help you experience a taste of nirvana? Who is this person? Is it your therapist, or perhaps a good friend? Your wife or the object of your affection? A financial advisor? Who is the person who can give you access to everything it will take to fulfill your most unbridled fantasies?

For the would-be audiophile, it’s the guy (or gal) who sells you stereo equipment.

That person is your confidant and advisor. The one person who can help you experience the kind of unmitigated joy that only cast-magnesium frames, well-damped, specially-doped paper cones and beryllium-clad drivers can bring into your life. The thunderous bass, the liquid midrange, the crystalline highs. There’s no judgment and no remorse. The one person who doesn’t care about any darkness that may trouble your existence, or any baggage you may bring with you. Unless, of course, that baggage happens to be stuffed with nicely-banded stacks of hundreds.

That person is your connection. And no price is ever too high in that most noble quest for the grail: the continual search for the ultimate in audio excellence. During Roy Brunjes’ frequent traversals of the Big Apple, he had finally made that connection and located the one person who could help make his audiophile dreams a reality: he had found the guy.


My wife Beth adapted this David Galchutt design into a wall hanging that resides in my listening room.

My wife Beth adapted this David Galchutt design into a wall hanging that resides in my listening room.


Lita McCormick is one of my wife Beth’s closest friends. Both are textile artists, and they share a love of transforming relatively nondescript, two-dimensional conceptions into glorious, colorful realizations of hand-dyed wools and other exotic fibers. Lita has the kind of vivacious personality that lights up any room she enters; I gathered that from the very first time I met her. But 2021 was a particularly rough year for Lita, and having just experienced the untimely death of her dear sister, she soon afterwards also lost both parents. The second year of the great pandemic was brutal for Lita on every level, and as she grieved, she became increasingly withdrawn from just about everyone and everything. Beth had virtually zero contact with her for months on end.

So, it came as quite a surprise when out of the blue, Lita phoned Beth in late January, and even more so when it became obvious that the reason for her call was predominantly directed at me! As it turns out, Lita had been going through the arduous task of sorting through her parents’ belongings in their home just north of Atlanta, Georgia. And apparently, her father had a collection of vintage stereo equipment that she was hoping to obtain fair prices for, but had no clue as to how she might assign a value to the various pieces. Perhaps I could assist with some of my audio expertise to help her decide whether she needed to even bother trying to sell anything, or just drop everything off at a Goodwill and be done with it. I told her I’d be happy to assist, but with the 2022 Florida Audio Expo rapidly approaching, it might be a few weeks before I could really provide the kind of assistance she’d actually need. At the very least, I could start with some online research to lay the groundwork.

Lita sent e-mails with photos of everything, and two items in particular jumped out at me: a Walker CJ58 turntable and a pair of interesting-looking monolith loudspeakers that were manufactured by New York Acoustics. The British-made Walker CJ58 was a piece of cake to deal with, and I immediately found online resale sites listing multiple CJ58 tables available in various states of condition. They were listed for anywhere from $350 for one in okay shape to closer to $2,000 for a mint condition unit (on a UK resale site) that came equipped with a Rega RB350 arm and Hana moving coil cartridge. Lita’s Walker table was fairly minty, so even though it needed a new drive belt, I felt pretty confident that we’d have no trouble moving it on US Audio Mart or Audiogon.


Walker was a long-time distributor of Linn in the UK, and their CJ58 turntable borrowed heavily from that legacy.

Walker was a long-time distributor of Linn in the UK, and their CJ58 turntable borrowed heavily from that legacy.


The loudspeakers, however, proved a much tougher nut to crack. Personally, I’d never heard of New York Acoustics, and apparently, neither had anyone else online. There were tons of posts for “New York City Acoustics,” who seem to manufacture a variety of garish boomboxes and the like aimed at professional DJs. But hours into the search, I’d only found a single hit for “New York Acoustics,” and it was a link to a fourteen-year-old Audiogon forum post, where the original forum member was asking questions about a smallish pair of New York Acoustics Model 8.2 loudspeakers he’d found at a second hand shop for next to nothing. The 8.2s sounded pretty good, but he couldn’t find any information about them anywhere. There were only two useful responses; the first came from a guy identified as “Rudes,” and it came five years after the original post! He said that he was “pretty sure” New York Acoustics was a spinoff from the former New York Audio Labs. And that the main guy was Jim Cox, who along with Andy Fuchs had started the company in a small space in a warehouse in Yonkers, NY. He also mentioned what a great guy Jim Cox was, and wondered what had ever happened to him, and that back in the day, he would frequently drop by the warehouse and shoot the breeze with Jim and the guys.

The second useful response came from a guy identified as “Cellorover2,” and came a couple of days after “Rudes” post. He expanded on “Rudes” information, saying that the New York Acoustics loudspeakers were very well crafted using drivers from Seas and Dynaudio. Also, that Jim Cox had returned to California after New York Acoustics shut down in the mid-nineties. He noted that the Model 8.2 loudspeakers in question sold new for $1,500/pair, and were one of the last models made by New York Acoustics before they shut down. Very interesting! There were multiple responses on the Audiogon thread, but all the others were either just asking more questions or had nothing substantial to add to the very small amount of useful information provided by “Rudes” and “Cellorover2.” The thread had been dead for almost eight years, so I figured the chances of getting any additional information from anyone previously involved was probably next to zero. I scoured the remaining pages of the Google search for New York Acoustics and came up with nothing to add to the very limited information I’d already found.


The specification sheet for the Nova 1 that Lita found was a tremendous help!

The specification sheet for the Nova 1 that Lita found was a tremendous help!


In the meantime, Lita e-mailed me a photo of a spec sheet she’d found for the loudspeakers that identified them as the Nova 1 model. I had a free afternoon on the Sunday prior to leaving for Tampa and the Florida Audio Expo, and drove over to Lita’s house to take a look at the equipment and hopefully be able to listen to the loudspeakers. Upon arrival, Lita told me that she was pretty certain that her dad had a consultant who had helped him piece the system together. I then checked out the Walker CJ58 table, which is very nice – actually in much better condition than Lita’s photos had indicated. The NYA loudspeakers were taller than they looked in her pictures; they were imposing, cloth-covered monolith towers with wooden bases that appeared to be in nearly mint condition. Lita told me they’d always been kept in a pet-free, smoke-free environment, and their appearance was literally perfect. Of course, we’re talking about a pair of loudspeakers that could be anywhere from twenty five to thirty years old, so there was a whole laundry list of problems that could potentially raise their ugly heads during the listening session. Frankly, I didn’t know what to expect.

The New York Acoustics Nova 1s were connected to a vintage Carver amp and preamp setup that belonged to Lita and her husband Bob. I would probably have guessed that the age of the Carver equipment wasn’t too far from that of the Nova 1s. But the sound was surprisingly good, although I had no idea of the provenance of the digital file that was playing through the system, or what was playing it – probably a CD player? Regardless, while I didn’t feel that the music source was presenting the Nova 1s in the best light possible, I did a cursory check to see if I could determine if there appeared to be any issues with the drivers, etc. Everything seemed fine, and I thanked both Lita and Bob for their time. As I drove away, I really wondered what the Nova 1s might sound like with more modern, higher-end amplification and source equipment. Perhaps we’d explore that in a couple of weeks.

The Search Continues

After returning from the Florida Audio Expo, I got online and posted on the Audio Asylum forum on the Speakers page. I rarely visit there anymore, mainly because of the number of trolls who seem to reside there and the constant flamethrowing from the site’s regular residents – it’s just not worth the consternation you typically endure. Regardless, I forged ahead and posted the pictures I took when I visited Lita’s home, along with the photo of the spec sheet Lita had supplied to me. My post was a general call for help, combined with the very small amount of information I’d been able to cobble together – you know, Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? Days went by without a useful response. One guy remarked about how very nice they looked, and that at the very worst, they could be scrapped for the individual Dynaudio and Seas drivers. They could be worth as much as $100 per piece – or as little as $1 each. Yes, it was pretty encouraging (not!). I checked the thread every day, several times a day, for about a week with no luck at all.

I was getting concerned that this was turning into a massive fail. A handful of people I’d reached out to suggested that I should attempt to get in touch with John Strohbeen of Ohm Acoustics. He’s New York through and through, and knows everyone in the audio world in New York City; well, apparently, everyone except anyone even remotely connected to New York Acoustics. Even he drew a blank on the brand or anyone associated with it. It looked like I was on the verge of striking out.


My Audio Asylum post seemed to be going nowhere until a response from "Cellorover2" became the turning point!

My Audio Asylum post seemed to be going nowhere until a response from “Cellorover2” became the turning point!


Then something magical happened eight days after my original post on Audio Asylum. An e-mail appeared in my inbox at 9 pm that evening, from a guy named Val Kratzman in New York City. He had replied to my post on Audio Asylum, and had been an investor and partner in New York Acoustics for six years. He asked me to please e-mail him and he’d be happy to provide any information or assistance he could about NYA and the Nova 1s. While looking at his e-mail, I overlooked an important clue that would have provided a vital bit of information: Val Kratzman’s screen name he used for posting on Audio Asylum was “Cellorover2,” the same ID as that second useful response to the Audiogon post from eight years earlier. Finally, a huge break!

Val and I began a dialogue that stretched across the better part of a week. He was still a distributor for Conrad-Johnson and a number of other manufacturers, and was still active in the high-end audio community. I told Val that I was an audio writer and reviewer who worked for the likes of Stereophile, Positive Feedback, Copper, and PMA (Power of Music and Audio),  and was based out of the Atlanta area. And was simply trying to help a friend do right by her late father by trying to get a fair price for his prized collection of audio gear.

He confirmed for me that New York Acoustics had in fact branched out from New York Audio Labs, and that he had been deeply involved in the design and development of the Nova 1s. It was New York Acoustics’ flagship loudspeaker offering, and retailed when new for $2,500 (about $6,500 in today’s market!). Along with Jim Cox, Val spent countless hours listening to various capacitor and inductor combinations, and NYA spared little expense in creating the best-sounding crossover network possible while voicing the overall sound of the Nova 1s. The drivers were in fact from Seas and Dynaudio, with a three-quarter-inch polyamide high-frequency driver and dual 6.5-inch midbass/woofers that featured cast magnesium frames and specially-damped cones. The Nova 1 was the pinnacle of New York Acoustics’ loudspeaker designs, and had been voiced to provide the kind of transparency of sound that only much more costly electrostatics could typically provide.

Val owned a pair of Nova 1s for many years, even after his days at New York Acoustics had come to an end. He powered them successfully with high-end amps from the likes of Bedini and Electrocompaniet; the Nova 1s were quite efficient at 90 dB/watt, and Val told me they responded well to both tube and solid-state designs. The Nova 1s were built to last, and depending on how well Lita’s pair had been cared for, they possibly could still function at or close to peak performance, even after all these years. I thanked Val for all his information and assistance. Then he asked me: did I happen to know my friend’s dad’s name? Val was often very hands-on with customers, and beside the New York Acoustics loudspeaker line, they also repped a number of other high-end audio manufacturers, and he possibly might remember my friend’s dad from back in the day. I told him I didn’t know his name, but would send an email to Lita ASAP to ask. She responded very quickly; her father’s name was Roy Brunjes.

Yes, that Roy Brunjes, and remember that in putting together his system, Roy had finally found the guy. And that guy’s name was Val Kratzman.


Roy from his consulting days in New York City.

Roy Brunjes from his consulting days in New York City.


Val was totally taken aback that the person we had been talking about all this time was Roy Brunjes, a man with whom he’d developed a serious rapport over the years, in New York City and in Stamford, CT. Like most typical owner/operator/consultants of the day, Val didn’t probe for a lot of extraneous information; his questions were mostly direct and to the point. Black or silver faceplate? Fully balanced or single-ended? Tube or solid state? Val not only sold Roy his equipment, but was also his turnkey solution, providing delivery and setup to Roy’s Stamford home. Val recalled that the rugs Roy’s wife had chosen for their home were so very thick that special spikes were required for properly leveling the Nova 1s. And the sale, delivery, and setup of Roy’s Walker CJ58 turntable? Val was also the man responsible for that. When Lita insisted that her dad had gotten a consultant to help with his audio gear, he in fact had. And his name was Val Kratzman.

Lita also told me she was certain that Val had also offered music recommendations to Roy that had helped him expand his musical horizons, like turning him on to the joys of (at the time) edgy artists like Rickie Lee Jones, and how very surprised Lita was to learn that her dad was developing an appreciation for music that she felt was much more in tune with her own generation.

Val asked me to please extend his condolences to Lita, and that he hoped the information he provided would be of some use to me in finding another caring home for the Nova 1s. Hopefully, they’d be loved for years to come in the same way that Roy had loved them.


It was actually fairly effortless to set up and dial in the New York Acoustics Nova 1 loudspeakers in my listening room.

It was actually fairly effortless to set up and dial in the New York Acoustics Nova 1 loudspeakers in my listening room.


Listening to the Nova 1s in My Home System

After all this came down, I asked Lita if she was okay with me taking the Nova 1s for a week to put them through their paces with more current amplification and source equipment. She was perfectly open to it, and I picked them up the first week of March. I had just gotten a $9,000 German-made Naiu Labs Ella solid-state amp for review, and connected the Nova 1s to it for starters. Right away, I noticed that the sound was harsh, steely, and hollow-sounding, and the tweeters had a particular kind of screech going on. The Nova 1s have an infinitely-variable tweeter presence control on the back panel, so I futzed with it quite a bit – it sounded particularly scratchy when I rotated it (probably from lack of use). So, I rotated the knob on both channels repeatedly for a few minutes each, which helped a lot, and the treble response almost instantly evened out and became more “normal” sounding, though still a little bright in my room. I ended up reducing the control by about two decibels on each speaker, and that seemed to work really well.


The infinitely-variable presence control on the back of the Nova 1 was particularly useful for dialing in the treble response in my room.

The infinitely-variable presence control on the back of the Nova 1 was particularly useful for dialing in the treble response in my room.


I ended up moving the speakers around for about an hour, and progressively spaced them farther apart and with minimal toe-in, until I had them completely dialed in. After a couple of hours of continuous play, the woofers relaxed, and the overall sound opened up considerably. I listened for about two hours with the Naiu Labs Ella, with a lot of acoustic music like jazz and classical (lots of Beethoven piano sonatas), and eventually moved to vocals and rock, ranging from Ella Fitzgerald to Dire Straits, and Metallica. About 1 pm I switched over to the $5,000 PrimaLuna EVO 300 tube integrated amplifier. The synergy with the Nova 1s is off the charts great, and they can reach almost ear-splitting levels at about the halfway point on the amp’s volume dial. At the point when I switched to the EVO 300, I had turned off my REL subwoofer during the hookup transition, and had forgotten to turn it back on. The Nova 1 is flat to 40 Hz, and shockingly, Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” had already made the pounding, gut-wrenching transition into the next track “Sad But True” before I even realized the subwoofer was off!


The PrimaLuna EVO 300 tube integrated amplifier had perfect synergy with the Nova 1s.

The PrimaLuna EVO 300 tube integrated amplifier had perfect synergy with the Nova 1s.


I took some measurements with my RadioShack sound level meter, and easily got a 1-meter, C-weighted sound pressure level reading of close to 100 decibels on the Metallica tracks (without the subwoofer), and the Nova 1s weren’t even working up a sweat at that point. Color me impressed! With that experiment completed, I continued to play a number of my “torture test” tracks, which will cause many loudspeakers to distort or lose control of the music. These are all music selections that can prove challenging to some loudspeakers (or systems). One of those tunes, “I’ll Be Seeing You” from Rickie Lee Jones’ classic album of covers, Pop Pop, features a devilishly difficult Charlie Haden bass track that will drive many loudspeakers into distortion. The Nova 1s handled the music of Roy’s beloved Rickie Lee Jones with flying colors.

In the product literature, and according to Val, the design and parts selection of the Nova 1 were intended to give them a sound that would be competitive with electrostatics, and I’d say they totally succeeded. While not an electrostatic speaker, the Magneplanar loudspeakers that do most of the heavy lifting in my system use quasi-ribbon aluminum foil drivers, which aren’t too far off sound-wise from electrostatics, and the overall presentation of the Nova 1s treble response sounded shockingly close to them! Only with the most challenging tracks – like an album of Rossini overtures from opera singer Olga Peretyatko, whose multi-octave voice can hit all the really high notes effortlessly – did the Nova 1s show any signs of falling the slightest bit short of the same presentation by the quasi-ribbon tweeters on my Magneplanars. That is very impressive, and I’ve been completely floored listening to these remarkable vintage loudspeakers!


The Nova 1s imposing monolithic appearance was particularly attractive in my listening room.

The Nova 1s imposing monolithic appearance was particularly attractive in my listening room.


I continued listening for days to music that I love just to see how the Nova 1s responded to a variety of musical genres. I was impressed that the Nova 1s offer a magnificent stereo image, and disappear in the soundfield; it was difficult to localize any of the sounds I was hearing as coming directly from either loudspeaker. I heard fine details in the music that I’d never noticed with my usual speakers. I also noticed that I was hearing a surprising amount of aural and spatial cues not only from in front of me, but also to each side. My listening position is toward the back of the room, but the soundfield presented by the Nova 1s was surprisingly three-dimensional and enveloping. I’m still shocked that virtually no one has ever heard of New York Acoustics, and that the Nova 1 isn’t mentioned alongside other classic audiophile loudspeaker designs. They really are that good.


Lita, Doris, and Roy in the Brunjes' home in Stamford, Connecticut.

Lita, Doris, and Roy in the Brunjes’ home in Stamford, Connecticut.



This started out as a great mystery for me. It ended up as a heart-wrenching story for Roy’s daughter Lita McCormick, but also deeply affected Val Kratzman and myself. At some point in their lives, Roy’s wife Doris had been diagnosed with MS, and during the Brunjes’ time in Stamford, the disease was getting progressively worse. Roy decided to completely retire in the mid-nineties to be able to spend more quality time with his beloved wife, and they relocated to the metro Atlanta area to be closer to their daughter Lita. They remained here until late 2020, when they each required skilled nursing care and then moved to a dedicated facility in Colorado. Sadly, both Roy and Doris died within a month of each other last year.

This story is not only about the overachieving performance of an unheralded but greatly deserving world-class pair of loudspeakers, which Roy continued to enjoy until the elevated level of his care needs prevented it. This story is about the love of realistically-portrayed music shared by an audiophile and his enabler – Roy Brunjes and Val Kratzman – and a loving daughter who didn’t want her dad’s audiophile legacy to end up in a dumpster or on the shelf of a thrift store. Thankfully, Lita McCormick involved me in this journey of discovery. Now we just need to find the correct future owner to ensure that the story continues.

Header image: Roy Brunjes.

All images courtesy of the author and Lita McCormick.

Impatient Audiophile

Impatient Audiophile

Impatient Audiophile

James Whitworth
"Cave art is all well and good, but when are you going to invent the moving coil cartridge?"

Everything but the Girl: British Sophisti-Pop

Everything but the Girl: British Sophisti-Pop

Everything but the Girl: British Sophisti-Pop

Anne E. Johnson

On Beverly Road in Hull, England, there used to be an old furniture shop called Turner’s. Its slogan was painted across the front awning: “Everything but the girl.” Two young British musicians, ready to launch a duo act, took the slogan as their name. For nearly 20 years, Everything but the Girl (EBTG) flourished in and around a subgenre of the British New Wave called sophisti-pop, which leaned on jazz sensibilities as heavily as it did on synth chords.

It was 1982 when singer Tracey Thorn paired with guitarist Ben Watt, who also played keyboards and produced. They met at the University of Hull, but unlike most bands who struggle from nothing and then land a recording contract, Thorn and Watt each already had a solo record deal with Cherry Red Records when they met. At the time, Thorn was also in a band called Marine Girls. There’s another way these musicians were unusual: they were a couple in their private lives as well as in their music-making, but against all odds, that never turned into a conflict.

Speaking of conflict, the members of EBTG were still individually under contract with Cherry Red in 1984 when they cut their first duo album, Eden, for Blanco y Negro Records. That company put practically no effort into promotion of the album, so it went nowhere. It was, however, significant that EBTG was assigned the production expertise of Robin Millar, who also worked with fellow sophisti-pop artist Sade.

Millar stayed with EBTG, helping to define their sound. The second album, Everything but the Girl, turned out to be their American debut through a contract with Sire Records. Half of the 12 tracks were taken from Eden, and the rest were a mix of new songs and previously unreleased singles. In the latter category was “Easy as Sin.” It’s an excellent introduction to one of the band’s early traits: the emotionalism of Thorn’s contralto voice contrasts with the treble-heavy jangle of Watt’s guitar. It’s a choice in sound production that takes advantage of those extremes. Some critics categorize the sound of those first years as “jangle pop” for exactly this reason.


 Love Not Money, from 1985, was also produced by Millar. The big difference was the reception: this album spent nine weeks on the British charts. And while it produced no solid hits, two of its singles reached the UK’s Top 100.

Thorn and Watt had befriended the members of the Smiths, particularly Johnny Marr, who played harmonica on one track of their debut. The straightforwardness of Morrisey’s lyrics, poetry without euphemisms, the blatant expression of politics – these Smiths characteristics clearly had an influence on EBTG.

Stylistically, there’s a lot going on in Love Not Money, and the inconsistency is sometimes a weakness. “Ugly Little Dreams,” for example, is a classic country waltz, with an extra-jangly banjo and marching band snare-drum cadences, all as a backdrop for a pro-feminist statement. It’s kind of a mess as assembled, but the constituent parts are all interesting.


The most striking change to EBTG’s approach to album-making on Baby, the Stars Shine Bright (1986) is the arrangements. The jangle is toned down, and in its place is not just a velvety sleekness, but a full orchestra providing the lush wallpaper.

This is not to say that the duo had turned to more subtle lyrics, only a smoother presentation. “Sugar Finney” decries America’s cruelty and cynicism, using the treatment of Marilyn Monroe as its exemplar. The chorus is short and brutal: “America is free, cheap and easy.”


At the recording sessions for Idlewild in 1988, Watt reportedly was a bit obsessed with mastering the drum machine and other new digital gadgets he’d acquired. Thorn, on the other hand, was imagining more of an acoustic spin on their new songs. The result was described by Thorn as a “bizarre hybrid,” but the effect is unfocused, and sometimes even vapid.

They found surer footing with The Language of Life (1990). Here the duo intensified their commitment to the jazz aspects of sophisti-pop, beyond even what groups like The Style Council had done. A key decision was to use seasoned jazz and soul producer Tommy LiPuma, who hired arrangers and session musicians who really knew those genres. Not all of EBTG’s old fans approved, but the band gained plenty of new fans for their efforts.

The album was also notable for including a track written by someone else. “Take Me,” released as a single, is by Cecil Womack, of Motown’s Womack Brothers, and his wife Linda Womack, the daughter of soul king Sam Cooke. That song stood as a touchstone, an authentic point of comparison for newly written soul tunes like “Baby Don’t Love Me Anymore.”


Worldwide (1991) has the dubious distinction of selling less than any other EBTG album. Maybe those new fans from Language of Life were disappointed that the sexy soul sound had shifted to sentimental synth pop. The single “Talk to Me Like the Sea” looks back nearly a decade to Phil Collins’ heyday, and the music-buying public had moved on.

The stripped-down arrangement on “Boxing and Pop Music,” plus its caressing melody and evocative lyrics make it a standout song. By this point Watt was singing much more than he used to; his clear, uncomplicated baritone doesn’t have the complexity of Thorn’s voice, but it’s a pleasant instrument to listen to.


The band was producing its own albums now, but on Amplified Heart (1994), under contract with Atlantic Records, they had help from experienced remixer John Coxon. That association was critical for the album’s success in America: Coxon’s dance remix of the single “Missing” was a US smash, and suddenly everyone wanted to buy the album.

The best non-single track is “I Don’t Understand Anything,” written by Thorn. The sound mix is a more mature, subtle version of their early jangle-pop contrast between the rounded voice and the strummed acoustic guitar. The bowed stringed instruments and the gently syncopated melody have a retro 1970s feel: Karen Carpenter could have sung the heck out of this song.


For the first time, sales seemed to have a major impact on the band’s next album. Being with a major label likely contributed to that decision. Whatever the reason, Walking Wounded (1996) is dripping with electronica and house music influences in the wake of the “Missing” dance remix.

And the change stuck through EBTG’s tenth and final album, Temperamental, which came out in 1999. The US could not get enough of that electronic beat, and three of the singles hit No. 1 on the dance charts. The best remembered is probably “The Future of the Future (Stay Gold).”

But the duo hadn’t lost interest in soul music. “Downhill Racer” has a mellow groove and takes great advantage of Thorn’s sultry voice.


Thorn and Watt were tired of the touring, the industry pressure, and the lack of time for doing their own thing. So, they put out Temperamental, supported it with a tour, and then called it a day for the band. Everything but the Girl may have split up in 2000, but Thorn and Watt did not. They got married in 2009. If music be the food of love, play on!

Header image of Everything but the Girl by Marcelo Krasilcic.