Issue 175

Setting the Scene

Setting the Scene

Frank Doris

You go through changes, it may seem strange
Is this what you're put here for?
You think you're happy and you are happy
That's what you're happy for

– Love, “You Set the Scene”

In this issue: Ray Chelstowski interviews rock legend Dave Mason. Russ Welton deals with small-room acoustics. B. Jan Montana learns from senior citizens on his pilgrimage to Sturgis. John Seetoo interviews singer/songwriter Lori Lieberman 50 years after “Killing Me Softly With His Song,” and reviews her Truly album. Ken Kessler sees reel-to-reel hope in a younger generation of audio enthusiasts. Larry Jaffee considers the Compact Disc’s 40th birthday. Harris Fogel wraps up his coverage of the New York Audio Show 2022. I talk with Elliot Goldman of audio distributor Bending Wave USA, and cover Octave Records’ latest album, Shelter by singer/songwriter Megan Burtt. Anne E. Johnson looks at the careers of country music hitmakers the Chicks, and soulful jazz saxophonist Stanley Turrentine.

Tim Riley reviews new classical recordings from pianist Igor Levit, and Beethoven for Three from Emmanuel Ax, Leonidas Kavakos and Yo-Yo Ma. Our Mindful Melophile Don Kaplan finds much to like in Lyn Stanley’s holiday album. Andrew Daly indulges in Modern Adult Kicks with Hayley and the Crushers. Rudy Radelic remembers jazz great Ramsey Lewis. Stuart Marvin takes a trip to the Museum of Pop Culture. J.I. Agnew notes that if you want to do something right when it comes to record cutting lathes, do it yourself. Audio-Technica celebrates its 60th anniversary. The issue wraps up with remote possibilities, DIY audio, owning up, and fast and bulbous lighting.

Staff Writers:

J.I. Agnew, Ray Chelstowski, Andrew Daly, Harris Fogel, 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, Adrian Wu

Contributing Editors:
Ivan Berger, Steven Bryan Bieler, Jack Flory, Steve Kindig, Ed Kwok, 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:
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Copper’s Comments Policy:

Copper’s comments sections are moderated. While we encourage thoughtful and spirited discussion, please be civil.

The editor and Copper’s editorial staff reserve the right to delete comments according to our discretion. This includes: political commentary; posts that are abusive, insulting, demeaning or defamatory; posts that are in violation of someone’s privacy; comments that violate the use of copyrighted information; posts that contain personal information; and comments that contain links to suspect websites (phishing sites or those that contain viruses and so on). Spam will be blocked or deleted.

Copper is a place to be enthusiastic about music, audio and other topics. It is most especially not a forum for political discussion, trolling, or rude behavior. Thanks for your consideration.

 – FD

Fast and Bulbous

Fast and Bulbous

Fast and Bulbous

B. Jan Montana
Attention car buffs: these have to be the coolest lamps ever. Taken at SoCal Nationals Car Show Weekend 2022.

And Now For Something Completely Different: Singer Lyn Stanley’s Christmas Album

And Now For Something Completely Different: Singer Lyn Stanley’s Christmas Album

And Now For Something Completely Different: Singer Lyn Stanley’s Christmas Album

Don Kaplan

Christmas songs. You’ve heard them before. You’ll hear them again. But not quite in this way.

Lyn Stanley, the multi-talented producer, former marketing professional and competitive ballroom dancer, and singer of jazz standards has recently completed her ninth album – a fresh and creative approach to holiday music. As the title implies, Novel Noël: A Jingle Cool Jazz Celebration presents some Christmas “chestnuts” in arrangements that will help you enjoy them in imaginative new ways. And they’re not just for Christmas listening: ’tis the season to be jolly, but you’ll find glad tidings of comfort and joy on this recording that will give you pleasure throughout the year.

Writer John Stancavage introduced Lyn to readers of Part-Time Audiophile by saying, “Less than a decade ago, she was a retired marketing executive who had no professional singing experience – any singing experience, for that matter! Today, she’s an internationally-known jazz vocalist whose award-winning audiophile recordings feature A-list musicians, producers and engineers. While Stanley has carved a niche in the high-end world, her albums go far beyond clinical speaker-testing tools. They practically ooze a lush, emotional atmosphere that only happens on those rare occasions when great players are allowed to stretch out in a relaxed, inspired setting. Add to that a tasteful, intelligent singer who practically has ‘sultry’ permanently appended before her name, and you have a very attractive package.” [1]


Lyn Stanley, Novel Noël: A Jingle Cool Jazz Celebration, album cover.

Lyn Stanley, Novel Noël: A Jingle Cool Jazz Celebration, album cover.


Lyn has received critical acclaim from many influential high-end sources. For example, in his review of one of her earlier albums (Lost in Romance), Michael Fremer of Stereophile magazine noted, “…let’s start with how…she allowed her voice to be recorded…directly and at close range into the microphone and from there to the mix without ‘a net’ of a lot of reverb or any other kind of signal processing that can cover for less than perfect intonation and phrasing…. However you hear it, Ms. Stanley and the album are welcome throwbacks to the era of high concept album-making and gutsy, on-mic performance purity…. That is why I called this album ‘daring.’ Stanley gets in front of the microphone and you hear it all up close and very personal. From that intimate setting, like a figure skater going for the Gold, she takes chance upon chance, letting it all hang out and every time landing solidly on her feet.” [2]

Saul Levine of KKJZ, Los Angeles’ number one jazz radio station (Lyn was the station’s 2018 Female Jazz Vocalist of the Year) praised her “style and the talent for making iconic songs new again,” and the British audiophile magazine Hi-Fi Choice referred to her as “a jazz chanteuse with a voice to make you melt…not only someone with solid audiophile sensibilities, but also a denizen of the mixing desk and on a mission to ensure her music, beyond the live experience, can be enjoyed in the highest quality possible.” [3]

Not many jazz artists have such a deep understanding of how the best sound quality can affect a recording. Stanley “recognizes the importance of good sound to advancing a musical message and spares no expense to achieve this end. She’s hired veteran engineer Al Schmitt and mastering maven Bernie Grundman [both Grammy award winners] for all of her projects, books time at the best L.A. and New York City studios, and has paid A-list musicians to assist in realizing her ideas.” Working as her own producer, she’s “meticulous in her technical execution but takes chances artistically, which is a recipe for enduring success.” [4]

In other words, the better the sound in the studio, the better the sound you get at home.


“It’s crucial…modest systems will sing with an investment in a great recording. What you put in will dictate what you get out. [5] If you hire engineers that make a good living at what they do, they buy the best and they keep their equipment in tip-top condition at all times. It’s a mandate. Hire an engineer that has to rent his equipment and you are getting used equipment that does not have the same attention to detail. Use great studios that have high standards. When I record, I pay attention to the pianos in the studio now more than ever…. The same goes for my musicians – they know that the instruments they bring to play need to be in top shape when recording. That’s why studio musicians are the salt of the music earth; they know a bad-sounding instrument could mean no more work for them in recording sessions.” (Lyn Stanley)

I own several of the singer’s recordings and was looking forward to hearing her new Christmas program. In harmony with Lyn’s determination to provide the best sound possible, Novel Noël has been released in several formats: a double vinyl 45RPM album which includes a colorful LP-size booklet with production notes, original art, and comments about each song, 5.1 surround sound files, and DSD/CD files. [6] The recording has already received five medals from the 2022 Global Music Awards: three Gold medals (Female Vocalist, Producer, Album), and two Silver medals for Lyn’s original song, “Holy Night” (Female Vocalist, Holiday Music).


“The production of this album has been an incredible journey. It survived one of the most horrific events of our lifetime, namely a worldwide pandemic that sidetracked the train of life for most of us. Performers worldwide were hit hard as our normal lives ceased when air travel was grounded, and performance venues shut their doors. Some of us had to re-imagine our careers.

“The songs on this album are personal favorites or fan requests, and include a wide array that are themed holiday, Christmas, sentimental and, at the end of the sequence a couple of religious compositions to celebrate Christmas.

“I was driven to record this by my fans, who had been asking me, ‘Where’s your holiday album?’ Originally, I thought about doing a winter solstice-themed collection, and my vision was to try to cover all holidays, not just Christmas, celebrated by a variety of religions and traditions that time of year. I wanted to create a perennial recording that my fans around the world could enjoy. Over time, however, the project evolved to secular and Santa songs plus a handful of non-holiday classics that to me also capture the range of emotions people feel around the holidays.

“The season can also leave people feeling lonely if they’ve lost someone or are not with family and friends. This was especially true last Christmas, during the pandemic. On the celebratory side, I chose ‘Come Dance with Me’ not only as an ode to my other life as a former amateur champion ballroom dancer, but because when I was younger, I loved to go dancing on New Year’s Eve. I added a poignant introduction to Cole Porter’s ‘I Concentrate On You’ to convey the need to think of something joyful to combat loneliness and enjoyed performing ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ from the female perspective, complete with a playful Santa reference towards the end.” [7] [8]


One of the most imaginative arrangements is the band’s take on the Christmas favorite “The Little Drummer Boy” where the music and story are emphasized more than the well-worn “pa-rum-pa-pum-pums” and the percussion sound is (appropriately) especially realistic. The rhythm, reworked into a 5/4 time signature made famous by Paul Desmond’s jazz composition “Take Five” (which can be heard at the start of the track), sounds awkward at first but once you get used to it the adaptation becomes natural and engaging.

Other highlights include a rockin’, foot-tapping spin on the post-WWII classic “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus” complete with backup singers, Sammy Cahn and Jules Styne’s “Christmas Waltz” featuring Bill Cunliffe on piano and performed in the style of a fast-paced Viennese Waltz, a Latin Samba version of the 1970s Carpenters’ hit “Merry Christmas Darling,” a take on the moving Christmas classic “Mary Did You Know” (it’s listed as a bonus track but is so poignant it should be promoted as an album highlight), and the very attractive “Holy Night” – Lyn’s initial, and successful, attempt at songwriting (more, please!).

Elusive Disc.com underscores two other selections “that collectively capture the joyful whimsy and lush, soulful romance at the heart of the 13-track recording – a sly, spirited romp through “Zat You Santa Claus?” which starts with her hilarious, dead-on impression of Louis Armstrong, and a dreamily sensual contemporary twist on [another] iconic Cahn/Styne classic, “It’s Magic,” originally popularized in the late ’40s by Doris Day.”

Allen Sides, the recording and mixing engineer for Novel Noël, sums up the album nicely: “This record is a true audiophile project…it sounds like it was done 35 years ago when budgets were at a premium for these kinds of sessions. Most of the mics we used were vintage tube condenser mics from the ’50s and ’60s. I can’t say enough about the musicians on the project. Chuck Berghofer is to me the greatest bassist in the world, the trumpet players were beyond imagination, and everyone on the sessions had such great fun getting out and participating on what I believe is one of the greatest holiday big band records I’ve ever heard. I have a fondness for the genre, and it was truly a privilege to work with Lyn and these musicians to bring her vision to life.”

This is Lyn’s first big band album; she usually records with only a few musicians. It’s offbeat and truly something different…an unusual journey for Lyn, the other performers, and the listener, created during a very difficult time. To echo Jeff Wilson’s comments in The Absolute Sound: “I’ve been enjoying the album tremendously. The arrangements are spot-on, and I like how they evoke for me a sort of golden era of arrangements and production. [Lyn’s] delivery is excellent, and the recording is so good that it really stands out. I listen to a lot of records that sound good but not that good.”


Note: Don’t judge the sound—however good—by what you hear using these links. I listened to the 45 RPM 180-gram vinyl version using an all-tube phono preamp and the sound, as expected, was impressive: wide, three-dimensional, and natural with unusually realistic vocals and instrumental solos. Brava!


[1] “The Audiophile’s Sultry Songbird,” Part-Time Audiophile, April 13, 2017.

[2]Analog Planet,” Stereophile, Feb 11, 2014.

[3] Hi Fi Choice, May 2, 2018.

[4] Andrew Quint, “Lyn Stanley: Back Again, Better than Ever,” The Absolute Sound, Dec. 21, 2017.

[5] For more about this topic see “The Goldilocks Chronicles” in Copper Issue 154.

[6] Direct Stream Digital (DSD) is a high-resolution audio format for listeners who enjoy master studio quality recordings.

[7] “The Way You Look Tonight” brings to mind dance scenes from those Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movies where Rogers’ gown sways, Astaire looks suave in his tuxedo, and both figures glide smoothly across the dance floor – scenes captured forever in glorious black and white.

[8] Quotes from Elusive Disc.com, 2022.


Header image courtesy of Lyn Stanley, photo by Mark Lewis.




Peter Xeni
"Ron defies you to tell the difference between his DIY hi-fi and live perfoemance."

Dave Mason: Timeless Music in a World of Changes

Dave Mason: Timeless Music in a World of Changes

Dave Mason: Timeless Music in a World of Changes

Ray Chelstowski

One of the first albums that my older brother Brian handed down to me was Dave Mason’s 1970 solo debut, Alone Together. It was a remarkable record both musically and in how it was marketed. A limited run was released with a die-cut cover that rolled out several times and held a multicolored vinyl album that was not only truly novel and new at the time; it still dazzles when I let folks see it for the first time these days.

On the production side of things Alone Together had an all-star team, with Mason sharing production duties with Tommy LiPuma (Miles Davis). Engineering was handled by Bruce and Doug Botnick (The Doors), and mixing was done by Al Schmitt (Steely Dan). These best-in-class talents were applied to stunning songs that are singular in sound and still stand up to this day. Mason took another turn at them two years ago, revisiting his masterpiece with fresh eyes and ears to waves of critical praise. Alone Together began a relationship that I have had with Mason’s music ever since, and as popular music may at times have drifted away from his singer/songwriter approach, his fan base has only grown and their loyalty only deepened. It’s because his songs are so timeless, and he performs them live with originality and authenticity.


Dave Mason, Alone Together, album cover.

Dave Mason, Alone Together, album cover.


Dave Mason is a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and a former co-founder of Traffic and member of Fleetwood Mac. He has played on some of rock’s most important songs alongside Jimi Hendrix, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and the Rolling Stones, to name just a few. He has written seminal rock songs like “Feelin’ Alright” and “We Just Disagree,” which have been covered by artists as diverse as Joe Cocker, Three Dog Night, Grand Funk Railroad, ELO, The 5th Dimension, and Coldplay.


It’s a musical life that at times seems so magical that it couldn’t have possibly been lived by one person alone. This remarkable journey has finally been documented in the forthcoming autobiography Only You Know And I Know, named after his song of the same name. Available in May 2023, Its said to be a personal and revealing look at Mason’s ups, as well as his downs.

A long-time road warrior, Dave Mason has also just kicked off his “World In Changes” tour. Joining Mason on this run are band members Johnne Sambataro on guitar and vocals, Alvino Bennett on drums, and new additions Bill Mason on keyboard and vocals plus Ray Cardwell on bass and vocals.

Copper connected with Mason just prior to his first fall date in Thousand Oaks, California and talked about why this was the perfect moment to tell his story, what keeps things fresh for him as he moves through his set list each night, and whether what fans so admire in him can really be called “talent.”

Ray Chelstowski: I’m currently looking at an original copy of your solo album Alone Together. This version has the fold out, die-cut cover and the multicolored vinyl record. Even then, this must have been a very big deal for a label to invest in this kind of production.

Dave Mason: They were all for it. Blue Thumb Records was a boutique label. They really wanted something unique. They actually pressed 250,000 copies in that format.

RC: So, you are finally about to release an autobiography. What took so long?

DM: I can jokingly say that I was “badgered” into it. I have been asked for years by fans to do it. Then of course my wife has been after me about it. If it had been left up to me there would probably have never been a book. There were a number of people who approached me over the years and said that they wanted to do my biography, and one of them, Chris Epting, was very persistent. He had done a number of other ones like the Doobie Brothers book. So we got started.

Outside of doing an interview like this I’m rarely thinking about things that have happened in the past. I’m kind of more inclined to look forward. So, when I could have someone do the research, locate old pictures, confirm the times of every event and also do the writing it made things much easier. He would do the research and write something for me to review and then I’d rewrite things [in a manner of] how I would actually say them. Otherwise it would have never been done.


 Only You Know and I Know, book cover.

Only You Know and I Know, book cover.


RC: Is there any one overlooked part of your life that this book finally gave you the chance to address?

DM: I really wrote my story. For me it was about writing about someone’s life. To write about playing with this guy and that guy is a musical biography that you could simply read on a one-sheet. So, I approached the writing as being more about my journey and I tried to be very open about it all. Other than [in relation to] events that might have been consequential, I don’t really talk about anyone else. It’s about my ups and my downs. As far as the musical part of it, I’m 76 years old and have been doing this since I was 16. So a lot of the musical parts of the story have been done already, over and over in various places.


RC: But there were large gaps in your studio releases, especially in the 1980s.

DM: Well, the music changed. Suddenly there was punk. It was an angry form of music and that was the flavor of the month. [The music industry] is a commercial business and the labels were more interested in the way things were going [rather than what I was doing]. I had to adapt to the times and [also] deal with my own personal issues. That’s more about what I tried to write the book about.

RC: Do you think an artist even needs a label at this point?

DM: You don’t need a label, but it doesn’t matter anyway because the internet has killed the business. There are no sales any more. You can’t be just a songwriter or recording artist if you want to make money, unless you look like Beyoncé. I write music and have thankfully written some songs that have lasted.

RC: You’ve added some new members to your touring band. Does this give you the ability to keep things fresh?

DM: Yes, but I try to do that anyway. For me it’s all about guitars. That’s what got me into this in the first place. There are some songs like “We Just Disagree” that will musically be the same every night. But then there are others like “Look at You, Look at Me” and “The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys” that I rearrange. I never really rated myself as a singer. It was just what you had to do. Then I started writing songs and some of those have been interpreted in ways that were musically way better than what I had initially done. For example, ”Feelin’ Alright.” It’s sort of my Bob Hope’s “Thanks for the Memories.” It’s been covered by over 50 major artists and if Joe Cocker hadn’t done his own version there wouldn’t have been any others. So, I’ve been lucky.


RC: I’d say that you’ve created your own luck through a whole lot of talent.

DM: Well, I don’t know about the talent part. I think that I have minimal talent. This is more of a craft. Ninety percent is craft and ten percent is talent.

RC: What do you listen to these days when you’re not playing?

DM: My musical tastes are pretty open. These days I listen to quite a bit of jazz; the true American music. I listen to Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff, Ben Webster, and Miles Davis of course. I’ll listen to the jazz channel on Spectrum and there’s one amazing guitar player after the other and I have no idea who they are. It’s all out there.

RC: Are there any new songs that you’ll be introducing on this upcoming tour?

DM: Not really. But I try to put things in there that keep things interesting so that there’s spontaneity to the show; instead of just standing up there and going through the songs and having people feel like they could have just put the record on at home. I have to make it interesting for me and the band as well. If I can make that happen it will translate to the audience and give them something they didn’t expect. I want them to say, “wow, I didn’t know he could play like that!”


Header image courtesy of Dave Mason.

Interview: Lori Lieberman Returns To “Killing Me Softly” 50 Years Later

Interview: Lori Lieberman Returns To “Killing Me Softly” 50 Years Later

Interview: Lori Lieberman Returns To “Killing Me Softly” 50 Years Later

John Seetoo

In 1972, Lori Lieberman’s self-titled debut album was released on Capitol Records. It contained a song co-written with Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel called “Killing Me Softly With His Song,” which was based on Lori’s reaction to seeing Don McLean in concert. The song garnered some acclaim and later skyrocketed to Number 1 on the Billboard singles charts when Roberta Flack covered it in 1973. The Fugees would later perform their own interpretation of the song in 1997, winning a Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Group.

In the mid-2000s, Gimbel attempted to launch a campaign to erase Lieberman’s contribution to the song, despite capitalizing on her inspired lyrics in its creation and encouraging the story of the song’s genesis for three decades. Gimbel even threatened a lawsuit against McLean to try to force the composer of “American Pie” to recant. Not only did McLean refuse, but he reasserted his support for Lieberman, and Roberta Flack also joined in Lieberman’s defense.

In the meantime, Lori Lieberman has continued to write, record and perform, with a number of other releases since her return to releasing music in the mid-1990s. Her latest album, Truly, is a mix of Lieberman originals with jazz standards that has caught the attention of the audiophile community, who have been wowed by the impressive performances and pristine recording quality, courtesy of the renowned Bob Clearmountain. (See my review elsewhere in this issue.)

Lori Lieberman graciously took some time for the following interview.

John Seetoo: Don McLean has befriended you and taken your side in the struggle over the narrative origins of “Killing Me Softly With His Song.” Best known for his hits like “American Pie” and “Vincent,” you have stated in other interviews that McLean’s comparatively obscure “Empty Chairs” is what prompted your initial inspiration for “Killing Me Softly.” What was it about “Empty Chairs” and seening McLean do it in concert that you found so captivating? Did any other McLean songs perhaps inspire other songs of yours?

Lori Lieberman: While I’ve sung “Killing Me Softly” over a million times I guess, whenever I do, I am transported back to the girl I was at age 20, when my girlfriend coaxed me out of my apartment to see a singer I’d never heard of. I was going through one of my many break-ups and was feeling blue to start with. Don McLean was “a young boy” who was onstage, solo, and sang many of his wonderful, heartfelt songs. But when he sang “Empty Chairs,” I honestly felt that he was singing straight to me. I felt like he was up there reading my diary, and singing about me and my life. I remember feeling embarrassed and exposed, as though people would somehow notice. The song talked about love that got lost and coming home to an empty house, and that really resonated with me in a painfully honest way. When he left the stage and the audience filtered out, I stayed in my chair, and wrote a poem about my experience on a napkin. The other songs of his from that evening that I responded to were less-popular ones: “If We Try” and “Castles in the Air,” but truthfully, after he sang “Empty Chairs,” I don’t remember remembering much else!


Roberta Flack and Lori Lieberman. Courtesy of Barbara Bordnick.

Roberta Flack and Lori Lieberman. Courtesy of Barbara Bordnick.


JS: You have recorded quite a few cover songs in your releases, such as Paul Simon’s “Song For the Asking,” the Bee Gees’ “New York Mining Disaster 1941,” and others. As you are a songwriter and would understandably try to get your original material onto your records as much as possible, what prompts you to record a cover song? Which songs have you long wanted to, but not yet recorded, and why not?

LL: I really have a great amount of admiration and respect for other songwriters who can put into words a phrase or a melody that escapes me. When I recorded Paul Simon’s “Another Galaxy” for instance, it was the line, “There is a moment, a chip in time, when leaving home is the lesser crime,” I mean, come on! I recall being in my kitchen, making sandwiches for my kids, when that line grabbed me. And I thought, “I have felt this. And I can’t do better. I have to record this, in my way.” And of course “Mining Disaster” gave me an opportunity to write a string arrangement and give it a different spin altogether. Jackson Browne’s “Alive in the World” is a song that talks about living life out loud, away from the shadows. I’ve always believed that if I am going to do a cover, it needs to be very different from the original, or there isn’t a point to it really. There are so many songs I would love to record. Right now, I’m working on arrangements for a song originally sung by We Five, a more obscure Elton John song, one by Cat Stevens, and a lot more, swirling around my head!

JS: You recorded “It Might As Well Be Spring (C’est le Printemps)” in French. Do you have a substantial following in France or Switzerland, where you lived for a number of years? Are you fluent in French and/or other languages sufficiently to perform and write in them?

LL: At the risk of name-dropping, I would love to tell you the story behind “C’est le Printemps.” Back in 1974, I was doing my fourth album for Capitol at A&M’s studio, engineered by Henry Lewy. I was going to be doing vocals, and the drummer, John Guerin, asked if his “old lady” could come to hear. I of course said yes, and as I was singing, I looked into the booth, and there sat Joni Mitchell. I had been, and still am, a huge admirer of hers, and I nearly blew the whole session out of nerves. But afterwards, I joined them and we went to the Baked Potato, a famous Jazz club in L.A., and saw Blossom Dearie, who sang this song in French. As I grew up in Geneva, Switzerland, and speak French, I decided to record “C’est le Printemps” on my newest album. I do have a really nice following in France and Switzerland, but also I do a lot of work in The Netherlands. And, oh yes, to answer your last question- I do speak French and Spanish pretty fluently, and yes, I do enjoy performing in those languages as well.


JS: As both Roberta Flack and Don McLean have publicly supported you over the debate on the origins of “Killing Me Softly,” the topic has become reminiscent of the Margaret and Walter Keane art fraud battle depicted in the biopic film Big Eyes. (Walter Keane, portrayed by Christoph Waltz, amassed great wealth from a collection of paintings and reproductions which he claimed to have created, when they were actually proven in court to be the work of his wife, Margaret (Amy Adams). Gimbel’s attempt to rewrite history began in the mid 2000s, but you already had successfully continued to perform and record through the 1970s and then after your 15-year break, had resumed in the 1990s.

Has publicity over the issue hurt your career or has the championing you have received from Flack and McLean bolstered it?

LL: The story behind “Killing Me Softly” and its genesis is the subject of some controversy, and it has indeed been complicated. My poem came out of seeing Don McLean, the lyric was a collaboration, and those facts were written about and corroborated over the years, in print, television appearances, and quotes. It means so much to me to have my participation validated by Don and by the luminous Roberta Flack, who I had the joy of meeting two years ago when I was performing at Carnegie Hall. There has been a lot of closure for me around that song, as it now states that it was written “in collaboration with Lori Lieberman.”

JS: You have also re-recorded “Killing Me Softly” both in 2010 and on your latest release, Truly. From a creative perspective, how do your various renditions compare in terms of your choice of arrangements, instruments, vocal approach, and other production aspects? Were you satisfied at the time with each version’s final mix or is there an elusive sound in your head that you are still pursuing? I read in American Songwriter that you had also re-orchestrated a version of the song to link to McLean’s “Empty Chairs” as well.


LL: As I grow as an artist, the song has grown with me. To record it and re-do it is kind of a statement for me. It is important to claim its origins, and to remember that if my girlfriend, Michele Willens, hadn’t suggested I come to that concert, the song would never have been written. In essence, she is the story behind the story! I have written different arrangements for it, one, [for] just a guitar, and one with a string quartet. On my album, The Girl and the Cat, I recorded “Empty Chairs,” and when I perform it, I link it to “Killing me Softly.” On my latest version, it begins with a long piano intro and is probably the most candid and honest version of mine to date.

JS: Although you are best known for “Killing Me Softly,” you have amassed a sizable catalog of other self-penned songs. If you were to list the top three songs you have written that you would like yourself to be remembered for, which would they be, and why?

LL: I know on my epitaph it will say, “Best known for “Killing me Softly,” but I hope I will also be known for writing songs that have moved my listeners: “Like Blue,” “Hallie,” [and] “Takes Courage.” “Like Blue” talks about leaving behind things not meant for me, and making sure the people in my life know they are loved. “Takes Courage” is about the everyday hero who gets up and faces the world with adversity and strength. “Hallie” is about an abusive childhood and a sister left behind. These are some of the songs that my listeners have written to me about, some who are teachers and have taught their classrooms about the meanings behind the songs, and some who claim the songs have given them something to lean on. And to me, that makes it all worthwhile.


JS: You have arranged your music to record with orchestras and some of your more recent work has elements of jazz, perhaps from your past citing of Joni Mitchell as an influence. As you have also mentioned the Jefferson Airplane as an influence, in which songs of yours, past, present or future, might those rock elements appear in your music? Have you ever written or recorded material in other genres, even if never released?

LL: I’ve written a lot of songs in different genres – there is a song of mine called “Letter of Explanation” that focuses largely on the electric guitar and to me, is a nod to some of the early rock songs of my past. “Bricks against the Glass,” the title cut from my album of the same name, is more of a country style, with banjo in a kind of Mumford & Sons feel. And “Mr. and Mrs. Make-Believe” is an all-out country-style song that I modeled after Tammy Wynette and George Jones. There are a lot of others as well!

J.S.: Truly was both engineered and mixed by Bob Clearmountain, who also mixed The Girl and The Cat. Perhaps the closest artist in his discography to what you do as a singer-songwriter is Lucinda Williams, who nevertheless has a much different sound than you. What led you to choose Clearmountain to work on your records, since he usually works with rock bands like the Rolling Stones or Bon Jovi?

LL: Bob Clearmountain is not only one of the most talented engineers and mixers, but also one of the kindest and most generous of people I’ve ever been blessed to meet. He works with all kinds of artists, including Neko Case, Sheryl Crow, Springsteen, Tom Petty, and Johnny Hallyday, and this is our third album together. I appreciate his sensitivity and incredible sense of dynamics, and his humility is something rare.

JS: Both Truly and The Girl and The Cat were also mixed for Sony Atmos release, something that caters more to the audiophile market than the casual listening market and average music buyer. Are you also an audiophile, and if so, what equipment do you use for your own music listening?

LL: My husband, Joseph Cali, first introduced me to the audiophile world, and I’ve never gone back. Luckily, he is a Gryphon dealer, so I am spoiled rotten with what is available in our living room, which is a complete Gryphon reference system: Trident II speakers, Apex amplifier, Commander preamplifier with Legato phono preamp – and a Bergmann air bearing turntable with an Odin air bearing linear tracking arm, topped off with a Koetsu Jade Platinum cartridge. I also wanted to mention that I’m incredibly appreciative of Darcy Proper, who mastered my music for Stereo Vinyl and Atmos.

JS: How do you feel about your burgeoning audiophile audience, and your name being mentioned in the same circles as heralded jazz singers like Anne Bisson, Lyn Stanley, Amanda McBroom and others?

LL: I so appreciate the audiophile audience, who listen with such keen and discriminating ears, and who have embraced my music worldwide. And I’m thrilled to be among the talented artists you mention!

JS: What other plans do you have for the future?

LL: I’m presently working on another album at Bob Clearmountain’s Apogee Studio, where Truly was recorded, and a tour throughout the US and Europe, and hopefully Asia.

It’s really what I love to do, and I hope to keep the conversation going!


Header image courtesy of Claire Cali.

Dealing With Small-Room Acoustics, Part One

Dealing With Small-Room Acoustics, Part One

Dealing With Small-Room Acoustics, Part One

Russ Welton

Does this complaint sound familiar? “I have a small room and I just can’t get it to sound good.”

Many if not most of us have small to medium-sized listening rooms. One of the biggest problems of small room acoustics is that of the first reflections off of the walls, floors and ceilings. (For those who may be newer to the subject, first reflection points are just what the term implies – the indirect sound from the loudspeakers that reflects or bounces off the side walls, floor, and ceiling. These arrive later in time than the direct sound from the speakers, and can degrade the overall sound, frequency response, and imaging.) But there are many other considerations I’d also like to cover.

Put simply, small rooms encompass practically all domestic living spaces, with the exceedingly rare exception of someone’s domestic listening space being in a mansion or a barn, or rarer still, on par with an auditorium or hall. For most of us, our listening spaces constitute the “small” or “really small” category.

It’s helpful to realize that the bigger our room is, the more the speakers influence the overall sound, and conversely, the smaller the room, the greater the room’s effect on what we hear. (That said, it’s important to match the size of the speakers to the size of the room, a topic we’ll get into in a future installment. This also assumes you’re not doing near-field listening close to the speakers, which mitigates a lot of room issues but is not for everyone.) And when we talk about rooms, a big part of what we’re really talking about are the actual surfaces of the room, which define what we hear along with the effect of the room dimensions themselves.

One outstanding and mostly overlooked example of how to improve your room acoustics is that of installing a suspended or drop ceiling with absorptive tiles. (Metal ceiling tiles need not apply!) Because of the fibrous nature of acoustical tiles and the volume of air between the tiles and the ceiling, this acts as a huge ceiling-based bass trap, and is excellent for quelling unwanted vertically-traveling bass nodes (but not the horizontal ones). If floor footprint area is at a serious premium, installing a drop ceiling could be especially worth considering, albeit it’s a relatively expensive and not necessarily practical or aesthetically pleasing option – and you still have the issue of having to manage your horizontally-traveling reflection points and room nodes, areas of bass peaks and dips that compound and cancel each other. (See my articles, “Sub Missive” in Issue 137, “Subliminal or Sublime Bass?” in Issue 138, “Standing Room Only” in Issue 139, “The Audio Butterfly Effect” in Issue 143 and “Finding a Place for Bass” in Issue 144 for more insights.)

Okay, okay, you may well hate this suspended ceiling idea. Don’t worry; there are plenty of other ways to optimize the acoustics of smaller listening rooms. Another approach is the use of multiple subwoofers, rather than just one, or as in many peoples’ cases, none at all. The use of multiple subs can create a more even in-room bass response, as discussed in “Standing Room Only” and “The Audio Butterfly Effect.”


A small- to medium-sized listening space. Courtesy of Pexels.com/Huy Quang Nguyễn.

A small- to medium-sized listening space. Courtesy of Pexels.com/Huy Quang Nguyễn.


If you’re a veteran audio person, you may have heard about the room transition frequency, also known as the Schroeder frequency, and that making EQ adjustments to our room’s frequency response above this frequency doesn’t help our cause very much. Why? The short answer is that below the Schroeder frequency, typically between around 100 and 250 Hz, the room acts as a resonator, and above the Schroeder frequency, as a reflector and diffusor of sound.

Therefore, our room’s response can be broken down into two basic parts: the bass region where low-frequency room modes have a significant effect; and the stochastic or “random behavior” zone. The Schroeder frequency is the transition from the bass frequencies and the stochastic zone. (The Schroeder frequency is lower in a smaller room and higher in a larger room.)

The low-frequency region is where room modes create dips and peaks in the bass response, the result of areas of bass cancellation and reinforcement. When room response is measured you can see these peaks and troughs quite easily. (Today there are readily-available software utilities like REW Room EQ Wizard that make sophisticated measurements available to home users.)

The stochastic – midrange to treble – zone also contains modes, peaks and troughs, but they’re much less severe, perhaps more like a closed accordion with the bellows pressed flat up against each other, and the dips and peaks are now so close to each other that they are no longer distinguishable. (Note that because of the stochastic – random – nature of the room’s behavior, you might see subtle changes every time you take a room measurement, but from a practical standpoint, this won’t be anything that you might actually hear as a difference.

So, what can we do about these early reflections and tame our room’s response to them? The first thing is to identify where the points of first reflections are. There is a practical way of identifying them which has become a time-honored audiophile procedure. Get a friend to hold a mirror along the left wall while you sit in your listening position. He should hold the mirror at your eye level. Then ask your friend to move along the wall until you can see the reflection of your left speaker’s tweeter in the mirror. This will be your first reflection point for the left speaker. Mark this point, as this is where you’ll want to apply absorptive room treatment. Repeat the procedure for the right wall and speaker.


Absorptive material placed at the points of first reflections on the side walls. (Other room treatment is also shown.) Courtesy of GIK Acoustics.

Absorptive material placed at the points of first reflections on the side walls. (Other room treatment is also shown.) Courtesy of GIK Acoustics.


We will cover some suggested room treatment considerations in more depth in later installments. But addressing the first reflection points will go a long way in improving the sound of your listening room, right off the bat.

Making EQ adjustments to compensate for low-frequency room nodes is an effective technique for evening out in-room bass response. By why is it that making EQ adjustments in the stochastic zone’s frequencies is generally less significant for improving our sound? It’s because the amount of audio information here is so great that your brain operates as a filter, and ignores a lot of the information. It’s also because, as noted, the higher-frequency modes are very close together and not as severe. EQ can certainly be effective in the midrange and high frequencies to address other issues, like a speaker that’s overly bright, but it should be used judiciously so as not to degrade the overall signal integrity more than is really necessary. Be cautious to generally only adjust to reduce “gremlin peaks “rather than boost vacuous dips, for example.

Add to this the reality is the fact that the measurements obtained by the measurement microphone are not truly representative of what your ears are hearing. Your ears come in pairs, each in a different position to each other, whereas your measurement mic will most likely be a single omnidirectional microphone. The mic is only going to be able to give a representation of what audio signals are being put into the room. Your ears hear a much more sophistically processed and filtered stereo sound, compared to the microphone, which takes in everything and does not filter what it “hears.” (And keep in mind that different measurement mics can have different frequency responses.)

Also consider: microphones sample the sum total of a room’s direct and reflected sound, and off-axis response without differentiating between any of it, as opposed to what your ears hear. That said, measurement software and microphones are valuable tools in measuring the frequency response of rooms, something that can’t be done “by ear” alone!

In Part Two of this series, we’ll briefly look at what may compound the problem of the measurement microphone’s sampling limitations in making adjustments for something other than what we actually hear, and what you can do to help mitigate it in ways to produce great-sounding results. We’ll also cover some free and very inexpensive ways to test your room’s behavior so that you can choose how you wish to best address reflections; look at typical problem areas which very small rooms are blighted with; and identify some pitfalls to avoid. We will also consider some of the benefits of controlled-dispersion speakers, and circumstances where you may choose to use diffusion over absorption.


Header image: well, most of our rooms aren’t that small! Courtesy of Pexels.com/Mahdi Bafande.

Talking With Elliot Goldman of Bending Wave USA, Part One

Talking With Elliot Goldman of Bending Wave USA, Part One

Talking With Elliot Goldman of Bending Wave USA, Part One

Frank Doris

Elliot Goldman is a partner in Bending Wave USA, distributor of Göbel loudspeakers, Wadax digital electronics, CH Precision electronics and other ultra-high-end products. He’s been in audio retailing and distribution for decades and has seen and heard a lot. Part One of our interview begins here.

Frank Doris: Many readers might not know your background, so let’s get started with that.

Elliot Goldman: After graduating from college, I kind of got interested in hi-fi kind of by accident. It happened about the same time I discovered marijuana. (laughs) I was invited over to some kid’s place and the first album I ever listened to stoned was Super Session with Al Kooper, [Mike Bloomfield and Stephen Stills]. Pretty amazing. When I got out of school, I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I was thinking of going to law school and had worked one summer for a lawyer and found out that writing papers and reading books all day really wasn’t what I wanted to do. So, I started out [in audio] working for a company called Lafayette Radio.

FD: They were a big electronics maker and retailer based on Long Island.

EG: Right. Their main office was in Syosset. I went through a management training program, which was really great for me because it taught me how to run a business. My first job [for them], which was one of the best jobs I ever had in my life…they were going through an expansion [period], building a lot of stores. So I had a crew of four guys, and we were going from area to area, wiring all the sound rooms and displays and doing the initial store set up of over a hundred in a couple of years.

We had a really good time doing it and I certainly learned a lot. After that I became an assistant manager in Manhattan, then got transferred. I got married and was living on Long Island, and I really didn’t want to commute to Manhattan. So I got a job at a store on Long Island, and after working there for a while I met a guy and he offered me a job at [what was] at the time the first high-end audio store on Long Island, Sound Experience. That’s where I got introduced to Audio Research and Mark Levinson and Magnepan and Quad and Linn and all those other things. Eventually I opened my own store there, Audio Den which I and a partner had for a while, then [sold my interest in it]. And then I went to work for Lyric Hi-Fi [in Manhattan]. At the time, Lyric was really the temple of high-end, as you know.

FD: Yes it was. And it had a reputation…

EG: It was the preeminent store on the planet. This was around 1978 or ’79, and anybody who was anybody wanted to do business with Lyric. [Owner] Michael Kay was very generous to me. I always described him as my second father. It was a lot of fun. You name the company, we sold it, or [a manufacturer] wanted to be sold at Lyric. From that, I [started] my relationships with people like Arnie Nudell, Jon Dahlquist, Dick Sequerra, Jim Winey, Bill Johnson and on and on and on.

FD: Everybody.

Yeah. And, and of course, Harry Pearson [founder of The Absolute Sound], who was my second mentor. Harry taught me a lot about how to listen and about music as well. [All of] that provided my background and my education and I’m grateful for that every day.


Harry Pearson in 1988. Photo by Bill Reckert.

Harry Pearson in 1988. Photo by Bill Reckert.


FD: Obviously, Harry had a big effect on me, gave me my break, taught me a lot. [I got my start in the audio industry in 1984 as a writer for TAS – Ed.] He managed to piss a lot of people off too.

EG: Harry was a very difficult human being, and we were friends for a long time. Being friends with Harry Pearson, I don’t have to tell you, was extremely difficult (laughs) because he can be your biggest fan and then be incredibly rude. I regret that we were not close at the end. But he had seriously pissed me off when he wanted to do his own website and I was helping him, [and] really not making any money working for him. Trying to reinstitute what I thought was his birthright [as a founder of high-end audio journalism], which through his own ineptitude he gave away for nothing. But that’s a whole ‘nother story.

He kind of embarrassed and humiliated me about something and I said, f*ck this, I’m not doing it anymore. After that I moved to Florida. But I am grateful that I met him. I am extremely grateful for all that I learned from him. I am a staunch Harry defender whenever he’s attacked. I don’t think most people really understood him or what the world was like back then. I mean, look, he was no saint and no angel, and he took advantage of some of the circumstances, but I think more people took advantage of him than [the other way around}.

FD: Interesting idea.

EG: Well, everybody tried to take advantage of him at the time. Let’s go back and look at what audio marketing was in the 1970s and 1980s. Basically, most audio companies are small entrepreneurial entities, most of the time driven by somebody with some kind of technical background and not necessarily a sales background. And the only way they could get their product established was to get their product to a reviewer, particularly if it was Harry, and [have them] write something nice about it. And it made their company. Because they didn’t really have any marketing or promotion. Most of the time they didn’t even have a sales person. So Harry would come out and say, this cartridge is in his reference system, and all of a sudden everybody wanted to buy it. That’s changed a lot. I don’t think it necessarily works the same way anymore for a variety of reasons, which we can talk about later. But back then Harry was god.

Many of your readers maybe are a lot younger than you and I, [and they don’t know that] the industry was a lot smaller too. There was very few if any European products sold in the US, and very few high-end Japanese products. There were plenty of Japanese products, but not high-end products. The brands that were popular then and were important then were a much smaller pond to go fishing in than today.

FD: Getting back to Lyric Hi-Fi, because as you noted, some of today’s audiophiles might not remember this, but the store had the reputation of being rude and abusing customers and throwing people out. I remember at the time thinking, how can you do business like that? Is that really true or just something that audio writers wrote to stir up the pot?

EG: I don’t want to come off as a jerk, but it was very true. Having said that, they weren’t just rude [for the sake of being rude]. When I came to work for Mike Kay I was taught that we’re in business; we’re here to do business, we’re here to make a profit. There’s a lot of money invested in [the store], and we are not here to tolerate being taken advantage of or being treated badly. So I’m not going to say unequivocally that no one was ever treated badly at Lyric, because that’s not true. But I will say that the overwhelming majority of people that might have been treated badly probably deserved it. I’ll explain it this way. I don’t know how audio [retailing] became what it is [today]. What I mean by that is I don’t know how consumers expect that they can just go into a store and take up the people’s time they have no intentions of buying. Have you ever worked in a retail business?

FD: For a couple of years.

EG: I’ll give you two [examples]. If somebody walks into my place today and says, “hey, you know, I can’t really afford to spend a [lot of money] but I was wondering if I could come in and take a listen.” I don’t think I’ve ever said no to anybody like that. And when they’re honest with me I’ll play the system and give them a little of my time. But on the other hand, I’ve had plenty of people that pretend that they’re going to buy something when they had no intentions of purchasing anything, or they were using your showroom to figure out if they wanted to buy something they could buy used or from their friend, or to hear it and then shop all over the internet to try and find somebody maybe in another state or another country to sell it to them cheaper. I find that behavior repulsive. And the people that did that at Lyric got treated [accordingly and] asked to leave.

FD: If you remember Manny’s, the New York music store, they made it very easy. You’d walk up to the counter and the salesperson would say, “You looking to buy today?” And if you said no, “OK, next!”

EG: (laughs) We did that at Lyric too. I mean, as you remember, the original Lyric store was pretty small; I don’t know, about 20 by 50 and [it] had a basement. So, we basically had two rooms and everybody had to walk through everywhere to get everywhere. There was no real privacy. There was an entranceway and then to a door into the first room. And through the first room was a door to an office and a bathroom, and then a door into the back room. Everybody coming up the stairs had to walk through those rooms. We could at most help one or two people at a time. And Lyric was incredibly busy then. On a Saturday morning there could be 20 or 30 people waiting on the sidewalk to go in.

So, you had to separate the “tourists” from the buyers, because at the end of the day, Mike Kay paid me to sell goods and to make money. I don’t know how audio became this lending library and [customers got the idea] that everyone’s time isn’t worthwhile. I don’t want to sound bitter. I’m not; I just think that people need to think about being honest with people when they go [into a retailer].

I don’t consider myself a retailer anymore. I got into what I’m doing to be a distributor and kind of stumbled into [selling] some of the other products, because I needed to support myself, particularly during COVID. Trying to get a distribution company off the ground today is, especially with really expensive products, not easy.

I want to say this in the right way because I don’t want to offend everybody, but I think being honest with yourself and being honest with the people that you’re doing business with will get you farther than [doing the opposite]. I had a lot of people come into Lyric who were extremely rude. Fortunately for Lyric, we didn’t have to tolerate that and you would get asked to leave. On the other hand, particularly when it wasn’t busy, if you walked in and said “you know, I can’t afford an IRS V [Infinity speaker system, considered the ultimate loudspeaker at the time], but would it be possible for me to hear it?” Almost a hundred percent of the time somebody would play it for you.

FD: Tell us about some of the product lines that Bending Wave carries today. Obviously Göbel, because Oliver Göbel is the founder and a partner in Bending Wave.

EG: I was out of the audio business for a couple of years. The recession hit my company, which was called Front Row Center. It became difficult for both me and my partner to make a living. He [handled] the installation portion of the business and wanted to continue, so it morphed into Front Row Theater. I went to work for another dealer and really didn’t like that situation very much. Then I worked for an internet watch company for a couple of years. I wanted to learn more about doing business on the internet anyway. I was doing well there and probably would’ve stayed except they sold their company to a company in Philadelphia, and I wasn’t planning on moving at the time.

I happened to see something about a speaker made in Germany by Oliver Göbel. He was doing business in Asia and Europe but had never done business in the US. So I went to Germany, listened to the product and fell in love with it. We decided to distribute Göbel in the US. While setting up a showroom, I was looking for products [to complement the speakers]. I had seen CH Precision in Europe and really liked the sound of it. They were kind enough to send me some product to try once I was ready. I liked it better than anything else I had heard. I became friends with Fink Team at an audio show. Wadax kind of found me. In my opinion they’re the finest digital products on the planet.


Göbel Epoque Reference loudspeakers. From the Göbel High-End website.

Göbel Epoque Reference loudspeakers. From the Göbel High-End website.


We will be seeking dealers for Göbel around the country and introducing the new Divin Sovereign subwoofer at Capital Audio Fest. Göbel just opened a new factory outside of Munich and they’ll have two sound rooms open by probably early next year. I think every manufacturer should have that.

EG: Göbel speakers are as perfect as somebody can make a speaker in the fit, finish and packaging; everything is done to the point of no excuses. Having been in the ultra-high-end for the better part of my life, I’m constantly hearing from my customers things like, “I wish they had done that,” or, “I wish they had done this” when it comes to audio products. There’s none of that with Göbel.

FD: What in your opinion makes the speakers special? I know they use a full-range driver.

EG: Oliver has a patent on the bending wave driver used in the Aeon line of speakers. The Bending Wave driver goes from 160 Hz to over 30,000 Hz. It’s not a push-pull driver. Sound travels across the Bending Wave driver like it does on a piano soundboard. It’s the fastest, clearest driver that I am aware of. It has no phase issues because it’s not presenting in-phase and out-of-phase information at the same time, like a lot of push-pull drivers do. Its downsides are that it’s inefficient and requires a large amplifier. It’s expensive to make, and it’s expensive to make the baffle and all the other parts that it has to sit in.

There are different markets in the world and the largest market for his speakers has been Asia. But they’ve have been requesting for him to build something that was more efficient and easier to drive. So that was the beginning of the Divin series, which are 92 to 98 dB efficient and can be driven with small tube, or any kind of amps. From working with Bending Wave technology, Oliver learned how to build midrange drivers and woofers of a more conventional note using the Bending Wave technology.

I’m sitting in my sound room now with Divin Marquis, our entry-level speaker, and I have two Sovereign subwoofers. The Marquis work better in my room than the bigger Göbel speakers. I’m not saying they’re a better speaker, but a bigger speaker like the Divin Noblesse really belongs in a bigger room. There’s an optimal size for a speaker in a room. A speaker that’s too big for your room is not your best choice. I’m not saying it can’t work. But it’s really difficult to take a giant speaker and put it in a small room and make it work.


Divin Marquis loudspeakers.

Divin Marquis loudspeakers.


FD: What kind of sound do you like to hear? What sonic attributes do you find most important?

EG: I don’t think there’s [any] one thing that’s important. I think it’s all important. I think a lot of audiophile [descriptive] terms have been corrupted. Harry Pearson tried to invent a language and I think that language has been corrupted or perverted. First of all, I want something to sound real. I am trying to create that illusion that I’m listening to real instruments. Harry Pearson’s original definition of “the absolute sound” is something I agree with: un-amplified music, acoustic instruments [in real life], but that’s not all the music I listen to. When I go to an orchestra or [a] jazz or rock [concert] they’re really very different.

There’s probably not a brand on the market, up until maybe a few years ago, that I haven’t represented at some point in time in my audio career. And there are more good products today than ever. But my sensitivity has always been to transparency and coherence. I want the speakers and the system to get out of the way. I want the system to get out of the way. I want to be able to listen through it and hear what the artist is trying to do, number one. Number two, I have found over years that the midrange and high frequencies are generally a lot easier to do than the low frequencies. Even the great speaker designers like John Dahlquist and Ross Walker and Arnie Nudell worked forever to extend what they were able to do [throughout the frequency range]. But the bass always sounded to me, on almost everything that I’ve ever heard, like it was an apple and an orange. When I go to a concert, and I don’t care if it’s rock or jazz or whatever, I, don’t hear the bass differently than I hear the rest of the music. It has detail, speed, a location. It has dynamics. And so when I finally got a chance to listen to Oliver’s speakers, it was the first time I felt that I was listening to almost the sound of a single driver.

I’m not a bass freak, but I love drummers and what drums and bass do to the music. There’s a lot going on there. I want to be able to listen through the music and hear what the drummer’s doing and what the bass player’s doing and listen to the guitar solo and listen to the keyboard. I think Göbel speakers do a better job of doing that in than anything else I have currently heard. I’m not saying everything else is bad and we’re good. It’s just this is the closest thing to what I want to hear.

FD: I don’t like a speaker that’s too bright or too “hyped” or forward. For me, tonal balance is the most important aspect of a speaker.

EG: Well, I think, Frank, [that] most speakers that are bright-sounding don’t have good bass. You go back to audio in the Seventies, and as [designers] were trying to get more information and more detail, the speakers became brighter [and] the electronics became brighter. And that’s not what real [music] does. The other part of the system that’s [extremely] important, of course, is the source. I’ve learned, particularly over the last decade, that all or most of the digital problems that people wanted to pick on in the Eighties and Nineties were really more [due to] the hardware than the software. I think that most Red Book CDs are much better than we gave them credit for back in the 1980s. It was specifically [because of] the hardware and not understanding their technology. That has changed. I think some of my oldest CDs sound amazing, now that the technology to play them back has dramatically changed…


Wadax Atlantis Reference DAC.

Wadax Atlantis Reference DAC.


This interview, which will cover many more subjects, including the state of high-end retailing, reaching a younger generation, streaming audio, and much more will continue in Issue 176.


Header image of Elliot Goldman by David W. Robinson, Positive Feedback, copyright (c) 2022, all rights reserved.

Octave Records Releases Shelter by Singer/Songwriter Megan Burtt

Octave Records Releases Shelter by Singer/Songwriter Megan Burtt

Octave Records Releases Shelter by Singer/Songwriter Megan Burtt

Frank Doris

The newest release by Octave Records, Shelter by singer/songwriter Megan Burtt, is a warm, intimate album of songs that have an organic, natural flow. The music is centered around Burtt’s inviting voice, piano and guitar, recorded in stunning up-close-and-personal clarity using Octave Records’ Pure DSD high-resolution recording process.

Megan Burtt is backed by a cast of superb musicians on acoustic and electric guitars, drums, electric and upright bass, keyboards, strings, woodwinds, and background vocals. Megan noted, “this record was written during COVID and a trying time in my life, so a lot of the songs speak to surrender and redemption and ultimately, hope.”

The album title, Shelter, comes from a lyric in the song “Hollow Bone,” about being a refuge for another person, “a shelter and a welcome home.” The opening song, “Avalanche,” speaks of the ability to survive and thrive even if the world is crumbling around you. “Revolutionary” features a string section and harmony vocals contrasted by syncopated drumbeats, a combination that adds musical tension that somehow works perfectly. “What Love is For” offers a rich instrumental bed of keyboards and acoustic and electric guitar, an expansive soundscape to complement Burtt’s emotive singing: “we all need an open door/I guess that that’s what love is for.” “State of Mind,” a sparse 3/4-time ballad about searching for direction in life, and love, is the perfect way to close out the album.

Shelter was engineered and mixed by John McVey using Octave Records’ Pure DSD process and the Sonoma multi-track DSD recording system, and mastered by Gus Skinas. It features Octave’s premium gold disc formulation, and the disc is playable on any SACD, CD, DVD, or Blu-ray player. Shelter also has a high-resolution DSD layer that is accessible by using any SACD player or a PS Audio SACD transport. In addition, the master DSD and PCM files are available for purchase and download (including DSD256 and DSD128, DSDDirect Mastered 192kHz/24-bit, 96kHz/24-bit, 44.1 kHz/24-bit and 44.1kHz/16-bit PCM), along with 24-karat gold CDs at standard resolution. (SRP: $19 – $39, depending on format.) These CDs have been cut directly off the DSD master using BitPerfect’s state-of-the-art Zephiir filter.

As Megan pointed out, “when recording on DSD, it’s a very specific style, because we don’t have unlimited tracks or the ability to edit or fix things later. So, you have to be focused on the performance.” She said, “I think if there’s heart in it, people hear that feeling. I think that feeling really comes across in this recording.”

I interviewed Megan about the new album and her thoughts about music, life, and other things.

Frank Doris: How did you get started in music? When did you know that you wanted to be a performer and that you were good at it?

Megan Burtt: I always say that music for me is genetic, but it skipped a generation. My grandfather was a big band drummer in the Forties and Fifties in Kansas City, which was a big jazz hub at the time. I have a great aunt who was a lifelong performer. My parents were not [musical]. So I didn’t really grow up with it in the house, but was always very drawn to music as a way of expressing my feelings and an outlet for sort of being seen through my songwriting.

FD: There’s kind of a mysterious thing about being a musician. It’s something that you feel like you have to do, not something you sort of stumble into.

MB: Absolutely. It’s definitely the thing that gets me up every day, the pursuit of the artistry and the craft. I haven’t found anything else that’s motivated me more in life than songwriting and getting better at music.

I suppose a lot of things are like this, but I think especially with music, if you’re doing it right, there’s no arriving. You’re always in pursuit of your voice and your craft and your artistry. There’s something really wonderful for me about that, that constant searching.

FD: I agree. I’ve been playing for a long time and sometimes feel like I’m just getting started. You play the piano really well and that’s not an easy instrument to master.

MB: Oh gosh. I’m so far from mastery! I can just play piano enough to write some songs. I have a long way to go. And that, you know, again, it’s like in music. But if you have a few decades with an instrument and you start feeling bored or stuck, you just pick up a new instrument.

FD: Songwriting is a mysterious process. Does it come easily to you or do you tear your hair out?

MB: There are certainly songs that I have to put more effort into than others, but the way I write songs is that I put in the effort until the point where the songs write themselves and then they just flow out of me. I sit down with a guitar or piano and play chords and sing melodies and play with lyrics and it’s like I’m searching for the map. Once I find the map, songs typically will come really quickly. So, I might sit down with the idea of writing a song, but sort of look for something that feels easy and for an hour and a half or two hours. If I don’t get to the point where it’s easy, if I don’t get to the point where I find the map, then I just don’t keep going.

FD: That’s a different approach than some other musicians I’ve talked to.

Who are some of your influences? I could make some guesses, but I won’t (laughs)

MB: Who are your guesses? I’m curious.

FD: Nanci Griffith, Joni Mitchell…

MB: You’re in the ballpark. (laughs) Certainly, female artists and songwriters tend to be where I lean. Um, Shawn Colvin is a really big one. I often hear that people hear Shawn Colvin in my music.

FD: Shelter has a natural kind of flow about it. Is that something you set out to do or did it just happen that way?

MB: It’s not something that I [deliberately] set out to do, but if a song doesn’t tell you what it wants to be, then I don’t keep going with it. Don’t get in the way of the song. So that’s a compliment to hear that it sounds that way to you because yeah, that means I did my job. (laughs)

FD: The album has a sparse, almost stark feel at times.

MB: I think that part of that happened because of recording on DSD on the Sonoma system and having limited channels to work with. We didn’t have infinite tracks of recording like you do in Pro Tools. I suppose it was a little bit conscious and mostly circumstantial. (laughs)

FD: Did you record with your regular band?

MB: Yes. Again, recording in DSD is a very specific style of recording and we couldn’t do a lot of editing or comping or fixing it later. We had to get it right the first time. I don’t know if people who aren’t musicians realize how much fixing of musicianship happens in post-production [and so on]. This is a can of worms and definitely a discussion for another time. But I will say that I think digital recording has made bad musicians out of most of us. Because we have the ability to fix ourselves. I knew that we wouldn’t have that ability on this record. And so I hired musicians that could do it right the first time.


Megan Burtt. Courtesy of Megan Burtt.

Megan Burtt. Courtesy of Megan Burtt.


FD: Copper recently ran an article where the mastering engineer talked about having to tweak the timing of every single snare drum hit by the drummer in a heavy metal band. Just let the guy play and who cares if it’s a couple of milliseconds off here and there!

MB: To each its own. I’m a perfectionist, so I like digital recording, I like being able to fix myself. I don’t have strong feelings about the fact that people take advantage of the fact that it is possible to make fixes in recording. But it’s definitely a decision. What kind of record are you making, and how much humanity are you exposing?

FD: How did you meet up with Octave Records?

MB: Well, [Octave Records engineer] Gus Skinas and I had met over the years. He had been to some of my performances and invited me to make a record after he saw me play a show. He’s an amazing mastering engineer and he’s been around the block.

FD: How did it feel to listen and hear the music played back with such a sense of reality?

MB: Pretty phenomenal. [DSD] is something that I hope every musician gets an opportunity to hear at some point in their lifetime.

FD: Tell us about the songs and how they came about.

MB: This record was primarily written during COVID and through a pretty trying period in my life. It’s kind of a record of looking at your life and humbly moving through the trials and tribulations of it.

FD: I’ve been hearing that from a lot of artists. How could you not be affected by what’s going on today? It’s not the same world as it was three years ago.

MB: I don’t know, I think we all have pretty short attention spans. I’m watching things moving back to how it was pretty quickly.

FD: I feel like I have to ask this question to everybody: as an artist, how has the pandemic affected your music and whatever plans you might have for the future?

MB: I think we’re all still figuring that out. I don’t think you can have something as big as this was and, and actually know how it’s going to affect you. It’s certainly changed live performance, which is primarily how I make a living.

The thing that I appreciate about the audiophile audience and people who appreciate quality audio is that they typically buy music, which is not the case in this current day and age with digital streaming. I’m glad to have a new audience to meet and interact with. And I’m incredibly proud of the songs on this record and where they’ve come from. The string arrangements by Russell Durham are so beautiful.

FD: Do you just do your art and let the chips fall where they may, or do you try to think about what pleases people?

MB: Oh, you can’t do that. I did when, when I was younger. But that’s a losing game.

FD: There is one other thing I wanted to ask. How in the world, considering the rarity of redheads, did you manage to put together the band Gingerbomb, an all-redhead band?

MB: I always had this joke that I wanted to be a DJ and call myself DJ Ginger Bomb. I was living in New York and doing a lot of songwriting with a great writer and friend named Zach Berkman. We were just writing a ton of stuff and I thought, why don’t we just do this as a band? The [Wildfire] record’s on Spotify.

FD: There’s a DJ, Tiesto, and he makes tens of millions of dollars a year.

MB: Gosh. Well, maybe I should go back to my DJ dream! I can’t say that I have done a great job at chasing the market. I’ve just done a great job at chasing my own muse.

Considering CD’s 40th Birthday

Considering CD’s 40th Birthday

Considering CD’s 40th Birthday

Larry Jaffee

I did not want the Compact Disc’s 40th anniversary to slip by without making a few observations. After all, I covered the format during its peak for Replication News, the CD’s primary trade magazine at the time, at the time, when I was hired in late 1997, and for Medialine until that publication’s demise in 2006.

Acknowledging my love-hate relationship with the CD, I still regularly buy them since they’re so cheap and easy to come by in thrift stores and online sources these days.

In the spring of 1986, when it was considered a state-of-the-art technology, I remember showing off the silver little disc to my students in the popular music course I was co-teaching. The undergraduates didn’t seem much interested, even though they were only about six years younger than me. They were still getting used to MTV, which was the subject of my Master’s project at the time. In one of my bolder classroom moments, I predicted that in a few years’ time they all would be listening to and buying CDs.

Of course, I was not wrong.

Sony introduced the CD first in Japan in February 1982, the beginning of a worldwide revolution that reinvented the record industry, which had been lobbied for several years to go along with the new technology. In fact, the CD’s roots can be said to harken back to 1937 when the idea of pulse code modulation (PCM) was conceived of as a means of audio reproduction. Error detection and correction research emerged in 1950. Then the laser came out of a lab in 1960. In 1967, broadcaster NHK presented a 12-bit digital audio recorder using a 30 kHz sampling rate.


The familiar Compact Disc logo. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Sony and Philips/public domain.

The familiar Compact Disc logo. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Sony and Philips/public domain.


Two years later, Dutch physicist Klaas Compaan shared his concept for the CD. In 1970, Philips Research created a glass-master prototype that initially was designed for its 12-inch Video Long Play laser player, demonstrated to the press in 1972. Philips’ scientists realized that the laser could also read audio signals, and they stepped up their efforts to shrink down the disc size for a consumer product that could store an hour of music.

Meanwhile, around the same time in the US, MCA purchased patents and ended up collaborating with Philips on what eventually became the LaserDisc, which launched in the US in 1978.

The talk at the 1977 Tokyo Audio Show was the digital audio disc prototypes presented by Sony, Hitachi, and Mitsubishi, while 35 manufacturers came to the Digital Audio Convention in Tokyo the next year when Philips proposed that the disc be made out of polycarbonate. In 1979, the first CD player prototypes circulated in Europe and Japan. Later that year, Philips and Sony agreed on a sampling rate of 44.1kHz and 16-bit audio.

One of the reasons the CD succeeded – as did DVD-Video for that matter – was that Sony and Philips, partners in the format’s R&D, checked their egos at the door. They took the best elements of their research to make a better product and create the “Red Book” CD audio standard in 1981. It was a rare moment in the entertainment industry.


Medialine cover noting 20 years of the Compact Disc, October 2002.

Medialine cover noting 20 years of the Compact Disc, October 2002.


Beta vs. VHS vs. Hollywood?

In the mid-1970s, consumer electronics manufacturers Matsushita (Panasonic and Technics) and JVC battled Sony successfully over then-competing home video formats. Actually, the bigger adversary was Hollywood, which fought tooth and nail that the ability of consumers to record off television and play movies in their homes constituted copyright infringement (i.e., intellectual property theft).

The Motion Picture Association of America eventually had to eat crow when the US Supreme Court narrowly agreed 5-4 with the CE folks in the landmark 1984 Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc. a/k/a “the Betamax case.” The irony of the ruling by the time it was handed down by the high court: VHS was firmly entrenched as the home video standard, not Sony’s Beta. At stake were the decades of royalties for everything from the blank media to the use of the VHS logo.

Home video’s ancillary revenue stream turned out to be a windfall for the movie studios, and saved them from box-office bombs. The best book on this subject is Fast Forward: Hollywood, The Japanese, and the VCR Wars (W.W. Norton & Company, 1987) by James Gardner. The videocassette recorder soon became an indispensable status symbol in households, then simply became ubiquitous.

File under too much, too soon: the aforementioned LaserDisc, introduced as DiscoVision by MCA and later sold by Pioneer and other companies, tanked by 1981. In the next decade, the powers that be were jockeying to revolutionize home entertainment again with DVD-Video, which thankfully took notice of CD’s success, using the same-sized optical disc read by a laser, but more importantly, enjoyed cooperation among multinational corporate parties.

Next-Gen Audio Didn’t Learn from the DVD Lesson

The reason why DVD-Video became the fastest-growing consumer electronics product in history was the unprecedented level of cooperation that existed not only among the Hollywood studios and CE manufacturers but also the computer industry. Sadly, the record industry did not follow this rationale when it stumbled badly to introduce a high-resolution audio format, and instead brought forth the competing formats of DVD-Audio vs. Super Audio CD. No doubt each format’s proponents had an eye on replacing the CD, which was an interesting goal, since DVD-Video had ushered in surround sound in living rooms and home theaters.

But consumers were confused. 20 years ago, even audiophiles didn’t go along with the hype and were weary of the format wars. A Stereophile online poll at the time found that 52 percent of respondents resisted buying either format because they didn’t want to make a choice.


Well, one format made it for the long haul. Medialine cover, January 2003.

Well, one format made it for the long haul. Medialine cover, January 2003.


By 2002, CD sales had peaked, with rapid annual declines ahead. Napster and other bit-torrent file sharing had become the zeitgeist, and the blank disc became the best-selling CD of the year. The Recording Industry of America (RIAA) was too busy worrying about Digital Audio Tape (DAT) to realize that computers with built-in optical disc drives would be their downfall. The genie was out of the bottle.

At the October 2004 Audio Engineering Society (AES) convention in San Francisco, Robin Hurley, then senior vice president of A&R for Warner Strategic Marketing, admitted DVD-Audio had been a disaster.

In fact, Hurley said he wouldn’t be surprised if the labels just let whatever stock was on retail shelves sell out. An AES co-panelist added that he had just been on a “reconnaissance mission” to the local Virgin Megastore (now I’m really dating myself, aren’t I?) two blocks away, “and it appeared DVD-Audio was taken off the floor.”

Hurley’s sobering analysis added, “One of the things the industry hasn’t come to grips with is a unified advertising campaign. The biggest thing that hurts us is that there are two formats out there. That really has made executives at the highest level wince and pause before putting big money in it. That wasn’t the case with movies on DVD.”

True, Super Audio CDs are still being made but it’s a niche market, not the replacement for the CD originally envisioned. And interestingly, Blu-ray might have won out over HD-DVD – another confusing format war and a story to be told – but standard DVD-Video discs are still also being produced.

Common sense in the business world – and life for that matter – tells you not to repeat the same mistakes. Hopefully such a philosophy will carry over to future audio formats, even as vinyl continues its astounding resurgence.


Copper contributor Larry Jaffee is author of the book Record Store Day: The Most Improbable Comeback of the 21st Century, and is co-founder/conference director of industry trade organization Making Vinyl. More information is available at www.larryjaffee.com.

Header image: the Sony CDP-101, the first commercially-available CD player. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Atreyu.

Pilgrimage to Sturgis, Part 33

Pilgrimage to Sturgis, Part 33

Pilgrimage to Sturgis, Part 33

B. Jan Montana


After a long trip from Minneapolis, a long session with the Bhagwan, and a long ride in the dark following Melody’s car, we were exhausted when we finally got to the cabin at her dad’s trout pond. We both crashed onto the bed and fell asleep moments later. That’s the last thing I remember till the next morning, when Melody woke me with coffee in hand.

“The old folks from the senior facility will be here soon,” she said, “we should have breakfast before it gets too busy.”

I jumped into the shower, put on some fresh clothes, and noticed the senior citizens’ van was already parked in the lot as I walked to the dining room.

The seniors were all seated inside waiting for their breakfast and Melody was in the kitchen helping her mom, so I sat at the only spot left, at the end of the table.

They remembered and greeted me. Olive, the heavy, retired insurance adjuster got up and hugged me. “How was your trip back east – where was it again?”

“Minneapolis,” I responded; “I visited some new friends I’d met in Sturgis during bike week.”

“Oh, you’ve got to stay out of Sturgis during bike week,” one of the them said. “It’s crazy out there. Bikers drag racing on the streets, semi-naked women parading around, heavy drinking and fights everywhere. Oh I’m telling you, it’s a den of iniquity. You’ve got to stay out of Sturgis during bike week.”

“Have you ever been there during bike week, Floyd?” Olive asked.

“Oh no, I would never go there. I’ve heard all about it and seen it on the news, it’s horrible.”

“I’ll tell you what’s horrible Floyd,” Olive proclaimed, “war, famine, plagues, and tyranny. A bunch of people getting together in a small town to party with the blessings of the town fathers is not terrible, it’s a celebration of life. I wish I’d spent more time doing such things when I was young.”

“My too,” Terry interjected with his Australian accent; “Ay’ve enjoyed bein’ an airline pilot, but I shuld have spent more time partying with the locals in all the places I flew. Ya get it in yer ‘ed that you’re a professional, and ya just forget that down inside, you’re also a kid who still wants to have fun. Then you watch it on TV yers laita and regret wat ya’ve missed.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Floyd responded; “a person could get hurt at those wild parties you know. What if you got beat up, or run over, or sent to jail?”

“What if you get cancer, or a heart attack, or a brain aneurism?” Olive argued. “Anything can happen at any time Floyd, you might as well go out having fun.”

Paul, the retired physics professor, was always slow to speak if he spoke at all, but he felt compelled to announce: “most behavior is driven by fear, self-contempt, or love. The first two result in frustration, but if you live life in pursuit of what you love, you’ll love life, even if it presents challenges you might otherwise want to avoid. To some people, the experience of attending a big party like Sturgis is worth whatever it costs, even if it’s a night in jail for partying too much. Who are we to judge? They’ll certainly have better stories to tell their grandkids than us.”

“Aye mate, that’s the guds-honest truth.”

Melody came out of the kitchen carrying plates of breakfast. “That looks terrific, Melody,” Olive piped up, “That’s why we come here instead of eating at the senior facility. Reconstituted eggs and vegan bacon just don’t taste like this.” Everyone agreed. “That stuff tastes like packing material.”

“Did you tell them about our visit to the Bhagwan last night?” Melody asked me.

“Why don’t you tell them?”

“Just a minute,” she said as she returned to the kitchen to get more plates of food.

“How’d you know I wanted ham and poached eggs?” I asked when she got back.

“That’s what we had left over,” she responded as the seniors snickered. “Perfect, thanks.”

“Well,” she addressed the table, “we went to the Bhagwan’s again last night, and he talked about happiness.” She had the attention of the entire table as she recalled the Bhagwan’s session. That started a table discussion on happiness.



One thing about these seniors, I thought to myself, they’re engaged with life. They are not sitting alone feeling sorry for themselves, or focused on negativity. I remembered a neighbor who did nothing but bitch and moan about everything after he retired: his wife, his family, his car, his friends, his appliances, the news, even the neighbors who seemed to be happy. Come to think of it, he especially complained about them. He was basically a good guy, but I got so tired of his moaning, I avoided him in the end. When I met his estranged son at the funeral, he seemed like a very pleasant, decent man – not at all as he had been portrayed by his father.

When my focus drifted back to the conversation at the table, the seniors were taking turns lamenting the things they’d never done. How’d we get to this, I wondered?

“Look, we’re going around in circles on this subject,” Olive said in her authoritative voice, “so let me tell you a story.”

“Oh good,” Floyd whispered, “Another story.”

“One of my co-workers never seemed happy. This was surprising as she’d worked her way up from an executive assistant to being recently promoted to the Western regional manager of our group of insurance adjusters. She made good money and lived in a nice house with her family, so why did she never smile? I asked her that one day at a conference over dinner. We were sitting on the balcony of a beautiful resort in the woods overlooking a lake. We might have had a few drinks.”

“What, you had a drink?” Someone blurted out. Everyone laughed.

“You’d think she’d be wanting to celebrate her promotion; I would! But she never did. So I asked her, ‘Evelyn, what on earth is it going to take to make you happy?’”

“I have a goal, Olive,” she responded. “I won’t be satisfied till I get promoted to being the first female CFO of this company.”

“Well that’s your problem, Evelyn,” I responded. “You’ve decided you can’t be happy till you reach some distant goal. What if you never reach it? You’ll have spent your life being unhappy for nothing. And you’ll probably spend your retirement bitter that the world didn’t bend to your wishes. Most people who can’t be happy unless the world tilts their way are never happy.”

“Oh, that sounds right,” Floyd mumbled. “I never thought of it that way.”

The table broke up in two- and three-way conversations making it impossible to follow any of them. When the din died down, Paul spoke up.

“Here’s how I see it,” he said. “One person compares where they are now with some ideal, and they are unhappy because they haven’t reached it. Another person compares where they are now with where they used to be, and they are happy for the progress they’ve made. These two people may be in exactly the same position in life, yet one is happy and one isn’t.”

“Good point Paul,” Olive piped up, “No matter how good life gets for them, people who are always chasing the horizon will never be satisfied. It’s the people who are grateful for where they are now, how much they’ve learned, and for the support they’ve received along the way who are happy.”

“Exactly, Olive, the difference is that happy people possess an attitude of gratitude,” Paul responded, “and vice versa.”

The same is true of those who get upset by watching the news,” Olive rejoined. “They compare life today with some political ideal, and they get distressed because we aren’t there yet. But if they compared life today with that of their ancestors, they’d be happy for how far things have progressed.”

“Bloody right, mate!” Terry added; “it’s all in ‘ow ya look at leyfe.”

Melody turned my way and whispered, “Isn’t that pretty much what the Bhagwan said?”

I smiled and nodded in agreement.


Header image courtesy of Pexels.com/MART PRODUCTION.

Around the World In 80 Lathes, Part 25

Around the World In 80 Lathes, Part 25

Around the World In 80 Lathes, Part 25

J.I. Agnew

After visiting Denmark over the last couple of episodes (Issue 174 and Issue 173), it is now time to travel to the opposite end of Europe, to the warm south, just in time for the winter.

We will be visiting a rather unlikely destination in the historical timeline of disk recording. Tucked away in the southeastern-most corner of Europe, connected to the rest of the European Union only through a narrow land corridor nowadays (in the past there was no roadway to the rest of the EU), a significant part of which was only recently paved as a normal highway, with war-torn countries all around up until a couple of decades ago, Greece is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. With great weather and fine food, it is the place everybody would want to move to…after retirement! This, sadly, is due to an economic and political climate that has famously been grotesquely hostile to conducting business. It has never been easy to make money in Greece, but if you already have money coming in from elsewhere (in the form of a pension or a large inheritance), it can feel like paradise. Not only are the weather, natural beauty and food culture beyond compare, but the locals are also warm and friendly and the country offers world-class healthcare at truly competitive prices, making it a foremost destination for medical tourism, as well as conventional tourism, in the world.

Back in the early 1900s, when in many of the world’s developed regions at the time, inventors and engineers were frantically setting the foundations for the recording industry, Greece was largely an agrarian state, with small-scale farming conducted with primitive means. Donkeys and oxen were the tractive power of the more fortunate, and bare hands were what got the job done for the peasantry.

In the decades to follow, when every industrialized nation in the world had produced a disk recording lathe, Greece was not among then. Columbia Records set up camp in Greece in 1931, constructing a recording facility and record pressing plant, which they were hoping would give them a foothold in the Middle East as well. However, all the equipment and much of the early workforce were imported. Columbia owned the disk mastering lathes and, for many years, had the sound recording monopoly in the country. Small independent studios did not appear until the 1950s, when my grandfather, Ilias, started what I believe was the first independent recording studio in the country, called Terra. The very first recordings of Vangelis Papathanasiou, Lucas Sideras, and Demis Roussos were conducted there, by my grandfather. The equipment, once again, was all imported.


A beautiful location for a manufacturing facility! All photos courtesy of Agnew Analog Reference Instruments except where noted.

A beautiful location for a manufacturing facility! All photos courtesy of Agnew Analog Reference Instruments except where noted.


Despite being a small country with a population of under nine million at the time, during the golden age of the vinyl record, Greece had no fewer than seven pressing plants operating, although some did not appear to ever exist on paper. It was a lucrative business for some time, but by the 1990s, there were only three plants surviving, the last one closing its doors in early 2000. Since then, and to this day, there are no pressing plants in Greece, despite the global resurgence. Vinyl record sales in Greece are sky-high and the internet age has made it possible for Greek bands to go on tour in a van, something which was not an option when the country was surrounded by war zones. Many Greek artists are now releasing their music on vinyl, alongside digital formats, and some of these releases do very well, both locally and internationally.

However, the manufacturing is always handled abroad.

It is not that there has been no interest in setting up a local manufacturing plant. Quite the contrary. There have been several attempts at starting a record pressing plant in Greece over the past decade, but they always reach the same obstacles: Insane levels of bureaucracy and corruption, extortionate energy costs, gross over-taxation of individuals and businesses, real estate and motor vehicles, and a crippled banking system. While the local market is small, pressing plants are often export-oriented, especially in the European Union, where cross-border trade is supposedly made simple. Greece, however, imposes a special export tax, punishing businesses that bring money into the country. Yes, you have read that correctly, a business based in Greece has to pay a fee for each export, in addition to the normal income tax and of course the duties and customs for all imports.

While things are looking rather grim for building up pressing plants, in recent years we have been witnessing something groundbreaking in the country.

Throughout the entire time from the 1930s to 2000, when pressing plants operated in the country, the mastering facilities were always part of the pressing plants. There were no independent disk mastering facilities in the country. I personally started the very first independent disk mastering facility in Greece in 2014, called Magnetic Fidelity, along with my wife, Sabine. Since then, I have helped others set up disk recording lathes in Greece, creating a small ecosystem of “lathe trolls,” cutting records in various parts of the country. (Most, if not all of the lathe trolls have olive trees and harvest their own olives, including myself.)


J.I. Agnew inspecting a batch of vacuum platters.

J.I. Agnew inspecting a batch of vacuum platters.


In the far south of the country, among ancient castles, stunning beaches and olive groves, a professional olive oil producer decided to follow his dream of cutting his own records, and started a record label and built a cutting room with a vintage Rek-O-Kut lathe with a modified Presto cutter head. Epos Laboratory has been releasing limited editions of lathe-cut records ever since, specializing in ambient electronic music. In his quest for the ultimate sound, Epos Labs has been experimenting with small-scale cutting stylus manufacturing, offering the results to other cutting rooms around the world.


A modified Rek-O-Kut disk recording lathe with a customized Presto 1-DA (the "A" stands for Agnew) cutter head, at Epos Laboratories in the south of Greece. Courtesy of Epos Laboratories, www.eposlab.gr.

A modified Rek-O-Kut disk recording lathe with a customized Presto 1-DA (the “A” stands for Agnew) cutter head, at Epos Laboratories in the south of Greece. Courtesy of Epos Laboratories, www.eposlab.gr.


Microscopic coil winding at Epos Laboratories in southern Greece. Courtesy of Epos Laboratories.

Microscopic coil winding at Epos Laboratories in southern Greece. Courtesy of Epos Laboratories.


It is not only cutting rooms that have begun springing up in Greece. Somewhat belatedly, Greece is now finally home to a manufacturer of disk recording and mastering equipment, which happened when the looming Brexit and the mess that would certainly follow forced me to move the core of my manufacturing operations for Agnew Analog Reference Instruments from England to Greece. The weather is certainly better, and so is the food.

Now based in one of the most picturesque holiday resorts in the north of Greece, our Agnew Analog facility has been supplying most of the world’s record-cutting facilities and pressing plants with lathes, parts, upgrades, and engineering consulting services.


Agnew Analog Stylus Manufacturing Machine, based on the Agnew Analog Reference Instruments Type 607 machine bed.

Agnew Analog Stylus Manufacturing Machine, based on the Agnew Analog Reference Instruments Type 607 machine bed.


Agnew Analog stylus manufacturing machine. A microscope allows the operator to inspect the facets as they are being formed and an indexing head offers rapid, repeatable and accurate setting of the angles for the different facets.

Agnew Analog stylus manufacturing machine. A microscope allows the operator to inspect the facets as they are being formed and an indexing head offers rapid, repeatable and accurate setting of the angles for the different facets.


A disk recording stylus held on an Agnew Analog Type 6019 stylus tool.

A disk recording stylus held on an Agnew Analog Type 6019 stylus tool.


Agnew Analog designs and manufactures lathes, cutter heads and other precision engineering assemblies. I’d like to think I’m simply stating fact, not hyperbole when I note that we have brought a level of engineering and manufacturing to the country that had never previously existed, in a sector where all the equipment had traditionally been imported into Greece from elsewhere. Now, specialized equipment is being exported around the world, greatly supporting the local economy through the purchasing of materials, the creation of new jobs, and enormous tax contributions. With appropriate tax incentives and other legislative reforms, Greece could easily attract related businesses, including record pressing plants, print shops specializing in record sleeves, more cutting rooms, and even specialized manufacturing operations for lacquer master disks, making the jump to a market leader in media manufacturing, while at the same time reducing the, as of now, still rampant unemployment that has been plaguing the country.

Recently, Agnew Analog Reference Instruments has designed and manufactured disk recording stylus manufacturing equipment for a new startup in Athens, Greece, aiming to export much-needed styli, currently in very short supply, all around the world.

The ongoing growth of the vinyl record manufacturing sector, prompted by the increasing demand for the medium, has seen the rapid expansion of business for Agnew Analog. While our lathes are currently proudly handcrafted in Greece, we are serving a significant market in the US and many other countries.


Agnew Analog Reference Instrument Type 6312-F Hydrodynamic oil-bath high-precision bearing unit, for disk mastering lathes.

Agnew Analog Reference Instrument Type 6312-F Hydrodynamic oil-bath high-precision bearing unit, for disk mastering lathes.


Custom machined, heat-treated, non-resonant Agnew Analog drive shafts for direct-drive disk mastering lathes and turntables.

Custom machined, heat-treated, non-resonant Agnew Analog drive shafts for direct-drive disk mastering lathes and turntables.


Agnew Analog Reference Instruments Type 631 direct-drive, floor-standing motor and Type 231 control unit, for disk mastering lathes and turntables.

Agnew Analog Reference Instruments Type 631 direct-drive, floor-standing motor and Type 231 control unit, for disk mastering lathes and turntables.


Agnew Analog Reference Instrument Type 602, a new-generation stereophonic cutterhead for disk recording and mastering systems, pictured above the Agnew Analog Type 6112 vacuum platter, on an Agnew Analog Type 613 disk mastering lathe, driven by an Agnew Analog Series 890 cutting amplifier rack.

Agnew Analog Reference Instrument Type 602, a new-generation stereophonic cutterhead for disk recording and mastering systems, pictured above the Agnew Analog Type 6112 vacuum platter, on an Agnew Analog Type 613 disk mastering lathe, driven by an Agnew Analog Series 890 cutting amplifier rack.


Agnew Analog Reference Instrument Type 6016 Scribing Platform. This is a tool used by mastering engineers to rest their hand while scribing the catalog number, their signature, and possibly even secret messages on the master disk, without touching its fragile surface.

Agnew Analog Reference Instrument Type 6016 Scribing Platform. This is a tool used by mastering engineers to rest their hand while scribing the catalog number, their signature, and possibly even secret messages on the master disk, without touching its fragile surface.


Being of American and Greek ancestry myself, but having spent much of my adult life living and working in England, I can settle and be happy in many places, enjoying the virtues each culture has to offer. Our presence as a business in Greece will remain, but as the business expands further, we are now considering setting up shop in the US as well, expanding our manufacturing operations to the other side of the pond.

Is the world experiencing a return of quality manufacturing on a sustainable scale? This certainly appears to be the case in some specialized sectors. Whether it will catch on to the mainstream remains to be seen. It will certainly require the appropriate conditions to be established, as flowers don’t usually grow out of concrete. But once the soil is prepared, we might start experiencing levels of growth and prosperity such as those that were conductive to the developments during the golden age of high fidelity.

It has been said before that the quality of life in any country is directly linked to the development of its manufacturing sector. I would argue that a far more accurate indication of the quality of life in any particular nation is its audio industry. The countries that are home to world-class recording and mastering studios, high-end audio equipment manufacturers, audio publications, and research programs in audio and acoustics tend to be the countries that have a lot to offer in terms of stability, economic prosperity and overall quality of life.

Despite the great momentum that has been building up in the audio sector, whether Greece will become the Mecca of vinyl or quickly return to audio obscurity, with all the associated consequences for quality of life in the country, remains to be seen. As the media manufacturing sector is currently experiencing rapid growth, many new and established businesses are on the lookout for strategic locations to establish new plants. This has always been a competition among the world’s most developed countries, to establish the conditions that would attract such investment. The popular destinations have a lot to gain. A competent administration would certainly not let such an opportunity go to waste.


Header image: a batch of Agnew Analog vacuum platters for disk mastering lathes. All photos courtesy of Agnew Analog Reference Instruments except where noted.

Back to My Reel-to-Reel Roots, Part 26: Half Full – Not Half Empty, Redux

Back to My Reel-to-Reel Roots, Part 26: Half Full – Not Half Empty, Redux

Back to My Reel-to-Reel Roots, Part 26: Half Full – Not Half Empty, Redux

Ken Kessler

Back to the Future: despite his glass always being half-empty or even cracked and leaking, Ken Kessler finds reasons to be cheerful.

Unlike my ever-optimistic colleague and friend Mikey Fremer, who is convinced that every under-thirty-something craves a high-end turntable, a moving-coil cartridge and a record library exceeding five figures, I despair for the future of hi-fi. Whatever created the perfect storm that completely devalued what we call hi-fi or specialty audio or “the high end” – and I take those to mean systems made up of separates which deliver the best sound possible at the price – the massed forces of stupidity and the champions of lowering standards have succeeded in decimating the hi-fi marketplace. Or is the disappearance of a hi-fi store in every town just my imagination?

These destructive forces are legion: online shopping and the death of brick-and-mortar retail; recent reports of the closure of entire shopping malls in the US – not just individual shops; the inexorable rise of low-fi/all-in-one systems for under $500 with wireless sound throughout the house; streaming and the devaluing of music itself; Steve Jobs’ infamous declaration that hi-fi was dead when he launched a never-to-succeed Apple stereo system; the proliferation of earbuds over decent headphones, let alone speakers; lower educational standards; the decline of quality popular music; ad nauseam.

There are more causes for hi-fi’s possible demise, but I am already too depressed to list them as I write this column on a gloomy Monday morning. As for the specific role of the internet in destroying the appreciation of or demand for both quality music and high-fidelity playback? Those are future topics for a sociologist’s or musicologist’s PhD. The effects of the destructive forces are now permanent, despite the revival of vinyl. But as much as I detest social media for all the right reasons, especially as so much of it has turned into an un-policed, shameful free-for-all for hatred – it is surely Goebbels’s dream come true – I admit to a few glimmers of hope via Instagram.

They arrived in the form of two twenty-something Instagrammers who – joy of joys! – use open-reel tape. One came to my attention via the usual algorithms while the other was a follow-up in reading his Instagram pages after meeting the individual face-to-face at the Tonbridge AudioJumble (see my article in Issue 173). Dealing with the latter first, HiFi David arrived at my table with his dad, and he would ultimately clean me out of 10-inch spools and tapes.

It turns out that UK-based David had acquired a TEAC A-3340S 4-track deck. He was in the process of feeding it fresh tapes, the deck having recently been serviced and his young ears, which probably hear a good 5 kHz – 10 kHz more than mine, told him the sound was better than digital. More than just a tape enthusiast, however, he is a true anachrophile.


An image from HiFi David's Instagram page with the TEAC A-3340S on the upper left. Courtesy of HiFi David.

An image from HiFi David’s Instagram page with the TEAC A-3340S on the upper left. Courtesy of HiFi David.


Although (to paraphrase Dean Martin’s line about Sinatra marrying Mia Farrow) I have wines, tapes, LPs and loads of hardware older than David, he has a taste for vintage gear which belies his years. If you visit him on Instagram at hifi.david, you will see his elation at finding a mint TEAC MC-210 microphone with which to anoint his A-3340S; the successful restoration of an Akai CS-34D cassette deck; a TASCAM 112 Mk II cassette deck to which he beat me at the latest AudioJumble; finding a tonearm lifter for his 1972 Thorens TD160; his mint Quad 33/303/FM3, and other displays of sheer delight in hi-fi.


Quad 33/303 integrated amplifier – Just like David's! From <em>Quad: The Closest Approach</em> by Ken Kessler, courtesy of the author.

Quad 33/303 integrated amplifier – Just like David’s! From Quad: The Closest Approach by Ken Kessler, courtesy of the author.


It is my hope that his enthusiasm infects some of his contemporaries. We need ambassadors like David, not least because he exhibits none of the prejudices, e.g., a psychotic hatred of digital, which have made the world of audiophilia occasionally toxic. He has shown catholic tastes in music – a true sign of maturity – and he seems to be a sponge for knowledge. Best of all, his dad encourages him 100 percent. And that’s a good thing: because David has such a good eye for bargains, he needs someone to help him carry off all the treasures he finds at the AudioJumble.

Another ambassador for the appreciation of quality in both sound and content, whom I have not met, is West Coast-based Geraldine Hi-Fi who posts snappy videos on her Instagram, which is simply geraldine.hifi and which boasts over 75,000 followers. Like David, she is absolutely atypical of Millennials or Gen X/Y/Zers in that her unbridled enthusiasm completely belies the too-cool-for-school mindset which seems to dominate these days. [Note: I am 100 percent certain that I was a complete asshole during my youth; many will argue I still am.]

Geraldine’s system, as revealed by her postings, includes a mint Akai GX77 reel-to-reel, on which, during one clip, she played Claudine Longet’s The Look of Love on A&M. This was amidst playings of the Psychedelic Furs, Depeche Mode, Cyndi Lauper, the Cars, and others which attest to her love for the 1970s and 1980s regardless of the medium. Most revealing of her simpatico psyche is that, among her system’s components, is a TEAC AN-180 noise reduction unit, which she keeps active just because she loves the look of the VU meters. How audiophile is that?!?


KK's TEAC AN-180 noise reduction unit – just like Geraldine's! – below his TEAC AN-80 and Amcron (aka Crown) D-75.

KK’s TEAC AN-180 noise reduction unit – just like Geraldine’s! – below his TEAC AN-80 and Amcron (aka Crown) D-75. Courtesy of Ken Kessler.


On the shelf behind Geraldine? A McIntosh MC240 tube amp, a Heathkit SP-2 tube pre-amp, a Dual CS-5000 turntable with Shure M111HE cartridge, and much more. She collects vintage headphones, knows no bias against formats – she received a haul of cassettes from one follower and delights in CDs as well as LPs – and her postings usually celebrate her finds.

In an online universe where nearly all influencers are arguably unethical, in the sense that they are simply shills for whatever trainer, perfume, track suit, face cream, handbag or other product for which the manufacturer is paying them, it’s genuinely life-affirming to find two like Geraldine and David whose passions do not include pimped Escalades, bling, or other manifestations of the Gospel According to the Kardashians. They’re smart, they’re curious, they’re positive. Bless ‘em.

While I am yet to approach the aforementioned Mikey (now back at The Absolute Sound) for optimism, I should also note that two birthdays ago my thirty-something son asked for a new turntable. I thought I was in a dream state, possibly still asleep. For Christmas, he got fresh copies of Led Zeppelin and Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. Hmmm…maybe he won’t be booking a huge dumpster for my record library when I shuffle off to whatever level of Hell contains hi-fi scribes.

KK NOTE: Music playing at the time of writing is Edmundo Ros and His Orchestra, Show Boat/Porgy & Bess (London LPM 70020, 7.5ips tape) via a TEAC X-3.


Header image: 1960s Quad promotional photo. Courtesy of Ken Kessler, from the book Quad: The Closest Approach.

<em>Modern Adult Kicks</em> With Hayley Cain of Hayley and the Crushers

<em>Modern Adult Kicks</em> With Hayley Cain of Hayley and the Crushers

Modern Adult Kicks With Hayley Cain of Hayley and the Crushers

Andrew Daly

They’ve been described as “poolside glitter punks.” L.A.-turned-Midwest transplants Hayley and the Crushers are flag bearers for an undying punk scene. Veteran rocker Hayley Cain is a champion of self-awareness through music. Her bold, honest, and glamorous take on rock’s most energizing subgenre is as refreshing as it is tried and true.

Unafraid to wear her influences on her sleeve, Cain and her bandmates are dyed-in-the-wool throwbacks, bravely championing punk rock with pop melodies added to the mix. But for Cain, it’s not enough to just light a fire with her guitar; her lyrics in recent years have gained footing, providing deep insight to complement the artist’s up-front soul bellowing.

With retro vibes and the swagger to back it up, Cain and her band, The Crushers, have unleashed a tour de force in badassery with Modern Adult Kicks, supercharging the zeitgeist of its undying cult fanbase with single after grandiose single.

Now able to bask her finest hour, Hayley Cain dug into her past, revealing the origins of her musical chaos, the recording of Modern Adult Kicks…and where she sees herself 20 years from now.

Andrew Daly: What first sparked your interest in music?

Hayley Cain: When I was a little kid living in Hermosa Beach, California, my big sister and I would walk down to the antiques barn and thumb through old records. This was in the late ’90s, but we were always into retro stuff. Finding old Barbies and Supremes records and playing them on my little kid turntable while making up dance moves, as well as listening to the local oldies station, K-EARTH 101, always made me feel joyful and free.

My mom had CDs lying around the condo, too, like The Go-Go’s, Elvis Costello, some new wave, jazz, and even show tunes. It all seemed very fun and very glamorous (laughs) I was the kind of kid who wanted to be an ice skater purely for the sparkly costumes, and I think I was always a little bit of a drag queen and ham. I was waiting for my moment to graduate from singing into a hairbrush to singing into a crowd. (laughs)


AD: What influenced your inner drag queen and ham the most?

HC: As a teenager, I really loved Operation Ivy’s Energy album. That one blew my head off, and I learned many of those songs on guitar, by ear. It was a burned CD I got from a friend, who got it from her older brother. The aliveness in the music and pure urgency set me on fire. I delved into your basic punk – the Ramones, Sex Pistols, Clash – as well as really interesting stuff like James Brown, the Stray Cats, and X, which my guitar teacher turned me onto. I was learning guitar at the same time as I was listening to all this music. I think devouring all of that music all at once influenced me in a very eclectic way.

Early on, I recognized that although each subgenre in punk was a bit different, the basic energy was basically the same. Coming from a childhood hooked on oldies music, I also realized that a lot of the basic pop hooks that I loved from classic radio hits could be sped up and mutated into a whole new monster. I always gravitated towards songs that gave me an earworm and encouraged me to press play again and again on my sh*tty, always-skipping CD Walkman. That is still what I aim to do. I love it when a friend texts me and says, “Damn you. I’ve had your song stuck in my head for three days.”

AD: Can you recall some of your earliest gigs?

HC: I remember seeing Joan Jett at the Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles, California. I was in elementary school. It was a million degrees outside, and she was wearing full-on leather pants. She got the audience to sing The Stooges” “Now I Wanna be Your Dog” at the top of their lungs. The audience was made up of regular everyday people, farmers, and stuff. It really showed me the power a woman can wield on stage. She seemed to be in complete control of her talent, her sex appeal, and her band. More than anything, she created an alternate world outside of this small-town environment. She conjured it all with her songs, sheer will, and her guitar. It truly changed me.

One of the best shows I saw as a teenager was Motörhead at the Wiltern in L.A. My friend and I got front-row VIP passes even though the show was sold out, just because we all dressed so punk rock, but who really knows why the security guard took pity on us? (laughs) There were also backyard shows in places like Wilmington and Southgate that showed me anyone could do it, even if they felt like an outsider. As far as gigs, my first one was with my first-ever band, an all-girl band composed of Redondo Union High School outcasts, and it was at the Teen Center in Redondo Beach. I was so nervous I nearly died. But it felt right. We all played so fast. I wish I had a video of that one.


AD: Describe the evolution of your style to where it is in the present day.

HC: I have always shot for a retro vibe, either by tone, structure, or theme. That has not really changed. But these days, we are looking toward a melding of “modern” and “retro”; I guess that is why this album is called Modern Adult Kicks. Along with (Crushers bassist) Dr. Cain ESQ, we are crafting songs that feel a bit more timeless. At least, that is how we feel about them today. That said, we still draw a ton of our inspiration from ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s music, both underground and radio hits.

For instance, we do a cover of late ’70s Milwaukee power pop band The Shivvers on this record. It’s a deep cut for most people. That’s a pure throwback, and we love to dig back into the bins and do something weirdly delicious like that. But in a song like “I Fall,” which Dr. Cain ESQ and I wrote together, that whole vibe feels modern. It feels like right now. I like the direction we’re going in. One foot in the past, one foot in the future. As pop as we wanna be.

AD: Take me through the formation of The Crushers.

HC: Around 2013, Dr. Cain ESQ and I were in a band called Magazine Dirty, which was a fun, good-time punk and roll band from San Luis Obispo. We opened for so many bigger bands during that time, like FLAG, Jello Biafra, [the] Adolescents, 7 Seconds, you name it. That whole experience was cool, especially since I was in my early 20s and learning about performing and green rooms and what to do and not do on stage. I would occasionally write songs for the band but only played the second guitar. I drank a lot of beer when I played. (laughs) One day, I realized I wanted to be singing the songs I wrote and running the ship, so The Crushers were born.


Hayley and the Crushers. Courtesy of Thomas Ignatius.

Hayley and the Crushers. Courtesy of Thomas Ignatius.


AD: What sort of fears did you have in taking that sort of plunge?

HC: I felt that I could be in a hometown hero band my whole life and open for other bands – or start touring and making a name for myself. I knew that it would be a thing that grew me as a person and that I would probably suck at first, but I won’t lie; I was scared sh*tless. So, I put my name on the band so that I couldn’t back out of it, but it also made me commit to the fact that if people loved us or hated us, I would have to be the one to take responsibility. That is never easy. I stopped drinking before shows and took on a real leadership role. I had to set up the gear and book the shows. I wanted to really grow into my own moment and make a statement. That is what led me to the Crusherverse.

AD: Tell me about the inception of The Crushers’ latest record, Modern Adult Kicks.

HC: [I was] sitting at the bar at a local Elks Lodge somewhere in the Midwest, [and] the TV was playing one of those cheesy easy listening stations. It was called “Modern Adult Hits.” Enough said! OK, I wish I could be that glib, but I will tell you a bit more since you asked. The band went through a lot of tough challenges over 2020 and 2021, like most human beings. It was a hard time for everyone. I had some relationship issues with loved ones that I had to deal with; I questioned my desire to even play music and tour, and with that, I had to grow up and face reality.

Also, over the pandemic Dr. Cain ESQ lost his ability to work. He sold his comic book shop just before the lockdown so we could tour more, and you know how that ended up. And our drummer, Action Ben Cabreana, was injured in a skateboard accident that left him unable to walk or drum. It was so bad that he was just barely able to record the songs he did for this album. It was fitting to go from Vintage Millennial, our fun-loving record that came out in early 2020, to something a bit deeper. Although we still have a lot of fun on Kicks, this record is a grown-up version of the band, and I had to put my big girl pants on to make it.

AD: “Cul de Sac,” “She Drives,” and “Click and Act Now!” have been an incredible trio of singles, and now there’s “Taboo.” Can you give me the rundown about them?


HC: “Cul-de-Sac” is about suburban isolation. It has some wicked cool keys from Paul Roessler. And “Click and Act Now” is about consumer culture and a big wet kiss to our love of ’90s East Bay punk; Dr. Cain ESQ spent about 15 years in the Oakland punk scene. As for “Taboo,” that is about chasing your most wicked desires and has a sort of Pat Benatar vibe. “She Drives” is about the short-lived bliss of running away from your problems, although you could probably never know that and just throw it on your next road trip playlist.

AD: What was the secret sauce to eliciting the special quality you seem to have found with this record?

HC: All of the songs were greatly improved by the creative minds on the Kitten Robot Records team. Thank Lemmy [Kilmister, of Motörhead] for our producer, Paul Roessler, who is from the early L.A. punk band the Screamers, which we will never stop bragging about. And, of course, Mass Giorgini, who mastered everything to perfection. I can’t say enough good things about him; he is a legend in his own right with a dizzying array of credentials that still is unbelievable to me.

But really, these songs were polished and doted over by a really cool family of creatives. And we are grateful that each single has had its own special va-va-voom, as well as its own DIY music video. We owe a lot to Josie Cotton for signing us to her label back in 2021. It was a fateful thing and something that we will never take for granted!


AD: What are some of the themes of this record?

HC: The buzz of Y2K chat rooms, drug addiction, isolation. There’s also a lot of longing. We wrote about real topics. But you can still dance to the songs. (laughs) That’s our way of dealing with life, I suppose. Dance away the pain? I think the album will become more important as we look back at our lives and really see what this left turn really amounted to.

AD: Paint us a picture of the production process. 

HC: The pandemic made it weird for all bands. We recorded half in San Luis Obispo, CA, in our home studio and local studio space, then split our time at Kitten Robot Studios in L.A. Paul Roessler recorded all my vocals with tender loving care and added incredible keys and backing vocals that give me shivers. We used to do most stuff DIY, so this represents a mix of recording philosophies.

We were still able to add our own zany weirdness. For instance, the sound of Dr. Cain ESQ slapping our home office desk made it into “She Drives,” while [we were] still [able to] maintain a new level of professionalism we had never been privy to before. We maintained enough creative control to go wild, but Paul has a way of making everything so integrated and layered. It is a true partnership for the books.

AD: As an independent band, what do you feel you need to do to gain a foothold in a competitive scene?

HC: Jeez. There’s so much work to be done. Too much, really. But generally? Go where the love is. They say you can’t get milk at the hardware store. That’s why we moved from California to the Midwest in 2022. We went where we felt that the Crushers fans really wanted more from us. Not to say we aren’t loved on the West Coast; we are. But there is something nice about being “exotic,” about bringing a dose of sunshine to a place that needs it. Standing out is not a bad thing and something you can only do if you know who you are.

So many bands are afraid to look dumb on stage. Don’t wear sunglasses on stage, ever. That’s a glaring sign that you have no idea who you are or what you’re about. Why shield the audience from the intimacy of knowing you? Go where you feel you are needed. Also, another word of advice that continues to serve me well: It’s not other people’s job to believe in you. That’s your job and yours alone. Once you truly believe in yourself, folks won’t have any other choice but to buy what you’re selling. Make sure you can stand proudly behind the product. If you can’t, that’s OK. Go back to the drawing board and keep working.

AD: Where do you see yourself in five, 10, 20 years?

HC: Five years: touring and writing books with my band and two small rat dogs. 10 years: the co-owner of a Coney dog stand that sells comic books and vintage swimsuits. 20 years: Getting my go-go boots fitted for orthopedic inserts, lounging on my epic tour bus, and continuing to be the weirdest person in my neighborhood.


Header image of Hayley and the Crushers courtesy of Thomas Ignatius.

Lori Lieberman’s Truly Dives Into Jazz (and Audiophile Sound)

Lori Lieberman’s Truly Dives Into Jazz (and Audiophile Sound)

Lori Lieberman’s Truly Dives Into Jazz (and Audiophile Sound)

John Seetoo

In 1971, the critical acclaim and double platinum sales of Joni Mitchell’s Blue sparked a rush from other record labels to sign their own long-tressed, vulnerable-sounding acoustic folk-based singer-songwriters whose self-confessional lyrics would captivate audiences. Artists such as Kate Wolf, Judee Sill, and Karen Dalton would go on to write, record and release quality music, but the only one who wrote a song that would become a hit and repeatedly appeal to subsequent generations of music fans was Lori Lieberman. Her “Killing Me Softly with His Song” from her debut album became perennially associated with her while becoming smash singles for both Roberta Flack and The Fugees decades later.

Lieberman is still writing, recording and performing. After several other releases in the 1970s, she retired to start a family, then she resumed her music career in the 1990s and has continued ever since, releasing music both independently and on V2 Records (a subsidiary of Virgin Records) in the mid-2000s.

Perhaps echoing the exploratory aspects of music like Joni Mitchell, whom she cites as a big influence, Lori Lieberman recorded The Girl and The Cat (2009) with The Matangi Quartet, which contained both original and previous works arranged for voice, piano and string quartet.


With her latest release, Truly, Lori Lieberman embraces a jazz quartet backing, featuring top-notch eclectic musicians:

  • Co-Producer/pianist Matt Rollings (Lyle Lovett, Willie Nelson, Queensrÿche, Mark Knopfler, Alison Krauss)
  • Lyle Workman (hit music soundtrack composer and former lead guitarist for Beck, Sting, and Todd Rundgren – he has also appeared on previous Lieberman albums including Bend Like Steel and Bricks Against The Glass)
  • David Piltch (bassist with k.d. Lang, Bill Frisell, Holly Cole)
  • Victor Indrizzo (drummer with Alanis Morissette, Seal, Lizzo)

To top it off, Truly was engineered in 192 kHz /24-bit and mixed by the legendary Bob Clearmountain, and released in multiple audiophile formats including DSD 256 and Dolby Atmos. It was recorded at Santa Monica, California’s Apogee Studio with Clearmountain using a vintage Neve console and a Neumann U49 tube mic (among others). The live interaction of Lieberman and the musicians collaboratively creating their sound in a single room captures the performance method Lieberman had previously used with her album with The Matangi Quartet.

Here’s a short documentary on the making of Truly:


Truly is a collection of Lieberman originals, and standards from The Great American Songbook, along with a jazzy re-working of “Killing Me Softly” on the 50th anniversary of its first release – a new rendition with a vocal reflective of Lieberman’s life’s experiences after five decades.

The stellar musicianship of the assembled quartet frees Lieberman, herself an accomplished pianist and guitarist, to focus on her vocals as an interpreter of songs outside of her usual realm as a folk/pop singer/songwriter. While she has recorded pop cover songs by Paul Simon, Barry Gibb, and others, Truly showcases Lori Lieberman singing jazz standards, and her transition is a seamless success, much like Seal’s foray into the genre with Standards (2017).

Truly opens with the 1938 Tin Pan Alley Coots/Holiday/Gillespie classic “You Go To My Head,” featuring a captivating piano solo by Rollings (with some subtle organ overdubs in the background), followed by a closing guitar solo by Workman, it showcases Lori Lieberman as a jazz artist with confidence and an underlying sense of fun in her voice, and interpreting the song in a manner to avoid any comparisons to previous recordings of the song made famous by Billie Holiday and others.


Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “It Might As Well Be Spring (C’est le Printemps)” gets the Edith Piaf treatment as Lori Lieberman opts for French lyrics and a breathy, Piaf-like vibrato in her phrasing and sustained notes. The song is featured in the 1945 film State Fair, and won the Academy Award for Best Song. The choice to sing “It Might As Well Be Spring” in French successfully allows Lori Lieberman’s version of the song to stand on its own apart from the Margaret Whiting, Sarah Vaughan, or Nina Simone recordings.

As an interesting side note, this was one of the first songs that composer Richard Rodgers wrote with Oscar Hammerstein after his successful run with lyricist Lorenz Hart. Rodgers’ songs with Hart are notably jazzier with greater emphasis on melody, as he generally wrote the music first and Hart added lyrics afterwards. With Hammerstein, Rodgers most often put pre-written lyrics to music, similar to the way Elton John composes music from Bernie Taupin’s lyrics.

“It Might As Well Be Spring” historically had two different melodies. Historians and musicologists appear to agree that the popular version’s melody was more in the style of Rodgers’ work with Hart. Rodgers’ own memoirs indicate that he and Hammerstein, who had first written the song as an uptempo number, originally disagreed with the film studio’s music director, who preferred a slower ballad style, and Rodgers conceded that in the end, the studio was right that the ballad version was a better fit for the film.

“Moonlight in Vermont” was a 1944 song by John Blackburn and Karl Suessdorf, recorded by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughan, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Smith, and many others. Notable for its unusual lack of rhyme, Lieberman and her quartet stay faithful to the Ella Fitzgerald arrangement, with Lyle Workman taking a guitar solo in place of Louis Armstrong’s trumpet on the original recording.


Frank Sinatra’s 1953 recording of Guy Wood and Robert Mellin’s “My One and Only Love” made the song a jazz standard that was later even recorded by John Coltrane. Sinatra’s version, however, was performed with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra, dating the song and its arrangement firmly in the 1950s. Lieberman’s approach avoids the schmaltziness of Rod Stewart’s version (2005) or the forced earnestness of Sting’s (2020) and relies more on the interaction with pianist Matt Rollings in a mode reminiscent of Tony Bennett’s long connection with pianist Ralph Sharon.

On “Killing Me Softly,” Lieberman intentionally slows the song down and the sparse arrangement adds extra gravitas to her lyrics and her delivery, replacing the innocent vulnerability of her 1972 version with a combination of bittersweet memory, resignation, and an underlying strength and resolve from having been able to move on. This revisiting of her iconic composition is reminiscent of Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now (2000), in which Mitchell reworked her own “Both Sides Now” and “A Case of You” for voice and orchestra with slowed down, contemplative tempos and lower keys to accommodate her dropped vocal register. Coincidentally, Both Sides Now also consists primarily of jazz standards apart from the aforementioned Mitchell compositions.


The title song, Lieberman’s “Truly,” is the album’s standout track, both in terms of the vocal performance and the arrangement, which features an assertive guitar solo by Workman. The song shows a marked departure from her earlier version on Bricks Against The Glass (2013), which is more of an acoustic/ambient arrangement reminiscent of Daniel Lanois’ work with Emmylou Harris on Wrecking Ball. Although Workman’s guitar playing on the earlier version features layers of acoustic guitar amidst the lush reverbs and synth pads, the live jazz version of “Truly” positively sizzles, and Lieberman keeps that approach for her subsequent live shows, as seen in a clip from her recent New York concert.


“Truly” live from The Cutting Room:


“Truly” from Bricks Against The Glass (2013)


Perhaps the one track that does not attain the same high standards of the rest of Truly is Lori Lieberman’s rendition of the Doris Day hit, “Que Sera Sera.” Recorded with piano and overdubbed string sounds in the background, it feels like an attempt to capture the same mood as “It Might As Well Be Spring (C’est le Printemps)” but the cheery banality of the lyrics seemingly contradict the somber mood of the Rollings/Lieberman arrangement.

Since recording her album Ready For the Storm in 2015, Lori Lieberman has worked at the highest-resolution recording standards available. Her recent albums and musical directions have led to a newly-growing fan base within the audiophile community, where other jazz-oriented singers like Patricia Barber, Holly Cole and Jane Monheit are creating wonderful music welcomed by audiophiles and music fans alike. Lori Lieberman’s Truly is definitely another release worth adding to aficionados of great music recorded in exceptional sound.


Header image of Lori Lieberman courtesy of Stefanie Fife.

Analog Recording is Alive and Well: Audio-Technica’s 60th Anniversary Event

Analog Recording is Alive and Well: Audio-Technica’s 60th Anniversary Event

Analog Recording is Alive and Well: Audio-Technica’s 60th Anniversary Event

Tom Methans

On the eve of the 153rd Audio Engineering Society convention in New York City, Audio-Technica threw a 60th anniversary party at a restaurant in Koreatown. [Full disclosure: I do some consulting work for Audio-Technica. (I did not attend the event.) – Ed.] Located on the fifth floor of an office building at 34 West 32nd Street, Turntable LP Bar & Karaoke is a cozy space with a woody interior featuring anju (foods that accompany alcohol). Lining the walls are thousands of records, vintage audio gear, and old-time radios, but this is not a Japanese-style listening bar in which patrons focus on music while quietly sipping on cocktails. Here, people enjoy their chimek (Korean fried chicken paired with beer) late into the night as a DJ plays great background music through a wall of speakers, including a beautiful pair of Tannoy Westminsters, and JBL 4350 Professional Series studio monitors –perfect speakers for the night’s celebration of analog music.

During the cocktail hour, I went to the DJ booth and chatted with Audio-Technica’s Sam Intihar, Product Manager, and Brent Chamberlin, Audio Solutions Specialist, about the company’s history. Founded by Hideo Matsushita in 1962 in Japan, the brand made one of the first affordable high-quality phono cartridges. I suddenly realized how many A-T pieces I’ve owned over the course of my audio life, including turntables, headphones, and cartridges. In fact, it was the affordable and convenient Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB direct-drive turntable that got me back into audio and vinyl after a 10-year pause.

Aside from a few other audio writers, I didn’t recognize any of the faces from the recording and engineering world, so I walked around the room taking pictures of the gear as the industry people hobnobbed. One of the guests asked me to take his photo in front of the vintage JBL studio monitors. Figuring he was just another audio nerd, I didn’t have the wherewithal to ask if he actually used them at some point. Shortly thereafter, the panel was convened and moderated by Justin Colletti, a mastering engineer, front-of-house sound man, and journalist. The panelists were Lenise Bent, Chris Mara, and Jimmy Douglass, the person whose photo I took in front of the JBLs. You might not know their names, but you certainly know their work.


Moderator Justin Colletti (mastering engineer, educator and director of content and publishing at Sonic Scoop) on the mic. Photo courtesy of Harris Fogel.

Moderator Justin Colletti (mastering engineer, educator and director of content and publishing at Sonic Scoop) on the mic. Photo courtesy of Harris Fogel.


Manabu Aoki, Audio-Technica U.S. CEO and president, and Roxanne Ricks, Audio-Technica U.S. artist relations manager and events specialist.

Manabu Aoki, Audio-Technica U.S. CEO and president, and Roxanne Ricks, Audio-Technica U.S. artist relations manager and events specialist. Courtesy of Harris Fogel.


Lenise Bent worked on, get ready, Aja by Steely Dan, Breakfast in America by Supertramp, and Blondie’s AutoAmerican, known for the smash hits “Rapture” and “The Tide is High.” These were just a few of her projects. Growing up in California, she has been in show business since starting as a child actor, but a visit to Leon Russell’s home studio set her on a path of becoming a recording engineer in the days of 1970s tape machines and analog equipment at LA’s Village Recorders (now known as The Village). She’s also an educator and active in post-production sound work in films and television. Until meeting Lenise, I’m not proud to say that I couldn’t name a single female recording engineer, but upon checking out Women in Vinyl and SoundGirls, and Women’s Audio Mission, I know better now. Lenise is downright passionate about original analog pressings of records. When CDs came along, she hit the mother lode as everyone else jettisoned their old albums, me included. To paraphrase Lenise, digital music is just a collection of data that doesn’t capture everything about a physical performance either from the artist or the people in the booth.


Lenise Bent, Gary Boss (Audio-Technica), Justin Colletti, Jimmy Douglass (engineer/producer) and Chris Mara (welcome to 1979 studio).

Lenise Bent, Gary Boss (Audio-Technica), Justin Colletti, Jimmy Douglass (engineer/producer) and Chris Mara (welcome to 1979 studio). Courtesy of Harris Fogel.


Chris Lord-Alge and Barry Rudolph (recording and mixing engineer, record producer, and technical writer, known for his work with Rod Stewart, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Hall and Oates).

Chris Lord-Alge (Bruce Springsteen, Aerosmith, Madonna, Green Day) and Barry Rudolph (recording and mixing engineer, record producer, and technical writer, known for his work with Rod Stewart, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Hall and Oates). Courtesy of Harris Fogel.


Next was Chris Mara of Welcome to 1979 studio in Nashville, Tennessee. Centered around a 1978 MCI JH428 mixing console and an MCI 24-track 2-inch tape machine, this place has been visited by the likes of Pete Townshend, Billy Gibbons, and Steve Earle for recording, mastering, and lacquer-cutting. Welcome to 1979 does so much more than sync files recorded by a singer in London, a guitarist in Los Angeles, and a drummer in New York. The beauty of an analog studio is capturing that natural live sound bands once had as they performed together in the same room. We heard a cut by Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit, who recorded their performance direct-to-lacquer, a method that predates tape. Welcome to 1979 does have non-vintage equipment and Pro Tools Ultimate digital recording software when needed. Chris Mara does not stand on ceremony when it comes to getting the job done right. And in case you want your very own analog tape machine, Chris sells restored MCI Mara Machines from ¼-inch 2-track models all the way up to 2-inch 24-track recorders.

Finally, the man in front of the JBLs, Jimmy Douglass, talked about his experience when he was just starting out at Atlantic Records. He was alone in a studio when Led Zeppelin manager Peter Grant, Atlantic Records head Ahmet Ertegun, and Jimmy Page showed up wanting to go through 10 reels of tape to re-arrange the “Heartbreaker” guitar solo on Led Zeppelin II. Douglass learned from the likes of producer/engineer Tom Dowd and Jerry Wexler and worked with everyone from Led Zeppelin to Jay-Z, AC/DC to Roberta Flack, and the Rolling Stones to Foreigner. Douglass mixed and acted as associate engineer on the first Foreigner record (Foreigner, 1977), and we were treated to “Feels Like the First Time,” a tune I have not heard for decades. The whole room agreed that it felt like the first time. Take a listen to that song. You don’t have to be a Foreigner fan to appreciate their solid yet sophisticated 1970s rock tunes. If you want to gain some of Jimmy’s lifelong wisdom that stretches back to Tom Dowd (who began his career in music in the 1940s), Jimmy offers intensive workshops known as The Hang, out of his Magic Mix Room studio in Miami.

So what is it about the analog process that musicians, engineers, and listeners still adore after all the advancements in audio? Certainly, modern recording and music production wouldn’t be possible without digital audio workstations like Pro Tools and other software, but there’s something special about the sound, soul, process, and provenance of well-worn gear. With so many die-hard analog fans, it’s good to know engineers find inspiration way back into history and want to capture the resonances from other eras. Just imagine working with a 1933-issue RCA 44-BX ribbon microphone or a crooner’s Shure 55 “Fatboy” mic. Luckily, for all of us with tube amps, turntables, and records, it seems like vintage tape machines, mics, and mixing consoles aren’t going anywhere just yet.


Engineer/producer Dave Reitzas (Barbra Streisand, The Weeknd, Josh Groban, Andrea Bocelli, Seal, Stevie Wonder, Guns N’ Roses).

Engineer/producer Dave Reitzas (Barbra Streisand, The Weeknd, Josh Groban, Andrea Bocelli, Seal, Stevie Wonder, Guns N’ Roses).


A good time was had by all.

A good time was had by all. Courtesy of Harris Fogel.


Go ahead, remind yourself of analog’s charms. Pull that 45-year-old record off the shelf – maybe an original copy of Aja or Foreigner – and give it a spin on your turntable. Better yet, see if you can find a copy of Applewood Road (2016) by the female trio Applewood Road, and listen to the acoustic instruments and three-part harmonies recorded at Welcome to 1979 studio with just a single microphone (the Mic Shop MS-47, a recreation of the famous Neumann U-47) directly to 2-track 1/4-inch tape with no overdubs or edits. Treat yourself to the three-dimensionality of the room, the sweet vocal tones, and the refreshingly natural sound. Perhaps the experience is improved by understanding the extra care and work required to make such a recording. Lincoln Grounds, chief engineer at Sugar Ray’s Vintage Recording Studio in Wickford, England, says that their 1950s-era equipment – everything from Ampex tape machines to Altec tube mixers – yields music that is honest and timeless despite all the challenges. Like I said, hearing “Feels Like the First Time” felt like it was the first time. There must be some intangible quality to analog that keeps bringing all of us back.


Header image courtesy of Audio-Technica U.S., Inc.

There’s No Flop in MoPOP

There’s No Flop in MoPOP

There’s No Flop in MoPOP

Stuart Marvin

On a long-ago eighth grade school trip to New York City, my classmates and I watched a beautifully restored 35-millimeter print of Citizen Kane on the big screen. The 1941 Orson Welles classic is the epitome of great storytelling with a wonderful narrative arc. The screening gave us kids a feel for the early days of cinema, when the in-theater experience was still considered quite special, and was a large part of the era’s popular culture.

In stark contrast to the 1940s, pop culture today is far more ephemeral. What’s often considered culturally hip and relevant one day can seemingly become dated the next, with technology often playing a key role influencing consumer interest and behavior. Look no further than the quick tech-driven growth of both eSports and TikTok. A large question to ponder, however, is: how much staying power does anything in pop culture actually have these days?

Thankfully we have institutions like Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture to provide us with some context and perspective. Better known as MoPOP, the museum celebrates contemporary popular culture, its related memorabilia, and the communities that it binds. MoPOP is part museum, part performance space, part art gallery, part learning space and part interactive playground, wrapped in a Frank Gehry-designed building in the shadow of the city’s famed Space Needle.

Launched in 2000 as Experience Music Project (EMP), MoPOP is the brainchild of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. The original vision was to create a museum dedicated to guitarist and Seattle icon Jimi Hendrix, featuring the late Allen’s personal collection of Hendrix memorabilia. That vision was broadened to include a range of musical genres once the museum ultimately launched.

The MoPOP logo. Courtesy of the Museum of Pop Culture.

The MoPOP logo. Courtesy of the Museum of Pop Culture.


From EMP’s earliest beginnings, however, there was confusion as to what the museum was or should be, and some of that confusion still remains today. With such a strong initial focus on Pacific Northwest music and live concert events, featuring top shelf artists like Metallica, Dr. Dre, Kid Rock, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Eminem, perception of the museum among many is still inextricably linked to its earliest incarnation, even six years after its rebranding to MoPOP.

When announcing the 2016 rebranding effort, founder Paul Allen had this to say: “The new name (MoPOP) captures the evolution of the wide set of experiences the museum has come to offer.” Music continues to be an integral part of MoPOP’s overall presentation, as it should, but today the museum has expanded widely into other areas of contemporary popular culture.

A presumably large challenge for the folks at MoPOP is deciding what aspects of pop culture to exhibit. Contemporary pop culture is manifested today in so many different forms, including music, film, television, video games, social media, sports, entertainment, fashion, cuisine, art and technology; the options for consideration are quite rich and plentiful. The internal discussions at MoPOP about “what we should do next” are likely full of debate and varying opinions.

Another challenge, of course, is presenting exhibits that are of interest to both enthusiasts and non-enthusiasts. Not everyone has an appetite for video games, science fiction or viewing walls of guitars once played by the likes of Howlin’ Wolf, Stevie Ray Vaughan or Jimi Hendrix. A goal is to create a balanced, yet broad enough, range of exhibits to satiate the needs and wants of the many. Ticket pricing to MoPOP, although hardly inexpensive, is on par with many of today’s leading museums, with single-ticket admission ranging from $25.00 – $30.00, varying by time of day and advance purchase.

The good news is I found lots of interesting stuff to see and experience at MoPOP.

—For fans of James Marshall Hendrix, there are several important artifacts, including an original 1969 soundboard (mixing console) from Electric Lady Studios, the recording studio Hendrix commissioned and built in NYC. The Electric Lady soundboard was manufactured by the Datamix Corporation and designed by architect John Storyk, sound engineer Eddie Kramer, and Hendrix. Originally designed for 24 tracks, the board was subsequently upgraded to 30 tracks at Hendrix’s behest.


The soundboard used at Electric Lady Studios. From the MoPOP permanent collection.

The soundboard used at Electric Lady Studios. From the MoPOP permanent collection.


The late 1960s was an important period of creative development for Hendrix, who was heavily into in-studio experimentation and multitracking, as best demonstrated with the release of the LP Electric Ladyland in 1968. No doubt Hendrix’s experimentation with that album fueled a desire for even more, as his request to expand the soundboard to 30 tracks would suggest. Had Hendrix not passed in 1970, his work with multitracking and sound effects would have continued in earnest, with this soundboard likely playing a prominent role.

Two songs Hendrix recorded on the Electric Lady board include “Dolly Dagger” and “Night Bird Flying,” from the LP’s Rainbow Bridge and The Cry of Love, respectively.

—Also showcased in the exhibit Wild Blue Angel: Hendrix Abroad, 1966 – 1970 is arguably one of the most famous guitars ever made, the white Fender Stratocaster (serial number 240981) that Hendrix played in 1969 at Woodstock. Paul Allen allegedly purchased the Strat for $2 million in 1993.


The iconic Fender Stratocaster that Jimi Hendrix used at Woodstock. From the MoPOP permanent collection.

The iconic Fender Stratocaster that Jimi Hendrix used at Woodstock. From the MoPOP permanent collection.


—Illustrative of how MoPOP has expanded further into the realm of pop culture is the exhibit Ruth E. Carter: Afrofuturism in Costume Design. Ms. Carter won the 2019 Academy Award for best costume design for Marvel Studios’ film Black Panther. She is the first African-American to receive such an honor. Other films Carter spearheaded with costume design include Malcolm XSelma, and Do the Right Thing.

In an expansive three-decade career in theater, film and TV, Ruth Carter has established herself as a unique force in costume design. Inspired by African tribal wear, Carter combines tradition with a modern-day aesthetic, to design imaginative costumes that help to create and define a film’s image. This exhibit thoughtfully illustrates Carter’s creative process with costume design, from the early conceptual stages to full creation.


The Ruth E. Carter: Afrofuturism in Costume Design exhibit. Courtesy of the Museum of Pop Culture.

The Ruth E. Carter: Afrofuturism in Costume Design exhibit. Courtesy of the Museum of Pop Culture.


—The exhibit Infinite Worlds of Science Fiction has over 150 artifacts from iconic films and television shows, including Star Trek, H.G. Wells’ War of the WorldsMen in BlackBlade Runner, and many more. Artifacts in the the exhibit include a T-800 metal endoskeleton prop used in Terminator 2, a life-sized model of the alien creature from the movie Alien, and a switchboard used to electrify Frankenstein in the 1935 film Bride of Frankenstein, starring Boris Karloff.

Infinite Worlds, appropriately, is a tad creepy and covers a wide array of sci-fi culture. Any young child who unwittingly wanders into this exhibit will more than likely be sleeping with a night light that evening.


The Infinite Worlds of Science Fiction exhibit. Courtesy of the Museum of Pop Culture.

The Infinite Worlds of Science Fiction exhibit. Courtesy of the Museum of Pop Culture.


—Sky Church is the museum’s multipurpose performance space that accommodates 700 patrons standing or 200 seated. Sky Church features one of the world’s largest LED screens, a curved high-definition Barco C7 that’s 60 by 33 feet, spanning the entire width of the event space. The screen resolution is mesmerizing, with the relatively small space perfect for both entertainment and live concert events.

—Another MoPOP staple is the museum’s interactive Sound Lab. Visitors to the Sound Lab can play and experiment firsthand with electric guitars, drums, samplers, mixing consoles and other equipment, regardless of one’s skill set.

–MoPOP also has a Youth Advisory Board. The advisory board, compromised of teens 13 – 18, is often used as a sounding board on exhibit selection and curation. Marginally older and musically inclined young adults are encouraged to participate in an under-21 musical showcase called “Sound Off!” Participating musicians get to perform live in the museum’s Sky Church, hone their craft and network with other young, like-minded musicians.

Like many buildings designed by architect Frank Gehry, including the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, natural and artificial light plays an important role in the building’s visual aesthetic. Both of those buildings feature a deeply-curved silver metallic exterior that reflects light differently by time of day. The Bilbao museum, for example, is sheathed in 33,000 ultra-thin sheets of titanium. The exterior of MoPOP, on the other hand, is multi-colored and doesn’t quite provide a similar aesthetic. One early patron summed up the museum’s multihued exterior this way: “it looks like the Partridge family bus crashed,” while another described it as “crayons in a Cuisinart.”

Beauty indeed is in the eye of the beholder.

With MoPOP’s curved walls and ceilings, dealing with sound was an obvious and early concern, especially for a museum where music is such a key focal point. Acoustician Mark Holden summarized the museum’s initial approach to sound mitigation this way: “We had to look at every surface and every material and decide how it would react to sound, and then fine-tune it. We’re talking about a building with 140,000 square feet that’s full of troublesome walls and ceilings.” Sound absorption was used in abundance on the walls, floors and ceilings, including acoustic batting and a stick-on linoleum type treatment for the museum’s metal panels.

Even prior to COVID, many museums across the country were experiencing significant declines in visitation. COVID subsequently led to many closures, and MoPOP was hardly immune to either problem. However, a fairly robust Seattle tourist season this summer has helped MoPOP rekindle some of its lost mojo.

Jody Allen, MoPOP founding director and board chair, summed up the museum’s importance this way: “Creative expression is humanity’s greatest salve. Its amazing power – one that lives inside in all of us – is one reason my brother Paul and I started MoPOP more than twenty years ago. We all need beacons of creativity in this world.”

Wise words, indeed.

If you’re planning a visit to Seattle, MoPOP is definitely worth a look-see.


Header image: the Museum of Popular Culture, courtesy of the Museum of Pop Culture.

New Classical Recordings: Igor Levit's Tristan, and Beethoven for Three from Ax, Kavakos and Ma

New Classical Recordings: Igor Levit's Tristan, and Beethoven for Three from Ax, Kavakos and Ma

New Classical Recordings: Igor Levit's Tristan, and Beethoven for Three from Ax, Kavakos and Ma

Tim Riley

Igor Levit – Tristan (Sony, 2022)

Emanuel Ax, Leonidas Kavakos, Yo-Yo Ma – Beethoven for Three, Symphonies Nos. 2 and 5 (Sony, 2022) 19439940142


Igor Levit, Tristan, album cover.

Igor Levit, Tristan, album cover.


Even as they survey the widest solo repertoire of all, pianists are always stealing material written for others. They’re not happy with their two bravura Brahms concertos that work both as virtuoso showpieces and on a symphonic scale; they want to play the Brahms Violin Concerto in transcription and pretend they can hold a note as beautifully as any fiddler (pianist Dejan Lazic dared to record his version as “Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 3” (!) after Violin Concerto, Op. 77). Franz Liszt turned all of Beethoven’s symphonies into two- and four-hand piano transcriptions for the sheer joy of playing this music as recreation. As pianos became a piece of furniture throughout the 19th century, before radio and television, it signaled both educated status and a familial orientation.

Igor Levit, the gifted Russian-German pianist who delighted his audience with live Twitter house-concerts during the Covid pandemic back in March of 2020, devotes his latest recording to orchestral transcriptions, including the famous Prelude to Act I of Richard Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, and the Adagio from Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 10 (arranged by Ronald Stevenson). These count as unusually ambitious selections even from this unusually ambitious pianist, centered around a new work, Hans Werner-Henze’s fantasy on Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, for orchestra and tape. (Henze’s passionately allusive piece includes an Ivesian interruption with Brahms’s First Symphony, accompanied by birds.) Levit bookends all this with glittering Franz Liszt displays (Liebestraum No. 3 in A-Flat Major, S. 541/3, and the 11th “Harmonies du soir” from Études d’exécution transcendante, S 139). Liszt, of course, ranks as the virtuoso’s best friend, and patron saint of the pianist as vampire.

The Tristan Prelude, arranged by the great Hungarian pianist and composer Zoltán Kocsis (1952 – 2016), accomplishes what most transcribers chase: to give the pianist more mountains to climb, and make you hear this most gargantuan music in miniature. Reducing such exuberant orchestration into 10 fingers on a piano, you listen to Wagner less as an orchestrator and colorist than as a mood-meister; the music’s effects rely less on timbre than voicing. Levit has superior control for this, and although pianos simply don’t sustain sounds as well as wind instruments, the spareness on this recording reveals an underlying fragility, and a new layer of self-consciousness.


In Levit’s version, the composer’s struggle itself gets laid bare, Wagner’s reach falling short of his grasp in the most expressive manner. The harmonies, which at the time sounded so radical that Wagner “broke tonality’s back” (in the music theorist’s maxim), have bloomed into Romanticism’s own dilemma, the very ineffability of putting emotions into sound. The playing is so spartan, so detailed, you almost wish Levit would release a draft without any pedaling, just to hear that much more closely how much coloration depends on the fog of sustain.

Pairing this with Mahler’s Tenth Symphony doubles down on the pianist’s commitment to transcription as a genre. In his youth, of course, Mahler was a stone Wagnerite, and turned into one of this composer’s greatest conductors. He internalized that music of his youth beyond anything he could articulate, and by his Tenth Symphony, he sketched an unfinished world of post-mortal anguish.

Leave this CD on, and Tristan flows straight into the Mahler, delivering both a new frame and an odd sense of historical continuation. Mahler’s groping melody lurches from starting point to starting point until it lands on a ghostly dance. The intense frailty of life here assumes an intimate scale. Orchestrators and composers disdain piano reductions for ignoring the richer colors a ripened viola section brings this material. But imagine what Mahler himself heard, playing this music alone at his piano, before he started to orchestrating.

As the most famous conductor-composer of his era, forced to convert to Catholicism in order to take over the Vienna State Opera in 1897, Mahler’s Jewish Bohemian roots preoccupied his imagination. Like Shostakovich, Mahler turned his public dilemma into a subject: how to appease a state apparatus that could never appreciate the subtleties of his music, and therefore forced a belief system on its composer who was busy discovering and exploring a radical crisis of belief through his scores?

Listen to your favorite recording of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, and you hear a searing finality, a farewell to the Viennese symphonic tradition, and perhaps the world itself, that sounds so overwhelming that mere applause feels like the meekest possible response. Even on the early recordings by Mahler’s apprentice Bruno Walter, you sense musicians struggling with Mahler’s profundities: a summary of both a life in music and a life spent answering Wagner in non-operatic, non-programmatic music (as a finale), that expresses Europe’s better idea of itself. His Ninth Symphony lurches between elegant and tumultuous, fiercely proud and climactically neurotic, sitting on “top” of world history even as that (Western, white-privileged, aristocratic) history, and then colonialism itself, began to unravel. Leonard Bernstein was fond of saying Mahler foresaw the horrors of the 20th century, that he was lucky to sense Germany’s fate as prophecy instead of reality.

Mahler himself felt so anxious about composing a Ninth Symphony in the shadow of Beethoven that he didn’t even call it his Ninth: he chose a programmatic title, Das Lied von der Erde, a set of songs, before penning the “symphony” that we now call his “Ninth.” So his Tenth symphony posed a unique question: what to say after you say farewell? How to start over once you’ve tried to summarize an entire Viennese tradition?


Mahler starts by addressing listeners from some great beyond, a melody finding its voice, slipping in and out of itself as if taunting gravity. After about twenty minutes in, it builds to a climactic crisis, with shrieking trills and huge, bombastic chords, the kind that don’t even seek resolution. After exasperation, emptiness, and abandonment, things return to the main theme only as false consolation. This thinning solace can’t quite achieve sincerity; it may not provide much comfort, but it’s all Mahler has. Nothingness cannot find peace, it’s probably not even looking for it. You sense the composer’s breath struggling, wondering how and where the next subject might come, and if it doesn’t, how to express that inevitability.

It all thins out to single notes, proclaiming an outline of melody in slow motion, harking back to the full drama from the opening strains in a naked, apologetic farewell. Here, the piano sounds fall away so quickly you can’t help but hear an orchestra chiming in through your imagination; the sounds call for something more than hammer on strings. And that final chord seems gratuitous, self-mocking, a door shut in defeat.

When a piano’s hammer hits its strings, the sound begins to decay immediately; the effects Wagner and Mahler sought from strings and winds veer in the opposite direction, which makes these piano renditions intriguing, almost as if you’re hearing a negative image of the music, a way of seeing the notes from behind, or hearing through a peephole of a parallel universe.

The other shift occurs as Levit personalizes a music meant for an ensemble. What a group of musicians does with these scores gets shaped and massaged by a conductor, but the collective enterprise soars above any single individual. As Levit plays these notes, you hear one person’s will, as if a collective spirit could get channeled through one man’s hands. (Imagine each individual orchestral player pulling a string to control one pianist’s finger.)

Mahler doesn’t make more sense heard this way, but the music falls into a huge relief; its ambitions suddenly manifest on a different scale, its ineffability glimpsed if only for a moment as if it could find containment.


Emanual Ax, Leonidas Kavakos, and Yo-Yo Ma, Beethoven for Three, album cover.

Emanual Ax, Leonidas Kavakos, and Yo-Yo Ma, Beethoven for Three, album cover.


Another example of how arrangements warp familiar symphonic repertoire gets a scrimmage from a superstar trio: Emanual Ax, Leonidas Kavakos, and Yo-Yo Ma. In 2017, this troupe turned in a fine set of the Brahms Piano Trios, with thick vibrato and sweeping dramatic gestures that gave this chamber music symphonic proportions. Of course, it had polish to spare and at some points sounded effortless, which was part of the point: three virtuosos breezing their way through Olympian hurdles. But overall, it seized such bravura and daring it counted as irresistible.

This new recording shrinks two Beethoven symphonies down to three parts, crystallizing larger flourishes into compact gestures. Groups like the Beaux Arts Trio or the Emerson String Quartet spend decades working on their blend, so when celebrity soloists take on this repertoire there’s some arrogance involved: “We can flat-out play the stuff you devote your careers to on command,” they seem to say, “and look, we sell more!”

But some of these superstar ensembles can teach you about the music’s challenges even when they don’t secure the same ensemble peaks. It’s like watching Shakespeare with a celebrity starring as Hamlet: how does the material itself play against fame?

Here, conductors and composers carry more weight: nobody would choose a piano trio rendition of Beethoven’s Fifth over, say, that new cycle from Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. But in this era, why choose? Play them back-to-back and I dare you not to find fascinating choices; odd silences erupt, tempos that seemed firm suddenly wiggle free, and spontaneity takes over. You can’t help but admire the paces Beethoven puts any player through, in small groups or larger, and how well the music speaks through any context.

Violinist Leonidas Kavakos seems to get more from Ax and Ma than so much of their earlier sonata recordings, a spur of sound that makes even this small form gallop. In the Second Symphony, this most underrated Beethoven explores all characteristics of great Beethoven before his greatness acquired quotation marks. The Fifth bears many surprises; when listening to it on three instruments a different layer of tension takes shape: not merely in the opening gesture, played here like pulling a ripcord, and then chasing all the notes downward, with a roomy, elastic feel, as though unwinding at its own steam. There’s a lot less violin and cello vibrato here too to better frame Beethoven’s elemental candor.


The Fifth’s slow movement (“Andante con moto”) translates anywhere; you could play it on an accordion and accordion-haters would love it – even on social media. These two string players bite down into their parts like orchestral players cut loose from rote ensemble. The quiet sections have more intrigue, the louder parts don’t have the same heft, but in the relative context, they carry a similar weight. Overshadowed by its more famous opening Allegro, this movement counts as more underrated than even the Second Symphony. These players also have another Beethoven disc on the way: Symphony No. 6, the “Pastoral.”

Of course, a pianist’s ears have innate bias, these translations don’t work for everybody, and they can’t possibly replace their full orchestrations. But sometimes familiar music casts different shadows when heard from a completely different orientation, like using a favorite painting as a screensaver. You don’t mistake it for the real thing, but it can help you appreciate why the real thing never fit onto a small screen in the first place.


Header image: Igor Levit, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Feast of Music.

The New York Audio Show 2022, Part Three

The New York Audio Show 2022, Part Three

The New York Audio Show 2022, Part Three

Harris Fogel

Previous installments of our New York Audio Show 2022 reporting appeared in Issue 174 and Issue 172.

The folks from TreeHaus Audiolab were exhibiting one of the audio world’s most instantly identifiable speaker designs, essentially a beautifully-finished live-edge slab of black walnut wood with open-backed speakers mounted on them, including a field-coil midrange driver. Treehaus also created the vacuum-tube electronics, featuring complimentary wood enclosures. and the room was constantly busy with visitors.

Open-backed speakers were in evidence elsewhere at the show. After all these years of folks perfecting carefully-calibrated and tuned enclosures and ports, it’s interesting to see something of a shift to open-backed enclosure-less designs (planar magnetics and electrostats from companies like Magnepan and MartinLogan notwithstanding). One listener joked, “maybe the prices of the speakers will go down, now that three quarters of the box is missing,” He and I speculated about the inevitable marketing of “Audiophile Air” for the rears of open-backed speakers, to insure optimum sonics, perhaps in conjunction with John Darko’s hilarious “Houseplants for Audiophiles” video.


The Micro Seiki BL-91 turntable, Fidelity Research FR64S tonearm, custom platter and DaVa Field Coil MC cartridge in the TreeHaus Audiolab room.

The Micro Seiki BL-91 turntable, Fidelity Research FR64S tonearm, custom platter and DaVa Field Coil MC cartridge in the TreeHaus Audiolab room.


The Finemet moving-coil cartridge step-up transformer in the TreeHaus Audiolab room.

The Finemet moving-coil cartridge step-up transformer in the TreeHaus Audiolab room.


One of the drivers in the TreeHaus Phantom of Luxury loudspeaker.

One of the drivers in the TreeHaus Phantom of Luxury loudspeaker.


New York audio dealer HiFi Loft had two rooms, one featuring Luxman, Harbeth Audio loudspeakers, and products from Antal Audio Group and Fidelis. The other showcased Triangle Magellan Cello 40th Anniversary loudspeakers, Electrocompaniet electronics, Soulines turntables, and Nordost cables and accessories. I thought both rooms sounded excellent.

Haniwa Audio exhibited its fascinating 20-20 SuperWoofer System ($22,000). The speakers, which I kept mistakenly thinking of as horns, were actually single-driver dynamic designs on pole-type stands. The system, sounded excellent, with precise placement of instruments and vocals, though as the volume got really loud a hard edge crept into the sound (but for that to happen, it had to be pretty loud). The system features dedicated electronics, including phono equalization and digital processing in the effort to achieve optimal frequency and impulse response.


John Pravel of Luxman America shows off their gorgeous new PD-151 Mark II turntable.

John Pravel of Luxman America shows off their gorgeous new PD-151 Mark II turntable.


Amy Hansen of Nordost made sure their cables were happily at home in the Luxman room.

Amy Hansen of Nordost made sure their cables were happily at home in the Luxman room.


The Linear Tube Audio room featuring the Z40+ integrated amp, Spatial Audio Lab X4 open-baffle loudspeakers, LampizatOr Baltic 3 DAC, Innuos ZENith Mk3 streamer and various ANTICABLES.

The Linear Tube Audio room featuring the Z40+ integrated amp, Spatial Audio Lab X4 open-baffle loudspeakers, LampizatOr Baltic 3 DAC, Innuos ZENith Mk3 streamer and various ANTICABLES.


Bache Audio (speakers), Alexus Audio (vacuum-tube electronics), and DS Audio (phono cartridges and accessories) shared a room that was filled with music and good times. A few doors down, New Jersey dealer Verdant Audio featured the 3zero speakers from Wilson Benesch, the Playback Designs MPD-6 Edelweiss DAC with Stream X2 Module ($18,000 as exhibited), an Art Audio Conductor Simply 2 preamp ($8,495) and Opus 4 monoblock amps ($16,499/pair), and an Antipodes Audio K50 music server ($17,500). I found the Wilson Benesch 3zero loudspeakers ($33,400 per pair) to be of great interest. The smallish speakers featured downward-, dual front-firing, and open-backed rear-firing drivers and their sound enveloped the room, providing that often-spoken-about but hard-to-achieve three-dimensional soundstage.

Taking the stairs up one flight took us to the always-popular Triode Wire Labs (cables) room, complete with Volti Audio Razz-LE horn loudspeakers ($6,500/pair) and a Border Patrol DAC S/SE-i DAC ($1,525 – $1,995) and P21EXD amplifier ($18,000 as configured). While I spent some time there and got to enjoy some exceptional sound, it was always crowded and one the rooms I’d hoped to return to, but ran out of time.

One of the most talked-about rooms at the show featured Pure Audio Project open-baffle speakers, Pass Labs, a Denafrips DAC, and a VPI Scout turntable equipped with a VPI Shirley Moving Magnet Cartridge. This was my colleague Frankie Schramm’s favorite room, especially since Pure Audio Project’s Ze’Ev Schlik was delighted to play whatever hardcore rap he requested (including (“U.G.K,” a track from F1lthy and Lucki from their album Wake Up Lucki). Another popular room featured the LTA (Linear Tube Audio) Z40+ integrated amplifier ($7,650), Spatial Audio Lab X4 speakers ($7,950 – $8,500/pair), LampizatOr Baltic 3 DAC ($6,600), an Innuos ZENith Mk3 music streamer ($4,699), and Anticables. As my photos show, it was also one of the more packed rooms.

The presence of LampizatOr can’t be denied. The first time I saw and heard one of their DACs was at Capitol Audio Fest, and we quickly became aware that many of the best rooms had a LampizatOr DAC or electronics in the system. Accordingly, they made a presence at AXPONA and in New York as well, and there were plaudits all around whenever LampizatOr came up for discussion. Of course, in an audio show, you can’t actually compare components; everything is wired up and ready to go, and swapping cables and components isn’t possible. (Fortunately, there are still value-added retailers who can do just that for customers.) I think it’s difficult or impossible in a show setting to ascertain what components are doing what, with the exception of loudspeakers. As the last link in the reproduction chain, they make their sonic signature immediately apparent.

Mac Edition Radio contributing writer Frank Schramm attended one day, and the next day I accompanied his college-aged son Frankie to the show, who was suitably impressed, although it highlighted the fact that two areas of audio were not represented, namely headphones and budget audio. In order to make sure that audio shows don’t become the exclusive province of the gray hairs, no matter how stunningly attractive their beards might be, intro and budget-level gear as well as headphones should be in the mix. As evidenced by the runaway success of the various CanJam shows, and the younger, passionate demographic they attract, I think it’s worth considering adding a headphones area for next year’s iteration of the show.

All in all, Frank, Frankie, and myself all found the New York Audio Show 2022 to be a fun, relaxed, educational, and easy-to-enjoy event. Not too large, not too packed, and as Goldilocks might conclude, just right.

Here are more photos from the show.


Robert Bean of Haniwa Audio.

Robert Bean of Haniwa Audio.


An Alexus Audio 300B-based power amplifier.

An Alexus Audio 300B-based power amplifier.


Maybe it’s true that shiny and new is the path toward audio nirvana: the Verdant Audio room featured the Wilson Benesch Discovery 3Zero loudspeakers ($33,400/pair), Playback Designs MPD-6 with Stream X2 module ($15,000), Antipodes K50 server ($17,500), and Art Audio Opus 4 mono amplifiers ($16,499/pair).

Maybe it’s true that shiny and new is the path toward audio nirvana: the Verdant Audio room featured the Wilson Benesch Discovery 3Zero loudspeakers ($33,400/pair, not shown), Playback Designs MPD-6 with Stream X2 module ($15,000), Antipodes K50 server ($17,500), and Art Audio Opus 4 mono amplifiers ($16,499/pair).


Ze’ev Schlik of Pure Audio Project loudspeakers.

Ze’ev Schlik of Pure Audio Project loudspeakers.


Frankie Schramm grooving to the tunes in the Pure Audio Project room. After hearing “U.G.K,” a track from Lucki/F1lthy, Frankie decided this was one of his favorite systems.

Frankie Schramm grooving to the tunes in the Pure Audio Project room. After hearing “U.G.K,” a track from Lucki/F1lthy, Frankie decided this was one of his favorite systems.


Rich Pinto of TreeHaus Audiolab.

Rich Pinto of TreeHaus Audiolab.


Maximo Pichardo of speaker driver manufacturer Beyma America had the snazziest hat at the show, along with a variety of components.

Maximo Pichardo of speaker driver manufacturer Beyma America had the snazziest hat at the show, along with a variety of components.


Nicholson Tolson of Linear Tube Audio with the Z40+ integrated amp.

Nicholson Tolson of Linear Tube Audio with the Z40+ integrated amp.


Harry and Mat Weisfeld of VPI Industries, makers of turntables, tonearms, cartridges and accessories.

Harry and Mat Weisfeld of VPI Industries, makers of turntables, tonearms, cartridges and accessories.


Lucca and David Chesky of Chesky Records, The Audiophile Society, and HDtracks.

Lucca and David Chesky of Chesky Records, The Audiophile Society, and HDtracks.


Lydia and Greg Takesh of speaker manufacturer GT Audio Works.

Lydia and Greg Takesh of speaker manufacturer GT Audio Works.


Header image: the DaVa field coil cartridge.

All photos courtesy of Harris Fogel.

Saxophonist Stanley Turrentine: Soulful Jazz

Saxophonist Stanley Turrentine: Soulful Jazz

Saxophonist Stanley Turrentine: Soulful Jazz

Anne E. Johnson

They called him “Mr. T” and “Sugar Man.” Stanley Turrentine was a tenor saxophonist whose greatest inspiration came from two of the best jazz organists of the 20th century, responding to the organ’s rich, complex sound with a horn tone just as luscious and earthy.

Turrentine, born in 1934, grew up in a Pittsburgh family full of musicians. His father played saxophone, his mother stride piano, and his brother Tommy had a successful career as a trumpeter. By age 12, Turrentine already played well enough for Illinois Jacquet to invite him to sit in with his band. He had toured with blues master Lowell Fulson and had replaced John Coltrane in Earl Bostic’s R&B band before he was 20. After a few years in the Army, he got a job playing with Max Roach.

Jazz organ came into Turrentine’s life when he met Shirley Scott, whom he married in 1960. The couple made many records together. Among their close friends was another innovative organist, Jimmy Smith (I wrote about him in Copper Issue 119), who also collaborated on albums with Turrentine. The combination of soul organ and bluesy saxophone blossomed into a crossover sound that appealed to audiences who preferred pop to jazz.

In a way, Turrentine had two stellar careers – one in pure jazz and one in jazz/soul fusion. Not everyone in the jazz world was sanguine about his success outside their scene, but he kept getting hired to play with the best jazz musicians. After all, he was one of them. He died in 2000 at the age of 66.

Enjoy these eight great tracks by Stanley Turrentine.

  1. Track: “Light Blue”
    Album: That’s Where It’s At
    Label: Blue Note
    Year: 1962

In 1960 Turrentine signed to play lead on jazz records for Blue Note. That’s Where It’s At is an album he made with pianist Les McCann. The quartet is filled out with Herbie Lewis on bass and Otis Finch on drums. Finch was a member of Shirley Scott’s band at the time.

Although most of the tunes are composed by McCann, “Light Blue” is by Turrentine’s older brother, hard-bop trumpeter Tommy Turrentine, who usually worked with Max Roach. This track is a typical example of Turrentine’s warm saxophone sound and his malleable phrasing.


  1. Track: “A Kettle of Fish”
    Album: Joyride
    Label: Blue Note
  2. Year: 1965

Even within jazz, Turrentine was comfortable in several different styles. On Joyride he demonstrates his generosity as a player in a large ensemble. It’s a big-band album with arrangements by Oliver Nelson, whose cachet had gone up significantly in 1961 with his groundbreaking record The Blues and the Abstract Truth.

Nelson designed the arrangements for quintet plus orchestra. Turrentine was the quintet’s sax player; the others were Herbie Hancock (piano), Kenny Burrell (guitar), Bob Cranshaw (bass), and Grady Tate (drums). “A Kettle of Fish” didn’t make it onto the original LP but was added on the CD release years later. It’s interesting to hear the different energy Turrentine displays here, much more focused and intense than his bear-hug of a sound on That’s Where It’s At.


  1. Track: “The Magilla”
    Album: The Spoiler
    Label: Blue Note
    Year: 1966

In the space between big band and small group, The Spoiler finds Turrentine leading a nine-piece band, heavy on the horns. The other saxophonists are James Spaulding on alto and Pepper Adams on baritone.

“The Magilla” is an uptempo (by Turrentine standards) blues in a soul-influenced arrangement for brass chorus. Duke Pearson was the album’s arranger and wrote this opening tune. Turrentine really shows his blues style, expressing his solo with the expressive nuance of a singer.


  1. Track: “Lonely Avenue”
    Album: Common Touch
    Label: Blue Note
    Year: 1968

Common Touch was the twelfth and penultimate studio collaboration between Turrentine and his wife, organist Shirley Scott. They divorced in 1971. By this point Turrentine had started composing more, and he wrote half this album.

His best performance, though, is on a tune by singer Doc Pomus. The bluesy, aching “Lonely Avenue” perfectly demonstrates the saxophonist’s soul-deep connection to the organ. Notice Turrentine’s precise use of vibrato at certain moments – not just at the end of sustained pitches like some blues players and singers do – as well as his gentle accentuation of unexpected notes. Scott on organ and Jimmy Ponder on guitar offer some fine solos too.


  1. Track: “Get It”
    Album: Another Story
    Label: Blue Note
    Year: 1969

The great thing about being signed to a premier jazz label like Blue Note was that a musician could always pull together a top-notch ensemble. Unlike rock and country, jazz had less of a concept of “session musician” and more of an endless supply of temporary supergroups. Another Story is one example; for this quartet, Turrentine was joined by Thad Jones (trumpet), Cedar Walton (piano), Buster Williams (bass), and Mickey Roker (drums).

“Get It” is a Turrentine composition with a seamless blend of influences. Walton’s retro, stride-piano chords support swing interplay between Jones and Turrentine, while the solos meander deep into bop territory.

  1. Track: “Nightwings”
    Album: Nightwings
    Label: Fantasy
    Year: 1977

Typical of his years on the Fantasy label, Turrentine made Nightwings in collaboration with Claus Ogerman, who arranged the music for full orchestra. Although it uses strings (uncredited freelance players), the group is weighted heavily toward horns, with five trumpets, three trombones, and an impressive eight French horns. The mellowness of the French horn tone melds with Turrentine’s musky saxophone.

Ogerman wrote “Nightwings,” an example of the soft jazz fusion that a segment of Turrentine’s fans loved, and the rest couldn’t stand.


  1. Track: “A Child Is Born”
    Album: Straight Ahead
    Label: Blue Note
    Year: 1985

After a number of fusion albums on the Fantasy label, Turrentine returned to Blue Note. Like him, organist Jimmy Smith had always had one foot in jazz and the other in the R&B/soul pond. For Straight Ahead, those two artists teamed up for a soul-leaning jazz project, along with veteran bassist Ron Carter and drummer Jimmy Madison, who had experience with many types of jazz.

Also on the roster was electric guitarist George Benson, equally versed in jazz and R&B. Benson contributes a thoughtful solo to the Thad Jones’ composition “A Child Is Born.” Turrentine’s adagio melodizing evokes some of the tracks Johnny Hodges recorded with Duke Ellington in the 1940s.


  1. Track: “Don’t Mess with Mr. T”
    Album: T Time
    Label: Music Masters
    Year: 1995

The idea of T Time was to use a new band to revisit some tracks Turrentine had recorded in earlier versions. His main collaborators are guitarist Dave Stryker, who had worked with him many times before, and pianist/organist Kenny Drew.

At age 61, Turrentine still had the dexterity to match his poetic emotional range. “Don’t Mess with Mr. T,” an old Marvin Gaye number, oscillates quickly between 6/8 and 4/4 time, which Turrentine pulls off so naturally that you might not even notice it.


Header image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/public domain.

The Chicks: Country Music Chart-Toppers

The Chicks: Country Music Chart-Toppers

The Chicks: Country Music Chart-Toppers

Anne E. Johnson

They may have shortened their name, but the Chicks are still as long on talent as they were when they started their country band in Dallas more than 20 years ago. While they have never shied away from controversy, they also have the musical chops to stand up to any contemporary country musicians.

In 1989, Dallas natives Martie Erwin (now Maguire) and Emily Erwin (now Strayer) joined bassist Laura Lynch and singer-guitarist Robin Lynn Macy to start a country and bluegrass group. They called themselves the Dixie Chicks, a tip of the hat to the Little Feat song “Dixie Chicken” by singer/songwriter Lowell George. Eventually that name would start to haunt them, but at the time it seemed like a perfect sobriquet for a quartet of Southern women.

They were gifted instrumentalists. Maguire, an award-winning fiddler, also played guitar and mandolin, and Strayer played guitar, banjo, and Dobro. Lynch and Macy took the lead vocals. Despite their talents and determination, they got off to a slow start commercially. Their first album, Thank Heavens for Dale Evans (1990), was independently produced and funded through the generous donation of a friend. This was long before indie and DIY records were viable on the marketplace.

Only a few of the songs were original, including the title track. The rest of the album consisted of traditional tunes and covers. Probably because the budget was so small, most of those are by lesser-known artists, like Lynnda Goza’s “The Cowboy Lives Forever,” but there is one Patsy Cline song, “I Want to Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart,” plus Sam Cooke’s “Bring It on Home to Me.”

The debut leans heavily toward bluegrass, featuring mountain harmony in the vocals and some fine picking and fiddling, as on “Green River.” The mandolin solo is by local champion player Dave Peters.


It’s not unusual for world-famous bands to start out small, but most have found their footing by their second album. Despite a couple of high-profile TV appearances, the Dixie Chicks were still self-funding and decidedly not famous when they made Little Ol’ Cowgirl in 1992. A notable difference from the first album, however, was the number of session musicians and the complexity of the arrangements. One of those musicians was Lloyd Maines on steel guitar; his daughter Natalie Maines would eventually become the Dixie Chicks’ lead singer.

Little Ol’ Cowgirl is already pushing the boundaries of the band’s sound, putting Ray Charles’ gospel-influenced “Hallelujah, I Love Him So” next to a trad-jazz original, “Pink Toenails” and the neo-bluegrass “Aunt Mattie’s Quilt.” On Bob Millard’s “She’ll Find Better Things to Do,” they show how well they’ve absorbed the classic country sound.


Macy was not happy about the expansion of the band’s musical vision. She wanted to be a bluegrass singer, pure and simple, so she left. Rather than replace her for Shouldn’t a Told You That (1993), the others altered their name to The Dixie Chicks Cowgirl Band and proceeded as a trio. Again self-funded, this album has a somewhat scaled-back personnel list – most obviously, there’s no brass.

The track list is eclectic, but with an emphasis on newer works by young colleagues in country, such as “There Goes My Dream” by Jamie O’Hara of The O’Kanes and the title song by Walter Hyatt, leader of the trendy Uncle Walt’s Band. The slickly produced “Desire” was written by Steve Kolander, who had yet to release his first album.


The five-year gap between the third and fourth albums was full of changes. Lynch left to get married. With only two musicians and no lead singers remaining, it was time to regroup. They took on Natalie Maines. Just as important was the interest in them by Sony’s Nashville branch. Soon they had their first major record deal. Not surprisingly, their next album, Wide Open Spaces, opened up the market for them. With professional guidance, even their clothing changed: they set aside the cowgirl outfits they’d always worn as a gimmick and went with modern clothes.

Maines did not play bass, so they used session musician Michael Rhodes. On the other hand, Maguire and Strayer were both expanding their instrumental expertise. Strayer now added sitar and accordion to her skills, and Maguire branched out to viola and mandolin. One of the highlights of this top-selling album was the Chicks’ cover of Bonnie Raitt’s “Give It Up or Let Me Go.”


Wide Open Spaces won the Grammy Award for Best Country Album, and its single “There’s Your Trouble” gave the group the first of its five Grammys for Best Song by a Duo or Group. Their commercial success increased with Fly in 1999. That record’s distinctive sound comes from the string orchestra arrangements by Dennis Burnside. More than half the songs on Fly charted, including one that hadn’t even been released as a single.

Having signed with Columbia Records, the Dixie Chicks meant it when they called their 2002 album Home. Back home to their roots, that is, to frolic in the sounds of bluegrass again. At the same time they went back to tradition, the band also stepped out into a new political light when Maines publicly criticized George W. Bush for invading Iraq. This happened just as their single “Travelin’ Soldier” reached the No. 1 spot; radio stations across the country boycotted it in protest, which quickly killed it on the charts.

Among the typically eclectic mix of songs chosen for Home is the original, “Tortured, Tangled Hearts,” which Steyer and Maguire cowrote with country legend Marty Stuart. Although Stuart does not play on the track, the band is joined by two top-flight mandolinists, Chris Thile and Adam Steffey; Maguire’s fiddling has no trouble keeping up.


The Chicks’ best-debuting album so far is 2006’s Taking the Long Way, which started at the top of the charts. Its opening song and biggest single, “Not Ready to Make Nice,” deals with the anti-war controversy of the previous album, thus concretizing this band as proudly political.

At this point, they took a long hiatus from the studio, although they toured some and put out a couple live albums. Streyer and Maguire also performed during this period as a duo called Court Yard Hounds. And they remained politically active.

Their most talked-about recent political act was to change their band’s name in 2020; they have claimed that this change had been in the offing for years. Having seen a Confederate flag described as a “Dixie Swastika,” they finally had enough of that Southern term, believing it too closely associated with slavery in America. They dropped the word and are now simply the Chicks.

The Chicks’ most recent album (and the first to use their new name) is Gaslighter, released in 2020. It was their first studio release in 14 years. The songs are more about Maines’ divorce than the unrest of the wider world. But they’re still powerful, and they still display the musical skill expected of these enterprising women.


Header image: the Dixie Chicks, early promotional photo.

Remotely Possible

Remotely Possible

Remotely Possible

Frank Doris

Spotted at Angry Mom Records in Ithaca, New York, a 1970s Kenwood KR-7070 receiver. Perhaps ahead of its time, it had a moving-coil phono stage.


KR-7070, rear panel. Photos by Howard Kneller.


OK, it was ahead of its time! An optional wired remote control was available for the KR-7070.


How could I have missed this 2005 Weltron audio system? Maybe it just hasn’t landed on Earth yet.


When I was a kid a friend a Wollensak tape deck, and I wanted it badly. 1961 Wollensak ad.

When I was a kid a friend had a Wollensak tape deck, and I wanted it badly. 1961 Wollensak ad.


Howard Kneller’s audiophile adventures are documented on YouTube (The Listening Chair with Howard Kneller) and Instagram (@howardkneller). His art and photography can be found on Instagram (@howardkneller). He also posts a bit of everything on Facebook (@howardkneller).

In Memory of Ramsey Lewis

In Memory of Ramsey Lewis

In Memory of Ramsey Lewis

Rudy Radelic

Three Grammy Awards. 80 albums. Five gold records. A National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master. Artistic director for the Ravinia Jazz Festival. Mentor for up-and-coming musicians through the Ravinia’s Mentor/Jazz Protégé program. Radio and television host. Recipient of an honorary doctorate from Loyola University Chicago. All of these accomplishments, and many more, are part and parcel of the long musical career of pianist Ramsey Lewis, who passed away this year on September 12.

Born in 1935, Ramsey Lewis was one of three children, first receiving piano lessons at age four.  He had originally aspired to be a classical pianist, until he was directed towards jazz by his music teacher Dorothy Mendelson, who pointed out that a Black pianist’s ability to break into the classical world would be difficult. While attending Wells High School in Chicago, Lewis joined a group called the Clefs. With two of his classmates, Eldee Young (bass) and Red Holt (drums), he would form the Ramsey Lewis Trio in 1956, and would sign with Chess Records in 1957.

The original lineup of the Trio would break through with a Top 5 Billboard Hot 100 hit in 1965 –  “The ‘In’ Crowd,” added at the last minute to a set list for the live recording (at the Bohemian Caverns) the album was based on.


Not charting quite as high, but still popular was the hit single “Wade in the Water.” After “The ‘In’ Crowd” became a hit, Young and Holt left the Trio and formed their own group, Young-Holt Unlimited. Taking their place was bassist Cleveland Eaton, and up-and-coming young drummer Maurice White. (The record jacket for the album Dancing in the Street foreshadows the future of the Trio’s new drummer when it says, “Because he has time on his side and an abundance of ambition and youthful vigor, Maurice White’s future promises to be a very hopeful one.” Indeed!)


As evidenced in his hit records, Lewis was forging a new path into what would later be called “soul jazz.” Many of his album tracks were cover versions of popular jazz recordings as well as pop and soul radio hits. When the Latin music craze hit the USA, Lewis put his own spin on the music with his trio, tapping into boogaloo which was a popular offshoot of Latin music. From the album Goin’ Latin, here is “One, Two, Three” with some hijinks from the occupant of the drummer’s seat.


Ever the melodic player, Lewis recognized and honored the melody of the Herbie Hancock song “Maiden Voyage,” and reframes it with his piano, strings, and vocal accompaniment. The album was produced by Charles Stepney.


Lewis’s trio would shift personnel over the years, but nowhere was the shift more evident when he signed with Columbia Records in 1972 and, in 1974, would hit Number 12 on Billboard’s Hot 100 with the soul-jazz song “Sun Goddess,” featuring labelmates and the band of his former drummer – Earth, Wind, & Fire.


That association would continue through his time with Columbia. From the album Salongo, which investigates African and Latin themes, the Maurice White and Martin Yarbrough song “Brazilica” would feature prominently in his repertoire for years to come. The album was produced by White and Charles Stepney, who also produced the earliest Earth, Wind & Fire albums until his untimely death.


Another song, the title track from the 1977 Tequila Mockingbird album, featured nearly the full Earth, Wind & Fire lineup except for Maurice White! His brothers Verdine (bass) and Fred (drums) play on the track, along with guitarist Johnny Graham, Philip Bailey (percussion), Al McKay (guitar), and Larry Dunn, who in addition to playing keyboards, penned and produced this track and two others.


Lewis would record for a handful of labels throughout his career, with his longest tenures signed to Chess, Columbia, and GRP. A pet project of Ramsey Lewis was his all-star jazz-funk collective Urban Knights, which would feature a shifting lineup with each album. The first two were produced by Maurice White and featured such jazz stars as Grover Washington, Jr., Freddie Hubbard, Jonathan Butler, Bill Meyers, Paulinho da Costa, Najee, Gerald Albright, a few of Earth, Wind & Fire’s current members (Sonny Emory, Sheldon Reynolds, Verdine White), and many others. In the spirit of giving back to the community, the third Urban Knights album featured primarily Chicago-area musicians and singers. From the first Urban Knights album, here is “On the Radio.”


Later in his career, Lewis began composing orchestral-themed songs and suites. He collaborated with the Joffrey Ballet and the Turtle Island String Quartet, and composed a concerto in celebration of his 80th birthday, which he debuted with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He was also tapped to compose “Proclamation of Hope,” an orchestral reflection on the life of Abraham Lincoln in honor of his bicentennial. While the 2009 album Songs from the Hart: Ramsey plays Ramsey doesn’t feature any of these performances, the recording finds Lewis and his trio in fine form performing a handful of these compositions, which are more complex than his earlier work yet still upbeat and accessible. The solo piano piece, “Clouds in Reverie,” shows a strong influence of Claude Debussy.


As the jazz landscape evolved over the decades, Ramsey Lewis was a constant presence. His musicality and adventurous spirit allowed him to visit many different musical styles and genres throughout his career, incorporating them into his sound, while continually retaining a strong identity that left no doubt to the listener that they were listening to a Ramsey Lewis record. Always tasteful and accessible, his music appealed to a wide audience who were not necessarily jazz fans. He will be missed, but we have several dozen recordings to remember him by. The music above is but a small sampling of what he had to offer us during his lengthy career.


Header image: Ramsey Lewis promotional photo, courtesy of RamseyLewis.com.

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Owning Up

Owning Up

Owning Up

James Whitworth