Issue 180

Goodbye to Jeff

Goodbye to Jeff

Frank Doris

Sadly, we’ve lost a lot of great artists, but this one hit particularly hard for a lot of us: Jeff Beck passed away on January 10, 2023 at the age of 78. His prominence as one of the greatest rock guitarists of all time cannot be overstated: no one else sounded like him or ever will in his ability to effortlessly and astoundingly bend the electric guitar to his musical wishes.

We’re also saddened by the death of singer/songwriter Lisa Marie Presley at 54. The only child of Elvis and Priscilla Presley, Lisa Marie had worked in the music industry and released three albums. RIP to someone who left us far too soon.

In this issue: Jay Jay French remembers Jeff Beck. Anne E. Johnson enjoys new interpretations of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion and the men behind the masks of Daft Punk. Wayne Robins re-listens to Stephen Stills’ Manassas. Andrew Daly talks with influential indie label producer and Garbage drummer Butch Vig. J.I. Agnew reads Passion for Vinyl as he goes around the world in 80 (record-cutting) lathes. I cover the launch of Octave Records’ new The Art of Hi-Fi series and its first release, Volume 01: Bass. Harris Fogel makes the scene at Capital Audiofest. Howard Kneller checks out xDuoo’s MT-604 headphone amplifier. Ken Kessler continues his 50th anniversary look at the fabled Linn LP12 turntable, and has a tense encounter with founder Ivor Tiefenbrun.

Rudy Radelic continues his exploration of CTI Records with a look at some of the label’s subsidiaries. Ken Sander puts a borrowed Porsche through the paces and encounters Miles Davis. Tom Methans covers Philly’s record store scene. Ray Chelstowski talks with Wicked Cool Records rocker Ryan Hamilton. Larry Jaffee looks at home entertainment formats over the past 50 years. John Seetoo interviews “(I’ve Had) the Time of My Life” Academy award-winning songwriter John DeNicola. Russ Welton begins a series on in-ear headphones. Tom Gibbs gets his new listening rooms in order. We conclude the issue with ephemeral music, naming a newborn, a tough decision, and a message from the street.

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, Ted Shafran, 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

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– FD

Decisions, Decisions

Decisions, Decisions

Decisions, Decisions

Frank Doris

Here are a few stunning shots of a Barber & Howard stereo integrated amplifier, and tuner. We could find almost nothing about this brand online – the company was founded in 1930, was located in Westerly, Rhode Island during part or all of their existence, and was around long enough to offer a stereo preamp, but that’s all we’ve got. Can any readers give us more information? Photos by Howard Kneller, courtesy of The Audio Classics Collection.

Here’s an oldie but goodie: a do-it-yourself amplifier, circa 1940s. From the collection of the Science Museum in London; the creator of this is unknown. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Science Museum London/Science and Society Picture Library.

This 1960s Philco ad featuring soprano Patrice Munsel notes that you can add spaciousness to any sound with reverb! I wonder what listening to Dick Dale was like on this rig.

Which one to choose? She can listen to any format she wants, as long as it’s round and analog. Popular Electronics, October 1956.

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).

You Don’t Own Me

You Don’t Own Me

You Don’t Own Me

Peter Xeni

Around the World In 80 Lathes, Part 30

Around the World In 80 Lathes, Part 30

Around the World In 80 Lathes, Part 30

J.I. Agnew

Having pretty much completed our journey around the world in 80 lathes (or perhaps a bit more than 80, but anyway), today we will be visiting The Netherlands, not to take apart their vintage Sondisko lathes, (discussed in Issue 168), but to close this series with a look at an excellent publication, of interest to all who dig the groove!

The publication idea began as a celebration of the 15th anniversary of Record Industry, a record pressing plant in Haarlem, a city 10 miles west of Amsterdam (not to be confused with Harlem, the Upper Manhattan neighborhood in New York City). Aptly titled Passion For Vinyl, the first edition of the first part of the book was published in 2013, soon to be followed by a second edition in 2014 and an additional book, Passion for Vinyl, Part II, in 2018 (shown in the header image above), in celebration of 20 years of the record industry.

The original book was subtitled “A Tribute To All Who Dig The Groove” and Part II simply “An Ode To Analog.” Both were written by Robert Haagema, a Dutch journalist, author, collector and audiophile (as per his own description in his biography within the book). Anouk Rijnders, CCO for Record Industry, and Artone Studio, acted as executive producers.

The first book was designed by Rik van der Eng and features the astonishingly excellent photography of Miodrag Misha Pipercic. Part II retains the overall original design of Rik Van der Hing, while adding design and illustrations by Tessel Dekker of Segolia Design, and the photography of Tim Knol.

The first Passion for Vinyl book.

The first Passion for Vinyl book.

These hardcover books come in a square format, roughly nine inches, and contain a 7-inch record on the cover. The first book has a black record featuring Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell on one side and Rinus’ Garage feat. Triggerfinger on the other. Part II comes with a white record (pressed from white vinyl), with Hasil Adkins and Bloodshot Bill on one side and Ellen Allien on the other.

The books contain the stories of a diverse range of people, all connected by one consistent thread: a passion for vinyl. In addition, the first book includes a foreword by Michael Fremer, back then still affiliated with Stereophile and Analog Planet (currently writing for The Absolute Sound and Tracking Angle), followed by a detailed overview titled “How Records Are Made.” It continues with the captivating accounts of the people featured, too numerous to list here in full, but the ones that immediately stood out for me as people I know through my business include Craig Kallman of Atlantic Records, Lewis Durham of Kitty, Daisy and Lewis (whose father used to run The Exchange, a world-class mastering facility in London with multiple disk mastering lathes, from where Lewis appears to have acquired a passion for vintage analog recording equipment and disk recording lathes in particular), Bernie Grundman (an internationally-renowned mastering engineer using modified Scully lathes), Rinus Hooning (a mastering engineer currently working at Artone Studio), Sean Davies (a retired British audio engineer who had once been responsible for maintaining most, if not all, disk mastering lathes in use in the UK), Ton Vermeulen (the owner of Record Industry), Henry Rollins (of Black Flag and the Henry Rollins Band) and many more. It concludes with a section dedicated to the “Past, Present and Future of The Record Industry.”

Pages in the “How Records Are Made” section of Passion for Vinyl.

Pages in the “How Records Are Made” section of Passion for Vinyl.

Part II begins with a foreword by Michael Kurtz, co-founder of Record Store Day, continuing on with the same format, presenting a range of “passions” for vinyl records. In this tome as well, I immediately found people I knew from my work, including Pete Hutchison of The Electric Recording Company (the audiophile record label, discussed in Issue 179), T-Bone Burnett (whose Ionic Originals debut record, a one-off Bob Dylan recording, fetched $1.77 million, as discussed in the previous episode in Issue 179), Ian MacKaye (of Minor Threat and Fugazi, owner of Dischord Records), Lucy Launder (head of Mastering at Abbey Road Studios), Miles Showell (independent mastering engineer at Abbey Road Studios), John Grado (of Grado Labs, manufacturer of phono cartridges and headphones), Mandy Parnell (one of the very few female mastering engineers involved with cutting records and owner of Black Saloon Studios in London), Eric Astor (owner of Furnace Record Pressing), and Flo Kaufmann (one of the very few people involved with keeping Neumann lathes maintained and repaired, primarily active in the German and French-speaking world, whose work was discussed in Issue 166).

This book ends with a labyrinth-like illustration of “Vinyl through the Years,” presumably the work of Tessel Dekker. It begins in 1931 and right after 2017, it states, “YOU ARE HERE, keep on spinning.”

Pages from the “Vinyl Through the Years” illustration.

Pages from the “Vinyl Through the Years” illustration.

The printing and overall typographic quality is outstanding, from the hard cover to the paper quality, trimming and binding. It is a real pleasure to hold such a quality publication in your hands, leaf through it, and realize that, despite the many signs to the contrary these days, it is the passion of a few people, not only for vinyl but embodied in a book that has highlighted such traditional arts as pressing, plating and cutting records, printing record sleeves and books, typography, photography, and several other arts that could have easily become extinct if it wasn’t for the love and passion of those who keep them alive, through the decades and even centuries, occasionally still resulting in such masterpieces as books such as Passion for Vinyl and Passion for Vinyl, Part II being created. They’re highly recommended reading, and can be proudly displayed in your bookshelf or coffee table.

The books can be obtained through the Passion for Vinyl website, https://www.passionforvinyl.com.

I have been told by Anouk Rijnders, that a Part III may happen at some point as well! I will be eagerly awaiting.


Header image: Passion for Vinyl, Part II. All images courtesy of Passion for Vinyl.

Capital Audiofest 2022: Up Close and Personal, Part One

Capital Audiofest 2022: Up Close and Personal, Part One

Capital Audiofest 2022: Up Close and Personal, Part One

Harris Fogel

My wife, Nancy Burlan, editor and reporter for Mac Edition Radio, asked me: “should we attend the Capital Audiofest this year.?” That was back in July 2022. It seemed like a good question, after all, I was forever late meeting my tough-as-nails editor Frank Doris’ excruciatingly unreasonable deadlines. I mean, what writer can live with “Harris, please send the files before the next Ice Age begins” kind of pressure?

We had such a lovely time at last year’s CAF, that we decided, yes. The previous event was really well-run, with a positive feel and crowds of people just thrilled to be there. This year the show, which took place in November 2022 at the Twinbrook Hilton in Rockville, Maryland, was more crowded, with more rooms, and an even more positive vibe.

It was a celebratory mood, which was personified by the folks enjoying the VPI Casino Night party, one of a number of events at the show. Featuring food, drink, and even a magician, a great time was had by all. One of the best parts of the party was that the room was full of other vendors, so it was both an industry and fan event. We enjoyed listening to the soothing accents of Roy Hall (Music Hall) and Boris Meltsner (Amped, Acoustique Quality), as well as a discussion of the merits of Russian vodka vs single malt Scotch. To be sure, we also touched upon the proper use of Class-D for amplifier circuits. Best of all, no one used the word “bespoke,” which I’m hoping the United Nations will ban in the near future.

One aspect of the audiophile world is how often it’s a family venture. Take Geshelli Labs, for example. When I inquired about the origin of the Geshelli name, it was because I was aware that it wasn’t actually Geno and Sherri’s last names. But, it is kind of. Follow me here.

Sherri explained, “Geno’s dad is Joe Bisceglia, I’m Sherri Bisceglia and yes, I’m Geno’s wife. We typically use Geshelli as our last name for business because it’s easier to pronounce. Outside of publications, most people say Geno Geshelli, Sherri Geshelli, etc. Joe is the woodworker. He makes all of our wood cases. I do the powder coating for the aluminum, [and handle] customer service and shipping. Our daughter Rachel runs our pick and place machines and does the surface-mount soldering; our son Jake does the through-hole soldering and laser cutting. Geno designs, helps out on all the above, and does all the QC before the product goes out the door.”

If that’s not an audio love story, I don’t know what is. Of course, I could also see this an excuse to leave a “Gone Fishing – In Alaska” note on the kitchen table once in a while.

As for the name Geshelli, Sherri noted, “Geshelli is ‘GE..’ Geno.. ‘She..’ Sherri and the ‘lli’ is a piece of our last name. Trying to come up with something not copyrighted is terribly hard. For months we tried. We were in the car and Geno said, “let’s just make sounds, I’ll do the front part, you the back.” After a couple of tries, he yelled (this is phonetically), “Ja,” I yelled, “Shell” and he said, “Elia.” We dropped the “A” at the end and there we go. “Geshelli”!

The creation of the Geshelli Labs name would have made George Eastman proud, as he too struggled to find a name that was pronounceable in many languages, had no meaning, and had never been used in commerce or tied to product, and thus “Kodak” was born.

In another room, Ofra and Eli Gershman of another family business, Gershman Acoustics, held court, with the welcoming spirit they are known for, in addition to delivering first-rate sonics. Another much-loved room was Merrill Audio, with the happy couple of Merrill Wettasinghe and Rose Cermele on hand. So, family endeavors, or maybe madness as some family members might call it, isn’t in short supply in the audio world. It’s also why certain components sound the way they do, as the ability for a small family-owned venture to carry on specific traditions and sonic qualities is much easier than for some huge corporate giants, to which the audio division is only yet another line item on the ledger sheet.

What Nancy and I enjoyed most were the many different types of audio gear on display. From price-is-no-object to low-cost, high-performance audio, and vintage audio from the 1970s and 1980s, it was all there. What pained us is that we missed a few rooms, as there was so much to listen to and experience. In Part Two of this article, I’ll go into more detail, but for now, here are some photos to of the people behind the gear.

Lab-coated Eric Watson with a garage sale record provided by Mac Edition Radio’s Nancy Burlan, which he’d just cleaned and restored using the Kirmuss Audio Record Groove Restoration System. When it comes to showmanship, few can match Charles Kirmuss, or Watson’s hat for that matter.

Lab-coated Eric Watson with a garage sale record provided by Mac Edition Radio’s Nancy Burlan, which he’d just cleaned and restored using the Kirmuss Audio Record Groove Restoration System. When it comes to showmanship, few can match Charles Kirmuss, or Watson’s hat for that matter.

David Giovannoni holding copies of the ARSC Journal. Curious what the ARSC is? It’s from the Association for Recorded Sound Collections, a “semi-annual, peer-reviewed publication that serves to document the history of sound recording and includes original articles on many aspects of research and preservation: biography; cataloging; copyright law; current research; discography; technical aspects of sound restoration, etc.” Find out more at https://www.arsc-audio.org/journal.html.

David Giovannoni holding copies of the ARSC Journal. Curious what the ARSC is? It’s from the Association for Recorded Sound Collections, a “semi-annual, peer-reviewed publication that serves to document the history of sound recording and includes original articles on many aspects of research and preservation: biography; cataloging; copyright law; current research; discography; technical aspects of sound restoration, etc.” Find out more at https://www.arsc-audio.org/journal.html.

Vinh Vu of Gingko Audio and Danacable was all smiles, holding HIFIMAN Susvara headphones with Danacable Lazuli Nirvana cable going into a Dana-Tone Head-Space headphone amplifier.

Vinh Vu of Gingko Audio and Danacable was all smiles, holding HIFIMAN Susvara headphones with Danacable Lazuli Nirvana cable going into a Dana-Tone Head-Space headphone amplifier.

The Alta Audio and Infigo Audio room featured the Alta Audio Titanium Hestia II loudspeakers, Infigo Audio Method 3 monoblock amps, and the Infigo Audio Method 4 DAC. To the left of the DAC is the Resonesssence Labs Fluvius streamer. It was all connected together with Infigo Audio cabling. It all sounded divine, with a wonderful musical presence, and an ease that belied the technology on display.

The Alta Audio and Infigo Audio room featured the Alta Audio Titanium Hestia II loudspeakers, Infigo Audio Method 3 monoblock amps, and the Infigo Audio Method 4 DAC. To the left of the DAC is the Resonesssence Labs Fluvius streamer. It was all connected together with Infigo Audio cabling. It all sounded divine, with a wonderful musical presence, and an ease that belied the technology on display.

John Vernon and Bill Godwin of Fyssion Audio Company.

John Vernon and Bill Godwin of Fyssion Audio Company.

A gorgeous pair of Soulnote M-3 monoblock power amplifiers filled the Fidelity Imports room (featuring Maryland dealer The Listening Room, and Perlisten Audio) with beautifully-balanced audio.

A gorgeous pair of Soulnote M-3 monoblock power amplifiers filled the Fidelity Imports room (featuring Maryland dealer The Listening Room, and Perlisten Audio) with beautifully-balanced audio.

The Reed Muse 3C turntable is a work of art, and attracts photographers like bees to honey.

The Reed Muse 3C turntable is a work of art, and attracts photographers like bees to honey.

If there is company who knows how to party, it’s VPI. They threw a Casino Night shindig that was great fun. Here a group of city slickers who came to play: Paul Schkeeper (VPI), Allison Santiago, Carla Delgado (VPI), Eugene Delgado, and Thomas Artale from VPI.

If there is company who knows how to party, it’s VPI. They threw a Casino Night shindig that was great fun. Here a group of city slickers who came to play: Paul Schkeeper (VPI), Allison Santiago, Carla Delgado (VPI), Eugene Delgado, and Thomas Artale from VPI.

VPI’s Casino Night offered magic and illusions from the card-savvy Bastian Magic, who kept us entertained all night.

VPI’s Casino Night offered magic and illusions from the card-savvy Bastian Magic, who kept us entertained all night.

Michael Van Voorhis (Finley Audio), Mat Weisfeld (VPI), and two enthusiastic attendees at VPI’s Casino Night.

Michael Van Voorhis (Finley Audio), Mat Weisfeld (VPI), and two enthusiastic attendees at VPI’s Casino Night.

Move over Dr. Phil, Dr. Vinyl (Mariem Cardenas) is in the house! Spinning tunes and smiling broadly, it was all positive energy when the Doctor was in the room.

Move over Dr. Phil, Dr. Vinyl (Mariem Cardenas) is in the house! Spinning tunes and smiling broadly, it was all positive energy when the Doctor was in the room.

It’s rare that a set of headphones makes you do a double-take, but the new SR-1b true ribbon headphones brought by Danny R. McKinney of RAAL-Requisite certainly did.

It’s rare that a set of headphones makes you do a double-take, but the new SR-1b true ribbon headphones brought by Danny R. McKinney of RAAL-Requisite certainly did.

Jerry Fan of iSonic volunteered to wash our stack of 10 seriously dirty albums – all at once. His contention was the idea that you could only clean a couple at a time was a myth, and our albums were certainly cleaned up.

Jerry Fan of iSonic volunteered to wash our stack of 10 seriously dirty albums – all at once. His contention was the idea that you could only clean a couple at a time was a myth, and our albums were certainly cleaned up.

What a group! Jerry Fan (Isonic), David Solomon (Qobuz), Mark Freed (AXPONA), and Mark Conti (MC Audiotech).

What a group! Jerry Fan (Isonic), David Solomon (Qobuz), Mark Freed (AXPONA), and Mark Conti (MC Audiotech).

The author’s wife, Nancy Burlan, started laughing while reading the Capital Audio Fest show guide, and revealed why. Unbeknownst to me, my photo was included on the Haniwa Audio page. “Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”

The author’s wife, Nancy Burlan, started laughing while reading the Capital Audio Fest show guide, and revealed why. Unbeknownst to me, my photo was included on the Haniwa Audio page. “Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”

A listener gets up close and personal with Andrew Jones’ new MoFi Electronics SourcePoint 10 loudspeakers in the Mobile Fidelity room.

A listener gets up close and personal with Andrew Jones’ new MoFi Electronics SourcePoint 10 loudspeakers in the Mobile Fidelity room.

Some rooms just have a fun feeling the moment you walk in. Geshelli Labs made sure of it! Here Geno Bisceglia holds their upcoming ZOOFA Integrated Amplifier. Known for their made in USA line of distinctively-styled headphone amplifiers and DACs, you could pack half a dozen of their cult-favorite Archel 2.5X, ERISH2, or JNOG2s into one ZOOFA. Can’t wait to see the final production versions; it looks like a steampunk doozy!

Some rooms just have a fun feeling the moment you walk in. Geshelli Labs made sure of it! Here Geno Bisceglia holds their upcoming ZOOFA Integrated Amplifier. Known for their made in USA line of distinctively-styled headphone amplifiers and DACs, you could pack half a dozen of their cult-favorite Archel 2.5X, ERISH2, or JNOG2s into one ZOOFA. Can’t wait to see the final production versions; it looks like a steampunk doozy!

Justin Wilson and Marrissa Jones of HeadAmp were showing off their line of headphone amps. For demonstrations they used the STAX SR-X9000 electrostatic headphones. This flagship model has been in high demand with only a few pairs a month available at $6,200. They also used the recently-released HIFIMAN Sundara ($399). Wilson says he “started HeadAmp as a student at the University of Virginia when I started to explore higher-end headphones since I could not play my speakers very loud. At the time, only a few companies were offering headphone amps and most or all were out of my price range, so I built my own and was offering models for sale the following year.”

Justin Wilson and Marrissa Jones of HeadAmp were showing off their line of headphone amps. For demonstrations they used the STAX SR-X9000 electrostatic headphones. This flagship model has been in high demand with only a few pairs a month available at $6,200. They also used the recently-released HIFIMAN Sundara ($399). Wilson says he “started HeadAmp as a student at the University of Virginia when I started to explore higher-end headphones since I could not play my speakers very loud. At the time, only a few companies were offering headphone amps and most or all were out of my price range, so I built my own and was offering models for sale the following year.”


Header image: Audiophile land is awash in gorgeously-designed and executed products. This BAT (Balanced Audio Technology) VK-80i integrated amplifier which powered Andrew Jones’ new MoFi Electronics SourcePoint 10 loudspeakers was one such example. There’s a special place in Shangri-La for lovely glowing 6C33C-B triode and 6SN7 tubes. All photos courtesy of Harris Fogel, except photo of Harris Fogel courtesy of Nancy Burlan.

Jeff Beck: In Memoriam

Jeff Beck: In Memoriam

Jeff Beck: In Memoriam

Jay Jay French

No, there is no cute way to begin this one.

There is no “another one bites the dust.”

Not even a “somewhere over the rainbow.”

I just don’t have it in me.

I’m too stunned…gobsmacked as the English would say, by Jeff Beck’s death on January 10.

If I meander, forgive me because I’m writing in total disbelief.

Our heroes are going to die. We know this intellectually. Many of them also have long drug, alcohol and/or medical issues that we, as fans, know about.

That means that we appreciate that many of our heroes are on borrowed time.

Paul will go someday, so will Ringo.

Keith? Well if that ever happens it’s not like we haven’t expected if for the last, say…50 years!

Eric had an alcohol and drug problem; no surprise when he goes.

When it comes to my guitar heroes, here is the score:

George Harrison – he was attacked in his home a couple of years before he succumbed to brain cancer brought about by his prodigious cigarette smoking. Those in the business knew what was going on.

B.B. King has myriad health issues as did Leslie West, as did Albert King and Eddie Van Halen.

Many of us knew about Eddie’s cancer diagnosis.

But Jeff? Jeff Beck was just fine. He never had a reputation for drugs or alcoholism. He just recorded constantly and played all the time. He had just finished his latest tour with Johnny Depp as his bandmate. I didn’t go but people tell me the Depp more than held his own.

Not just that.

Jeff was the archetype of the British guitar slinger with the perfect late 1960s shag haircut, the perfect jeans, the perfect T-shirt, the perfect stance and, above all, a playing style that left those who didn’t know guitar amazed and for those of us who did (the millions of guitar slingers around the world), plain dumbstruck.

He never, ever left one disappointed. No matter who he played with.

Eric Clapton could sound bored to death on some nights. Jimmy Page could be terribly sloppy on some nights. So could Jimi, who freaked out Beck, Eric and Pete Townshend the first night they witnessed his playing at the Bag O’Nails club in London on November 25, 1966, to the point that even Beck admitted that there was no reason to play anymore.

Beck soldiered on, however, but missed the big-money gravy train. He just did things his own way. From what I understand, he had either the longest (or next to longest) single record label relationship in history (Epic Records to be exact), Dylan being the other one with Columbia (which  along with Epic is part of the Sony Music Entertainment family as well).

I have read dozens of interviews with Jeff Beck over the years.

Clapton and Page, his guitar god contemporaries achieved much larger fame and fortune. Page was associated with a great singer (Robert Plant), and Clapton could sing very well.

Beck? Have you ever heard him sing? He actually had a hit in the UK in 1967 with a song called “Hi Ho Silver Lining.” I won’t bother commenting except that it is no surprise that he hooked up with Rod Stewart shortly after that!

Other non-singing guitar players of note who amassed a fortune, like Santana, needed to hook up with a vocalist, and in Santana’s case it was Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20. They recorded “Smooth,” which sold millions of albums and put Santana at the top of the charts in 1999.

Beck never had that. I would think that he could have. I mean, who wouldn’t want to work with Jeff? There is no higher pedigree of musician than Mr. Beck.

Jeff Beck at the Iridium in Manhattan, June 8, 2010. Courtesy of Rhino Media.

Jeff Beck at the Iridium in Manhattan, June 8, 2010. Courtesy of Rhino Media.

He traveled his own path and seemed very happy that he could do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, and would not be constrained by the personal cost of super fame. He had said as much in interviews.

My own personal fan history with Mr. Beck goes like this:

I first saw the Jeff Beck Group in 1969. On May 3rd and July 3rd to be exact, at the Fillmore East in New York City.

In between those dates I saw Led Zeppelin headline at the Fillmore East on May 30th with the Woody Herman Orchestra opening!

Both of the Jeff Beck group shows were epic. Rod was terrified on the first night in May. Famously, Beck had to coerce Rod to come out from behind the PA.

Program from the Fillmore East, May 3, 1969, signed by Jeff Beck. Courtesy of the author.

Program from the Fillmore East, May 3, 1969, signed by Jeff Beck. Courtesy of the author.

Beck broke up the Jeff Beck Group one month later, just prior to the Woodstock festival, where they had been asked to perform. It was one of the biggest mistakes Beck has ever admitted to.

But Jeff released two of the greatest proto-blues-metal classic albums ever recorded in 1968 and 1969:

Truth and Beck-Ola.

These albums are holy grail stuff to a generation of players like myself.

Beck mined a style that was wholly unique. He wasn’t Jimi (he was more precise); his playing was very controlled but stylistically explosive. He wasn’t Eric, as he was way more free-form and jazz-influenced where Eric was just steeped in the blues idiom. He wasn’t the songwriter that Page was (nor the producer) nor did he play acoustic guitar with the folk leanings of Page. Beck never had a real partner or foil either as he went from group to group.

Late In 1969 Jeff was injured in a car accident.

He returned to the US in 1971 and I saw him at the Academy of Music in NYC.

In what was seemingly a demonstration that his playing was not affected, he stood center stage and played a guitar solo with just his left arm and hand, letting the guitar slip through his fingers. I understood it as, “look, if you had any doubts, I’m still the baddest mofo on the planet!

Jeff Beck albums from Jay Jay’s collection. Courtesy of the author.

Jeff Beck albums from Jay Jay’s collection. Courtesy of the author.

I took my brother to see Jeff in 1972 at Carnegie Hall. My brother is 10 years older than me and had missed all the Sixties greats. Except…Jeff…

My brother couldn’t believe Beck’s tone, speed and control of the guitar strings. He was in awe as was I!

Beck then joined up with two members of Vanilla Fudge, Tim Bogart and Carmine Appice in 1973 for a much anticipated supergroup, Beck, Bogart & Appice. The band didn’t last long and rumor had it that the manager of Bogart and Appice was so angry that Jeff ended the band that it kept Jeff out of the US for a while.

And then…the sea change happened with 1975’s George Martin-produced instrumental album Blow by Blow. This was Beck and his heavy guitar jazz leanings starting to flower. Guitar freaks couldn’t believe the sounds Jeff was coaxing out of his guitar, which was still a Gibson Les Paul. That was soon to change. Beck needed a guitar with a much wider tonal palette as well as a whammy bar.

The Fender Stratocaster replaced the Les Paul. The “Strat” is also much lighter and for some, easier to play as it gives the player access to more frets in the upper registers. This was a very big deal to those of us who felt that to get a really big, deep sustain, you need a much heavier guitar (i.e. a Gibson Les Paul).

Jeff’s playing continued to evolve.

The best way I can explain what Jeff created as a style is this: take the volume-control mastery of guitar legend Roy Buchanan, and also Roy’s understanding that the size of the guitar amplifier should be relative to the room you are playing in, its proximity to where you are standing, and that the guitar strings’ ability to respond to the touch of the fretboard, can create a mood by interacting with the sonic reflections and reverberation of the amp and the room. Trust me, Beck knew this and always had the correct amp for the job.

Add the picking and slide guitar style of Sonny Landreth and the vibrato and whammy control of Leslie West and the speed and imagination of Hendrix and…well that’s the best I can do.

Clapton and Beck toured together in 2010 and I took my girlfriend, now wife, to see the show. She had never seen Jeff Beck before. Beck opened the show and just about closed it down. On the big video screen, up close, one could fully understand and appreciate what Beck had become.

Page and Clapton had their playing styles frozen in time. We will never know what Hendrix would have evolved into, but we were able see what Beck had transformed into over the decades.

Beck’s fingerpicking, control of vibrato both with and without a whammy bar, and his total control of volume swells were finely merged into a breathtaking emotional aural palette.

My wife turned to me and commented that this was the greatest guitar playing she had ever experienced.

When Eric came out, first he played just with his band. He then invited Beck to join. This was an unfair fight and Beck, ever the classy guy, laid back but his brilliance and uniqueness broke through. Clapton just seemed beaten.

I saw Beck for the last time in 2010 at the tiny Iridium club in NYC in a tribute to Les Paul and Mary Ford. Les Paul had been playing at the iridium on Mondays for years prior to his death.

Jeff was accompanied by singer Imelda May and her band.

Later on at the show Jeff brought out a guest guitar player. I thought, who could it be?

None other than Brian Setzer. Nobody, but nobody plays rockabilly guitar as well as Brian and Beck knew it. Brian owned his part of the night and Beck just stayed out of the way (even when they went toe to toe).

Jeff Beck and Brian Setzer at the Iridium. Courtesy of Rhino Media.

Jeff Beck and Brian Setzer at the Iridium. Courtesy of Rhino Media.

Besides that, Beck was again immaculate, aping Les’s style at every turn.

I sat with Jeff later that night after the show upstairs at Ellen’s Stardust Diner (at the record label’s after party) and showed him the Fillmore East programs I had kept from 1969. He signed them and seemed blown away at the Fillmore’s ticket prices (3,4 and 5 dollars).

Did I ever imagine that that would be the last time I would see him?

No way.

That is why this is such a shock.

Jeff’s death was not supposed to happen. Not now.

There was no warning. Nothing.

Just a seeming case of bad luck…bacterial meningitis.

All my guitar player friends blew up my phone in utter disbelief.

Jeff Beck is gone but he left a huge legacy of excellence behind.

The guitar world…let me rephrase that, the music world lost one of the greats.

Jeff, thank you for all you gave us.


Header image courtesy of Ross Halfin/Rhino Media.

Stephen Stills’ Manassas: An Album, A Band, A Way of Life

Stephen Stills’ Manassas: An Album, A Band, A Way of Life

Stephen Stills’ Manassas: An Album, A Band, A Way of Life

Wayne Robins

I came to praise Manassas, or Manassas, but now I’m not so sure. It seemed like a good idea a few weeks ago, when a streaming link to this Stephen Stills project appeared in my e-mail in-box.

It was the Rhino Records Album of the Day. Anyone can sign up for this by clicking on https://www.rhino.com/newsletter. Rhino Records is the catalog marketing division of Warner Music Group, which includes labels such as Warner Records, Reprise, Atlantic, Elektra, Asylum, and so many more. You can immediately stream the Album of the Day, and add it to your library, on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music and others. You can also go back and stream previous Albums of the Day – the “ping” in my e-mail as I write this is for AOTD Electric Warrior by T-Rex (expanded and remastered “5.1 Surround Sound Music”), which the many of you who are audiophiles can compare and contrast to whatever version you like.

Manassas, the album, was a two-LP vinyl release by a group called Manassas. But you wouldn’t be wrong if you called the band Stephen Stills’ Manassas. I had never heard it before. That moment when it was released, April 12, 1972, I was preparing for final exams and graduation from the University of Colorado in Boulder, and suffering country rock fatigue from previous years. The second most streamed track on the album is called “Colorado,” and the Rocky Mountain high was starting to get weary. It was just my taste, of course, but I was much more excited by the self-titled debut album by Blue Öyster Cult, and the Velvet Underground’s Loaded.

There was a second Manassas album, Down the Road in 1973 that peaked at No. 26, which we’re not considering here, which marked the beginning of the decline in popularity of Stills’ solo career; even Long May You Run, by the Stills-Young Band in 1976, did no better than the second Manassas album.

The standard operating procedure of the time was to prioritize the name of the rock star, which Stephen Stills certainly was. To make sure the consumer could not misunderstand, the Manassas album cover looked like this, a statement so lacking in clarity that the consumer could in fact totally misunderstand who was what, except that Stephen Stills was prominently involved.

Manassas, album cover.

Manassas, album cover.

Stills’ name appears alone above Manassas, or Manassas, whether that is the name of the band or the album title or both. The average consumer, or even the above-average consumer, would not notice there was no possessive after the first (or second) “Stills.” Below the title are the names of the seven musicians, on two tiers: Stephen Stills, Chris Hillman, and Dallas Taylor, the drummer here and for Crosby, Stills and Nash and CSNY on top; and below in what appears to be a slightly smaller font (possibly an optical illusion), the other four guys: Paul Harris, Fuzzy Samuels, Al Perkins (dobro, steel guitar), and Joe Lala. Hillman was one of the original Byrds and with Perkins a refugee from the Flying Burrito Brothers. Harris (keyboards), Samuels (bass), and Lala (percussion), were from Stills’ band.

The 1993 edition I have of the often-arbitrary Rolling Stone Album Guide avoids the issue by not mentioning either of the two Manassas albums, either under “M” or under “Stephen Stills.” There is one passing reference: “With former Byrd and Flying Burrito Brother Chris Hillman, Stills in the early 1970s founded Manassas, a crew of high-caliber players who squandered their talents on Stills’ increasingly perfunctory material,” which I think is mostly correct. It continues to say the band was “impressive” live, and concludes that in his solo career, Stills “never descends beneath competence.” Rock Criticism 101.

Actually, the formation of Manassas, the band, was triggered by a less-than-competent performance that Hillman witnessed of the Stephen Stills Band performing in Cleveland. “Stills was playing a concert in Cleveland with the Memphis Horns. I was sitting in the audience, going, ‘Jesus Christ. They’re making 25,000 bucks and they’re sh*tty,” Hillman told Cameron Crowe retrospectively in a Rolling Stone interview in 1976. Hillman went backstage to talk to Stills, and they ended up making Manassas at Criteria Studios in Miami.

It didn’t always go well, with Stills working for more than 80 hours without sleep, according to some reports. The question is, how does one stay up for more than three days recording music? Is it dedication? Or drugs? Or some combination of dedication, drugs, and egomania? There were arguments. Hillman, rightly, might have thought that Manassas was half his band, deserving equal billing, since he had been both in the Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers, and was one of foundational figures in the establishment of country rock. Arguments followed Stills around like a loyal but crazy dog. I mean, Crosby, Stills, and Nash fought all the time. Hatreds persist: in a blunt interview with the Guardian in 2021, 80-year-old David Crosby tells Simon Hattenstone that Stills is the only member of CSNY that he speaks to (CSN toured as recently as 2015), which is surprising, since Stills burned quite a few bridges in his life and career, though not with the same self-destructive flamboyance as Crosby.


The first Manassas album was an immediate success, and peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard album charts at the end of April, 1972, weeks after its release. Then, strangely, the album was said to disappear from stores, because, Stills has said, Atlantic Records co-founder and CEO Ahmet Ertegun wanted him back in the “goldmine” with Crosby and Nash.

How about the music? Critical response was good: even Creem, no fan of country rock or singer-songwriters or egomaniacal rock stars, gave it a good review. But it was a two-record set, so you know that if you’re not Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, or even the Beatles, a double album was going to have some waste. The first time I listened to it a few weeks ago, it sounded really good, as if I had missed an important record. But the more I listened, the more superficial the songs were. On Spotify, which I admit is a yardstick as variable as Wikipedia is as a place for serious research, two of the songs have more than 4.5 million streams: “Johnny’s Garden” and “Colorado.” With more than two million are “Song of Love” and “So Begins the Task,” the latter one of many songs about coming to terms with the fact that he and Judy Collins were not going to be romantic partners again. Stills’ most daring composition and CSN signature tune, “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” was of course about Judy Collins. The two are now good friends, and made a record and toured a few years ago.

But “So Begins the Task” is no “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” a song with harmonies unsurpassed since John, Paul, George (and Ringo) escalated to “Yeah yeah yeah” in “She Loves You.” “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” sounded intoxicating to those of us of a certain age, although it has not aged well, to some. Overplay on FM radio, long after it’s sell-by expiration date, recently led my oft-contrarian Copper colleague Tim Riley to call the song the ” ‘Stairway to Heaven’ of country rock.”

The attractiveness of the songs on Manassas is millimeters deep. The medley “Rock and Roll Crazies/Cuban Bluegrass,” one of the better songs, seems to fade away before the “Cuban Bluegrass” section, a bit of salsa vamping featuring Lala’s congas, which really get going. In fact, some might admire the economy of the songs; almost of them were designed to fit the minimal three-minute appetite of once-again tight radio playlists after the brief expansionism of “freeform radio” in the late 1960s. Songs that seem capable of developing end just as they are getting started.

So, with capable collaborators in Manassas, including top-liner Chris Hillman, why are almost all of the songs on that album by Stills? Because Stills’ esteem for his own brilliance knew no bounds. Breanna McCann, a writer and editor at the Split Tooth Media website, did a long essay, posted January 20, 2022, cleverly headlined “The Treasure of Oneness: Stephen Stills and Manassas.” It’s an article about Stills and the many excellent bands he was associated with that were burned through quickly: Buffalo Springfield, any CSNY combo, Manassas. McCann writes:

“The stark contrast between his proclivity for collaborative efforts and his inability to maintain them is a startling contradiction and one that feels almost impossible to reconcile, almost as if they were two different people…Despite his ego, it was not really about him in his mind. It was all about the music.”

Yet there are always little jabs. On his first solo album, Stephen Stills (what else?), the one that opens with the great, and great rationalization, of “Love the One You’re With,” there is a song called “We Are Not Helpless.” Was this a retort to Neil Young’s “Helpless?” Or is it Stills finding his footing after his own CSN song, “Helplessly Hoping?”

The most revealing song, to me, is the most-streamed on Manassas, and strangely, the most obscure “popular” song in the Stills catalog, “Johnny’s Garden.” It is about a real person, a gardener named Johnny, who landscaped the estate in the English countryside that Stills bought from Ringo Starr in 1970.

It is here, in “Johnny’s Garden,” that he feels safe “from the city blues.” He sings: “It’s green and it’s quiet, only trouble was, I had to buy it.” He continues: “I’ll do anything I got to do, Cut my hair and shine my shoes,” to stay there. Even in solitary serenity, is Stills referring to David Crosby’s near-confession on CSN’s Deja Vu album, “Almost Cut My Hair”? Crosby’s tune was stoner comedy about the existential decision that ends with Crosby deciding to let his “freak-flag” that is, his long hair, “fly.” Stills hair was always on the short side, and besides, no one was going to kick him out of the house he owned. We’ll never know, however, whether he shined his shoes in order to buy the property.

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Stephen Stills with Manassas in 1972. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Beeld & Geluid/unknown photographer.

There is also a collaboration with Bill Wyman, then bass player for the Rolling Stones.  “The Love Gangster,” written by Stills and Wyman has some excellent wah-wah guitar, and Stills’ vocals reach hard. But there’s also strange paranoia in the lyric: one moment he’s talking about how everyone is crazy for his girl; the next moment, he sees a policeman and doesn’t know which way to walk. It has been said that Wyman said he would have liked to have played more with Manassas.

But you know what would have been a better move for Stills? Joining the Eagles, before Joe Walsh brought his rocking guitar to their party. He could have made great music with Frey, Henley, and company. And had some legendary ego collisions as well.

Copper contributor Wayne Robins writes the Critical Conditions Substack, http://waynerobins49.substack.com, and teaches at St. John’s University.

Header image of Stephen Stills courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Davidwbaker.

Octave Records Debuts The Art of Hi-Fi Series with Volume 01: Bass (And We Interview Paul McGowan)

Octave Records Debuts The Art of Hi-Fi Series with Volume 01: Bass (And We Interview Paul McGowan)

Octave Records Debuts The Art of Hi-Fi Series with Volume 01: Bass (And We Interview Paul McGowan)

Frank Doris

PS Audio’s Octave Records’ has introduced an all-new series called The Art of Hi-Fi. Each recording in the ongoing series will showcase a different aspect of high-quality audio reproduction, beginning with the initial release, The Art of Hi-Fi, Volume 01: Bass. It offers a variety of musical selections with deep, powerful bass that will challenge the low-frequency limits of any audio system, from pipe organ to acoustic, electric and synthesizer bass and intense percussion workouts. This is also the first Octave Records disc to feature PS Audio and Octave Records CEO Paul McGowan as recording engineer.

Volume 01: Bass was recorded in pure DSD 256 on Octave Records’ Pyramix digital audio workstation. All the tracks were minimally miked using a combination of single-point stereo mics and a few spot microphones as needed. All were recorded and mixed by Paul McGowan and produced by Jessica Carson. Volume 01: Bass: features Octave’s gold disc formulation, and the disc is playable on any SACD, CD, DVD, or Blu-ray player. It 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 DSD 256 and DSD 128, DSDDirect Mastered 176.4 kHz/24-bit, 88.2 kHz/24-bit, 44.1 kHz/24-bit, and 44.1 kHz/16-bit PCM. (SRP: $19 – $39, depending on format.)

The album’s opener, “Erase Me” by newcomer Kaitlyn Williams, features a low-frequency synthesizer and electronic percussion bed that adds a richness and warmth to this pensive song. Volume 01: Bass showcases three pipe organ works including Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, recorded at Temple Emanuel synagogue in Denver, Colorado. The awe-inspiring power of the organ is conveyed in majestic full-range sound, with a vast soundfield captured by a combination of AKG C24 and David Bock mics in a modified Decca Tree configuration. Jazz aficionados will revel in the depth and sonic realism of the ensemble playing and the 5-string electric bass on the Seth Lewis Trio’s interpretations of “Maiden Voyage” and “How Deep Is the Ocean,” and Jeremy Mohney’s swing-band, upright bass-driven “Shep’s Dream,” recorded live using a Telefunken single-point microphone.

Other cuts on Volume 01: Bass include Michael Wooten’s percussion showpiece “Rocky Mountain Rain,” Kimberly and DJ Sparr’s viola and synth duo on “Take What You Need,” and “World Wind,” where Tom Amend plays all the instruments in an alluring combination of electronic keyboards, an 808 drum machine, drums, percussion, flute and bass clarinet.

I asked Paul about the launch of The Art of Hi-Fi and the making of the disc.

Frank Doris: Why did you decide to start this new series of Octave recordings, The Art of Hi-Fi, rather than make it a part of the previously-available The Audiophile’s Guide series?

Paul McGowan: The Audiophile’s Guide series offers a combination of book and music. The book explains in a step-by-step manner how to achieve something, and the music is the example piece one can rely upon. Once you get the music sounding the way the book suggests, you know you have it. The real value to this approach of the written word backed up by a musical example is one of trust. You can trust that the musical example is exactly right.

Paul McGowan.

Paul McGowan.

The Art of HiFi series, on the other hand, is pure example without any instruction. Have a system with bass? Here’s a disc you can use to not only test out the system’s low end, but with some kick-ass music that will really show off what it can do. For example, the pipe organ pieces (there are three on the Volume 01: Bass disc) were recorded live in a synagogue. When cranked up to a loud level the bass notes from the lowest pedals will rattle the rafters and shake your pants legs.

FD: Why did you focus on bass reproduction for the first release?

PM: That’s a great question. Probably because at my core I am a bass freak. Perhaps a quarter of my reference library was chosen because they’re great recordings with extraordinary bass. The kind of bass where you say, “wow!” However, there aren’t that many tracks out there that combine both great, well-recorded music, with unfettered bass that reaches down in the lower regions. In fact, most commercial releases have a high-pass filter that limits the deep rumbling possible. Not so on this release. It’s bass in all its glory.

FD: What should people listen for in particular on some of the tracks?

PM: Just how important the lower octaves are to make a great recording. Take for example the opening track, “Erase Me.” This is a wonderful track of music from an up-and-coming young talent, Kaitlyn Williams. The synth in this piece is doing the bottom lines and, as you listen to Kaitlyn singing, the bass line adds foundation to the entire piece. There is this one satisfying low note most systems will struggle to reproduce but, when everything’s just right, the solid foundation it adds just makes perfect musical sense.

Or, take the second to the last track on the album, “World Wind,” by pianist Tom Amend. Tom’s an amazing musician and he played every instrument on this wonderful composition. When he was laying down the bass line in the studio, he was hesitant to take the synth all the way down as low as it would go. In other studio settings that would make perfect sense because it would be totally lost. In this recording, at Octave Records, I said, “hell yes! As low as you can go!” And that’s what he did. Most people won’t be able to reproduce this note on their systems, but it’s there for the fortunate few with enough subwoofer power to nail it. And, when you do…look out!

FD: What made you decide to add “recording engineer” to your curriculum vitae? And who would you say you learned from the most, or how did you learn what you like in a recording as a result of your experience with Octave Records over the past two-plus years, and from decades in the audio industry?

PM: I started my audio career in the recording studio working with Giorgio Moroder (producer for Donna Summer, Berlin, Blondie, Irene Cara and many others), and Pete Bellotte in Munich, Germany. My wife. Terri, and I were all set to run a branch of Giorgio’s Musicland recording studio before I ran into some roadblocks from the Army – my boss at the time. I have been involved with recordings on and off ever since. Starting Octave Records has been a 45-year-long dream come true for Terri and I. We’re both passionate about music and working with musicians – something we never lost over all these years.

My lifetime of involvement in the art of designing and building high-end audio equipment has naturally led me to doing recordings since, at the end of the proverbial day, all we as audiophiles do is play back recordings. I get really tired of having to sort through the bulk of great music but which is poorly recorded. I often hear a track I like, buy the album or stream it, only to find it’s a crap recording: flat, lifeless, and without much in the way of redeeming value. In fact, most recordings are like this, which is a huge disservice to artists and listeners alike. This is why we all have our treasured collections of audio gems.

At Octave we wanted to not only fix that, but perhaps most exciting to me was the chance to see how far we can push the boundaries of what’s possible. Leapfrog what’s out there today as accepted standards. We’ve done well, but I think once you have a listen to the Art of Hi-Fi series (and many of the new releases yet to come) there’s a new level of recording most have never heard. Keep your eyes open for releases recorded at our new studio in DSD 256.

FD: How did you record the particular tracks to get what you felt was the most accurate bass? I’m particularly interested in the organ tracks. Not only do they have showstopper bass, but the sense of spaciousness is remarkable. How did you get it all?

PM: That was the most fun. Terri, me, and Octave’s director, Jessica Carson, traveled to the Temple Emanuel synagogue in Denver. They have the largest pipe organ in a synagogue west of the Mississippi (who’d a thunk a pipe organ in a synagogue anyway?). We placed the amazing AKG C24 stereo microphone down into the pew seating area where the entire room was rattling from those low pedal notes. It was where the organ and room met in spectacular fashion. I added my favorite microphone for bottom end, a special condenser designed by David Bock, next to the C24 and that was the center channel. So now we had a modified classic Decca Tree microphone configuration I came up with (after a lot of experimentation) that uses a single-point Blumlein microphone (the C24) in conjunction with an omnidirectional center microphone. Then we went upstairs to where the organist sits and added a pair of spot mikes to capture what he was hearing, then blended the two together in the mix. On the aspen FR30 loudspeakers as augmented by a REL sub in the back of the room, these organ pieces are worth the price of admission alone. Killer!

FD: My speakers in my primary audio system only have one 10-inch woofer per speaker. What am I and other people with smaller speakers missing? (Other than a subwoofer, ha!) Subjectively, this recording, on my system, sounds like it has a lot of bass but I’m thinking I’m not hearing everything. What am I missing?

PM: The foundation of music. Without a proper subwoofer, you’re missing a great deal of the fundamentals that make for a realistic recording. That “you are there feeling” (even if there are no low bass notes to speak of). I hate to suggest that it’s one of those things where you’ll know when you hear it, but it’s kind of the truth. This release is a fun ride, whether or not you have the means to fully reproduce what you have, but it should be part of anyone’s reference library.

FD: Sounds like I need to call REL or try this recording through the big PA speakers our band uses. How low a bass signal can you actually put on a recording using DSD? I have to think you can easily go into subsonic frequencies using a synthesizer. When does the bass become too low, or even dangerous to the speakers and system – or the listener, like a sound cannon?

PM: The A/D converters we use have a -3 dB point of 2 Hz and are fairly flat to about 10 Hz. I think the thing to remember is that even though we humans can only hear to 20 Hz, we can feel down to several Hertz. DSD and PCM capture how we have engineered our recordings at Octave Records, which offer full and unrestricted bandwidth flat to 10 Hz and audible to 2 Hz if there’s any information to be found at those frequencies. Our microphones are, of course, limited to just below 20 Hz which is one of the reasons that for The Art of Hi-Fi: Bass, we relied on synthesizers going directly into the mixing console. Just have a listen to Kimberly and DJ Sparr’s wild piece, “Take What You Need,” featuring a viola and synthesizer. The synth notes DJ hits are pant-flappingly low.

FD: I have to give you a left-handed complement (well, I am a lefty) on the realism of the recording quality. I was listening with our pug Gary at my side. When Jeremy Mohney counted off “Shep’s Dream,” Gary perked up and started growling at the speaker, thinking it was another person in the room.

 PM: Hah! Yep, that’s one of the major goals Terri, Jessica, and I have at Octave. Realism that’s almost frightening. We get that by using simple microphone techniques in basically live settings. The Jeremy Mohney piece was done live in the Octave tracking room as captured by a Telefunken single-point Blumlein microphone. It’s as real and live as it gets.

FD: I like the fact that many of the tracks don’t pound you over the head with bass, like some demo recordings aimed at wowing the listener, perhaps without regard to musical content. For example, yes, Seth Lewis is playing a 5-string electric bass that goes deep, but it fits the music and isn’t just some rumble that’s slapped on there.

PM: Thanks for noticing. The last thing we wanted was to make bass-crazy music that had no value as actual musical pieces. We focused hard (well, to be fair, Jessica focused hard) on keeping the musical value of each piece as enjoyable and musically satisfying as possible. I think this is one release easy enough to just put in the machine, hit Play, and enjoy on its musical merits.

Checking Out xDuoo's Affordable MT-604 Headphone Amplifier

Checking Out xDuoo's Affordable MT-604 Headphone Amplifier

Checking Out xDuoo's Affordable MT-604 Headphone Amplifier

Howard Kneller

Earlier this year, I received a sample of xDuoo’s MT-604 fully-balanced tube headphone amplifier from online retailer Apos Audio. At an asking price of $169, it offers more sexiness per dollar than almost any audio component I’ve seen. I couldn’t wait to photograph it, and find out if it delivered on its promise of delivering enchanting tubed sound at a very low cost.

The MT-604 is a class-A, hybrid tube/solid-state amplifier. It’s rated to an output up to 200mW (at 32Ω) of power, which is said to work with even hard-to-drive headphones. Its features include a built-in mute circuit and independent left and right volume controls. A solid-state amplifier is said to provide “large dynamics, high speed, and resolving power.” On the MT-604’s rear is a pair of stereo balanced inputs. Front-facing output terminals are XLR and 4.4mm. The MT-604’s tube complement is four 6J1s, all located in its preamp section.

Not surprisingly for its cost, the MT-604 is not the most resolving or tonally accurate headphone amp out there. Instead, it delivers a beautiful and warm midrange and has an overall presentation that’s extremely fun and easy to listen to. It would be fantastic choice for a new audio hobbyist or even a solid-state veteran who to wants to experience a little tube magic in their audio pursuits for little money. Let the tube rolling begin!

The xDuoo MT-604's tube complement. The xDuoo MT-604's tube complement.
The MT-604 can drive a wide range of headphones via its dual outputs. The MT-604 can drive a wide range of headphones via its dual outputs.
The warm glow of tubes provides an appealing sonic signature. The warm glow of tubes provides an appealing sonic signature.

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

Celebrating the Linn Sondek LP12 Turntable, Part Two

Celebrating the Linn Sondek LP12 Turntable, Part Two

Celebrating the Linn Sondek LP12 Turntable, Part Two

Ken Kessler

Ken Kessler recounts anecdotes from the LP12’s heyday to create an impressionistic picture of the scene in the 1980s.

For those who “weren’t there” – that is, living in the UK in the 1970s and 1980s – tales of the effects, influence and, ultimately, damage incurred by the Linn/Naim-led “Flat Earth Society” on the British hi-fi scene must seem as fanciful as Harry and Meghan’s exposé of the Royal Family. Why does it even matter? you might ask. Or: are you exaggerating this recollection because of personal issues, i.e., sour grapes?

There’s a simple reply to the first of your possible queries: after the US, the UK was the most important manufacturing territory in the world of high-end audio. This is a claim based not least because of the longevity and pioneering nature of the industry (Tannoy, Wharfedale, Quad, Garrard, et al, were founded pre-World War II) and the benefits of operating in the English language. Whatever happened there had as much impact in many territories as what went on at Sea Cliff under the aegis of Harry Pearson.

While Japan, Germany and, much later, Italy would figure in the Top Five of high-end hardware manufacturing countries, they were less prolific, regardless of any language barriers. Germany’s main contributions were electromechanical – turntables and tape decks, not so much speakers and amplifiers – while Japan ran the extremes of multi-nationals with high-end divisions, e.g., Sony, or minuscule boutique brands, their main contributions being tone-arms and moving-coil cartridges. The UK, like the US, covered every area in audio.

Then there was the audio press, which was the main culprit/accomplice in this tale, to ensure that no audiophile functioning in the 1980s would have been unaware of the Linn Sondek LP12 turntable. Due to the aforementioned universality of the English language, and the remnants of the Empire in the form of the Commonwealth, British magazines had a unique audience which yielded massive impact in Australia, Canada, Hong Kong and other once-related, still fond-of-the-British territories. As evidence of the worth of the British hi-fi community, in addition to boasting a disproportionate number of manufacturers, the UK would provide the US with the long-serving editor of one of its most important magazines: John Atkinson taking over command of Stereophile in 1986.

While there is no doubt that The Absolute Sound was – globally – the heaviest hitter in the world of high-end hi-fi from its inception in 1973 until Atkinson revitalized Stereophile, the extant British titles reached the parts US magazines didn’t, especially Hi-Fi Choice, Hi-Fi News & Record Review and (for the budget sector only) What Hi-Fi?. Another dozen or so titles padded out the newsstands, including Practical Hi-Fi, Hi-Fi Answers and Hi-Fi for Pleasure. All of them, to a man (there were no distaff hi-scribes in the UK back then, so woke readers, don’t get your panties in a bunch), were LP12 users.

But back to the deck’s first half-century. It is not for me to write the company’s actual history given the enmity between Linn and me, but I am happy to provide in this year of the LP12’s 50th anniversary some snapshots from its heyday. These anecdotes might be challenged by some – again, the late Queen Elizabeth II’s observation that “recollections may vary” is apt – but for me they remain vivid. My direct relationship with Linn started at a now-forgotten hi-fi show in Brighton, circa 1984 – 1985.

By that time, I had made enough of a name for myself to enjoy some notoriety as the only Yankee in the British press pack, and to the dismay of this virtually closed shop, one whose horizons were not limited by weedy, sh*tty-sounding solid-state amps nor 2-way bookshelf speakers. Although I had left the US in 1972 – 1974, I was weaned on real high-end gear, having worked in a store that sold ESS Heil AMT4s and Marantz Model 250 power amps and Empire turntables up in Bangor, Maine. While I had acclimatized my ears to the BBC sound, and grown to adore LS3/5A loudspeakers and Radford tube amps, I did not buy into the Linn/Naim ethos. For Flat Earthers, then, I was the equivalent of the Antichrist.

It was in the bar one evening that a short, stocky barrel of a man came up to me, clearly lubricated on Scotch. As my ears hadn't quite acclimatized as well to accents, I could barely understand his thick Glaswegian accent. This individual was Ivor Tiefenbrun, who I had not met at that point. Decades later, after we became fast friends, not least because we’re lantzmen, Members of the Tribe, Fellow Red Sea Pedestrians, ad infinitum, Ivor would deny this, but what happened was that he said he was gonna meet me on the beach and beat the sh*t out of me.

Ivor Tiefenbrun. Courtesy of Ken Kessler.

Ivor Tiefenbrun. Courtesy of Ken Kessler.

As Ivor’s voice was never sotto voce, a crowd soon gathered. Whether or not there was any basis for the rumor that Ivor was once an amateur boxer, and despite me being 5' 8" to his 5' 6" or so, I am the least-athletic human being God has placed on this planet. As I didn't drink at the time – my wine fixation came a decade later – the assembled throng swiftly divided into those who were part of the Flat Earth Society, praying for my physical demise, and all those from other brands which were not part of the Linn/Naim clique.

Although sober and terrified, I was still able to read the room. Bets were being made. Ivor’s nose was inches from my chin. His fists were balled. I had only been around the press for a year, but the room also contained reps and retailers I knew from before. They were wondering, save for my old buddy Simon Spears (now of the Audio Gear Group, once with Widescreen Review but then with AR in the UK), how long it would take before my bladder emptied.

If I remember correctly, Ivor’s fury was based on a perfect storm of 1) me not using an LP12, 2) my having written somewhere that it was nothing more than “a Thorens TD 150 on steroids” and 3) me being a “loudmouthed Yank” who didn't know what he was talking about. Guilty of all three, I could do nothing but stand up to him, a Marty McFly vs Biff (but with the heights reversed) scenario.

I never did find out how much was wagered, but Simon was among those who backed me, so I like to think he pocketed a few pounds. My Fruit of the Looms remained unsoiled. Simon and Naim’s Julian Vereker – whom I also became friends with years later – separated the two of us and in seconds my stature had gone up immeasurably in the UK hi-fi community. There were even cheers. Ivor snorted something and walked off.

Which brings us to the second question you might have pondered, about the degree of negative impact the Linn/Naim Axis might have inflicted on the industry. Alas, one might say it’s unquantifiable. But it’s 38 years later, and my rear-guard action must have worked because, like the LP12, I am still here, but not one of the Linn acolytes or useful idiots is still writing for anything of what remains of the British press.

Some have died; others were deservedly weeded out because of their intransigence, dishonesty or other malfeasances. As of 2023, the Linn LP12 is just another decent turntable, the world having embraced decks from TechDAS, Continuum, Clearaudio, VPI, Avid, Thorens, E.A.T., Pro-Ject, and too many others to namecheck.

But for me there’s a synecdoche, a coda which says all there is to know about how the Flat Earth Society operated, a precursor of cancel culture with the kind of tactics favored by despots: It was 30 years later when I learned that one of my superiors at Hi-Fi News, a poster child for the Flat Earthers, wanted me fired because of my refusal to use a Linn. Last time I checked, I was still writing for them.

Next time, the best Linn anecdotes!

Cover of a Linn Sondek LP-12 setup manual from the 1980s, comprising 28 pages of instructions. Yes, manuals that looked this quaint were not uncommon back in the day. Courtesy of Frank Doris.
Cover of a Linn Sondek LP-12 setup manual from the 1980s, comprising 28 pages of instructions, crooked type and all. Yes, manuals that looked this quaint were not uncommon back in the day. Courtesy of Frank Doris.

Back to Analog – Academy Award-Winning Songwriter John DeNicola is Having The Time of His Life

Back to Analog – Academy Award-Winning Songwriter John DeNicola is Having The Time of His Life

Back to Analog – Academy Award-Winning Songwriter John DeNicola is Having The Time of His Life

John Seetoo

“(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” was the Billboard Number 1 Hot 100 hit single from the 1987 Dirty Dancing soundtrack album, one of the biggest selling (over 32 million copies) in history. Performed as a duet by Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers and Jennifer Warnes, the song went on to earn both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe award win for its writers, John DeNicola, Franke Previte, and Don Markowitz, and remains a perennial radio favorite.

DeNicola and Previte also composed the soundtrack’s other big hit, “Hungry Eyes,” which was performed by Eric Carmen. Ironically, the demo of the song, featuring DeNicola with Previte and singer Rachele Cappelli performing the duet parts, was used for the actual dance sequence when Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey filmed their scenes, as the Medley and Warnes version had not yet been completed. In subsequent interviews, Swayze would frequently mention that he preferred the demo version to the hit single release – perhaps a foreshadowing of DeNicola’s future production expertise.

As a professional musician, John DeNicola made his first industry mark as the bassist for jazz fusion group Flight, which was signed to Motown Records. After stints as bassist for Paul Young and Corey Hart, DeNicola focused on songwriting and production, and subsequently worked with a range of artists, including Eddie Money, John Waite, and Bernie Worrell of Parliament/Funkadelic, as well as British prog-rock Renaissance siren Annie Haslam, and a band named Kara’s Flowers, which would later rename itself as Maroon 5.

Although his involvement with Dirty Dancing may have been the commercial pinnacle of his career to date as a songwriter, John DeNicola has continued to be active in the music industry as a songwriter, producer, multi-instrumentalist, recording artist, record label owner – and most recently, as an audiophile-market product supplier of commercially distributed recordings on 1/4-inch analog reel-to-reel tape. Copper had the opportunity to ask John DeNicola about his recent foray into analog reel-to-reel releases, and his body of other work.

John Seetoo: After all the work you've done in various audio formats, what motivated you to now release recordings on 1/4-inch 15 ips analog tape? Was it a preference for the sound, or was it something else? At a retail price of $350, how has the market reaction been?

John DeNicola: While looking at a DIY single-ended tube amplifier company website that also specialized in the sale of reel-to-reel tape machines, I noticed that they additionally offered 1/4-inch tape recordings of a few classic records – that were all sold out. After further research, I saw a few other websites offering 1/4-inch tape recordings. I noticed that there was a limited choice of music, so I thought I'd add a few more choices for them. The sound is way better than any of the other formats, to my ear. Even better than vinyl. It's the closest thing to being in the recording studio and listening.

I just followed my interest, which is the way I usually work, and only now am I really getting the word out. I should mention that it takes two reels to fit a record and each blank tape is very costly, resulting in that higher price category.

John DeNicola in the studio. Courtesy of Debra DeNicola.
John DeNicola in the studio. Courtesy of Debra DeNicola.

JS: Are you handling the transfers at your own studio, or are you outsourcing them to a different facility?

JD: We do them here at my studio in upstate NY on my Studer B67 1/4-inch reel to reel recorder. [It’s] the same one to which I mix these projects.

JS: What is the usual signal chain for creating your 1/4-inch analog tape releases? What prompted the gear selections?

JD: Most of the time, I record these projects in 24-bit 96 kHz to Pro Tools and then run individual tracks through an MCI Mara [Machines] 16-track tape machine (although sometimes depending on time, I record direct to the 16-track tape machine) and then I mix to two-track 1/4-inch, usually through my UTA UnFairchild stereo buss compressor (a modern version of the famous Fairchild unit most notably used in the Beatles recordings), which has 20 tubes and 14 transformers, and then send that off to Greg Calbi at Sterling Sound to master the records. He sends me back 24-bit 96 kHz masters, and we make a tape from that directly here at the studio to the Studer B67.

JS: You state on your website that the master tape transfers "are like being in a recording studio mixdown session." Can you elaborate? Are you re-equalizing or changing any mix aspects during the transfer? If so, please explain.

JD: It's a direct transfer from the master Greg Calbi sends back to me and instead of it being pressed into either a CD or LP at a reproduction facility or a digital download on a computer, it is directly printed to 1/4-inch tape – which to my ear, is the closest to actually listening in the recording studio. Obviously, LPs are awesome sonically because that process has its [own] sound, but tape has its sound also. Tape compression has a way of warming up the sound like no other format. Again, I decided to offer this format because of the niche market. There is a limited choice of music because there isn't that much music on tape out there, so I decided to offer [our] Omad Records catalog [in that format].

JS: Your 1/4-inch analog tape releases are transferred from digital 96 kHz/24-bit masters. Is this a choice or is it due to the unavailability of analog masters? If given a choice, which would be your preference, and what technical changes would you make in the transfer process for optimum sound quality?

JD: Absolutely, all-analog would be my preference, and I intend to do some projects that are all-analog next. All-analog does take more time and buying tape for multiple takes can get very expensive, so most artists choose not to [do that], given the cost. There is a convenience [to recording in] digital that artists like: multiple takes, easy editing, etc. Ideally, I would prefer to stay analog the whole way. Also, there are fewer and fewer mastering houses that do all-analog, as digital has taken precedence – but they can be found.

John's Neumann CMV-563 microphone. Courtesy of John DeNicola.
John's Neumann CMV-563 microphone. Courtesy of John DeNicola.

JS: Analog cassettes are becoming a retro trend. Is this a market that you also are considering, and what technical changes would you make to maintain your sound quality standards as closely as possible, given both the tape dimensions and operating speed differences?

JD: I have been intrigued by analog cassette tapes and thought about offering them also, but so far, it seems to be even more of a niche category, seemingly confined to the under 25-crowd for modern indie music. So, for any artist I work with [that has that] demographic I would certainly consider it. I recently worked with a band [named] Fovea that fits that description, and quite possibly would offer that [on cassette] when it is finished. The cost of making those up is attractive as it's maybe a bit less than manufacturing CDs and of course much cheaper than LPs.

JS: What percentage of your solo releases (The Why Because and She Said) are recorded at your home studio? Do your guest artists come to record with you in person, or do they record their parts remotely?

JD: Both of my records were recorded and mixed here in the barn studio. It has all the equipment that any commercial studio would offer: 2-inch and 1/4-inch tape machines, Neve, Helios, and API preamps, Universal Audio and SSL compressors, Pultec equalizers, and an UnFairchild 670. [I also have a] ‘50s-era EMT 140 plate reverb once owned by the Holland/ Dozier/Holland studio, which, as it turns out, was later purchased by Tony Camillo's studio. That's where we did our demo of "(I’ve Had) the Time Of My Life" and (it) was used by my producing/engineering mentor Ed Stasium when he worked at Tony's studio. So, it is quite a wonderful turn of events that brought it here to my place.

[The studio] also has a huge hayloft room that has a great sound for everything, but particularly for drums. Some of the artists came to the studio and some worked remotely. I remember that Mickey [Madden] from Maroon 5 came to my New York City studio on 36th Street to play bass on the song "In God's Shadow" that I wrote with John Waite, Anthony Krizan and Keith Reid (Procol Harum lyricist). My friend Zonder Kennedy (the Elevators, John Campbell, Doyle Bramhall) recorded his tracks here in the barn as he has a place up the hollow. John Waite added his harmonies at a studio in L.A.

John's vintage RCA 77-DX ribbon microphone. Courtesy of John DeNicola.
John's vintage RCA 77-DX ribbon microphone. Courtesy of John DeNicola.

JS: Have you used your studio for any of your other collaborations released on your label, Omad, or on other labels?

JD: Yes, for the most part I record all my Omad projects here in the barn with some overdubs in my NYC studio. Rust Dust, Peter Lewis, the Sighs, Fovea, and Robert LaRoche were all done here in the barn.

JS: Our editor grew up in the town of Smithtown like you did and went to Hauppauge High School. Copper's Jay Jay French played clubs in the Tri-State area as a member of Twisted Sister. Are there any memorable musical experiences you can share from growing up and playing in bands on Long Island? Or did you move to New York City at an earlier age?

JD: Oh, for sure. For many years, I was in a cover/original band named Sweetback. It was a seven-piece band with horns and an amazing singer, Tim Lawless. Actually, Rich Cannata went from our band to play with Billy Joel for many years. We played all over Long Island, and in particular, we played Monday nights at Tuey's in Setauket for many years. Then later on, I played bass in a jazz fusion band named Flight, which recorded for Motown Records. We rehearsed in Wantagh six days a week for six hours a day. Erykah Badu sampled our song, “Face To Face” for her hit, "Back In The Day." (We also) played at My Father’s Place in Roslyn a number of times with both Flight and Corey Hart.

JS: When did you decide to make the transition from musician to songwriter and producer?

JD: My songwriting started when an original band I was playing in needed songs. Before playing in original bands, I was playing bass in Corey Hart's band. I think Rich Cannata was producing him and he asked me to play bass with him. I had conversations with Corey and he stressed the importance of writing music. When I had success writing the songs from Dirty Dancing, I was thrust into the "songwriter" category, and as songwriting turned more into producing tracks for artists to sing on, my production chops were honed. A&R people were less and less about hearing the bones of a song and more about a finished production, so they could hear the song as it might end up sounding finished. Then, after years of writing and producing tracks, I would sometimes take a break from writing and focus on producing as a way to kind of distract from the writing process and put my producing/engineering hat on and work with bands that I found or that found me.

JS: Your musical collaborations with Franke Previte, Maroon 5, Eric Carmen, John Waite, Eddie Money, Sugar Jones and the Sighs in pop/rock, Bernie Worrell and Kristine W. in R&B/dance music, and Jeannie Kendall and Steve Holy in country music all make logical sense, given your roots as an American Oscar-winning pop songwriter, Motown artist and former jazz/fusion bassist. Annie Haslam of the British prog-rock group Renaissance seems to be an outlier. How did that collaboration come about, and what did you accomplish together?

JD: I was introduced to Annie Haslam when her A&R person heard a song I had written with Kit Hain entitled "Further From Fantasy." Larry Fast was producing. Larry asked me to work with him on the tracks for the song, as I had a bunch of synth tracks with sounds they liked. But to me, Annie Haslam is an artist I can relate to musically. She has such a perfect and beautiful voice. As it happens, it seems either A&R people were looking for more songs for women or I gravitated to songs for women – not sure which it is, actually.

JS: Moby Grape was one of the early San Francisco groups of the 1960s. How did the Moby Grape/founding member Peter Lewis relationship start, and have you done any kind of work together that has been unreleased?

JD: I was a big Moby Grape fan growing up and loved their records. I was particularly influenced by Bob Mosley as a bass player and was always moved by his amazing singing voice.

In the early days of the internet, I typed in “Moby Grape” and was connected to an early website that had been set up. I got connected with their publishing administrator and he put me in touch with Peter and the band. They were just getting the rights to their name back from an early manager and once again able to perform as Moby Grape, and came here to New York City and played at Wetlands before it closed. I actually met with them and sat in on a few songs at a few of their East Coast gigs.

I kept in touch with Peter and at some point, he sent me some demos that he did with his daughter, Arwen Lewis, which contained a few Moby Grape songs. I suggested we do an album of Moby Grape songs from a female perspective and they came here to New York and we completed a record of 12 Moby Grape songs featuring Arwen. I also produced the Peter Lewis Record, The Road To Zion, that Omad put out in 2017. We just so happen to be finishing up a new record with Peter, for which I have co-written six songs, and the rest are Peter originals. I am in mixing mode as we speak and it should be out in the spring.

JS: The Why Because features your versions of songs that you wrote but were previously recorded by other artists, most notably your most familiar hits: "(I've Had) the Time of My Life" and "Hungry Eyes," which were the cornerstones of the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. Were the versions you released the arrangements that you envisioned for the songs originally when you first composed them, or were they the result of self-reflection over the years as to how the songs speak to you in the present day?

JD: When I decided to record my own songs, I thought about “Hungry Eyes'' and asked my son for ideas on how I should approach it. He said that a lot of modern indie rock bands put elements of ’80s synth-pop into their modern recordings. We took elements of the original but added a modern indie rock feel. I thought that it would be a great way to approach it. Jake played drums in that style and away we went.

Playing a vintage Roland Juno-106 synthesizer. Courtesy of Debra DeNicola.
Playing a vintage Roland Juno-106 synthesizer. Courtesy of Debra DeNicola.

So “Hungry Eyes'' wasn't too hard to approach, but “Time Of My Life” was a lot harder to come up with a fresh way that would be different enough from the original. The original is so well-known and done so well with some of the greatest singers in the world singing on it. Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes are so perfect in that original version. So, I was at a loss and was not going to put it on the record. Then at the last minute, I decided to just strip it down with an acoustic guitar and some French horns. I just do a verse and a chorus and bridge out. It's really an homage to the song and what it has meant to me. It closes the album, The Why Because.

My follow-up record released in 2021, She Said, is made up of songs I wrote for myself as an artist. It was interesting to me to see who I am as an artist after all these years of playing in bands backing someone up or writing for someone else. It was really cathartic for me to be able to do a record free from any constraints on what I could do and without having to get a consensus from others.

JS: What do you use for your home hi-fi system? What music recordings would you use as a reference to audition stereo equipment for your listening pleasure and why?

JD: I have multiple systems in various places. I have a single ended Decware tube system with very efficient speakers that have both front-facing speakers, and Decware Radial HR-1 speakers with a VPI turntable. I also have a ’60s McIntosh system with an MX110 receiver and MC240 amplifier, Legacy speakers, and also another VPI turntable with a Dynavector 10X5 cartridge. And then, scattered in different places, I have three Fisher 500C receivers with various types of speakers. In the studio, I have a McIntosh solid-state power amp, ATC and Audix speakers, and two reel-to-reel machines: the aforementioned Studer B67 and an Otari MX-5050.

As far as auditioning records, there are so many. Acoustic Sounds out of Salina, Kansas (see Copper Issue 33 for an interview with Acoustic Sounds founder Chad Kassem) make great direct-from-tape master LPs or UHQR [Ultra High-Quality Record] records. Francis Albert Sinatra & Antônio Carlos Jobim is one record I would recommend. Claus Ogerman's arrangements are beautiful and a record like that was produced in a studio with tube gear and tape in perhaps the heyday of quality recording.

The Beatles recordings still hold up sonically and Giles Martin's newly-remixed Revolver is pretty amazing sounding. I recently purchased the UHQR Jimi Hendrix Are You Experienced release and it's amazing what they did with just three musicians with very little overdubbing. Neil Young's recording, Barn, is interesting as it's recorded live in a barn and sounds great. Soft Machine’s Third…I have heard a theory that records recorded on tape with tube gear imprint on our minds better than modern digital recordings, and I might agree with that.

JS: Is there anything else you'd like to tell Copper readers?

JD: Just that I appreciate their continued pursuit of fine audio and not letting the streaming of music be the be-all and end-all for listeners. (I am) passing that torch to younger generations to realize and enjoy.

Header image courtesy of Debra DeNicola.


Ryan Hamilton: A Wicked Cool Rocker

Ryan Hamilton: A Wicked Cool Rocker

Ryan Hamilton: A Wicked Cool Rocker

Ray Chelstowski

When Huey Lewis and The News sang “the heart of rock n roll is still beating” back in 1984, rock was arguably in its strongest position ever. FM rock radio was at its peak, MTV was “appointment television,” and CDs which had just been introduced to the market (in 1982) would breathe new life into unit sales. Yet somehow even then there was an underlying concern as to what rock’s future might look like.

Today terrestrial radio only offers cookie-cutter formats and symmetrical playlists of the same songs over and over again. Streaming platforms have so eroded the ability for bands and musicians to make a living that many have stopped recording new music. It might well be why arena rock country has become so popular: it’s accessible and the closest thing to rock anyone can find up and down the radio dial.

But not far below the surface is an army of rockers who continue to carry the torch and ensure that rock’s best days could be yet to come. One of their most fervent voices comes from Ryan Hamilton, an artist from Fort Worth, Texas and a key member of Steven Van Zandt’s Wicked Cool Records roster. Lauded as the best thing to happen to rock in years by bands like the Alarm and artists like Adam Duritz (of Counting Crows), Hamilton has crafted a sound that is dynamic and filled with fun, often with a lighthearted sense of irreverence. While his music can tackle tough topics with the appropriate amount of maturity and reflection, it’s on the songs that come with a launch pad and take off like a rocket where his fans lean in longest, and look forward to hearing live when his show hits their town.

Hamilton is about to release his first full album on Wicked Cool, Hunted By The Holy Ghost. It’s his most complete work yet and delivers a terrific balance of what he does best. The record opens with the playful “Asshole,” and it kicks the door wide open like the best rock records do, with a catchy hook, swagger, and a series of sideways smirks. What follows is a wonderful blend of music that offers elegance (“Overdose” and “Absence of Love”) alongside honky-tonk sing alongs likes “Sad Bastard Song.”

Copper caught up with Hamilton between tours and we talked about his approach to creating music, the role his mentor Steven Van Zandt continues to have on Hamilton’s work, and what the new year has in store for he and his fans.

Ray Chelstowski: You’ve been on Wicked Cool Records for a few years now. In this age of streaming, how does Steve Van Zandt define “success?”

Ryan Hamilton:, Well, I’ve been lucky as far as [being on the charts] goes, especially overseas. So, seeing [Hunted by the Holy Ghost] chart well does factor into the equation, even though people can whittle down streaming stats to make it look like they have a Number One record. They keep narrowing down the genre until they’re the only “alt metal garage pop artist.” But doing well on actual charts really seems to excite Stevie. Other than that, I don’t hear a lot about it. He doesn’t let music go into the world unless it’s something that he loves, is proud of and that he’s confident people will really enjoy. Once that happens he’s ready to see what it can do and I love that about him.

RC: He was very hands-on with your first record together, 1221. How involved was he here?

RH: Well, I finished the demos for [Hunted by the Holy Ghost] and he said “no.” I wanted to make more of a country-sounding record and he shot it down. He said that if I wanted to do this he would support me, but he said, “trust me when I tell you this is career suicide, and if anybody knows how to really screw up their career it’s me. I’m telling you. Don’t do this.” So I trashed all of those demos and started over. In the end, it was the first time he didn’t have any notes [suggested changes] to share on the record. I got a really strong sense of pride from him that I’d come into my own in a way. I’ve learned so much from him, so when I turned the final product in, to have no notes back from him made me feel like the student had come into his own.


Ryan Hamilton. Courtesy of Ryan Hamilton.
Ryan Hamilton. Courtesy of Ryan Hamilton.
RC: This is a bit of a label affair with singer Jesse Wagner guesting on “On The Edge.”


RH: I wrote the song as a duet and I thought that Jesse would be great because I had seen her with [Little Steven and] the Disciples of Soul, and she had put out a great solo record. She’s just part of the family so I just kind of floated the idea by the label of her participating on the song, and it resulted in an immediate “yes” from both her and the label. A lot of people wouldn’t describe my voice as “pretty” and I’m OK with that. But she’s such a huge talent and I love the contrast between our two voices.

RC: Another labelmate is Jesse Malin, who you’ve shared stages with. Two tracks in particular (“Absence of Love” and “Overdose”) remind me of him. How much of an influence is here?

RC: I’m really happy to hear you mention those two songs. As a songwriter, those are the ones that scratch that itch. What’s interesting is that you become part of the record label family and while I’m not competitive you see what’s successful. I probably don’t even realize at times how I’ve been inspired by other artists, and he’s incredible. So, I’m sure that part of that lives within my stratosphere of inspiration and I’m happy to say he has inspired me for sure.

RC: Many of the songs, the opening track “Asshole” included, use explicit language. How do you weigh the benefits of using strong language in your writing?

RH: I think I’ve finally become old enough to be done worrying about what people are going to think or if the record is going to make it on the radio. I’m just going to go into the studio and try to not overthink it. To open with a track called “Asshole” and love and be proud of it is a weird dynamic. You have a song with that name, and it’s never going to be played on the radio, but it’s probably going to be the most popular song on the record. Something really interesting is that we did a litmus test on how any other songs with that name performed in the past. We found two or three fairly well-known artists that had a song with the same name. That song for those artists had at minimum 10 times more streaming plays than any other song on their respective records. So, the name doesn’t put people off. Instead it gets them excited about what they are going to hear. Thankfully ours is a fun song and I can’t wait to see what happens with it.

RC: There’s a lot more sonic depth to this record than your previous releases. Was that intentional?

RH: This record just kind of took off on its own and developed its own personality. It just happened to have more depth. I noticed that when we were mixing the record and I didn’t want to jinx it. I wasn’t sure what was going on and I’m not sure how it happened but there was some depth that we have ever had before.

RC: You’ve opened for some well-established acts like the Alarm. How have their fans received your music?

RH: I’ve been really fortunate in that bands like the Alarm have fans that are true music lovers. I seem to slot well into these audiences. These are the folks that want the vinyl and the foldout album covers. Frankly I’m one of those people. So that makes me feel like I’m in the right place when I’m out on tour with these acts.

RC: As you look into the New Year, what excites you most about 2023?

RH: This is my first studio album in almost three years. Like a lot of people, I feel like finally we can do all of these things [again]. We can put an album out. We can go on tour. But more than that, there’s been three years to prepare for this, which is more time than I have ever had. I’m heading out soon on what will be the biggest tour I’ve ever been on, I’m about to enter the biggest year of my career, and it all feels really good, Ray!

Header image courtesy of Ryan Hamilton.

Lounging with In-Ear Monitors, Part One

Lounging with In-Ear Monitors, Part One

Lounging with In-Ear Monitors, Part One

Russ Welton

If one of the greatest limitations to getting good stereo sound is the dominating effect of your room’s sonic and tonal personality, then what might be a better way of tailoring your own personal preferred listening experience than to eliminate the room altogether – and hone your listening skills at the same time. What am I talking about? I am referring to headphones, and more specifically, in-ear monitors (IEMs). Often referred to as earbuds, earphones, or in-ear headphones, I’ll go with the term in-ear monitors, as they are typically called in the world of pro audio.

It occurs to me that with such a global demand for in-ears, albeit that they may primarily be used for plugging into mobile phones and portable devices (which is not a crime in and of itself), two things really stand out:

One, there is a phenomenal global demand. Second, that there exists such fierce competition in the IEM space that it is driving some recent improvements in sound and manufacturing quality of very inexpensive IEMs. Some brands are tuning their devices so well that a low purchase price is perhaps less-indicative of lesser sonic quality than ever before. Increasingly, as more and more people care more about the preferred tonal “personality” traits and sonic reproduction of their favorite tunes, it seems to me they are becoming more demanding and well-informed about what sounds good.

Yet it is true that there is an absolute plethora of IEMs on the market that sound anywhere from downright mediocre to shockingly harsh, brittle and thin. There are models with massively exaggerated bass response, and others with a deep V-shaped midrange scoop.

Of course, listener preferences can be subjective, but we do have a benchmark to steer by – that of the “Harman curve.” It’s a frequency response curve derived from research by Harman International. This curve has been deemed by Harman to be pleasing to a majority of listeners, offering sufficient bass, clean non-muddied mids, good vocal representation and adequate detail in the treble response without being fatiguing and wearing as you listen to your favorite drum parts, cymbal hits and hi-hat rides. The fact that so may manufacturers plot their frequency responses for their IEMs makes it a relatively easy thing to make visual comparative analyses of sonic characteristics. Although looking at frequency response curves is not a bulletproof method for comparing apples to apples, (or Samsungs to Samsungs) it can certainly set you off in a good direction. (For more about the Harman curve, click here.)

The Harman curve, a target frequency response curve for headphones. Courtesy of Jazz Times magazine. The Harman curve, a target frequency response curve for headphones. Courtesy of Jazz Times magazine.

How well the IEMs fit in your ears is a significant factor that should not be overlooked, especially when doing critical listening. A bad fit will affect how the headphones sound, particularly in the bass. A poorly-fitting seal in your ear canal entrance is just not going to cut it if you do anything other than sit rigidly still when listening, and that alone probably negates the experience for the joggers, athletes, gym-goers, walkers and others among us. I haven’t had a lot of luck with the Apple EarPods; although their cleverly-designed contoured earpiece tries to provide a tapered one size fits all solution, in my experience, it just means that the EarPods habitually fall out and don’t work like a proper IEM. (The sound quality is what could perhaps be generously described as forgivably functional and passable.)

Let’s return, though, to considering if quality has improved at lower price points. What factors go into the cost of a well-made IEM? Apart from the obvious point of the build quality and longevity of the components used, do the earphones come with a selection of different sized ear buds for an optimal fit? Usually, a respectable brand will give you at least three sizes, and some will include Comply or other memory foam eartips. Here’s something to consider: the size of each of your ears may not be the same, and you may find that using two different sizes may work best for your ears.

If you are unaware of these and want a very-good-sounding product that comes with a set of earbuds which on their own might cost around half the price of the IEM itself, check out the Linsoul Audio Moondrop Chu. At under $25 these IEMs (along with a select peer group in their price range), are ridiculously well-balanced and tuned and I have to say compete with some products more than ten times their price. It’s borderline insanity that such quality is available in today’s marketplace. But then, look at the technology in our mobile phones, and that contextualizes where and perhaps why these advancements are breaking new ground in price-to-performance ratios. Perhaps surprisingly the Moondrop Chu earpieces are indeed made of metal, not plastic, and even feature an attractive and detailed logo. The packaging is also excellent, featuring one of Moondrop’s stylized Manga-esque characters.

Other things to consider when looking at (and listening to) IEMs: are the cables detachable from the earpieces so that if caught, they don’t snag, stretch or break? If this might be an issue and you also might want to be able to detach your cables for tidy storage, look at the 7HZ Salnotes Zero, also from Linsoul. These in-ears feature a subtly-improved treble response over the Chu, and the price difference is negligible. Do they sound good? No, they sound very good. If you want to invest more money in excellent performing IEMs from Moondrop, perhaps consider the Blessing 2 and Moondrop Variations models (US$319.99 and US$520 respectively), both of which have their devotees, primarily due to their natural-sounding presentation and better-balanced top end. Of course, there are also plenty of high-quality models from manufacturers including Periodic Audio, Shure, Cardas, Audio-Technica, Jerry Harvey Audio, Shure, Bose, Sennheiser, HIFIMAN, Audeze and numerous others.

Moondrop Blessing 2 in-ear headphones.
Moondrop Blessing 2 in-ear headphones.

Another thing to consider is whether the IEM has single or multiple drivers and crossovers – yes, that is also a thing in the IEM space. Also, IEMs can use either dynamic drivers (like miniature loudspeakers), or balanced armature drivers, where a voice coil is wrapped around an armature that is suspended between two magnets. The conventional wisdom is that dynamic drivers have a stronger low-end response, while balanced armature designs deliver better midrange and high-frequency response, but as always, the implementation can be as or more important than the technology. Some models incorporate a hybrid of both designs.

Check out the Truthear Zero in-ears from Shenzhen Audio (not to be confused with any other units named Zero from other brands) which utilizes both a 10 mm and a 7.8 mm dynamic driver and a crossover. There are even IEMs with planar-magnetic drivers, like the AAW Nightingale or the more affordable Linsoul Audio 7HZ Timeless.

Linsoul Audio 7Hz Timeless in-ear headphones.
Linsoul Audio 7HZ Timeless in-ear headphones.

I have been blown away by the sound quality of some modern IEMs. You do have to sift out a lot of junk. To that end, I have recently tried many different models to replace a beloved set of IEMs that I owned. I don’t wish to name and shame the brand, but I was…disappointed that there was no offer to repair them from the unspoken of and undivulged company. What had me really bothered, however, was that when after gently removing the earbud, the entire driver unit came away from its ceramic housing, taking with it the super-fine-gauge voice coil wire which could simply not be reattached. I wouldn’t have minded, but they had a retail price of almost $200. One may typically expect these kinds of issues from something that cost $25. The upside however, is that so much advancement has been made in IEMs in recent years that equivalent and indeed better-sounding products are more readily available than ever.

In our next installment we will look more deeply into in-ear monitor technology and how you may improve your own listening experience. I’ll also discuss noise-cancellation and its advantages and limitations.

Header image courtesy of Pexels.com/Shazard R.

Home Entertainment Formats Over the Past 50 Years and How They Influenced Each Other

Home Entertainment Formats Over the Past 50 Years and How They Influenced Each Other

Home Entertainment Formats Over the Past 50 Years and How They Influenced Each Other

Larry Jaffee

Technological advances in the 1970s brought unprecedented conveniences for consumer home entertainment that continues a half century later in the digital age. Further examination of the machinations that ultimately gave way to today’s instantaneous legal access to mountains of movies, television shows and music albums for a fairly nominal subscription fee shows the synergy between the record industry and Hollywood, both constantly looking for ways to reinvent themselves.

The bedrock for today’s plethora of consumer choices was laid in the 1970s in Hollywood, with protracted litigation that pitted the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA, now the Motion Picture Association or MPA) against Japanese consumer electronics (CE) manufacturers, (who had their own format war going on with Betamax versus Sony). A landmark 1983 – 1984 case was decided by a 5 – 4 US Supreme Court decision in favor of the plaintiff in Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc., colloquially known as the “Betamax” case. This case ruled that consumers who made copies of TV shows using their VCRs did not constitute copyright infringement, but were considered to be fair use. Also, the VCR manufacturers could not be liable for contributory infringement.

Sony Betamax SL-HF150 videocassette recorder. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Hoikka 1. Sony Betamax SL-HF150 videocassette recorder. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Hoikka 1.

Globalization was still a decade away, as a worldwide recession forced US entertainment creators to seek foreign partners for both film and television. Rupert Murdoch’s Australia-based News Corp. bought 20th Century-Fox (1985); Sony Corp. bought Columbia Records (1987); Japanese multinational conglomerate Matsushita Electric bought MCA Records (1990); and French media company Vivendi bought MCA successor Universal Music Group (2000), to name a few such deals. Previously, international contracts between countries had dealt with licensing movies, TV or music between countries.

Although Sony’s Betamax’ videocassette recorder had pushed the legal envelope, the company’s Japanese rival JVC ultimately won the marketplace with its VHS alternative for “time-shifting” televised programming. Consumers could now watch what and when they wanted at their leisure, taking control away from the program producers. The growth of cable television during the 1980s provided dozens of new niche special-interest basic and premium cable networks (CNN, Lifetime, and HBO and Showtime) to name a few.

Although technically losing the “Betamax case,” the MPAA and its studio members actually won a bonanza of an ancillary revenue stream in the new industry known as home video, which less than a decade later eclipsed the box office receipts from movie theaters. Consumers could now rent a videocassette of a movie for a few dollars, or buy it outright for $50 or more (with the price eventually declining).

Let’s not forget all the cogs in such a value chain that are required to be able to present to consumers what they don’t know they need, to cite Apple Computer Company founder Steve Jobs’s cocky business philosophy. Chains like Blockbuster Video and mom-and-pop video stores sprung up overnight, along with new cottage industries. Manufacturers built machinery to produce mass volumes of videotapes, and later, DVD and Blu-ray discs. Duplicators and replicators set up shop, as did packaging specialists. Mastering engineers and DVD authoring houses learned the new technologies, giving their livelihoods a new lease on life, a chain reaction brought on by a constant stream of new home entertainment innovations.

The CD Reinvents the Music Business, and Hollywood Watches Carefully

On August 1, 1981, MTV (for Music Television) started playing music videos 24/7 on cable TV. Suddenly, LPs and 45s became passé with their formerly main demographic. The 12-inch vinyl LP had become the leading prerecorded music through the 1970s, when youth culture had turned it into a real business. Here's "Video Killed the Radio Star" by the Buggles, the first video ever to be shown on MTV.

The next advancement in consumer music formats, the Compact Disc (CD), didn’t happen overnight. Researchers at Philips in The Netherlands and Sony in Japan had been separately working on the storage format of an optical disc read by a laser. It took several years, but the two companies ultimately pooled their resources so that a single format would emerge in 1982 that the entire industry could get behind. A key to the CD’s adoption was the record labels allowed retailers to return unsold CDs, limiting their risk in switching over to a new format, while at the same time, the labels stopped taking returns on unsold LPs.

As the changeover progressed from LP to CD, the prerecorded cassette became the most popular format from 1985 until 1992. (Eight-track tape car decks were also popular in the 1970s.) While Sony might have lost the VCR war, its Walkman portable cassette player became a worldwide smash. Suddenly music became portable – a seismic revolution in the way consumers listened to music. (Later, Sony’s Discman was also the first in the portable CD player market.)

Sony D-50 Discman portable CD player. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Binarysequence. Sony D-50 Discman portable CD player. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Binarysequence.

Reinventing these industries didn’t come easy, but arguably all of them provided a leap forward in terms of consumer convenience and sound and picture quality, as well as providing extras like extended playing times, outtakes, director’s cuts and more.

In watching the record labels reinvent themselves, the movie and TV studios also saw dollar signs, and checked their egos at the door with a single marketing message that won the hearts and wallets of consumers. When these industries contemplated a new format to replace VHS tapes, it made perfect sense to use the same-sized optical disc as CD, also made of polycarbonate, and also used later for console video games and Blu-ray discs.

In 1969, on behalf of MCA, a group of 20 engineers worked on a movie delivery medium that was exactly like what ultimately became the DVD, (except for its 12-inch size), one of the developers told this author in 2000. Partnering with Philips, MCA’s top-secret project eventually became the LaserVision LaserDisc, offering a leap forward in picture quality on its release in 1978.

RCA and Pioneer were also working on similar 12-inch videodiscs that made it to market as SelectaVision. In the 1990s in the Middle East and Asia, the advent of CD-sized Video CDs foreshadowed the introduction of the DVD-Video format in 1996.

As an extension of the CD and DVD technical specifications, publishers used CD-ROM and DVD-ROM discs to offer rich content, including full-motion video, of everything from Shakespearean plays to educational kids games. Once again, new licensed revenue streams were generated from old media literature and timeless television franchises.

Running on a parallel track and sprung from coin-operated public arcades, Video games became a massive, recession-proof business that captured kids’ attention spans and allowances once home consoles and hand devices from Atari and Nintendo in the 1980s came on the market.

Magnavox laserdisc player. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Marcin Wichary. Magnavox laserdisc player. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Marcin Wichary.

Napster Ushers in the Digital Age for Better or Worse

In the late 1990s, the free (and illegal) music file-sharing service Napster created a tsunami from which the recorded music industry never recovered. It’s nearly impossible to compete with free, and Napster’s widespread availability of lower-resolution MP3 audio files proved that the average consumer didn’t care about sound quality. It took the Recording Industry of America (RIAA) several years to litigate Napster out of existence, but the unauthorized file-sharing genie was out of its bottle and other bit-torrent services sprang up that allowed instant illicit access to songs, albums, movies and TV shows. Two decades later, an illegal bazaar with much of the same content exists in cyberspace, as anti-piracy crusaders plod in a Whack-A-Mole game to enforce intellectual property rights.

The RIAA did not anticipate that in the following decade, recordable CD drives would come as a standard feature of personal computers, having been obsessed with Sony’s Digital Audio Tape (DAT) format in the late 1980s, fearing that it would become a piracy juggernaut. As a result, the RIAA negotiated a royalty on blank DAT media. DAT never became the product that Sony hoped for or the RIAA feared – a digital audio format that would offer an exact sonic reproduction of what musicians, producers and engineers heard in the recording studio for the home market. At its best, DAT briefly was used as a professional storage medium and in some home recording and pro audio applications.

From a consumer standpoint, the ability to burn a curated playlist onto a blank CD became a newer version of the cassette’s mixtape (which led to many a romance). Apple Computer paid attention when it introduced its easy-to-use iPod in 2001, and iTunes music store to download individual digital tracks or full albums, quickly capturing a market for portable digital audio devices where earlier MP3 players failed.

Brick-and-mortar retailers then tried to breathe new life into arguably overpriced CDs with everything from dual-sided discs to in-store CD-burning in which shoppers could choose their own tracks from kiosks. There were online versions of these services as well. Soon after disrupting the book industry with a discounted e-commerce strategy upon its founding in 2004, the aptly-named Amazon turned its attention to selling CDs and DVDs. (Interestingly, when Netflix emerged in 2002, it used a rental model of distributing DVD movie discs via the US Postal Service.

CDs on a Steep Decline, Hi-Res Audio Format War

When an opportunity arose to come up with a music optical disc that would take advantage of the surround-sound possibilities created by the home theater boom of the 2000s, the industry once again created retail confusion with the introduction of two high-resolution formats: DVD-Audio and Super Audio CD. By 2004, a Warner Music Group executive announced that the former was as good as dead, whereas the latter still is produced in limited quantities and appreciated by audiophiles.

Speaking of which, who could have predicted the inexplicable resurgence of vinyl records. Two decades ago, nearly everyone – except audiophiles and old-school DJs – would have assumed the format was dead and buried. But it has been revived as a deluxe product, defying all technological, economic, and ecological logic in the digital age. In fact, in 2021 vinyl achieved the same sales volume that it did in 1986. Unexpectedly, CDs also are on the upswing, as are prerecorded cassettes, but such developments could be partially explained by artists not happy about having to wait 10 months to get a vinyl order fulfilled.

A visit to the Audio Engineering Society’s AES Fall 2022 convention this past October showed the pro audio industry once again focused on surround sound, which can be adaptable for home spaces as much as for movies and public exhibitions. Now all we need are to have all of our stereo albums reformatted – yet once again – for whatever the latest is in surround sound, on physical discs or through streaming applications.

That reminds me of an anecdote. Upon learning about the introduction of DVD-Video on a New York subway train in early 1998, John Waters quipped to me: “Anything that gets people to buy what they already own, I’m in favor of that.” Waters’s observation perhaps sums up the ultimate point of this article: home entertainment media distribution constantly needs to reinvent itself in order to generate profits.

In a 2003 interview, legendary record producer Phil Ramone told me how media forecasts don’t always come to fruition: “God forbid you'd say today that the CD will be gone soon. had a 25-year ride on the CD. Not bad. They had 25 years on the LP. All of these inventions are part of our culture. I never thought that it was appropriate for us (the music industry) to stop each new invention. You can't put business and commerce over here, and the art over there. I've always maintained, and in many ways, naively, that when the quality is there, you gain a loyal audience.”

Header image: 1982 Summer Consumer Electronics Show (CES) booth for the Home Recording Rights Coalition. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Alan Light.

Dig This: Philadelphia’s Vibrant Vinyl Scene

Dig This: Philadelphia’s Vibrant Vinyl Scene

Dig This: Philadelphia’s Vibrant Vinyl Scene

Tom Methans

I spent a lot of time in Philadelphia when I was a graduate student at Rutgers University. It was an easy trip from New Brunswick, New Jersey to central Philly because the house I shared was located conveniently down the street from the Northeast Corridor rail lines – I saw every train running between Boston and Washington D.C. from my bedroom window. On my days off I hopped the Amtrak train to the 30th Street Station and then boarded a subway to City Hall. With an extra large coffee from Wawa, Pennsylvania’s beloved convenience store, I spent hours wandering the streets, eating local specialties, and shopping in the charming city before returning to New Brunswick.

Between 2000 and 2015, most of the concerts I attended were at the landmark family-owned Trocadero Theatre in Philadelphia's Chinatown. My best friend worked in the back office and welcomed an eclectic lineup of bands. I went for the metal acts, but the 1,200-seat venue has hosted Fugazi, Moby, Beastie Boys, Blue Öyster Cult, Chick Corea, Vince Gill, and Bob Dylan. The Troc has been in a state of hibernation since 2019 due to stiff competition by big corporate venues, but hopefully the building once known as the Arch Street Opera House back in 1870, and also functioned as a burlesque and vaudeville house until 1970, will again host bands. Nevertheless, The Troc is a reminder of Philadelphia’s undeniable role in American popular music.

In the post-War years of the 1940s, there was a large influx of jazz musicians entering the nascent bebop scene – John Coltrane and Dizzy Gillespie both moved to the birthplace of Stan Getz and Charlie Biddle. Early rock and roll sprang out of the suburbs of Philadelphia, starting with Bill Haley and His Comets with "Rock Around the Clock" (1954), released two months before Elvis Presley's "That's All Right." There were also Fabian, Bobby Rydell, Frankie Avalon, and Danny & the Juniors ("At the Hop" in 1957 followed in 1958 by "Rock and Roll is Here to Stay"), all of whom could be seen on American Bandstand, broadcast from Philadelphia.

The 1960s was the start of Philly soul and proto-disco spearheaded by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, a songwriting and production team who formed Philadelphia International Records in 1971. Their artists, the O'Jays, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, Teddy Pendergrass, the Jackson 5, and Patti Labelle were regularly featured on Soul Train. Modern acts include Hall & Oates, G. Love and Special Sauce, The Hooters, the Roots, Kurt Vile, Schoolly D, Boyz II Men, and hair band Cinderella. With all this history, it's no wonder Philadelphia has so many repositories for music. During my most recent visit, I checked out some of Philly’s many record stores.

Before my trip, an online search revealed nearly two dozen shops in Philadelphia and several close to City Hall and Reading Terminal Market. I walked, but a car can get you to some real gems outside the city center. With enough time, money, and comfortable shoes, a trip to Philly can make for a great haul – just be prepared for store cats, fluorescent lighting, and some cramped spaces. Below is a random list of stores I visited.

Rustic Music

259 South 10th Street

(215) 732-7805

Rustic Music. Rustic Music.
Racks of records at Rustic Music: a sight to warm the hearts of any vinyl collector. Racks of records at Rustic Music: a sight to warm the hearts of any vinyl collector.

Rustic Music started as a music store and it still has assorted equipment for sale. Rustic features vintage records, a healthy $2 record selection, bins of CDs, and velvet paintings of Elvis. I spoke with Bernie Carville, the man on duty and a collector in his own right, about the state of vinyl retail these days. Above all, he said that wholesale new vinyl is very expensive and people are holding onto their collections rather than minimizing them. The limited shelves were cleaned out after Christmas, but there were still some finds: The Meters’ At Rozy's (1981), and Live on Blueberry Hill (1970), a bootleg recording of Led Zeppelin's show at the Los Angeles Forum.

Wooden Shoe Books

704 South Street

(215) 413-0999

Wooden Shoe Books. Wooden Shoe Books.
Like many book and record stores, Wooden Shoe is a community gathering place.
Like many book and record stores, Wooden Shoe is a community gathering place.

Wooden Shoe Books is where political science majors browse for deep cuts by Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn among hand-printed anarchist “zines.” Although records are not the focus, it's good to know members of the collective handpick cool sounds and keep prices reasonable. J Dilla Ruff Draft (2003) and The Standells, Try It (1967) each cost $19. Adding to the vibe of the store was the volunteer behind the counter who would not disclose his first name or allow me to take his picture.

Repo Records

506 South Street

(215) 627-3775

Repo reminds me of old-school shops of my youth with its posters, patches, stickers, and even incense. Dan Matherson has been running Repo in different locations for 35 years, and that might be why the selection is so dense and varied and includes new and used records, cassettes, as well as a local music section. If you don’t know what to buy, there are handwritten staff picks at the register. The store was busy with a young crowd represented by large number of female customers. Repo was also the only store with an all-female floor staff, which is refreshing in the vinyl world.

Like most used record stores, Repo offers an eclectic selection of vinyl.
Like most used record stores, Repo offers an eclectic selection of vinyl.
They have lots of stickers too.
They have lots of stickers too.


711 South 4th Street

(215) 279-7667

CD Bob spins his favorites.
CD Bob spins his favorites.

CD Bob opened this store about a year ago in the former garment district storefront. The space is ample, with tin ceilings and a beautiful wooden plank floor. Cratediggaz is the place to come for everything hip-hop, but there’s also plenty of blues, jazz, rock, and dope T-shirts. Unlike some other shops, Cratediggaz is sprawling, allowing for comfortable leisurely crate digging. CD Bob reiterated that wholesale records are expensive, leaving a slim profit margin for shop owners. It sounds like inflation and gouging has also hit the vinyl sector.

Honorable Mentions and Recommendations

I could not visit these stores due to distance and time constraints, but they are on the list for my next trip to Philly.

Brewerytown Beats

1517 North Bailey Street, North Philadelphia

(215) 925-9259

Maxwell Ochester began by working record swaps where he rubbed elbows with hip-hop legends shopping for samples. Now, he is the owner of Brewerytown Beats and a distributor for Jamie/Guyden Records, a soul record label dating back to 1954. Ochester carries everything but specializes in funk, soul, and hip-hop.

Vinyl Altar

732 South 4th Street

(215) 925-9259

Christopher Mazeika stocks heavy metal from the mainstream to the esoteric and other hard rock. If you’re looking for local metal, ask for Heavy Temple, Horrendous, Crypt Sermon, and Atomic Cretin. One rarely finds a black-walled shop dedicated to the dark art of metal, but Vinyl Altar is the type of store that would get me back to Philly real soon. Mazeika sells an exhaustive catalog through Discogs.

R&B Records

49 Garrett Rd, Upper Darby, Pennsylvania

(610) 352-2320

Located about six miles west of City Hall, R&B is more of a warehouse rather than a browsable store. I heard an anecdote about Val Shivley, the sometimes cantankerous proprietor who ejected a famous British rocker’s personal shopper, so don't show up and expect to walk out with a stack of wax; send him a wish list or make an appointment and Shively will check his multi-million disc inventory. Looking for a rare doo-wop 45 RPM? He’s the man. Also, his website is a treasure-trove of old press clippings, all worthy of reading.

When planning a record shopping trip, it’s a good idea to call ahead for hours or ask about specific records or categories. One of the stores on my itinerary had gone out of business, even though their online information was supposed to be current. Furthermore, websites are often homemade and not really commercial interfaces. In many cases, you won’t be able to see actual stock. Better yet, go visit them. If Philly is too far away, then support a new shop in your area. Get to know the owners and employees. If there’s a Wawa nearby, buy them a cup of coffee. Happy digging!

The cool cats like to hang out at Rustic Music.
The cool cats like to hang out at Rustic Music.

Header image: Repo Records. All photos courtesy of Tom Methans.

Talking With Producer/Musician Butch Vig of Garbage, Part One

Talking With Producer/Musician Butch Vig of Garbage, Part One

Talking With Producer/Musician Butch Vig of Garbage, Part One

Andrew Daly

It's safe to say that the landscape of alternative music would be wildly different without the efforts of producer, engineer, and drummer Butch Vig.

In the 1980s, Vig positioned himself as an up-and-coming wunderkind behind the mixing boards. With a flair for diving deep into the soul of the artists he worked alongside, Vig extracted massive sounds through an open-minded yet disciplined approach.

"When I started making records, the biggest thing was trying to make them sound good," recalled Vig when I spoke with him in a previous interview I had with him. "Especially because our gear was so limited when we started, and we had no money. We were buying cheap, secondhand microphones and didn't have a lot of outboard effects, so we had to figure out ways to be creative. And I was trying to figure out how to get a good drum sound, how to get a guitar sound, and then saying, 'Okay, how do you mix a song?' I was learning how to engineer and produce, and you can hear that in the progression of records I've made."

As the man who proved pivotal in harnessing the mighty sounds of watershed '90s records such as Smashing Pumpkins' Gish (1991) and Siamese Dream (1993), Nirvana's Nevermind (1991), and Sonic Youth's Dirty (1992), Vig's approach to production transitioned toward a focus on both sonic and psychological dynamics.

"As I went along, I got better as an engineer in terms of figuring out how to use the studio as a tool," Vig recounted to me. "I realized that producing records is 50 percent psychological, maybe even more so. So now, the biggest part of making records was understanding the artist, their vision, and how they function. It doesn't matter if it's a solo artist or a band, it's important that I get in there and understand that dynamic, so I can pull out the best performances I can get. And I didn't understand that early on; I just thought, 'Well, I've just got to get good drum and guitar sounds. that's how I'm going to make this record.' But that's only the tip of the iceberg, and that's the biggest thing that I've learned along the way."

The flipside to Vig's production exploits was his equally-important tenure as founding member, drummer, and producer of the ever-fresh and hyper-interesting alternative outfit Garbage. Not afraid to pull double duty, Vig's vision to shake up a stagnating scene manifested once he synced up with Shirley Manson (vocals, keyboards), Duke Erikson (bass, keyboards), and Steve Marker (guitars, keyboards).

"Garbage came out of us wanting to do something different than stick to only drums, guitar, and vocals," Vig said. "We were influenced by everything around us – not just rock – but we loved all genres of music. We really did want to embrace the technology, which was kind of lo-fi in how we approached it at the time. But we've always been a techie sort of band, even up to our last record, No Gods No Masters. When we make a record, there's always a little bit of sound design and some freaky sonics going on because that's so deeply ingrained in our DNA."

During a break from the musical madness, I got another chance to talk with Vig about Garbage's latest Anthology project, what it was like to work with Kurt Cobain and Billy Corgan, his love for vinyl, and what's next as he moves forward.

Andrew Daly: What was the genesis of the Anthology project?

Butch Vig: Well, we put out Absolute Garbage after the first four records, and that did great. Since we've had three more albums since then, we recently wanted to look back on the band's entire history. We just decided it was time to do another retrospective and went back and remastered pretty much everything on there. There are [also] some new things on there and some new mixes, and we just felt like now was the right time to get this out there for the world to hear.

AD: What was your approach during the remastering process?

BV: So, typically, I go back and listen to how the original tape sounded and go from there. But a lot of the early stuff was all mixed to analog tape, and the last few records were all mixed digitally in Pro Tools, and so, when we were putting all this stuff together, I knew that it needed continuity. So, we took all the older stuff and newer stuff and worked to give it a vibe where it's all connected. If you go back and listen to the original masters of all our records – they're all mastered separately – there are some sonic differences. So, finding that continuity was the most important objective.

AD: What are some challenges of remastering tracks recorded to tape instead of digitally?

BV: Well, the funny thing is that back in the day, we would print mixes to tape, but we'd print a bunch of them. You'd have the final vocal, the instrumental, and then sometimes I'd do a radio mix, a video mix, or maybe a radio edit. And a lot of times, some of the decisions that went into the final master on the album were made when we would edit between different takes. So, while we were putting the Anthology together, Billy Bush, our engineer, and I would have to listen to a version of a song and go, "Well, none of the actual mixes sound like that this. Is this a composite from three different mixes?" So, it was a bit of a head-scratcher for us to go back – especially through the first four records – and find which versions we originally used and compiled together to develop a final master.

AD: Do you prefer analog or digital?

BV: I've always really liked the sound of analog tape. But digital is so good now that I no longer have a preference. To me, they both sound great. I know some people swear by analog, and some people swear by digital; they both have their strengths and, in some instances, flaws. But I embrace both mediums moving forward, and as I said, the last few records Garbage has done have been completed within Pro Tools. And I'm really pleased sonically with how the tracks sound, so I think digital is great.

AD: Does your approach change when mastering specifically for vinyl?

BV: Well, I still love listening to vinyl. And part of the reason is that I like that I need to commit a chunk of my time to the music. When you put a record on, and it's approximately 20 minutes per side, you're going to sit there and listen to the music. And then you walk over, flip it over, and commit again. But when you're mastering, you have to be careful; you can't hit the levels like you can with a digital ceiling. So, you have to leave more dynamics, but I think that's a good thing for vinyl. So, usually, when we are prepping the masters to be sent out to the mastering engineer, there are two: one for digital files and one for vinyl. Because, like I said, you have to leave some room for dynamics; you can't just use a flat line fed into a compressor like a lot of digital mixes are. And that's why vinyl sounds so good, because it has more openness and more dynamics.

AD: When you reflect on Garbage's second era (around 2012 to the present) compared to its first, from about 1995 – 2005). how do you measure the band's progression?

BV: When I listen to our first record, I love it, but it sounds bizarre to me. We were pushing ourselves in terms of what he could do sonically in the studio, and that whole record is built around using samplers. And this was before Pro Tools, so we'd record to tape and then add drum loops and sound effects into samplers and manipulate them. And then we'd go back to the analog tape, and eventually, we would mix it all in. But now you can do all that within Pro Tools, so it's much easier than it was back then. So, when I listen back to everything, I hear a much more confident band, especially in Shirley's [Manson] writing and singing.

Garbage, with Shirley Manson on vocals. Courtesy of Wikipedia/Raph_PH. Garbage, with Shirley Manson on vocals. Courtesy of Wikipedia/Raph_PH.

When we did the first few records, we were still figuring out who we were as a band. But now we know who we are and have a sound we've worked to achieve. I can't really articulate what that is, but when you hear a track on the radio, you know that it’s Garbage. It's a sensibility for how we play together, and I think the decisions that we make in terms of sonics, the vibe, and Shirley's voice, glue it all together. Shirley's writing and singing are just so powerful, and she has so much confidence now. And you can hear that in the tracks and how Garbage sounds now.

A young Butch Vig in the studio. Courtesy of Steve Marker. A young Butch Vig in the studio. Courtesy of Steve Marker.

AD: In many ways, Garbage seemed like a retort to the traditional guitar music of the '90s. Was that the intent?

BV: By the time we went in the studio to make the first Garbage album, I think I had done like 1,000 rock records. (laughs). Because before Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins, I recorded all these bands on indie labels like Sub Pop, Touch and Go, Mammoth, Frontier Records, and a lot of bands in the local Madison, Wisconsin scene. And I was getting bored of the guitar, bass, and drums format, and I knew I wanted to do something fresh and new with my own music. I was excited by records by artists like Public Enemy, that were making these crazy soundscapes using samplers in the studio. That direction just sounded so intense, and I wanted to embrace the new technology, bring that into the studio, and use that as part of the writing process. So, that's why we made the first Garbage record the way we did; we didn't want to make a traditional alternative grunge rock record.

AD: You've been pulling double duty for a long time as both a producer and a drummer. What is the line of demarcation between being a drummer and a producer?

BV: It's interesting wearing two hats as a drummer in a band and being a producer working with other artists, as they're two totally different things. When I'm in a band, I can play drums, guitar, and keyboards. I can write music and contribute to writing lyrics. I can be an engineer, and on any given day, I can order the meals and decide what wine we're going to drink. (laughs) Or I can do nothing and sit back and let Shirley, Duke [Erikson], and Steven [Marker] take over and enjoy being in the band. But it's our music, and that's fulfilling in a very different way than when I'm working strictly as a producer. As a producer, I always have to remember this: it's the artists' music and their vision. And so, I see it as my job to help the artists find that vision. So, they're two different things, and I have to separate myself from it all and look at it objectively. I also need to remember to understand psychologically what the artist is going through. I have to measure where their headspace is, why, and what kind of record you're trying to make. But I'm fortunate that I've been able to do both successfully in my career because it's good for my brain to flip between the two rather than be just a drummer or producer. There is something about going back and forth between the two that has really been healthy for me.

AD: What first sparked your interest in the drums?

BV: Very early on, I fell in love with Keith Moon, but I quickly realized that I couldn't play like Keith Moon. (laughs) But I could play [like] Charlie Watts or Ringo Starr, so I used to play along to my mom's Stones and Beatles records. I would put headphones on and play along, and that's how I started to home in on my style. I think it's interesting, though, because when I look back on it, I think drumming was instrumental in my becoming a producer.

When I realized how musical Ringo's drum parts were and that they fit in with the songs so perfectly, that was huge for me. Because when you look at someone like Keith Moon, he basically played a drum solo over the entire song. (laughs) He was brilliant, but he just played fills all over the place, and that's why he was so exciting to watch. It worked within the context of the Who, but the Who's music is a lot different than most pop songs.

So, I came to appreciate drummers like Ringo because the drums fit into the song. I took that to heart, and of all the bands I've been in, if you listen to my drumming, it's pretty simple. I don't really play too fancy; I stick with musical parts that serve the song first and foremost. It's now in my nature to keep stuff simple and make sure that the drums work in the context of the music.

AD: One of your earliest bands was Spooner. What lessons did you take away from that era of your career?

BV: Spooner was instrumental in my becoming a music producer because we made all those records DIY. We had to finance those early Spooner records and then go into the studio and work with engineers. And when we did that, I absorbed everything I could because I was interested in producing. And as we kept evolving as a band and writing songs, I eventually became the de facto producer of Spooner. I liked that it gave me a chance to experiment in the studio.

Spooner's records were done on an eight-track unit, and it was good for me because I had to learn to keep it simple. I didn't have unlimited tracks, so I had to make decisions that were in accordance with that. And sonically, we were very limited with what we had in the studio in terms of gear, so we had to figure out ways to be creative to get the records to sound interesting. I learned a lot from it. It was instrumental for me to produce those Spooner records because I learned a lot of tricks that I would need going forward.

AD: What was your template for the Smashing Pumpkins album Gish?

BV: Oh, man. I was totally thrilled to work with the Pumpkins. When I met Billy [Corgan], I realized we had a lot of common ground, and we shared a vision that led us to push each other in the studio, and the results were amazing. So, when we made Gish, I think we spent about 42 or 43 days recording and mixing it. And for me, that was like making a Steely Dan record at the time because I had made so many indie rock records really fast, in like two, three, or four days.


But suddenly, we had the luxury of spending time getting the sounds and performances perfect. We could home in on the vocals, guitars, and drums and then spend time mixing all of them. So, we raised the bar pretty high. But I always felt like one of the reasons that those records sounded so good is that Billy and I shared a lot of sensibilities in terms of what we thought the Pumpkins could be. And like I said, he pushed me really hard, but I pushed him really hard, too, and it worked.

In Part Two, we’ll talk with Butch Vig about his work with Nirvana and Kurt Cobain, and Vig’s plans for the future.

Header image courtesy of Curtis Clyde.

Miles and Miles, Part Two

Miles and Miles, Part Two

Miles and Miles, Part Two

Ken Sander

My thinking was that since I made it from NY to Chicago on Wednesday then I could make it to Denver on Thursday. Only a thousand or so miles, slightly more than my first leg (see Part One of this story, “In the Room With Miles,” in Issue 179). Close to midnight, I pulled into a Ramada Inn on the outskirts of Denver. Whew, that was a long drive. As I was dropping off to sleep, I had an image that I was veering off the road. Startled awake I sat up in bed immediately. Quite unsettling.

Friday morning, ever the wishful thinker, I thought I could make it all the way to L.A; that Porsche could really move. I was taking I-70 West over the Rockies and into Utah. As I was changing highways in a small Utah town, I spotted a Chinese restaurant. Very unexpected and I thought, hmmm, that could be good. It was not. There was hardly any chicken, mucho celery, and some kinda sauce/paste. Maybe I was late for the lunch hour and they ran out of food. Another possibility is they just were a terrible restaurant. Ugh, it was unforgettable how bland that meal was. Another lesson for me: while on the road keep it simple. That is what Denny’s, Waffle House, and the like are for. I am pushing it and I had a new mechanical development. When I laid off the gas the car started to backfire. Late in the evening, I made the Nevada State line. There is no speed limit in Nevada. Uncommon – the only other place I have experienced that was on the Autobahn. The desert’s flat and open landscape makes it easy for speeding. The Porsche was zipping through the darkness at around 90 miles an hour. It was quiet, not a car in sight. I realized that I would not make it to Los Angeles that night, but Las Vegas, that had to happen – it was the only port and perhaps the only civilization around them there parts.

Some miles out of Las Vegas, maybe 50 miles away. I saw the sky lit up. I was thinking that it was reflecting the Vegas lights. A half-hour later I was cruising the Strip at a snail’s pace. Back then the speed limit in Las Vegas’s city boundaries was 15 MPH, and I had heard that it was strictly enforced. Possibly because they wanted you to spend time there and not just blow through.

In front of the Flamingo hotel, I saw a black and white police car. It was a souped-up Chevy Camaro. That car could probably catch anything on wheels. In the early 1970s Las Vegas was nowhere near as big as it is today. Not even a quarter of the size. Mostly Western saloons with gambling and a couple of nine- or 12-story hotel/casinos buildings with motel-like strips out back. Before I knew it, I was on the southern outskirts of town. That’s as far as I wanted to go, nothing but desert in front of me. I saw a Travelodge, a chain motel, and checked in for the night.


You can still find a Travelodge in Las Vegas. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Joho345.
You can still find a Travelodge in Las Vegas. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Joho345.

The next morning the car wouldn’t start, the dreaded ticking sound indicating a dead battery. With the driver’s door open I put the car in neutral and started pushing. I pointed towards a small downward slope at the back of the motel's parking lot, and I gained some speed. I jumped in the driver’s seat and put it in second gear and popped the clutch, and the Porsche came to life. I was off, and the small city of Las Vegas was shrinking behind me. I was back on I-15 South heading towards the high desert California town of Barstow. Off in the distance, I saw two highway patrol cars parked in the meridian and four deputies standing in a circle talking. I was cruising between a 110 and 120. I took my foot off the gas and as I slowed to 100 miles an hour the Porsche backfired three or four times. It was loud and as I coasted by the Highway Patrol troopers, I looked at the speedometer, I was doing 90. Looking over at my car they gave me dirty looks as I passed. That’s right fellas, no speed limit in Nevada, yahoo-hoo hooey!

Just after noon, I motored into L.A. county. Not bad – I left New York on Wednesday and got to Los Angeles on Saturday. That was my Cannonball Run. Between the car and me, the car suffered more and was a bit worse for wear, looking like a muddy off-road vehicle with the windshield smudged with dead insects. The only real workout that little Porsche ever had and ever would have. It was out of tune and had a battery that would not hold a charge. I suspected that the car needed mending. She had been ridden hard and stabled while still wet.

A Porsche 911 similar to the one Ken drove on his Cannonball Run. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/nakhon100. A Porsche 911 similar to the one Ken drove on his Cannonball Run. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/nakhon100.

I stopped at a service station and asked for a charge. I had lunch and when I went back, they told me the battery water had evaporated and it was dry. That’s why it would not hold a charge. I assumed the battery water must have been low when I started the trip and had evaporated from the engine heat on the long drive. That happened to me more than once with other cars back then. So, they added some distilled water and gave it a charge. That did the trick, and the battery was holding a charge now. It cost $1.50.

I drove over to my dear friend, the late Barry Byrens’ house at 8929 St. Ives. He lived just up the hill past Turner’s Liquor store at the intersection of Sunset Blvd. and Doheny Drive. The very west of West Hollywood.

On Monday I called Pearl, Jac’s secretary, to check in. She told me to bring Jac’s car to the Porsche service center in Hollywood and they would tune it up and do any servicing necessary, and to call her back on Wednesday for her to tell me when to meet Jac. The Porsche that I’d been driving belonged to Elektra Records president Jac Holzman, who had asked me to drive it to L.A.

I brought the car into the service center, and I showed the manager the stick shift knob I had accidentally broken off. He said “no problem, come back in two days and the car will be ready.” Two days later I went back to pick up the car and the manager came out and he was furious. “What the hell happened to the car? I took out a bunch of dirt and grass that was wedged into the undercarriage. There was even grass in the brake drums, and the grass was growing out of the seams of the cars undercarriage! I have never seen anything like this.” Then he said, “come here,” and took me into the shop and showed me a 55-gallon oil drum half-filled with dried and caked mud and some live grass.

For me, this was a moment. I was thinking like Ralph Kramden going hummana hummana hummana. I did not know what to say, certainly a rarity for me. Seeing that he was not going to get a satisfactory answer, he shook his head while handing me the Porsche’s keys. With a look of disgust on his face he pointed to where the car was parked.

Getting into the car I noticed a new wooden stick shift handle. It is like the old one I broke. Kicking her over I started the drive back to Barry’s house. The car was all fixed up and tuned but honestly, it seemed to drive the same as before.

I called Pearl and she instructed me as to where and when to meet the company’s jet at Santa Monica Airport. When I got there, I was to be directed to drive onto the tarmac right up to where the plane would be parked. Life was quainter back then and those things could be arranged. Pearl instructed me to meet Jac and give him the Porsche’s keys, then get on board the plane for the trip back to Teterboro, New Jersey (just across the Hudson River from New York City).

A Grumman Gulfstream jet. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Pedro Aragão/Airliners.net. A Grumman Gulfstream jet. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Pedro Aragão/Airliners.net.

As per Pearl's instructions I drove up to security at the gate and showed my identification. Necessary of course for clearance and to receive access to the place on the tarmac where the plane would be parked. Passing through the gate I was pointed to the designated spot. Waiting there I saw the Gulfstream taxiing toward me. It pulled up and a ground crew member motioned to its assigned spot. The Jet stopped about a hundred feet from me.

This whole thing was like a scene from the movies. The door on the jet opened and the steps folded down. Out came some rock star-looking people and then Jac came out and walked over to me. After a brief greeting, I handed him the keys and he threw his carry-on bag in the passenger seat and got in the Porsche. Kicking the engine over, he waved goodbye to me and drove out the gate. One of the crew stuck their head out the door of the aircraft and waved me in. I got in and settled and the rest of the passengers boarded. There was Bill Harvey, an Elektra executive, and a couple of others. About 15 minutes later the plane’s door closed, and the jet engines started up.

It has been a hard couple of weeks, but not in a bad way. Having a good time takes its toll. In my case I did not notice till now. I tested my boundaries, and it doesn’t always end well.

The plane took off I was soon sound asleep. Next thing I know there was a hand on my shoulder gently shaking me. I opened my eyes and was told that we had landed in Teterboro. Everyone has disembarked and I am the only remaining passenger. Getting off the plane, I was directed to the spot where there was a car waiting to take me home. Two weeks after I left New York, I was back.

By the time I was dropped off at my Third Avenue apartment, it was dark. Once inside my apartment, I opened the Castro Convertible couch and climbed into bed. Smelled nice, and like Sheri. Smiling, I drop off to sleep.

Life moves on and it is still amazing to me how slow day-to-day things seem to move along, but how fast things change. A few years later I was at the Brill Building on West 57th Street seeing one of the attorneys for a band I was managing at the time. The elevator came and there was Miles Davis standing inside, all alone. “Miles!” I say while stepping in and he looked at me and said, “do I know you?” “Yes,” I said, and I briefly recounted the Upper Saddle River event where we had met, ending with, “remember?” The elevator door opened to the lobby, and he glanced towards me, said “no, I don’t remember,” and walked out of the elevator.

Miles Davis. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Tom Palumbo.

Miles Davis. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Tom Palumbo.

Header image courtesy of Picryl.com/public domain/The U.S. National Archives.

Daft Punk: They Were the Robots

Daft Punk: They Were the Robots

Daft Punk: They Were the Robots

Anne E. Johnson

When Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo were in high school in Paris in 1992, they started a band called Darlin’. It was a guitar-based indie trio with a friend playing drums, and they were serious about making a go of it. By the time Bangalter and Homem-Christo were ready to move on to synthesizers and drum machines and reinvent house music, Darlin’ had received a review in Melody Maker describing one of their songs as “a daft punky thrash.” In a fitting tribute to the often-preposterous nature of music criticism, they named their new band Daft Punk.

Determined to get their electronic music on the map, they passed around their demo disc while also working on their first singles. One of those was “Da Funk,” which did well enough that record companies started to pursue them. Because of the sweeping artistic control they were promised by Virgin Records, the duo signed there in 1996.

By that point, house music had been around for 20 years, a Chicago-born outgrowth of disco. But it tended toward the flat and repetitive. Bangalter and Homem-Christo wanted to widen the genre’s definition by bringing in other elements from indie rock, pop, hip hop, and funk. They also reached back into disco’s earlier sounds.

In 1997, they finally released their first album, a work that had taken four years to create. Homework shook up the world of dance music. The album itself was a huge success in France and Britain, and the singles “Around the World” and “Da Funk” hit the top of the American charts. In the song “Teachers” from Homework, Daft Punk uses the long-standing hip-hop tradition of paying tribute to influences. Unlike the pulsing wall of sound normally associated with house music, there is a deep dimensionality to this song’s sonic construction. The more carefully you listen, the more nuances you will hear, from timbral contrasts to tweaked note-endings that keep the phrases from being identical.

While the duo worked on their second album, Discovery, which came out in 2001, they also focused on honing their live show. An essential element that arose during this period was the use of robot helmets that hid their faces. First they experimented with putting black trash bags over their heads, and then masks, but the full-head helmets with visors proved to be the perfect embodiment of what Bangalter described as “sci-fi glam,” in the tradition of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust.

But the music itself was just as important to them, and their second outing was more successful than the first. Discovery included the huge hit singles “One More Time” and “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.” Bangalter and Homem-Christo approached the album more intellectually than they had Homework, trying for a more organized and complex underlying structure to each song.

A good example is “Crescendolls” (the music, not the lyrics, which are almost non-existent). As the name implies, based on the musical term crescendo – growing – there is a new element added every eight bars, until a maximum turbulence is reached. We’re lulled by this plateau, making its syncopated disruption around 2:10 almost alarming.

Daft Punk was committed to long, hard work and contemplation about their craft, so there were always gaps of several years between their albums. It took another four years before they were ready to release Human After All in 2005. But this was not because they were recording the album all that time. In fact, this one took less than two months to record. They had decided to switch to a looser structural technique this time, allowing for some improvisation, in tandem with a more guitar-and-drum-oriented approached that harkened back to their early days in the band Darlin’.

That’s not to say it was any kind of standard guitar-and-drum sound. Witness the intensity of “The Brainwasher,” in which those more traditional rock sounds are processed into alien, bone-vibrating layers.

Both Homework and Discovery had been used by the band to accompany wordless animated science fiction films with behemoth titles (respectively, D.A.F.T.: A Story About Dogs, Androids, Firemen and Tomatoes and Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem). While a film called Electroma did follow Human After All in 2006, written and directed by the duo, it used Daft Punk-like robots as characters rather than using their music.

But they did write one feature-length soundtrack, that of 2010’s Tron: Legacy. The project took two years and was unlike anything else from their careers. Most importantly, it was orchestrated for acoustic instruments by Joseph Trapanese, who has gone on to an illustrious career in television and movie orchestration, most prominently the score for The Greatest Showman. Inspired by Wendy Carlos’ work for the original Tron movie in 1982, the Tron: Legacy score brilliantly blurs the 85-piece symphony orchestra with synthesized sound.

While most bands release a live album or two, Daft Punk’s Alive, named after their 2006 – 2007 tour, is arguably more significant than most because they released so few albums overall. It also documents their skill as live performers, which is nothing to take for granted with brainy science fiction nerds who might well have preferred to hide behind their synthesizers. Alive won the 2009 Grammy Award for Best Electronic/Dance Album and one for its live version of “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.”

The Grammys kept on coming. Daft Punk’s 2013 album, Random Access Memories, won four more – two for the album itself, and two for the single “Get Lucky,” which featured Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers. In contrast with the stripped-down production of Human After All, Random Access Memories included over 50 session musicians and special guests – among them Euro-disco legend Giorgio Moroder, whose voice is heard on the track “Giorgio by Moroder.”

Besides Pharrell, another famous Williams makes an appearance: Paul Williams, who speaks and sings against old-school R&B rhythms on the surprisingly wistful “Touch.”

Random Access Memories turned out to be Daft Punk’s final effort. In February 2021 they announced they were splitting up. But Bangalter and Homem-Christo have not turned their backs on their creation’s legacy. They’re releasing a book about their career, We Were the Robots, in March 2023. And if that’s not enough inside information, Pitchfork staff writer Gabriel Szatan will release his book After Daft later in 2023, a commentary on Daft Punk’s cultural impact.

Header image: Daft Punk promotional photo.

Exploring CTI Records, Part 2: The Subsidiaries

Exploring CTI Records, Part 2: The Subsidiaries

Exploring CTI Records, Part 2: The Subsidiaries

Rudy Radelic

CTI Records had been an independent label for only a year when Creed Taylor began creating subsidiary labels. While a couple of these subsidiaries were very limited, the Kudu label established in 1971 would release a total of 38 albums up through 1978. Kudu was a label Taylor created in order to focus on soul, funk, and jazz. The albums were targeted for play on Black radio, focusing on rhythm, repeated riffs, and a solid groove, while downplaying the improvisation. A kudu is a species of antelope. Taylor had come across the word and chose the name as it sounded like “voodoo,” and colored the logo in the colors of the Jamaican flag, using both the name and the logo to convey excitement.

Please note that while the albums below were originally released on the Kudu label, some reissues have removed the Kudu logo in favor of the CTI Records logo.

Had Taylor signed one more artist, he could have had a hat trick of Hammond organ-playing Smiths on the Kudu label. While Jimmy Smith had worked with Taylor during their time at Verve Records, Johnny Hammond (Smith) would launch the Kudu label with his album Breakout (Kudu KU-01). Here is Hammond, “Workin’ on a Groovy Thing.”

The other Smith was, of course, the legendary Lonnie Smith, in the days prior to his “Doctor” prefix and Sikh turban. His album Mama Wailer (Kudu KU-02) was the label’s second. The album featured only four tracks, the final one spanning the entire second side of the album. “Stand” (the Sly and The Family Stone song) stretches beyond 17 minutes, and only gives a passing nod to that composition before Smith and the band take off into the stratosphere with a funky soul groove. Among the backing musicians on the track are Ron Carter on electric bass, Billy Cobham on drums, and Grover Washington, Jr. checking in with a solo on tenor sax. The second half of the track, starting around 8:20 into the video below, is based around a riff that Smith has visited on other recordings, and the horn interjections bring to mind something out of the James Brown playbook.

Grover Washington, Jr. was Kudu’s star artist. A sheriff in Memphis unknowingly changed the trajectory of Washington’s career – he was pulled from the sax section on what was supposed to be a Hank Crawford session to fill in as the album’s leader on alto. (Crawford had been jailed for possession of marijuana in Memphis.) Creed Taylor rented Washington an alto sax, and the rest was history – the album, Inner City Blues (Kudu KU-03), became a strong seller. Washington followed up with a handful of other albums and in 1975, recorded his classic Mister Magic (Kudu KU-20), which was a hit. Here is the title track from the album.

Many of us often think of Ron Carter as a legend on the acoustic double bass, but he was also a proponent of the electric and piccolo bass (the latter tuned an octave higher than a standard electric bass). Carter recorded a handful of albums for CTI proper, but had one soul/funk release on Kudu that could almost have been played on the dance floor. This is “Big Fro” from Carter’s album Anything Goes (Kudu KU-25).

One song that did make it to the dance floors, and the Billboard charts in 1975 was this Esther Phillips cut, “What A Diff’rence A Day Makes,” the title track of the album it was pulled from (Kudu KU-23). The album featured guitarist Joe Beck, and the backing horns included the Brecker Brothers and David Sanborn.

Idris Muhammad (born Leo Morris in New Orleans) had a long résumé as a session drummer, reaching all the way back to the mid-1950s where he backed Fats Domino on his hit “Blueberry Hill.” In addition to recordings on jazz dates for Prestige and Blue Note artists (Gene Ammons, Horace Silver, Rusty Bryant), he would also back Roberta Flack on her hit “Feel Like Making Love” and was the drummer for Bob James on his album Touchdown, which featured the familiar track “Angela (Theme from Taxi).” Muhammad also recorded as a leader, and was signed to Kudu in 1973. His first album for the label, Power of Soul (Kudu KU-17), became a jazz-funk classic, with a cast of CTI regulars (Joe Beck; Grover Washington, Jr.; Bob James, who also arranged). It remains one of the label’s most influential albums, often sampled by DJs and recording artists.

In the 3000-Series albums recorded while CTI was under the A&M umbrella, Taylor recorded Wes Montgomery’s final album, Road Song. On Kudu, Taylor recorded Grant Green’s final album as a leader: The Main Attraction (1976, Kudu KU-29). It may not be the finest in Green’s catalog but the band, including Andy Newmark, Steve Khan, John Faddis, Don Grolnick, and CTI regulars Hubert Laws and Joe Farrell, lay down a perfect groove.

There were two other CTI Records subsidiaries that barely appeared on the radar. The first was Salvation Records, a label Creed Taylor had created in 1972 as an outlet for releasing gospel recordings. Oddly, there was only one gospel release on the label: The B. C. & M. Choir, with the album Hello Sunshine (Salvation SAL-700). The title track is featured in the video below. The label sat idle for two years until it was revived for four more albums in the jazz and R&B genres; unlike the gospel release which was produced by Taylor, the remaining albums were produced by others.

The final subsidiary, Three Brothers Records, had an even smaller catalog than Salvation – a single album, and a handful of 45 RPM singles. The label, activated in 1974, was named after Creed Taylor’s three sons (Creed Jr., Blake, and John), and had originated several years earlier as one of Taylor’s publishing companies. Lightning didn’t exactly strike for the lone album on the label, a self-titled record by Lou Christie, produced by Tony Romeo. The only other act on the roster was a group called The Clams, with a single produced by Tony Levin, presumably the renowned bass player. Here is “Close To You” from their 45 RPM single (Three Brothers, TBH-404). Yes, it’s the Bacharach/David song. And – you’ve been warned – the “clams” here are not seafood!

Three Brothers would rise from the ashes for a 3-cassette box set released in 1983 (a compilation called Classical Jazz, TBH1-2-3), and a 1994 CD by Duke Jones entitled Thunder Island (5001020), which was produced by Creed Taylor and featured the Earth, Wind & Fire horns. Our next article in the CTI series will cover a niche that Creed Taylor explored often on his label’s albums.

Bach’s St. Matthew Passion: New Interpretations of a Masterwork

Bach’s St. Matthew Passion: New Interpretations of a Masterwork

Bach’s St. Matthew Passion: New Interpretations of a Masterwork

Anne E. Johnson

There have been some great creative duos in music history. The pairing of Mozart and librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte justifiably gets a lot of attention – they wrote Don Giovanni, Così fan tutte, and The Marriage of Figaro, after all. But there’s another perfect music-and-words match that should be remembered with just as much celebration: J.S. Bach and the German poet who called himself Picander. One of their masterworks, the St. Matthew Passion, is available in several new recordings that more or less do justice to the joint creativity of these two artists.

Bach and Picander wrote the St. Matthew for Holy Week in 1727 at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, where Bach was the music director. For its text, Picander combined several elements: Lutheran chorale texts designed to comment on Biblical passages, his own contemplative poetry on Christ’s Passion, parts of a pre-existing text called the Brockespassion, and quotations from Chapters 26 and 27 of Martin Luther’s German translation of the Book of Matthew in the New Testament. Those Gospel chapters tell Matthew’s version of the usual Passion story, from Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples through the Crucifixion. Because this is a Passion for the Lutheran faith, Bach built Lutheran chorale melodies into some of the movements.

The piece calls for two small choruses and two small orchestras, all of which were tucked into St. Thomas’ two organ lofts at the premiere. Since the earliest days of musical Passion-writing, the sacred text from the Bible has always been handled in a special way. In this case, the tenor soloist performing as the Evangelist (i.e., Matthew) sings in secco recitative, accompanied only by basso continuo instruments, as do singers covering the roles of Pilate, Pilate’s Wife, and Jesus. This distinguishes liturgical text from the other sections of the libretto, which use full orchestra. The other soloists, who sing their parts as recitatives and arias or in duets, are soprano, alto (often sung by a male alto), tenor, and bass.

The best of the recent recordings of this glorious work, on Harmonia Mundi, is by the Ensemble Pygmalion under their director, Raphaël Pichon. The Evangelist is tenor Julian Prégardien, while the other solo duties are distributed among the gifted singers of Pygmalion. One of those is contralto Lucile Richardot, whose liquid voice intertwines gracefully with the two oboe obbligato lines in “Sehet, Jesus hat die Hand” (See, Jesus has stretched out his hand).

The alto solos are shared with male alto Tim Mead, who seems to embroider with his voice on “Können Träner meinen Wangen” (If the tears on my cheeks). Bass Christian Immler is furiously energetic on “Gebt mir meinem Jesu wieder!” (Give me my Jesus back) while the violins of Pygmalion sculpt an intricate accompaniment. In her solos, soprano Sabine Devieilhe has an almost woody, recorder-like sound.

Arguably, the true test of any oratorio performance lies in the chorus (in this case choruses). Working as two polyphonic groups, in a technique Bach first experimented with for his motets, Pygmalion’s vocal ensemble has both power and precision. They are joined by another chorus, the Mâitrise de Radio France, in the opening movement, under Pichon’s purposeful guidance.

A second new St. Matthew recording, this one on the Hänssler label, features the Wiltener Sängerknaben and the Academia Jacobus Stainer, with director Johannes Stecher at the harpsichord.

It’s interesting to compare the opening movement with that of Pygmalion. First, Stecher’s tempo is faster, giving the 6/8 meter a sense of an underlying gigue dance, which is intriguing and historically sensible. But when the voices come in, the gigue is up, so to speak. The Wiltener chorus and AJS orchestra are much larger than Pygmalion (or what Bach would have ever used, since his instructions were to stick with numbers that could fit in the St. Thomas organ lofts), so the sound is muddy, and the precision gone.

There is not a single female singer involved in this recording, so both alto and soprano solos go to boys. Not even adult male altos and sopranos, but boys. While this may well be how it was often performed in the 18th century (Bach himself was famed as a boy soprano), it is dramatically problematic from a modern point of view. These kids are too young to understand the import of the texts they’re singing, and it shows. Nor do their young voices have the control and nuance to give Bach’s writing its due.

The result is solos like this one by Pascal Ladner, who has a pure, sweet sound but none of the gravitas needed for the text of “Ach, nun is mein Jesus hin” (Alas, now my Jesus is gone).

Thankfully there are far more adults in the room (and even some women!) for the Accentus Music release of the St. Matthew Passion by the Gaechinger Cantorey, conducted by Hans-Christoph Rademann. The Stuttgart-based Gaechinger Cantorey is a vocal and instrumental ensemble that prides itself on its “Bach-style sound.” They’re joined here by soprano Isabel Schicketanz, alto Marie Henriette Reinhold. Reinhold has the honor of singing one of the most beautiful arias Bach ever wrote, “Buß und Reu” (Repentance and regret). I prefer this aria sung with less vibrato to bare its grief, but Reinhold’s phrasing is always musical, and the Gaechinger woodwinds are charming.

Patrick Grahl has a calming clarity as the Evangelist, and Benedikt Kristjánsson delivers the tenor arias with heartfelt emotion. While bass Peter Harvey sings the words of Jesus, fellow bass Krešimir Stražanac, who sings the low arias, is especially effective in his interaction with the choir and English horn on “O Schmerz!” (Oh, pain).

And the all-important choruses are well prepared to tackle Bach’s difficult double polyphony, as can be heard this uncluttered, unhurried rendition of the Lutheran chorale verse “Was will mein Gott, das gscheh allzeit” (Whatever my God wants, may it always happen).

The St. Matthew Passion is one of those works that rewards re-listening. Not only should we be grateful to have so many recordings to choose from (my personal favorite is the 1999 Harmonia Mundi version with Philippe Herreweghe conducting Collegium Vocale Gent and featuring Ian Bostridge and Andreas Scholl), we should also remember how lucky we are that Bach and Picander wrote it at all.

Header image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/johnhuxley.

Highway 61 Revisited — And a New Beginning In the Lowcountry!

Highway 61 Revisited — And a New Beginning In the Lowcountry!

Highway 61 Revisited — And a New Beginning In the Lowcountry!

Tom Gibbs

I have a long history with the Charleston, South Carolina area, beginning when my high school best friend Steve’s dad bought a fixer-upper 35-foot sailboat and had it towed to the Edisto Beach marina on one of Charleston’s inland waterways. I worked a couple of summers right out of high school helping to rehab the boat (which they ultimately took on an 18-month cruise of the Caribbean), and Steve and I spent the evenings and weekends exploring the nightlife and beaches of the Charleston area. A few years later, my wife Beth and I were married in Charleston; in the pre-Weather Channel, pre-cell phone era, we took off on a lark to tie the knot, driving right into an oncoming hurricane. I literally had to wring the water out of the 10-dollar bill I used to pay for our marriage license! We’ve visited and vacationed in Charleston countless times over the years, but never imagined that we’d ever live here.

The surrounding area here has always been known as the “Lowcountry,” which basically refers to the near-sea level topography of much of the coastal area of South Carolina. Adapting to the weather patterns has been a definite transition for me; for example, the week following Thanksgiving, in Georgia (where I came from), the high temperature was in the low 40s. Here, one state away, it was 78 degrees, and that’s pretty much been the modus operandi for the last month or so – it’s either frickin’ freezing here, or you need to turn on the air conditioning. I have the thermostats in the house set to “auto,” so that it alternates as needed between heat and a/c. A new acquaintance that Beth made (a transplant from up North somewhere) complained to her about the weather: “I hate it here! I’ve got ugly Christmas sweaters that I haven’t been able to wear for three years because of the freaking warm winter weather!”

The driving route that I’ve been taking to get from Atlanta to Charleston for over three decades has hardly wavered; I’d take I-20 east to the South Carolina line, then get off on side roads, eventually ending up on South Carolina Highway 61. That route takes you on an hour-long drive through the historic Ashley River plantation area, where much of the distance is bracketed with Spanish-moss-filled live oak trees that often form an almost total canopy over the two-lane road. While driving down Highway 61 (and no, this is not Bob Dylan’s Highway 61!), you get the impression that you’re basically in the middle of nowhere. That impression has stayed with me throughout all these years, until about a month ago when we drove here using our new address to program the GPS for the first time – and it took us down Highway 61 to the new house. It's literally about a mile away from 61; for decades, I seriously thought that the bucolic South Carolina countryside we observed through countless trips along Highway 61 was seriously remote, when it’s actually only a stone’s throw from unbelievable, near-continuous urban sprawl. I was blown away by this – the pastoral, sleepy Charleston I grew to love over the decades has grown by leaps and bounds in the last couple of decades.

Our new house is fairly traditional-looking, in a fairly traditional-looking neighborhood. Our new house is fairly traditional-looking, in a fairly traditional-looking neighborhood.

The New House, and the New Audio Suite

The new house is actually significantly larger than we thought it would be at the time we placed the contract on it; the plans we saw called for a total square footage of somewhere between 1,797 and 2,100 square feet. It’s actually 2,497 square feet, and some of the rooms are surprisingly larger than we were expecting, including the upstairs audio suite. We found this out on November 17 at our closing – we had downsized and gotten rid of furniture we knew we wouldn’t have room for, and when we moved in, we actually had to acquire some new pieces.

I rented a U-Haul truck with a ramp for the weekend, and Beth and I used a couple of furniture dollies and a hand truck to move everything from our main storage unit to the house ourselves. At two different points, our two-car garage was stacked to the brim with boxes and furniture. One of those weekend afternoons, my son-in-law came over and helped me move the living room and dining room furniture from the storage unit into the house. Unboxing and unpacking went on nearly non-stop (with a few unavoidable interruptions) for about a month. After having spent nearly $10,000 to have everything moved over here into storage, I decided I needed to at least explore attempting to move it into the house myself. It’s been a lot of work, but has worked out well so far at a cost of less than $500 (but countless man-hours!).

Audio equipment, CDs, LPs, RCA dogs, and Buddhas awaiting the heavy lifting to the audio suite. Audio equipment, CDs, LPs, RCA dogs, and Buddhas awaiting the heavy lifting to the audio suite.

As the unpacking and setup continued seemingly all day, every day, I started taking the evenings to sherpa all the contents of the new audio setup up the long flight of stairs and into the two upstairs rooms and storage areas. It took about a week to get everything upstairs; day one into the process, I went to the local Walmart and bought a knee brace for my left knee, which had buckled while packing and porting boxes into the garage at the old house. The next day, I went back to Walmart and bought a knee brace for my right knee – surprisingly, this worked really well, although my knees ached for a couple of weeks afterwards.

Many of the audio-related boxes were among the heaviest that we moved to Charleston; most of them required unboxing in the garage, then lugging the offending item up the stairs, then carrying up all the boxes. An example: the PrimaLuna EVO 300 tube integrated amplifier weighed over 90 lb. boxed, but only about 72 lb. unboxed. I walked it up the stairs, two steps at a time, resting it on every other stair tread. One of my audio racks weighs 100 pounds; I walked it up the stairs, one stair at a time. Each box of LPs weighed at least 50 lb. or more each – you get the picture. Fortunately, there are two fairly large walk-in closets on the second level of the house, which are perfect for storing all the equipment boxes, etc. And I was able to set up a network workstation in one of the closets, where I can easily manage all my music server backups and file transfers.

The original long-wall setup experiment was a TOTAL FAIL! The original long-wall setup experiment was a TOTAL FAIL!

It took about a week of evenings to get all the gear, accessories, LPs, CDs, etc. upstairs, then it took about another week to set up and organize the equipment. I had decided to try a new listening arrangement at this location, something I’d wanted to do for a long time, and placed the loudspeakers along the room’s long wall. I then arranged the seating area into more of a nearfield setup. I’d spent much of the six weeks we spent in the dungeon at my brother’s house researching this, but after only a couple of days, I very quickly realized that I hated it. I mean, absolutely hated it. So I moved everything to a more conventional setup, and surprisingly, it sounded pretty great right out of the gate! So I spent about a week of evenings setting up the equipment, then re-setting it up, and then spent several more evenings unpacking all the LPs, CDs and other discs. This went on seemingly forever.
The digital room required judicious placement of acoustic panels. The digital room required judicious placement of acoustic panels.
John, Paul, George, and Ringo watch over the CD collection.
Beth gave me the leather loveseat for the seating area. It's pretty swank! Beth gave me the leather loveseat for the seating area. It's pretty swank!
The Buddhas and RCA dogs have made themselves at home. The Buddhas and RCA dogs have made themselves at home.

Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year

Of course, we moved right in the midst of three major holidays, and now having kids and grandkids nearby, the unboxing and setup routines got frequently interrupted, including the need to cook a turkey and all the side dishes on Thanksgiving, then transporting them to my daughter’s house, then all the cleanup and dissemination of leftovers afterwards. Then, of course, there was Christmas; my family’s long-standing tradition (this is in actuality, Beth’s tradition) is that on the day after Thanksgiving, we spend the entire day decorating the house for Christmas.

Someone was good this year – trust me, it wasn't me! Someone was good this yeartrust me, it wasn't me!

The sticky wicket in this scenario was that the Christmas decorations were in storage crates that were buried in the very back of our remaining, yet-to-be unpacked storage unit – which was crammed to the absolute gills. A week after Thanksgiving, we rented another truck, completely unpacked the remaining storage unit to get to the decorations, then loaded them onto the truck, then repacked everything back into the unit. Then we went home for days of setting up all the Christmas decorations, in between more unpacking and normal house setup. It was absolute madness!
After two-plus years of near-complete caution, we tested positive. After two-plus years of near-complete caution, we tested positive.

Two days after Christmas, I got a call from my daughter – as it turns out, they were all exposed to COVID, and had tested positive. Which meant that Beth and I had also been exposed; we initially tested negative, but three days later tested positive. A solid week of, well, maybe I don’t feel so bad, transitioning to sick-as-a-dog, back to, maybe I don’t feel so bad after all. It complicated and slowed down every aspect of everything exponentially. Happy New Year!

The Realization of a Dream…Well, Sort Of

When we built the previous house, I had this dream of networked automation that would make our cool, custom-designed, mid-century modern home the epitome of smart technology. It didn’t happen; construction cost overruns and other unanticipated problems made that an impossibility. Then a lightning strike happened four months after we moved in; it killed everything electronic in the entire house, and destroyed whatever vestiges of smart home technology that remained. The dream was basically on life support prior to the big crash; after that, it was definitely over.

The Eero Pro 6E Mesh system provides seamless wireless and hardwired Ethernet connections. The Eero Pro 6E Mesh system provides seamless wireless and hardwired Ethernet connections.

The builder of the new house in South Carolina, Lennar, is at the forefront of smart, networked technology in their neighborhoods. The house has an Eero Pro 6E mesh internet system, which provides a seamless wireless signal throughout the entire home. There’s a Ring doorbell and motion detection alarm system with multiple cameras, and the Ring is networked with a Level electronic smart lock on the front door and also with the garage door. So I can log into my Ring app on my phone and not only see what’s going on outside the house, but I can also quickly determine if the front door or garage door is locked or open, and then close and lock them remotely if needed. The networked system also extends to our water service; there’s a smart valve that either shuts itself off if there’s a detected water problem, or can be remotely shut off if needed. And the home’s Honeywell thermostat system can be set to automatic, to handle the unusual winter temperature fluctuations here in Charleston, and can also be controlled remotely as part of the smart network. It’s pretty sweet!

Well…mostly sweet, that is. There are a few nagging issues that I’ve yet to resolve. Each smart device has its own app to control it, and the Ring app can be configured to provide system oversight and control of those devices. So far, some of the apps are not really user-intuitive, or are functionally flawed. I’m still working on getting the garage door integrated into the network; the setup appears to be complete, but the door won’t open and close when controlled remotely. The remote control of the front door deadbolt lock is a bit wonky; it can easily be controlled locally, but there’s a nagging issue that surrounds the lock’s internal battery that I haven’t resolved that makes remote control iffy at best. At least I can look at the Ring dashboard and determine that the doors are closed and locked, which provides some peace of mind. A week before Christmas, we had to return to Georgia for several days to retrieve a carload of house plants that were scattered among Beth’s friends while we were homeless during the construction phase. We returned to discover that the deadbolt on the front door had been unlocked the entire time we were gone. Fortunately, nothing happened, but trust me, I wasted no time getting the smart features on the doors and security setup quasi-operational ASAP!

I also got something else I really wanted here; my internet is AT&T fiber, and it’s fiber all the way into the house. There are two important benefits. The download/upload speeds for fiber are nearly symmetrical – right now, I’m getting speeds both ways of 375 Mbps! And with fiber, there’s zero possibility of any of your connected electronics getting zapped by lightning. The cost is only $60/month – for Comcast back in Atlanta, I was paying $50 a month for 50 Mbps down and 10 Mbps up, and it was totally unreliable.

There was one internet-related glitch that took the brilliant guys at Euphony Audio about a day to figure out. The AT&T network gateway also acts as a router, and provides a wired Ethernet connection for the Eero Pro 6E mesh system. When I hooked up the Eero Pro system, I placed one of the devices upstairs in the audio suite to provide a wired Ethernet connection to the Euphony Summus server/streamer stack. I was getting a solid connection to all my equipment, but I couldn’t control the Euphony system with my computer, cell phone, or tablet. Which all appeared to be connected to the same internet source. I ended up taking screenshots of all my connected devices, and the Euphony guys figured out that I actually had two wireless networks active simultaneously at the same time, each with a unique IP address. The AT&T network gateway was in fact a router, and when the Eero Pro device was connected to it, the network then also saw it as a wireless router. Everything that was connected to the AT&T gateway contained a “.1” in the IP address, and everything that was downstream of the Eero Pro unit had a “.4” in the IP address. After re-routing everything that mattered to the Eero’s “.4” IP address, the Euphony system worked flawlessly.

A Work in Progress

The two upstairs rooms that comprise the audio suite have separate performance goals. One is set up with primarily digital source equipment, and the other is driven by mostly analog source equipment. The digital room is the larger of the two, and includes the Magneplanar LRS loudspeakers (which need to have some room to cast an acceptably seductive stereo image), an REL subwoofer, amplifiers from Naiu Labs and PS Audio, preamplification from PS Audio, a DAC and constant-temperature clock from Gustard, and a digital server/streamer/music player stack from Euphony Audio. The smaller room features KLH Model Five loudspeakers, the PrimaLuna EVO 300 tube integrated amplifier, phono preamplification from Musical Surroundings and Sutherland, a Pro-Ject Classic turntable fitted with a Hana SL moving coil cartridge, and a Rega P2 turntable fitted with an Ortofon 2M Mono cartridge. There’s also a Yamaha BD-A1060 universal player for SACD playback (the output is analog, anyway). Both rooms feature power conditioning from AudioQuest, and the vast majority of interconnect, digital, and power cables are also from AudioQuest.

The analog room is still a work in progress, but the sound quality is shockingly good, even without any acoustic panels. The analog room is still a work in progress, but the sound quality is shockingly good, even without any acoustic panels.
I finally decided on this setup for the equipment in the analog room. Love that wallpaper! I finally decided on this setup for the equipment in the analog room. Love that wallpaper!

The digital room is basically complete as is and sounds very good, but the analog room requires more fine tuning. I initially started out with only the Pro-Ject table, and planned to get rid of the Rega, which is the single oldest piece of kit in my entire setup. But that hasn’t happened, and I seem to have a growing collection of mono LPs, so I decided to keep it at least for the time being, adding it to the setup earlier this week. I like the sound of mono LPs when played through a true mono cartridge, but I don’t know if I’m ultimately going to make that a part of the current system. I’d love to score a turntable with interchangeable headshells – that would make indulging my mono fascination much more doable. I still haven’t taken the time to hang any of the Owens Corning fiberglass acoustic panels I have for this room, but I just hung the really cool mid-century modern wallpaper I bought prior to the move. I think it really warms the room up a lot! I may end up moving the Rega turntable to the bigger room.

The two rooms are the first I’ve ever used for listening environments that have windows in them, and I was afraid that might be a problem. On a trip to Ikea prior to our departure for South Carolina, I spotted the curtains I have in each room – they’re specially woven to provide diffusion. Yes, go ahead and laugh, but amazingly enough, they actually work, and curtains for both windows only cost about $100. Hearing the rooms both with and without the curtains is like night and day – I figured I was probably throwing my money away, but hey, it worked out. Like I said, it’s still a work in progress; more to come in the near future. Till then, happy listening!

All photos courtesy of the author except the header image, which is courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Mr. Matté.

Lord Knows I Try

Lord Knows I Try

Lord Knows I Try

Ken Sander

Photographed in Manhattan on 15th Street between Second and Third Avenue.

Issue 180

Issue 180

Issue 180

Frank Doris

What's In A Name?

What's In A Name?

What's In A Name?

James Whitworth