Issue 185

Table of Contents – Issue 185

Table of Contents – Issue 185

Frank Doris

Copper’s gone to a new web platform, as many of you have undoubtedly noticed. We’ve got new features like a search bar (yay!), and others – but there are also some bugs. We are aware of these growing pains and are working mightily to fix them. One thing in particular to point out: you can now download the issue as a PDF again (yay again!) but for now the navigation is clunky. Here’s how to do it:

Click on the Download PDF link at the top of the issue’s opening page (under the issue number). This will take you to a new screen. However, there’s no obvious Save or other button. You will need to go to Print on your browser, and then choose Save as PDF, or in some browsers, Print as PDF. On Chrome, in the Print menu, go to Destination, then choose Save as PDF from the drop-down menu. For Safari, go to the Print menu, then click on the PDF button and choose Save as PDF from the drop-down menu. We promise we’re working to make this easier!

In this issue: Anne E. Johnson listens to the Bangles. John Seetoo reports on CanJam 2023, the specialty headphones show. Wayne Robins has thoughts on the Rolling Stones’ pivotal Between the Buttons album. J.I. Agnew repairs a vintage Western Electric record lathe cutter head, and Rich Isaacs has an easy fix for off-center records. I conclude my interview with Dave Rusan, audiophile and maker of Prince’s Cloud guitars. Ray Chelstowski talks with the brilliant indie-folk-rock songwriter Eric D. Johnson of Fruit Bats.

Larry Jaffee remembers legendary producer Phil Ramone on the 10th anniversary of his passing. Harris Fogel tells us why digital asset management is important, and not just for music. Russ Welton concludes his interview with Scott Smith and Tadd Swanlund of eartip maker Comply Foam on how to get the best sound from in-ear headphones. Andrew Daly checks in with up-and-coming Canadian guitarist Sierra Levesque. Howard Kneller sits in The Listening Chair to admire an Acoustic Signature turntable. We wrap up the issue with box speakers, tailor-made listening, vestibular vertigo, and a window into the past.

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, 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

Advertising Sales:
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The Bangles: Hitmakers from the Paisley Underground

The Bangles: Hitmakers from the Paisley Underground

The Bangles: Hitmakers from the Paisley Underground

Anne E. Johnson

Susanna Hoffs, Vicki Peterson, and her sister Debbi Peterson started a band in 1981, adding Annette Zilinskas on bass. They first called themselves the Colours and then the Bangs. But there was already a group with that name, so they went with the Bangles. Over four decades later, and after one lengthy hiatus, they’re still performing and recording.

As a sort of counter to the new wave and punk that the music industry was besotted with, a retro movement was developing in Los Angeles that cherished the sounds and energy of 1960s folk-cum-psychedelia exemplified by the Byrds and the Mamas and the Papas. The Bangles fit right into that so-called Paisley Underground, along with bands like the Three O’Clock, the Long Ryders, and Dream Syndicate.

It was through the Paisley scene that the Bangles were noticed and signed by Faulty Products to cut an EP. These women seem to have had a wider ambition, though, and their psychedelic underpinning soon gave way to more of a power pop sound. An important factor in this change was the departure of Zilinskas (who has since returned to the band); she was replaced by bassist Michael Steele, formerly of the pioneering all-women’s band the Runaways.


 The Bangles in 2020: Susanna Hoffs, Debbi Peterson, Vicki Peterson.


Now they were considered economically viable enough to get a deal with Columbia Records. They were assigned producer David Kahne, who had cut his teeth working with punk and new wave innovators at 415 Records in San Francisco. The Bangles’ debut, All Over the Place, came out in 1984. It sold decently and won some awards, although neither of its singles – “Going Down to Liverpool” and “Hero Takes a Fall” – became hits.

 Vicki Peterson is credited with most of the songwriting on that album, with Hoffs sometimes co-writing. The two of them wrote the jangly, wistful “Dover Beach.” It’s a very simple melody, made interesting by layers of guitar counterpoint and solos, carefully placed moments of vocal harmony, and focused production of the drum and bass sound.


All Over the Place includes two covers: Kimberley Rew’s “Going Down to Liverpool,” previously recorded by Rew’s band Katrina and the Waves, and “Live,” a cover of a song by the Los Angeles psychedelic band Merry-Go-Round. On the Beatles-flavored “Live,” Hoffs and Vicki Peterson’s guitars are again the starring element.


The Bangles’ second album is the aptly named Different Light, released in 1986. Not everyone agreed that “different” meant “better” in this case. The first album’s dual guitar sound and focused, unadorned production values gave way to a bigger, more mainstream style. The band’s sales skyrocketed accordingly, including two massive hits, “Walk Like an Egyptian” and “Manic Monday.”

Despite the second album’s divergence from the debut, David Kahne was once again behind the control board. He also cowrote “Not Like You” with Hoffs and Debbi Peterson. This song evokes ABBA’s brand of chord progressions and distribution of vocals. It’s not an entirely successful experiment, without a tight enough connection between the vocal arrangement and the rhythm section, which just hangs there. Still, it’s an interesting idea.


“Eternal Flame,” the band’s other monster hit, was a single from their third album, Everything (1988), which also yielded the very successful “In Your Room.” The producer on this one was Davitt Sigerson, an experienced songwriter himself who had collaborated with Loverboy, Kiss, and Olivia Newton-John.

Ever since Different Light, Steele had been given chances to sing lead vocals, which she does on her own composition, “Complicated Girl.” Her reedy voice has a country vibe and matches well with the repeating high-pitched guitar pattern, doubled on bouzouki by multi-instrumentalist David Lindley.


A very different song from the Everything sessions ended up not on the album but was used as the B-side for “Eternal Flame.” The two Peterson sisters wrote “What I Meant to Say”; Debbi sings lead on this hard-rocking song.


Despite the many tracks sung by the other members of the band, Hoffs became a media darling, labeled as the “lead singer.” The other musicians took umbrage at that, and the conflict became one element in the growing stress that caused the Bangles to break up in 1989.

But they weren’t done. After a 10-year hiatus, the stars aligned to pull the Bangles back together. During their time apart, Hoffs had married film director Jay Roach. The premiere of the regrouped Bangles therefore occurred on the soundtrack of Roach’s film Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, for which they recorded the single “Get the Girl.” That experienced launched a Bangles reunion tour.


The Bangles in 2003: Vicki Peterson, Susanna Hoffs, Debbi Peterson, Michael Steele.


Soon they were ready to get back in the studio and create new music. Their album Doll Revolution was ready for the public in 2003. The lineup was the same as it had been before 1989: Hoffs, the Peterson sisters, and Steele. The album title refers to their cover of Elvis Costello’s “Tear Off Your Own Head (It’s a Doll Revolution),” but not even that single made any impression in the US market.

“Ride the Ride” was a collaboration between Hoffs, the Petersons, and songwriter Daniel Schwartz, best known for co-writing Sheryl Crow’s “No One Said It Would Be Easy.” This song, with its driving, distorted guitar patterns, harkens back to the band’s psychedelic roots. 


Michael Steele left the Bangles in 2005. Rather than replace her, the remaining three members used temporary bassists for touring. To play on their 2011 album, Sweetheart of the Sun, they tapped Derrick Anderson and Matthew Sweet, the latter a singer-songwriter from the 1980s Athens, Georgia scene that had yielded R.E.M. and the Indigo Girls.

“Through Your Eyes,” by Hoffs and Vicki Peterson, uses the fluid motion of a 6/8 meter to mourn love lost through the passage of time. On the album it precedes and acts as a stylistic complement to an energetic, determined cover of Todd Rundgren’s “Open My Eyes.”


There has been lots of media attention on Hoffs over the past few weeks. She announced both a solo album of covers (including the Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb,” already available as a single) and the publication of her first novel, This Bird Has Flown. Vicki Peterson has made two albums with the band Action Skulls, which she formed with her husband, John Cowsill, formerly of the Cowsills.

As for the Bangles, founding member Annette Zilinskas rejoined on bass in 2018. This new/old lineup made the band’s most recent recording project, 3 x 4, a collaborative effort with fellow Paisley Underground artists the Three O’Clock, Rain Parade, and the Dream Syndicate, with each group performing the others’ songs. The Paisley Underground is never far from the surface after all.


Header image: the Bangles: Susanna Hoffs, Michael Steele, Debbi Peterson, Vicki Peterson. All images courtesy of the Bangles.

<em>Between the Buttons,</em> UK Version: The Rolling Stones Hit Their Stride Without the Hits

<em>Between the Buttons,</em> UK Version: The Rolling Stones Hit Their Stride Without the Hits

Between the Buttons, UK Version: The Rolling Stones Hit Their Stride Without the Hits

Wayne Robins

England swings like a pendulum do
Bobbies on bicycles two by two
“England Swings,” Roger Miller, 1965

There was a time when if you asked me to name my favorite Rolling Stones album and I was feeling slightly contrarian, I'd say, Between the Buttons. Many people I've mentioned this to also agree, especially if you leave out, for a moment, the four-album streak (Beggar's Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street) that defined the Stones, that defined their greatness.

Early rock critic Paul Williams engaged with the album in the early Crawdaddy magazine, when I was in high school, and I admired the robust respect with which he led you through his thinking. Because it was a really different kind of Rolling Stones album, one whose British version, the one we are discussing here, had no hits. Copper readers might be interested in the odd audio version on which I based this essay. It was provided by the enigmatic "Prof. Stoned: Rare & Deleted" [https://www.profstoned.com/] who is out there somewhere, providing excellent quality mono recordings reproduced for the internet.

Between the Buttons was both the fifth and the seventh album by the Rolling Stones. No sleight of hand here; it was just that even in early 1967, British and American divisions of the same record companies did business differently.


The Rolling Stones, 1964. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Hugo van Gelderen/Anefo.


Both adhered to the 12 song, six tracks to a side LP format. But in England, singles remained their own distinctive revenue stream. In England, "Ruby Tuesday" and "Let's Spend the Night Together" was a standalone two-sided hit on one 45 rpm disc. The Between the Buttons album had neither song in the UK. Yet it was a fine early example of album as artistic statement, with thematically related songs. It was about the Stones' tumultuous, shifting status among the swinging world of ruling class peers, artists and art dealers, fashion designers and their models, druggies and their dealers, rare book sellers and antiques dealers, poets and photographers, boldface names known from New York to London to Paris to Rome to Monte Carlo. The Stones were part of the mix; they were not its rulers.

The Stones' US label, London Records (the stateside, rock-pop division of British Decca), liked the idea of having hits on albums: Why else would you make them? It was a big country, America. Bigger profits, too, on albums.


The US labels liked to keep product in the pipeline. Rather than expand Between the Buttons’ American release to 14 tracks, they removed two songs to make room for "Ruby Tuesday" and "Let's Spend the Night Together." The latter is the song Ed Sullivan demanded the Stones perform as "Let's Spend Some Time Together" when they appeared on his universally-watched Sunday night variety show on CBS. (The businessman in Mick Jagger was in conflict with the rebel Mick, as he sang "some time together" the first reference, but squeezed in "the night together" on a subsequent line.) By this time, in early 1967, Sullivan probably needed the Stones more than they needed him, but Jagger wasn't entirely sure…hence the compromise. He could always tell Sullivan he slipped.

Between the Buttons (BTB), the first of three atypical Rolling Stones albums in 1967, is a bit of slang meaning "undecided." The way the story goes, drummer Charlie Watts asked manager/producer Andrew Loog Oldham what the title of the new album was going to be; when Oldham said "it's between the buttons," meaning he didn't know, Watts took it as the title, and it stuck.

The second Stones album of 1967 was Flowers, a collection of those tracks that didn't make it to American releases of Aftermath or BTB. It included "Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby (Standing in the Shadows)," "Mother's Little Helper," and "Lady Jane." The two songs that got kicked off the US BTB are both excellent: "Back Street Girl" is a modest, reflective ballad that Jagger sings with sincerity and vulnerability. The instrumentation of much of the album has the counterintuitive texture of the rest of BTB UK: not just piano, which dominates (played by Jack Nietzsche, Ian Stewart, and Nicky Hopkins), but bucolic sounds of harpsichord, dulcimer, recorder and flute.

The second song that went from UK BTB to US Flowers is "Please Go Home," a kind of sequel, more in-your-face, to whoever didn't get the message of "Get Off of My Cloud." This Bo Diddley-influenced rocker is all the better for going off the rails in terms of production values, or coherence. (BTB is Loog Oldham's final album as Stones' producer and manager.) It sounds mixed in a cocktail shaker and poured with an unsteady hand; it sounds like the New York Dolls. Flowers came out the end of June, 1967, and some mistook this mélange of tracks as a tepid answer to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band; in fact, it totally ignores Peppe’sr. Later in 1967, the Stones' would file their answer with Their Satanic Majesties Request, an interesting, underappreciated approximation of the psychedelic moment, appealing in its way, and as always: The songs have sturdy bones and can't be dismissed as a trip gone wrong, but an experiment worth shaking out of their heads.



The big influence on Between the Buttons is Bob Dylan. The difference is that the Stones are restrained by the three-minutes or under time limit demanded by the suits at British Decca. "She Smiled Sweetly" clearly would like to have been "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands," but it's squeezed into a two-and-a-half-minute track. "Who's Been Sleeping Here" sounds as if it would like to be resting somewhere on "Blonde on Blonde." Images: "The noseless old newsboy, the old British brigadier." The source material is a little simpler and older than Dylan: It's really a rewrite of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" (Goldilocks herself is name-checked), with a veneer of jealousy.

The sound of the record, mostly absent high-impact guitar riffs, is given its hardness in the syllables Jagger sings. The three most noteworthy songs consist of titles conveying their crispness by the hard letter "C": "Connection"; "Complicated"; "Cool, Calm and Collected." (No Oxford comma. Hmmm.)

"Connection" is a rocker with terse, uncluttered, lyrics. "Complicated," as well as "My Obsession," are carried by Watts' drums isolated for a few bars that act as bridges or choruses: verse, verse, bam bam; verse, verse, bam bam. "Cool, Calm, and Collected" seems a bittersweet takedown of an American socialite ("dressed all in red, white, and blue/and she always knows more than you do.") But the lyrics show a kind of admiration at the skillfulness of this beautiful mover and shaker:

She seems to glow brilliantly white
And her hair seems to shine in the night
With her feet unbelievably light
And her teeth ready, sharpened to bite

These songs took me back to Keith Richards’ outstanding autobiography, Life with James Fox. Being a teenager in America hearing this album, feeling unable to compete with or attract the attention of the cheerleaders at our own Riverdale High, this sense of the Stones feeling one-upped by all these society girls seemed illogical: Didn't the Rolling Stones always get and keep the girl? What's all this jealousy, polite anger, and heartbreak? (The previous album, Aftermath, was thick with this resentment: "Stupid Girl" and all that.)

But the Rolling Stones hardly stopped working for a day in those years, recording and touring. And their young women were rather independent too. It didn't matter if you were in a band; if you were gone for three months at a time, Richards writes, no young woman was going to wait for you. Hearts really got broken. I mean, Keith came back from a tour to find his girlfriend so strung out on drugs that he ratted her out to her parents. Imagine drugging so much you scared Keith! And Keith was right to do it: her father, a presumably well-to-do Londoner, went and found her, brought her home, and seized her passport. She straightened out and had a good life.

"Miss Amanda Jones" is a socialite given a name, in a Chuck Berry rocker worthy of the Stones' best early guitar rock efforts. I don't know why this wasn't a single in the US, or anywhere, as far as I know. Perhaps because the idea that this debutante "looks quite delightfully stoned," diminished airplay opportunities.


The closing song, "Something Happened to Me Yesterday" meshes Dylan enigma with British vaudeville/music hall tradition. Tough to pull off, but the Stones do it well with a light comic touch.

Brian Jones looms large on the Stones of this moment, and not in a good way. Richards writes nothing about Between the Buttons except to refer to "Yesterday's Papers" (originally considered for Aftermath), a savvy dissection of the short media half-life of a supermodel. 

But during this period he does talk about the deterioration of Jones' relationship to Mick and Keith, as the bonds hardened with the songwriting duo, leaving the perpetually stoned ("Tuinals, Seconals") Jones as unable to do his job in the studio or onstage. The cover photo says it all: When those of us newly experimenting with these things saw the swollen slit-eyes of Brian Jones in the group shot (Vaseline on the lens to get that "look"), I'm surprised more of us weren't scared sober: Any way you looked at it, whether this is your Brian on drugs, or this is your brain on drugs, it didn't look pretty.


This article originally appeared in Critical Conditions, the Substack blog of Wayne Robins, and appears here by permission.

The DAM NYC Conference: Why Digital Asset Management Matters to Audiophiles

The DAM NYC Conference: Why Digital Asset Management Matters to Audiophiles

The DAM NYC Conference: Why Digital Asset Management Matters to Audiophiles

Harris Fogel

Q: What did the fish say when it bumped its head?


So, I used to tell this kids’ joke to my students in digital imaging when speaking about the role of Digital Asset Management, or DAM. OK, so why does DAM matter to audiophiles, and well, just about everyone else on the planet who does searches on the internet? Because without it, you couldn’t play your favorite song, from either streaming sources or even locally-stored music files. The importance of DAM was in evidence at the last DAM New York 2022 conference, held at the New York Hilton Midtown in September 2022.

Digital asset management is a way of organizing and making data searchable. In many ways it doesn't much matter what the data is. DAM can work for music data, video files, graphics files such as photographs and those created by Adobe Illustrator – in fact, just about anything digital. With a bit of effort, even your LP collection can be organized with DAM software. You would be right to consider that a database or spreadsheet is also a form of digital asset management, but the key to how current DAM solutions work is in how they automate the task, and use both standardized and custom keywords.

To put this in an audio perspective, what made iTunes so revolutionary wasn’t that it could play music; it was that it could organize music, and include metadata such as track number, song and album title, artist, composer, artwork and more. For most users this was invisible. Want the Dead Kennedys? OK, just search for their name, and up pops your music. For locally-stored files this is pretty simple, especially when their number is limited. But when you’re streaming files, it’s a far more difficult task. Most of us have at one time or another had to edit metadata, add artwork to titles, update missing information and so on, but it’s a pain, and if you extrapolate this to, say, 100,000 songs, it’s obvious that something needs to assist in the task.

For most (that is, millions of) users, iTunes hid its DAM roots, and came across as an easy to use (in the beginning at least) music player. Then Apple added videos, podcasts, games, iPhone integration, and more. But, without a strong DAM engine it’d be pretty useless. Photographers have long had to grapple with this, and the advent of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom came about as Adobe began to realize that while Photoshop grew out of a single-image mentality, photographers with later generations of digital cameras were shooting hundreds of photos at a time. As a result, in 1999 Mark Hamburg (one of the creators of Adobe Photoshop), proposed a new tool, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, under the working title of Shadowland, and included around a robust DAM tool, coupled with the digital image manipulation tools of Adobe Photoshop and Camera Raw. (Eventually Lightroom added its Book, Printing, Faces, Web, and Maps modules for even more comprehensive functionality.) Fun fact: Shadowland was a reference to the great album by k.d. lang.

But the key to success is wrangling all those files into some reasonably organized form. Or else, you might spend weeks searching for that photograph of Frank Doris holding the original Telarc digital master tape of the 1812 Overture. Accordingly, tools like Roon (a music management platform) are also powerfully integrated DAM tools, and while you might not necessarily use them to create a file and storage structure, they can present an ordered structure to make it easy to peruse your music library and other digital assets. Which brings me back to the DAM New York 2022 conference.


Speaking of archival treasures from the dawn of digital audio, here is editor Frank Doris holding the precious master tape for the famed recording of the 1812 Overture on Telarc Records, conducted by Erich Kunzel with the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. Utilizing the pioneering Soundstream digital recording system, this 1979 release proved as equally popular with amplifier and speaker repair centers as well as with audiophiles seeking to test their phono cartridge’s tracking ability. As for Frank’s bad hair day, it was a different color before we were treated to hearing the mighty cannon blasts on the massive system AES 2017 attendees experienced, featuring mammoth PMC loudspeakers with remarkable low bass extension. You can now find this recording with the help of DAM and a search engine. So far, even the newest AI DAM tools have been at a loss to describe what happened to Frank’s hair.


With more than 70-plus speakers across more than 50 sessions covering metadata, integration, video workflow, creative operations, AI, corporate archives, automated workflows, rights management, user adoption and more, it was a professionally and smoothly-run event organized by Henry Stewart Conferences. It included a variety of exhibitors and presenters, from the largest brands on the market to museums struggling with providing users with an easy way to find materials while also acting as archives. It’s easy to assume these are similar, but they are in fact very different missions.

One ironic sign of a successful conference is that there is so much content, so much that for every great session you’d want to see there are many more at the same time, all excellent. To give an idea of the caliber, there were presenters from Amazon, L’Oreal, FIFA, Tyson Foods, HomeServe, Adobe, IBM, Feld Entertainment, Mars Inc., The Hershey Company, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, Saks, Salt Flats, Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson), Citi, Amway, Airbnb, Disney Parks, Hilton, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, W.L. Gore & Associates, McCormick, Canadian Broadcast Corporation, Showtime, Mayo Clinic, Stanley Black & Decker, Audacy, and Clinique…this list leaves out many, many others. It was a cornucopia of expertise, and even though I am not inexperienced with DAM, the level of discourse was fantastic, and challenging. Almost everything that makes the internet the internet is covered by DAM.


Natacha Pamphile, Marie Deane, Lori Ann Freda, Kristen Voss, and Charles Le Couilliard met attendees with welcoming smiles.


Peter Krogh, one of the most respected folks in DAM, and author of The DAM Book, seen here discussing his new company and product, digital asset management platform MediaGraph. The author’s switch to the .DNG (digital negative) format was entirely due to Peter’s counseling.


Every conference needs strong leadership, and Daniel Luper (Managing Director) and Milly Louch (Head of Marketing) of Henry Stuart Events kept things moving smoothly.


Adobe was there in full force, with Kaushal Mall, Brian Thopsey, Jocelyn Mrha, David Darnell, and Andre Salazar on hand.


What’s most fascinating to me is that all aspects of digital commerce are centered around DAM. Entertainment, retail, healthcare, financial services, education and so many more industries all depend on easily searchable data. But what’s really interesting is how small the number of people is on the DAM teams for even enormous companies. I was astonished to learn that sometimes teams of around five or so people were responsible for millions of music tracks, movies, and more.

The big change hitting the industry is the use of AI to automatically assign keywords, for which the conference provided multiple demonstrations. Adding AI to the effort allows not only speed, but a more accurate and precise application of search terms.

How does this impact you? Well, every time you search for a song on Qobuz, Tidal, Apple Music, or any other streaming service, you are colliding with the world of digital asset management.

Take a genre like ska, for example. Not only would the standard metadata apply – information about the band, album and track titles, composers, record label and so on, but a far broader set of descriptors could also be applied, such as political movements tied to ska, statistics, and even clubs that featured ska. Imagine doing a research paper on ska, and wondering out of what political conditions the genre was born, and if there was a political bent or ideology at play. That’s part of the power of DAM. And a key point to realize is that DAM funds the bottom line, so the more potential uses for a company’s assets are made available through DAM, the more money they can generate. 

How well AI will handle the nuances of music and artwork is a work in progress, with the minute variables still being determined. While having lunch, folks at my table were discussing governance, which was one of the most talked-about subjects in the sessions. Simply put, who has access to DAM data, at what levels of corporate structure, and what do they do with it? It reminded me of Steve Jobs’ story about “toner heads” at Xerox, who knew nothing about anything but selling toner. They brought in a lot of profit, and were sort of the rock stars to the corporate suits. But, the toner heads had zero interest in research, development, or innovation. Worst of all, the folks who actually created Xerox’s products were sort of out of sight, out of mind. Hearing about the different battles for governance of DAM in organizational structures seemed similar. Giving everyone involved a say seems like a key concern if organizations are to properly take advantage of what their dedicated DAM teams have to offer.


Jennifer Sunday (Stanley Black & Decker) was a first-time presenter and nailed it. Her talk, “Change Management and DAM: How it Benefits Governance and User Adoption” tackled a consistent issue with DAM, that of governance within an organization.


The idea that AI can not only assist with organizing music files but also start analyzing music, going way beyond simple metadata tagging, is an extraordinary prospect. As a photo historian, I’ve spent a large chunk of my free time over the past 35-plus years searching for images, making copies of 35 mm slides, labeling them, and entering them into a database. Later, as institutions like the Library of Congress started offering their holdings online and making them available for downloads, those nights shifted from staring at 35 mm slides on a fluorescent light box to downloading high-resolution scans and viewing them on a color-calibrated NEC display on a digital light box.

Museums have a unique challenge. As Douglas Hegley from the Metropolitan Museum of Art discussed in his presentation, if the museum has 10 visitors a year who access an asset or object in their collection, they consider that a success, whereas in other industries, 10,000 searches might be considered a failure. Another difference is that for a museum, DAM is coupled with their archival academic mission. Normally, archival data is meant to be permanent – once entered, it’s supposed to be there forever, a library of permanence. On the other hand, for retail applications, data isn’t meant to be permanent. As products are retired, the job of DAM and the data associated with them is over. At this point in time, music storage seems closer to the museum model of data archiving, but time will tell.

To shift gears a bit: how was I able to find those pristine Roger Fenton scans from his work in 1855 photographing the Russian Invasion of Crimea? (Fenton was the world’s first war photographer.) DAM, that’s how. When I wanted to play a song that referenced the invention of the tintype, the soliloquy from Roger and Hammerstein’s Carousel, how was I able to stream it in seconds for my students to hear the lyrical reference to tintype?. DAM, that’s how. And finally, when the new Steven Wilson Dolby Atmos remix of Van Morrison’s classic Moondance is available, it will be DAM to the rescue when I go searching for it.

Here are more scenes from DAM New York 2022.


Alyana Ladha and Patrick Meehan from digital asset management company Tenovos share a warm moment with and Daniel Luper of Henry Stewart Events, and John Bateman from Tenovos.


 Zack Bolton (Sr. Editorial Manager), and Jorge Santoscoy (Media Asset Specialist) from National Geographic were the author’s lunch companions. 


Mindy Carner, a DAM ontologist, taxonomist, metadata generalist and guru, during a session for Amazon.


 John Horodyski showing off an uber-cool prize T-shirt.


Edward Williams (Marketing Executive) of Henry Stuart Events, and Lisa Grimm (VP and DAM evangelist) of Digizuite taking a break with a local favorite beer.


Orange Logic had plenty of badge add-ons on hand. The author’s badge sported an “I MAKE THINGS FINDABLE” ribbon.


Tobias Frese and Domnique Vieregge of 4ALLPORTAL with delicious Pumpernickel bread from Germany. It was the best-tasting takeaway from the show!


Misti Vogt (Chief of Staff) and Garrett Sayre from Orange Logic sat in some panels to see how others were solving problems.


Sebastian Bardoz (Wedia), Liana Cave (Hilton), Douglas Hegley (Metropolitan Museum of Art) and Corrie Sahli (Sitecore) after their panel “Enterprise Content Operations – What’s DAM Got To Do With It?”


Sarah Foss (Audacy) and David Lipsey (Conference Chair) after their session “For Your Ears Only: Content, Personalization, and Digital Transformation at Audacy.” 


Jonathan Steinberg (Getty Archive), Christine Cadotte, and Rebecca Efrat (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) enjoying a break from speaking.


Atticus Bikos was there to represent one of the finest museums in the world of art: the Art Institute of Chicago, which made this former art professor feel right at home. 


If you are interested in a deeper dive into DAM (and other related topics), head on over to https://www.henrystewartconferences.com/events. The New York symposium will return next fall, and events also take place in Los Angeles, Europe and online.


All photos courtesy of Harris Fogel.

Sierra Levesque: Up-and-Coming Canadian Guitarist

Sierra Levesque: Up-and-Coming Canadian Guitarist

Sierra Levesque: Up-and-Coming Canadian Guitarist

Andrew Daly

Now more than ever, young women feel empowered to pick up a guitar and roar. But it wasn't always that way; in truth, in years past, the rock and guitar communities weren't always so welcoming to women, which, to put it mildly, was a real shame.

No longer. Up-and-coming six-stringers like Nita Strauss, Nikki Stringfield, Sophie Lloyd, and many more are dominating stages worldwide. Look at the success of Grammy-winner H.E.R. They’ve built upon the hard-earned success of predecessors as diverse as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Nancy Wilson (Heart), Joni Mitchell, Orianthi, Joan Jett, Bonnie Raitt, St Vincent, Kaki King, Muriel Anderson and so many others.

This brings us to one of the brightest young stars in the guitar world, Canada's own Sierra Levesque. 18-year-old Sierra has been featured in Guitar.com and is poised to share the sacred stages of the Sunset Strip with the likes of L.A. Guns and Faster Pussycat this April.

I talked with Sierra Levesque about her experiences with the guitar, her latest music and gear, and what she’s looking forward to.

Andrew Daly: What first inspired you to pick up the guitar? Do you still have your first guitar?

Sierra Levesque: I first started learning piano and singing when I was seven years old. After growing up listening to bands like Guns N' Roses, Black Sabbath, and Mötley Crüe, I knew that I wanted to be able to play guitar solos and riffs like I had heard so many times in all of those heavy rock songs. I got my first guitar as a gift when I was 12 years old. It was an Epiphone Brendon Small "Snow Falcon" Flying V. I still have it, and I enjoy using it at a lot of my live shows!

AD: What was the first riff and the first solo you learned?

SL: The first riff I learned was "Sweet Child O’ Mine" by Guns N' Roses. I walked into my first guitar lesson when I was 12 and told my teacher I wanted to learn that song first. He said it wasn’t the conventional first song to learn, but that we could learn it.

Then, after hard work and learning the necessary chords, I finally started playing it to [be able to] sound somewhat like the song was supposed to sound like after a few weeks of practice. I performed it live while singing as well a few months after my lessons had started, and people seemed to enjoy it.

The first full guitar solo that I learned was the [Eagles’] "Hotel California." My first guitar teacher, unfortunately, passed away from cancer, so I was lucky enough to [then] begin taking online lessons with Ron 'Bumblefoot' Thal (Sons of Apollo, ex-Guns N' Roses, Asia) in 2020, and he helped me to learn this one. It was fun putting all of the solo sections together, and I really enjoyed focusing on the patterns within it.



AD: What are five albums that have shaped you thus far? How are their influences best reflected in your playing?

SL: IMPERA by Ghost

I’ve listened to this album over and over again, over 100 times this year, and I have taken inspiration from the catchy riffs in "Call Me Little Sunshine," the intricate keyboard parts in "Spillways," and vocal harmonies in "Kaisarion." The memorable, singable solos in all of Ghost’s songs have also influenced my own solo writing. 

Heart, Dreamboat Annie

I have been described as having the vocals of Ann Wilson with the guitar skills of Nancy Wilson, and songs off of this album, such as "Crazy on You" and "Magic Man," have really shaped how my songs specifically feature these two abilities.

Scorpions, Love At First Sting

Many of the intro riffs in my songs are reminiscent of Scorpions songs from this album in particular. I [like to] go from heavy, driving riffs similar to "Rock Me Like A Hurricane" to soft, acoustic pieces similar to "Still Loving You," which the Scorpions always do perfectly. 

The Pretty Reckless, Going To Hell

The sound of Taylor Momsen’s voice, combined with the catchy riffs on songs like "Heaven Knows" and the lyrics of "House on a Hill" sound similar to my own songs, lyrically, and by sharing the same angst-driven themes.

Avril Lavigne, The Best Damn Thing

Any song that Avril writes on piano really inspires my own piano-based songs. This album features both her soft piano and [her] pop-rock songs. The acoustic-[based] songs that she has written also have interesting riffs, combined with natural acoustic [guitar] tones.



AD: Tell me about any original music you’re working on.

SL: I have around 15 fully-completed and recorded songs, and working on a few new ones each week. I enjoy writing songs that people are able to relate to, with inspiration from everyday things that I have felt.

"Authority" speaks about wanting to rise up against figures of authority who try to control you. "Live a Lie" talks about not truly being yourself and [that] you would like to stop hiding [some] aspect of your life. My songwriting process usually starts with a guitar/piano riff or vocal melody, and then I build the lyrics on top of a main sequence or structure of chords.

AD: What guitars, pedals, and amps are you using these days?

SL: I’m very grateful to have a wide range of guitars to use to perform and record. My favorite acoustic/electric guitar is the Fender Acoustasonic Stratocaster, for its versatility, ability to adapt to both acoustic and electric sets, and its unique look and sound. [I like] my RainSong carbon fiber acoustic for its rich sound, light weight, and crisp tone when recorded. My favorite electric guitars are ESP Eclipse models for their classic rock sound and many customizable color options. I also really enjoy using an Epiphone Tony Iommi (of Black Sabbath) SG Custom for live performances.

Sierra Levesque with her Fender Acoustasonic Stratocaster, an instrument that delivers both acoustic and electric sounds. Courtesy of NewsOfTheNorth/Sierra Levesque.


I always use Fender Mustang series amps for performances. My favorites are the Mustang GT 200 and the Mustang GTX100. I usually use the "Master of Mullets" and "Basic '80s Metal" factory presets. The many preset [sounds] in these Mustang amps allow me to have many sounds without [using] pedals, but when I do use [one], it is the Morley Steve Vai Bad Horsie Wah pedal. It has a great sound!

AD: What are your immediate goals, and how you do plan to make them a reality?

SL: Release a debut single, and a backing video. I hope to announce more details about this soon. I was fortunate enough to take several online courses from Berklee College of Music to learn about music marketing and music release planning, to plan for my upcoming debut release.

As for backing videos, I have been performing with backing tracks for a little while. I play all of the guitars and sing live, and self-recorded all of the other instruments to make my own backing tracks to play on top of. I hope to film myself playing all of the instruments so that I can include this visual aspect into my show.

AD: What’s next?

SL: I am looking forward to attending NAMM for the first time (in April 2023), and [while I’m there] time, I will be doing two shows in April at the Whisky A Go Go in Los Angeles. On April 14 I open for Faster Pussycat, and on April 15 will be opening for L.A. Guns.

I will also be recording new original music and videos over the course of the year in preparation for a debut release. I’m also creating new videos and content for my social media pages, where I can be found on all channels under the username Sierra Levesque Music.


Header image courtesy of Rose Bennett Photography.

Tailor-Made Listening Pleasure

Tailor-Made Listening Pleasure

Tailor-Made Listening Pleasure

Frank Doris

Here's a Denon DP-500M direct-drive manual turntable. It has old-school features like quartz lock servo speed control, a large wooden base, and a die-cast S-shaped tonearm. We found a variety of inaccurate information regarding when the turntable was available, but we know this one was made in March 2006.


 Front view of the DP-500M.


Rear view of the turntable. Remember when hooking up all audio equipment was this simple? From The Audio Classics Collection, photos by Howard Kneller.


Who needs an Apple Watch when you've got this? Radio Craft, April 1948.



Here's a Loewe-Opta Luna-Phono-Stereo radiogram, circa 1959 – 1960. The only other Loewe-Opta piece of gear I've ever seen...is in my house. I found it on the curb. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Riki1979.


Tailor-made for your high-fidelity listening pleasure! Dual ad, 1971. 


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).

Signature Style

Signature Style

Signature Style

Howard Kneller

I’ve been Jonesing for an Acoustic Signature turntable for a very long time now. This German company, which employs their own CNC machines in the production process, does high-mass 'table engineering just about as well as anyone. Yes, there are many other designs out there, some of which can get quite complex. The problem can sometimes be that more complex designs will solve one issue while creating one or two others. One thing’s for sure. Acoustic Signature’s lower-end models deliver big value in ultra-high-end turntables.

Shown here are photos of the company’s Thunder MkII turntable and TA-5000 arm. The Thunder MkII has been discontinued (it was $12,500 when available) and the TA-5000 ($6,750) has been updated to the TA-5000 NEO (pricing from $7,895), but they share a design aesthetic and technologies with other Acoustic Signature models, and were too good-looking to ignore. Also featured is Kiseki’s wood-bodied, moving-coil, Purple Heart cartridge ($3,200).


The control panel is a model of minimalist elegance.


Detail of the TA-5000 NEO arm.


Here's another view of this striking work of electromechanical art.


The Kiseki Purple Heart cartridge, a true classic.


 Another view of the control panel.


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).

Remembering Producer Phil Ramone, 10 Years Later

Remembering Producer Phil Ramone, 10 Years Later

Remembering Producer Phil Ramone, 10 Years Later

Larry Jaffee

The 10th anniversary of the passing of Phil Ramone at the age of 79 is upon us. A giant of the music industry, he was at the helm for a half-century of recordings by a who's who of popular music, recordings that sold well over 100 million copies.

Ramone passed away on March 30, 2013. He produced or engineered for the likes of Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Billy Joel, Paul Simon, Burt Bacharach, Paul McCartney, Barbra Streisand, Luciano Pavarotti, Natalie Cole, BB King, and Tony Bennett to name a few out of many.    

A fixture at AES (Audio Engineering Society) conventions throughout his career, the 14-time Grammy Award-winner (with 33 nominations) was paid tribute at the 2013 convention with a series of presentations collectively called “What Would Ramone Do?” The seminars were assembled by The Recording Academy Producers & Engineers Wing, which he had chaired.

I interviewed Phil Ramone almost 20 years ago, initially for Medialine magazine, and then reprinted in a program guide for a surround sound conference that Ramone keynoted. (Portions of the interview also appeared in Gene Pitts’s The Audiophile Voice. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the studio where we talked. The interview follows, along with a bit of never-before-published material.

He Wouldn’t Interrupt Genius

Being a Dylan fanatic, I had to ask Ramone about engineering Blood On The Tracks. Dylan started to record the album at A&R Recording Studios in New York, then re-recorded five songs at Sound 80 in Minneapolis, although material from his original versions emerged officially in 2018 on Bootleg Series Vol. 14: More Blood, More Tracks.

Here’s a Copper exclusive: Phil Ramone revealed to me that he realized that a button on Dylan’s jacket was getting picked up by the mic while he strummed. At no point, not even after Dylan called the session as being done after listening to the playback, did Phil think to let Bob know. “I wasn’t going to interfere with his genius. My job was to engineer, not produce.”



On remixing Bob Dylan's Blood On The Tracks in 5.1 surround nearly 29 years after he engineered the original recording sessions, Ramone noted, “when I compared the original CD with the quarter-inch master tape, it was like night and day. Even the tempo and the speed of the tape accidentally in transfer went up an eighth of a tone. Well, that's enough to make anything sound a little Mickey Mouse; the voice does go up [in pitch]. The whole CD was off [as a] reference because of the generational thing that happens (transferring from one generation of recorded media to another). These are just small, but very important points to why we must hand-care [when transferring to] new media. It was a challenge to rehear it, and see what could have/should have been better.

[The 1974 recording sessions] were four nights of incredible music at the original A&R Studios, which were once Columbia Records Studios, where Dylan would feel most comfortable. [For the surround mix,] I spread the guitar the way it should be, him in the middle, and the bass player behind him. [It's as if] you're sitting 15 or 20 feet in front of Dylan. When you hear the Hammond [organ] or another guitar, it comes in appropriately in balance. Not to prove, ‘Wow, we got six speakers.’ It's not about that.”

Format-agnostic, Ramone had remixed not only Blood On The Tracks in 5.1 for Super Audio CD, but also Paul Simon's Graceland and Rhythm of the Saints for DVD-Audio. He had hoped the hi-res formats would figure out a way to peacefully coexist, to no avail.

At the time of this interview, Ramone was recording the soundtrack for the Bobby Darin biopic Beyond The Sea, starring and directed by Kevin Spacey, and had recently produced tracks for Rod Stewart's hit album As Time Goes By: The Great American Songbook, Volume II.



Ramone’s Observations About the Changing Biz:

On the challenge of file sharing: “The music industry needs to embrace new business models. Young peoples’ musical tastes are being fed a tremendous amount. Young people will accept almost minimal quality for the enjoyment of [being able to access the music]. [Downloadable] singles for a buck? Nothing wrong with it. Do the royalty structures get screwed around? Probably, but better that way than to have them blatantly taken away from you from a copyright point of view, a production point of view, and an artistic point of view. Can we remember back in the '60s when singles drove the market? Singles were an invitation, after hearing two or three of them, to buying the album. Yes, the impression that [internet downloading is] all free has been a misnomer. How do you readjust music to people?”

On how much time the CD has left as a medium (remember, this was in the early 2000s): “God forbid you'd say today that the CD will be gone soon. [The music industry] 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.”

On surround mixes as a selling point: “I've always maintained, in many ways naively, that when the quality is there, you gain a loyal audience. All I ask for is to let the audience experience home theater in a store, and let [surround] music be the demo. Just wait until they have the portable 5.1 headset version. I think all of this is making music appealing.”

On the quality of the first CDs: “Did they make bad, problematic CDs in the beginning? Absolutely. Some transfers from audio tape to CD were done carelessly, or had been done from a safety (master copy) that had been equalized for an LP. It took months and months for the record companies to realize, that's not the master. Some used second-generation copy masters, which meant they were made for cutting-room purposes. So they had this ridiculous EQ, and then suddenly people were saying the CDs were ‘mean-sounding, brittle.’ Yes, of course. To this day, I'm very critical of how we transfer good control room sound to the audience.”

On the critical nature of digital transfers: “The making of a CD [or currently, a digital file as well] is not just a transfer, but an art form. The people who make masters are very craft-worthy about how it gets to manufacturing. And now when you get to [a] 5.1 [mix], it's even 50 times more critical because the transfer of the original multi-track, if you don't do it yourself or supervise the process, could be off the EQ or the curve of the original recording…a compromise of what the original tape sounds like.”

On how Billy Joel's 52nd Street was selected to be the first-ever commercial CD to be released (on October 1, 1982): “I was in Japan the year before and had met with Sony, and came home with some classical records on CD. I was asked the question: "what would happen if CDs were presented in the US?" I said, "simply, it has to come into the pop market." Billy Joel was as popular as any artist you can think of. Sony was partners at the time with CBS, so it was a natural to have a CBS/Columbia act to be the first CD. The Stranger (also produced by Ramone) and 52nd Street were both in consideration. The sound of the record was a factor. Nobody knew if it would even translate well, and there weren't many people who had a CD player then. So, we knew it would reach a very limited audience. But you had to start sometime. The rest is history.”



Phil’s Tech Achievements

One of Ramone’s final projects was producing Mexican singing sensation Alejandro Fernández’s Confidencias, which topped Billboard’s Latin Pop charts. The album featured guests Christina Aguilera and Rod Stewart.

Since the early 1960s, Ramone played an integral role in pioneering many of the recording industry's technological developments. His achievements include the first use of a solid-state console for recording and mastering; the first Dolby four-track discrete sound for the 1976 movie A Star Is Born, (for which he connected, for the first time, a movie studio and post-production facility via satellite); the first Dolby optical surround sound for the 1980 Paul Simon movie One Trick Pony; the first use of live digital recording for Billy Joel's Songs in the Attic, and the first use of a fiber optic system to record tracks in real time from different locations for Sinatra's Duets I and Duets II.

Besides being a studio innovator, Ramone made an impact on concert audio (Simon and Garfunkel’s Central Park concert), film sound (Midnight Cowboy, Flashdance, and Reds, among others), TV (numerous awards shows), and even American history. Ramone designed the Oval Office recording system that hastened President Nixon’s resignation after the Watergate scandal.



For more about Phil Ramone, please see John Seetoo’s review of Ramone’s book, Making Records: The Scenes Behind the Vinyl in Issue 162.


Header image of Phil Ramone courtesy of AES.

Eric D. Johnson of Fruit Bats: Pushing the Music Forward

Eric D. Johnson of Fruit Bats: Pushing the Music Forward

Eric D. Johnson of Fruit Bats: Pushing the Music Forward

Ray Chelstowski

I recently received a CD in the mail from an established artist who wanted me to review it for another outlet I contribute to. What struck me as I popped it in and hit “play” was how forgettable it was in its musical sameness. It could have been released at any point within the last 10 years, and the album had made as little impact as anything else they had produced within that period. Candidly, that happens almost daily. It’s rare to find artists to who truly push themselves, or who hear another artist perform and realize that they themselves have to do more, have to up their game, have to work to be their best self.

When you speak with Eric D. Johnson of Fruit Bats, it’s clear that that’s his daily reality. Across 20 years of working as a professional musician, mostly in the capacity of fronting the musical concept/band Fruit Bats, and as a past member of the Shins, he has been challenging his own boundaries and pushing his music forward, from its origins in low-fi to what has of late been truly well-crafted and completely thought-through expressions of creativity. Johnson’s recent release, A River Running to Your Heart, has a depth and complexity that is often balanced by the lightness of his vocals. It’s as though you matched the Canned Heat vocals of the late Alan Wilson with the arrangements of David Gray or Pete Droge. It’s a reflection of personal growth, and someone now comfortable taking the production reins into their own hands and making records that are truly theirs.

 Eric D. Johnson (no relation to the Texas guitarist of the same name) may have gleaned some of this by performing as a steady sideman alongside songsmiths like James Mercer. In that role, it seems as though he earned a master’s degree in arrangement and theory. That comes to remarkable life in his 10th release, A River Running To Your Heart. With songs like “Waking Up in Los Angeles,” he delivers superb songwriting, with melodies that will stay with you long after you’ve left the record.



We caught up with Johnson in advance of his upcoming national tour. The tour will find him performing in much larger rooms in markets that might be new to him. It was an exchange that could have gone far deeper into a number of areas, but which revealed how genuine Johnson is in all aspects of his life, not just music.

Ray Chelstowski: The new record is not a complete departure from your last two, but it’s perhaps the most cohesive to date. What’s different in how you approached the material?

Eric Johnson: I produced it, so maybe that’s part of it. I’ve always had a hand in the production of my records, but this is the first one where I was at the helm. But other than that, I don’t know. I certainly don’t have a mandate when I go into the studio as to how anything is going to specifically sound. The last few records have less “influence” than usual. When I had made records in the past I’d get obsessed with other sounds, and mix them in. For the last few records however it’s been more like “tunnel vision,” and me trying to communicate as strongly as possible. When I was younger I was just trying to create a vibe.

RC: You recorded A River Running to Your Heart at Panoramic House in Northern California. What was it like working in that space?

EJ: I’d been there a few times and I’m friendly with its owners and operators. It used to be a studio in Sacramento called The Hangar where I worked on a few other peoples’ records. Panoramic House is stunningly beautiful, on a huge hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean. When you are tracking a record you are looking out at a beautiful crescent bay. It can almost be described as a distraction. Maybe the most famous record to have been made there over the last few years was The Waterfall by My Morning Jacket.



RC: Is there a room that you prefer to record in?

EJ: I remember in the early 2000s, when it was the waning days of super-pro recording studios and the vestiges of the salad days of the music industry. I got the last glimpses of that era, but I never got into it. I was a low-budget guy and my first record was made at a studio in Chicago called Clava, which was a great studio and very much of a newer mold. It had great equipment but still had a scrappy element to it. I gravitate toward that and I kind of know that you can do almost anything anywhere. To me it’s always more about whether your songs are any good.

RC: You are very prolific, releasing an album a year for the last few. Is that a schedule you commit to in advance or do you get inspired and record when the material is ready?

EJ: I think that’s something that’s only come about in the last several years. Before 2016 I never would have considered myself to be prolific. Remember, I’m from the old days when it was still like you do a record every two years. The record would have 10 to 12 songs on it and then you [would] tour on it for like a year. Then you [would] take a year off to write and record another one that you hope would be released two years later. I’m not subscribing to the “content era” [of pumping out singles and EPs constantly] but I think I maybe hit a moment where I’m good at churning stuff out at a time when you are kind of supposed to be doing that. But it wasn’t something I [consciously] set out to do.

RC: This is your third record with Merge Records. How have they helped you navigate the world of streaming music?

EJ: I do think you need a [record] label for that. There’s an infrastructure there that I wouldn’t be able to replicate, and I still like the “clubhouse” feel of being on a label. Merge is the perfect combo [of what I need] because they have power and history along with a punk rock mentality. It’s kind of the best of both worlds.



RC: You play Webster Hall when in New York City. In markets like that, how do you pick which venue to play?

EJ: It’s a dark art. I’m pretty involved in the decision making, in part because I’ve been around for so long. But we were like a small club band for pretty much the first 19 years of our career. Then when [our album] Gold Past Life hit things kind of shifted. So bigger rooms are new for me and some those that are on this upcoming tour are real new territory for us, so we’ll see what happens.



RC: You guest on singer/songwriter Will Sheff’s debut album, Okkervil River. How did that come about and what is it like to be a guest instead of leading the creative process?

EJ: I started out that way, and have since always done both. I’ve always said that if you are a singer/songwriter and have the opportunity to guest or join a tour you should do it. I find it extremely refreshing and it’s great to climb inside someone else’s songs in a meaningful way, instead of just listening to them. It’s one of the joys of [my folk band] Bonny Light Horesmen, where I can step in and out of the spotlight.

RC: As a guy who goes it mostly alone with sidemen, I wonder if you follow or are close with artists like Adam Levy of Honey Dogs, or Mark Oliver Everett of Eels, who do the same?

EJ: I am fans of both those artists, although I don’t know either of them. My band name comes from having a boring first and last name. Very early in my career I thought about changing it to a stage name and then I thought it sounded like too much hubris, like what am I, David Bowie? So, [Fruit Bats] became a band name. And at that time, this was a thing. There were Guided By Voices, Sparklehorse, and Cat Power; where it’s a band name but [actually the work of] a single person. Now, that’s [become] fairly common. But early on I wanted this to be a band. I was on Sub Pop Records and they were interested in selling it to the public like that. I just didn’t have the money to pay a band, so in a way it became a solo thing out of necessity.

RC: What did you learn about songwriting and arrangement from being part of the Shins?

EJ: That whole situation was life-altering on so many levels. It was a shift from poverty to actually making music for a living. It was a weekly salary and a proof of concept in becoming a professional musician. That allowed me to hyper-focus on writing. Living in someone else’s songs, [especially those of] a master like James Mercer, taught me so much in a really deep way. Playing a song like “New Slang” every night was never lost on me. This is one of the greatest songs ever written and I get to sing it on stage every night.

RC: You have covered a good amount of musical ground across 10 albums. As you look ahead, is there something you haven’t tackled that you are hoping to do?

EJ: I think about that a lot, and I almost don’t want to say it out loud because if I do it probably won’t come true. (laughs)


Header image courtesy of Eric D. Johnson.

A Window Into the Past

A Window Into the Past

A Window Into the Past

James Schrimpf

A window shopper at an antiques store in Bisbee, Arizona.

Vestibular Vertigo

Vestibular Vertigo

Vestibular Vertigo

James Whitworth
"I can't help but think you're taking this whole balanced headphones thing a bit too far..."

Scott Smith and Tadd Swanlund of Comply: High-Tech for Headphones, Part Two

Scott Smith and Tadd Swanlund of Comply: High-Tech for Headphones, Part Two

Scott Smith and Tadd Swanlund of Comply: High-Tech for Headphones, Part Two

Russ Welton

In our second part of our interview with Scott Smith and Tadd Swanlund of Comply (Part One appeared in Issue 183) we discover their approach to effective passive noise cancellation and tips on how you can make the most fitting choices (literally) to optimize your personal in-ear headphones listening experience. (Passive noise cancellation is just that, the use of non-electronic noise blocking such as an effective in-ear sealing, as opposed to active noise cancellation, which uses microphones and electronic processing to attenuate incoming noise.)

Russ Welton: What is the Comply approach to passive noise cancellation?

Tadd Swanlund: Maximum passive isolation! Why? Because it allows you to be immersed in the music and listen at lower levels, thus preserving your hearing. Maximizing passive isolation [also] ensures your active noise-cancelling earbuds will perform at their best.

We have dabbled in ear tips that are designed not to seal [completely], to provide situational awareness. However, it is a much different experience for the listener. Our Aware tips with SmartCore (compatible with most wired earbuds with sound port nozzles between 0.19 – 0.24 inches/4.8 – 6.3mm) are fluted by design to provide situational awareness and to prevent the occlusion [blocking] effect that results from the tremendous seal our traditional tips provide. These are great for walking, running and biking when you want to hear the possible imminent danger of an approaching automobile.


Tadd Swanlund, Comply Director of New Product Development and Engineering.


People also prefer using the [Aware tips] on video calls so they can hear their natural voice, while the tips still provide a comfortable, secure fit. What we’re finding now is that listeners who want situational awareness or transparency have a plethora of earbuds with that functionality that they can pair with our tips and have the best of both worlds.

RW: How much noise reduction is there in each of the respective product ranges?

Tadd Swanlund: Assuming a fully sealed earphone/earbud/IEM, the level of noise reduction will be proportional to how deep the tip goes in your ear. Our Professional Series (P-Series) tips are going to [provide] the highest [noise reduction], followed by our T-series and TrueGrip. However, it is [also] dependent on the design of the device. Some devices use a short tip, but it can sit deeper in the ear so it still performs very well. Typically, the more foam there is in the ear canal, the better the noise reduction.

RW: Does your SweatGuard construction affect the resultant sound, and how does it work?

Scott Smith: The SweatGuard is a scrim filter [now] referred to as our TechDefender. This filter (i.e., a sweat and wax guard) blocks cerumen (sweat, oils and earwax) and prevents the sound nozzle from becoming occluded and degrading sound quality. Hence, Comply Foam tips are filters designed to let air and sound through, while mechanically preventing debris and moisture from getting past. They require periodic replacement just like the air filter on your furnace or in your automobile.

SweatGuard and WaxGuard are old, trademarked marketing references to the scrim material in Comply Foam tips that protects the sound nozzle of earbuds/IEMs. These have since been consolidated and are now referred to singularly as TechDefender. In the past there have been different colors of the “guards” including blue [and] cream, and now going forward they will all be charcoal in color. They are all one and the same and function identically.

Comply had a previous version of a cerumen guard product called Ad.hear that has long been discontinued and has subsequently been incorporated into the technology of our foam tips. The Ad.hear product had adhesive backing like our Soft Wraps except with a cerumen guard in the middle originally intended to be affixed over the sound port opening on hearing aids and IEMs.

The lifespan of a foam tip depends on use. Typically, average use is about two to four months per pair of tips. How you use the tips, body chemistry (earwax, oils, etc.), and environment all affect how long your tips will last.

The TechDefender is virtually acoustically transparent. Below 8 kHz, it is difficult to measure a difference in frequency response [with or without it in place]. Above 8 kHz, there is a slight rolloff of a couple of dB. The average listener isn’t going to notice a difference in the sound.

When the engineering team was evaluating different materials, they devised a test where they attached the material across the end of a glass tube, filled the tube with 2 inches of water, and measured how long before any would leak past. The TechDefender material did not let a drop pass through for the duration of the test.


Scott Smith, Comply Global Business Manager.


RW: What frequencies are targeted for eliminating unwanted noise, and how is this determined?

Tadd Swanlund: It depends on the application, but with the highly sophisticated audio devices available today, we tend to go for the maximum noise isolation at all frequencies. Lower-frequency sounds are harder to block than higher frequencies but Comply Foam tips are known for impressive low-frequency performance. We measure the acoustic noise blocking or attenuation by measuring sound pressure levels using an ear simulator both with (occluded) and without the foam installed (non-occluded). When you subtract the occluded from the non-occluded [results] you get the attenuation in dB by frequency.

Some new true wireless headphones [headphones with no physical connecting wires] have different active noise-cancelling modes, where you can pass through more of the frequency range of human speech so you can cut down on airplane noise, [for example], but still hear the flight attendant or the person next to you.

RW: Could you tell us more about how different factors such as age, height, weight, and hydration affect our hearing?

Scott Smith: Hearing loss occurs in the higher frequencies as we age. It is typically more common, more severe, and with an earlier onset in men compared to women. Studies have also established that individuals who are overweight have a higher risk of developing hearing loss. A lack of hydration can affect your ears and hearing. Dehydration will affect blood pressure, cartilage, inner ear fluid composition, and ear muscles, and can even cause temporary tinnitus.

RW: How do in-ear headphones with memory foam eartips help in protecting our hearing?

Scott Smith: By maximizing passive noise isolation, the sound quality of IEMs and earbuds is enhanced, which allows listening at lower volume levels, thus preserving hearing. In other words, you don’t have to turn the volume up to compensate for and drown out unwanted external noise.

RW: What advice would you give in choosing the correct-size tips?

Tadd Swanlund: Try them all. When it comes to ears, there is definitely no “one size fits all.” Your optimal tip size will vary based on the shape and size of your ear canals. This is especially true with true wireless devices which tend to have a shallower insertion, and the depth in which the ear tip sits in your ear. For instance, if you are wearing IEMs with our Professional Series tips, it may go deep enough into your ears that a smaller size fits just fine.

Conversely, you may need to size up because you have a shorter distance to the first bend in the ear canal, to have more foam in the ear for comfort. However, if wearing a true wireless device with a shorter tip, you may find you need to wear a larger tip [size] because your ear canals are more oval-shaped at the entrance. Don’t be surprised if you find you need different sizes for [your] left and right [ears]. Ear canals are like fingerprints – no two are the same.

RW: I own a pair of Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro IEMs. What do you suggest for use with them?

Scott Smith: For the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro, our TrueGrip ear tips for Samsung Galaxy Pro (Comply model TWo-210-C) with an oval shape is the compatible tip to utilize.

Recently, we collaborated with Samsung to make a Designed for Samsung exclusive ear tip for their newest Samsung Galaxy Buds2 Pro model.

RW: What are some of the greatest challenges in getting a new product to market in our current climate?

Tadd Swanlund: There are several challenges we face when selecting and bringing new products to market. One is the sheer number of different earbuds/IEMs that are constantly entering the market. Each one has a different design, and often different dimensions of the sound port or where the ear tip attaches to the device. To offer a Comply Foam tip for a new device, it often requires the development of a new inner core. Each new core requires a suite of tooling to create and assemble into the finished ear tip. As a result, we try to design any new cores so they will fit as wide a range as possible to at least attempt to keep the number of SKUs to a manageable level.

Before the [advent of] true wireless earbuds, core size and material were the only two variables when determining if a Comply Foam tip would be compatible with a new earphone. True wireless devices threw a wrench into the mix by requiring the earbud to fit into a charging case. Most of the time this requires a shorter ear tip than our traditional T-Series, which was the standard for years. Many true wireless devices have very short ear tips, which can require us to put the inner core at the distal end (the end going into your ear first) so the tip doesn’t interfere with the charger, but still provides enough foam to create a good seal.

RW: What do you foresee the future roadmap of development will include for Comply?

Scott Smith: We are always looking at new ways to innovate and bring new products to the market. Our chemists and engineers are developing new foam formulations and products for ear tips and circumaural (over-ear) ear pads to create solutions for the needs of our customers. These include the following:

  • Product line expansion that focuses on increasing both comfort and sound isolation.
  • Working with military partners to expand our line of circumaural earseals.
  • Addressing the unique requirements of the OTC (over-the-counter) hearing aid space (wearing [eartips] for long durations).
  • We’re also currently working on military foam technology for special ear canal geometries.


Header image courtesy of Comply Foam.

Repairing a Westrex Record Lathe Cutter Head

Repairing a Westrex Record Lathe Cutter Head

Repairing a Westrex Record Lathe Cutter Head

J.I. Agnew

Some time ago we were asked to repair a vintage Westrex 2B feedback cutter head at Agnew Analog Reference Instruments.

As with all Western Electric and Westrex products, their disk recording cutter heads, commonly used with Scully lathes, were beautifully made and represented the state of the art in their time. Not only did they sound great, they also looked aesthetically pleasing, with curved lines that were not a trivial task to manufacture in the days before CNC machine tools, CAD software and pocket calculators!


The Westrex 2A cutter head.


The Westrex 2A was introduced in 1948 and was followed by the 2B in 1954. It was a monophonic moving-coil cutter head, with a feedback coil that would generate a signal that was proportional to velocity. This signal would be fed back to the cutting amplifier system to correct errors, as a closed-loop control system. This type of feedback was known as motional feedback. The concept had first been patented by Leonard Vieth, Charles Wiebusch and George Yenzer, working for Bell Telephone Laboratories (who else?), with the patent application filed in 1937. Hardly surprising, as Bell Telephone Laboratories and their subsidiaries have invented pretty much everything that our modern civilization and lifestyle was built up on, from the telephone, motion picture and sound recording equipment, all the way to the Unix operating system, the C programming language and countless other things in between. You wouldn't be reading this if it wasn't for Bell Labs, because there would be no internet.

The Westrex 2B is one of the very best-sounding cutter heads of the monophonic era and still in use today in several facilities around the world, many if not most retrofitted with Agnew Analog parts.


Another view of this magnificent vintage cutter head.


This particular example had suffered damage to its stylus mount. In addition, the original taper shank stylus, which would fit into a tapered socket in the head in very much the same manner as taper tooling in machine tools, is no longer available. While we do make adapters that permit the use of the currently-available Neumann type stylus (models NSH-2, 320, etc.) with the Westrex 2B cutter head, the damaged stylus socket did not permit their use.

Instead, I decided to take apart the head and machine the stylus mount so that we could permanently fit a socket for the Micro-Point NSH-2 disk recording stylus type.


A fine example of old-school craftsmanship.


But first, the remains of a stylus that had broken inside the microscopically-small taper hole had to be extracted so that the part could be machined as needed.

The operation was concluded successfully and also required the machining of an insanely small part for the advance ball assembly, which is used to set the depth of cut when this head is used with a Scully lathe or a similar application.


The Westrex 2A had to be re-machined with extreme precision.


Ready for more long-term service.


The preservation of our cultural heritage and the continued use of such technology is essential for future generations to be able to comprehend how we got to where we are now, not only in terms of technology but also as a society. There are important lessons to be learned along the way, not least when considering how few of these cutter heads were ever made and that most of them are still in regular commercial service, 68 years later! Quality over quantity.

Nowadays, many find it preferable to produce large numbers of goods that are barely functional when they leave the factory, let alone several decades later.

There is perhaps a correlation there, with the economic prosperity that followed the introduction of such high-quality products, and the economic and social decline we are witnessing at present. People who can be truly proud of their creations tend to be happier and more successful in passing something down to their children. We feel truly inspired when witnessing the level of craftsmanship that went into these products, and we see it as our duty to preserve the knowledge, the techniques, the equipment and the mentality, for those who can appreciate it.

It will take a good look at the history books to stand a chance of seeing bright days ahead of us once again.

Editor’s note: the Western Electric name is alive and well, thanks to the efforts of Charles Whitener, who reestablished the business in 1996 at the company’s Rossville, Georgia location. They currently offer a reproduction of the original Western Electric 300B tube and a range of audio components, speaker drivers and accessories. Western Electric has announced plans to manufacture the 12AX7 tube, and are looking at offering other popular tube types for audio gear and guitar amps.


All images courtesy of Agnew Analog Reference Instruments.

Note: This article was first published as a blog post on the Agnew Reference Analog Instruments website. It appears here in edited form by permission of the author.


Eccentric Records (and How to Fix Them)

Eccentric Records (and How to Fix Them)

Eccentric Records (and How to Fix Them)

Rich Isaacs

We are talking here about physical, not psychological or emotional, eccentricity (that could be a whole ‘nother article). In Issue 184, fellow writer (and parts fabricator extraordinaire) J.I. Agnew wrote of a simple device he created to center vinyl records that had an oversized, but centered, spindle hole. He allowed that his creation could not correct for records that were pressed off-center. A reader commented that there was such a device – the DS Audio ES-001 Eccentricity Detector. The problem (for most of us) is that it costs $5,995. I have to wonder how many have been sold at such a dear price.

Decades ago, I came up with a very low-tech, but effective, means of reasonably centering records that had been pressed off-center. It is not capable of making fine, micrometer-level corrections, but if you can see the arm moving back and forth as the record rotates, it will nearly eliminate that movement and the resulting gross pitch variation.


The record label showing the spindle hole before modification.


Step One: Identify the point at which the stylus is farthest from the center when the record is rotating. Observe the movement and try to locate the spot on the label that is directly across from the stylus. If you can carefully (I said CAREFULLY) rotate the platter more slowly by hand, it is a little easier to determine the right spot. Identify whatever writing is radially across from the stylus at its farthest point, and use a small piece of a Post-it note (or something temporary) to mark that point.


The enlarged hole.


Step Two: You will need to remove the record from the platter and gently ream out the hole only where it is closest to the point you marked. You are not trying to create a larger circular hole, but rather a slightly oval or egg-shaped opening. There are many common items that can be used as a reaming tool – a metal nail file, a small screwdriver, or something similar. You want something that is narrow enough to move in the hole, and you only want one edge to contact the vinyl as you work – you don’t want to scrape away any of the hole that is not across from your target point.


It's the Swiss Army knife of record hole modification tools!


I found the perfect tool in the scraper/reamer blade on the Swiss Army knife I’ve had since high school. Use a small back-and-forth motion. Again, be very careful, because one slip and your tool can go right across the grooves. How much you need to scrape away involves a trial-and-error approach. Do a little reaming and put the record back on the turntable, pushing the reamed area against the spindle. Observe the arm movement again and determine if it still appears off-center. If it does, repeat the process until you are satisfied with the result.

(The Phillips screwdriver/file blade is also useful if you just need to enlarge the hole all around. The cross-section of the shaft has both a right angle and an arc. The shaft is almost exactly the diameter of turntable spindles and record center holes. The sharp right angle edge of the shaft works to scrape the vinyl.)


Here's the enlarged hole with the mark indicating where to place it on the turntable spindle.


Step Three: Draw an arrow on the inside of the label where you reamed pointing to the spindle (hey, you’ve already messed with the resale value by reaming the hole, so who cares?). Whenever you play the record, simply push the arrow against the spindle. It is a good idea to put a Post-it note on the inner sleeve telling you that you need to center it each time you play.

It is possible (probable?) that you may need to repeat this whole process for the other record side. At the very least, you should determine the best spot and mark the label at the center hole on both sides.

This procedure has rescued some of my albums, taking them from unlistenable to enjoyable. Alas, I could not remember which ones, so I had to sacrifice a junk LP for illustration purposes (please don’t judge me by the title). I did forget to mark the spot on the label with a Post-it prior to starting the reaming, but it was where the catalog number (KL 1118) appeared.

Dave Rusan of Rusan Guitarworks: Builder of Prince’s Cloud Guitars and Audio Enthusiast, Part Two

Dave Rusan of Rusan Guitarworks: Builder of Prince’s Cloud Guitars and Audio Enthusiast, Part Two

Dave Rusan of Rusan Guitarworks: Builder of Prince’s Cloud Guitars and Audio Enthusiast, Part Two

Frank Doris

Dave Rusan is the proprietor of Rusan Guitarworks of Bloomington, Minnesota. He built the iconic “Cloud” guitar for Prince and is also an audiophile. His clients include the Rolling Stones, Sheryl Crow, Brian Setzer, Dire Straits, Genesis, Iron Maiden, and many others. Part One of this interview appeared in Issue 184, and picks up where we left off here.

Frank Doris: Do you have a high-end system at home? Are you an audiophile?

Dave Rusan: Oh, yes, yes I am. Have you ever heard of PS Audio?

FD: (laughing hysterically) I think I have! [Truthfully, I had no idea Dave had PS Audio gear up until this point.]

DR: (laughs) I have a giant system. I’ve got about 60 grand in my stereo, which, in the world of high-end, [some people] probably spend that [just] on cables, but it's an awful lot more than most people would ever spend on a stereo.

I’ve got two [PS Audio] BHK 300 power amps, a BHK Signature preamp, and a couple of the PowerPlants. My speakers are Magnepan 20.7s. And I have two REL G1 Mark II subwoofers.


Dave Rusan.


FD: Must be a nice-sounding system. Now people are gonna think that the reason I did this interview is because you have PS Audio gear!

DR: I did a lot of research [in deciding what to buy]. I sold some valuable guitars to get that gear.

I thought, I'm not only gonna get good stuff. I'm gonna try and get stuff that is considered an especially good value for the money, like the Magnepans. They’re considered kind of a bargain compared to some other stuff. It is a fantastic [speaker] system. I still am amazed every time I play it. The walls [of the listening room] disappear.

FD: I've always liked their speakers and I'm a really big fan of their ribbon tweeters.

DR: Well, the ribbons, the way they reproduce flutes, or the scrape of the bow against the string on a violin…I have the subwoofers crossed over real low, to where it's pretty seamless. There's nothing I've ever bought that I've enjoyed as much as this stereo system.

FD: A lot of audiophiles seem to spend their whole lives never getting there, or listening to the same five recordings over and over again, and tweaking and endlessly upgrading or this or that. I'm guilty of that sometimes, where I'm reviewing the hardware or changes in the sound rather than just sitting back and enjoying the music.

DR: I suppose if somebody carted in some of those expensive Wilson Audio speakers, I'd go, holy sh*t, look what I've been missing? [On the other hand], I have a system worth about $1,000 with a little receiver and ELAC bookshelf speakers and that can be fine. It's enjoyable enough, but you don't get all the [musical] details. I don't wanna be a snob, but…

FD: It’s a shame that most people have literally never heard a really, really good audio system.

DR: I would say that the big deal is way the hidden details come out [in the music], rather than just the tonality or the “bigness.” My big system seems to elicit a lot more emotion in me. You know?

FD: Oh, yeah. That's what it's all about.

The thing is, it’s all connected. I think most audiophiles got into it, not so much because they're sound freaks, but because they wanted to hear their favorite music sound good. I know that's why I got into it. The first time I heard a friend’s father’s high-end system I was flabbergasted.


A Cloud guitar in its early stages.


DR: I loved the idea of stereo equipment as much as the music. I just loved them both. As a kid, my mom and dad had a Zenith console with a radio and record player. I used to stick my head in the back and there was that musty smell of the wood and the electronics. Yeah. To my parents, music was for background listening.

One day they took me to a big store called Schmitt Music, where they had everything. I heard a KLH system, and I remember hearing more high frequencies coming out of a speaker. (laughs). I realized this was actually high-fidelity. After that I got the Large Advent speakers. I augmented them with electrostatic tweeters made by JansZen. I went right to the factory in Minneapolis. I would get the Allied Radio and Radio Shack catalogs, go to the local store and bug the salesmen.

Remember Julian Hirsch? [He was one of the most well-known audio reviewers of the time in the 1960s through the 1990s, and wrote for Stereo Review – Ed.]

FD: Sure. Harry Pearson of The Absolute Sound would bust Hirsch’s chops in print for relying on measurements rather than doing listening tests. But then I met Hirsch at one of Harry’s parties and asked, “what are you doing here? Don’t you guys hate each other?” “Oh no, no, no, no, we’re good friends!” he answered. Hirsch was always really nice to me.

DR: I met some rock stars who were like that. One day Greg Lake came into the store. I expected him to be kind of full-on pompous, maybe a little arrogant. Maybe due to [Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s] music, And he comes in, and he was just a big, goofy, happy guy. Like he'd buy you a pint at the pub, you know, he was, he was nothing like that. Ever hear of Shawn Phillips? He was a sensitive kind of poet guy. But he’d talk like Ted Nugent, and he'd tell you a dirty joke.


A batch of Cloud guitars in progress.


Hand-finishing the cutaway.


Sign o' the times: Prince symbol fretboard inlays.


FD: We're all pretty wiped out by the loss of Jeff Beck. Did you ever meet him?

DR: No. I saw him a few times. I saw him in his beginner band, the Yardbirds. When I was in London, he never came into the store. I was told he could be kind of a prickly guy to work with. (laughs)

But he just kept getting better. He evolved. When he [went to using] a [Fender] Stratocaster, he kept moving ahead.

I have a friend, Takumi Suetsugu. He worked for Prince for 10 years, and he did a show with Jeff Beck. He said Beck could pick up any guitar and play through any amp. It didn't sound exactly the same, but he sounded like himself, you know? He had such control. There's one song on Jeff Beck's Guitar Shop where he hits a harmonic and plays an entire melody just with the whammy bar.


Dave Rusan in 1984. He made these guitars for Wendy Melvoin (of the Revolution, Prince's band at the time) and Prince. Melvoin's guitar has silk flowers embedded in it. Prince's guitar is one of the first that Rusan made for him.


FD: What other players do you like?

DR: Well, I'm a big fan of Gary Moore. He backed up Greg Lake when Lake was doing a solo career. So, he played all the King Crimson and Emerson Lake & Palmer stuff, and he must have worked his ass off to get that ready for that tour.

He was a nice guy. Very moody though. It came out when he played. He’d play in the store really loud. And it wasn't just loud; he had an edge to him. It was almost kind of scary being around him when he played.

He'd been terribly knifed up in an altercation in Ireland. His face was all cut up. He looked terrible up-close. I wonder if that changed him? When he played it all come out.



FD: Did you ever get to meet Steve Hackett (of Genesis, and later solo)? He's one of my favorites.

DR: No, I worked on his Shergold guitar, though. A Shergold double neck. A British guitar with controls that looked like something off a 1960s transistor radio.

I did work for Mikey Craig, the bass player from Culture Club, who is still with the band, They still have all the original guys except for Jon Moss, the drummer, who left in 2021. 

I did work for Randy Rhoads [guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne and Quiet Riot]. I got to know him a bit. Did work for Mike Oldfield, iron Maiden, Dire Straits, Peter Tosh…he came in with this guitar that looked like a gun.

I did some work for Dick Taylor…he was in the Pretty Things. He started The Stones with Mick Jagger, and then quit to go back to school. I remember thinking, boy, that was the one time when that wasn't a good idea!


A vision of a white Cloud.


Dave's signature on the back of the headstock.


We’d get a lot of guys who are on tour and were in a panic; something broke and they needed it fixed before the show. But in the 1970s the industry to support them was not all that well-developed. There weren't a lot of huge music stores and there weren't a lot of good guitar repair people. The place where I worked wasn’t well-equipped with lutherie tools when I first started working there. I remember the bass player from Culture Club had bought a new graphite neck and wanted to put it on his Fender bass. And they didn't have a drill press in the shop! They tried to install it using a hand drill!

FD: Can you still get the really nice wood, like you could get in the Fifties and Sixties?

DR: No, you can't. They used to have the old-growth wood. It grew in the forest and it grew slow. ‘Cause it had a tough life. I didn't get a lot of sun or [nourishment]. So the rings were close together and [the wood] became stable. Now they don't have that, and the newer guitars are much more prone to being damaged by lack of humidity. On the other hand, there’s now a torrifying [wood-drying] process that helps. It hardens up the cell structure, and makes the wood a lot like an old guitar, more stable and also more resonant.

FD: How about guitars made from composite materials?

DR: Like the RainSong. It sounds different, but I don't know if it's inferior. Maybe you have to have different criteria [to judge them].

FD: On another note: the cheap guitars back in the 1960s and early 1970s were terrible. Today, inexpensive guitars are generally good.

DR: You can buy a Strat-type copy for $150, $200 bucks. As opposed to – last year I had an old Harmony archtop guitar in for repair and the whole thing was made out of birch [a wood not normally used for guitar construction]. Even the fingerboard, which had fake wood grain painted on.

I had a Stella guitar as a rental when I started playing. It was so terrible. I remember trying for the F chord, and it was impossible. I would watch guitar players on TV and ask my mom, “how come when people are on TV, they can smile when the play guitar, because aren’t they in pain?” People rhapsodize about the golden age of vintage guitars, but many of the cheaper ones weren’t very good (or maybe terrible).

On the other hand, I’ve had [modern] $200 guitars in here that are just unbelievable for the money. And the things that were good about the past are [always] being rediscovered. Some [builders], like Pre-War Guitars Co., are making fantastic reproductions of older instruments. It's a wonderful time.

A finished Cloud guitar, ready to go to its eager customer.


Rusan Guitarworks
8301 Wyoming Ave. S.
Bloomington, MN 55438

Rusan Guitarworks
Rusan Guitarworks Guitars



All photos of the Cloud guitars courtesy of Bob Cole Photography.

CanJam New York 2023: The Audiophile and Pro Audio Worlds Blur More Deeply

CanJam New York 2023: The Audiophile and Pro Audio Worlds Blur More Deeply

CanJam New York 2023: The Audiophile and Pro Audio Worlds Blur More Deeply

John Seetoo

The CanJam NYC 2023 headphones show at New York’s Marriott Marquis hotel in Times Square was a much-anticipated event. Well attended, although somewhat smaller in the number of exhibitors and seminars than in the past, it was nevertheless a great opportunity to audition and compare some of the latest offerings in audiophile and other headphones.


The Marriott Marquis offered plenty of room for exhibitors and attendees.


Subjectively, there were certain trends and impressions that one could take away from CanJam NYC 2023, which seem to hold across international boundaries in the overall headphones market:

  • QR codes have replaced printed product literature to the point of product reps needing to refer to their smartphones or iPads for information on specs. On the other hand, this enhances companies’ access to the e-mail addresses of interested parties, which is a handy tool for small product manufacturers and designers.
  • The sonic warmth of vacuum tube amps is clearly attracting a larger demographic. More companies specializing in audiophile-quality headphone amplification were showcasing their latest models, with some new entrants focusing solely on tube amp designs.
  • Portable DACs (digital-to-analog converters) and DAC/headphone amp combinations for streaming audio continue to add more capacity and better specs as their dimensions continue to shrink.
  • IEMs (in-ear monitors) have become a must-have offering from virtually every headphone manufacturer now, and have essentially eradicated other types of earbuds among discriminating listeners. 3.5mm-to-USB (Android) or Lightning (iPhone) adapters were ubiquitous among the display booths for anyone seeking to compare the sound of IEMs or headphones on streaming content from smartphones.
  • Mirroring other breakthroughs in the tech industry, Pacific Rim-based companies from China, Korea, and Southeast Asia are gradually shedding their reputations for offering knockoff and cheap versions of established products. Most of them are developing their own unique brand identities, with proprietary technical and design innovation offerings at comparable prices to established brands.
  • Perhaps to acknowledge a greater level of technical sophistication among headphone enthusiasts in the audiophile spectrum, CanJam NYC 2023’s seminars were practically all targeted towards the areas of engineering, psychoacoustic, technical design history, and acoustic science.

Some of the seminar subjects included:

  • The use of silicon for headphone drivers.
  • The range and types of DAC architectures.
  • The influence of geometry and acoustical impedance on sound perception.
  • The design of digital interpolation filters.
  • Frequency response targets for headphones.

While one didn’t necessarily need a physics degree to follow these seminars, there was a definite science geek emphasis to the topic selections, with surprisingly little reference to the industry from a marketing or sales perspective, or showcases for companies to highlight the breakthroughs of their latest products.

The perennial gulf between gear preferences of audiophile vs. pro audio users appears to now be blurred, at least in the headphones/personal listening sector. Perhaps this is a result of the explosion in DIY laptop DAW (digital audio workstation) recording, exemplified by artists like Billie Eilish and Lorde – but increasingly, more producers and engineers in their mixing work are leaning towards gear also favored by audiophiles.


Sennheiser is a company that bridges the gap between professional and consumer audio. Their booth was a big draw.


Although CanJam NYC 2023 featured a wide range of excellent audiophile companies exhibiting their latest products, there were a few that in particular impressed me as being exceptional. Given that all of these products were of ultra-high audiophile quality, the aural differences were subtle and subjective. Other factors, such as ergonomics or versatility, were more objective.


Upscale Audio showcased a selection of high-end headphone amps and electronics.


Focal – based in Saint-Etienne, France, Focal has been designing hi-fi equipment for nearly a half-century with their equipment installed in residences, recording studios, theater venues and automobiles throughout Europe and other countries. Although I had heard of and read about Focal speakers in the past, I had never auditioned any of their headphones before. 

The Focal Stellia offered superb sound quality and detail, with a very comfortable headband and ear pad design. Its frequency response is stated as 5 Hz – 40 kHz, and the drivers are made from beryllium. At only 35-ohms impedance, the Stellia is easy to use with a smartphone without significant performance falloff, while delivering even more sterling sound when driven with an amp. Listening to a mix of Yo-Yo Ma, Neil Young, Julian Lage, and Genesis, I thought the Stellia was better-suited for jazz or classical music but sounded a little too articulate and pristine for rock or pop music.


 Focal Stellia headphones.


At $2,999, the Stellia are double the price of Focal’s MG Professional, which is marketed to the pro audio industry. The MG Professional’s frequency range is 5Hz – 28kHz. Ironically, the MG Professional sounded better for rock, but not as good for classical or jazz.

Elysian Acoustic Labs - the headphone sector, not unlike the electric guitar effects pedal market, offers the DIY entrepreneur a relatively low entrance point from which a new company can quickly gain a following if its products gain traction in the marketplace. Such a company is Elysian Acoustic Labs, founded by Lee Quan Min.

Elysian began as a DIY refurbishment experiment for Lee’s personal Ultimate Ears headphones, but quickly grew into a custom re-shelling service business. In 2019, Lee started turning heads in Japan with his proprietary designs, despite Elysian being a one-man band.

Elysian’s Annihilator IEMs bear the slogan, “The Only One That Matters.” Featuring a unique “Tribrid” design that incorporates one dynamic driver, two electrostatic tweeters and four balanced armatures with a 4-way crossover for each earpiece, the Annihilators have slightly more sonic heft to them than the average IEM. Unfortunately, the DAC music selection was limited to K-Pop and Cantopop, so I could not compare the Annihilator between music genres. Be that as it may, I had never heard Blackpink sound that good before! The Annihilators revealed minor nuances in the K-Pop mix that had gone unnoticed previously.


Elysian Annihilator in-ear headphones.


At $3,000, the Annihilator clearly is meant to rival the heavyweight audiophile headphone offerings of more established companies. However, the reviews and word-of-mouth have been through the roof, and, perhaps due to the headphones’ electrostatic tweeters, the Annihilator is garnering a reputation for exceptional treble response. These IEMs definitely make a case to keep an eye on Elysian for the future!

Astell&Kern despite its German-sounding name, Astell&Kern is a Korean company and a subsidiary of entertainment conglomerate Dreamus. With a pedigreed history of collaborative products with Jerry Harvey Audio, Wolfson, and Beyerdynamic, Astell&Kern has made headphones and home cinema products but are best-known for their portable high-resolution digital audio players and DACs.

The SP3000 is the latest flagship product from Astell&Kern’s A&ultima series. Promoted as the first-ever digital audio player utilizing separate digital and analog signal processing, and featuring a stainless-steel casing, these are just some of the attributes justifying the SP3000’s “luxury” tag and $3,699 street price. Other features include its capability to handle DSD, 32-bit, 24-bit and 16-bit audio, as well as multiple headphone outputs including 3.5 mm unbalanced, 4.4 mm balanced, and 2.5 mm balanced, to drive virtually any type of headphones.


Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000 portable music player.


The SP3000 delivered very true, uncolored sound reproduction during my listening session, which included John Coltrane, Rihanna, and classical music from Deutsche Grammophon. To be honest, I could not discern any sonic advantages when comparing the SP3000 to some of the other Astell&Kern portable players, although the superior user interface and build quality was certainly evident. It was not unlike comparing a Rolex Oyster Perpetual watch to an Omega Speedmaster.

64 Audio – unlike the other brands at CanJam NYC 2023 mentioned in this article, 64 Audio came to the audiophile market as an afterthought. Founded by audio engineer Vitaliy Belonozhko in 2010, 64 Audio has built its reputation into one of the primary “go-to” custom-mold IEM suppliers to major touring acts around the globe, including Earth Wind, & Fire, Beyonce, Bon Jovi, Juanes, Black Eyed Peas, Joe Walsh, Dream Theater, Jennifer Hudson, and many others.

By focusing on replacing traditional floor monitor wedges with their custom IEM designs, 64 Audio has pioneered a number of unique technologies along the way (according to their product information), such as:

  • APEX (Air Pressure Exchange) – a patented vent that allows for reduced listening fatigue and a more realistic soundstage by releasing air pressure that would otherwise get sealed into the air canal, without compromising isolation.
  • LID (Linear Impedance Design) – a patented circuit that corrects the non-linear impedances encountered when using multiple driver units, resulting in better sonic consistency across the drivers. This is especially important in 64 Audio IEMs that may contain anywhere from 9 to 18 miniature drivers per earpiece.
  • TIA (Tubeless In-Ear Audio) – this is a custom-designed open balanced armature combined with a single bore (opening) that is unique to 64 Audio IEMs. It eliminates the need for the conventional sound-transmitting tubes and the dampers required for standard closed balanced armature designs.

Although 64 Audio has developed a strong customer base among musicians with its custom IEM designs, the company has also made inroads into the recording studio and audiophile arenas. Their 9-driver N8 model was designed in conjunction with bassist extraordinaire Nathan East, who uses the N8 on stage when touring with Eric Clapton, as well as while recording in the studio and even for reference mixing.

I was previously familiar with lower-end (under $1,000) 64 Audio IEMs for stage use but had never before had the opportunity to hear any of their audiophile-grade units, so I ventured to try out their flagship audiophile IEM, the Fourté.

The Fourté is a 4-driver hybrid (one dynamic and three balance-armature drivers) design with APEX and TIA and lists for $3,599. It delivered very impressive imaging on live recordings (Todd Rundgren and Utopia) with strong articulation and detail. The bass, in particular, seemed to be somewhat emphasized, although not boomy or over-hyped, such as what one might find when listening to some Beats models, for example. Although the Fourté is marketed to the audiophile demographic, I was personally surprised by its relatively flat response when listening to other music genres (opera, jazz, indie rock). They seemed closer to headphones that are often used for mixing, like the AKG K52, rather than offering the lusher sounds that can make listening more pleasurable that one would expect to hear with high-end electrostatic or planar magnetic units.

64 Audio Fourté in-ear headphones.


HIFIMAN – having first been introduced to HIFIMAN at a previous CanJam NYC, I was amazed by the range of headphones and DAC units created by Dr. Fang Bian, whom I subsequently interviewed in Copper Issue 137.  

Over the past few years, HIFIMAN’s planar magnetic headphones have wowed many in the audiophile community with their bang-for-the-buck sound quality at a considerably more affordable retail price than many of the company’s rivals.

HIFIMAN’s latest headphone offering is the AUDIVINA, and its newest IEM is the SVANAR.

Priced at $1,999 and using similar “stealth magnet” technology as in the pricier HE1000 ($3,499), the AUDIVINA was designed by Dr. Fang Bian utilizing a resonance chamber inspired by the acoustics in the Bayreuth Festival Theater in Germany. Listening to cuts from Roxy Music’s Avalon, Whitney Houston, The Brian Setzer Orchestra, Frank Sinatra, Jennifer Lopez, and acoustic Nils Lofgren, the AUDIVINA delivered the highly detailed, familiar HIFIMAN sound with an added spaciousness, thanks to the resonance chamber.

Also priced at $1,999, the SVANAR IEM may conceivably become HIFIMAN’s first entry into the pro audio arena. Utilizing Dr. Fang Bian’s patented Topology Diaphragm nano particle coating technology along with an unusual combination of brass and aluminum alloy (brass for the front chamber and aluminum for the rear chamber) and a 9.2 mm dynamic neodymium-magnet driver, the SVARNAR punched way above its weight class. Its design elements would seem to make it ideal for the rigors and abuse of stage use while still delivering crystalline, audiophile-grade sound quality.



Audeze – the company launched in 2008 thanks to a serendipitous meeting between a NASA scientist with a new material that would make for amazing planar headphone diaphragms, and Audeze’s audio-obsessed founders. Audeze headphones have developed a fan base among both pro audio producers, engineers and artists, as well as with audiophiles. 

While Audeze sports an impressive menu of headphones targeted for audiophiles, their Reference series Pro Audio headphones were of particular interest to me. I decided to audition the closed-back LCD-XC model, ($1,299) which is planar magnetic but sealed, so it can be used for recording situations without leakage concerns.

I was floored by the surround sound-like soundstaging, and the clarity and full sound quality that managed to avoid being artificially hyped. The sound reproduction was startlingly realistic and accurate.

In order to check whether these characteristics were consistent across all music genres, I listened to music from Paco de Lucia, Bruno Mars, Alison Krauss, Banks, Brian Eno, Rosalie, Curtis Mayfield, Jackson Browne, Prince, Rihanna, Rimsky-Korsakov (Fritz Reiner), and Post Malone. For every cut, the quality never wavered.

 Audeze LCD-XC headphones.


I then decided to compare the LCD-XC with Audeze’s latest model, the MM-500 ($1,699). Designed as a collaboration with multiple Grammy award-winning producer and engineer Manny Marroquin (Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars, Rihanna, Lizzo and many more), the MM-500 came about due to Maroquin’s introduction to the LCD-X (open-back) model while mixing an Imagine Dragons album. He was so impressed with the sound of the LCD-X that he wound up mixing an entire album track solely with the headphones. He later spoke with Audeze about just how impressed he was with the LCD-X and offered suggestions for improvements, which, to his surprise, Audeze accepted and used as the basis for the MM-500.

Marroquin’s goal for the MM-500 was to create “a great set of studio monitors that you can put in your bag and travel with.”

The MM-500 is considerably lighter in weight than the LCD-X or LCD-XC and has a sleeker profile. It also has a redesigned headband and earpads for improved comfort when worn for extended periods. With a frequency range of 5 Hz to 50 kHz, the MM-500 has an incrementally-extended low end compared to the 10 Hz – 50 kHz range of the LCD-XC. As they are an open-back design, they are really designed for mixing or recording direct only, since leakage would make them unusable for recording with microphones.

They sounded nearly identical to the LCD-XC, in my opinion, although perhaps the surround effect was slightly attenuated. According to some reviewers, there is a consensus that the MM-500 seem to be tweaked towards rock and pop music, and there are expectations that the MM-500 may crossover from the pro audio into the high-end consumer audio market as a result. 

CanJam NYC 2023 was certainly worthwhile, and a good way to tangibly experience the newest headphone products while seeing first-hand the directions in which the industry is headed.


ABYSS offered a selection of high-end headphones made in the USA.


Los Angeles dealer High End by Oz brought a sampling of headphone-related audio components.


CanJam always features a wealth of specialty headphone products, including cables.


Attendees could take their time to audition the products on display.


All images courtesy of John Seetoo.

Boxed In

Boxed In

Boxed In

Peter Xeni