Issue 45

Fall Has Fallen....

Fall Has Fallen....

Bill Leebens

...and it can't get up!

Welcome to Copper #45!

The year ticks away, and we are presented/threatened with the horrors of endless repetitions of Burl Ives' "Holly Jolly Christmas"...Well, be of good cheer. You'll find plenty of new music to explore here.

John Seetoo is back with another excellent interview---this time, with Kavi Alexander of Water Lily Acoustics. I think you'll really enjoy this one.

I'm pleased to introduce A.J. Hernandez, an oenologist who'll be guiding us down some less-traveled roads in the world of wine. Part 1 of his tour of southern Italian wines appears in this issue.

Amongst our regular columnists,  Dan Schwartz wonders why his system doesn't sound better;  Richard Murison leads us around in circles, musically;  Jay Jay French begins a look at the best of the psychedelic eraDuncan Taylor tells us about recording Judah and the LionRoy Hall remembers a harrowing summer holiday ; Anne E. Johnson introduces indie band Leopold and his Fiction; and I wonder, when are you too old to tour? ---and look at what things are made of.

Dan McCauley is back with Something Old/Something New from...Flat Worms?!?  and Industry News tells of  more woes for Sears and Gibson. Our friends  Gautam Raja and Fred Schwartz are back--- Gautam, with an intriguing look at Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, and Fred, with a look at the relationship between HiFis, Cars, and Planes.

We wrap up Copper #45 with another classic cartoon from Charles Rodrigues, and a Parting Shot of some striking cloud formations. WL Woodward will be back soon.

Until next time—-enjoy!

Cheers, Leebs.


Bill Leebens

Back at the dawn of the grunge era in 1991, Perry Farrell dreamed up Lollapalooza as a festival that would serve as a grand farewell tour for his band, Jane’s Addiction. Over twenty-five years later, Lollapalooza is still around, having adapted and morphed to survive changing times and markets. Like many musicians who seem to be touring, touring, ever touring, Lollapalooza just won’t die.

But those perpetual-tourers do age, and as we saw recently in the sad and premature death of Tom Petty, they do die.

Around the same time as the first Lollapalooza, there began the first major wave of, let’s call them “Classic Rock” tours—giant tours of bands that have ceased to have major hit records (or cynics like me would say, any relevance whatsoever), but can draw upon their back catalog and fan bases to fill massive arenas and stadiums in spite of astonishing 3-, 4-, and 5-figure ticket prices. These days, think Springsteen on Broadway—but bands like the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac break up and make up like that troubled couple you know who fight continually and repeatedly threaten to divorce—but somehow just hang on, to the dismay of their friends and families, who wish they’d just be done with it.

But I digress.

Way back then in the ’90’s, I first thought of the name “Geezerpalooza” to describe those tours of aging and aged bands that just refuse to go away, and somehow still manage to draw crowds of ever more elderly fans. Looking back at that era, those bands and their fans—meaning, us— were just spring chickens. Look at the artists touring these days, and it’s hard to not think, “oh my God—he’s still ALIVE??”

Thus, my alternative name for such tours: “See Them Now Before They Drop Dead on Stage at Some State Fair in the Midwest”. Harsh, but accurate, I think. From my own admittedly-jaundiced perspective, it just seems unreasonable to expect the road to go on forever, in spite of Robert Earl Keen’s song to the contrary.

Charlie Watts is 76, and so is Bob Dylan. Can they reasonably be expected to be touring at 91, like Tony Bennett? Would we want them to? If they are touring in 2032, would we go see them? Maybe Rubinstein was still a vital artist in his 90’s, but most performers—especially singers—experience a diminution of their abilities and capacities. A certain pragmatism is inevitable in both the performers and in their audiences.

For example: I’m 61. When I was an adolescent in Carbondale, Illinois, REO Speedwagon played dances there at Southern Illinois University. Presumably, those guys were sorta-adults then; how old must they be now? How many times can they play “Keep On Lovin’ You” without becoming utterly comatose? And who will still want to hear them?

Going back to septuagenarian Bob Dylan: my older brother Chuck has been a Dylan evangelist since, oh, 1964. Chuck has heard Dylan at all manner of venues from small halls to stadiums, from minor-league baseball parks to big festivals. Somehow, I’ve never seen Dylan perform, and neither had my girlfriend.

When a local Dylan show with Mavis Staples was announced, we both thought, “we should go see them”. Following Petty’s death, the conversation shifted to, “we should go see them before they die.”

Then that “certain pragmatism” I mentioned came into play. I know that my younger colleagues (and these days, most of my colleagues are younger) seem to favor experiences over material goods, but given the frangible nature of my memory, I’m fine with stuff. Couple that with the fact that after adding the $40 per ticket handling fee—and wasn’t Pearl Jam’s suit against Ticketmaster supposed to end such extortion?!?— two tickets were $400.

In the grand scheme of things, that’s probably not an immense amount of money. And yet, my mind went back to the days when an LP and a concert ticket cost about the same amount. Finally, neither of us thought the experience was worth that much money to us— especially if Dylan decided to croak his way through “Stardust” and such. Oh, well.

I’ve tried to extrapolate from this experience, figure out some protocol that would enable me to determine when an artist is too far gone or too damned expensive to prevent me from buying tickets.

I can’t.

So I guess I’ll muddle along like every other human being, trying to make sense out of the choices that are presented to me, every single day. Fun, no?

Kavi Alexander, Part 1

Kavi Alexander, Part 1

Kavi Alexander, Part 1

John Seetoo

Kavi Alexander considers creating music to be a sacred act, and has made Water Lily Acoustics, his labor of love, an avenue for sharing the magic when his recordings capture the inspired and created music from his often improvised settings like lightning in a bottle.  From Water Lily’s beginnings in 1984 with their releases of recordings from Sarod maestro Ustad Ali Akbar Khan to notable “mash-ups” with diverse artists such as L. Subramanian, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Jerry Douglas, Taj Mahal, David Hidalgo, Bela Fleck, Wu Man, Martin Simpson and Ry Cooder, Kavi Alexander has established a niche for serious music lovers to truly examine how music is an international language that transcends borders and the spoken word.  John Seetoo spoke with Kavi Alexander about Water Lily Acoustics and his philosophies on music and audio for Copper.

J.S.: Other than your symphonic recordings in St. Petersburg, you’re largely associated with small-scale groups performing at moderate volumes.  Is that simply a function of the artists chosen to record, or a matter of personal preference?

K.A.:I started Water Lily Acoustics with the intention of recording the Eastern master musicians, the virtuosos and thus help to preserve the old traditions that they represented. I had realized very quickly, when I got my first stereo and started listening to the recordings of the Eastern masters that I loved, – the sound on these recording was dismal and very poor. My attempt with Water Lily Acoustics, was to correct that; to record these great Indian, Chinese, Middle Eastern and Persian virtuosos properly. To this end, I sought the assistance of Baron Tim de Paravicini, and convinced him to build me an entire custom, all-analog, vacuum-tube recording chain. Even though I place great emphasis on acquiring the finest recording and playback equipment, I remain a firm believer in giving music the utmost precedence. Technology should always be in the service of art. For me, there is no other approach.

J.S.: Do you approach recording a full orchestra, a small ensemble of acoustic instruments, or a duet or solo recording any differently?

K.A.: The aesthetic is always the same.  You want to capture that same dynamic reality, whether it be a solo instrument, a chamber ensemble, or a whole orchestra. Of course there are technical and practical considerations, but it’s not the real issue. I never try to capture an “at the podium” kind of “reality.”  One needs to step back a little; one has to let the instruments “breathe,” they need to interact with the acoustical space in with the recording is being made. One should record in such a way, that when the recording is played back in the home, the listener has the “illusion” of sitting in the ideal seat – say in the 10th to the15th row, center and on the SAME plane as the orchestra. This “ideal” seating is of course never possible for a concert goer, as in nearly all the concert halls, should one sit in the ideal seat (10th to 15th row, center), one’s ears will always be below the stage on which the orchestra is seated!

Thus, to create the “illusion” mentioned above, when doing orchestral recordings, I start with a ladder placed between the 10th and 15th rows and determine the proper microphone height from the floor, by climbing up and down the ladder and listening for a good balance. Invariably, this ends up placing the microphone stand 15 to 20 feet back from the edge of the stage, and 10 to 15 feet up, as measured from the stage, on which the musicians will be seated. Now,for recording a soloist or a small enable, things of course will be a little different: the mikes will not be as far back, nor will they be as high up, as in the case of an orchestral recording.

There are two very different approaches to recording acoustic music, which were arrived at almost simultaneously around the 1920s. The first one is what I call “The American Approach”, born of the experiments done by Bell Labs in the 1930s, recording the Philadelphia Orchestra. Unbeknownst to those at Bell Labs, Alan Blumlein, my personal hero and the father of all things audio, conducted research at EMI in the UK, which yielded what I call “The British Approach.” The Bell Labs experiments evolved from “the wall of microphones” to “the wall of speakers,” producing the final “three spaced omni mike” technique.

This technique was used exclusively by Everest, Mercury, Command, and much later, Telarc. Initially, this approach sought to  record the orchestra with the microphones placed near the podium, and thus, capturing a greater percentage of the direct sound. The intent here was to get the impact of the music, with lots of clarity and detail, by picking up the sound of the instruments at close range. This of course meant that the ratio of the direct sound to that of the reflected sounds was altered. This approach relied on the speaker/room interaction to provide the “ambiance” on playback, to allow the speaker-room interaction to provide the “ambiance” or “room sound.”

The Blumlein approach was to record in such a manner, so as to capture a good balance between the direct sounds and the reflected sounds, employing a coincidentally placed pair of bidirectional mikes, crossed at 90 degrees and placed some distance from the orchestra, thus capturing a good balance between direct and reflected sound. All the sounds are sampled at one point in space, thus preserving phase and amplitude coherence, which in turn yields very convincing stereo images. The Blumlein technique was employed by EMI only for a very short period and then was abandoned, to be taken up later, by dedicated small labels such as Meridian and Unicorn in the UK and Sheffield Labs, Water Lily Acoustics and Chesky in the US.

Decca on the other hand developed the “Decca Tree”, another version of the three spaced omni mike technique. Starting out with three cardioids, then incorporating  baffles in-between, then a combination of cardioids and omni mikes and finally settling on three spaced omni mikes, with the center mike, as always, placed a little further forward, in relation to the two flanking mikes. In France the ORTF, the French equivalent of the BBC, came up with the mike technique referred to as the ORTF method, which employed two cardioid mikes, angled 110 degrees and spaced 17 CM apart, to correspond to the inter-aural distance, the spacing between the ears. This fact enables the ORTF technique to present a very different perspective and stereo imaging than that offered by the Blumlein technique, wherein the two  mikes are truly coincident.

There is also the NOS technique, developed by the Dutch Radio/TV folks, which is a variant of the ORTF, in that again two cardioids are employed, but here are angled at 90 degrees, but spaced  30 CM apart. This technique and the Blumlein technique are the only two mike techniques that have an equivalent and geometrically  inverse speaker placement for playback, to enable correct stereo reproduction in terms of imaging! In the case of the Blumlein technique, a pair of dipole, point source speakers (Quad 63s are perfect!) are placed such that the included angle, extending from the listening seat to the center of the speakers will be 90 degrees. This same speaker placement, but with forward-facing  point source transducers (Rogers LS 3/5As are perfect!) will also reproduce correctly, in terms of imaging, recordings done with the NOS technique, but with obvious difference, due to the differing pick up patterns and phase/amplitude coherence and time of arrival issues.

The Swiss recording engineer Jürg Jecklin developed a technique known as the OSS technique, which is more commonly known as the Jecklin technique, wherein two omni mikes are employed, spaced 16.5 CM apart, with a 30 CM baffle in-between. Lately, Jecklin seems to have updated the mike spacing to 30 CM and the baffle diameter to 36 CM.

There is also the mike techniques developed by Tony Faulkner, which he calls a “Phased Array” and involves using two figure-of-eight mikes placed side by side and aimed straight at the sound source, with a seven  to eight inch spacing in between.

And lastly, the closely spaced (12 inches) omni pair, a technique preferred by the engineers at DPA/B&K.The above mentioned coincident and near coincident mike techniques are the ocean that I swim in, wherein I seek the Stella Maris [Perhaps better known as Polaris, the North Star.—Ed.].

It is very important for one to know the history of one’s chosen craft and to learn to learn from that history.  If you’re passionate about something, you need to know how it all began, how it all evolved. Without knowing the big picture, there’s very little you can learn.

J.S.: You started Water Lily as a label to release professionally recorded music from South Asia and the Middle East.  As instruments like the sitar, sarod and tamboura generate multiple overtones, do you find recording the performance in a room with good acoustics more important than getting close mic separation and possibly sacrificing the special tonalities of the instruments – or is there a secret to capturing both?

K.A.: I really don’t think you lose anything by recording the instruments from a few feet away. If anything, you gain, because you allow the instruments the chance to breathe.  A good example of these two approaches can be found in two recordings of Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. One was done by Mark Levinson, which is all digital and was recorded with two closely spaced B&Kmeasurement mikes, placed very close to the strings of Khan Sahib’s Sarod. The other is my recording of Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, titled Indian Architexture and done with an all-tube, analog chain. A Blumlein pair was placed 7 to 8 feet from the instrument in a large church. I believe that the Ali Akbar College in Marin has CD copies titled “Alap” of Mark Levinson’s recording.

J.S.: The reason I bring this up is that you mentioned before about a close miked Sarod recording that impressed you…

 K.A.: That was the Connoisseur Society recording by one of my heroes, David B. Jones.  He used  Sony tube mikes, feeding a custom tube mixer, and a half-inch, two track tube Ampex 300, running at 30 ips. On this recording, the tabla and the sarod each had its own mike, along with some “ambient pick-up mikes” placed some distance from the instruments. This recording was made in a chapel at Columbia University in New York, blessed with very fine acoustics. The technical guru on all these recordings wasPeter Bartok, the son of Bela Bartok. It was Peter Bartok’s idea to run the Ampex 300 at 30 ips, at a time when there was no EQ standard for this speed. I cannot praise enough this recording of the great Ali Akbar Khan.

David B. Jones made 7 recordings of Khan Sahib for Connoisseur Society.This very hip label, was run by Alan Silver, who lived in the Upper West side in New York City, released some extraordinary records. They even went to Saintes Maries-de-le-Mar in the south of France and recorded Manitas de Plata, within the holy shrine of the Black Madonna, so sacred to his people, the Romani. All the Connoisseur recordings were mastered by the legendary George Piros, who also mastered the Mercury recording of the other legend Bob Fine.

J.S.: You have stated in other interviews about how the creativity of the 1960s had a profound impact on you.

K.A.: Absolutely!  Yes it did, in a very big way.

J.S.: Speaking of creativity, does the improvisational approach to Hindustani music and Western artists with whom you’ve worked, like Ry Cooder, Martin Simpson, Jon Hassel and others have a special significance and affinity for you? 

K.A.: Of course. I think great art is improvised. I personally think that the improvised approach to creating music embodies the real magic; the exploration of  uncharted territory has its own rewards. I view my projects like a journey on a train, in a country where there is a train culture. You have a window seat and a comfortable compartment, and you travel at a reasonable speed, sothat you may see the passing countryside.  And then, who walks into the compartment?  Perhaps a Catholic priest. Maybe a student, engrossed the music of Segovia.  Maybe abeautiful woman going on a shopping spree to Paris. You speak with all of them, and you may never see any of them again in your life.  It’s sort of like that.

You’re on a journey and you get off at the other end, enriched by your experience with people from many walks of life.  And that’s how I see the kind of recordings that I have made,  where I bring a Wu Man and a Martin Simpson together – you know, musicians who have never played together… I mean, Martin and Wu Man may have heard of each other, but most of the stuff I do…I mean, Vishwa Mohan had no idea who Ry Cooder was!

You have to witness this…to feel the thrill. I’m sure musically trained people will hear of mistakes and flaws in the “construction” of the unfolding music I record. To me, this is irrelevant. I don’t give a damn about  a couple of bum notes. Keep in mind, in many cases, the musicians I am recording can’t even speak to each other, because they do not know each others’ languages!  They know nothing about each other’s culture! Yet, I believe that the end results transcend  these barriers, and communicate beyond borders and boundaries. It can start by me suggesting to an Indian musician, “Why don’t you play a dhun”, which is a lilting, mountain folk melody. And the Chinese musicianwill go, “Oh yes!  We have a folk melody similar to that.” Bingo.  And once we have a melody to improvise upon, we are off to the races!

And all these explorations are done within a matter of a few hours of the musicians  first meeting each other! No three month long rehearsals!

J.S. : Showing music to be a truly international language.

 K.A.: Yes, indeed!  Some people might say, “Kavi is not a musician, yes, he may make some decent recordings, but he  doesn’t know a thing about music.  Those blends are awful.”  This sort of thing has never stopped me from doing what I love. I know that men seriously committed to the art of music, both musicians and producer/engineers, have shown respect and love for my work. Keith Jarrett, George Winston and Jackson Browne are a few of those musicians. Manfred Eicher of ECM and Don Was of Blue Note are among the producers who approve of what I am doing. George Harrison once wrote to me, saying how much he loved what I do.

I am not a musician, and thus do not sing nor play any instruments. I am someone who is madly in love with the magic of music, and in my pursuit of this all-consuming passion, I have also fallen in love with great audio equipment.

I started out by buying and collecting LPs in Paris. I knew nothing about the high end nor Blumlein recordings!  My first amp was a Sansui integrated amplifier. I liked Sansui as a brand, and they seemed to be very well made. I started out with the lowest priced integrated amp, and sort of became an audiophile as I started to buy the more expensive integrated amps for the filters and tone controls. This was in my effort to get rid of the horrible ticks and pops that plagued the poorly pressed Indian EMI LPs and to compensate for the poor sound quality.

This is how I got sucked into becoming an audiophile! The next awakening was realizing the staggering impact that my French friend’s Charlin stereo system had on me. That Charlin system made by another hero of mine, Andre Charlin, the Peter Walker of France, made me realize many things; one was the staggeringly good sound  that issued forth from the recordings that Andre Charlin made and released on his label, Disques Charlin. The other was becoming aware of spatial perception, as applied to recordings reproduced in the home, in terms of stereo image, depth, etc. The seeds had been sown, the die cast, and I became a servant truly in the service of music!

From the Sansui amps, I graduated to a pair of Dahlquist DQ10 speakers and Meridian 101/105 amp and preamp combination. Now, there was no going back…

J.S.: As you already have worked with David Hidalgo of Los Lobos….

K.A.: A wonderful  human being, and a great musician.

 J.S.:….would working with musicians from “jam band” artists like Phish, Dave Matthews Band, Govt Mule, Robert Randolph, et al appeal to you for some kind of mash-up pairing with international artists?  If so, what would be some interesting combinations, in your opinion?

K.A.: I’m not interested in amplified music, but I would love to record David Hidalgo with Jerry Douglas, an unsung American hero if there ever was one. I also had plans to record the following combinations of American artists: Taj Mahal with Richie Havens and Odetta Gordon, Taj Mahal with Dom Um Romao and Papa Bunka Susso. I also wanted very much to record Leon Russell and Johnny Winter, just slide guitar and piano… Time, money and things of that nature came in the way…

J.S.: Well, they could be playing acoustically, but their open improvisational sensibilities…

K.A.: Yes, Jerry and David in the church…the others you mention, do not speak to me, I do not understand their language.

In the past, I have been contacted by Ray Manzarek of the Doors… he had heard a Carnatic violinist, whom I know, at the Bakery in LA and wanted to do a project… and Stewart Copeland of the Police who wanted to do something with Jie Bing Chen, the Chinese virtuoso on the Erhu. I also had a long phone conversation once, with Ron Carter, who happens to own a very good audio system. A friend of his had played him one of my CDs and Ron was very impressed with the sound quality and the kind of brews that I was brewing.

I’d still love to record Jerry Douglas and David Hidalgo. Just the two of them.

J.S.: I play dobro.  Jerry Douglas is one of my heroes!

 K.A.: For me,Jerry Douglas is far more important than Eric Clapton!  He’s truly phenomenal. He’s really a wonderful human being. Down to earth… Same thing with Hidalgo. These are very humble people, who know who they really are and what they can do. They need not prove anything, impress anybody. I love working with artists of this caliber.  I have no time for rock stars and pompous pretenders and poseurs.  Real human beings.  You can’t work with someone throwing tantrums and smashing up instruments.

I come from a very traditional culture, where craftsmen, artisans and musicians, honor the tools of their trade. I have read that Ravi Shankar at the Monterey Pop Festival was appalled when he saw the Who and Jimi Hendrix smashing their guitars. In traditional cultures, one’s instruments, one’s tools of the trade, are sacred. This was also the case in medieval Europe. The knights had their armor and weapons blessed.

In fact, before I came to this country from Sweden, I used to record in a beautiful church in the small town where I lived. I was friendly with the priest, and said to him “I’m going to America, and I’m taking my equipment with me.  I’d like you to perform a special service and bless my equipment.”  I thought this being a Swedish Lutheran priest, he would think I’m some damned pagan from India and say no! (laughs)

On the contrary, he said he would be happy to do it! He was well aware of the knights having their armor and weapons blessed.  He actually performed the ceremony in the very church where I had cut my teeth, leaning the art of recording!

[John Seetoo’s interview of Kavi Alexander will conclude in the next issue of Copper. Thanks to them both for a fascinating chat! —Ed.]

More Bad News for Sears and Gibson

Bill Leebens

We’ve previously written about the sad, seemingly-inevitable  decline of Sears. While it does not directly affect the audio biz, it certainly does affect the retail climate of America.

For many years, Sears was the world’s largest seller of major appliances, and the Whirlpool brand was a major part of that dominance —for over 100 years. That relationship is coming to an end, apparently due to the combination of Sears’ reduced sales volume and decreased credit-worthiness. The details can be found here and here.

Further evidence of Sears’ decline comes from the report that the company burned through $200M in loans in just the last month. Additionally, Sears Holdings just announced that 63 more Sears and Kmart stores will close after the first of the year—this on top of 332 stores closed, or soon to close, in 2017.

As it has for several years, the question remains: how long can this continue?

We’ve also previously written about Nashville-based Gibson Brands, whose mindbogglingly-broad holdings include several musical instrument companies including Gibson Guitars, and a number of companies in both pro and consumer audio, including Cerwin Vega, Stanton, a majority share of TEAC/Esoteric, and a sizable piece of Onkyo.

In August, credit-rating bureau Moody’s downgraded Gibson’s credit rating from Caa2 to Caa3 (Moody’s: “Obligations rated Caa are judged to be speculative of poor standing and are subject to very high credit risk”), based upon increased concerns that the company would be unable to make payments on notes totaling over half a billion dollars.

Memphis media recently reported that Gibson had put its 127,000 square foot factory near Beale Street up for sale. Gibson’s statement that the Memphis division  “is growing and achieving record profitability and sales levels” seems disingenuous in view of the property offering. Also this last week, Gibson’s ownership position in Onkyo was reported to have been reduced.

As in the case of Sears, it’s hard to imagine a happy ending to this story.

Gibson’s factory in Memphis, Tennessee.

Flat Worms

Flat Worms

Flat Worms

Dan McCauley

From the scuzzy, fuzzy den of Castle Face Records comes the first full length LP of Flat Worms, called – wait for it… Flat Worms. It comes out spittin’ fast paced, gnarly, in your face rock. The three-piece punk band reigns from Los Angeles and brings the energy of a slow burn fall on the skateboard ramp. The scrape is itchy and it burns. The band mates: Will Ivy, Tim Hellman (Thee Oh Sees, Sic Alps) and Justin Sullivan (Kevin Morby, The Babies) whipped this full length into a frothy frenzy, with vocals you can follow and a rhythm you can catch.

The first listen took my ears a minute to adjust and hear through the middle-distance feedback and begin to recognize the stride of the album. Vocal execution of a Kraftwerk robot had me snagged, where some bands lost my interest as soon as the singer stepped up to the mic. With this album’s kind of face melting shredding, the vocal pitch and tone had to be just right to pace the edge of the instruments. The guitar and drums on Flat Worms never get a chance to breathe. Vocally, Andrew Savage of Parquet Courts immediately comes to mind. You’ve gotta have a powerful voice to stay distinct amongst the fuzz and repetitive drum beats. Flat Worms is good ol’ rock fun in all its glory. They are clearly informed by all cool forms of rock music from the past four decades, but seldom barrow from them.  No fancy pants or tricks here. And with most “new’ bands releasing albums this year, it’s refreshing to find a new album that isn’t content/art-school heavy. We don’t always need to learn about the beauty in apple farming off the coast of Oregon, or how the mist covered hills of West Virginia represent the strife of modern man. Can’t we just have catchy melodies and a little edge?

Bands like Parquet Courts and (early) The Strokes gave us a break from the coffee shops with lattes too hot to drink. Beanies that sit at the top of your head – don’t even cover your ears!? The jeans that come from the factory already ripped. Flat Worms give us a bleached out look into what it’s like to spike an almost cashed can (or bottle, if you’re dangerous) of brew against the sidewalk. Trip your friend while he’s walking in front of you. Childhood fun. Innocent in the grand scheme of things, but dangerous enough to raise some nervous laughter from your belly.

Flat Worms is not the album to play while reading in your living room. It’s the album to mow the yard to, chop the firewood, or get the chainsaw out and bring out your inner arborist.

Castle Face Records, and I have said it before, is the most exciting record label going on right now. John Dwyer has created a label built on well executed fuzz rock that is as creative as it is successful. Most vinyl releases sell out immediately and has a cult like following of loyalist to a sub-music culture that are becoming popular enough to peak up every now and then on public music airwaves like CPR and Open Air.

Flat Worms A little Wipers, a little Wire, and a lot of late-capitalist era anxious energy.” – Castle Face Records 2017.

Flat Worms

Album: Flat Worms

Release: Castle Face Records, October 2017

Southern Italian Wines: A Walk on the Wild Side, Part 1

Bill Leebens

It’s a Malbec world out there. Once upon a time, it was a Merlot world—and then came the movie Sideways, based on Rex Pickett’s novel of the same name. Sideways detailed the misadventures of Miles, a Pinot Noir-loving, Merlot-hating, creatively-blocked author on the wine roads of Santa Barbara County. The movie, while not a huge box office hit, rang a chord with wine drinkers who subsequently flocked to wine shops, eager to declaim, “anything but Merlot!”

Well, pardon my lack of excitement over the current consumer wine choice du jour, Malbec: this writer is not impressed. Now come at me asking for Primitivo, Aglianico, Fiano, Gaglioppo or be still, my beating heart, Nerello Mascalese or Carricante, and I might just kiss you! Scared? You should be.

The wines of Southern Italy are as diverse and challenging as any wine area can be. Like any worthy endeavor, however, a little time spent investigating the subject pays great dividends. Did I mention there are some insane values to be had here?

Chin up. It’s wild and wooly out there, but you’re in experienced hands. Let’s take a walk on the wild side.


With any new exploration of an unfamiliar area, it pays to spend a bit of time on geography. For our purposes, we will concentrate on five regions of Southern Italy, basically the lower boot and the football:  Basilicata, Campania, Calabria, Apulia (Puglia), and Sicily.


Basilicata, largely unknown even now, is a mountainous and dirt-poor region, tucked squarely in the middle of nowhere and landlocked, to its everlasting detriment.  Its fame is derived solely through the character of its single noble grape, Aglianico. To be precise, it’s Aglianico del Vulture, from the specific location, Monte Vulture (”voolTOOReh”, not “VUL-cher”), a long dormant volcano. It is a rustic wine of considerable power, capable of maturing and developing in the bottle for upwards of ten to fifteen years. The characteristic flavors of the Basilicata expression of Aglianico marry cherry, dark berry, chocolate, leather and herbs onto full-bodied frames with considerable tannins, and, in their infancy a certain chewy rusticity.  Producers of note include Elena Fucci, Cantine del Notaio, Terre degli Svevi , Grifalco and Terre dei Re.


Alone among the five regions considered in this column, Campania is equally renowned for the sterling quality of its racy, exotic whites, as for its own rendition of Aglianico, the most spectacular of which are the bottlings labeled Taurasi. If for no other reason, Campania would be famous – or is that infamous? – as the region blown to bits by Mount Vesuvio (Vesuvius) in AD 79. Pompeii or Herculaneum, anyone?  On a more pleasant note, Campania is the home of, among other things, the Blue Grotto, the Isle of Capri (“COP-ree”, by the way!), and San Marzano tomatoes, legally the only tomatoes permitted for the sauce of a true Neapolitan pizza.  Enough small talk! What about the grapes and wines?

We’ll start with the whites, since there are so many of them. In no particular order, they are:  Fiano, Greco di Tufo, Coda di Volpe and Falanghina. The beauty of these four varietals is that they seem, well, interchangeable; that just makes things easier. They all share a common volcanic heritage, as well as a history extending for some two thousand years plus. Whether it is a floral, honey-scented, chalky-herby Greco di Tufo you are tasting, or an intensely blossomy, opulently floral, mineral-tasting Fiano di Avellino, these wines are consistently well-made, represent consistently great values and are consistently delicious, so easy to pair with everything fish or fowl. And what names these grapes have: Coda di Volpe, ”Fox tail” in Italian, is so-named because its grape clusters resemble the bushy tail of a fox. Extending the name game further, the colorfully-named Coda di Volpe is the prime grape of the famed white version of Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio, or “Tears of Christ”. Finally, the Falanghina, a more delicate white, is thought to have its name derived from the Latin “falangae” or stakes that support the grapes in a vineyard. Interestingly enough, the eruption of Vesuvio left perfect records of the grapes that were planted at the time – what type of grapes, how deep, how far apart – all perfectly and permanently captured in ash and lava.

The red grapes of Campania are predominantly a class of two: Piedirosso and Aglianico. Piedirosso translates to “red feet”, apparently, a reference to the bottom of the Piedirosso vine which were red in appearance and resembled the red feet of a pigeon. While I don’t find this red especially complex or challenging, I must admit that at its very best, in the wine called Galardi Terra di Lavoro, it is a sumptuous, sleek, even profound wine.

Pride of place among the red wines of Campania, however, must easily be accorded to the grape called Aglianico. Yes, this is the same grape that grows so successfully in Basilicata. As one might guess, the Aglianico of both regions, share some things in common. The cherry and dark berry character so common among the Basilicata bottlings is here intact. So too are the herb nuances, the leathery character and hints of chocolate. Where the Campania Aglianico begins to distinguish itself from its cousin in Basilicata is in tannin profile and overall elegance. Aglianico is tannic, whatever the provenance.  In fact, it can be downright brutal in its youth. Curiously enough, this seldom is the case in the Aglianico from Campania. I have a hunch it has much to do with the rearing of the wines, the timing of the harvest, and just plain better winemaking facilities and technique.

In Campania, Aglianico is produced in the provinces of Benevento, Taburno and Falerno del Massico. Generally less full-bodied and tannic than those made in or around the village of Taurasi, these often offer the ambitious, informed consumer considerable bang for the buck, with most of these wines coming in at or just under the twenty-dollar range. Such is the historic importance and favored status long enjoyed by the wines of Taurasi, that they are  recognized as the greatest expression of Aglianico in the world. Except for the beastliest of Riserva bottlings, a truly fine Taurasi is a marvel of Italian craftsmanship, a liquid Lamborghini in a wine-red robe, powered by huge raspberry and cherry aromas and flavors, fuel-injected by leather, smoke, herb and chocolate accents, all perfectly-calibrated, masterfully underscored by a suspension of big, firm tannins.

Finally, many writers have described the Aglianico-based Campanian reds— most particularly, Taurasi— as the “Barolo of the South”.  As Barolo is the undisputed “King” among Italian wines, any mention of the two in the same breath, only honors the red from Campania for the inherent greatness of Aglianico.

Producers to seek out include Mastroberardino, Feudi di San Gregorio, Terredora di Paolo, Pietracupa, Cantine del Taburno and Vesevo.

This concludes Part One of our breakdown on Southern Italian Wines. You’ve seen by now, I hope, how friendly these wines can be – wild and wooly, yes, but with great and fascinating back stories. Our romp through southern  Italy concludes in Part Two with a trio of regions – Apulia, Calabria, and Sicily- as well as a host of volcanoes, gods and monsters and, of course,  some unforgettable wines!

The Two Most Important People in the World

The Two Most Important People in the World

The Two Most Important People in the World

Gautam Raja

Let’s call my audio-show buddy Gavin. I first met him in the elevator at the 2017 Los Angeles Audio Show, and we chatted for ages in the foyer. Then I saw him again as a friend and I stood in line to register for the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. We met often that weekend, the three of us visiting rooms together, and talking in corridors and over coffee about what we’d seen and heard.

Gavin is a drummer and audiophile from a town in Northern California whose name you’ll know now, if you didn’t before: Santa Rosa. I’d seen the headlines as I traveled home to Los Angeles from Denver after RMAF weekend, but hadn’t realized how bad the fires were until I heard from Gavin. By Monday afternoon, he had friends who’d lost homes and pets, and he and his wife had the cars all packed, ready to flee.

“When the fires came close,” he told me over the phone a week later, “I had a sick audiophile thought: ‘If the house burns down, what system can I get with the insurance money?’”

Of course Gavin didn’t want his house to burn down. And of course he wasn’t inured to the tragedy around him, that he had been spared by winds, chance, and hard work by the fire fighters. But I think he was only half-joking when he said, “If you use that quote, don’t use my name” so I call him Gavin.

(I’ve named him after my favorite drummer, whose playing I love—though I don’t know him personally. Gavin Harrison of King Crimson and Porcupine Tree. The pseudonymous Gavin is my other favorite drummer because I love his energy, though I haven’t heard him play. He’s one of those rare chatty people who stop and listen, and show a real interest in your life.)

I’d called to ask Gavin what it was like to go from the rarefied world of high-end audio, to needing to potentially flee for your life. He’s seen some ups and downs in his time though, and didn’t seem too ruffled.

As much as I enjoyed all the equipment, he told me, what made the show for me was running into you guys, and being able to experience it with like-minded people.

“It certainly was a crash after that to go from my ‘post Rocky Mountain’ bliss to having to stay up all night watching the fire.”

For me too, RMAF was as much about people as about the equipment and music. My old friend Pankaj had joined me from near Portland, a person from the same city and context I wrote about in Copper here. He’s a knowledgeable audiophile, and as I went to sleep the first night, tired after my early start from LA, he stayed up late to do his “homework”–plotting out all the rooms he wanted to visit. I just copied it before class, changing it enough to pass as mine. Old times.

Also great fun was running into all the audio-industry folk, including finally meeting in person someone all you Copper readers may have vaguely heard of: Bill Leebens [Oh, please—as if they care. —Ed.].

I had some great experiences with the technology too. It was the Old Testament all over again in one of the rooms, where a flame spoke to me; my first experience with a plasma tweeter. Incidentally Bill’s exhaustive article on the subject is up high in a Google search for “plasma tweeter”.

There was the room with the giant tube monoblocks and floor-to-ceiling electrostatic loudspeakers that actually fooled me, as I walked past, into thinking they had live drums in there. There was the after-party of the loudspeaker company with excellent, subversive branding where I had to Shazam every song the DJ played, not just because I didn’t know them, but because I had to know them.

For an industry that is supposedly losing the fight to single-box digital, there was a bewildering number of rooms with tube amplifiers. (Though I suppose that makes sense when you think about it.) There were subtle shades of digital snobbery on display in the room of a company that makes music streamers: someone asked if their products would soon be Roon-ready, and was dismissively told, “That’s computer audio. This is different.”

The sense I got from many conversations—ones I was part of, ones I eavesdropped on, and ones at seminars I attended—was that shows such as RMAF are vital and exciting, but in danger of losing relevance. However, no one seems sure of how they should adapt to the new market.

Roy Gregory of theaudiobeat.com made me wonder if the future for audio companies involves having the budget to exhibit at shows in China.

“The center of gravity of high-end is moving east,” he said at the seminar, High Resolution Audio: Have Files Eclipsed Physical Media?.

The night before, Roy had hosted the Rocky Mountain International HiFi Press Awards, at which Rebecca Chin and Lincoln Cheng of Audio Technique, presented the trophies. Audio Technique is a leading hi-fi publication in Hong Kong and China, which also stages the massive Hong Kong High End Audio Visual Show.

Roy stood at the mic at a venue that bristled with people whose names graced legendary products, magazines, and other annals of high-end audio.

“To everyone in this room,” said Roy as he introduced Rebecca and Lincoln, “these are the two most important people in the world.” [Rebecca and Lincoln are flanking Roy on either side of the podium in the header pic—Ed.]


At 2.30am the Monday after RMAF, the fires were close enough for Gavin to go bang on all his neighbors’ doors, waking them up. I think by this time, he was allowed his “sick audiophile thought”… But what if it isn’t a sick thought at all?

“What if it’s about survival?,” I asked Gavin. “About a drive to find the positive in even the most horrible situation?”

If you lost everything and had to rebuild from scratch, what would your new music system look like? What would you do differently? I don’t mean to trivialize a tragedy in which people lost homes, pets, every record of their lives, and even loved ones, but if the center of gravity of high-end is indeed moving east, what else is moving, what else is changing, and how much re-thinking do we need to do?

Leopold and his Fiction

Anne E. Johnson

With eyes like big brown marbles and his dyed blond hair slicked back, Daniel James Leopold looks like a man whose songs would teeter at the edge of madness. And while some of his recordings do give a nod to the heyday of Black Sabbath, his band Leopold and His Fiction also draws from folk, blues, R&B, and other calmer sounds.

Leopold hails from Detroit, which he claims is the source of his “hard-edged, raw sound”. The band, which has had several iterations of players (with only Leopold himself as the common thread) is now based in Austin.

The first album 2006 was self-titled. As is typical of indie debuts, there’s nothing slick about the production of Leopold and His Fiction. “Promise to Reality” has the edgy, asymmetrical rhythm of a Doors tune. Maybe it’s no coincidence that Leopold (then called Daniel James) was living in California at the time:


That rough edge works to the band’s advantage on “Miss Manipulation.” The steel guitar, the train-like perpetual motion of the strummed rhythms, and the minimalist vocal melody have a time-traveling effect. The song sounds like a hobo stopped in a recording studio before hopping the next freight car:


The simplicity of that first album is partly the result of there being only two official bandmembers: Leopold and drummer Ben Cook. Ain’t No Surprise (2009), the band’s second album, shows a new level of originality. Bassist/singer Micayla Grace and drummer/keyboardist Jon Sortland had stepped in when Cook left, helping to give the group a distinctive sound. But Leopold had not left his roots behind.

“One for Me to Find” opens like a folk tune, with a gritty, sincere vocal and strummed acoustic guitar. The first verse gets you ready for it to be deep and personal: “It’s hard to make amends with myself and my dead friends.” There’s that train effect again, this time on the snare. It’s a pensive tune, with simplicity that conjures up Johnny Cash, if he’d been a tenor:


Unfortunately, Leopold’s tendency to get stuck in a melodic rut continues in this album (the first time it was quirky, but it gets old quickly; only Morrissey can pull that off). Still, the lyrics are always thoughtful, as demonstrated in “Tiger Lily,” which comes across as a sketch for a short story: “Ah, Miss, you leave on my nightstand / Turquoise and a feather from your hair.”


The mournful three-guitar opening of the instrumental track “Adalenia,” which closes the album, is hard to categorize. The buzzing synth drone underlying the staggering plucked strings takes you to another world. It builds, dissonant and disconnected, into something ferocious:


With the third album, coyly titled 3 (2012), the band undergoes a stunning change of sound, thanks largely to a shift in Leopolds’ guitar playing. Suddenly they’re true rockers. You can hear it right off the bat in “Lion Share,” which opens with an electric guitar lick and a distorted vocal that screams more ZZ Top than Woody Guthrie.


But the folk tinge has not disappeared entirely. “Blood” has that repetitive, contemplative sound from the first two albums. Now the arrangements are more complex, disguising the limited scope of the melody:


The whole band sported a hipster look for the videos promoting the album 3. The slow blues “I’m Better Off Alone.” Based on the template of classic R&B torch songs, this song has lyrics that defy their outward meaning — of course he doesn’t want to be alone, but he has to pretend. So it’s appropriate that Leopold’s grunge guitar solo at first defies the song’s tempo and style, but then blends back into it. The only problem with this song is that Leopold’s voice doesn’t have the pitch range or emotional flexibility to really sell the melody and words:


The most recent album, Darling Destroyer, came out in early 2107. Leopold seems to have decided to celebrate his wilder instincts. Ozzy Osbourne meets Jeff Beck in “Cowboy,” a thrash song with classic blues harmony underlying it. (Warning: The video gets a bit bloody.)


The band’s biggest (only?) hit is “I’m Caving In,” originally off a 2012 EP, Waves, and then rereleased on Darling Destroyer. The song was picked up for an episode of the Showtime TV series Ray Donovan. Leopold proves he has a bit of rock crooner in him, too – maybe some Roy Orbison influence. He has described this song as autobiographical. The new cave-in was caused by the weight of being not only a new father, but also a newly recovering alcoholic:


“It’s How I Feel (Free)” has early punk influence (think: The Clash), both in the vocals and in the straight-ahead smack-the-table-top drum pattern. This new side of Leopold feels authentic; he’s tapping into something he needed to express. And the virtuosic guitar solo, even if it ends too abruptly, has clearer articulation and phrasing than you find from the average frontman.


Yet Leopold and His Fiction’s penchant for more traditional American styles is not lost forever. With all the drum rolls and brass backing, the song “Flowers” might summon up the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album, but at its core it’s just another R&B heartbreaker:

Summer Holiday

Roy Hall

“We’ve come to report a car accident”said Ivor. The policeman became animated and said, “Vieni, vieni (come, come) theese-away.” He led us through some corridors and into a courtyard. He pointed to a wrecked Ferrari sports car and proudly said, “Look, accident!”

In August of 1966, Ivor Tiefenbrun (of Linn Products) and I decided to drive through Europe for a couple of weeks. We set out from Glasgow in his Riley Kestrel. Dover is roughly five hundred miles away and our plan was to stop halfway on route, spend the night, and then continue the next day. But being nineteen, we decided to drive through to Dover. There was a 2 a.m. ferry that brought us into Calais, France in the early morning. Feeling exhilarated, we agreed to drive on and eventually stopped in Soissons, another one hundred and fifty miles down the road. We felt so clever having added another day to our vacation. After checking into a small hotel we fell asleep and awoke in the evening.

Dinner over, we walked around town and came across a carnival, which had the usual rides and games. I stopped at a rifle range. The rifle wasn’t real but shot a beam of light at a sensor on a robot that moved in one direction then another. I shot at it a couple of times and noticed that there was a split second in each rotation when the robot paused. I aimed at the sensor, pressed the trigger. Bullseye! A light flashed and a siren went off. I was presented with a bottle of champagne. I took another shot. Bullseye! Another bottle. Then another and another…  A crowd gathered to cheer me on. After about eight or nine bottles, sensing hostility from the owner of the stand, I quit. I could have gone on all night. We took the bottles back to our hotel and drank as many as we could. I remember lying in a bath pouring champagne over myself. We slept late the next morning and realized that we had gained no time at all.

Our route took us on back roads via a town called Gap, then over the beautiful Alpes Maritimes to Juan Les Pins near Antibes. As we neared the Mediterranean coast, the light changed. The air was crystal clear and the sunshine, bright. What a change from dreary Glasgow. For some strange reason, Ivor had installed an air horn in his car. It blared out “La Cucaracha, La Cucaracha” at very high decibels. He said we needed it to go over the Alps in Switzerland. A long switch drilled into the dashboard operated it. That night there was a celebration in town and a parade of cars was driving in circles around the main square pumping their horns. We joined in and regularly set off the air horn. At some point we returned to our hotel and were accosted by five really angry German tourists. They were complaining about the noise of the horn. We, of course, denied everything. This made them even madder and the leader, his face red and his eyes glassy, pushed past us, went in the car and pressed the horn on the steering wheel. ‘Beep’, it squeaked, ‘beep-beep’. He tried again, ‘Beep-beep.’ He didn’t notice the long switch on the dashboard and understandably pressed the horn in the center of the wheel. He was chagrined and apologized profusely. He slunk away, defeated. It was a perfect end to a perfect day. We stayed a few more days in the South of France lying on the beach and drinking and carousing. Then we drove into Italy but more about that later.

On leaving Italy we found ourselves near the Swiss border. It was the day of the World Cup soccer final and England was playing West Germany. We stopped at a roadside café to watch the match. Most of the patrons were German supporters and every time England scored a goal we cheered and were met with glares. England beat West Germany 4-2 and we were ecstatic.  We left and soon arrived at the Swiss border. There was a massive line of cars waiting to enter. At one point we saw a Swiss customs official walking down the road eyeballing the line. He approached our car, looked at the UK plates and came over to us shouting, “Champions Du Monde!” (champions of the world); he then allowed us to drive to the front past the other cars straight up to the border and into Switzerland.

The drive over the Simplon Pass was breathtaking, but not in the usual way. When we started our descent Ivor announced that the front brakes were failing. This was no joke as the road over the pass was a switchback. He put the car in low gear and I was in charge of the hand brake. Frequently he would yell, “pull” and I would yank on the brake. It took many hours to descend the mountains but we finally limped into Interlaken tired but elated. We found a service station and were told it would take 2 days to repair the car as the parts had to be ordered from Zurich. A few days later, brakes fixed, we set off for Geneva.

After checking into our hotel we walked around town and saw a sign saying, “The Scotch Whisky Bar.” How could we not enter? The bar was dark and had hundreds of bottles of scotch on the shelves. We started to talk to the barman/owner and some of his friends. Ivor who is not known for modesty started boasting about how we know everything about scotch. Frankly about all we knew then, was how to drink it. As Ivor got going his hyperbole grew. The next thing I remember was the owner challenging us to a whisky tasting. If we guessed correctly, we could have free drinks all night. My heart sank. I looked at Ivor and shook my head. The barman went off to the end of the bar and I watched him pour whisky into two glasses. We smelled the amber liquid, dipped our tongues in it, rolled it around in our mouths and pretended we knew what we were doing. Ivor then started to bullshit about the type of barley and the distillation progress. The crowd was watching intently. I said to Ivor, “You know what it is don’t you?” He looked me straight in the eye and said, “Absolutely. You know also, don’t you?” “Of course.” I answered adding,  “Do you want to tell them?” I saw panic in his eyes. “No you tell them.” I countered, “Ivor, you’re the expert, you tell them.” By now the bar was silent and Ivor was not looking happy. I paused a moment, “OK. I’ll tell. It’s, ehhh.” (Dragging it out for as long as I could) “Grants Standfast.”

Everyone turned to the bartender who was looking at us incredulously. He produced a bottle of Grants Standfast. The crowd erupted and everyone was suddenly patting us on our backs. Ivor was amazed. The barman was blown away and told us we could drink any scotch we wanted. Later on, Ivor quizzed me. I told him that when the barman poured the drinks, even though it was gloomy in the bar, I saw that the bottle was triangular in shape. Only Grants Standfast uses that shape of bottle.

We got mightily drunk that evening.

The next day we left for Paris. We arrived mid-afternoon, found a hotel in a seedy but quiet neighborhood and went walkabout. We had lunch and Ivor got some sort of food poisoning. He spent most of the afternoon in French toilets, which were none too clean before, and after, he left.  Around ten that evening we noticed that the streets near our hotel were bustling with people and merchants. On entering the hotel we discovered that it was a real, old-fashioned whorehouse with a madam and variety of women to choose from and it was smack in the middle of “Les Halles.” At that time it was the central fresh food market in Paris; it was demolished many years ago but then it was colorful and gritty. We were hungry and went into, “Au Pied de Cochon”.  This restaurant still exists today but in those days, it was much less of a tourist trap. We ordered a great French onion soup, which Ivor, to this day, credits with saving his life. We met some Americans in the restaurant. The man was an actor who had made his money in Schlitz beer commercials. With him were two women, one of whom seemed to like me and we spent a pleasant night together. I thought her terribly old. She was about thirty-five.

But back to Italy. We were driving south from Genoa on the Autostrada Azzura. Ivor was at the wheel and as we passed a truck, Ivor said that the driver looked asleep. I turned round and it did indeed look that way. Ivor floored the car to get far away from the truck. A few miles down the road we encountered a traffic jam. A few cars lined up behind us. At one point I saw Ivor trying to move the car to the right but was blocked. I looked round and saw the truck fast approaching. He barreled into the stopped cars and they concertinaed into the cars in front of them. We were hit and knocked into the car in front. Fortunately the force was diminished by the time it reached us. The front and back of the car was damaged and miraculously no one was killed. (Ivor to this day swears we were catapulted over three cars and spun like a cork.). After a while we managed to free the wheels and drove into the nearest town, Pisa. We found a hotel and Ivor called his insurance company in Glasgow. He was advised to go to the local police station and make a report. No matter how hard we tried, all the policeman could talk about was the Ferrari in the back. He couldn’t care less about our accident. I asked him what was so special about the Ferrari. He looked at me incredulously, “William Holden. It belong William Holden. He kill a man.”

The day before, in a drunk-driving incident he tried to overtake a Fiat on the inside, struck the car and killed its driver. He was eventually given an eight-month suspended sentence.

The Great 1967 Psychedelic Album of the Year Shootout

The Great 1967 Psychedelic Album of the Year Shootout

The Great 1967 Psychedelic Album of the Year Shootout

Jay Jay French

Part 1   The Contenders

I recently sent away for, and received, the 50th anniversary edition of the Rolling Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties Request, from now on  referred to as TSMR, for the sake of brevity.

I did this because I am a completist (meaning, in Rolling Stones terms, that I want/need to have everything they recorded up to Tattoo You, after which they no longer had any relevance to me)

Weirdly, in regard to TSMR, It may have been the least listened-to major release of 1967 in my collection at the time.

I clearly remember buying it at a headshop in the East Village on 9th street and Ave. B, on the first Saturday of December 1967 along with the also just-released Cream album, Disraeli Gears.

These two releases capped off maybe the single greatest year in the history of what is now considered the Classic Rock era.

These albums also put a finishing stamp on what I can now say is the greatest 12 month output of psychedelic music ever created.

My memories of TSMR at the time was that it was a second rate attempt to catch up with the Beatles SPLHCB (really, do I need to spell out the obvious?). I also remember that I loved Disraeli Gears so much and really didn’t spend all that much time devouring TSMR (the Beatles actually released Magical Mystery Tour to cap off the year, but I really didn’t get into it until well past Christmas so it’s not a part of this analysis).

When I received the 50th anniversary of TSMR I could see that the Stones and ABKCO went to really great lengths to somehow give you the feeling that they felt that this anniversary needed to be as celebrated and archivally presented in a matter that equated it with the incredible 50th anniversary of SPLHCB.

I was, at first, taken aback by that kind of seeming equanimity.

I mean really, how dare the Stones & ABKCO  think that TSMR could even be uttered in the same sentence as SPLHCB?  The gall!

Well, I listened.

A lot.

As I read the story of the Stones in the accompanying booklet, I began to understand where the Stones were coming from

In the deluxe package of TSMR  are 2 vinyl discs, 1 mono, 1 stereo plus 2 SACDs, one mono and 1 stereo.

A quick word here about SACD.

ABKCO really seems to like this format. EMI (meaning the Beatles) does not.

I can tell you that the SACD format for all the Stones albums that I now have in that format sound really good. In short, it has greatly improved the sound of some of the most classic albums you may own except if you own a great turntable and the original albums.

I do have many original Stones Decca (not London US) vinyl which do sound amazing!

There is also a huge 4 part double gatefold cover and a booklet (referred to earlier) with interesting facts about the recording as well as quotes from the band, many of which are not only interesting but brutally honest. It really was a drug-created and motivated project as I had suspected, and so different from any other Stones album before or since, as the foundation was not steeped in the blues which always anchored their basic sound.  In fact, it was so far out of their comfort zone that only a huge amount of psychedelics (mixed with heroin, of course) could explain it.

It now appears that, under pressure from the times they were in, especially with the Beatles creating the 800-pound gorilla SPLHCB, even a blues band like the Stones felt the need to “Go Psychedelic

So….how does it stand up?

How do many of these ground breaking artists LP’s stand up?

What really is the greatest Psychedelic Album of 1967?

The shootout rules were simple:

Find all the releases that I bought that year that seemed to have drug references or whose music and/or album cover denoted a hazy, crazy colorful attempt to simulate a mind bending experience.

Here are the contenders in no particular order:

The Grateful Dead–Debut

The Doors–Debut

The Jimi Hendrix Experience–Are You Experienced-Debut

The Beatles– SPLHCB

Pink Floyd Piper at the Gates of Dawn-Debut

Rolling Stones– TSMR

Jefferson Airplane — Surrealistic Pillow

Moby Grape--Debut

Cream– Disraeli Gears

Special mention:

Incredible String Band– 5,000 Layers of the Onion.

I owned it, lost it, saw them in concert twice but have very little memory of it or them so I can’t comment on it

Oh, and one more thing. I didn’t smoke weed until September 1967. I also didn’t take acid until April 1968, at which time several of these records had very different meanings.

This is the end of part one.

I realize that some of you may wish to throw your 2 cents in on this by suggesting ones that are not on the list.

I will add to this list any suggestions you may add only if I actually owned the record and can remember my response to it.

Like a Circle in a Spiral

Richard Murison

On a piano keyboard, most of us know that all the white notes are identified by the letters A–G, while the black notes are the sharps and flats … written A♭, B♭, C♯, D♯, etc.  If I’ve lost you already, then fair warning – this column may not be for you … J.

If we list all the notes in ascending (or descending) order, then we find that we go through each of the 12 white and black notes once, after which the sequence keeps on repeating itself ad infinitum.  It’s as though the notes were all arranged in a circle, and we simply kept on going round and round.


Here we can see the second thing that stands out about musical notation.  All the black notes have two names.  We can choose either C♯ or D♭, and likewise G♯ or A♭, and so forth.  This circular arrangement of musical notes is called the Circle of Semitones, because each adjacent note is separated by an interval of one semitone.

I wrote about some of the theory underlying musical notes back in Copper 31, and in particular I wrote about how the different notes are related to each other by the ratios of their frequencies.  In particular, I noted the important interval of one-fifth, and how we could jump from any one note to the note one-fifth above it by multiplying its frequency by 1.5.  So let’s take our Circle of Semitones, and draw lines connecting every pair of notes which are an interval of one-fifth apart.

It is a nice star shape, and if we trace the star path around the notes we see that it stops off once at each of the 12 notes before eventually returning to where it started from.  We can do something interesting with this information.  We can draw a new circle, formed by notes which are one-fifth apart.  Here are the two circles, side-by side:

I have left the same pattern of connecting stars in each circle.  If you look carefully, you will see that the pattern of stars in each circle traces out the order in which the notes appear around the outside of the other circle.  As it happens, mathematically speaking, both diagrams are actually topologically identical (an observation which, while undoubtedly interesting, yields no useful musical insights that I am aware of).  In any case, the circle on the left is known as the Circle of Semitones, while the one on the right is known as the Circle of Fifths.  The Circle of Fifths is by far the more interesting of the two, so we are going to focus on it.  And I am going to start by observing that all of the white notes and all of the black notes are grouped together, as illustrated in the diagram below:


All of the white notes are in the shaded section, and they happen to be the notes which form the scales C-major and A-minor, which, most of you will know, require none of the black keys.  So now I’m going to rotate the shaded section by one position in an anticlockwise direction:


The shaded section now includes one of the black notes, the one which is shown as being either A♯ or B♭, and at the opposite end has moved one position away from B, which is no longer included.  So if we choose to call the new note B♭, then the seven notes within the shaded region still contain the letters A – G.  If we had chosen the A♯ representation instead, we would have both A and A♯, and no B, which is more confusing, and harder to work with.  With the shaded region rotated this way, the note which now occupies the position previously occupied by C (the major tonic position) is F.  So the shaded region represents the notes comprising the scale of F-major (and, likewise, the scale of D-minor).  And in both of those scales, every time the note B appears, it is always actually B♭.  This is why the key signature of F-major has one flat, which always appears in the position of B:

Now we can simply repeat the procedure, and rotate the shaded section a further position anti-clockwise:


Notice how the note which is shown as being either D♯ or E♭, has now entered the shaded region, and E has dropped off the other end.  As before, we will call the new note E♭ rather than D♯ so that we still have all of the notes A – G included in the shaded region.  And now the note which occupies the major tonic position is B♭, so the shaded region comprises the 7 notes of the scale of B♭ major (and, likewise, G-minor).  Because all the B notes are now B♭, and all the E notes are now E♭, we can see that the key signature for B♭ major (and G-minor) will have two flats, located in the positions B and E:

As we repeat this procedure ad infinitum, it is easy to see that each time we rotate the shaded section anticlockwise we uncover a new black note, and drop off one of the original white notes.  On each occasion, the black note has the choice of being the ♯ (’sharp’) version of one note, or the ♭ (flat) version of the other, and we always end up choosing the ‘flat’ version because that is the note which has dropped off the scale at the other end.  So, for each position the shaded region rotates counterclockwise, we simply add another flat to the collection on the key signature, until we end up with five of them, signifying the keys of D♭-major and B♭-minor:

Things are very similar when rotating our shaded seven-note segment clockwise instead of counter-clockwise, but not exactly the same.

Here I have taken the original C-major alignment and rotated it one position clockwise.  Now the shaded segment includes the note which could be either F♯ or G♭, but has lost its F which has fallen off the other end.  This time, in order to have each letter from A – G appear once in the scale, we need to choose F♯ rather than G♭.  The major tonic position is now occupied by G, and so this must be the G-major (or E-minor) scale.  In both of those scales, every time the note F appears, it is always actually F♯.  This is why the key signature of G-major has one sharp, which appears in the position of F:

This time, as we repeat this procedure ad infinitum, it is easy to see that each time we rotate the shaded section one position clockwise, uncovering a new black note and dropping off one of the original white notes, the choice of black note is now always the ♯ (’sharp’) version of that note, and not the ♭ (flat) one.  So, for each position rotated, we simply add another sharp to the collection on the key signature, the first being F♯, then, in sequence, C♯, G♯, D♯, and finally A♯, until we end up with five of them, signifying the keys of B-major and G♯-minor:


At this point, some of the more observant among you will be wondering why the keys of D♭-major (with five flats) and B-major (with five sharps) are not the same thing since both of them use all five black keys, and that would indeed be a very good question.  So here are the shaded rotations for both D♭-major (on the left) and B-major (on the right):

We can clearly see the difference between the two, which is that D♭-major (on the left) includes all the black notes plus F and C, whereas B-major (on the right) includes all the black notes plus B and E.

You might also like to observe that as we go round the circle counter-clockwise, the black notes (which we designate with the ‘flat’ notations) follow the same sequence as the white notes.  In other words, if we start with B and go round the circle counter-clockwise, we get B, E, A, D, G, C, F, B♭, E♭, A♭, D♭, and G♭.  The same thing happens if we go round the circle clockwise, except that we designate the black notes with their ‘sharp’ notations) … F, C, G, D, A, E, B, F♯, C♯, G♯, D♯, A♯.  So you could argue that the Circle of Fifths is actually a Spiral of Fifths!

Already this column is way too long, so I don’t have time to go much further into this, but you might ask yourself what would happen if we kept rotating our shaded section beyond the points where we reached five flats and five sharps.  And indeed, there is nothing to stop us from doing that.  It’s just that the results have increasingly limited practicality.  Which isn’t to say that they don’t have any practicality … in fact we can’t realistically do without them.  But if you’ve got this far, and are still following me, I reckon you have a good chance of being able to figure it all out for yourselves.  There are just two additional concepts that you’ll need to arm yourselves with.

First, there is the notion that any given note can have multiple designations, which we have already encountered, since all the black notes have a choice of either a ‘flat’ or a ‘sharp’ designation.  Well, we need to extend that to the white notes as well.  For example, there is not a black note between B and C.  So it should not surprise you to learn that {B and C♭} are different designations of the exact same note.  As are {B♯ and C}.  Likewise, there is not a black note between E and F, so {E and F♭} are the same note, as are {E♯ and F}.

The second concept is that there are things called ‘double flats’ and ‘double sharps’.  Whereas a ‘flat’ lowers a note by a semitone, a ‘double flat’ lowers a note by a whole tone.  Double flat uses the symbol , so that B is the same note as A.  Likewise, double sharp uses the symbol , so that C is the same note as D.  There are even ‘triple flats’ and ‘triple sharps’, but those tend to go beyond the simply esoteric and into regions verging on the pointless.

Thus, in closing, if you took the original C-major ‘shaded section’ of my Circle of Fifths, and rotated it eight positions counter-clockwise, you would reach the key of F♭-major (and D♭-minor) whose key signatures would comprise six flats (including both C♭ and F♭) and a double-flat B♭♭:

Why Doesn’t My System Sound Better? (Or: A Neurotic’s Confession)

Dan Schwartz

By any objective measure, it sounds incredible.

But you know how people like us are: obsessive to a degree that’s way past the point of fault. Maybe I’m romanticizing how it used to sound. Maybe the placement of things makes a bigger difference than I suppose. Maybe I don’t care enough or can’t hear well enough anymore.

Currently, my set-up consists of a DirectStream DAC through an old PS Audio PS-IV preamp (always used with the line-amp out of circuit – so, really, just a source-selector and volume control), and then into a pair of Brown Electronic Labs 1001 Mk. IV/Vs[1], and then my speakers: an astonishing pair built for me over 20 years ago by Richard Marsh (after a pair he had built for himself), using Dynaudio speakers, cabs from somewhere in Canada, crossover components of his design, and Cardas and other internal wire. They’re roughly a D’Appolito design, with five drivers: two 10-inch woofers, two fairly large mid-range drivers, and Dynaudio’s most exotic tweeter per side. Many years ago, at the suggestion of Robert E. Greene, I got a pair of felt surrounds for the tweeters to minimize diffraction –– made for me by a man in Texas. Right now, the cabling is from Audioquest: Wind interconnects and Rocket 88 speaker cables have replaced my old Cardas.

I regularly check the set-up for its IQ — its “Invisibility Quotient”. And as I said: objectively, it’s rarely been less “visible” — even sitting off axis, the speakers just about vanish. So why do I feel so unfulfilled?

I remember well the very first time I heard extraordinary digital. It was 2007 at a shop in LA where Scot Markwell worked. I went to hear the Antique Sound Lab Hurricane amps, but Scot was excited for me to hear something he had just gotten — The NovaPhysics Memory Player. And it was absolutely mind-blowing. Listening to records I had worked on was like being in the control room hearing the tape.

Ten years later, maybe I’ve just gotten used to good digital sound. And though I used to have a NovaPhysics Memory Player (courtesy of Mark Porzilli, its designer), I now have a DirectStream. Maybe the difference in what I hear is the difference in the design. It might be that somewhere in my pea brain, I still want the Memory Player’s sound — although, when I listen, as right now, the sound is just incredible. Maybe it’s just the never-ending quest of me being neurotic.

I’ve tried to discern why I hear almost no difference between 16/44.1 files and higher resolution ones. A series of emails with the eminent Ted Smith, while complicated with math, confirmed what I thought. Put simply: everything plays back as DSD, whether it’s 44.1 numerical stream or a 192k one, and that, in my simple way of putting it, minimizes the differences. For those not afraid of a little math, I’ll post Ted’s comments:

“Just to make things clear, everything is upsampled to 20 x the nominal DSD rate (which is 64 x the CD rate) = 56.448Mhz.  Not that it matters a lot to the end user but PCM is first upsampled to 352.8k or 384k (depending on whether it divides one or the other), then that is upsampled by 160 x or 147 x to get to 56.448Mhz.

“After that the signal is converted to a quad rate (11.2896MHz) single bit output with a sigma delta modulator.

“If his question was about how sigma delta modulators work, that’s pretty hard to explain accurately in a few words.  From the 30,000 ft. level, a sigma delta modulator outputs a 1 or 0 (which translate to a 1 or -1) depending on whether the low-pass filtered complete output stream so far is higher or lower than the input.  That amounts to a tight feedback loop around the decision about whether the next sample is a 1 or -1.  By construction it’s obvious that you get back the original signal with just a low pass filter since that’s what the feedback loop was driving the output to.  The devil is in the details.

“As Paul mentioned, there’s a much smaller difference than most people believe between a 16/44.1k signal and a 24/192k signal. In part, (that) is a natural result of a lot of oversamplers for 44.1k not being as good as they could be; with a 192k signal how the upsampler is designed/implemented isn’t as critical.”

So, since the output of the device is one-bit, i.e. the most spectacularly simple of filters, and we hear everything through this output, the great variety of lossless files are all driven towards this. And this is great. So what’s bugging me?

I don’t know. But I can speculate: the obvious thing is the different DACs, though that doesn’t answer just what the difference IS. Then there’s my hearing: maybe the tinnitus has really gotten worse and pervades listening, although I think I’d know that. Maybe after so many years of great sound, I’m just being more neurotic than I used to be.

But here’s what I think it is: I think the DirectStream DAC and the Memory Player do an equal but different job of decoding the signal — AND that difference is very slight, in the way-upper-mids to lower treble, AND I think I grew to love that presentation. As much as I love the DirectStream, I think I should add a touch of EQ to the signal to see about that.

But there’s another way to think about this. That’s that the slight elevation of upper-mids to lower-treble is false; that though we — or at least some of we — come to expect it of recording, and hear that slightly increased band as meaning greater presence, it only represents reality (we could even say it over-represents it). I wrote eons ago in the pages of TAS about walking in Pasadena with Allen Perkins and our wives and hearing a solo violinist echoing among the brickwork and noting how far removed it was from any recording. This comes to mind as I listen to a Water Lily recording done with the same equipment I own (Tim DeParavicini’s mics, mic amp and one-inch recorder) of the Philadelphia Orchestra, seated where Robert E. Greene suggests as an ideal listening spot, and wonder how anything could be more realistic.

Allegedly, I’ll be heading out to Porzilli’s in a month or so, and, allegedly, will return with another Memory Player. And if it hasn’t changed too drastically in the intervening years since I had one, I will get to resolve my neurosis.

PS – as you may know, Porzilli was the designer of the Pipedream speakers, and after that the Scaena. He has a new design — and it looks spectacular.


[1] The amps are vaguely for sale. Over 25 years ago, I realized that my whole system had been made by my friends, and with Richard’s death a few years back, and the purchase of BEL’s “assets”, the amps no longer feel quite like mine. When they sell, I’m planning on a pair of BHKs.

Close Encounters

Close Encounters

Close Encounters

Bill Leebens

Materials Science

Bill Leebens

I’ve danced around this subject before, with my discussions of tone and wood. Back a million years ago in my college days, I majored in mechanical engineering, focusing on internal combustion engines and materials science. I was a bit obsessed with the magic of the stuff things are made of, and the intervening decades have only produced even more magical stuff.

In the words of my favorite philosopher, Yogi Berra, “You can observe a lot by watching”. Similarly, you can tell a lot about the stuff things are made of by tapping on them with your fingernail. Granted, it’s not as catchy as that Yogiism, but it’s true, nonetheless.

Audiophiles know this: everyone does the infamous knuckle-rap test to see just how dead that speaker enclosure is, and more than a few of us have suffered bruised knuckles from it. We know that tapping on a paper speaker cone will create a pup-pup-pup sound, wheraeas pinging an Indian brass bowl with a nail will cause it to ring like…well, a bell.

What do we learn from those exercises? The paper cone and brass bowl demonstrate the extreme ends of the spectrum of resonance, low-Q versus high-Q. In the obtuse and obfuscating language of engineering texts, “Q” stands for “quality factor” which represents how well damped a circuit or resonator is. When you tap that paper cone, the impulse—sound—dies out pretty quickly, which would indicate a low-Q, or overdamped, resonance. That brass bowl, ringing for minutes—that would be an example of a high-Q, or underdamped, resonance.

E.J. “Ted” Jordan, the British speaker designer, was known for eloquence of expression as well as for the elegance of his designs. In his 1963 text, Loudspeakers, Jordan defined Q as ” the magnification at resonance”. If you can wrap your head around that brief description, that’s a pretty good definition.

The first loudspeakers a century ago had cones made out of paper because that’s the stuff they had to work with. It was readily available, and when molded into a cone shape, could be surprisingly stiff and strong. Just don’t poke a hole in it—then it all goes to hell. Many of us have had the misfortune to wreck an old driver with a slip of the hand; I still wince when I recall a screwdriver mishap with the big paper-cone speaker in a ’36 Philco console radio.

Don’t think that the paper was simple writing paper; it was often reinforced/stiffened/damped with everything from wool, cotton, or linen fibers, to—in later years—glass fibers, glass beads, almost anything that was lightweight and stiff. Or not: different makers had differing ideas of what made up an ideal cone, and as you can imagine, the characteristics of paper made with cotton fibers and paper fleshed out with glass fibers were radically different. In broad terms, the former would possess a lower Q, the latter, a higher  Q.

The Altec 604: first introduced 60 years ago, still made by Great Plains Audio. Paper cone—but mellow? Nah.

In general, paper cones are chosen because of their low mass and their tonal characteristics, which are largely defined by the low Q of the cone. While many would characterize paper-cone drivers as “mellow”—the classic sound that defined rock’n’roll was the sound of tube amps and paper-cone Jensen, Celestion, and JBL drivers. Jimi Hendrix and Pete Townshend “mellow”? Really?

Current speaker systems that utilize paper cones might be thought of as “anti-audiophile”, emphasizing tonality and the gestalt of music rather than the hyper-etched detail often used to create impressive demos of…well, those audiophile faves. Such brands would include DeVore Fidelity, Auditorium 23, and Audio Note. Interestingly enough, those same companies tend to utilize cabinet construction techniques that go against the ultra-rigid norms of audiophile favorites: DeVore often utilizes bamboo, and Audio Note writes of their AN-E speakers, “…the cabinet is lightly braced and little internal damping is used. The cabinet is designed in such a way that it augments and supports the drivers in their task, not unlike the box of a guitar.”

Brands like Focal, Magico, Wilson, and YG generally favor “modern” driver materials like ceramics, diamond, and beryllium (although Focal just introduced the Kanta line which combines flax-cone woofers with beryllium tweeters?!?), combined with ultra-dense cabinet materials designed for maximum inertness. In the past, those drivers have been characterized as “tizzy”, but much of that has been alleviated in recent years due to a better understanding of the types of crossovers needed to best utilize them without aggravating their intrinsic high Q. Ted Jordan—mentioned earlier—developed a line of speakers in the ’70’s which had aluminum-cone drivers and glass enclosures. Jordan claimed that glass had a single, high-Q resonance which was easy to control or damp, whereas wood materials had broad, low-Q resonances which muddied the speaker’s response. Ted was long a pioneering designer, having shown a full-range electrostat at the same UK show where the Quad ELS was first shown—so who knows? Maybe he was right.

Synthetic diamond speaker diaphragms produced by Thiel & Partner/Accuton. Ideal? Maybe. Maybe not.

Audiophile discussions often degenerate into sweeping, black-and-white generalizations, such as “accuracy” versus “musicality”. Is one school right, and the other wrong? Not to wimp out, but just as in the analog-vs.-digital discussions, each side has its merits. But as with audiophiles on forums, designers tend to be acolytes of a particular school of thought, and  respond as Colin Chapman of Lotus once did: “I can’t do that! That’s a bloody COMPROMISE!”

I’m certainly not going to tell you what to like. Personally, I own speakers with driver cones/diaphragms made of paper, cloth, plastic, metal—and ionized air!  So, decide for yourself.

Are you HAPPY now?

Diminished Capacity

Diminished Capacity

Diminished Capacity

Charles Rodrigues

Hi-Fis, Cars, and Planes

Bill Leebens

Through the years my idea of listening to a stereo has evolved, to where I’m now at the point where I expect  to be totally transported and blown away by a sound system— if that’s what I want it to do. Obviously, the little Zenith would prove inadequate for that task—just as the performance of the Wright Brothers’ plane or a Model T would fail to impress by today’s standards.

Here’s what would now be the sort of stereo which could satisfy my occasional lusts for overwhelming sonic power while still maintaining grace, beauty and sweetness. In other words: sonic purity. To me, this is an impressive modern stereo:


The IRS Vs playing Pink Floyd!!!

That little Zenith and the IRS both do the same thing: they allow you to experience the electronic reproduction of recorded music. —And yet, the potential experiences are also light years apart.

Having said that, here is the obvious, but until-now unstated fact: there is no difference in how they sound when they are both turned off. The less we demand of any of our stereos—or cars, or planes— the less their performance differences matter. Cars moving at 0 MPH or stereos playing at 0 db  are all equal in performance.

Of course, bigger, louder and faster is not always automatically the better choice. A Ferrari can be tough to drive in stop and go traffic, as in the case of this 949-horsepower accident waiting to happen —but you only have to wait about 2 minutes:


Compared to a drive in almost any other car, a ride in a La Ferrari would be a transcendent experience— just as being in a fighter jet catapulted from an aircraft carrier is light years beyond the Wright Brothers’ takeoff, or even that of a Concorde.

There are many important elements to be appreciated when comparing different stereo listening experiences, such as tone and image, but  I’ll argue that at the top of the list is POWER.

In cars and planes, we control power with throttles and accelerators. With a stereo, we use a volume control. Just as when driving I vary my gas pedal more than any other part of my car I adjust my volume control more than any other aspect of my stereo. Up and down a tiny smidge at a time, or in great big leaps and bounds all at once.

For me, beautiful lovely stereo sounds come from soft volumes and sound that’s sweet, rich and creamy. I love that. But: the overwhelming, awe-inspiring  stereo experiences I’ve had all  involve a lot of size, and a lot of volume. Without tremendous size and volume I don’t reach that escape velocity, There is no liftoff, and I don’t take flight.

Look at those IRS Vs loudspeakers: they are huge and intimidating. I am quite sure they can sound quite lovely but no one puts together a system like that for the purpose of keeping it quiet all the time. There is a whole lot more stereo there than anyone needs— especially if you intend to always obey the posted speed limit.

We use numbers to convey information, and horsepower seems to be the first thing people seem to want to know about any particular car. With stereos, we talk wattage. Horsepower and wattage seem reasonably analogous. But, I almost never hear a description of a stereo experience defined in terms of how loud a piece of music was played. While a car experience is often discussed in terms of speed/mph sound is rarely discussed measured by spl/dB.

I’d be surprised if you told me you found  your ride in a Formula 1  race-car boring— but not if you told me you never got above 30 mph. Cars become an entirely different experience depending upon the speed at which they are driven, or by the rpm to which the engine is revved.

So it would be for an audition of the IRS V.  I’d be surprised if you told me you were not impressed by your IRS audition— but not if you told me you auditioned them listening to “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window”,  played back at 50 db.

All I know is that  if I ever showed up to hear the IRS V’s I’d be  listening to a lot of sound Big and Loud, often going into the decibel triple digit range. How would I know? Easy enough. I could use a little sound meter so that when I am telling you what it was like I could give you something accurate for you to use in creating you own mental image of what the experience was like for me.

I’ll finish with this: I had put on my living room stereo for  background music while writing. I chose, almost at random, a CD by Celtic singer Loreena McKennitt playing at about 75 db. It was lovely. The CD finished and the player moved over to the next disc, which was one of my very favorites by Trans-Siberian Orchestra. I found it almost annoying at that level: it did nothing for me.

I picked up my remote and just bumped up the volume to an easy sweet spot which turned out to be around 100 db— which is the big, beautiful sound I am hearing right now. The sound for me at this volume has launched.

I wonder where the IRS’ volume sweet spot would be? Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power….