Magnetic symmetry

May 11, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

There was a time before digital audio came onto the field where we had magnetic symmetry.

Our sources—both vinyl and tape—were magnetically coupled, while our playback too was driven by the power of magnetic motors in our speakers.

Magnets in and magnets out.

No physical connections between ins and outs.

All coupled through magnetism.

Today, of course, we’ve managed to eliminate the magnetic isolation (many would call distortion) of our sources.

All that is left is our magnetically coupled motors that move the air so we can hear sound (and even electrostats eliminated that).

On the source side, one could have argued that bits are magnetically stored first on floppy discs and later on hard drives but, alas, it’s almost all solid-state now.

I am pretty certain none of this actually matters. Not at the level of technical excellence most of us have arrived at.

I did find the idea of how everything we listened to was magnetically coupled intriguing (if not totally nerdy).

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21 comments on “Magnetic symmetry”

  1. “No physical connection between ins & outs”??…except for all those copper tracks
    (PCBs) & wires from the tape deck heads to, & including, the motors in the drivers.

    Speaking of magnetic tape…analogue; here’s an interesting presentation
    (not a review) from Steve Guttenberg.
    In particular, what he has to say about where the vast majority of music
    comes from that is being put on SACDs being bought today, right now.

    What I found particularly interesting is at the 12:00 minute mark…

    Steve says:- “In preparing to do this video today, I went over to the ‘Acoustic Sounds’ website
    to see what were the best selling SACDs, because people are still buying SACDs,
    so I put up some images. They’re all back from way back when, they’re all based
    on analogue recordings…the best selling SACDs right now…are all from long ago
    & far away; not a single one recorded to DSD.”

    Looks like, for now, analogue mastering still rules…even in the SACD domain.

    Apparently Apple has called time on the ‘I-Pod’ after 21 years…not a nice way
    to have to celebrate your twenty-first birthday 🙁
    Time, & technology, marches on.

    1. The strange thing is, especially those best selling analogue sourced SACD’s, although they seem to be so desirable as you cite, especially those recordings/masterings sound so much better on LP. People who favor those recordings on SACD really should buy a record player and the LP’s.

      The DSD recordings are great…it’s just that their existence just began quite short ago and extensively used (instead of pressing mostly PCM on an SACD disc) just by a few, often boutique labels. It simply doesn’t play a role yet unfortunately within the music repertoire.

      1. Hi jazznut,
        I can understand that, coming from your perspective.
        If it wasn’t for the pops, clicks, snaps & scratches,
        I may very well have stayed with vinyl.
        Also the dynamics, especially for Rock ‘n Roll music,
        from CDs (digital) tops vinyl, imo.

        Now that I’ve been with 44.1/16 CDs since 1984, &
        many others have too, it would be completely out of
        my budget to convert back to vinyl…& loose the
        tremendous dynamics that I’m used to…& have to
        deal with the feedback.
        Just sayin’ ✌

        1. A good record cleaning machine will take care of most clicks and pops, especially in combination with a good cartridge and proper turntable set-up. My cartridge rides about 1m behind the midrange driver of the nearest speaker and does not react with any feedback, even at reasonably loud (but not concert level) volume. But you’ve made your choice and are clearly enjoying it.

  2. For me air coupling is most obvious. Mic in, speaker out. Everything inbetween is the technology of the era. Some technology of past eras seems to stay forever, sometimes even a technology believed stone-dead, like cassettes, resurrects 😉

      1. FR, I have boxes of those tapes unopened.
        I had a few decks, all of which have expired, including a mid-80s ADS 3-head, which was the only deck that came close to my long-ago Nakamichi LX-7.

        RE: the video, I watched the whole thing, and came away with the impression that he just loves the sound of his own voice. 😉

    1. I agree with air in and air out. For me the in between is still ruled in part by the old technology of a moving coil cartridge and a turntable ( the other part is ruled by the a fore mentioned SACD ). What worries me is the old technology that lurks in the shadows. I have an old RTR tape deck that is badly in need of restoration. When I read Ken Kessker’s column in HFN&RR ( or in Copper magazine ) where he writes about RTR tape decks my heart starts to race and my temperature goes up. I tell myself I am too old, but there is a part of me that wants the RTR to come out of the shadows. The tug-of-war goes on.

          1. My wife still doesn’t understand when guys are getting on you it means they like you. She thinks we’re still cavemen and gave up trying to rehabilitate me years ago. LoL

  3. Nothing like a good degaussing here and there.

    Also Martin. Thank you for the Steve Guttenburg link. I’ll watch it when I get home from work.


  4. Before we had any electronic recording of music we had paper and ink. It is still in use and there are still gifted people who can look at that paper and ink ‘recording’ and hear it in their head.

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