Down with Dynagroove!

Editor's Introduction: In 1963, Stereophile's founder J. Gordon Holt published attacks on what he saw as the single largest step backward in high-fidelity sound reproduction at that time: RCA's introduction of "Dynagroove" LP records, where the recorded signal was pre-distorted and dynamically equalized to compensate for the poor performance of cheap phonograph players. "Issue 5...revealed most of RCA Victor's 'revolutionary' new system as nothing more than a sophisticated way of bringing higher fi to record buyers who don't care enough about hi-fi to invest in a decent playback system." Ten years later, Gordon wrote that, "As of 1974, the best we can say for Dynagroove is that there is no audible evidence of it on current RCA releases." (These articles were reprinted in June 1992, Vol.15 No,6, as part of Stereophile's 30th-anniversary celebrations.)John Atkinson

Down with Dynagroove!
In a press release dated February 8 [1963], Goddard Lieberson, president of Columbia Records, aimed an unprecedented broadside at Columbia's biggest competitor, RCA Victor. Speaking of Victor's new, flamboyantly promoted Dynagroove process, Mr. Lieberson said, "An analysis of this so-called system by our engineers has convinced us that it represents, not a forward step in our industry, but a backward step, because it is a step away from the faithful reproduction of the artist's performance."

He went on to elucidate at length, his main point being that in applying a "continuously varying frequency characteristic" to the signal, the Dynagroove system introduces "limitations upon artistic expression." This seemed like a strange statement, coming from the head of a record company that has been souping up their highs, compressing dynamics, and manipulating spot mikes during most of their recent recordings, but after listening to three of the initial Dynagroove releases, we must say we are in complete agreement with Mr. Lieberson. Columbia has committed some monumental insults to musical taste, but on the whole, their discs have at least managed to preserve most of the original musical relationships intact. We cannot say this about Dynagroove.

Two of the Dynagroove releases we auditioned were so bad that Stereophile's record critic, James Keeler, simply refused to review them. The third, an operatic recording, was less conspicuously gimmicked and was a good enough performance to draw our attention away from the constant comings and going of bass and treble...But Mr. Lieberson is right in asserting that Dynagroove is inimical to musical integrity, for not only does it constantly "rearrange" the original bass/treble balance of the music, it evidently excuses the use of more dynamic compression than we have encountered since the latter days of the 78rpm disc. If this constitutes "an evolution in the art of recording," to quote RCA Victor, then we are obliged to incite the industry to counter-evolution, for this is one kind of hanky-panky that no home-type tone control will ever be able to compensate for.

Dynagroove discs, although allegedly intended for use on topnotch systems, are nonetheless modeled on the assumption that "nobody listens at full concert-hall volume." We do listen at concert-hall volume—at least at the volume one might hear from the 20th row in a concert hall—and we bristle a bit at being rejected as a 'nobody.' "

This, of course, is the old story all over again. The serious listener, who listens to music instead of using it as a pleasant background for conversation, is a nobody as far as the record industry is concerned, and does not warrant its consideration.

We hope Dynagroove is abandoned, and the sooner the better. But if it isn't, we have two suggestions. For the serious stereophile, who is interested in getting the best available discs, we suggest purchasing them directly from dealers in Great Britain, where EMI is still cutting natural-sounding, ungimmicked stereo discs. We have compared a number of EMI's releases with their US counterparts, and in each case, the EMIs were cleaner, wider-range, and considerably more musical-sounding. The Gramophone, Hi-Fi News, and other British record publications available here carry ads for several mail-order record shops in England, many of which will be happy to fill orders from the US.

For the American record manufacturers, we suggest a premium line of stereo disc releases, paralleling the releases they now put out for the mass market, but cut with full dynamic range, full frequency range, and miked so as to produce the best stereo illusion when reproduced through speakers with adequate spacing between them. We, personally, would be happy to pay a buck or so more for recordings that would justify the expenditures we have made on high-fidelity equipment, and if the premium line wouldn't play on the mass-market phonographs, the customers might start asking some of the right questions. Such as, why won't a premium disc play on my Magnificent Console?
J. Gordon Holt

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scottsol's picture
Footnote 1

JA, I think you, have misinterpreted JGH's comments. He was refering to creating the impression of more dynamic range than is on the LP, not keeping perceived frequency balance the same.

On a compressed LP the increase in perceived bass during a crescendo would be less than what would be heard on a non-compressed recording, so JGH is right given the effect that he was addressing.

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