Monday, January 14, was a difficult day for the abandoned amusement park that is my body. In the morning, I packed two Lamm ML2.2 amplifiers into their wooden crates and wrestled them outside for collection by some unlucky air-freight courier. After that, I backed up my car to the tiny front porch of our house so I could unload a pair of 1966 Altec Valencia loudspeakers I'd collected the day before: in excess of 100 pounds each, just like the crated Lamms, but considerably larger.
Beethoven understood the pathos of the gap between idea and realization, and the sense of strain put on the listener's imagination is essential.Charles Rosen
Bass, like sex, is something most young men desire in excess: To the novice, quantity trumps quality, and as long as he can hear from his playback system the deepest sounds of an orchestral bass drum or five-string electric bass (low string tuned to B-0 or C-1), he is completely satisfied.
Let's say you're lucky enough, or just plain old enough, to have bought a copy of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood on January 12, 1966. Let's say you're lucky enough or just plain smart enough to have held on to it and kept it in perfect shape for the past 47 years. And let's say it was one of the first 500 copies, which the author signed. If so, congratulations: For once in your life, even the smuggest collector can't claim that his copy of a book is "better" or more valuable than yours.
Sad though they may be, Flat Earthers endure in getting two things right: In any music-playback system, the source is of primary importance; and in a music system in which LPs are the preferred medium, the pickup arm is of less importance than the motor unitbut of greater importance than just about everything else.
By the end of last month's column I'd invested a total of $290 in acquiring and refurbishing a 55-year-old Rek-O-Kut Rondine Jr. turntable. In the weeks that followed I spent just a few dollars more on some small partsone of which sprang from a technology that I don't believe existed in the 1950sthat made small but welcome improvements in the performance of this outwardly simple player. I'll come back to those improvements in a moment, but for now let's get started on putting Junior back together again.
For the qualities I most value in a music systemimpact, substance, texture, color, and, above all, the ability to play lines of notes with a realistic sense of momentum and flowthe venerable Garrard 301 and similar well-made turntables with powerful motors and idler-wheel drive are the sources to beat. Unfortunately, good-condition samples of the Garrard 301 and 401, the Thorens TD 124, and any number of exotic EMTs have become scarce and ever more expensive.
Apart from a 2004 column in which I made cruel fun of the angriest (footnote 1) complaints I'd received to that pointan entertaining if lazy template I hope to re-use before longI've done little to acknowledge the mail I receive every week, most of it thoughtful and positive. I'm especially grateful for the nice letters I get every time I write about vintage audio, as I did in Stereophile's August issue ("Five vintage loudspeakers you should hear before you die"): The art of music is best served by an open-minded approach to playback gear, and I'm encouraged to think that some Stereophile readers actually understand that.
Until recently, my favorite shirt was one I'd found on a clearance table at Macy's: a red paisley thing with long sleeves and a button-down collar, not unlike the ones seen in photographs of Peter Holsapple or the young Syd Barrett. When I first found it, this shirt was dusty, and appeared to have been marked down at least a half-dozen times before bottoming out at a price that wouldn't buy a six-pack of Mountain Dew at the local stop-and-rob. Maybe it was on the verge of being discarded, but I suspect that the people at Macy's had simply forgotten it was there.
When I was seven years old, my father brought home an air-conditioner: a flimsy, hulking thing that sat in an open window just as a frame of X-ray film sits in an open mouth. It worked by consuming a steady diet of ice cubes and water, then blowing a fan across the slurry and into our grateful living room. It was loud and it stank and it wasn't very cold at all.
In the early 1980s, not long after I moved to New York City, I went shopping for a new pair of speakers. I already had a Rega Planar 3 turntable, an NAD 1020 preamp, and an Amber Series 70 amplifier (the second-most-powerful amp I've ever owned); what I now had in mind was to replace my aging EPI 100s with something bigger. Like them though I did, the EPIs were too tight and light for my new apartment, and I was certain I could find something with more bass and better scaleand still stay within my less-than-lavish budget.
In spite of having one end of my listening room devoted entirely to record shelving, there are now 15 cartons of LPs and 78rpm records scattered throughout my house, said bounty enduring as a source of distress for The Management. That prompted me to set about building a new record cabinet and equipment support to handle the spillover. That prompted me to take a fresh look at how my records are catalogued. And that prompted me to cull from my collection every mono record I own, thinking I would keep them separate from the rest.
In last month's column we met May Belt, whose contributions to domestic audiomade alongside her husband, designer Peter W. Beltall have to do with reflexive perception: conditions under which a listener's comprehension of music can be altered, given the presence or absence of certain nonsonic stimuli.
In 1862, skepticism among the educated was exemplified by the medical establishment, which ridiculed Joseph Lister's notion of "animals in the air." By contrast, the professional skeptic of 2012yes, it's now possible to make a comfortable living in the fieldfinds himself inconvenienced by 150 years of discovery, and makes do with ridiculing Lister for his Quaker faith. I guess that passes for progress in some circles.
Years ago, while editing Listener Magazine, I received a call from a record-company publicist with whom I was friendly: The drummer Ginger Baker, whose work I admire, was promoting a new release, and we were offered a 30-minute telephone interview with the artist. I jumped at the chance, but wound up leaving the article in the canpartly because it was so short, partly because its subject was so cranky. As with vacation trips to certain locales, second prize would likely have been 60 minutes with Ginger Baker.