Phono cartridgesalong with mothballs, hobnails, laundry bluing, hot-water bottles, lighter fluid, fur coats, and typewritersare among the most outdated of consumer goods: To most people who make their living in the world of consumer electronics, every new cartridge that hits the shelves is little more than a coughing spasm from the death-room down the hall. You can imagine, then, the welcome accorded new samples of the even more anachronistic pickup head, which combines phono cartridge, headshell, and barbell into a product one seldom sees outside the school librarian's junk drawer. New pickup heads, which tend to look the same as old pickup heads, are manufactured in pessimistically small quantities, and seldom get much attention.
My guest, an occasionally nice person, didn't mean her question in a nice way. It was pointed and derisive: a needle intended to burst whatever it was that made me think filling a room with thousands of LPs was a good idea. She didn't wait for an answerit would have been "Not quite"but I half think she half expected me to see reason on the spot.
I set out on a fishing trip but returned less than an hour later, empty-handed. You asked me, reasonably enough, "What happened?"
"I spent a half-hour digging in the garden for worms, but couldn't find any."
"You could have driven to Mr. Zetterstrum's farm, knocked on his door, asked his permission, and spent a few hours overturning the cowflops in his pasture. I'm sure you would have found one or two worms that way."
"You're right. I guess I didn't want to go fishing that badly."
As Mick Jagger has sagely observed, things are different today. Now I don't get complaints only when I give a bad or mixed review: I get complaints when I give a good review, said complaints coming not from the reviewee but from his competitors.
In a related story, America's park rangers and amateur videographers report a near-epidemic of wild animals getting their heads stuck in carelessly discarded food containers. In one such instance, a six-month-old black bear cub in Florida scarcely avoided death when a glass jar was removed from his head, after being stuck there for nearly two weeks. Employees of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, who saved the cub, named him Jarhead, for all the obvious reasons.
In 2010, sales of motorcycles equipped with sidecars accounted for only 4% of total motorcycle sales in the US. But that was a significant increase over 2009, which was itself an increase over 2008. While numbers remain low overall, sales of sidecar motorcycles are going up at a decent rate, while sales of most other motorcycles are in the toilet.
Word went out among the small, frightened woodland animals in this part of upstate New York: If you come down with rabies, go to Art Dudley's place and die under his shed. The latest was a raccoon that showed up last Saturday morning with a face full of burdocks and a head full of pain. Before wedging himself beneath the floor of my freestanding shed, the dying animal produced a series of moans and yips that frightened even my dog, a Jack Russell terrier who appears to have been a Somali pirate in a previous life. For the remainder of that sunny afternoon, my family and I holed up inside the house, unenthused about being bitten by an unpredictable animal with a diseased brain and a foamy mouth. (Feel free to imagine your own political joke in this space. God knows I did.)
It wasn't so much a vow as a prediction: After selling my last pair of Ticonal-magnet drivers and the homemade horns I'd carted around to three different houses, I supposed I would never again have a Lowther loudspeaker in my humble house.
That remains literally true: The 7" full-range drivers to which I'm listening today are from a German company called Voxativ; the horn-loaded cabinets from which they play were also designed by Voxativ, and are made in Germany by the Wilhelm Schimmel piano company. And, with all due respect to Lowther, the 75-year-old English loudspeaker firm that launched a thousand DIY fantasiesnot to mention a thousand very lively wavefrontsthe Voxativ drivers and horns take the Lowther concept further than anyone else of whom I'm aware.
As metaphors go, the silver bullet is somewhat ambiguous, given that it's used to represent both the reliably destructive and the reliably beneficial. (Who would have guessed that an idea from a Lon Cheney Jr. film would prove too subtle and complex for people in the 21st century?) Nevertheless, at Montreal's Salon Son et Image on April 2, those of us who comprised Stereophile's reliably responsive "Ask the Editors" panelJohn Atkinson, Robert Deutsch, and Ivolleyed it with the sort of sprightly, vernal abandon that is the sole province of men with gray hair. To wit: We agreed that no materials, technologies, or design decisions can either guarantee or prevent good sound. Not vinyl. Not star grounding. Not class-A circuits. Neither tubes nor transistors. Neither belt nor idler nor electrostats nor multiway nor single-driver nor copper nor silver nor silk nor beryllium. Not even harmonic distortion. Each of those ideas may mean something to someone, in the short term, in the narrow view, but that's all. There are no silver bullets.
"Push it gently in the foam to correct." It sounds like a line from The Dairyman's Guide to BDSM, but it's actually a quote from the installation manual for Linn's latest upgrade for the Sondek LP12 turntable. The kit in questiona DC motor, plus an outboard power supply/control unitis probably the most extreme to arrive from the Scottish firm, thus earning one of the company's least abstract name in ages: It is, indeed, the Linn Radikal. And along with a newly designed onboard phono stage called the Urika, the Radikal is the latest of what Linn calls their SE-series upgrades.
Like most people who are neither radio talk-show hosts nor members of the Westboro Baptist Church, I'd rather be known for my loves than my hates. And after wandering this audio wilderness for umpteen years, I can stand before you and say without shame: An unlovable phono transformer has yet to step into my path.
Audio journalism is an unwitting form of pornography, albeit one that debases the soul with materialism instead of carnalism. It encouragesinadvertently, of coursethe objectification of its subject matter, and can lead to Chronic Disappointment Syndrome, as well as a lifelong difficulty in forging healthy relationships with technology.
Those used to be just fun things to say. But now I worry they might be true, if only because thinking, reading, and writing about domestic audio have, of late, brought with them the chalky aftertaste of guilt.
That was called "love" for the workers in song; probably still is, for those of them left.Leonard Cohen
It started around 1950, as postwar economies boomed and commercial radio stations multiplied like bunnies: Broadcasters needed reliable, high-quality turntables, so Garrard Engineering and Manufacturingan offshoot of Garrard & Co., England's first Crown Jewelertook up the challenge. They brought their considerable engineering talent to bear on a new design, invested in the personnel and facilities required to make the thing, and released the model 301 motor unit in 1953. It was a huge successand, strangely enough, it still is.
Now I remember why I'm no longer a car enthusiast. I haven't got the time.
In my youth, when I wasn't driving my beloved car, I was washing it. Polishing it. Waxing its engine compartment. Spraying Armor All on its hoses and bushings. Cleaning its interior vents with cotton swabs, and its shifter boot with Lexol. I did all of my own maintenance and some of my own repairsthose of the latter that didn't require specialized tools, at leastand I kept the car covered with a car cover I bought from a mail-order house, along with lots of other crazy junk.
At the start of my teaching career, I discovered that it was more difficult to maintain order in a sixth-grade classroom early in the day than at any other time. First thing in the morning the kids were noisy and aimless, and banging my open palm on the chalkboard for their attention worked only once. So I gave my students that which most children crave, consciously or un-: a simple, clear explanation of what I expected of them.
What I expected of themin the short term, at leastwas this: They were required to answer three new questions, written for their benefit on that still-vibrating chalkboard, at the beginning of each and every school day. If the children didn't hand in their answers before the first-period classes began, I would not accept their homework from the night before, thus earning them a score of nothing. On the other hand, a good record of correct or at least entertaining answers to those morning questions would, I promised, be used to nudge upward any borderline report-card grade at the end of each quarter.
When you play recorded music, you have before you a work of art with almost no physical existence at all; reconstituting it requires electricity, which will itself imitate the musical continuum represented by the bumps in the groove or the zeros in the datastream. When you listen to recorded music, you are listening to your household AC, and better AC equals better playback. That sounds obvious to me and you, even as it sends the technocodgers into paroxysms of puritanical indignation.