Ed Meitner is one of those rare individuals who charts his own course in audio product design. From his platterless turntable of the mid-1980s to his new Intelligent Digital Audio Translator (IDAT, reviewed elsewhere in this issue), Ed Meitner's products have been distinguished by original thinking and innovative engineering. Although not all his designs have been commercially successful, in each he has attempted to advance the state of the art by rethinking fundamental principles.
Ed is also pursuing an ambitious project that would radically change the way recordings are made. It began when he recorded an electric guitar through a 10" guitar-amp loudspeaker and was dismayed that it was impossible to even come close to capturing and realistically reproducing this apparently simple sound through another 10" speaker. This experience launched his investigation into why reproduced sound is never mistaken for live music, a quest that may result in a radically new recording technique.
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.
Editor's Introduction: One of the big industry stories of 1985 was the split, both personal and commercial, between the British Linn and Naim companies. Led by Ivor Tiefenbrun and Julian Vereker (footnote 1) respectively, both companies had started up in the early 1970s. Both men held similar views, both about the fat-cat complacency of British designers (which had led to a grievous sound-quality slump in the mid '70s), and about the system rethinking necessary for what some writers, unaware of the rigors of thought required by followers of that spiritual descendant of Fowler, William Safire, would term a "quantum leap" forward in sound reproduction.
For the musically prolific, releasing too many records too close together can be problematic or worse. Just because you can make a record every week in your home studio doesn't mean you should. The impulse to commit every golden thought and performance to tape without self-editing or even pausing to reflect screams narcissism run amok. Asking listenerseven dedicated fansto then buy and spend time listening to half-baked nonsense that might have become something, given more time and care, is a sure career destroyer. There's truth in the old saw about building demand, avoiding saturation, and creating a hunger among the listening public. Most critical of all, despite downloads, piracy, and Lady Gaga's pointy hats and eggshell entrances, the old Hollywoodism still applies: while spontaneity may sound like a radical idea, you're only as good as your last album.
We were saddened to hear of the passing, on December 10,of Audio Research founder William "Bill" Zane Johnson. Bill, who founded Audio Research in 1970 and became its Chairman Emeritus in 2008, is survived by his wife Nancy (left in photo) and family. We are preparing a tribute to Bill, to be published in the March 2012 issue of Stereophile, but meanwhile, we are reprinting here an interview Paul Messenger and I conducted with Bill that was originally published in the June 1983 issue of Hi-Fi News. (My thanks to HFN editor Paul Miller for permission. Stereophile's 1994 interview with Bill can be found here.)John Atkinson
"So where did it all go wrong, George? When did the major-label record business begin slipping away?"
Before he can answer, I recall something George Avakian once told me over the phone. "Goddard Lieberson [former president of Columbia Records] said, 'I'm tired of sitting in A&R meetings with record guys. Get me some lawyers and accountants who don't want to argue about music.'"
"I don't remember saying that, but that's very interesting," Avakian says with a mischievous smile of recognition.
Big bands died out back in the 1950s, right? They went away when the jitterbug faded and folks began dancing to music other than swing? And then real jazz fans departed when the bebop soloists came along and made big-band players look clumsy and quaint?
Whistling ductwork, whirring fans, murmuring pipesalong with being jazz's most storied location, a living shrine to the memories of Bill Evans, John Coltrane, and so many others, Manhattan's Village Vanguard, on Seventh Avenue South, was, on this winter's night, the Das Boot of jazz. In every corner, every stairwell, every square foot of available backstage space, some kind of furnace machinery audibly ground, banged, and/or wheezed away.
In its first three years, UK hi-fi manufacturer Mission Electronics employed a number of engineers to reinforce the creative talents of founder and hi-fi enthusiast Farad Azima. The lineup included John Bicht, now with Versa Dynamics, and Stan Curtis, now heading up Cambridge Audio. But when Farad's brother Henry"Henry" is actually a nickname and I am sure you can see the derivationjoined the company in 1979, he brought both a much-needed stability, and initiated a considerable degree of commercial success for the company's products. Now resident in Canada, he spends his time commuting between his laboratory in Toronto and the company's headquarters near Cambridge, England (footnote 1). Prior to joining Mission, however, Henry had served in the Iranian Navy for 15 years, an unusual training for an audio engineer. I asked him if this had been an appropriate preparation for the world of hi-fi.
Henry Azima: I had actually been a student in the UK, studying electronic engineering at the University of Surrey in Guildford. When I left the Navy in 1979 after the revolution in Iran, I moved to the UK and got a job with my previous University as an Assistant Lecturer and Researcher. However, Farad then asked me out of the blue to join Mission. I said, "Well, I have no idea about hi-fi, and stuff like that." He said, "You will learn, there's no problem!"
At a time when the heads of most record labels barely know how to play a record, let alone make one, Manfred Eicherowner, founder, and inspiration of ECM Records, which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2010has been intimately involved in the making of nearly 1200 of them. How many, though, can he actually remember working on?
"When I listen back to them, I know the story of every record," he says without a smile or a moment's hesitation. "There is never an easy record. Every record needs a lot of input and concentration and dedication and passion to be made, that's clear. Create an atmosphere that is a productive search for music, and when this is the case, you have very memorable records."
Someone, I forget who it was, once wrote a perceptive essay on how in any field of human endeavor, apparent perfection is attained only when that field is in the process of being superseded. The Palace at Versailles was built when the power of the French monarchy was well into decline; Wagner's "music of the future" was in fact the end of a particular line of development; the nuvistor was developed almost simultaneously with the silicon transistor which would render tubes almost obsolete; and six years after the commercial introduction of Compact Disc, with record shops increasingly filling up with silver discs, to the detriment of black, turntables exist which render LP playback pretty much on a level with CD technically (many audiophiles, of course, feel that the LP has always been musically ahead).
Way back in the mists of time, around 1980 to be exact, the Marantz company in Europe introduces a range of ostensibly cost-no-object solid-state electronics under the "Esotec" banner. Manufactured in Japan, but apparently designed in the USA, these ruggedly constructed components are noteworthy in that the power amplifiers are capable of being operated with the output stages running under class-A bias as well as class-B. The relatively expensive Esotec amplifiers sell in small numbers in the UKremember that this is before the rebirth of the British high endand pass into the history books. I am reminded of them, however, when I visit my friend Ivor Humphreys of Gramophone magazine at Christmas 1987; he is using a pair of the 30W mono class-A Marantz amplifiers to drive KEF R107sand making very nice sounds.
Bo Christensen, who was the guiding light behind, first, Primare, then Bow Technologies, graduated as an architectnot surprising, considering his products' drop-dead-gorgeous looks. I talked with Bo while preparing my review of his Bow Technologies ZZ-Eight CD player (see Stereophile, August 1998, Vol.21 No.8), and started by asking him if his knowledge of electronics was self-taught.
It is a widely held belief that musicians do not assess hi-fi equipment in the same way as "audiophiles." I remember the British conductor Norman Del Maran underrated conductor if ever there was onestill being perfectly satisfied in 1981 with his 78 player, never having felt the need to go to LP, let alone to stereo. And some musicians do seem oblivious to the worst that modern technology can do. I was present at the infamous Salzburg CD conference in 1982, for example, where Herbert von Karajan, following one of the most unpleasant sound demonstrations in recorded history, announced that "All else is gaslight!" compared with what we had just heard. J. Gordon Holt proposed a couple of years back ("As We See It," Vol.8 No.1) that sound is not one of the things in reproduced music to which musicians listen. I have also heard it said that even the highest fidelity is so far removed from live music that a musician, immersed in the real thing, regards the difference between the best and the worst reproduced sound as irrelevant to the musical message: both are off the scale of his or her personal quality meter.
As fascinating as the design of high-end hardware can be, it goes without question that without musical software (or firmware, as our more computer-minded readers would have it) of an appropriately high standard, the whole business would be pointless. Stereophile's interviews have therefore often featured engineers and producers whose recorded work reveals sound quality to be a major concern. I interviewed Performance Recordings' James Boyk back in Vol.9 No.6; J. Gordon Holt spoke in Vol.10 No.3 with Doug Sax and Lincoln Mayorga, of Sheffield Lab, and with Keith Johnson of Reference Recordings, about their history-making Moscow sessions; JGH also discussed Brad Miller's and Lou Dorren's Colossus digital project in Vol.10 No.1 and Vol.11 No.4; while last month Dick Olsher interviewed Peter McGrath, responsible for some superb-sounding recordings for Harmonia Mundi USA as well as for his own Audiofon label.