Mark Levinson, born December 11, 1946, celebrates an important anniversary in 2002. Exactly 30 years ago he jogged onto the playing field of high-end audio, so early in the game that fans, then few and far between, could count the players on their fingers.
The high-fidelity industry seems a logical home for a jazz musician like Levinson, who once envisioned a career playing flugelhorn and double bass, but his voyage into audio was a detour that could be said to have begun at age 22, when he took a job working on a film about Joan Baez. "It was a joy to find people willing to pay me to do something," quips the trim, youthful 55-year-old, who is quick to recall his "nonexistent income as a musician."
Jonathan Scull: How long have you been making cables, Ulrik?
Ulrik Poulsen: It's actually close to three years now...It's a spinoff from other products we make. Actually, Alpha-Core manufactures magnetic cores and various materials and components for transformers...And we have a daughter company called Tortran that manufactures toroidal transformers. Anyway, five years ago we introduced a new product called Laminax. It's a combination of copper and aluminum with various kinds of dielectrics. This is laminated together continuously in various fashions to produce a material that's used as shielding for EMI and RFI in the electronics industry.
Nothing at 41 E. 62nd Street in Manhattan offers any clue as to what sort of business that takes place inside. The waiting room feels vaguely monastic: straw mats on the floor, a row of shoes near the door. Like a day spa offering acupuncture and shiatsu. There's no corporate name, no logo, no mission statement.
A clock running six and a half hours late hangs above a receptionist's unoccupied desk. An enormous white dog is asleep under framed pictures of old blues artists: Son Thomas, Etta Baker, Pernell King, Cora Fluker, Big Joe Williams.
Madrigal's chief executive officer is known for working well into the night, but that's been a goal of his since boyhood. For many years he dreamed of becoming a professional guitarist, and even dropped out of Yale to satisfy a ravenous musical appetite. "Enough of trying to be a Renaissance man," Phil Muzio recalls thinking at the time. His aim was to be out there on the bandstand making music.
"We tried to do some work between the legs of . . .
"Ummmm . . . that sounds weird."
Rock musiciansdo they ever think about anything but sex?
Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson chuckles. He explains that what he meant to say was that he, singer-bassist Geddy Lee, and the exalted, formerly mustachioed object of Planet Earth's most fervent drummer cult, Neil Peart, were trying to write songs during a break in a recent tour.
In May 2009, JA gave dems comparing hi-rez recordings against CD and MP3 versions at the three ListenUp! stores in Colorado. This was part of the Music Matters program, in which audio retailers invite manufacturers and the occasional member of the audio press to demonstrate just how great music can sound on a high-end audio system. Before the Denver event, JA sat down with Adrienne Alterman to share his views.
Imagine a speaker firm with an introductory product that pushes the outside of the performance envelope while tearing the pricing envelope to shreds. A reviewer in an audio journal that tilts toward the high end deems this speaker "appallingly expensive," notes he would have bought the test sample if he'd had the money, and confesses that being without it makes him feel "rather as though a member of the family has passed away." Now envision a speaker company at the peak of the industry sales curve, one so successful that a mainstream hi-fi magazine ranks it No.1 in market share for two separate years. Very different companies, right?
Even when Loudon Wainwright III (left in photo with Ramblin' Jack Elliot) was a young man he was writing autobiographical songs, and his old themes of family, sex, and death resonate more deeply on his new record, Older Than My Old Man Now. He usually performs solo, armed with just an acoustic guitar or a banjo, but most of his recordings present more heavily produced versions of LWIII's music. When I chatted with LWIII in late April I wanted to explore that dichotomy and how those transformations take place.
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?