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.
Although it was Thomas Edison who set the tone for technological development in the 20th century, with his intellectual sweatshop in New Jersey, it is the lone inventor who has always had a special place in the heart of the American public. Since the days of Samuel Colt, Eli Whitney, and Nikola Tesla, fortune and fame have awaited the genius tinkerer who emerges from his back yard with a better mousetrap, cotton gin, etc., etc.
Theodore Roosevelt might have described Allen Perkins as someone who speaks softly and carries a big stickor two. Before founding Immedia Distribution in 1990, and long before cofounding turntable manufacturer Spiral Groove in 2005, this soft-spoken designer of two award-winning turntables had begun a career as a jazz drummer.
"Turntable Wars" was the phrase used by Anthony H. Cordesman to head his review of the Oracle, SOTA, and VPI turntables in Vol.9 No.4. To judge from the reaction of the manufacturers at CES to this innocent phraseology, you would have thought that Stereophile had been warmongering, rather than publishing what were actually pretty positive opinions of the products concerned. So enraged was Jacques Riendeau of Oracle, and concerned that the record be put straight, that he insisted on a "right to reply" to AHC's review; as it happened, Ivor Tiefenbrun and Charlie Brennan of Linn (right in photograph, footnote 1), and SOTA's Rodney Herman (center in photo, footnote 2), also wanted to contribute to the debate, so a small crowd of illuminati gathered in Room 417 of the Americana Congress to commit opinions to tape. I held the microphone and clicked the shutter; Larry Archibald (left in photo) was there to lend the proceedings a businesslike air.
Stereophile: You are president of Esoteric Audio Research, a British manufacturer of tube amplifiers, and a world-renowned designer of tube equipment and output transformers. I thought we'd begin with a little background. Where were you born? What kind of education did you get to prepare you for a career in audio?
Doug Sax is undoubtedly one of the most controversial and outspoken figures in audio. As co-founder, with Lincoln Mayorga, of Sheffield Lab, Doug pioneered the first modern direct-to-disc recording. His perfectionist methods may be controversial, but the results certainly are not: Sheffield Lab recordings are nearly universally praised by the audiophile community, while the Billboard Hot 100 always features at least one Sax-cut disc.
Editor's Note: John Crabbe was Editor of Hi-Fi News & Record Review when I joined that magazine as a lowly editorial assistant in September 1976. At the end of 2007, I had asked Steve Harris to interview John for Stereophile, as part of an ongoing project to create an oral history of high-end audio (footnote 1). Sadly, John passed away in December 2008see "As We See It" and "Industry Update," in our March issue. We are publishing Steve's interview as a tribute to a man from whom I learned my craft as an audio magazine editor.John Atkinson
As founder of California-based Vacuum Tube Logic of America, David Manley is at the forefront of the current renaissance in vacuum-tube audio equipment. In addition to manufacturing some highly regarded audiophile components, VTL has introduced a line of tubed professional equipment that is finding its way into recording studios. David has a lifetime of experience in tube electronics, recording studio design, disc cutting, music recording, and most recently, analog/digital and digital/analog converter design.