Down with Dynagroove! Page 3

33 critics CAN be wrong (from Vol.1 No.5, May-June 1963)
We have watched with avid curiosity the reactions of the other hi-fi publications to the new RCA Victor Dynagroove system and, up to the time of this writing, we have yet to see any of them raise any serious questions about it (footnote 2). As a matter of fact, record critics appear to be almost unanimous in their praise of it, judging by the reviews we have seen, and by the critical accolades quoted in a brochure that RCA Victor is circulating.

RCA Victor's pamphlet cites reviewers in High Fidelity, Hi-Fi/Stereo Review, the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Washington Post, the New York Herald Tribune, United Press International, and Time magazine, to mention but a few. The critics who were quoted included such respected personages as Messrs. Harold Schoenberg, Herbert Kupferberg, Paul Hume, and Raymond Ericson, so we can't dismiss all this favorable comment about Dynagroove as "bad judgment." These critics didn't build their reputations on bad judgment.

So how come The Stereophile appears to be alone in its opposition to Dynagroove? We can excuse the editors of the audio publications for keeping quiet about Dynagroove, for RCA Victor helps to pay their salaries. But what about the record reviewers, who are pretty much free to say what they please? We think we know the answer, because it is for this very reason that we felt obliged to run record reviews in The Stereophile: record reviewers may know their music, but most of them don't know audio.

Many of the record critics do their listening on department-store consoles. Some of them, who work for publications that demand some sort of editorial integrity from their reviewers, may be persuaded to install a component system for record reviewing. But because of the critic's basic lack of interest in and knowledge of audio, he will usually allow a local "expert" to choose and install his components, and will then forget about them until such times as a burned-out tube or a sour cartridge necessitates a repair. Because his occupation does not usually pay very well, and because of his professed disinterest in things technical, his system is likely to be of only moderate quality to start with, and it is not likely to be updated as the state of the art advances. In short, his system will usually be incapable of reproducing an intrinsically fine recording with maximum realism, yet he will think nothing of passing judgment on the fidelity of the discs he reviews.

The critic with the second-rate component system, as well as the one with the typical home-type console, does hear a truer sound from Dynagroove discs than from other discs, because his playback equipment is what Dynagroove is aimed at. But the more we remove from a playback system the deficiencies that Dynagroove compensates for, the more we end up hearing the compensations themselves, thus creating the interesting but discouraging situation whereby the better the playback system, the worse the sound.

Certainly, the end result is important, for that is, after all, what we listen to. If the sound of a Dynagroove disc through a mediocre phonograph were as good as or better than the sound of a really good disc played on a really good system, we could all buy mediocre phonographs and consider ourselves one step closer to perfection. But the fact is that no reproducer can restore to Dynagroove sound the original tonal balance, frequency range, or dynamic range of the original performance. The Dynagroove process, in effect, makes it absolutely impossible to recreate the original musical sound, and if this isn't a giant step backwards in fidelity, we don't know what is.

If our feelings about Dynagroove were based purely on opinion, we would be far less willing to go out on a limb about it. But judging by RCA Victor's own description of it, it violates the most fundamental precepts of high fidelity as a science, and falsifies original musical values to a degree that is unprecedented in the history of microgroove recording.

If Dynagroove becomes accepted as a new standard of fidelity, and other record manufacturers follow suit with their own variations on this no-fi theme, high fidelity as we know it will be a thing of the past.
J. Gordon Holt

Footnote 2: As Vol.1 No.5 went to press, Audio came out with a vitriolic Dynagroove review by Chester Stanton.
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