Listening #97 Page 2
Seriously now, the question(s): In order to do great things, is it important for a manufacturing company to have a distinct point of view, in the same manner as an individual artist or artisan? And if so, does the abandonment of that point of view necessarily correlate with a decline in qualityof ideas, if not of consumer goods themselves? Compare, contrast.
The number of the color
In the earliest days of the CD, during a time when the evidence of our ears suggested that the medium was considerably less perfect than the mainstream industry and its most ardent supporters would have us believe, music enthusiasts were frequently and sternly reminded that the world of digital audio is governed by something called the Nyquist Theorem (footnote 2).
The Nyquist Theorem suggests that, for an energy continuum spanning a given range of frequencies, a sampling rate of just over twice the highest frequency present within a complex waveform is all that's required in order to digitally store and reproduce itperfectly. So, if the audioband is defined as 20Hz20kHz, the Nyquist Theorem suggests that the sample rate only need be slightly more than 40kHz. The CD's rate of 44.1kHz was chosen in the belief that the extra 4kHz was more than enough safety margin.
During the CD's first few years on Earth, the common response by the mainstream press (ie, Stereo Review and Audio) to those who suggested the need for sampling rates higher than 44.1kHz (ie, most audio perfectionists) was to deride us as self-anointed, golden-eared, high priests of hooey. Or words to that effect.
But within 15 years of the CD's launch, it became abundantly clear that even record-company executives and certain species of elm could hear and appreciate the improvements in sound reproduction associated with rising sampling ratesrates more than double those "proven" by the Nyquist Theorem as sufficient to the task.
My question: Why has the Nyquist Theorem, once so widely cited, now apparently been forgotten by those who used to brandish it as a weapon? Why do the mainstream manufacturers and the tin-eared, asexual nerds (or words to that effect) in their amen corner now act as though the Nyquist Theorem never existed? Why aren't they out there right now, in their newsrooms and their meeting halls and their table-tennis parlors, denouncing 96kHz digital technologylet alone 192kHz digital technologyas the wasteful sham engineering that it surely must be?
Or, as the garishly miscast Edward G. Robinson (or was it The Simpsons' Chief Wiggum?) so famously intoned in Cecil B. DeMille's second version of The Ten Commandments: Where's their messiah now?
Bonus question: If the Clash had recorded London Calling in mono, would the sheer rightness of it have set the stage for a better follow-up than Sandinista? Show your work.
Jealousy and pride
Imagine getting one more chancetoday!to buy the last four Beatles LPs, all mastered from the original two-track tapes. Or a bottle of the 1981 Opus One. Or the last Bitter SC to roll off the assembly line. Or . . . well, you can just fill in the fantasy of your choice, I suppose.
Our friends at Ortofon, the Danish firm that has pioneered Planet Pickup since 1958, seem to understand this consumerist mindset, and have addressed it with a new-old offering called The SPU Collector Box 2010, a presentation box containing four of their most historically important and desirable SPU pickup heads, all in G-style shells (ie, with a stylus tip-to-mounting-collet distance of 52mm, as opposed to the 30mm of A-style heads): one SPU Classic (alloy housing, spherical tip, alnico magnet); one SPU Gold Reference (alloy housing, alnico magnet, gold-plated cantilever, Replicant stylus); one SPU 85 (urushi-lacquered beech housing, gold and copper wiring, elliptical stylus); and one SPU 90th Anniversary ("grinded" wood housing with drinking-horn motif, elliptical stylus, rare-earth magnet; see "Listening," April 2009). Also included is a book dedicated to the history of the SPU and other of Ortofon's classic audio products. And, of course, a very nice presentation case/storage box, made from ungrinded wood. Only 100 sets will be made and offered for sale, and it is with no small amount of giddiness that I tell you that one of those sets will be diverted here for a brief trial.
The SPU Collector Box 2010, which will begin shipping soon, is priced at $13,000: extravagant, expensive, over the top, and no doubt wonderful. (How many would you like?) Watch this space, or throw all caution to the winds and reserve your set now at www.ortofon.com/where-to-buy, where you can also enter a drawing for the privilege of buying set No.001.
The stream's lullaby
I don't attend many audio shows. Of the ones I do, I go less for the gearI'm grateful for the luxury of having products come to me, instead of the other way aroundand more for the people. In particular, Montreal's annual Salon Son et Image has for years provided me an otherwise too-scant chance to hang out with Lionel Goodfield of Simaudio, Michael Manousselis of Dynaudio, Peter McGrath of Wilson Audio, Diane Koebel and Tash Goka of Divergent Technologies, Gerard Rejskind of UHF magazine, and our own Robert Deutschnot to mention John Atkinson, Stephen Mejias, and publisher Keith Pray, to whose Manhattan offices I venture too seldom.
And Nizar Akhrass. It would take several column inches to list all the various audio brands represented through the years by his Toronto-based company, May Audio Marketing, and its Canadian and American offshoots. Of their most familiar brandsCastle, Reimyo, Stello, Target, Totem, WBT, and a host of othersit can be argued, reasonably, that the Syrian-born Nizar put them on the map. And at least two of the companies he represented, Quad and Roksan, are among the two dozen greatest names in all of British Audio.
Nizar's Niagara Falls office was also close enough to central New York that he was able to visit us from time to time, always with sweets for Julia (almost 13 now!) and a bottle of the Palestinian olive oil that Janet and I prefer above all others. (Try it for yourself by visiting www.zatoun.com.)
But the past few years were hard on Nizar Akhrass and May Audio. Nizar's beloved wife, Alice, who accompanied him to every audio show in memory, passed away late in 2009. And after the 2010 Son et Image, just a few days after I enjoyed a meal with Nizar and Gerard Rejskind at their favorite Italian restaurant in Montreal, Nizar's daughter, another Julia, called with the news that her father had passed away, apparently as a result of a heart attack.
Julia and her brother, Nabil Akhrass, will carry on with Nizar's business, the loss of which would be difficult for the industry to suffer; for all who knew him, the loss of their father will be harder still. Vale, Nizar.
Footnote 2: First propounded by Harry Nyquist of Bell Labs in 1927, decades before the advent of any practical digital audio system.John Atkinson