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gkc
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Live or Wired?

I got to thinking about beginnings when I read JA's "As We See It" last January. It seemed to me at the time that his concern over the future of the high-end audio industry centered on an issue that didn't get fully exposed. JA noted that "...younger people are not finding their way to what the high-end audio industry has to offer (my italics)in anything like enough numbers to replace those who leave." My personal hypothesis concerning this trend goes back to how I came to this pursuit in my younger days. I evolved from an intense enjoyment of live music (symphonic concert music, recitals, and dance music) to a desire to simulate analagous experiences at home. As I progressed through high school and college, I gradually became aware that all the money in the world couldn't get you anywhere NEAR an experience in the home analogous to the concert/dance-hall experience. Thus was born the itch. I have spent my entire life trying to scratch it. So I would like to post an informal and candid survey. How did each of YOU come to high-end audio?

I suspect that more and more of the younger music-lovers out there began with various sorts of "electronic" experiences and may not even be interested in attending live events. I could well be wrong. Did you all start live, or wired? Let me qualify this a bit more. I don't necessarily mean just music, but music AND sound. We all heard the top forty on AM radio, but that was music, merely a backdrop for dancing and/or making out (sigh...I'm so old I can remember doing BOTH at the same time, back when we called dances "belly rubs"). I played in the high school band, but that was music, not music AND sound. Can you remember an event (or series of events) that made you first aware of sound QUALITY, as well as of the music? Which is precisely "what the high-end audio industry has to offer." We are all music lovers, and you can't separate music from sound any more than you can "the dancer from the dance." BUT, sound is still important, or we wouldn't keep demanding better and better versions of it.

For me, it was two different occasions about a couple of years apart. When I was a senior at Cedar City High School (a jerkwater town in southern Utah, population about 9,000), Maestro Maurice Abravanel brought the Utah Symphony in for a one-night concert, en route to a more profitable gig in Las Vegas. They set up chairs on the basketball court and filled the entire field house. Abravanel could have dunked on one of the cellists without leaving the podium (I just read WP's recollection of a similar experience in his youth). The program included Rossini's "William Tell" overture and the Brahms 1st Symphony. I had never heard anything of either piece, except for when the Lone Ranger was in town at the local Roxy. It was an epiphany. I was seated dead-center, right where I had scrambled for the opening tip-off the night before. I had never heard anything so loud and so good. And the massed strings. THAT, unfortunately, was the siren call I took home with me, and it is still with me. I'll never forget a rich fraternity brother's home a few years later -- his parents had a custom-installed McIntosh/JBL system in their HUGE living room, easily 10 grand and the best that money could buy. My first question was, "How come the violins hurt my ears?". Two years later, I was at the University of Utah, with student discount tickets to the Mormon Tabernacle subscription season. Included was a visit by Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra. By this time, I was taking for granted the sweet sound of Abravanel. Epiphany #2. The Berlioz Requiem. 100+ in the chorus, brass all over the building, and those incredible Philadelphia strings. Buy, beg, steal, or all three, I remember thinking, I GOTTA have one of those in my living room -- someday, somehow. The next weekend, Abravanel did the Mahler 2nd. Weak-kneed and punchdrunk, I staggered home to my Pilot portable. At that point, I would have sold my soul to Old Nick just hear the Dies Irae one more time, even if it be in Hell.

So, 40+ years later, I finally have something that resembles my ideal memory of those massed violins I first heard in the gym, and the brass pierce and blat that almost blew me out of the Tabernacle a couple years later. We're still workin' on the bass. So, everybody out there, how did it start? Also, of course, your thoughts about the state-of-the-art as YOU see it, and whether you think live music is really all that important as a sonic ideal. Cheers, and thanks for listenin'. Clifton

Jeff Wong
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Re: Live or Wired?

I think I'm a bit younger than the core group of regulars by close to a decade. My introduction to music, however, came from my older brothers (and parents to a degree) who are all at least 10 years older than I am.

My tastes are eclectic, and that probably has a lot to do with being exposed to a variety of music at home. My Mom used to listen to LPs on a gorgeous, reddish wood record player with a heavy lid and locking hinge on the side. It was a big box with a grilled cloth front and as I recall, played 16, 33, 45, and 78. It might've been a Philips and was a tubed unit. On it, she spun lots of Flamenco music. Sabicas and Montoya could always be heard. She also loved Tom Jones (I remember watching his TV show on Sunday nights after Ed Sullivan) and Glen Campbell. My brothers Dan, Tim and Erwin had wideranging tastes. Dan was into Ike and Tina Turner, the Moody Blues, and Isaac Hayes... Tim had LPs by Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, the Who, the Beatles... Erwin liked the Mamas and the Papas. When Tim was in college, he bought a Panasonic Quadrophonic system and that became the main system in the house. When he started going to Dental school, he got heavily into Classical Music, and started hunting down LPs all over the city. He'd listen to WQXR and if he heard a piece he liked, he would write it down. I would often accompany him on these record hunts. We listened to nothing but Classical music for 3 years. When he moved out, he bought a fairly expensive system for the time (this was in the mid to late 70s.) He bought a Sansui AU-717 amplifier, a Sansui TU-717 tuner (which resides in my system today) and a Technics Direct Drive turntable.

At this point, I had inherited the Panasonic system and had discovered the music of Queen. I would buy their LPs whenever I could scrape together $3.99.

At the end of high school, I was swept up the Punk and New Wave scene, and was buying music regularly. I still remember when my friend, Ernest, brought his UK import of London Calling by the Clash (that he had just gotten at Bleecker Bob's record store) over to my house the night before we were going to go skateboarding at a skatepark in Staten Island. What a thrill it was to listen deep into the night. I can still see the green glow from the Panasonic's radio dial and hear the words, "Driiiiiiiiive..."

During this period, there were a series of shows I attended at Central Park (I've posted photos I took in the Galleries.) I loved seeing the bands live, mostly because the presentations were so different than what I knew on LP (with the possible exception of DEVO; they seemed so tight and like the records it was uncanny.)

I had a Technics receiver, some Lafayette Criterion speakers, a Technics SL-D202 direct drive turntable, and a Numark graphic equalizer. I was heavily into Brian Eno and had used one pair of the Panasonic speakers wired out of phase (a la the instructions in Ambient 4) and the other pair to supplement the Criterions. I knew nothing about setting up speakers in the proper way. They resided on top of bookcases, high in the air.

Fast forward to 1995. I had just met my girlfriend at the time, Jill, at an Elvis Costello at the Beacon Theater. She had noticed me going backstage and wondered who I was - my friend Harvey met her earlier and introduced her to me and my friend Neil (Neil, Harvey and I had formed the Big World record label in the late 80s and put out a series of live Jaco Pastorius CDs made from cassettes Neil recorded, and used to hang out a lot.) Jill was brave (perhaps, foolish) and drove to Jackson Heights, Queens to dine with us 3 strangers. I got along well with her and we started dating.

Anyway, Jill's Dad was a huge Pink Floyd fan* and audiophile. He was dying from complications from diabetes and sent me all of his old audiophile journals, which included copies of the abso!ute sound and Stereophile. (*His tombstone has Dark Side of the Moon engraved on it.) Jill got his Linn LP12, Threshold amp, and Audio Research preamp.

I started reading Stereophile regularly. I read a review of a Creek integrated amp by Robert J. Reina and went to a few high-end shops with Jill. We listened to gear and couldn't believe how much more music we were hearing on albums we thought we knew intimately. And so, the wonderful nightmare of audiophilia began...

gkc
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Re: Live or Wired?

Thanks, Jeff. Great stuff. This is all endlessly fascinating to me. Interestingly, it seems you went from the home to live, sort of the opposite of my experience. You ARE younger, but still old enough to use "girl friend" and "started dating," as opposed to "muh bitch," and "we ballin' all the time...tag team next Tuesday." So we're of the same generation, I think. Cheers, Clifton.

Buddha
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Re: Live or Wired?

Man, you guys are great.

Clifton, I can't believe we've never crossed paths.

I grew up in the Reno/Tahoe/Truckee constellation, living in all three places.

Lived in So Cal (Venice beach and the canals) in the early 90's.

My family went in on a getaway place in jerkwater Cedar City 'cause we love the Shakespeare Festival and it's a quick hop from Vegas. We go there about one or two weekends per month.

They have a killer vinyl store now - Groovacious.

In June, they have Groove fest, a three day free outdoor music fest - I think you'd dig it now.

Everyone we meet there is happy as heck. Very optimistic people. Then again, we haven't tried to get an abortion or go to bars there, so my view is biased by middle age!

If you've ever lived in Boulder/Fort Collins, CO or the San Francisco Bay area then we'd have perfect overlap!

Oh, yeah, the topic. I'll get to that after dinner.

Cheers, amigos!

Buddha
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Re: Live or Wired?

OK, how about that question...

"Yes."

When I was a wee lad, our neighborhood was "mixed." There were two Cuban families whose parents and extended adult family members played in the local area casinos/clubs, but on days off and such, they

ohfourohnine
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Re: Live or Wired?

Yup, Clifton, you were the right one to set the parameters for this thread. Earliest awareness of sound quality in a musical presentation - fun just to ponder. In my case, it required a little pondering before I felt I had anything qualifying as "earliest".

When I was pretty young, I knew of Bix, Sidney Bechet, Eddie Condon, and Jack Teagarten, and the music they had played before I was born was my favorite stuff from the family record collection. I was probably the only kid under twelve who knew that Dippermouth and the Sugarfoot Stomp were the same tune. Obviously, the records and the family record player didn't offer much in terms of sound quality.

Nor was there much sound quality or, for that matter, musical quality in my earliest recollections of live music. The family across the street from the two-flat we lived in had two sons whom their parents believed were "musically gifted" and they played acordians - huge, ugly, mother-of-pearl contraptions screeching out Sabre Dance from the front porch. Dixieland on the old phonograph was lots better.

Kids in those days found ways to work for money. Among my ways was mowing lawns. One of my lawn mowing customers was a woman (can't even recall her name) who played the cello. She had to tell me the name of the instrument, but she didn't have to tell me to listen to it when she played. Stopping the lawnmower's clank and whirr so as to hear the music better made it take a lot longer to finish her lawn, but that was OK. She never once played Sabre Dance and that high-brow stuff (as my Dad called it) sounded pretty good to me. Hard to say for sure, but that lady may be the reason my collection has so much chamber stuff in it today.

A school trip to Orchestra Hall made the leap from that living room cello concert to the majesty of the orchestra. I couldn't imagine how what seemed like a hundred guys could play anything together let alone create such a wonderful sound. How that solo violin could soar above the rest. Face it, symphonic music is amazing. One guy, who may be leafing through the score, but he "knows" the music in a most profound way, directing a sea of musicians devoting their talents and energies to playing their individual parts in a greater whole. And how about the guy who "heard" the whole thing while he made little dots and squiggles on paper. Amazing? Hell, its impossible. Gotta preserve that the best way we can. Gotta take it home and keep it.

When I could drive and drink beer, there was the Red Arrow Jazz Club. The sounds and the music I'd loved so much as a kid were there LIVE. The band played five nights a week on their Chicago union cards and the sixth night on Joliet cards. Talk about classic Dixie, they had a tuba and a banjo and did they sound great. When I could afford more than the three dollar minimum at the Red Arrow, it was the Blue Note and The London House - Milt Jackson, Charlie Byrd, Red Allen, and on and on.

During that time I had a friend named Ed who later became a research physicist. He built amps then, not from Heathkits, but from scratch. After a couple of months work, he once lamented, "Here I spend all this time working to produce hi-fi sound when I have low-fi taste!" Taste aside, my records sounded lots more like the real thing on his system and everything sounds better on the system I listen to today.

How did it start? I think it started for me with a handful of scratchy records, which carried captivating music but which, even in pristine condition would have been sonically unacceptable by today's standards. How is the "state of the art" today? Don't know. For fifteen grand you don't get "state of the art", but you get pretty darn close to "live", and if "live" isn't the sonic ideal, I can't comprehend what is.

gkc
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Re: Live or Wired?

Yo, Buddha -- that really IS eerie, when you couple Cedar City with all the places in Nevada. I can remember going fishing for crayfish in the Truckee River (I was born in the Washoe County Hospital -- mom used to tease me, said I came out of a slot machine) when I was 4 years old. And YOU, the prodigy, are getting your first licks of Lionel Hampton at that age. The image of you crawling out of day care to hear the fine noise next door cracks me up. Hampton, to me, is one of those rare birds who always make me smile, no matter how sour the day has turned -- there is just something infectious, like his garish grin. Haydn is another. I bought a complete set of the symphonies (Dorati, London). If it is possible to wear out 40 CD's, this is where I'll do it. You've gotta get to know #31, the so-called "Horn Signal," a somewhat obscure Haydn symphony that doesn't get played or recorded much. I have the Dorati, but there is also a great "original instruments" CD with Harnoncourt and The Concentus Musicus Wien (Teldec, 4509-90843-2), a gemutlich romp with a great, somewhat lugubrious Landler-like final movement, a set of variations Haydn must have conceived while stumbling home with several Pilsners under his waistcoat. In fact, the entire symphony sounds like he might have been loaded when he wrote it. You, as well as Jeff, give the impression that "live" and "wired" reinforced each other as you went back and forth. I remember more of a conflict, a definite feeling that "live" was a sort of sonic transcendence, while "wired" for the longest time was back to the cave. I think you both had better experiences with live jazz and pop music (which, to me, often gets better treatment in recordings than classical, because the groups are smaller)during the early years than I did. Thanks for the memories. Clifton

gkc
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Re: Live or Wired?

Hi, Clay -- great stuff! The Sabre Dance on a mother-of-pearl accordian! It doesn't get any better (worse?) than that! I got "Lady of Spain" from one of my mom's friends, who used to come over on the occasional afternoon. I had a cocker spaniel named Bum who used to lie on his stomach, cover his ears with his paws, and twitch uncontrollably when presented with this spectacle. It was like he was waiting for the guillotine. I just stared in disbelief. We had a Dixieland Band in town that would occasionally entertain at public functions. I wouldn't have thought of it without your mention. Why is it there is no such thing as a bad-sounding Dixieland Band? If there IS, I never heard it! Two years ago, I scored 8 of the Dukes of Dixieland LP's on "Stereodisc," touted as "a study in High Fidelity sound." Boy, is it ever! Audio Fidelity, the label, claims to have "produced and released the world's first Stereophonic High Fidelity record in November, 1957." They are in the room, each in his appointed place. You guys are really bringing back the memories. You describe your first visit to Orchestra Hall wonderfully -- those memories are similar to mine. How do they DO that!? Every time I put on even a mediocre LP or CD, I offer a silent "thanks" to all the pioneers in this industry who made my current library possible. Nothing can be more miraculous than putting a Szell, Reiner, or Ormandy into your living room, no matter HOW inadequately, and, in turn, literally from the grave, evoking the living presence of a Bach or a Stravinsky. Not to mention, of course, the Count, the Duke, Ramsey, Lionel, the Beatles, and all the rest. All this is makin' me hungry, so I'm outta here for some tunes! Thanks for the great, detailed response. Regards, Clifton

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