Swiss Precision: The Story of the Thorens TD 124 and Other Classic Turntables (2007), by Joachim Bung (reviewed in April 2008) also tells the story of Fritz and Marie Laeng, the couple who founded Lenco, Switzerland's other turntable company. Thanks in equal parts to Fritz's engineering talents and Marie's business acumenher idea to sell turntables through a popular book-and-record club is remembered as the company's turnaround pointLenco swiftly became one of the most successful and well-regarded makers of hi-fi turntables through the 1960s and early '70s. Then, almost as swiftly, Lenco went from having three factories in two countries to vanishing from the scene with scarcely a trace . . . but that's another story for another day.
The closest I've come to airing my thoughts about live vs recorded music was in the "As We See It" of the December 2005 Stereophile, "Resistance Is Futile," in which I put as many miles between the two as I could. I described live performances as works of art that exist only at the time and place of their making, variables from which their ultimate impact can never be separated; and music recordings as works of art in their own right, albeit ones that require a great deal more from the listener in order to succeed to their fullest. People respond more positively to live music not because it sounds more real, but because they understand, consciously or not, that any performance is a once-in-a-lifetime event.
Volti Audio's Vittora, a borrowed pair of which now sit at the far end of my listening room, is a great loudspeaker and, at $17,500/pair, a seriously great value. After a few weeks with the Vittora, I find myself convinced by the naturalness, momentum, and force that it found in every record I played: This is surely one of the finest horn-loaded speakers made in the US.
When some people record music, they make an effort to record the ambient sound of the hall or other performing space along with it. On the other side of the coin, some engineers work to capture only the sounds of the performers, so the recordings they make sound comparatively dry. And, of course, there are engineers who don't make an effort one way or the other, and whose work contains whatever hall sound does or does not come their way by accident.
Whether the subject is hi-fi equipment, films, restaurants, power tools, or condoms (see the April 2005 "Listening"), reviewing should be off-limits to the perennially unhappy. I'm reminded of that dictum by the flap over the recent film Identity Thief, which was savaged by reviewer Rex Reednot because the film is weak, but because its star, Melissa McCarthy, is heavy. Reed, whose career as the Paul Lynde of film reviewing was punctuated by a starring role in a flop called Myra Breckenridge, mentioned in his review McCarthy's size not once but numerous times, thus exposing himself as a bullying hack who wields his harshest criticisms not when they are merited but as unconscious expressions of his own personal anguish. Hate speech of any sort is the crayon of the unhappy; that is doubly true of people who write for a living.
Memory mitigates adversity.Lucius Lactantius (ca 240ca 320 AD)
Pity the aging perfectionist, the happy diversions of whose younger dayswashing records, oiling turntables, leveling equipment racks, cleaning tube pinshave now become hated chores. And this from a man who used to redo his Roksan Xerxes setup every few months, just for "fun."
If you travel along Route 20 in upstate New York, you might see the hitchhiker my family and I refer to as the Old Soldierso called because this slightly built man, whose age could be anywhere from 55 to 90, is always dressed in a military uniform from some long-ago campaign. When we first saw him, his topcoat suggested a recent return from Chateau-Thierry; in more recent sightings, the old man has taken to wearing the trim khakis and sharply creased legionnaire cap of the late 1940schronological zigzagging that made me think, at first, that this traveler was aging in reverse.
Domestic audio is based on two simple processes: transforming movement into electricity and electricity back into movement. Easy peasy.
Audio engineers have been doing those things for ages. Have they improved their craft to the same extent as the people who, over the same period of time, earned their livings making, say, automobiles and pharmaceuticals? I don't know. But if it were possible to spend an entire day driving a new car from 50 years ago, treating diabetes and erectile dysfunction with the treatments that were available 50 years ago, and listening to 50-year-old records on 50-year-old playback gear, the answer might seem more clear.
Consider the fate of Giordano Bruno, a 16th-century astronomer who challenged Ptolemy's notion of Earth being the center of a finite universe—and in doing so went head to head with the church of Rome. Bruno's scholarly diligence and fearlessness were rewarded not with fame, riches, or accolades from his colleagues, but with a hot-lead enema, after which he was burned at the stake. Next heretic in line, step right up, please.
A grainy film is said to exist that proves the viability of a mechanical antigravity device. The inventor, a native of Syracuse, New York named Harry W. Bull (footnote 1) placed his so-called "bootstrap machine" on a bathroom scale, focused a borrowed home movie camera on the dial, powered up the machine, and watched as the numbers spun backward. This event, and the development work that led to it, were the basis for a series of articles—and a subsequent exchange of heated letters—in Popular Science magazine. The year was 1935.