The Fifth Element

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John Marks Posted: Oct 15, 2015 3 comments
A mastering engineer's job is both to act as the final quality control before a recording goes out for manufacturing and, just as important, to apply to that recording the requisite technical finishing touches. Over the course of his career to date, mastering engineer Robert C. Ludwig has racked up more than 7500 album credits.
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John Marks Posted: Jul 28, 2015 0 comments
Chris Huston is as soft-spoken and unassuming a chap as you would ever hope to meet, a real gentleman of the old school. He also has an amazing backstory. He and John Lennon were close friends at Liverpool's College of Art, and later had "dueling bands" that played at Liverpool's Cavern Club. Huston's band was the Undertakers, with lead singer Jackie Lomax. Like the Beatles, the Undertakers spent time playing gigs in scrappy clubs near the Hamburg docks. However, Huston is not just an asterisk in the music encyclopedias. He co-engineered Led Zeppelin's II, earned a Grammy for producing War's The World Is a Ghetto, and has produced and/or engineered more than 80 gold and platinum records.
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John Marks Posted: Jun 05, 2015 1 comments
The business of high-end audio can fascinate me almost as much as does high-end audio itself. Designers and entrepreneurs such as Frank McIntosh, Avery Fisher, Saul Marantz, Edgar Villchur (AR), David Hafler (Dynaco), and Henry Kloss (AR, KLH, Advent, Advent Video, Cambridge Soundworks, Tivoli Audio) combined technical brilliance and varying levels of business skill with flairs for publicity and marketing. Many of their products became objects of desire, and some became household names in the post-WWII era. Of that list, only McIntosh and Marantz are still in business as high-end audio companies—the latter relatively affordable, the former exclusive.
John Marks Posted: Apr 03, 2015 2 comments
As a film title, Quantizing Hanson Hsu might not rank up there with Kissing Jessica Stein, but we work with what we have to work with. Hanson Hsu is the principal designer at Delta H Design, Inc., an acoustics and architecture firm based in Marina del Rey, California. Though he dabbles in some weird science, Hsu doesn't wear a white lab coat, literal or figurative. He's down-to-earth and personable, with a conversational style that evinces warm wit and a real love of music. At one point in our conversations, he exclaimed, "I get so much joy when things sound good."
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John Marks Posted: Feb 13, 2015 14 comments
I have to eat crow. I must retract a Record to Die For I handed out this time last year. [sigh] This has never happened before.

The pick in question is the recording, "remastered at Abbey Road" and bound as a book, of David Oistrakh playing the Brahms Violin Concerto and Double Concerto and Beethoven's Triple Concerto, with cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, pianist Sviatoslav Richter, George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra (Brahms), and Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic (Beethoven) (2 SACD/CDs, EMI Signature Collection 9 55978 2).

Why take back an R2D4? I will explain. First, some necessary background:

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John Marks Posted: Dec 06, 2014 9 comments
It's time for another holiday gift list!
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John Marks Posted: Oct 10, 2014 3 comments
"The Guitars of Rachel Rosenkrantz" is perhaps not quite as evocative a title as The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Nevertheless, there are parallels. I met the young, French luthier through mutual friends, and was pleasantly surprised to learn that she is very serious about her art, and rather obsessive about her craft. Rosenkrantz studied art, architecture, and industrial design, and worked for some years designing commercial lighting fixtures and furniture. However, she let go of that career to start over from scratch as an apprentice to Daniel Collins, a builder of classical guitars. She recently opened her own custom shop, Atelier Rosenkrantz, in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, sharing space with jazz-guitar builder Matt d'Ambrosio.
John Marks Posted: Jul 30, 2014 5 comments
The CD-200 is the new CD-only player from TASCAM, the professional-audio division of TEAC (footnote 1). It has unbalanced analog outputs, and RCA and optical digital outputs. The CD-200 also has a new transport, the CD-5020A, designed by TEAC for audio use.

Unlike many affordable disc-spinning devices with slot-loading transports (eg, inexpensive DVD players starting at $29.99), the CD-200 has a traditional drawer mechanism that has been upgraded to minimize the noise of loading and clamping a disc. TASCAM also claims improvements in the internal clock function, for smoother sound and lower jitter.

John Marks Posted: Jun 06, 2014 10 comments
Were one in a whimsical mood, one could divide the history of hi-fi into the eras before and after Edgar Villchur (1917–2011), inventor of the sealed-box, air suspension (or acoustic suspension) bass-loading principle. It was Villchur's invention of the acoustic-suspension woofer that made possible affordable loudspeakers with deeper bass from a smaller cabinet (see Sidebar: "Sealed Boxes").
John Marks Posted: Apr 10, 2014 2 comments
Were it my place to hand out awards for "The Most Forthright People in Audio," Michael Grace of Grace Design would be at the top of the list. Years ago, after I'd given stellar recommendations of Grace's 901 and m902 headphone-amplifier-DAC-line-stage models, I asked Grace if I could audition his full-rack–size, more fully featured m904 Stereo Monitor Controller. He told me that he didn't think that was necessary, because the m904's sound was extremely similar to the sound of the smaller m902—it just had a different feature set, and he believed that the additional features were not things that Stereophile readers were likely to need. That is the only case I can recall of a manufacturer's declining an offer of additional coverage in Stereophile.
John Marks Posted: Feb 04, 2014 4 comments
In 1974, in England, Australian Reverse-Pommy pianist and recording engineer Billy Woodman founded the Acoustic Transducer Co. (ATC) as a maker of loudspeaker drive-units. That makes ATC a few years younger than Spendor (1969) and a few years older than Harbeth (1977). When I mentioned all that to a quick-witted audio buddy, he immediately came back with "Middle Child Syndrome!"
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John Marks Posted: Dec 16, 2013 1 comments
Norway's 2L label has an enviable track record in choral music. In 2006 they were nominated for Grammys for Best Choral Performance and Best Surround Sound Album, for Immortal Nystedt (SACD/CD, 2L-029-SACD). Knut Nystedt's composition Immortal Bach, performed by Ensemble 96 conducted by Øystein Fevang, is a stunning fractal reworking of J.S. Bach's "Komm, süsser Tod."
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John Marks Posted: Oct 09, 2013 9 comments
Long experience has convinced me that many audiophiles' stereo systems substantially underperform compared to what they could sound like. This is not because people haven't spent enough money on their electronics or speakers. Instead, people aren't getting all the performance they've paid for because they haven't devoted enough attention to all aspects of the initial setup, and/or to maintenance and updating.
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John Marks Posted: Aug 08, 2013 0 comments
First, two noteworthy CDs. San Francisco's Cypress String Quartet, whose set of Beethoven's late quartets and high-resolution downloads I praised in the April issue, is back with a new CD (Avie AV2275) that explores their musical roots.
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John Marks Posted: Jun 19, 2013 2 comments
Talk about a fascinating personal history. Rising-star jazz pianist Aaron Diehl's father ran a funeral home in Columbus, Ohio, with a largely African-American clientele. Diehl started at the piano with Bach, and not long after was playing in both the funeral home and a nearby Catholic church. I think the significance of those early experiences is not so much that a young teenager was already playing for audiences, but rather that he was playing in the context of rituals and, in the case of the funeral home, emotionally fraught major life transitions. I suspect that Diehl's unusual backstory is a large contributing factor in his musical maturity and poised artistic approach.


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