Before 1982, when the Compact Disc arrived, I didn't love LPs. Analog was already very old tech, and while every trick in the book had been applied to turntables and LPs, they still wowed & fluttered at 33 1/3 revolutions per minute. Vinyl's deficiencies were legion: warped LPs were more common than truly flat ones; surface noise, clicks, and pops sang along with the tune; LPs rarely had perfectly centered spindle holes; inner-groove distortions popped up at inopportune moments; and each time an LP is played, its sound quality degrades, if only ever so slightly. The LP format? Imperfect sound forever.
I have a hunch that the overwhelming majority of Stereophile readers have pretty decent hi-fis, but they probably listen to a lot more music in their cars, or through computer speakers, or on the go with headphones. I'm in that last group, and log more hours listening to Jerry Harvey's astonishing JH13 Freqphase custom-molded in-ear 'phones than to my Magnepan MG3.7 speakersbut music moves me more through the 3.7s.
Jim Fosgate fits the category of Classic American Inventor to a T. This softspoken, quietly intense man has earned 18 patents and founded three successful electronics companies. In the late 1970s, he pulled out of the car audio business to follow his quadraphonic bliss, and designed the Fosgate Tate 101, arguably the finest quad decoder of the era. He also created the best-selling matrix surround processor of all time, Dolby's Pro Logic II, and in 2003 won an Emmy for the Development of Surround Sound for Television. He now serves as a senior executive consultant for Fosgate Audionics, a division of the Rockford Corporation.
Even when Loudon Wainwright III (left in photo with Ramblin' Jack Elliot) was a young man he was writing autobiographical songs, and his old themes of family, sex, and death resonate more deeply on his new record, Older Than My Old Man Now. He usually performs solo, armed with just an acoustic guitar or a banjo, but most of his recordings present more heavily produced versions of LWIII's music. When I chatted with LWIII in late April I wanted to explore that dichotomy and how those transformations take place.
"You listen to these modern records, they're atrocious, they have sound all over them. There's no definition of nothing, no vocal, no nothing, just like—static."—Bob Dylan, interviewed by Jonathan Lethem. Rolling Stone, September 7, 2006
Here's what I've learned in my 35 years in the High End, first as a hi-fi salesman and then as a full-time reviewer and blogger: No hi-fi, no matter how expensive or exalted, will ever deliver the holy grail. While there have been considerable advances over the years, I can cite two 50+-year-old loudspeakersQuad ESL electrostatics and Klipsch's big hornswhose transparency and dynamic range, respectively, blow away those of many contemporary high-end speakers. The very best of today's speakers, electronics, and source components don't zero in on a single perfected sound indistinguishable from the experience of being in the same room as the musiciansno, every one of them sounds different from all the rest. I want to experience as many of those flavors as I can.
I may have had 4000 LPs and a perfectly wonderful Linn LP12 turntable, but I could go for weeks on end without listening to a single LP. But I still thought of myself as one of the vinyl faithful, even as I rationalized my digital-centric listening tendencies. I loved analog in theoryI just couldn't bring myself to listen to it all that much.