Harry Partch (1901-1974), composer and inventor of musical instruments, delighted in generating deep bass. Finding most standard orchestral instruments wanting in that department, he built the huge Marimba Eroica, which he described on his A Glimpse into the World of Harry Partch: 27 Unique Instruments (LP, Columbia MS-20576):
"You certainly love weird music!" my wife yelled from the kitchen. This just reconfirmed my suspicion that reviewing subwoofers is a lonely job that brings no respect. What's so weird about the droning of Tibetan temple horns accompanied by the chants of Tibetan Gyuto monks, all framed by a powerful synthesizer in Philip Glass's soundtrack to Kundun (CD, Nonesuch 79460-2)? What's so strange about the karate-like cries of the drummers in the Kromata Percussion ensemble as they smash away at their timpani and gongs in Yoshihisa Taira's Hierophonie V (CD, BIS CD-232)? What's so odd about the shuddering majesty of 25Hz notes played by Harry Partch's one-of-a-kind Eroica Marimba, heard on his Delusion of the Fury (LP, Columbia M2 30576)? Why would any spouse object to the primitive, driving synthesizer growls and screams from Morton Subotnick's The Wild Bull (LP, Nonesuch H-71208)?
It's common to read ads for new audio hardware that crow about "revolutionary" breakthroughs in sound performance, and that's how Velodyne crowed about their new Digital Drive DD-18, servo-controlled, powered 18" subwoofer. The ads suggested that the DD-18 can be digitally equalized to one's room with a resultant in-room frequency response of 20-200Hz, ±3dB.
Unless you've been on active duty in the Middle East, you're aware that Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab is back in business. During Stereophile's Home Entertainment 2003 show in San Francisco last June, Kal Rubinson and I played hookey to visit MoFi mastering engineer Paul Stubblebine's recording studio, at 1340 Mission Street. As we sat spellbound, Paul played the original four-track, ½", 1-mil master tape of Stanislaw Skrowaczewski and the Minnesota Orchestra's legendary 1974 recording of Ravel's Boléro and Daphnis et Chloé (footnote 1). Stubblebine fed the four discrete channels from the specially modified ReVox reel-to-reel deck to a modern surround system. The master tape produced the cleanest, purest sound I had heard in a long time.
John Atkinson's track-by-track written evaluation in the July 2003 issue of his new Editor's Choice: Sampler & Test CD (Stereophile STPH016-2) drew me like a magnet. Here was a reviewer-editor putting into words his musical perceptions, gathered while he served as the engineer for the various recordings sampled on this compilation. JA's dual roles of writer and engineer merge complementary perspectives, yielding what should be useful descriptions of the sonic values of some of my favorite reference CDs. As I was about to start my review of Piega's new hybrid loudspeaker when I read this article, it was only natural to test whether this Swiss full-range speaker could deliver "what you should hear."
All high-end audio companies turn over their product lines periodically. Even those amplifiers I have depended on as references go out of production. Although my reference amplifier can remain a part of the reviewing sequence, readers won't be able to purchase a discontinued model and get the results I describe. Thus I am compelled to get a review sample of a new amplifier or speaker, and hope for the best.
I was trading e-mails with Roger Sanders, manufacturer of the Eros Mk.III electrostatic (ESL) loudspeakers, when it occurred to me to ask him about his name. I was struck that he had the same last name as Gayle Sanders, president of another American electrostatic speaker company, MartinLogan. Were they related? "No," replied Roger Sanders, "it's simply a coincidence that we have similar names. I've never even met him.
Recording artists can reinvent themselves by crossing over into another style of music. Gloria Estefan, who started with Latin music, crossed over into mainstream pop with great success. Doug Sax, who reinvented the direct-to-vinyl disc and produced outstanding LPs for Sheffield Lab, eventually transferred all of his music to compact discs. Ivor Tiefenbrun, designer of the Linn Sondek turntable, now makes CD players.
I first heard Eugene Gigout's pipe-organ masterpiece, the Grand Chorus in Dialogue, in the Smetana Concert Hall of Prague's Municipal House (Obecnim Dome) on a Saturday evening before the 2002 flood. I recall seeing the delicate, youthful Michele Hradecka sway from side to side to reach the pedals. In response, a massive wall of deep organ chords shook the hall, the magical acoustic blending the delicate, extended highs with the thunderous bass. But this memory mixed the music with the beauty of Prague's soaring church spires, brilliant red terracotta roofs, and lavish palaces.
Talking to fellow audiophiles, I sometimes hear generalizations about power-amplifier design: "High-power amplifiers don't sound as good as low-power amplifiers." "Tube amps are more musical than solid-state amps." "Class-A circuit designs always sound better than class-AB." "Bridged amplifiers don't image precisely, throw deep soundstages, or have the transparency of non-bridged output stages." Etc.