Listening #92 Page 2

Let's go back to that first example: Apart from whatever entertainment value seems promised by lavish photos and a well-written story, articles about vintage components whose restorations make predominant use of modern parts and materials have little or nothing to offer the overwhelming majority of readers. If, say, a dozen different Marantz 7 preamplifiers can be restored using a dozen different brands of polystyrene caps, every such unit is representative of nothing, and tales of their reconstruction are irrelevant to all but one owner and a handful of rebuilders.

A case in point: When, in the May issue of Stereophile, I wrote about my efforts to fix a pair of Advent Loudspeakers that my daughter and I had bought at a lawn sale, I was criticized in letters to the editor and a series of posts on the Internet—reasonably, of course—for not knowing that the original woofers in my early-issue Advents had been replaced at some point in time with Advent woofers of a later vintage. They were right, and had I tried to inflate my account into something grander than a fix-up piece about a cheap and common product, our readers would have been misled, and Stereophile would have looked, well, stupid. Thanks to yours truly.

That said, I can't resist saying that vintage newbies should be skeptical of the advice that's offered them from every corner, whether the offerer is an overpaid dilettante such as myself or a retired engineer who got into hi-fi through ham radio: Some of the very same people who were outraged that I used the historically "wrong" foam surrounds on my woofers also criticized me for not replacing the crossover capacitors with the latest boutique parts (footnote 1). That would be funny if it weren't so sad—which also translates into That would be stupid if it weren't so stupid.

Music at Monkeyhaus
Elderly nerds aside, I always have fun when I get out of the house and get together with other serious home-music enthusiasts—especially other reviewers, whether they work for Stereophile or for other magazines or websites. For one thing, and despite what you might think, there aren't too many of us, so there's always a little of that huddle 'round the fire thing going on. For another, and despite our individual expectations regarding what we wish to get from domestic playback, we all pretty much agree on the most important things: Musical content trumps sound. Color, body, and drama are immeasurably more important than detail, imaging, and "caramel colorations." And 78s rule.

On a number of occasions during the past year and a half, John DeVore of DeVore Fidelity invited me to join him and some of our mutual friends at the Monkeyhaus, a term that refers to both the listening room John recently built in his Brooklyn loudspeaker factory, and to the musical soirées held therein. Because I'm a work-at-home dad with an elderly parent to care for, it's not easy for me to make trips away from home, and I've always had to decline, with thanks (or to accept and then cancel, with regrets). My luck changed when John DeVore scheduled a Monkeyhaus event for April 17, and my wife volunteered to stay home and regulate our charges.

I was late, as usual—my band had a job that morning at the Cooperstown farmers' market, and I had to fight some snow during the first hour of my drive—but I arrived just in time to greet Michael Fremer as he was leaving for home. The Monkeyhaus party carried on for at least four more hours, during which I shared pizza and beer with John Atkinson, Stephen Mejias, Jeff Wong, Margery Budoff, Michael Lavorgna (ex-6 Moons), Jonathan Halpern (Tone Imports), and, of course, John DeVore. Anthony Abbate, who builds DeVore's cabinets alongside his own Box Furniture line of audio equipment tables, arrived just as the pizza ran out, and took us next door for a tour of his factory space.

As the evening spread out before us, an endless stream of great records comprised the main event. In the Monkeyhaus room, some listeners talked of how well Cat Stevens' Teaser and the Firecat had held up over the years—Michael Lavorgna, who has good taste in music and gear alike, had lucked into a mint copy of the original, non-Anglo pressing—as others came and went. After a while, we left stereo behind for mono, then changed pickups yet again as we worked our way up to 78s: not unlike starting the evening with a humble wine and working our way up to something really grand. We sat, rapt, as Jimmy Rodgers, Hank Williams, and Elvis Presley appeared before us: big and solid and a little bit crazy, as if they might turn dangerous without warning. Especially Hank Williams.

But the best was yet to come (footnote 2). Jonathan Halpern brought with him a double-sided gospel record titled "Lord Jesus, Part I/Part II," recorded in 1944 at Mason's Temple in Memphis, Tennessee, and featuring an all-male group called the Spirit of Memphis Quartet. The ensemble singing was unlike any such thing I'd heard: mostly an eerie drone, with harmonies marked out in modern, closely spaced intervals. A solo voice improvised over the drone, rubato for virtually the whole performance, and his dramatic swells, pauses, and sudden outbursts drove some women in the congregation to spontaneous screaming fits such as I've never heard before: Screaming as if they were being killed. Screaming that made the hairs on my arm and on the back of my neck stand up. Screaming that made James Brown sound mannered and reserved. It was the closest I've come to being unnerved by a record. It was almost too much.

Footnote 1: Another watchdog, who noticed that one of my tweeters was dented, seemed bent on making a case about it, but never succeeded in gaining much traction. For my part, I never succeeded in shaking the impression that he's never had children, not to mention more important things to get foamed up about.

Footnote 2: As it turned out, I missed one of the party's other best moments: During a record-buying spree of his own, artist Jeff Wong found an album by a singer from England's rock scene of the late 1970s, called Bunk Dogger. The record, titled First Offence, is notable not so much for its music as its roster of musicians, including one John Atkinson on electric bass. I'm told JA's expression, upon seeing the cover and hearing one of his recorded performances over the system, was priceless.