Gramophone Dreams

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Herb Reichert  |  Feb 29, 2024  |  68 comments
Decades ago, when I was peddling million-dollar sound systems, an astute potential customer asked me: "If I buy your very expensive system, what will I get that I'm not getting with my less expensive system?" Smiling my best fatherly smile, I whispered to his ear, "Goosebumps, tears, and laughter."

With a slightly worried look, he asked, "How much did you say those silver cables cost?"

Thirty years later
Changing audio cables always changes the sound of my system, sometimes a lot but usually just a little. Typically, the sonic effects of cable changes are modest shifts in focus, tone, or transparency. But sometimes during blue moons I've seen a new set of cables turn a blah, dull, fuzzy system into a macrodynamic, microdetailed one. Or turn a cool, mechanical-sounding system into something fierce and mammalian.

Herb Reichert  |  Jan 30, 2024  |  7 comments
I always say I can't find what I'm not looking for, which doesn't mean I always know what I'm looking for. And not knowing what I want is unsettling. Recently, I was reminded of the thoughts of French polymath-philosopher René Girard (1923–2015), who suggested that people are not actually motivated by specific things like lust or capital or power, as major philosophers have declared, but by subtle, disconcerting forces of existential desire for something outside ourselves, never actually knowing what that something is.

Girard explains how this not knowing drives history and invention. His main premise is that we feel desire but, not knowing what we desire, mimic the desires of others. These "others" we mimic constitute a third element, interrupting the lines of force between a person and the objects desired. This, according to Girard, makes desire, and by extension human evolution, a nebulous but powerful anthropological force engaged in forming human cultures.

In other words, you might like big speakers and fat speaker cables, but maybe only because people around you appear to like them. Same with cars and clothes and lovers.

Herb Reichert  |  Dec 28, 2023  |  8 comments
During my cub reporter days at Stereophile, I was always on the lookout, casting about for midlevel analog components I might latch on to, ones that could join my long-term daily-driver reference system by complementing the character of my midlevel DeVore Fidelity Orangutan O/93 and Falcon LS3/5a loudspeakers. I was searching for these basic traits: alive and vigorous, clear and well-sorted, relaxed and natural. One of my first-ever Stereophile reviews, in the October 2014 issue, was of Sentec's EQ11 phono preamplifier, which featured six EQ choices, selectable from the front panel, Bakelite knobs, Switchcraft switches, and a gray Hammerite-paint finish.

When I reviewed the Sentec, I owned three turntables and about 300 records. But phono stage–wise, I was a beggar and a borrower, hoping a friend's phono pre or some review product would jump out of the deck and become my reference.

Herb Reichert  |  Dec 05, 2023  |  13 comments
My adoptive mother, Lily Mae, was a retired businesswoman and former fashion model turned stay-at-home mom and artist-painter with famously good taste in everything. She raised me to have good manners, an "active awareness of color and texture," and "an eye for form." She expected me to critique her paintings, her decorating, and her wardrobe, urging me constantly to develop "good taste in everything."

In Lil's world, a perfect day was for me to skip school and go with her clothes shopping at Marshall Field's, where it was my job to sit in a plush chair offering comments about which outfits had the best fabrics and best "complimented her form." She always said "form is bones" and fashion is about "how fabrics hang on people's bones."

Herb Reichert  |  Oct 18, 2023  |  5 comments
If you've read any of my previous Dreams, you no doubt realize that I am an empiricist by trade—that I believe in the value of relaxed, mindful observation, especially if my solitary observances are independently corroborated by others. Whenever possible, I test my observations by getting either the Spin Doctor, the Audiophiliac, or my Russian neighbor to listen and tell me what they notice. If they notice the same things I noticed, independently, I relax. Corroboration is important because when I submit a review, I have an obligation to get it right. I need to be confident that readers, when they listen, will likely hear the same thing I heard, for themselves.
Herb Reichert  |  Oct 04, 2023  |  13 comments
With a system like this, Thoreau would never have gone into the woods to begin with.

Last weekend, I visited an old friend who lives near Walden Pond of Henry Thoreau fame. I hadn't visited him since before the pandemic. He had just finished adding a wing to his house that included a dedicated hi-fi listening room the size and shape of a small church. Below a cathedral ceiling, the sweet spot featured seating for no fewer than 30 guests. Besides serving as his main listening room—he has another one that's smaller—it serves as a large residential parlor with a baby grand piano for use in chamber music performances, which feature prominently in his and his wife's social calendar.

It was a high-SPL thrill to experience his towering, field-coiled RCA theater horns powered by RCA 845 amplifiers.

Herb Reichert  |  Aug 24, 2023  |  6 comments
I'm going to tell a story about blind listening, because it illustrates what I consider the most important issue in today's audiophile environment. I'm going to skip the names of the participants because you probably know them. And I'm not going to name the components, because their role in this story is merely as symbols of their type. Here is what I'll reveal: We were playing LPs through an expertly curated, six-figure–priced sound system in a largish room that suited the large speakers perfectly.

The occasion was a "listening party" at a friend's apartment. The guest list included me and four of the most experienced listeners I know. The plan was for everyone to nosh lightly, drink good wine, and weigh in on a new, unnamed, not-free low-output MC phono cartridge, only available on a limited, made-to-order basis.

Herb Reichert  |  Aug 03, 2023  |  7 comments
I view poetry as more than a literary genre. It's a worldview and a state of being that frames my daily experience in the supernal. I've consumed a lifetime keeping my senses peeled for authentic, manmade mysteries, especially in art and music. Music is my favorite hunting ground, and nowhere have I found mysteries as DNA-deep as the 59 takes of 29 songs recorded in only five days by Delta blues legend Robert Johnson (1911–1938). I've played the Columbia Records 1961 anthology King of the Delta Blues Singers (Columbia LP CL 1654) 100 times since my days in Chicago as a teenager, and I still haven't grasped more than a portion of its juke-joint poetics.
Herb Reichert  |  Jul 11, 2023  |  24 comments
It was a cold March-in-Brooklyn morning. Clouds had been shedding wintery mix since daybreak. By 9am, birds were flash-mobbing my window, demanding suet. But I was frozen—unable to pull my mind loose from the grave flowings of American composer Ned Rorem's Book of Hours, as performed by Les Connivences Sonores on the album Musikalische Perlen (24/48 FLAC, Ars Produktion/Qobuz). The sounds in my room were sensuous and mesmerizing, and I needed to float in their mysterious energy as long as I could.

I was listening through the most compelling sound system I had assembled since I started writing for Stereophile. The dCS Bartók DAC/streamer was funneling the harmonic purity and hypnomagik of Odile Renault on flute and Elodie Reibaud on harp into HoloAudio's appropriately named Serene preamp, which was feeding Elekit's TU-8900 300B/2A3 kit amplifier, which was sending a few of its triode-tube watts to the TAD's $32,500/pair Compact Evolution One monitors, more compactly known as the TAD CE1TX.

Herb Reichert  |  May 31, 2023  |  22 comments
I wish that all who love LP playback as much as I do could hear a Thorens TD 124 or Garrard 301 or EMT 930 in their systems, but those products are subject to the vagaries of supply and demand: They are rare and pricey.—Art Dudley
Herb Reichert  |  May 04, 2023  |  0 comments
Since the 1980s, I've been asking every speaker designer I meet, "What amplifier do you recommend using with your speakers?" Annoyingly, they always say, "My speakers are easy to drive. Any amp will do." Whereupon I'd whine, "Aww, come on man, don't feed me that. What amp did you use when you were designing the speaker?" The closest any manufacturer came to providing a real answer was Wendell Diller of Magnepan, who, when I reviewed his .7 quasi-ribbon speaker, said, "We used an amp of our own design. It's not for sale. But any amp that doubles its power into 4 ohms will be fine." Wendell's answer helped me choose effective amplification and feel more confident about my conclusions.

Unlike loudspeaker manufacturers, headphone manufacturers know that which amp a reviewer uses could make or break a review of their product. So, wisely, they seem grateful when I ask for guidance.

Herb Reichert  |  Mar 21, 2023  |  16 comments
The hegemony of the skinny-box orthodoxy had me worrying about our collective music-listening future—until a day in September 2022 at Jason Tavares's elegantly appointed HiFi Loft in Hell's Kitchen, NYC, where, after auditioning Klipsch's new, spectacularly dynamic, precise-imaging Jubilee horns (which have front baffles 52" wide) and Harbeth's latest not-skinny-but-consummately-coherent SHL5plus XD, I auditioned these stout, unpainted, unveneered-plywood box speakers.
Herb Reichert  |  Feb 23, 2023  |  5 comments
As an upstart journalist-flâneur, my basic urge is to step on the gas and let my '54 Buick careen down the freeway, crashing into guardrails on both sides. Old Buicks were built for that, and I would love to take readers on one of those kinds of rides.

But when I write this monthly column, I find myself aiming for a different feel, more like driving cross-country in a '70s Ford station wagon, documenting motels and gas stations. A trip where it's fun to roll easy, take in the views, and stop at every car museum, snake farm, and stalactite cave.

This month, I'm going to put some miles on the Ford's odometer as I investigate the effects of Ron Sutherland's newest current-drive creation: a $3800 transimpedance moving coil headamp called the SUTZ. Along the way, I will also re-review Dynavector's $1250 DV-20X2 moving coil cartridge and examine what might be the sweetest spot in Dynavector's cartridge lineup: the $2150 XX-2 MKII.

Herb Reichert  |  Jan 24, 2023  |  9 comments
Everyone knows I'm a lucky guy. I was born in Chicago in nineteen-hundred and forty-nine, and as far as I can tell, that was the perfect year to be born. I missed the war, plague, and Depression horrors of the first half of the 20th century, and I witnessed the art, music, and cinema inventions of the second half.
Herb Reichert  |  Dec 28, 2022  |  24 comments
In my realm, the most sophisticated, intelligent, difficult thing anyone can do is create something mysterious. It could be a poem, a photo, a movie, a song, a symphony, or a piece of painted wood. What's most important is the mystery—and that experiencing the mysterious creation inspires in the observer a desire to probe its hidden realms, to somehow figure it out. Human cultures are founded on mysteries: Mysteries incite art, inspire science, and facilitate dreaming.

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