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In Moratorium …Classical Music on Oregon Public Radio
When widespread programming changes were first announced in 1997, listeners of Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) were in an absolute uproar. Those changes including canceling most of the network’s music programming, in favor of news and other informational "talk" programming.
One especially well-loved program, Performance Today, was spared after huge pressure was brought to bear to have it reinstated.
So much has changed.
On January 15th, Performance Today will be dropped from the OPB lineup. This time, there was hardly a murmur of protest. Theories for this apathy include the presupposition that fewer and fewer people actually listen to classical music nowadays, and are simply more interested in the grisly and dehumanizing details of our modern feckless world.
After all, why put forth the intellectual and emotional effort to listen to Mozart, when you can passively soak up some spit-slinging third-world nut job, once again promising death to America …or numbly review the fifth re-hashing of a marginal daily news story, highlighting (pick one: Greed, Violence, Dishonesty, Greed)?
I do sympathize. It takes a lot of air time to explain why dozens of American boys and girls die each week for, what was it again? Oh yes, to prevent the deaths of American boys and girls.
Once we expunge all the beauty, the art, the music, those fragile voices of spirit and hope, perhaps death will become less onerous, less terrifying …hell, even welcome, because there will be precious few reasons to live.
Fie on thee, OPB, a pox on thy house! I got your "pledge" right here.
On Saturday, December 2, 2006, PFO Editor-in-Chief David W. Robinson was honored by receiving the Los Angeles & Orange County Audio Society's Founder's Award for 2006, during their annual banquet. Editor Robinson gave an address in response, which covered PFO, community, and the nature of the audio arts. The following two emails, lightly edited, are in response to that address, and are shared pro bono publico.
COMMUNITY: I'm so glad that you chose this topic. I believe that a strong sense of community is the vital ingredient missing from America's present culture. We have simply become too alienated and too fearful of each other. One thing I enjoy about the Los Angeles and Orange County Audio Society is that members help each other and are eager to share with each other. There is a true sense of community here that has become all too uncommon in everyday life.
THE ABSOLUTE SOUND: I know what you're getting at here, and absolutely agree. Well, maybe not 'absolutely'. I do have one argument that, as a guitarist, I think you'll understand. When I hear the sound of a guitar reproduced so well in my living room that it approaches what I know a real guitar to sound like, there is a thrill and a 'transformation' which simply does not occur with a mediocre recording or playback chain.
This does not mean that you have to throw away Sgt Pepper's. Some recordings simply have no 'live' context. And there is nothing wrong with that! The music is still great, and that's what it's all about. (And trust me, a lot of the music I love best was not recorded as well as I'd like. Oh, well...)
But when I listen to a great recording played back well, I feel that much closer to the music and the musicians. Heifetz thrills me, even on my car radio. But in my living room, I can also hear the bell-like tone of his Strad. That's a thrill too. And if that's what the 'absolute sound' guys are saying, they are not entirely wrong.
I think it's the very word 'absolute' which is objectionable. No recording ever sounds like their definition of the 'absolute'... on any system. (And based on some of the concerts you & I have attended, who would WANT that in their living room?)
One more thing; I believe that audio is actually TWO art forms, not just one. Reproducing recorded music is the art form we each practice at home. Recording music is another art form all to itself. I am very grateful to (and in awe of) those who do it best.
Sorry to be so long-winded. I hope there was something of interest in my remarks. Thanks again for the great speech, and for Positive Feedback.
Sorry for the very tardy response to your kind email. Ever since my return last weekend, I've been extremely busy catching up with various projects.
I'm glad to hear that you found my comments on PFO, community, and the nature of the audio arts to be helpful. They've been gestating for 10-15 years now, and are reaching maturity. I shared an overview of my thinking on the subject at the LAOC banquet; to fully develop them would require much more time, or an ambitious essay or small book. But what I said gives you the essence.
I didn't have the chance to address the problem of scale in audio reproduction, which would answer your point of the guitarist in your listening room. As a guitarist, I would agree that having the pure, transparent sound of a live guitar in our listening room is a worthy goal with a possibility of approximation at the sonic scale extent in some listening rooms...but as soon as we move to a chamber quartet, a jazz group, or a rock and roll band, the sonic scale required outstrips possibility in all but the most ambitious listening rooms. And as to orchestra, massed choirs—well…
In my opinion, with current fine audio technology, only multi-channel DSD has even a prayer of approximating a real soundfield, and conveying the dynamics, detail, dimensionality, and all other aspects of a sonic event in time and space. At the heart of this, I meditate, is transparency...the re-speaking of the recording with minimal veiling and maximum purity. I find myself wondering more and more if this isn't the audio virtue upon which all others rest.
Ultimately, I believe that the audio arts are seeking an all-encompassing spiritual and emotional response in the listener in his or her room...and that this resonance will be to an audio event, as mediated by the playback chain from the audio engineer and his microphone(s) all the way back to the playback moment in the listening room, and not to "live music" (which, by definition, cannot be incarnate in the audio arts).
As I noted, a fine black and white photograph (e.g., the work of Edward Weston or Ansel Adams) is NOT an attempt to re-create a "live event." It is an attempt to use the creative possibilities of an artistic medium to render an artistic VISION accessible to its beholders. This is what Weston meant when he spoke of a "super-reality"...that one of his photographs of (for example) a pepper could be "more than a pepper."
Just like our recordings and our audio playback can be "more than a live event." Personally, I do not distinguish between these two as art forms; I view them as a continuum, with greater and lesser luminaries at either end. And do not forget that at the far side of that playback is you. You yourself are an ongoing work of art…or not.
Some listeners are quite worthy; others, alas, little more than swine before whom pearls are cast in vain....
All the best to you in your audio journey,
The concept of audio as its own art form in action resonates [!] with me. There is too great a tendency from the "sound police" to "normalize" and to ignore what might justifiably be personal preferences. Your viewpoint opens the field tremendously.
Another item that I applauded during your talk relates to the sound level at live performances. Nowadays, I never go to a live concert without my earplugs. I am sure you know by experience the strange looks you get with the yellow plugs coming out of the ears!
In this respect, I would be interested to know what sound level you normally listen to in your listening room, or what reachable sound level you consider acceptable from a hi-fi installation. I am currently using low wattage, single-ended tube amps [4 Watts to 8 Watts] with moderately sensitive speakers. People tell me that this is not good, that more power is needed. However, except maybe for symphonic or organ works, etc., the reproduction is loud enough for near field or small room listening [and definitely too loud for my wife!]
…Many thanks & best regards,
Please accept my belated thanks for your kind comments. I hoped that my address would be helpful to those who heard it, and am glad that it did something for you.
In my listening room, I am in a moderately nearfield position. (To see my room description, go to PFO at http://www.positive-feedback.com/staff.htm, top of the page.) I listen to most music at moderate levels, though sometimes I do yield to the temptation to crank it up a bit...rock and roll and large orchestral works being particular favorites of mine. SACD via my EMM Labs Signature Edition front end and LPs via my Walker Audio Proscenium Black Diamond system, mediated by terrific electronics like that of the make it possible to listen to great recordings at higher levels of playback without distortion.
In your situation, if you are satisfied with the results, that is the most important thing. 4-8 Watts is relatively low power, but your setting may not take much more. If you are not listening to much orchestral or organ music...both of which place greater demands on the dynamic range of a given playback system...then you're fine. Remember that the musical tastes of the listener are a very critical component in the synergy of a given fine audio system. The genres of music that delight your soul help to determine the design and execution of your listening room and its associated system.
Don't be embarrassed of your musical preferences and the SPLs thereof, Pierre. The only person who must be delighted with what you experience in your listening room is you.
Too many audiophiles forget this, to their unending insecurity....
All the best,
1. How did the Tara interconnects (that you just reviewed) compare to the Kubala-Sosna wires ?
2. Are you still going to review the mbl 6010d preamp? How good is it?
First, let me state unequivocally that these two cable brands are my everyday, workhorse wires, used more than any others in my library. Now let me add that that they don't sound that much alike.
TARA The 0.8 and The One power cord are in the "accurate" camp. In addition, they are warm, full-bodied and fleshy. The 0.8 with ISM Onboard has a darkish tonal balance and an uncommonly powerful low-end. Ditto for The One power cord. The 0.8 with Floating Ground Station is tonally lighter, like many other wires. What the TARA wires have in common, though, is high scores on the main audiophile report card. Chances are when you put these in the character of your sound won't change too much, but it will be improved in the ways most audiophiles strive for.
The Kubala-Sosna Emotion is a "musical" cable. Like the TARA, it is also warm, full-bodied and fleshy, but it has more overall bloom and more energy in the lower midrange through upper bass. Tonal balance is in-between the two versions of the TARA 0.8. Chances are when you put these in, coherency and integration will improve and your overall sound will come together and be more musical.
As far as the mbl 6010D preamp, I miss it. It is definitely among the best I've encountered. Mostly because I couldn't easily accommodate its size, I had to settle for the little mbl 5011. Not that I have much to complain about, because the mbl 5011 is a best buy at its price point. But the month or so I tasted the 6010D left me with the knowledge of what's possible—and it spoiled me. It has everything the 5011 has, but amazingly, it also brings soul to the table, something that I now have to go fishing for elsewhere.
I don't have immediate plans on reviewing the 6010D (too much else is going on), but that could change down the road.
Thanks for reading my articles,
Dear Mr. Robinson,
Keep going with the good work.
Thanks for asking Denis Guegan—and good to know PFO extends to France! (Please disregard any previous jokes on my part about Sam Tellig's fondness for French hi-fi—at least I don't use the "F" word for real all the time, like they do on shows like Comic Relief) ...But, I digress ...Allow me to try and compare the AES "SixPacs" directly to the CAD45SE. But there is an important context that needs to be taken into consideration.
The "SixPacs" are designed by Dennis Had under his Audio Electronics moniker—but they are built right in the same room in Apex, North Carolina as all his other Cary Audio products—I visited there and saw that. So parts quality and assembly are not an issue. The SixPacs were the first Dennis Had product I wrote about a few years back for PFO. (And I am pleased to see them offered in the current Music Direct catalogue). However, I had previously lived with the lower-powered single-ended Cary Audio 300SE amps. In my case, running at that time moderately efficient Sonus Faber speakers, the Sixpacs opened up their sound and increased the dynamic life far beyond what the 15 watt 300SE amps were able to do.
The same situation applies, though even more so, in terms of appropriate loudspeaker matching for Dennis Had's new CAD45SE design. We are talking 2 & 1/2 watts of output here! I don't need to repeat my current review, but I will just state that the crucial thing here is loudspeaker efficiency and impedance ratings, in relation to amplifier capabilities. One interesting factor that you have no doubt noticed, is that both of these fine products, the SixPacs and the CAD45SEs, retail for the same amount. That's why I think Dennis is correct when he states that custom-building a pair of his new 45SE's and selling them at $2500 is a "bargain." There is no question that the CAD45SEs are a more sophisticated amplifier—BUT an appropriate marriage must be arranged, in terms of speakers.
Loudspeaker efficiency ratings can be counter-intuitive; smaller 'bookshelf' designs are not necessarily more efficient than larger floorstanders. The actual efficiency results depend on physical and electronic design choices. For example, the superb Verity Audio "Sarastro", a full-range floorstanding design, is rated at a figure of 95dB efficiency. This is a nice figure in terms of amplifiers like the CAD45SE, and is a LOT more efficient than my former reference, the Sonus Faber "Concerto" which lived in the 89dB area. You probably know this stuff, but Robert Harley summarizes the math clearly in his "Complete Guide to High-End Audio" text.
Mr. Harley simply states: "...the loudspeaker should be chosen for the amplifier that will drive it...Loudspeakers are rated for sensitivity by measuring their sound pressure level (SPL) from one meter away while they are being fed 1 watt of power ...Each 3dB decrease in sensitivity requires double the amplifier power to produce the same SPL." Mr. Harley also states that "The lower the louspeaker's impedance, the more demand is placed on the power amp." So in concrete terms of comparing the AES SixPacs and the CAD45SE, I can truly state that the choice, for me, would not be made in the abstract. The SixPacs are incredibly lively, agile, musical, and dynamic performers, that are capable of dealing with any but the most intransigent loudspeakers. Rated at 60 watts of triode output, you are going to get fine dynamic sonic presentation with most anything of decent quality on the current loudspeaker market. I lived with the SixPacs for some time, during which they brought to life the medium efficiency Sonus Faber"Grand Piano" floorstanders in my Victorian-sized living room. Those speakers are rated at a 90dB figure—o.k., but not high-efficiency. Would the CAD45SEs drive those same Sonus Fabers? I did not have them on hand any longer to directly A/B, but I can pretty much assure you that they would not have—they would feel dynamically restricted, and would have required me to crank the Cary SLP98 preamp I also own, to overly high levels, at which point, despite what a wonderful quiet performer that preamp is, one would wonder about introducing noise at the preamplifier stage.
Now, to contrast this with the CAD45SEs. If you currently own, or are shopping for loudspeakers, I feel that Dennis Had knows his own children best. Look for a loudspeaker with a MINIMUM 92dB rating, and Dennis himself recommends loudspeakers in the 95dB range and higher. Then you will be in a position to reap the sonic benefits of the low-powered single-ended 45 tube triode output of the CAD45SEs. And those benefits compared to the Sixpacs are: increased musical fidelity to the source (due in part to increased linearity—see my review of the CAD45SE's), and magical tactile sensual re-creation of musical harmonics, that so far I have not heard bettered in my system—even from the other fine Cary Audio amplifiers I have spent time with.
As I said in my review of the CAD45SEs, and Dennis Had agreed with me, "these amplifiers are not for beginners." IF you know what you are looking for, and are willing to match your system in an appropriate way, the CAD45SEs are going to bring you something wonderfully musically unique. And at the price that Dennis Had is willing to build them for you at this point, they really are a high-end bargain. I am missing them already!
Thanks for Listening,
You know, I've been saying the same thing for years, starting in the late eighties when I started "the audio analyst©." I've tirelessly and repeatedly explained that, like me, most of the others I know who take the time to try to share collected experiences about this hobby just don't have the time and/or other limited resources (like page space in print or server space on the web) to waste on such negative endeavors. If it doesn't musically "move" me, why in the world would I take the time to write about it... Send it back, with a thank you albeit, but with no review. And honestly, given the proliferation of review sites, not seeing a review on a particular product should be indication enough that NO ONE liked it that much!
As you perhaps imply, I personally have always felt that the penning of a scathing dislike of some product must represent some form of dark and egocentric satisfaction. In fact, the few times I can recall reading such works, they came off as either that the reviewer had some bone of contention to pick with the designer/manufacturer of the product under audition or that he was trying to show just how smart or clever he believed he was... Either way, it just didn't work and came off as the self-serving offering that it was, contributing NO real value to the intended audience.
I just HOPE some of the conspiracy theorists out there GET IT this time, after reading such a succinct and well rounded defense of the proposition. Bravo, my good man. Be well.
P.S. I share your position on SETs...
I first put an ERA board under my Modwright Sony SACD player, and it did that magic integrating thing that you described. However putting one under my modified Unico integrated amp did not seem to make much of a difference, and I'm wondering if I would reap more sonic rewards by putting it under my Transparent power conditioner instead. Anything you've learned about them would be appreciated.
Dear Mr. Bernardino,
Your questions are pertinent. As time passed, my needs changed, and so did my understanding and use of the ERAudio boards. Back when I reviewed them, I found them useful everywhere.
Now, after some major upgrades, I'm only using one board, under the Linn LP12, which sits on a TAOC shelf. I've found them actually deleterious with other components, like mbl or the Kharma MP-150s. These components seem to be hurt by the boards. (BTW, the MP-150s are sitting on Harmonix TU-888 System Tuning Boards.) The TAOC products are just as powerful, but more neutral. The Harmonix have the greatest impact, but are also the most colored.
What do we learn from this? That there is no Golden Rule. Definitely try them in other places.
Thanks for reading my stuff,
Dear Mr. Robinson,
Every so often, a component finally gets upgraded to the point where I'm done (yeah, sure!). Well, my amp, preamp and speakers are finally there.
It sounds like you have been through quite an audio voyage yourself, David. Given the speakers you've used...and particularly the MBL's...you've certainly needed the sort of authority that the 2060 brings to audio reproduction.
I am still fascinated by what I experienced with the Boulder 2060...and by what I did not. I suspect that some audiophiles would find the 2060 to be off-putting, so "not there" as to induce a kind of audio vertigo. There is little doubt in my mind that some people really *need* to have "something there" in their audio reproduction...some warmth, something golden, a touch of richness, something they can toss their audio anchor into. (Thus the back-and-forth between Dr. Sardonicus and I; he prefers a touch of cream and sugar in his coffee!) There's nothing wrong with that, but such folks will probably not be comfortable with the level of transparency and authority that the 2060 brings to a listening room.
Me, I found it to be a remarkable experience, one that re-set my benchmark for that elusive quality, "neutrality" in an audio system.
If I had the funds for a Boulder 2060, I'd probably succumb to the temptation to purchase one.
I note that the Lindemann can be hooked up directly into one's amplifier. Have you tried this configuration with your BAT amp? If so, what kind of results did you get and was it anything close to having the VK-51SE in the signal line?
I also understand that the Lindemann provides the user with the ability to fully bypass it's built-in volume control and preamp section. Is this correct?
Thanks for any information you can provide.
I should give that a shot in the next few weeks.
Hi Mr. Robinson,
I am an audiophile in Hong Kong. There are a lot of Mainland China-made hi fi components selling at unbelievably low prices in Hong Kong. However, the main concerns are their unreliable QC & lack of after-sale service, particularly those without a local (Hong Kong) sole agent.
Their products' sole agent in Hong Kong is Hi Fi Tone (www.hi-fi-tone.com). It also takes care of some well known brands such as Raysonic and Aurum Cantus (OEM of Red Rose speakers but at much much lower prices.)
I just read your "trashy" article (PFO Issue 27 at http://www.positive-feedback.com/Issue27/trash.htm) and I could not agree more!
Besides writing classical reviews for PFO, I also write some for SA-CD.net. As you may know, SA-CD.net has a forum where people can basically say what they want. Well, some time back, some dweeb actually posted a whiny comment about why all the reviews he sees are all 4 and 5 stars! He stated that all of these recordings could not possible be that good!
Well, as much as I try to be a mild mannered human (despite bitchy partisan politics and Austin's traffic) I posted a rather sarcastic reply where I told him that I acquire roughly 10-20 SACDs a month, sometimes more. I also told him that my library has topped 500 titles and that there is not enough time in each day to review every SACD I purchase. I told him that I actually do have a life away from my audio system!
I ( as well as a few others) proceeded to tell him that the ONLY SACDs I will review are those that truly move my soul (wait, is that actually gas?) and get my hair standing on end!!! I will never waste my time on any recording that does not blow me away ...PERIOD!
If he (or others) do not like it, well, that can kiss my left ..wait, umm, cough cough ...uh, never mind!
Your review reminds me again how much better an industry ours would be if we could somehow pare down the number of "reviewers" by about 90-95%, leaving only people like yourself who love music deeply and who have not lost sight of the original intent of all this insanity!
Dear Mr. Robinson,
After their review of Antique Sound Lab AQ1001 amplifier I ordered one directly from the factory about a year ago. I decorated it with premium NOS tubes and now I enjoy its glorious sound.
Prof. Dr. Novica Milicevic
We are pleased to hear that you found our reviews of the Antique Sound Lab AQ1001 amplifier to be helpful to you.
After all, the joy of audio is what this is all
about, no? And it sounds like that is exactly what you've found.