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Positive Feedback ISSUE 67
The Whole Story (or sort of)...
Family childhood tales are often fictitious, exaggerated and distorted. They speak more about the narrators than real subject of the story. My parents' tales about me are no different. However, in this palimpsest of accumulated memories we can usually find a core around which individual stories revolve and dust off the sand our parents added. In my case there are two such stories. They both relate to the first two or three years of my life—my skill of screwing huge nuts on and off equally large bolts, and my ability to communicate with my dad using Morse Code. While I do not really remember the former, I have some recollections of the latter. My parents' friends used to confirm this anyway by greeting me with a sequence of letters and me answering 'ti-ti-ti, ti, ta-ti-ti-ta'…
Again, such tales speak most about parents, in this case about my father who seemingly 'forever' had been a radio ham fanatic, working exclusively with the key and holding voice communication in contempt. An active member of the LOK (Polish amateur radio community), he was among the first to be arrested during the 1981-83 period of martial law and interrogated on charges of espionage. Oddly enough, with short wave DXing it is easier for radio amateurs to communicate with Australia and Tobago than with the Czech Republic or another neighboring country…
Anyway, electronics were always part of our home. My first contact with recordings was through listening to fairy tales on vinyl and cassette tapes. Both sources had a common limitation though - because we lived in a small flat, I could only listen to the tales in the evenings and had to use headphones. Fortunately, radio hams spend half their lives with headphones on their heads so there were always three or four pairs around our home. I had two favorite pairs—not very comfortable but pretty Teslas and very well fitting, though ugly as sin, soft-shell military headphones used by the army's short-wave radio operators. I don't remember if I listened to any music back then.
Fast forward ten years. I was 13 years old and heard Depeche Mode on the radio for the first time. I had no idea who or what they were; the truth is, I didn't know much at all. Yet during my summer holidays at my aunt and uncle the same year, I recorded The Singles 81-85 on a 'Finezja' (Finesse) cassette tape recorder, the then Polish high-end. That was it! Other bands I listened to earlier, like Modern Talking or the Hungarian Omega and Locomotiv GT (on LPs brought by my dad's ham friends) landed in the trash. I had found my love.
However, since I had cassettes but no cassette player at home, I was most unhappy. Soon, a lucky accident changed things around but I will come back to that later. First, a few words about the comeback of the turntable in my life. Poland during the eighties was a country where people listened almost exclusively to vinyl. Reel-to-reel recorders and cassette players were few and far between, the CD almost unheard of. Unfortunately, Polish LPs were pressed on material of such disastrous quality that they were practically impossible to listen to, at least from today's perspective. But back then we didn't know better. And for me things weren't too bad at all. In order to make up for the missing cassette player, my father put together my first true audio system. The source was a German turntable, a very simple affair with an integrated loudspeaker. Fortunately, it had a DIN line out and was fitted with an additional crystal pickup. The line out was connected to another turntable, a huge, wooden Stereo 206 (I don't remember the brand). My mum nearly threw us out with all this yet softened over time and let the box stay. Placed vertically, it didn't take up much space. Let me draw your attention to its name –Stereo. Yes, it was a stereo turntable with an integrated amp about which I didn't know much yet, but my dad would say from time to time that 'such an output transformer would be rather difficult to find'. That's because one channel was as silent as a grave. Never mind though, I had one loudspeaker to go with this set, a tall chassis with an oval full-range driver. Ladies and gentlemen, make no mistake; we are talking here about an ultra-purist, recently very fashionable again mono system with a tube output stage and a high efficiency full-range driver in an open baffle. Praise the Lord, I was an audiophile already even though I didn't know then what such an oddity was…
The following year I had an accident. During a PE lesson, I attacked my colleague's shoulder so awkwardly that, bleeding, I had to be taken to the school nurse room. Maybe it wouldn't have ended up so badly had I not led the attack with my nose. The resulting open fracture opened the door to my future career because the money from my health insurance bought me my dream Unitra cassette tape deck. Life was beautiful. However, it soon turned out that cassettes recorded from my friend's turntable sounded better than the same LPs played on my turntable. I thought hard. This was the first time I concluded that clearly there had to be a difference between a good and poor turntable. Fortunately, someone watched over me from above because soon after that, the village I lived in during my elementary school years had the farms connected to the gas network. Together with my friend we signed up to the trench-digging team to raise funds. We were not fifteen yet! We lived in different times though and got away with it. With my monthly wages, I soon bought my dream Unitra turntable with stroboscope, straight tonearm, regulated speed, and MM cartridge. My father extricated a phono preamp from another device and so several years passed.
It was probably inevitable that the electronic technical high school became my natural choice. And so was the city of Krakow where we lived. But that was a completely different world. The music of Depeche Mode, Vollenweider, Jarré, the blown output stages in the school's broadcasting station where one day I decided to throw 'a school break party with the Depeches'… all this made up the atmosphere that shaped me. Even the title of my high school diploma Steering Automation for the Ceramic Kiln didn't bother me in the least.
The situation changed when one day I heard an announcement over the school broadcasting station that the 'Mascaron' Theatre of Satire was looking for a sound engineer. Why such an announcement at school? I have no idea and to this day nobody has been able to explain it to me. 'Mascaron' was a professional theatre and as such should have rather placed newspapers or radio adverts. But at school, even if it was the Electrical School Complex No. 2 in Krakow? Out of nowhere, it became one of the turning points in my life. Since it was October and I was already out of school for four months, the announcement should not have reached me yet it did. Before noon the same day—and I worked shifts then—I raced off to the Mascaron manager Mr. Biskup for a job interview. Did I have live sound engineering experience? Absolutely, I was a born expert! Say, I worked at the 'Chrypa' festival at the Nowohucki Cultural Centre. For proof, I produced a few pictures with performers, i.e. myself and the then well-known Polish singer Andrzej Zaucha, sitting together hugging in the cloakroom. All was true except for the fact that my job at the festival involved checking tickets…
Could I manage some small repairs? Me not manage? There had to be something in my assurances of mastery in these fields that had Mr. Biskup agree. I was to start the very next day. At 19.00 I had to come to the Town Hall (the theatre was located in the center of the Krakow Main Square) to be responsible for sound engineering the evening's performance. Luckily, I had no idea what was involved, otherwise I wouldn't have slept that night nor gone to work the next day. Fortunately, the sound engineer was seated right next to the light operator who sometimes used to work 'with both hands', managing simpler performances on his own. Even luckier, he probably took to me instantly as he never told anybody that I was sitting in front of a Peavey mixing table and Tascam reel-to-reel tape recorders for the first time in my life. And so it went …
Since no man shall live by bread alone, I decided to take up studies right after high school. As it happened, my other passion was literature, hence I enrolled at the Polish philology department of the Jagiellonian University. Because my theatre job only took evenings, there was no problem doing both at the same time. Then the next 'miracle' happened. One of my friends from the same the university class came running to Mascaron with the message that the Juliusz Slowacki Theatre, a prestigious Krakow theatre, was in urgent need of an experienced sound engineer. How did he know that? His uncle Jozef Rychlik, a professor at the Musical Academy in Krakow, composer and expert on music theory, was then the theatre's musical director. During the next Sunday luncheon, my friend mentioned me between hors-d'oeuvres. Half an hour later (both theatres are separated merely by the Main Square and Szpitalna Street), I was at the conversation with the uncle. Did I have some experience with sound engineering in a recording studio (the theatre had a recording studio? Most assuredly I had birthed many a recording (in my heart, I specified that mainly from the radio to the cassette tape recorder). How about experience with live sound engineering? Here I could honestly admit to experience as I had to set up, move, and assemble everything all by myself at Mascaron. "Why don't you come to rehearsal tomorrow and the next day to our HR manager to sign the work contract?" Apparently my job interview had gone over well enough. When Mr. Biskup learned of my new job, he thankfully didn't make difficulties and the same day terminated my Mascaron employment. Thus began the next chapter of my life.
Seven years later, with experience gained managing the sound engineering section at the Slovak as the theatre is popularly known in Krakow, with numerous recordings (the studio wasn't large but quite pleasant - 24 tracks of analog Tascam reel recorders, Yamaha reverb and Lexicon delay units, famous Neumann and AKG microphones, three Studer 2-tracks, DAT, etc.) of theatre and film music (i.e. for the Krakow composer Zygmunt Konieczny), as well as for the television; with hours upon hours spent on recording the performances of the Krakow Opera which performed in the Slovak on Sundays and Mondays; and last but not least with my just launched PhD studies in the field of contemporary Polish prose… well, I faced the dilemma of what to do next. Should I stay at the university and take up literature full time? Should I find some job in television or a recording studio? An accident (I naturally view it as divine intervention) decreed that my friend's brother having just returned from the USA would open in Krakow the audio distribution shop Audioholic, with such brands as McIntosh, VTL, Aerial, Runco, PSB, and Nakamichi. I was sucked in for almost two years.
In the nearby city of Chorzow meanwhile, the new Sound and Vision audio magazine was slowly coming together by this time. One day its representatives turned up at Audioholic with a job offer. It's not hard to imagine that a bit later, I became a Sound and Vision journalist, where I quickly crawled up the career ladder, first becoming deputy chief editor, a month later chief editor. Then new horizons opened before me. It turned out that soon after getting my PhD, I could start working in the magazine I had always dreamt about since its first issue when it was called From Audio to Radio—in the Polish Audio. And so it happened. I have been an editor there for the last six years.
After leaving Sound and Vision where I did almost everything (besides audio reviews and keeping an eye on the paste ups, I also worked with the photographer and the graphic section), my work at Audio where I only performed reviews left me lots of free time. Now my wife came up with the idea to start some kind of online audio magazine. Because I knew a graphic artist who specialized in such projects, I asked him to prepare a layout design and quote. Happy with both, I launched the first issue on the 1st of May, 2004, under the title High Fidelity OnLine or www.highfidelity.pl. As it turned out, there was a huge demand for this type of articles. Soon many audio companies were willing to cooperate, audio distributors wanted to put up advert banners, and so on. Not long after the fourth anniversary, I successfully registered the magazine at court and it's been called High Fidelity ever since. It is a monthly magazine published in the EU territory online or in print.
From 2009 High Fidelity has been part of an international group of magazines cooperating with 6moons.com publishing a few HF reviews each month.
Every year High Fidelity presents Awards of the Year and special Red Fingerprints awards. Besides that, we also Best Sound awards for the best sound at audio shows.
Can you imagine a better job? I live with my wife and two kids in my beloved, over thousand years old Krakow, surrounded by a group of friends. I am a happy person. I get to listen to music and am paid for it. I get to meet interesting people, test audio equipment most only dream of and get paid. Not everything is roses as there is no work without sacrifice. But I would never change trade. I don't need to wear a suit or shave every day, I can say "get lost" to neckties, I can spend as much time with my family as I want. I only have two rules to obey—absolute honesty towards readers and audio distributors, and meeting the deadlines (the internet abhors a vacuum). So I stick to those rules.
My audio system:
Turntable: AVID HIFI Acutus SP [Custom
Compact Disc Player: Ancient Audio AIR
V-edition, review HERE
Line Preamplifier: Polaris III [Custom Version] + AC Regenerator, regular version review (in Polish) HERE
Power amplifier: Soulution 710
Stand mount Loudspeakers: Harbeth M40.1
Domestic, review HERE
Integrated Amplifier/Headphone amplifier:
Leben CS300XS Custom Version, review
Interconnects: Acoustic Revive RCA-1.0PA |
Power Cables: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300, all
system, review HERE
Portable Player: HIFIMAN HM-801
Stolik: SolidBase IV Custom, read
HERE all system
FM Radio: Tivoli Audio Model One