Gramophone Dreams

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Herb Reichert  |  Mar 29, 2016  |  12 comments
"Hail, Neophyte!"

That's what members of the Smoky Basement Secret Audio Society would exclaim in unison at the end of each ceremony admitting a new devotee. It was called the Smoky Basement Society not because everyone smoked (though they did), but because its members believed that whenever an audio designer finally got a design dialed in just right, he or she had metaphorically "let the smoke out." They exclaimed, "Hail, Neophyte!" because they believed that the most important aspect of being an audio engineer was to have a fully open "beginner's mind." In Zen practice, this is called Shoshin, or beginner's heart.

Herb Reichert  |  Feb 10, 2016  |  6 comments
Everyone in the room can hear the difference when I swap one phono cartridge for another. Same thing happens with loudspeakers. This is because both of these magnet-based transducer technologies are electromechanical devices, traditionally made of paper, wood, iron, and copper. (Nowadays, polymers, aluminum, and carbon composites are more typical.) Both are motor-generator mechanisms that either convert mechanical energy into electrical energy (cartridges) or vice versa (speakers). As audio devices, they are spool-and-wire simple, but even tiny changes in the materials and/or how those materials are configured can cause easily audible differences in how they transmit or present recordings of music. Why? Because every gross fragment and subatomic particle of these electromechanical contraptions is moving and shaking—shaking everything from the tiny jumping electrons to the wood, metal, and/or plastic containers that fix and locate these motor generators in space.
Herb Reichert  |  Dec 02, 2015  |  8 comments
The golden rays pouring in through the left oculus transport a tiny child carrying a cross: ". . . the devil was vanquished, as if he had just swallowed the bait in the mousetrap." In his essay "'Muscipula Diaboli,' The Symbolism of the Mérode Altarpiece," the late art historian Meyer Schapiro explains how every object, every surface—even the smoke, light, and volume of space—depicted in the famous triptych by Robert Campin (ca 1375–1444) is a coded symbol explicating the mystical underpinnings of Netherlandish Protestantism.
Herb Reichert  |  Oct 15, 2015  |  11 comments
I used to get invited to these highly secret audio soirées, held in a basement workshop at the end of a dark, garbage-filled alley in Manhattan's Chinatown. There was no street address—only a wire-glass window in a metal door—and if you didn't know the password (ie, if you weren't carrying some type of audio amplification), you weren't allowed to enter. That said, sometimes nonmembers were allowed to attend, but only when a member needed help carrying monoblocks: There was no parking nearby.
Herb Reichert  |  Aug 06, 2015  |  2 comments
I believe in historical consensus. I believe in hi-fi gear that reveals its quality slowly and holds it value over time, irrespective of technology. I have never bought into the superiority of one technology over another. The art of audio engineering lies in the wisdom and vital energy of the designer's viewpoint within whatever technology he or she has chosen to work with. I call this the designer's qi or chi. Every audio product's most important specification is who created it, followed by the spirit in which it was fostered—and, of course, how it was made and what it is made of. These are the determining factors for long-term audio relevance.
Herb Reichert  |  May 27, 2015  |  3 comments
So, audiophiles, riddle me this: What does a DAC actually look like? I don't mean the box it hides in—I mean the little doodad that does the actual converting from digital to analog. Is it bigger than a phono cartridge? Is it made of rain-forest wood, gemstone, or porcelain? Do people show it to their friends, who gawk in awe and envy? Does it have an exotic, geisha-sounding name like Jasmine Tiger, Koetsu Onyx, or Miyajima Takumi? When it breaks, does a watchmaker type rebuild it for a not-insubstantial fee? Do people hoard them in vaults, like NOS tubes? Can you trade a DAC for a rose-gold Rolex Oyster Bubbleback ca 1945?
Herb Reichert  |  Mar 11, 2015  |  20 comments
Before I moved to the boat, I lived in a big old firehouse with a shiny brass pole and a red door. The fire engines were gone but it was still a boy-toy pilgrimage site. The first thing one noticed on entering was a red 356 Porsche coupe. Behind it was a black '32 Ford hot rod with a flat-head V8 and triple Strombergs. Behind that was a 1939 Lincoln convertible from some Godfather movie. On the second floor . . .
Herb Reichert  |  Dec 16, 2014  |  2 comments
• 1947: General Electric introduces a variable-reluctance phono cartridge with a 0.3mil sapphire stylus and 11mV output.

• 1948: Brook Electronics Inc. (Elizabeth, New Jersey) introduces the 12A audio amplifier and 12A3 preamplifier, beginning the era of high-fidelity audio separates.

Since hi-fi's postwar beginnings, hundreds of high-quality audio inventions for the home have thrilled and satisfied music lovers worldwide. But inevitably, no more than a few score companies, and maybe a dozen or so engineer-designers, have defined audio's most creative and enduring achievements.

Herb Reichert  |  Oct 02, 2014  |  6 comments
My best old friend, "David Ray of Today," dropped out of school when he was 15 so that he could stock vegetables on the night shift at the IGA in a small Illinois farm town. By the time he'd turned 25, he owned five houses, 25 Cadillacs, and a barn full of knickknacks.

David chose to work nights so his days would be free to buy objets d'art at the local Salvation Army store. He bought Fiesta Ware, Bakelite radios, homemade quilts, and locally fashioned tin chicken-feeders. The quilts had to be hand-sewn and in perfect condition, with no stains. The radios had to work, have all their knobs, and their Masonite backboards had to be whole and unbroken. Most important, none of these things could cost over $5.

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