Sunday, February 26, 2012

Slightly Off Topic: Polaroids

A running theme of this blog has been the superiority of vinyl music reproduction to current digital music formats. I'm convinced that it's not an exercise in nostalgia, where one clings to an outdated inferior technology for sentimental reasons. Well, there's the nostalgia, too. But there's no doubt that vinyl records just sound better. The market has abandoned records and turntables for other reasons--lack of convenience, better profits in digital music (ironically that didn't work out as it opened the pirating floodgates), and just a general tendency of the market to push and the public to adopt the new, new thing.

Another technology that I was sad to see abandoned was Polaroid film. Sure, there are countless advantages of digital photography over film photography, including Polaroids, but one thing the Polaroid had over digital imaging and other films was its magic. Who didn't have a sense of wonder the first time seeing an image appear right before their eyes on that plasticky sheet of Polaroid film.

I recently picked up a Polaroid OneStep CloseUp camera at a thrift store. It looks to be in good shape. Of course, I'll need some Polaroid 600 film. Fortunately a company called The Impossible Project, consisting of former Polaroid workers, bought the last Polaroid factory and resumed making Polaroid film. I've ordered a pack to test out the camera and, more importantly, to find out if there's still magic in the technology.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Going Vintage: Salvaging the 70s

My audio project of assembling a vintage system had been stalled for a while now. A few years ago I started with a pair of 70s era KLH Model 17 speakers with a linen-like cloth grill and real wood veneer cabinet. I then picked up a 70s era Thorens TD-160 turntable. I had everything hooked up to an integrated amp bought new in the late 90s, which looked out of place. Recently I got extra motivated to complete the vintage system. I finally found a 70s era Marantz 2275 receiver with a walnut veneer cabinet to go with the turntable and speakers. And, whoa, she's a beauty!

Only if CD Players were made in the 60s and 70s. My California Audio Labs cd player looks plain-janey on top of the Marantz receiver. Grado SR-80 head-phones (shown on top) always had a retro look.

Swiss-made precision, the Thorens TD-160, spinning Detroit-made rock, Bob Seger's Night Moves.

KLH 17s designed by legendary speaker designer Henry Kloss before he sold the company to some foreign conglomerate that succeeded in equating the KLH brand to cheap plastic crapola.

The vintage system is set up in the bedroom. It sounds and looks fantastic. The total cost of this system is about how much I spent on the speaker wires for my main system!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Chance Discovery: Clyde McCoy

Last week, I picked up an old Mercury 10-inch jazz record by Clyde McCoy. For 50 cents I was willing to find out what was in the grooves. If McCoy's name sounds familiar, it's because he was a member of the McCoy clan that feuded with the Hatfields. Or, if you're into the history of electric guitars, you may know that the first wah-wah pedal was named after him, because it simulated the wah-wah effect that he mastered on the trumpet using a mute. McCoy also co-founded the venerable jazz magazine Downbeat.

According to Wikipedia, McCoy's best known song "Sugar Blues", which sounds like straight bluesy jazz to me, topped the "country (hillbilly)" music charts. Here's another example of how the borders of country music was wide open in the past (see previous post on the hardening of the boundaries between country and R&B music). Later, the song was recorded by country artists such as Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys and used in the movie Some Like It Hot.

It's all a wonderful bit of music history learned from a random record purchase.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Snobs vs. Connoisseurs

In case you didn't know:

Is there such a thing as perfect taste? No. Taste just comes down to preferences. It makes no sense to claim one has perfect preferences. That’s my definition of a snob—a person who believes his taste is superior to others and by inference he is better than others. Snobs are insufferable. Contrast that to someone who can discern and appreciate quality based on knowledge. I call this person a connoisseur.

Let’s consider audio speakers to illustrate the distinction. There are people who think Bose speakers are high quality, high fidelity speakers. Bose speakers obviously are not. Even the most expensive Bose speakers have bloated, undefined bass, can’t convincingly reproduce a coherent soundstage, and can’t convey dynamic subtleties in the recording. I’m not being a snob, because I’ve heard speakers that reproduce music much better than Bose speakers. The people who think Bose speakers are great, I believe, fall for the superior marketing of the company and haven’t been exposed to true high fidelity speakers.

Sonus Faber is an Italian speaker manufacturer that makes speakers that range in price from a couple thousand dollars to tens of thousand dollars. Their speakers do everything right that Bose speakers don’t. However, I don’t like Sonus Faber speakers. They have a sonic character that I find is a little too lush and dark for my taste. SF speakers don’t distort the music, but they definitely have a certain sound (just as some musicians say an Amati violin sound different from a Stradivarius. Both violins produce correct notes, but have slightly different sonic character.) I ended up buying German-made Audio Physic speakers after auditioning them next to Sonus Faber speakers. At this level, it would be ridiculous to claim AP speakers are superior to SF speakers. It’s only a personal preference. People who are willing to make the claim of the superiority of one brand over the other cross the line from being a connoisseur to being a snob.