Christian Wolff and Gerard Rejskind interviews [Listen 33:45] – S02 Ep06 Drinking Orange Juice with Christian Wolff
Interview Date: January 9, 2012 @10am EDT
Special guest (Audio) (part 1 of 2) – Christian Wolff is one of the most respected and revered modern composers of our time. Starting out composing with a group of extraordinary artists and composers (what became to be known as the New York School Movement) consisting of Morton Feldman, Earl Brown, David Tudor, (choreographer) Merce Cunningham, and John Cage. It was Wolff who changed John Cage's musical direction forever by giving him the 'I Ching'; in addition, he worked with other leading 20th Century Composers like Frederic Rzewksi and Cornelius Cardew. He has gone on to compose well over 200 compositions, dating back to the early 1950's. His compositions are often improvisational, complex, and sometimes political in nature and intent.
Special guest (Print) (part 2 of 3) – Gerard Rejskind is a High-end stereo/Audiophile expert and the chief editor of UHF Magazine. With over 30 years of experience behind him, Mr.Rejskind has also taken his knowledge and written three books of particular interest to the industry. In addition to this, what he is probably most famous for are his "State of the Art” columns at the back of his magazine; which, in my opinion, is a wellspring of audiophile knowledge. He was nice enough to answer some stereo and turntable questions that I asked on behalf of our fans, fans of High-end, and those who are just getting into vinyl and High-end audio.
UHF website, or to order your subscription HERE.
GoingThruVinyl's Interview with UHF Magazine's Chief Editor Gerard Rejskind (continued)
GTV - Has this era's recession affected the audio market?
GR- It has, but in fact it accelerated what had begun years before. Those audiophiles who set up shop because they wanted to demonstrate how much better their products could sound have largely retired, or died. There are far fewer good dealers. That's especially serious for turntables, because turntables are mostly not plug-and-play. Even dealers who sell turntables have trouble finding people who know how to set one up correctly. At UHF, we see new turntables that were incorrectly set up at the factory, often shipped with alignment gauges that are inaccurate.
GTV - Some say that Hi-Fi systems for the home really got started when Linn brought out the Linn LP12 turntable? Is that true, and what was so special about that turntable?
GR-The Linn LP12 actually had predecessors, but it is iconic because it is the only one of those quality turntables whose development has continued into the modern era. Before the LP12, the motor was considered to be the dominant source of noise, then known as rumble. Linn, and some others, realized that in most tables the vibrations mainly came from the bearing. Thus, making a good turntable became a machining challenge. A bearing had to be quiet, but at the same it needed to be free of play, which would compromise the rigidity of the system and lose detail. It also had to turn at a steady speed, and that too turned out to be a machining challenge.
GR-Of course it never really went away, though turntables faded from popular consciousness, with the result that precious LPs wound up in garage sales. To my delight, by the way. What allowed the CD to replace the LP was not its audio quality, but its convenience. However, downloadable files are even more convenient. If it's maximum quality you want, though, the LP remains a contender.
GTV - In today’s market we have a new category of vinyl listeners who in some cases have never sat in front of a decent stereo, never mind walked into a high-end stereo store. What would you say to a person who considers themselves a music fan, has approximately $400 in a surround sound system hooked up to their computer. Why should someone who thinks they have a decent stereo bother to listen to a high-end stereo?
GR – The way to lure them in is to demonstrate a really musical system, which is of course what a proper store should be doing. I remember a time, long ago, when a visitor would see that you had a large stereo system and would inevitably ask to hear it. That never happens anymore, and offering to demonstrate it won't get you anywhere. Offer to play a piece of music you think the person will enjoy, and you'll get a totally different response. And you don't actually have to say anything at all, because the music will say more than you ever could.
GTV - Have you noticed there is often a divide between record aficionados and stereo aficionados. I find there are often two different extremes when talking to people who are serious about listening to music on turntables. One type is the person who has most of his money invested in a large collection of albums but plays them on a turntable and system that is only basic quality, and then there is the opposite type to that who has several thousand dollars tied up in equipment but only a few albums to listen to. The serious vinyl listener seems to draw both extremes, but I have not often a come across a person in the “happy medium.” Have you come across this? What would you say about the divide of values where people invest their money.
GR - It's not as bad as it used to be, because people who were, for a while, pulled into audio by its gee-whiz gadget appeal have moved on to even cooler gadgets, like video games and overclocked PC's. But I have a theory that not buying music is a sign of wrong choices in the playback system itself. If you look through your recordings and you can't find anything that tempts you, it's a sign that your system is not doing it for you. If the system is really performing, you'll want to hear all your favourite records again. And of course you'll want to get more.
GTV - I remember that a lot of a high-end components (whether speakers, turntable or amp) are designed around the principle of “simplification of design” to avoid degrading the signal. The “magic,” if you will, is in a combination of the quality of materials put into the component and innovative yet streamlined design mixed with tons of testing and tweaking. And the whole component comes together to do one thing but do it incredibly well. Do I have that right? Can you elaborate further for someone who isn't familiar to the audiophile concepts yet?
GR – It wasn't always that way, but the best designers years ago discovered that piling on circuits and components was a bad idea. Pretty much any part of a system, from circuits to cables to switches, lower system performance no matter how good they are. A lot of them can be omitted. Remember when all "hi-fi" amps and preamps had bass and treble controls? Never happens today.
GTV - What are your thoughts on surround sound. Is there such a thing as high-end surround?
GR - Oh sure there is, and several very high end audio manufacturers make audio processors for home theatre. From there, the rules for choosing amplifiers, cable and speakers are the same as for music systems. Indeed, a good surround sound home theatre system should also be able to play two-channel stereo exceedingly well. If not, it's not as good as you thought.
GTV - Can you give advice on turntable needles and cartridges? How much should one spend for the best sound out of an average system and how do I know whether I should get into a moving coil or stick with a moving magnet?
GR - We've written extensively about that, and there's no short answer. Start with the best turntable you can reasonably afford, add an arm worthy of it. and only then should you choose a cartridge. At one time, low-impedance MC cartridges were far superior, but today better magnets have made quality MM cartridges possible. A line contact stylus is something to look for, but it will be available only in more expensive cartridges.
GTV - I must have played hundreds of thousand hours of music on vinyl, although, I still don’t know the exact process in reproducing the sound from source to output. Can you explain in layman's terms some of the intricacies at work in sound reproduction. For example, how a needle picks up two different channels from one groove.
GR - The principle is an old one. In fact, in the early days, record manufacturers used two different systems for cutting a groove. Berliner, whose system eventually won out, used lateral, side-to-side modulation. Edison used vertical, hill-and-dale, modulation. In the modern 45-45 stereo record, lateral modulation is used for the combination of left and right channels, while vertical modulation is used for the left-minus-right difference signal. A simple matrix separates them out. Incidentally, the first 45-45 record was cut in the 1930's, at Bell Laboratories. And it was cut at slow speed...33 ⅓ rpm!
GTV - How do more expensive cartridges do a better job at reproducing sound?
GR - By being more precise. A top-grade phono cartridge is hand-made by someone looking through a microscope. The cartridge must be able to "read" tiny details with great precision, and so its own precision counts for everything.
GTV - I have heard some varying opinions on when to change a record needle. How do you know if your needle on is going (or gone)?
GR – Well, they do sell little handheld microscopes for checking stylus condition, though they're usually too crude to tell you much. A failing stylus produces audible problems, of course, though so does a dirty stylus. To make matters worse, a dirty connection or a bad cable can mimic a chipped stylus most convincingly. In my experience, cartridges fail more often from accidents than actual wear.
GTV - How damaging is playing a record on a bad turntable or an overused needle?
GR - It can't be good, but in fact records get damaged more often by poor handling and by being left lying around, rather than by being played on mediocre gear. What's more, a modern line contact stylus can play more of the groove wall, including parts that had never been touched before.
GTV - What are some basic steps one can take before making a purchase to avoid buying something that one will later regret?
GR - I would say that reading reviews may help, but then I would say that, wouldn't I? It may help to consider the track record of a designer and manufacturer. Do his design choices make sense? Will he be around if you need help?
GTV - Maybe you can help me come up with a solution to the biggest problem I have in high-end stereos. Let’s say I have a decent stereo (not great, but nothing obviously requiring an upgrade) and I want to sink some more money into it. How do I know where to get the “biggest bang for the buck” and secondly (and possibly more importantly), how do I know the piece of equipment will match what I have or give me the sound I’m trying to achieve?
GR - There's a whole chapter in one of our books, The World of High Fidelity, on just this topic.
GTV - Is there such a thing as a perfect sounding room, and are there things one can do to improve the sound of a room?
GR - Perfect, no, but good, yes. We published a guide to acoustics in UHF 77 through 84. As you might guess, there's no short answer.
Come back next week for part 3 of our 3 part written interview with UHF Magazine Editor and Audiophile expert Gerard Rejskind.
A great blog site that I check out often is Openculture.com. Recently, they just posted an article about how the New York Public Library is uploading a ton of John Cage's stuff in their online archive. Check it out HERE
Here are some great 20th Century Pieces to get you through your day: