for your approval is an interesting diversion into a host of technical
topics, after which we'll get back into Stan's days at JVC.]
keeps a Hewlett-Packard Model 130C oscilloscope centered in his playback
area. He uses it to check amplitude, phase, channel balance
and, yes, absolute polarity. He
finds it to be an invaluable tool.]
Dave: The very first thing we did today when I arrived at
your place was to listen for absolute polarity and do a little demo of that.
Stan: With one of Jan-Eric Persson's recordings.
We played "Nobody's Blues But Mine" and we played
"Black Beauty." These are from Thomas Ornberg's Blue Five, Opus 3, No. 9102
and Opus 3, No.8003, respectively. And
the sonic differences there are very evident when flipping the absolute
polarity switch on the Parasound D2000 D-A converter.
Dave: You could quite clearly hear the difference.
Your favorite test of absolute polarity is trumpet, correct?
Stan: It’s certainly, for me, the easiest; any
instrument that produces a sawtooth or highly
waveform will work. And the
trumpet [or trombone] is so easy because your hearing acuity is highest in
the mid band, which is where these sounds live.
I remember one time helping a friend of mine here in town.
Tommy Pearl has a band here called The
Burners, and it's basically like a Chicago
group. It's a rock band with brass [trombones and trumpets] and
saxophones in it. Tommy plays
very good trumpet. He had this sound system that was really quite good and I
remember one time I was helping him get set up at the Officer's Club, and he
was playing his trumpet. Every time he played his solo into one particular
mic (pinching his nose) "it just sounded like this."
And he was having the guys run around back stage trying things with
EQ and gain structure and everything else.
And he couldn't get that really bad sound out. He took a break and he came down to where I was sitting; we
were talkin' and I said, "Tommy, I think you've got a polarity
inversion in that one cable." And
he said, "Yeah, 'ya think so? Would
that make a difference?" And
I said, "Yeah, you can you blow on your trumpet, and the wave form is a
sawtooth wave. You've got
almost nothing here on the zero volts line and then you've got these big
spikes that go up. But they
don't go down below the zero-line. They just look like the dorsal fins on a
dinosaur, 'ya know." [Stan now knows that real dinosaurs, as opposed to
cartoon dinosaurs, didn’t have dorsal fins, thanks to his friend Robert.
Even the dimetrodon had but one "sail" on its prodigious
I said to Tommy, "if you can imagine yourself suckin' on your trumpet
to produce the polarity inversion of that, the negative going, that's what
coming out of the loudspeaker." (Pinching
his nose again) "It
sounded really bad!" So he
put in another cable and, "Wow-wee."
It was there. Just 'ya
know, like Clark Johnsen'd say, "the difference between night and
day." And yes, it was, it absolutely was.
It's something that literally everybody in that band was able to
hear, whether he was the drummer, or the keyboardist, or anybody.
the loudspeaker system! Because
the loudspeaker system is along the front of the stage and they're all
behind it, they're only hearin' the back side radiation, and they could still
hear the difference!
interesting. And I know that at the last two Sapphire Club meetings I've
been to at your kind invitation, it seems like everyone there recognizes the
value of absolute polarity. That
should warm Clark's heart. We
could see that on your oscilloscope here, too.
Stan: Right, right.
And I'm going to bring my string bass in here [the cutting room] and
set it up. It's got a pickup on it which I can plug into the system and you
can see the effect of downbow/upbow really, really easily.
And if you can see it, you can hear it.
So we can record some of it on the Panasonic SV-3800 DAT recorder and
then play it back without the effect of having the bass fiddle in the room.
Dave: You were talking earlier about piano recording and
absolute polarity, and how that ought to be done.
Stan: Piano is a peculiar instrument in that if you look
at the way the hammers attack the strings, the hammers come from in front,
if it’s an upright or spinet-type instrument.
They attack from the viewpoint of the performer or the
observer; they hit the strings, causing them to depart from the listener. The
string's first shock wave going at the sound board is in the same direction,
so when you look at the spikes on a piano that have been recorded with
microphones from in front of [at the player’s location] the instrument,
you see a lot of negative-going energy.
That's what we saw in that one recording of the Ornberg Five, there
from the Opus 3, where after we reversed the absolute polarity, all the
other instruments were positive-going polarity, but when the piano did its
solo, we saw negative-going polarity. Now,
if the microphone had been placed, if it's an upright piano, at what we
normally call the back side of the instrument, all that would've been
changed. Just turning the piano
around 180 degrees or miking from the backside would've alleviated that kind
of problem. Some folks
would think that it's a minor thing, but it's one of those things that,
taken in totality with a whole bunch of other things, can make the
difference between really feeling like you're there and the feeling like,
I'm there but there's somethin' a little not quite right about this.
Concerning grand piano sound, the polarity goes the other [+] way
because the hammers strike the strings from underneath, displacing strings
and soundboard upward, presumably toward the mic diaphragm, giving positive
polarity at the output of a properly wired mic.
And that gets us into this positive polarity situation that I was
talking to you about on the string bass where the down bow and the up bow
are of reverse polarity from one another, which can clearly be seen on the
of the things that the Philadelphia Orchestra, under Eugene Ormandy, was
famous for, was the broad, rich string sound.
Ormandy encouraged random bowing in his string sections, especially
on recording sessions, because he knew that a down bow sounded different
from an up bow. This is why,
when you want to accent a note, the composer/arranger writes it for a down
bow. If he wants three accented notes he'll write three successive
down bows. Not down, up, down.
They sound different. They
are different. And, not that
the musicians understand too much about the polarity of the output, but
their ears tell em, "Yeah, there's a difference in sound.
I don't know why, but there's a difference in sound and the down bow
sound is what I want here." If
they want something quieter, like a quiet entrance to something, they'll
almost always specify an up bow. If
they want something to enter gracefully, its an up bow.
It's an inverted polarity.
Dave: One of the questions Raymond Chowkwanyun wanted me
to ask you was whether you prefer Westrex or European cutting heads.
Stan: One of the things that I've always been impressed
about with Westrex cutterheads is that their bass sounds so good.
They really do. Now, let's face it. A
Westrex is a big ass machine. I
mean, hell, it's got a huge magnet structure.
That’s a very, very healthy magnet structure and it was a basically
medium impedance, 16 ohm type thing, designed to be driven by tube
amplifiers, and it had very good conversion efficiency.
So the old Westrex systems were driven by their tube Westrex 70 watt
per channel amplifiers. Hell,
they were very good sounding systems. Where
they didn't do so well was in the real high frequency stuff because it’s
difficult to accelerate such a large moving mass.
Again, with that RIAA equalization, it didn't take much to cause them
to go “bad news”. And the
amplifiers and the RIAA networks weren't as stable in those days as they are
nowadays. But boy, I tell ya,
what good sounds Bernie Grundman cuts with his Haeco cutters, which are,
basically, modified Westrexes! They're
large-mass devices and they work very well.
need to talk about Haeco for a moment.
Holzer Audio Engineering
Co. Howard Holzer was
as near-genius as anyone in the earlier days of microgroove recording.
He had great ears and knew the theory and creative, practical
application of electro-physics probably better than any other engineer alive
during his time. He was the engineering brains behind the original Audiophile
Records that began as microgroove
78 RPM 12 inch cuts with unbelievable dynamic range.
They were pressed on clear red vinyl and had gold labels and sounded
as good as they looked! When
Howard came to trust 33 1/3 RPM enough, his first releases were microgroove
33 1/3 16 inch cuts; Howard knew the value of high scanning velocity
on playback; this was long before the advent of elliptical styli and all
that stuff. Look at your early Contemporary
“Engineered by Howard Holzer and Roy DuNann”.
These guys put A&M Records on the air, which is where Bernie
Grundman honed his considerable mastering skills for many years.
Howard was also an excellent pilot, and spent a lot of time in Mexico
trying to help the local folks get their recording technology “up to
snuff”. Howard Holzer was
taken from us way too early when both of his engines failed on take-off due
to contaminated fuel.
those products that Bernie’s cut for Classic Records, and what not, geez,
they sound excellent, you know. Some
people talk about “there's a top end something” to his classical
cuttings. Hell, I don't know.
That may be the sonic flavor of his console.
It may have nothing to do with his cutter system, per se. It may be the sonic signatures of the mics and pre-amps in
the early recordings. I don't
know. But I'll tell you what,
if I could cut a record that sounds as good as what Bernie cuts, I'd be
very, very proud of it. And it
doesn't matter to me whether he's using Haeco, Westrex, Ortofon, Neumann,
John Deere Barbed-Wire Fence or anything else.
the other hand, these Neumanns have small magnet structures, and the drive
coils are low impedance [4.6 ohms]. So
you have to drive 'em with a low source impedance, high-current solid state
amplifier in order to get really, really tight bass.
You try to drive this cutterhead with a tube amplifier and you're
asking for bass, which is, when you listen to it, hard to decide, “what's
the guy doin' on his instrument, anyway”, 'ya know?
Is he just playing or what? The only tube-Neumann systems that have
been successful, that I’m aware of are the systems at The Mastering Lab,
where the amps were designed and built by Sherwood Sax, brother of Doug Sax,
the owner-user of these great systems.
bass-sound, in the early days of stereo recording, many recordings that
Howard Holzer, Lester Koenig, Rudy Van Gelder, and others made of the early
jazz, had a lot of bass players playing Kay basses, Kay being a brand of
instrument. Kay made Harmony
guitars and they also made cellos.
All these basses [and other instruments] were plywood, and they
had not very good sonic attributes! I
have one of those basses in the house.
It’s the blonde one which is the same model as the bass seen in the
early Elvis film clips. You can
listen to the difference between it and my 5-string bass that's maple and
spruce, and you'll hear an instantaneous difference.
Most, if not, all of these bass players were using the Kay basses
with gut strings. (That’s the only type of string to be had, in those
days!) Nowadays, almost nobody
uses gut strings. I want to say
“nobody”, but I know there's somebody out there that does,
especially in the Baroque and
Classical field. In the small
orchestral groups where there is a big push for “original
instrumentation”, there's a number of people who use gut strings for
Corelli Concerto Grossi
and things like that. But
for jazz, I think almost nobody uses gut strings anymore.
But there they were. Now
when you listen to a lot of that off of a Neumann cutterhead driven by a
tube amplifier, you don't know for sure what the bass player's doing or
doing it with. The sound’s
too loose and nebulous down in that frequency range due to lack of good
servo-mechanics to really be able to tell for sure.
that doesn't really answer the gentleman's question about which head I
prefer. I've got a recording of Les Elgart's band in stereo on
Columbia, that is just so clean and crisp and clear. I know that it was recorded with a Westrex, as looking
through the microscope reveals some really minor advance-ball scoring on the
original lacquer. [See advance-ball discussion
in the section on Bernie’s setup, near the end of the interview.]
The recording was definitely mastered on a Scully lathe.
I can tell that’s so by looking at, and listening to the lead out,
and the tie off groove, and those clues tell me that was done on a Scully;
so far as I know in those days, everything Columbia did was cut on Scully
lathes with Westrex cutterheads. So
we can listen to it later and hear it's just neat, super sound.
Hell, maybe somebody snuck an Ortofon in there.
I don't know. Or maybe
somebody decided, [it's cut at a rather low level], maybe it could be that
an engineer with ears said, "You know, maybe if I cut this at a low
enough level I can take all these Fairchild limiters and chuck 'em out, and
take these low frequency crossovers and get rid of 'em, and I can, if
I’m really careful, I can make a record that sounds really great!.
That just might've happened. 'Cause
every once in a while you could get some awfully magnificent stuff out of a
Westrex system, if you just treated it right.
Dave: How did 180 grams come to be kind of a magical
number for LPs? It must be a
compromise between something and something else.
Stan: Well, yes, talking about the 180, I recall chatting
with Rick Hashimoto at Record Technology.
When the heavy-record thing first started, it was done by JVC, when we came up with the 200 gram UHQR [Ultra High
And that was, hell, it coulda been 205, coulda been 210, or whatever,
but it was 200 grams. And it was really the
finest phonograph record ever produced.
I know that RTI had tried various thicknesses, and that 180 is a good
compromise between heft and solidarity on the one hand and econoline regular
on the other. But there's
virtually no difference in sonics between a 180 and a 200 [using the same
vinyl compound]. There's more
difference in sonics between whether you use Keysor vinyl or whether you use
RimTech vinyl, or what percentage of regrind you may use as opposed to
so-called "pure" virgin vinyl
Dave: What is regrind?
Stan: When a record is pressed, you purposefully put too
much vinyl in the press, to make sure all the grooves are filled and all the
gasses carried out. So it's
like a waffle iron that’s overfilled and when you put the two halves
together, the extra stuff comes out the edges.
The extra stuff [vinyl] is trimmed off with rotary trimmers, rotary
shears, and the trimmings fall into a big drum.
Then it's collected in one place and chopped up and cleaned and
vacuumed to get dirt and impurities out of it.
And it also is brought through a magnetic field to make sure that any
metallic particles that might be in there are also removed.
Then the stuff is ground up into the same size particles as the
original, which look like mouse turds.
It's about that size. Then
the regrind is all blended together with virgin material and the mixture
goes through the machinery, where it's heated, blended and extruded at some
300 odd degrees, becomes another "patty," and starts its life over
A lot of pressing-people don't like to talk about regrind or
admit to its use, but re-cycling overage is an economic as well as
environmental reality. Regrind
vinyl has already had a lot of the volatiles cooked out of it during its
first go-around through the press, so by definition, it's stiffer than
virgin material. It therefore
has better [or at least different] high frequency playback characteristics
than does virgin vinyl. I
encourage people, when they want to make a record that's got a lot of snap
or bang to it, as in DJ dance-club music, to get as high a percentage of
regrind in the vinyl as they can get, consistent with the quality that they
Dave: What's your opinion of the dehorning of masters?
Stan: Well, I don't know of anybody who does that
anymore. It seems to have been
fairly popular in the sixties or seventies or whenever.
A cutter stylus cuts and it also plows.
With a snow plow you go down the road and you pile up all this
humongous crap along the curbs and sidewalks.
Well, you hope you don't get much of that when you cut.
Cutter styluses are manufactured much better nowadays than they were,
shall we say, thirty years ago. The
burnishing facets weren't so accurate then and sometimes you got a nice cut
in the groove but then sometimes you didn’t and there might be a bunch of
stuff stacked up at the edge of the groove.
And that stuff was rough-textured and made separation of the lacquer
master from the first metal plating very difficult, because the stuff that's
thrown off, when viewed under a microscope, looks like a string of cinders.
It's porous, like a sponge, you see.
So when you're electroplating that stuff, well, the metal molecules
get inside and you can imagine metallic nickel getting inside a sponge and
then how do you peel a sponge off that electroplating?
So you're left with little bits of stuff stuck to the metal [NOISY
!] So the idea was
to knock off those. It affects
the sound. I don't know anybody
who does dehorning anymore. At
least I don't know anybody that's involved in high quality work who does it,
mostly because there’s no need for it with today’s better styli.
Dave: Stan, what's your opinion of direct metal
Stan: I've heard some really good stuff for string
quartets and vocal. Stuff that
doesn't involve bass [low end]. But
I haven't heard things that sounded really good on the low end, with DMM. The cutterhead is small and you have, I think, just the
physics of trying to push the cutter stylus through copper instead of
lacquer. And I don't know how
thick the copper plating is, but I also don't see much random phase stuff in
the bass on DMM. Whereas with
lacquer, you can get a vertical modulation of 7 mil .
In other words, the lacquer coating on the aluminum substrate is
thick enough [15 mil] to handle the seven mil modulation vertically. If you have modulation that's vertical, it will be so
inherently non-linear on the down stroke.
Well, maybe they predistort it, depending on the depth, but...
As I say, I've heard some stuff with mid range and top end, like
string quartets, that sounded pretty darn good.
But I haven't heard anything that I felt, "well, that's better
than anything that coulda been done on lacquer."
can look at a pressing and can tell you right away if it was done DMM or
lacquer. The pressing reflects
light differently, depending on the method of cutting.
When you cut a DMM, the delineation between the 45 degree groove
walls and the flat surface of the land, that angle is very clearly defined.
On a product that's been DMM'd, the final pressing comes out looking
like the original cutting, as it should.
Now with very good electroplating on a lacquer, you'll see it
almost the same way. But
if even just a little too much heat is generated during the preplating,
either through too much voltage, therefore too much current, flowing in just
the one or two micron levels of thickness of silver that's on the lacquer
before the nickel builds up, or if the plating tank itself is too hot, then
there's a rounding of the corners where the groove-wall meets the land,
which is easily discernible to the semi-naked eye, provided it's a trained
eye. I can see it easily. All
I have to have is a reasonable source of light and a good pair of glasses
on. I can tell you right off
the bat. And, by looking at
that, I can also tell you this product isn't gonna have much high frequency
response, either. The more
rounding you see, of where the groove wall transitions to the land, the more
rounding of the high-frequency modulations will occur on the groove-walls
themselves; therefore the less high frequency response.
There isn't gonna be good high frequency response because every
jagged little etching in the groove, on the groove walls, is going to be
rounded a proportional amount, just like that.
And it's worse at the inside diameters because not only is it a
slower linear speed which produces progressively shorter wavelengths, but in
terms of this plating, the center post is the electrode, so all the
electron-flow from the outside edge, and everywhere in between, goes to the
center, you see. The current density, and therefore the heat, is higher at
So, my opinion of DMM is that it's very interesting, indeed. There’s also a high-frequency bias applied to the cutter to eliminate stylus chatter at low cutting levels. As I say, some program material is very well suited for it. I know it would be especially good if you had choral works or string quartets and had a long time on the side. The DMM process is immune to the “groove-echo” problems of lacquer because the copper isn’t affected by the cut-and-plow stress-relief phenomena which plague lacquers in a warm plating environment. However, all the killer LPs I've ever heard have been made off of plain old nitrocellulose. (Laughs)