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April 2016
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
99 And 44/100% Pure
Roger Skoff writes about changing perceptions and eternal truth.

Article By Roger Skoff

 

  Do you know what the title of this article "99 and 44/100% pure" refers to? Ever since 1895, It was the slogan for Procter & Gamble's "Ivory"-brand soap, which its manufacturers declared to be the "purest" product of its kind on the market, and thus or at least it was hoped that potential customers would believe  the very best. And the truth was that, at least in terms of the standards established by Harley Procter (son of one of P&G's founders), it really was "purer" than other ("castile") soaps available in 1881, when the testing (which was done by a laboratory engaged by Procter for just that purpose) proved it.

I first heard the Ivory slogan in a commercial on the radio, back in the 1940s, when I was just a little kid. As to which program it might have been on, I can't even imagine; there were so many of them. (Procter & Gamble was one of radio's biggest sponsors between the 1920s and 1950s, and that may have been the reason why, even today, continuing broadcast dramas, whether on the radio or television, are still called "soap operas".) What I do know is that I remember "99 and 44/100% pure" and Ivory's other slogan, "It floats" even after all this time, so the advertising obviously worked.

Even back when I was a child, I can remember wondering "99 and 44/100% pure what?", and being curious as to what benefit (other than just ease of finding it when you and your bar of Ivory are both in the bathtub) there could possibly be in having a bar of soap that floats. That first question has finally been answered at Straight Dope. The other question about floating and what good it might be, still, at least to my knowledge, remains. Another question that still remains about both of those issues is "So what?" How does purity or floating make Ivory a better soap or even just a better soap for me?

 

 

I've found similar questions in audio, too. And apparently, I'm not the only one who's asking them. On Facebook, I recently shared an article about Analogy Records, a new company that sells only "Master Tapes" mixed-down when you order one (I presume, one-at-a-time) from original 192kHz/32-bit multi-track digital recordings and re-recorded to analog "Master Tape" for sale to you.  According to the company "Instead of producing copies from any pre-existing master, for each order Analogy Records produces an original master directly from the multi-track recording system, thus removing an additional stage. No first generation copies but only original Master Tapes, in order to ensure the best listening experience ever"

This is apparently done to provide sufficiently well-equipped and well-heeled audiophiles with recordings of the fewest "generations" possible, and therefore of the ultimate purity, and maybe it even does. Even so, I still have all kinds of questions, including "How can a recording originally done in digital claim (like LPs cut from digital originals and masters) to be an 'analog' recording?" and "Why, if you're going to eventually mix the tracks down anyway, wouldn't you just mix them down once and then copy that already-mixed version for sale, rather than re-mixing it for every new customer?". 

The thing that most interested me, though, about that article and the response to it, came from a Facebook Friend who, on reading it, wrote "...The older I get, the less interested in absolute purity I become, I think a "close enough" in the horseshoes and hand grenade sense is sufficient." 

Hmmmmm... Weirdly enough, although I'm not yet at that precise point, I do find myself getting steadily closer to it all the time.

Back in the "good ol' days", though, when I was a kid, things were very different: Not only was I a Hi-Fi Crazy back then, but, because I cared fully as much about how I got good sound as I cared about the sound, itself, I was also a Hi-Fi Purist:  Which meant, of course, that I wanted all and only whatever  was "in the groove" of any recording that I might listen to, and that any "diddling" with it that I might do even to make it sound better would be cheating.

That belief ignored, of course, the simple fact that there are some recordings out there (quite a goodly number of them, actually) that, for whatever reason, simply don't sound very good. It might be because of a less-than-perfect original recording venue, or a less-than-great recording engineer, or bad mastering or a bad transfer from the original recording or the finished master. It might, in fact, be anything else at all, and it might also  be that just a little application of the tone controls (if there were any) would, if not fix it, at least make it listenable.

Even so, the "Purist's Code", at least back then -- at least as understood by me and my Hi-Fi Crazy pals -- held that, other than buying new equipment  or modifying or upgrading what you already had, almost anything you might do to try to improve the sound of your system besides such ordinary audiophile practices as moving your speakers around to find their best-sounding positions and adjusting and re-adjusting the VTA and tracking force on your record player was "cheating" and "impure".

The use of tone controls or even having them on "purist" equipment -- was, of course, out of the question, as was loudness compensation (ala Fletcher and Munson) and any other such electronic trickery that might provide an easy (but somehow not "honorable") path to better sound.

The one thing that could be used (possibly because it was not just a knob or dial on a piece of existing gear, but an entirely separate piece of equipment) was a so-called "room" equalizer. Those are devices that generate a test signal to be played through your system's speakers; pick up the sound of it with a calibrated microphone; and display it in lights or curves on a "realtime analyzer" so that you can see what's wrong with your room or the sound of your system as compared to the test signal; and then, using its built-in equalizer, correct things back to where they're supposed to be.

Tone controls were regarded as cheating because they allowed you to change things to any way you liked them, which meant that you to whatever degree you did so became a part of the creative process. That was definitely changing, rather than just reproducing the music, and was definitely not pure! With a room equalizer, though, all you were theoretically doing was to restore the purity of the recording by correcting measured flaws disclosed by the your test equipment. If that made the music sound better, well, of course it did! That was what it was supposed to do!

 

 

The "room" equalizer, in all of its manifestations, was the perfect excuse for purist audiophiles to diddle with the sound of their systems. And if, even after correcting for the sound of their system or their room, they still didn't like what they heard, they could simply tell themselves that they were correcting for the poor sound of the original venue, or for a bad choice of microphones by the recording engineer, or for equalization mistakes in the mastering process. In short, they could "dick and diddle" with the sound to their heart's content, without ever again having to worry about the "purity" of the result.

You know what? I have an Audio Control C-101 "octave equalizer with real-time spectrum analyzer and pink noise generator" that I bought back in the mid-1990s and still like and still use, even today.  Just like my Facebook Friend, who said that "The older I get, the less interested in absolute purity I become...", at least for some kinds of music, at least at some times and under some circumstances, I no longer care all that much about purity. All I really want to do is to sit back, relax, and...

Enjoy the music!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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