Article By Gene Pitts, Editor
The Audiophile Voice
My friend Ivan Berger tells me it was named the Magic Eye; I don't know for certain if that is the correct name as I was only about four or five years of age at the time and more than 50 years have passed along since then. Ivan is a little older than I am, and in such things his memory is usually better than mine. This Magic Eye thing was, however, my first contact with the making of music and that impression has "flavored" my every contact with music ever since.
The Magic Eye was a sort of vacuum tube, apparently one that was in the power part of the circuit. It winked its big green eye at me from a control panel located underneath the lid of a record player console in my parent's home in California. It fascinated me, a little boy, with two new twin sisters who had that year joined the "sister in the middle." Because I "was smart," I was often left to my own devices, and because I would work the record player, I was allowed to.
There was only one song I liked at the time, a kid's song entitled "Kitty with the Big Green Eyes." As I say, I was only about four or five years old. What fascinated me about the Magic Eye was that it, too, was big and green, but more than that, its "iris" got larger and smaller in step with the music. At the end of the song, it was really BIG and really GREEN. I can't now believe I really thought some manufacturer had put a green-eyed cat into this record console, but that is my memory of it. Kids get strange ideas about how things work, and as adults they sometimes find it hard to let go of those old ideas for new ones that describe things better. Thus, science and marketing.
I found out much later on that my father was an audiophile, or rather a music lover who, on a personal basis, insisted that reproduced music sound good to his ear. He was the one who'd purchased that record-playing console with the Magic Eye to play his Ellington 78s. Dad thinks the Duke was the best of all American composers or musicians. He makes a strong case for his choice. While I like other forms of music and other performers better, I can't gainsay him his pick; Ellington is certainly right in there. It has been nice to give my dad some of the CDs that have recently come out in celebration of Ellington's Centennial. Probably the best of these are the 24 that comprise
The Complete RCA Victor Recordings, just recently released.
When I was in my middle 20s, I helped my dad get a Jensen Imperial corner horn speaker system home to Racine, Wisconsin, where we'd moved, from the hot-shot hi-fi store in Milwaukee. He had earlier purchased an H.H. Scott 350B mono FM tuner and 296 amp from a doctor friend of his. The Scotts were tube-type units that had been built up from kits, and they are still around and sound just fine, thank you very much. The Jensen is much like the Klipschorn, one of the few such to survive from that era. That Imperial still sounds pretty good, too, though I think its main claim to fame is its efficiency. For the discs, LPs by that time, my dad had gotten a
Rek-O-Kut/QRK turntable with an extra long arm to play 16-inch transcriptions. The arm was made from a U-shaped piece of metal, and its horizontal pivot came up through a hole. There was no vertical pivot, except for the cantilever's suspension in the cartridge. One was lucky if your LPs didn't bottom out the stylus if a record warp passed under the cartridge. Ouch!
For a time after college, I used that set of Scotts along with a pair of Acoustic Research 2ax speakers that
Stereo Review's Julian Hirsch had liked very much in his review. They were the right size for my various apartments, even though I longed for a pair of AR3's. I made a mistake and bought a Garrard changer, even though the salesman at the Allied store in Chicago wanted me to have an AR turntable. I made up for that not very long afterward by replacing the Garrard with a
Thorens. Cartridges? Stantons, Pickerings, Shures, etc. I remember coming home somewhat drunk one night and slipping on a throw rug in the living room. To steady myself, I put the heel of my left hand into the center of the Scott tuner (it had no case) and crushed a few tubes. This deprived me of the very great pleasure of listening to Chicago's
WFMT, which I still think of as the country's premiere FM station. After that tuner got its new tubes, it was moved to a more secure location and eventually was returned to my father. He's presently attempting to sell the Jensen. I eventually acquired a Marantz 20-B tuner, the first one that Superscope made after they bought the rights to that firm. Like the famous Marantz 10-B, the 20-B had a 'scope for tuning, though its was only one-inch in diameter.
These days, I generally use solid-state equipment because of its reliability. I don't like having to twiddle with replacing and biasing tubes. I also like the greater strength of solid-state amplifiers. The tube amps that are big and strong are also usually above my price range, even with my "in-the-industry accommodation discount." Yeah, I can hear the difference between tube and solid-state circuits, sometimes, but my usual reaction is that I can
always hear the difference between Barbra Streisand and Bruce Springsteen. Let alone Springsteen and Duke Ellington.
As Mr. Steve, who runs this place says, that's a difference in the music I can enjoy.