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The Absolute Sound
June / July 2007

Analog Lives!

  This special issue of The Absolute Sound focuses on everything analog turntables, cartridges, phono preamps, and LPs. To someone outside the high end, it might seem strange that an audio magazine in 2007 would devote any coverage to playing records, never mind 46 pages of coverage. But the reality is that sales of LPs and LP-playback hardware have been growing steadily for the past 10 years. What's going on?

The answer has many parts. First, the LP, when played back correctly, has a warmth and naturalness unmatched by CD. Second, the act of putting an LP on a turntable signifies a single-minded devotion to listening to music. Finally, many young people embrace vinyl for its "retro-cool" factor, and then discover the musical pleasure the LP can deliver. Whatever the reasons, vinyl playback is alive and well in 2007.

 

Wayne Garcia
After four and a half years as Editor of TAS, Wayne Garcia has moved to the position of Senior Contributing Writer. This shift gives Wayne the opportunity to pursue other endeavors, such as writing about wine and food, and returning to his love for illustration. In addition, he and his wife recently opened a restaurant in San Francisco called Piccino. I'm happy to report that Wayne's writing will continue to appear on a regular basis in TAS.

 

The Beatles As You've Never Heard Them
I recently had a mind-blowing listening experience I'd like to tell you about. No, it doesn't involve hearing a high-resolution disc on a mid-six-figure stereo system, but rather a 40+-year-old recording reproduced by a sound-reinforcement system in a large space.

The experience was Love, the new Cirque du Soleil show at The Mirage in Las Vegas. The show is based on the music of The Beatles, and features a 95-minute soundtrack of Beatles music restored, remixed, and compiled by George Martin and his son Giles. George Martin, of course, produced all The Beatles records, and is known as "the fifth Beatle" for his creative input, particularly his string arrangements.

Seconds into the first track ("Because"), I experienced a cognitive disconnect; I was hearing this familiar song that was unmistakably The Beatles, but the sound quality was in many ways better than what I hear from modern recordings played on mega-buck playback systems. Song after song of classic Beatles sounded stunningly great, with none of the congestion, glare, or thinness we're used to hearing on these discs. The sense of space around the instruments was nothing like the original LPs. It was hard to believe I was listening to 40-year-old recordings in a large space.

The liner notes on the CD release of the show's soundtrack explained how George and Giles Martin revisited the original multi-track elements to create the new mix. Not just a series of songs, Love interweaves different tracks, segues songs with transitional elements, and takes liberties with the originals. It's important to note that the project was first conceived by George Harrison and Cirque dii Soled founder Guy Laliberte. Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr endorsed the concept. In addition, Paul, Ringo, Olivia Harrison, and Yoko Ono Lennon heard and approved work-in-progress mixes during the two-year endeavor. Giles Martin likened his job to "painting a moustache on the Mona Lisa," and was acutely aware of his responsibility to The Beatles' original artistic expression.

I was curious as to how much of the great sound I was hearing was a result of the reworking of the original elements and how much to the theater's sound system. Listening to the CD of Love at home on Wilson MAXX 2s, I quickly realized that the theater's playback system had a big part in the stunning presentation. The CD sounded vastly clearer than the original LPs, with considerably more resolution of individual parts. But even on my terrific home stereo system, the sound wasn't up to the standard I heard during the show a remarkable feat for a sound-reinforcement system in a large theater.

The theater had, to its advantage, multichannel playback along with a few other tricks. For example, arrays of many small speakers were positioned directly behind the seats and subtle, discrete elements were panned to those channels. There was absolutely no sense of hearing sound reverberate in a large space; rather, it was like hearing a high-end multichannel playback system in a well-designed room. I suspect the system employed powerful digital signal processing.

Another advantage is that the playback system's designers could optimize the system specifically for one type of music that was recorded over a relatively brief period music that bore a common sonic imprint specific to the technology of the mid-1960s. The system could be tweaked to minimize the audibility of that sonic imprint without worrying about making the system sound good on a wide range of music, as conventional loudspeaker designers must.

It goes without saying that if you get a chance to see Love, it's not to be missed.

 

 

 

     
 

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