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Home Entertainment 2002 Hi-Fi and Home Theater Event

Home Entertainment 2001
By Clark Johnsen
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Page 2

Now, polarity. Sorry to be flogging this again, but it does constitute the sine qua non of correct audio practice. Until you get musical instruments to aspirate over loudspeakers, the way they do in real life, you don’t get real music. When a player puffs breath out, and your audio system has him sucking it in, that creates an unwanted and disturbingly unmusical effect. Electronics enable this reversal and it’s gotten out of control. Over the radio, half the music you hear is out of phase (cops!). Even worse, most loudspeakers, owing to phase—catastrophic crossovers, blur the differences. Therefore one rarely learns to hear the distinction, untutored.

But once one does, it becomes like bicycle riding: Never forgotten. And, required as a technique to negotiate the confusing paths of sound reproduction.


"Into Our First Room, Shall We Follow The
Deception Of The Thrush?"

And wouldn’t you know, after all that high-minded bull I just slung, it would be a video demo! For defense, I have been dragged in by a buddy. This large Sound by Singer suite features a Runco projector and a bunch of other expensive stuff. We are shown a couple things and among them is my first exposure to D-VHS, the only way today to deliver recorded HDTV in stores. The image is swell but the sound is boomy, although what do we expect from Terminator II yet again? Noticeable sonic activity occurs in the right rear channel, but that proves to be Singer staff buzzing among themselves.

Next we are ushered into an attached room where, glory be, two—channel sound awaits us. We are facing huge JM Lab Utopias, large Lamm amplifiers, yards of Synergistic Research hawsers and a complete dCS front end, which we are told will “upconvert Redbook CD to DSD”. OK. The first selection is cops!, hardly complimentary to this no—expense-spared system. The second, and the third, are in correct polarity and sound pretty good, I must admit. But, worth the money? Bet I could do lots better! The fourth, and last, again is cops!, rounding off to the expected 50/50 split. When will they ever learn? At least the system didn’t sound too horribly digital, although the anomalous rear channel activity continued, this time on the left and abetted by a noisy charge-card printer.

On to the Impact room. This $34K four-cabinet set was a hit last year, for me and many others, and today remains still very much in the running. Some noncommittal jazz is playing. Cool stuff. Then an attendee asks to have a small—chorus CD put on and, even shorn of the bass element that is their forte, the Impacts shine! What a pleasure: Every voice is real and in place. Mark Conti grabs my lapel to show me a picture of the soon-to-be-available Airfoil 3’s, only $12K. Single-cabinet speakers, they look, if I may use ome reviewer lingo, gorgeous. Stuff like this will sell however it sounds, no insult intended. In parting, Mark acquaints me with an observation by Mark Twain, which I commend to posterity: “With an imagination out of focus, you won’t see anything.”

In the hallway I run across -- or is it the other way ‘round? —— the excitable David Chesky: Jazzman, serious composer, recordist, producer, label owner and now.., speaker designer! Or, as I soon learn, speaker enclosure designer. The interior work was done by Team Terry, Dustin and Mike, and I must say, the gentlemen have acquitted themselves well. Very well indeed, for $3995. The selection playing when David ushers me in, is Stravinsky’s L’histoire du soldat performed by I solisti di New York, and it is quite riveting although not without some digital edge. No oops! however.

It seems an appropriate moment to introduce my Tweak of the Week (I always carry one), Lloyd Walker’s Vivid, a polish for CDS. This liquid -- goop might be more accurate -- puts such a high shine on the playing surface, you can read the eyes of the person behind you when you gaze on it. I even got a date that way once! Anyway, it makes a CD sound better, far better, than any other similar treatment. And the very skeptical David Chesky is slated to be today’s crash test dummy.

It develops that this CD is not an original, but rather a CD-R, on which I’ve never tried Vivid. Very well -- and, done! We listen and I hear the benefit from the first measure, but David reserves his judgment. Finally: “Yeah, it’s good.” David is famously not into tweaks, so I am pleased.


Into Our Next Room

Another musical fellow who always comes through in the demo department is Ole Christiansen with his Danish GamuT line of electronics, here played over smaller Pipedreams. Ole knows how to seduce one with music, so that one might think his stuff sounds good. Dangerous man! So one mustn’t believe a word I say now. That said... He puts on the Death of Tybalt -- we all know our Shakespeare, if not our Prokofiev, right? -— and oops! But the music is there, so it’s a couple minutes before I ask Ole to switch to something else, whereupon he introduces, very daringly (although he knows my tastes, other people are present), grand opera. Namely, Carmen. And is she hot! It’s like I’ve never heard this woman sing before.

After several minutes of intense non-oops! listening I have to ask, “OK, who is she?” Maria Callasl Damn! Never heard her in the role before, the greatest dramatic soprano of the last half—century. American-born, too. Ole observes, “She never sang the role on stage, you know.” No I didn’t. Why not? “She felt her ankles were too thick to be a believable Carmen.


A voice like that, the greatest actress the opera stage has ever held... and a spooky perfectionist, too. Speaking of perfectionism... I haul out the Vivid. But Ole demurs. “I wouldn’t want to harm these CD5. They’re no longer available.” I concede his point but mark him down a notch for inability to trust. (Just kidding!)


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