Saturday, December 16, 2006

You can't do this with a CD

Before you read the rest of the post the link is required viewing. Click on the picture.



My only question is can you mount a Benz Micro Glider cartridge on this thing? I shutter to think what this thing could do to the delicate groves of a record. Is it an automatic can opener too? You can't do this with a CD. For anyone who wants a toy like this that will help them trash they're LPs there is a company in Japan that sells them called Razyworks.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Knowing your roots

Recently I was afforded the opportunity to visit the Pavek Museum of Broadcasting in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. The museum began life as the private collection of Joseph R. Pavek. A traveling salesman that made it a regular habit to stop into every small town barber shop for a quick trim and to ask the same question, “Do you know anyone with an old radio they don’t want?” In Mr. Pavek’s day the barber knew everyone in towns business.

There were a plethora of interesting exhibits. The first that springs to mind was a musical performance that was recorded simultaneously for acoustic 78RPM record (A horn captured the sound which was then cut directly into the master. No electricity was necessary) and electrical 78RPM record (Microphones and something approaching modern recording technics.) flipping between them was a snap. Of course the electrically recorded version had much better bass response, a more transparent midrange, and more a more accurate presentation of brass instruments. The gentleman guiding the tour briefly mentioned that when electrical recordings made their debut felt that they were markedly inferior to the old acoustical recordings. Thus was born Audio Luddism.

The next exhibit that inspired my imagination was when our tour guide was nice enough to play a Bing Crosby recording on an early Ampex ¼” reel to reel tape deck using a Marantz 5B tube amp and a huge pair of Western Electric horn speakers that were originally designed for movie theater use (I would estimate that the mouth of these horns was roughly 5’ by 7’, yes I meant feet!) The sound was stunning and immediate! Apparently, Mr. Crosby was an early investor in Ampex, supporting an American GI that had brought back some German machines after World War II. He used the Ampex machines to record his radio show so that he could complete it on his schedule, not allowing himself to be a slave to the time slot.

Perhaps the most amazing item on display was a nondescript Crosley radio from 1936. It featured six AM presets and a wireless RF remote, that used a rotary dial similar to what was used on telephones. The range, an astonishing 200 feet! Something that would have been amazing had it been working was a 78RPM record changer that would play one side of the disc, then flip it to play the other side automatically. Unfortunately it had malfunctioned the previous day snapping a shellac in two, just my luck.

In one of the earliest examples of decorators trying to hide audio systems as to not ruin the d├ęcor of a room was a 78RPM turntable disguised as a lamp. The shade hid the turntable, and the body of the lamp was a brass horn that emitted the music. It was also a working lamp. The sound, well let’s just say that it was the Bose of it’s time. Feel free to draw your own conclusions.

Also on display was an original Theremin utilizing all tube electronics. I was even granted permission to “play” it. That was a very cool experience. I’m no Jimmy Page, let me tell you. Another interesting tidbit was a Mechanical Television with a resolution of 48 lines (If I remember correctly.) It consisted of a spinning disc drilled with holes and an eye piece that the view looked through. Broadcasts were over AM radio frequencies and most viewers built their own “televisions.”

If anyone is in the St. Louis Park, Minnesota area a visit is mandatory. My tour was courtesy of Tom Mittelstaedt who was obviously equal parts passionate and knowledgeable. The Pavek is located at 3515 Raleigh Avenue in Saint Louis Park, just east of Highway 100, off the West 36th Street exit. They are open to the public five days a week and are also available for special tours and evening meetings. Call the Museum at (952) 926-8198 to make reservations for group tours or just stop in for a visit. Their website is www.pavekmuseum.org It’s not to be missed.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Clarifying the situation


I often tell friends and fellow audiophiles that I consider myself to be an open minded skeptic. I approach all new tweaks with a certain amount of skepticism but also with the view that it is possible that they do make a difference. The Bedini Dual Beam Clarifier was no different. Bedini’s contention is that the polymers of the CD hold a static electric charge. These static electric charges on the disc surface make it harder for the laser of a CD player to read the data, forcing the CD player to employ more error correction. Bedini suggests that both sides of the disc be treated for best results.

Before discussing the results a brief discussion on methodology is in order. There are a number of discs in my collection of which I have doubles. I chose discs where both copies had been purchased extremely close together with respect to time and also chose title that had small production runs. Thus minimizing the chance that they came from different production runs, or even entirely different production plants. I listened to them and the better sounding of the two (There always was one.) became the control disc (the one which would not be clarified) this put the Clarifier at a slight disadvantage. Then the worse sounding of the discs would have both sides of the disc clarified. It is well established that when presented with a choice between “A” and “B” people will have a slight natural tendency to chose “B” when things are close. In order to combat this bias I settled on an “A”-”B”-”A” format with “A” being the un clarified disc and “B” being the clarified disc. So that switches could be done as quickly as possible I clarified the “B” disc before starting to play “A.” While “B” was waiting to be played it was set on a ceramic coffee mug data side up, not in the CD case. The reason for this was that I felt that there was a possibility that the plastic in the case might affect the CD adversely, reintroducing the static charge that the Bedini was designed to remove. Ceramic is considered to be a great insulator and was therefore ideal for the task.

The first disc up was Ron Geesin/Roger Waters-”Music From The Body”, a soundtrack for a documentary on the workings of the human body. The last track on the disc, “Give Birth To A Smile” has guest musicians David Gilmour, Richard Wright, and Nick Mason in addition to Roger Waters. This makes it a Pink Floyd track as far as I’m concerned. The clarified CD had more impact to the bass guitar. The sibilance of Roger Waters vocals were also much more natural on the clarified disc. As the song fades out the female back up singers sing the chorus “Give Birth To A Smile.” On the un clarified disc the song ends on the word “birth” whereas on the clarified disc the listener could clearly hear “to.”

Next up was “Candy Coated Valentine” from Robinella and the CC Stringband’s self titled debut. On the non clarified disc the bass sounded thick and congested and the mandolin lacked a certain pluckiness and body. At the end of the number there is also some type of creaking (A chair maybe?) which is completely inaudible on the on the non clarified disc. The clarification process also gave a greater sense of sound staging depth to the performance. In particular the vocals and the instruments had better separation. The clarified disc also had more rhythmic dive in the bass.

The last track on the formal investigation was Robert Plant’s “All The King’s Horses” from his album “Mighty Rearranger” Again sibilance was much more clean on the clarified disc compared to it’s non clarified counterpart. On the non clarified disc an oddity occurs in the chorus when Robert Plant double tracks his vocals in order to sing harmony with himself. For whatever reason his vocals pull very slightly to the left of center. This does not occur on the clarified disc. There were some subtle electric guitar parts that became much easier to follow with the clarified CD. Again on this selection the vocals seem better separated from the instrumentation.

The Bedini consistently increases the separation between the vocals and backing instruments on every CD that I clarified. The Dual Beam also removed unwanted sibilance on all clarified CDs. Cymbals also just sound more metallic and had more shimmer around them, but this was by no means extra brightness. Many CDs that had always sounded a bit bright went through the Clarifier and were better for it. For what ever reason CDs that were from Columbia Record Club benefited disproportionately from being treated. Sheryl Crow’s “Tuesday Night Music Club” is a prime example of the Columbia phenomena . It’s a personal favorite that was sounding a bit flat, compressed, and digital lately. I had been thinking of buying a proper (non record club) copy now that may not be necessary. Whether this was because of some inherent flaw in their manufacturing process or because they are some of the oldest disc in my collection it is impossible to say. Although I may investigate this further in the future.