What Dreams May Come…

I go back for a visit once or twice a year. It is always quite the same, but that is certainly not the purpose of a visit; to see how it’s changed. The purpose is to be reassured that it hasn’t.

It’s a very large, creaky old Victorian-era mansion that was long ago split up for apartments. I lived here the first time with a girlfriend, and the second time with a chocolate Labrador retriever. Sadly, I was apparently incapable of a sustained relationship with either.

I love this place. A huge and sprawling front yard that always seemed as if it should have a circular cobblestone driveway, but actually has a not-quite-straight walkway going up the center. Charming in a slightly Hobbit-esque fashion. There are elaborate wooden staircases on all sides, each to accommodate a different tenant; ours was on the right, and went to the top ( third) floor. Just the right half of the third floor, mind you.  Six rooms in a Victorian just-a-bit-too-small scale, with a wall taken out to create a less claustrophobic setting.

On the left of the massive house is a grove of trees beside a creek with some Adirondack chairs and a picnic table. The creek winds directly behind the house, where two old wooden rowboats are moored; they are for the use of the tenants. The creek leads on to a large freshwater pond.

I have always wondered at what it must have been like here for the original owners, possibly  the builders of this place. To create such a pastoral setting for themselves, and then have the rigors of life slowly remove it all from their grasp. But to their eternal credit, the place has a heart and soul entirely of its own. The sunlight, especially; it radiates throughout the structure with a vibrancy that defies reality.

I lived here a second time with the Labrador. In retrospect, that was a mistake. I had given in to the indulgence at seeing the ‘ for rent’ sign, and was surprised to be shown the very same apartment. I agreed through a sense of morbidity that I have never been able to define clearly. It was a year of placing my meager furniture in corners where things of ours once were, only to have to rearrange it endlessly; here was where the pink flowered lamp stood, here was the corner where the old guitar stood; as if a museum had had a wing vacated, only to be replaced with matchsticks and Wal-mart pre-fab.

It was a time of communing freely with ghosts. They are sometimes compassionate, but are more often driven to distraction by their own miseries. I suppose they thought much the same of me.

I will find myself standing at the end of the walkway, with my chocolate Lab at my right hand. He waits for my release so that he can race around the back of the house and leap into a rowboat, anticipating a trip out onto the pond. I will go up the side stairs again, where I know that the door will be open and the apartment empty. I will poignantly revisit each corner, check the wallpaper for signs of peeling, comment on the cleanliness of the last paint job. I will converse with the ghosts who must always choose  to remind me why I’ m there. I do not need to be welcomed; their reception is one of complete resignation.  I am, after all, one of them.

_______________________________

That wonderful old Victorian mansion, to my knowledge, does not exist. I have never lived there:  not once, let alone twice. I have never owned a Labrador retriever. And although the relationship was real, it never took place in that house.

I sometimes visit the house with a greatly poignant sense of loss, but just as often not. Sometimes the visits are very pleasant and pastoral in nature.

I have rowed with the Lab out onto the pond, and back again. I have lounged in the chairs by the creek and felt the spectacularly radiant sun sifting through the maple leaves. I have conversed with other tenants about how the old place is holding up, but can never recall who the tenants are. And have spent much time communing with the ghosts.

The one single element of these dream visits that is so very difficult to convey is the dramatically heightened sense of clarity that they take place in. If the dream is in high definition, then real life is an ambertype photograph by comparison.

I know every inch of that house and its grounds; the creek and pond, the dog eternally waiting in the rowboat. It all occurs on a plane  that is so sublimely enhanced, that I am utterly convinced of its existence. It is simply much more real there than it is here. I often wonder what my reaction would be if I ever came across the house in real life.

If it does really lie in some other plane, then its existence, for now, becomes an article of faith. I can be patient; I’m sure I’ll arrive there somehow. In the meantime, I’ll stop in every now and then, just to see how the old place is holding up.

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Turnips??…

Well…it did not even remotely occur to me that people at large may not know what a turntable was.  But how about the cassette deck?  Reel-to- reel?  Signal-to -noise ratio?  Wow and flutter?  Line-level input?  THD? ( no, not THX ) but okay, how about THX?  DBX?  Dolby B/C/5.1/7.1?  Henry Kloss?  Tom Holman?  James B. Lansing?  Burr-Brown DACs?

Nope. Nothing. Crickets. Bored crickets; they can’t even be bothered to rub their legs together. What’s the point?

Tough crowd.  But let’s see if we can’t get a few chirps out of them.  How does a story about your parent’s sex lives sound?……

eeewwww…..

Yes , I know. We all have had to face this staggering reality at some point. Your parents once had a sex life, and they begat…you! Frighteningly, this is essentially what qualifies them as parents.  No one in the history of humankind has ever been at all comfortable with this, but there it is. Oops.

Of course, once they actually begot you, that was pretty much the end of all that.  As a matter of fact, once you arrived, you very meticulously dissembled any remote chance of such a thing ever occurring again.  It’s what kids do.  And you’re still at it, aren’t you?  Aren’t you??

So now…let’s set a scene. Picture this:

Your impossibly youthful- looking parents are at home.  It’s a pleasant summer night, with just a touch of a light breeze coming in off the bay. Dinner at Custy’s ( !! ) was very good, and there’s a bottle of Thunderbird ( !! ) on ice.  No, Ripple, ( !! ) because it was stacked near the door of that little red package store next to Custy’ s ( who’s name escapes me at the moment. )

And there’s music playing in the background.  Boz Scaggs just finished the ‘ Lido Shuffle‘,  and your dad gets up to put another album on.  This one is Bob Seger;  track 1 side A is ‘ Hollywood Nights’, followed by ‘ Her Strut’.  They never quite seem to get through the whole 12- minute side without distractions, but luckily, they have a Technics SL-DD22 turntable which is not only direct-drive, but fully automatic.  It’ll shut itself off.  What a great feature. ( At this point it would be best for you to disengage the visual, lest you never sleep properly again.)  Because yes, they did.

So you actually owe a debt of gratitude to the crafty engineers at Panasonic/ Matsushita/ Technics Corporation, for that nifty linear-tracking direct-drive full – auto turntable that night.  Because your dad might have gotten up again to flip the album over if it was a less desirable manual-operation model; and frankly, you may not be here now to tell, or rather hear, the tale.  So there it is; you’re here solely as a result of the combined efforts of Bob Seger and a Japanese audio engineer.   And your mom helped somewhat, too.  But don’t go there.

A turntable is a device that plays records. Records are 12-in. diameter vinyl discs that have music on them, pressed into tiny spiraled grooves. A record plays for about 25  minutes, with about 12 minutes on each side.  When Side A was over, you had to get up and flip it over.  And then, you would likely put on another record and do it again ( I know- you have better things to do.  So did your parents.  Don’t lose sight of the lesson here. )

So… turntables, then.  A motor- driven round platter with a small spindle pin in the center; you fit the little hole in the center of the record over it, and placed it flat on the platter.  It would revolve at a speed of exactly 33-1/3 rpm. ( Revolutions per minute. ) There were also smaller records that spun at 45 rpm, and had only one song on each side; they were called ” 45s.”  Years before even that, there were records that spun at 78 rpm.

So, in a world of hundreds of turntables, what made one better than another?  Several factors; the device that actually got the music out of the grooves was called a tonearm, and it had a very small needle attached to one end.  The needle rode over the record surface by fitting itself into the grooves.  How well the turntable did those things generally determined its retail price.

The least expensive good performer in those days was the Technics SL-BD 22.  It sold for 79.99.  It was a belt-driven semi-automatic model, and could be fitted with any one of several different cartridges, which housed the needle.  So-so needles were made of sapphire; the better ones were of diamond, and could also be upgraded by the precision of the shaping cut. ( A round-cut .07 diamond sold for 29.99; an  .03 x. 07 diamond sold at 99.99.

Upgrade- model turntables could be fully automatic, as opposed to semi or manual operation ( your dad obviously considered it money well spent…)  And the very expensive models would be made of very heavy and stable frame materials ( Solid wood, granite, etc. )  These would be immune to any external vibrations.  All of the competing companies at the time were equally capable of producing incredible turntables, but most opted to remain in the middle of the market range.  They all had to remain within a reasonable price-point  for the sake of the phenomenally expansive market.  They all did just that, and remained quite stable and competitive with one another.

Except for Nakamichi.  Nakamichi was a high-end company with a reputation for superb performance.  There were several other high-end companies too, and they all had a much smaller market share than the big corporations.  They didn’t try to cater to the masses.  They were after the ideal of perfectly recorded music, reproduced on perfectly engineered audio equipment.

Nakamichi never tried to invent new things, new mousetraps; their niche was to re-invent the existing mousetraps altogether.  In regard to the turntable, they marketed the Nakamichi Dragon ( not to be confused with their cassette deck of the same name- that is an epic story all of its own.  At another time.)

After extensive analysis, they determined that the only thing wrong with the conventional wisdom of the time was; the little hole.  The one in the center of the albums.  It was often not perfectly centered, and it caused all the other measurement parameters to distort.  Wow and flutter, channel separation, frequency response…all were compromised by the damned little hole not being perfectly centered.  And they couldn’t very well ask the record manufacturers to retool to a standard that didn’t yet exist.

So they invented a turntable that could deal with that.  They added a second tonearm that compensated for the albums being out of round; and now, the consumer could have a precision-cut diamond playing into the groove walls at the optimal angle, creating a wider soundstage and better performance right across the board; and also compensating for the little hole being off to begin with.  The numbers are comparable to any CD player, but without that upper-range digital tinniness that cds often have.

The Dragon retailed at $1300. That was a fortune at the time ( 1983).

A Dragon showed up on Ebay a few years ago, and sold for $12,000. People would have fought less over the cup that Jesus drank from…what was that called again?  What do you mean, you don’t know??

Now, do you see that, Mom and Dad?  Your little darling has learned two significant things today: we learned about the Holy Grail, and about the Nakamichi Dragon.  And you still wonder sometimes if maybe you shouldn’t have put that Bob Seger album on….

Back In The Day…

Kids these days

They don’t value a dollar

Don’t like chewin’

But they sure can swaller-  ( Tom Rush )

If you remember that song, you are pretty damned old.  If you know who Tom Rush is….right again.

If you don’t, you should find out. I know you won’t, but you really should have. Tom is as good a singer/songwriter as has ever been. Your loss.

Well. CCOB is wide awake, has had his morning coffee, and is all set to tell the clueless youth of the world a thing or two. Hence the ” back in the day” title.

This has all been brought on by my finding a nice old pair of Advent Legacy loudspeakers in a Savers store yesterday. Which  in turn brings me back to my years in the audio department of Lechmere, where the Advent brand served as a staple product for home audio. We sold truckloads of Advent, far more than Bose, Infinity, Acoustic Research, DCM, Design Acoustics, EPI, or Energy.Those were just the speaker lines; electronics included Carver, Revox, Onkyo, Sony, Technics.

Legacies sold for $460 a pair, and went on sale for $399. At that price point, we sold them by the dozens. They have since then been voted as one of the top 100 audio products of all time.

And if you don’t know any of those brand names, you probably don’t remember Lechmere…Circuit City…Sounds Great…Tech HiFi…Tweeter…Ocean State Audio…and those were just the regional stores.

There was once a flourishing audio industry in the world. It once accounted for 10% of the average families’ retail expenditure for the year. It was huge, profitable, and extremely competitive. We used to price-shop each other like CIA operatives. It was kind of a badge of honor to be caught in a competitor’s store, frantically scribbling prices into the palm of your hand, and be driven off by their security. Ah, what great fun…

All gone now. Today’s audio market seems to have reduced itself to an Ipod with mini-headphones. I’m sure they sound very good, but I would much rather sit by the warm glow of McIntosh tube amps in the evening. You could read by them, and they produce enough heat to get you through the winter; while you were listening to Johnny Most cover a Celtics game on your Carver TX-11A. ( Were I ever  to find Carver or McIntosh at a thrift store, the weeks of grateful sobbing that would ensue would become very annoying.)

So. The Legacies are in the typical condition that you find old speakers in; they’ve been discarded because they don’t work. But barring any actual damage, they likely just  need to have the  foam woofer surrounds replaced. The foam rings dry out and disintegrate with age, and then…they don’t work. So I’ll replace them. That will cost me about $30, plus a few hours of my time. And then they will be fine for another 25 years. They’re a bit too large for my accomodations, so I will have to find them a good home. Besides, my Polk Audio Monitor 4s’ ( Salvation Army, $20) would be miffed.

 I once collected a nice old silver-face Marantz receiver with an Akai turntable because they didn’t work. The solution? A 25-cent glass fuse. And not to forget my now cherished Nakamichi SR4A, which was free…because the guy didn’t understand how the loudness contour worked. After owning it for 23 years. I’m not judging. I’m just saying. I caught that one as it was being loaded up for the trip to the landfill. For an audio geek, that’s like grabbing the Gutenberg Bible as it’s being thrown in the recycle bin.

So…if you know anyone that could use a nice set of old Advents, let me know. Very reasonably priced, but the shipping cost will kill you. These weigh in at 41 lbs. each; but let’s talk.  And remember…don’t throw out old audio equipment! It was built better than anything you’ll probably ever see again, and likely just needs a spruce-up.

I have taken to ” saving” old audio stuff wherever I find it. I’ve amassed quite a pile, and have already re-distributed several pieces. It’s nice to see the old stuff again, and pull it back from the edge of oblivion. Hope someone might do it for me someday…

CCOB, over and out. Now go look up Tom Rush.