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And in this corner

The hifi sharing the stage with Jason was a nearly all Shindo system consisting of the 301 Player System, Auditorium 23 Homage step-up transformer, Giscours preamplifier, Lafon Western Electric 300B Limited mono block amplifiers sitting on the Ligno Lab equipment support system, playing through the Latour field coil speakers all tied together with Shindo cable. Shindo electronics were plugged into the Shindo Mr. T power conditioner and the CD player was the dCS Puccini CD/SACD player with the outboard Puccini U-Clock system clock.

I suppose some people expected this event to be a competition; man versus hifi, an audiophile John Henry folk tale. I didn’t. After all, how can we expect a bunch of stuff, even wonderfully musical stuff, to sound exactly like a person playing an instrument? That’s like asking Jason to sound exactly like The Duke Ellington Orchestra one minute and Bob Marley and the Wailers the next. As someone said after the performance in response to a comment bemoaning hifi’s inability to sound exactly like a musician no matter the cost: "You’d have to spend a lot to have Jason play in your living room whenever you want." 

If you’re still stuck on the preposterous paradigm—hifi’s ultimate goal is to accurately reproduce the live acoustic event—let me ask you something: do you really think that Jason could be fooled into believing he’s listening to himself perform live from over there while he’s sitting over here and his guitar is over there? Did I hear a mumbled mmmaybe from the pseudo-scientist crowd? I thought so. But don’t fret, the world loves a dreamer.

It’s worth mentioning that the chosen perspective dictated by the recording engineer effects how and where we as hifi listeners sit in relation to the original performance. This judgment call becomes especially apparent when comparing a live event directly to a recording. I think some listeners confuse this chosen presentation with hifi shortcomings, attributing a CD’s more distant sound to the reproduction chain when it’s actually built into the recording.

Jason also spoke about how he plays differently for a recording as opposed to a live performance. Essentially he tones down and cleans up his playing to account for the microphones’ more sensitive and closer ‘ears’. Not to beat a dead paradigm but if you’re looking to accurately recreate a live acoustic performance while the performer himself is changing his technique to fit the recording process, it’s no wonder the objectivists among us are perpetually frustrated. And here I thought it was something a little extra fiber could fix.

Is it live or is it mummery
Before and after the event, a smaller group of listeners listened to some music on the hifi. We switched the Lafon 300Bs for the Lafon GM70s, the Latours made way for the DeVore Fidelity Silverback Reference and finally the Acoustic Plan Sitar integrated amplifier and matching Vadi CD player took up residence. The Acoustic Plan line is newly distributed by Tone Imports in the US of A and from the snippet I heard, it’s certainly worth keeping an eye—and both ears—on.

We mainly played LPs, a bunch of 78s and even a few CDs. Music was varied spanning decades, countries, styles and genres. We played some of the new and old records we picked up on a lunch stop in Stroudsberg, PA as well as a bunch we each brought from home especially for this listening occasion. Going from a live performance of Bach, Metheny and Albéniz to Mississippi John Hurt, Lightnin Hopkins, Skip James, Dizzy Gillespie, Manu Dibango, Pharaoh Sanders, Fat Boy Slim & Bootsy Collins, Van Morrison, Bob Marley, L’Ocelle Mare, Les Rita Mitsouko, Syreeta Wright, Toumami Diabate, Big Maybelle, Bo Didley, Eric Burdon & War, Einstürzende Neubauten, Lou Rawls, Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3, Sandy Bull and many many more caused more trip-induced travel-weary wonder than any Interstate I’ve traversed.

Even with live music, every listener brings their personal baggage making each listening experience unique. Music as spaceship fuel turns out to be a transporter cocktail melding you and the music into some conjoined map-quest space time machine. It’s as if we each get on at the same ramp but soon after departure the music and our experience of it make for a hyper-personal travelogue. I may end up in a bar with friends in North Bennington in the ‘80s while John ends up in a little restaurant in LA in the 90s. Andrew may recall the time he saw Bob Marley while Jonathan may be drinking rum in Roadtown. Remember, the longest part of the journey lies within unless you get sidetracked by surface noise.

With each change in equipment came a change in presentation; some more, some less apparent. I suppose the standard audio-writerly thing to do would be to describe every change in detail sticking to the surface of sound and in the end come up with a valuation based on the relative merit of difference. Then I’d draw some conclusions about which components are better and which worse so you’d be more informed than you were before you read what I had to write. Maybe you’d even base some future purchase decision on what I had to say about what I heard. That’s the way it works with some hifi writing, right?

I’ve got a better idea. How about relying on a professional and your own ears? Novel idea, I know. Radical really. And you could, or rather you should, think of hifi dealers like Don Better as professional hifi builders. This mastery involves the nearly lost art of system building which has been all but decimated by hifi fetishists. Surface noise perverts. The truth of the matter is, system-building expertise is based on experience (I know I’m going way out on a limb with this one but bear with me) and few people have the experience of the experienced hifi dealer. No, not even those who constantly buy and sell used gear online. Sorry fellas but please don’t let me stop the swapping. It’s so virile.

Audio dealers are supposed to help you build a system that will fit your room, musical tastes and budget. Yet many an audiophile shopper is distracted. They’re distracted by the shit they read, the shit they think they know and how much they think they can save by not dealing with audio dealers. Instead they rely on their own auto-erotic system scripture cobbled together from reviews, forum posts, myths, whims, lies, misdemeanors and the Robert Langdon-esque ability to read between the lines. All I can say is that while I can read and run out to Home Depot, I’m no master luthier.

The smack down

Having met, corresponded with and read what a large number of audiophiles have to say, I’d imagine there are still some of you wondering which amp or speaker was best and which was best for less. Was one piece classier than another? More illusory, more real? Are the Latours really worth it? Are field-coil drivers inherently better?

Did the Vadi CD player make us recognize analog’s supposed faults? Is that lovely blue chunk of a remote John Devore showed off too convenient to live without?

Which combination of stuff made all those bits, electricity and magnetism become Jason Vieaux right before our very ears?

Questions, questions and more questions. Plaguing, nagging, burning questions that any reviewer worth his/her weight in html would be remiss not to address. Not wanting to disappoint, here’s one highly recommended recommendation.

If you’re ever in Cleveland and hungry (especially if it’s past 1 a.m.), head on over to the Lava Lounge on Auburn. Make sure to ask your friendly waiter where the good record stores are. He knows.

Music’s space

We need to learn to appreciate the simple truth that listening to music on the hifi is what it is. Just as I’d never expect a musician to be a hifi, I’d never expect a hifi to be a musician. Having the opportunity to hear a world-class musician like Jason Vieaux perform in an intimate setting is more than likely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I just thank my lucky Sun Ra that there’s a record of Jason’s artistry so we can meet again somewhere in between.