The Music Box

These days, my system consists of Avantgarde Duo 2.1 loudspeakers, Fi 2A3 monoblock amplifiers, the Tom Evans Design Vibe preamplifier, one of Jerry Ozment's Audio Logic parallel-processing vacuum tube DACs, a Meridian 508.20 CD player used as a transport, all tied together with Nirvana cables. I am really very happy with this combination of kit; it does all the things I ask from a system. As I review new gear, you'll know that the new components are going up against a contented listener. They're going to have to work hard for the praise they receive.

Values and Beliefs

In the August 2003 issue of Just Jazz Guitar, writer Josh Gordon interviews virtuoso guitarist John Knowles. Josh and John are talking about John's wonderful interpretation of Johnny Smith's recording of the song "Black Is the Color", when John says, "One thing I have always thought about arranging and transcribing - it's not important to replicate what you hear. It's more important to recreate the atmosphere and the attitude and the feeling that go with the piece."

To that Josh replies, "That is so beautifully put." Now think about that for a moment in audio terms: It's not the replication of the sound that matters, it is the portrayal of the atmosphere and the attitude and the feeling of the musical performance. Now, many good audio systems can replicate sound, but very few can also portray the atmosphere and the attitude and the feeling of the musical performance.

When listening to music through a HiFi rig, these days I listen primarily for atmosphere and the attitude and the feeling of the musical performance. If I find myself distracted and thinking more about what a piece of gear is sonically doing rather than the message of the music, I know something's amiss. If I am overtly aware of the fact that I am listening to a recording instead of being drawn into the music, I know something's awry. If I don't want to grab my guitar and try to play along, or jump out of my chair and dance around, something's clearly lacking.

I want equipment that makes me want to listen to music, allows me to equally enjoy music on both good and bad recordings. One of the factors that helps me along in my enjoyment is a system's ability to portray the correct tonal character and texture of a given musical instrument's voice: a Gibson Advanced Jumbo guitar should sound like itself and be distinguishable from a Martin D-28, a Gibson L-5 from an Epiphone Emperor. It should get the beat right. You should get a sense of the intended forward momentum of the music and be able to make sense of the melody line. It should make musical sense in the way different instruments interact with each other and the human voice.

I want to be able to hear the emotive contribution of each musical brush on the music's canvas. I also like a system to present a believably sized image for performers and musical instruments in the context of the recording perspective. Things should be reasonably full-range, say 30Hz to 20kHz. I also want HiFi equipment be musically engaging at lower, more musically realistic volume levels. Most live music is not that loud. If I have to play a system too loud before it comes musically alive, then I stress out and don't enjoy the music. I tend to prefer plenty of believably natural detail with a touch of natural warmth. Ideally, all of this shouldn't be too terribly expensive so it doesn't keep me from buying my next guitar.

The Music

Lately, I've been listening to a large variety of music: Folk, country, jazz, classical, rock, blues, and some stuff that's not too easily classified. I tend to gravitate towards acoustic music, but not exclusively. Some of my favorites lately are bluesman Harry Manx's Jubilee, Gillian Welch's and David Rawling's old-timey Time (The Revelator), Jorma Kaukonen's country masterpiece Blue Country Heart, Bill Frisell's classical guitar interpretations of John Zorn's compositions in Masada Guitars, Greg Brown's Milk of the Moon, Nicolai Dunger's Tranquil Isolation of blues-tinged country rock, Frank Vignola's gypsy jazz guitar album Blues for a Gypsy, and jazz guitarist Larry Coryell's Cedars of Avalon. If you are looking for some new guitar music, you could hardly go wrong with any of these.

Back Home

With the aid of my most recent HiFi rig, the spice level of music in my life has gone from the subtle to the piquant. However, I haven't forgotten the other muses in my life. I like to race around the tarmac at 170 mph on sport bikes when I get the chance (I'm too old and rickety for motocross now). I get to the gym a couple of times a week, but I'm not in super hero shape any more. I sold my home a while back and am slowly looking for a new one. I love literature and still read a lot, savoring Rexroth at the moment. I enjoy the company of friends, cooking and eating a fine meal, and sampling the Pacific Northwest's abundant fine wines.

I'm learning to play jazz guitar from the Pacific Northwest's legendary 82-year old John La Chapelle. I confess that I spend more time playing my guitars than I do listening to my rig. Like most of you, I also work a day job that takes more time than I wish it did. In case you haven't guessed from my little tale, I try to infuse my life with a sparkling passion and a sense of adventure. I am looking forward to sharing my adventures with you, about those special musical transducers that awake the passion in me. Until later, my friends!