Unfortunately There’s No Free Lunch

The cause of these ruminations

I’m currently housebound in Raleigh, North Carolina- 4:00 PM, raining like hell outside, iTunes blasting Neil Young’s Cinnamon Girl through headphones while working through my third snifter of  Woodford Reserve Bourbon, a bottle of which a friend was foolish enough to leave here the other night with the promise that it’d be here the next time he visits (the bottle most certainly will be).  I’m printing work prints on an Epson R3000 for an exhibition I’ve entitled Car Window. There’s a couple of things presently on my  mind other than the fact that I’m glad my friend was dumb enough to leave his bottle of bourbon in my possession: first, how is it possible that the music I’m currently blasting from my iTunes account sounds so god-awful compared to what I used listen to with my Marantz amp and KLH speakers, way back in the ice-age of the 70’s?

I thought technological innovation i.e. digitization was going to revolutionize my hi-fidelity listening experience? Didn’t happen, not even close; go listen to the album I’m currently listening to – Neil Young’s Everyone Knows This is Nowhere – on vinyl on any half-decent turntable, amp and speakers, and then listen to it run thru iTunes as an mp3 and you’ll be shocked at the diminunition in audio quality we now accept as a given in the interests of quick and easy. It pisses me off when I think of the vinyl collection I once had – the usual 60’s and 70’s era Rock and Roll, but also an impressive collection of 50’s and 60’s era jazz: Coltrane, Rollins, Shorter, Monk, Gordon, Adderley, Webster, Coleman, Ellington, Miles Davis, Bill Evans – all now mp3 files on my computer and phone, pushed out through earbud headphones or streamed through my Apple TV to the attached Bose sound system, where they sound like shit – thin, tinny, screechy, hollow – whenever you try to play them at a decent volume (if ever there was a song that deserved to played loud, it’s Cinnamon Girl).

Car Window prints.  All shot with a film camera. Not sharp, bad corners, harsh bokeh.

Of course, ruminating about hi-fidelity leads me logically to the next subject, the fact that the prints I’m producing, while nice enough by current digital standards, just don’t have the depth and fullness of a comparable silver print printed in a darkroom, the tonal transitions just a little too abrupt, the obvious sharpness somehow slightly unpleasant to a discerning eye. In their defense, they certainly are easier to produce. No nasty chemicals, endless repeatability as opposed to the laborious reproducibility of a fine silver print. And those born into the digital era probably won’t even understand the differences.

A few years ago, while in Los Angeles, I saw a Walker Evans exhibition of his 1930’s Cuba photos at the Getty. Gorgeous 8×10 silver contact prints, one in particular, a frontal portrait of a Cuban stevedore that just blew me away with its simple beauty. That’s it, to the left, where, reproduced digitally and viewed on a computer monitor, it’s just another picture of some guy, nothing special. Were I to post it to some forum for critique I’m sure critics would take issue with any number of things – the framing, the lighting, the sharpness, the lack of acceptable bokeh etc etc, the usual herd animal opinions. Luckily, I saw that same print again in Paris this past Summer at the Evans exhibition at the Pompidou Center. So simple, yet profoundly arresting, impossible to look at and appreciate through the facile categories of sharpness, resolution, ease of capture, repeatabilty. It was a singular work that someone had laboriously produced in a darkroom. Art of the highest order, the exquisite confluence of singular critical decisions by Walker as to both construction and production, things that took time and thought and energy, all things the digital age promised us we could do without in our mad rush for the quick and easy.

I’ve been to my share of art exhibits and museums in my 59 years, and I can think of a number of times when I was profoundly moved by a work of art – Walker’s Cuban Stevedore, the van Gogh self-portrait at the Fogg Museum At Harvard, a huge Jackson Pollack I saw in Paris, Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus in the Uffizi in Florence, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel in the Vatican – all of them the product of a slow, discriminating  process of creation, the very processes that the digital era promises to liberate us from.  Of course, I look at myself in the mirror and see, surprisingly, just another old man, my opinions considered by the current digital generation the sad ravings of a man who’s era has come and gone. Fair enough. But remember, there’s no ‘free lunch;’ everything you gain is purchased at the cost of something else. Consider that when you’re upgrading your Nikon D whatever every two years, or you’re listening to your music with those shitty earbuds or you’re running your plastic-looking digital photos through Silver Efex. Everything has its price.

27 thoughts on “Unfortunately There’s No Free Lunch

  1. StephenJ

    Hi Tim, you know that whilst I accept the principle of your argument that some of the older ways have been pointlessly and negatively abandoned as being old fashioned and out of date. The real reason is rather that someone has got something new to sell and following a campaign gradually replaces the old with his new.

    We are guilty in that we are gullible enough in huge numbers to just accept the new, because it is new.

    So, I can fully see your argument regarding film, photography is a creative act. It is different with listening to music though, that is a passive act. I have many of Neil’s albums, I used to have many on vinyl, then on CD… Weirdly I am a big fan of “On the Beach” and “Time Fades Away”.

    …But now they are all on a LaCie portable rugged SSD in FLAC format (mostly).

    I used to have a Linn Sondek, with Naim amplification and Linn Isobarik loudspeakers. This was known (probably still is) as the flat earth system.

    It is much later in life (61) and I don’t have the need for such a rig, and I got really fed up with carrying all those albums (more than 1200 at peak), so I was an early adopter of computer audio, I experimented with compression algorithms to hear what sounded best/OK/worst… I settled on Flac. AIF was too proprietary and Wav is difficult to tag… MP3 and the like is nasty, really nasty.

    I now have a Linn Majik digital streamer which is an integrated amp, with a network port and a dac. I have replaced its digital power amplification (hard and nasty) with a Linn Klout old fashioned class AB amp and a smaller pair of Linn speakers called Saras.

    This eclipses anything that I have ever heard from my previous set ups, including any of the turntable/cartridge setups I used over the years.

    BTW: I like the project, reminds one a bit of Lee Friedlander, just a bit.

    StephenJ

    1. Leicaphila Post author

      Stephen: interesting about your hi-fi system. Sounds very expensive, way too convoluted for my taste. I like my music quick and easy. 🙂 Agree with you about “Time Fades Away.” I remember when it came out. It got savaged by the usual critics because it was so rough. In hindsight, it was the first stirrings of what led to punk and I think a lot of the punk guys considered it a formative work. I’ve always loved the album and think it’s aged rather well, unlike most punk (have you ever listened to a Clash album recently? Complete pretentious junk. From that era, I’d rather listen to Donna Summers. To me, Neil Young is eternally relevant.

    2. Gabriel Chan

      I Enjoy the mood of this post. I have returned to film . The tone of 120 film is just incredible. I love whisky , I love music. Photographic blog is not always about photography, it is a life style and off-subject is sometimes welcomed.

      Thank you.

  2. StephenJ

    Punk wasn’t as bad as what followed over here Tim… We got the Thompson Twins, Depeche Mode and such like, described by Shane McGowan as two poofs and a piano.

    The system I describe is actually very simple, a couple of boring boxes and downloads from Qobuz, and as someone who never really bothered with jazz until quite recently, I read your recommendation for “Saxophone Colossus” and was listening to my own downloaded copy a few minutes later.

    Many thanks, it has been churning away in my head now for weeks. 🙂

    1. Leicaphila Post author

      Next up in your jazz collection: John Coltrane’s Giant Steps and Coltrane Plays the Blues; And Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. All masterpieces.

      1. Ross

        Next up and offered as ‘opposition’ to the usual suspects: Billie Holiday – Lady Sings the Blues; Paul Gonsalves – Gettin’ Together; Ike Quebec – Blue and Sentimental; Kenny Burrell – Midnight Blue; Miles Davis – Live at Carnegie Hall and Getz/Gilberto.
        And as an ‘antidote’ to Neil Young I offer Townes van Zandt “Live At The Old Quarter”. Van Zandt is long gone, of course, but here he beats Dylan and Young at their own game.
        Oh, and let’s rip those buds from our ears, shall we, ’cause bad sound kills great music, as the saying goes. Music of a certain magnitude deserves to be listened to on a decent system: a stable record player, capable amp and good speakers.
        May I suggest a refurbished Thorens, Lenco or Dual turntable with a classic 10-15 Watt tube amp (Quad, Leak, Fisher, Scott) and some vintage Kef, Spendor or Rogers speakers. These will do the job nicely and affordably. All you need now is some decent listening acoustics.

        1. Leicaphila Post author

          You guys are about to send me down a new rabbit hole with all of the hi-fi suggestions. My wife is already cringing at the thought of me and a new “hobby.” As for the jazz recomendations, I’m not familiar with Gonsalves or the album by Burrell. Davis Live, yes, although its way down my list of favorite Miles; van Zandt is/was wonderful, no doubt. Stan Getz is great (Serenity and the mid 90’s album cut with it – “Aniversay”?- are great).

          If someone with discrimination and taste – who’s formative listening experiences were rock and roll – came to me and asked me how to find a way into jazz (by “jazz” I do not mean the soft listening pseudo jazz of Kenny G, Chuck Mangione, etc etc) I’d tell them to start with 10 albums:
          1. Saxaphone Colossus, Sonny Rollins
          2. Kind of Blue, Miles Davis
          3. Any one of the 4 1956 Coltrane Quintet albums (Cookin/Relaxin/workin/steamin) of Miles Davis
          4. Either ESP, Nefertiti, or Sorcerer, from Miles Davis’ 65-67 Quintet with Wayne Shorter. These are brilliant, but you need to have tuned your ear a little to jazz to really get them. When getting into Miles, start with Kind of Blue, then jump back to the 1956 quintet albums, then forward to the Shorter quintet.
          5. Go!, Dexter Gordon – Dexter Gordon doesn’t get you moving, you’re dead
          6. Giant Steps, John Coltrane – Coltrane’s first great Quartet
          7. Coltrane Jazz, John Coltrane – Coltrane’s transition into his brilliant early 60’s quartet albums
          8. Coltrane Plays the Blues and Coltrane’s Sound (two distinct albums but count them as one, both cut in same recording session). Just.Fucking.Brilliant.
          9. Adams Apple, Wayne Shorter. No beginner’s list should be without something from the mid-60’s Wayne Shorter quartet.
          10. Waltz for Debbie/Sunday at the Village Vanguard, Bill Evans. Again, two albums, but really one. A live recording of the Evan’s Trio during a run at the Vanguard in 1961. one of the great piano trios in jazz history. Scott LaFaro on bass, his interaction with Evans on piano is the highlight .

          These are all from the mid 50’s through mid 60’s, between bebop and electronic jazz, to my mind the greatest and most accessible jazz. They typically have a pronounced bass underpinning and a sense of melody that will remind you of R&R. All of these just absolutely briliant.

          1. Ross

            I don’t know how many people I’ve invited to my home to listen to music over the years. People who believed that digital in whatever form or shape was the be-all and end-all in all of audio. Until you play them the real thing. All-tube, all analog. And they have to pick their jaws up off the floor. It’s a bit like looking at, say, early 20th century Côte d’Azur Lartigue on a computer screen versus the handmade, well-lit exhibition master prints of that same carefree Mediterranean life-style. There is just no comparison. Recorded and played-back analog audio works in much the same way. If something was recorded in the analog domain some fifty or sixty years ago, it doesn’t make much sense to convert it to digital and store it on a hard drive, SSD or in a file somewhere in a cloud made up of one’s and zero’s. Only for our precious music to be converted back to analog again by some crappy D/A converter, to try and figure out what the music was all about in the first place. It’s useless, unless you want to make a quick buck, I suppose.
            So yes, vinyl records and its playback gear still make a lot of sense. Because all the things we experience around us through our senses are analog in nature. Digital, no matter how advanced, is merely a distorted way of manipulating and storing these analog experiences. And we’re not even talking about compatibility- or longterm storage issues. When digital started to throw its weight around in the early eighties, more than a few major record companies willfully destroyed their precious analog master tapes, because they figured they didn’t need them anymore. Because these tapes had now been transferred to digital “for the ages” and those awkward, bulky boxes were occupying to much valuable storage space to begin with! Or they shipped their tapes straight to the Smithsonian. How cynical can it get? Can you imagine Cartier-Bresson transferring his negatives to digital and then throwing his negs in the trash?! “…These files are taking up way too much closet space … and Martine is complaining … let’s get rid of this mess!” Yeah, right.
            I have never understood how music lovers en masse dumped their LP collections and bought into this fairytale of “perfect sound forever”. It must have had something to do with “convenience”. But as we all know, things only get interesting when we have to make a real effort.
            Not wanting to upset anybody’s wife or anything, but since it’s obvious we’re passionate about (jazz) music, we really owe it to ourselves and the music to play it on at least a decent system. Even more so because the jazz we are talking about is from the Golden Age; a time when everything that was good and beautiful came together. The best musicians met with the best producers, recording engineers, studio’s and record labels. Case in point: Blue Note Records. Founder and producer Alfred Lion had great taste in selecting the musical talent for his label. Recording engineer and studio wizard Rudy van Gelder had the best (tube) recording gear at his disposal, plus he was blessed with great ears. Then there was Blue Note co-founder and session photographer Alfred Lion who masterfully captured the musicians during and in between sessions. And last but not least graphic designer Reid Miles took care of those famous Blue Note covers.
            Over at Columbia, at the late great 30th Street NYC studio’s, Miles Davis, Ellington, Mingus, Billie Holiday, Charlie Rouse, among many others, were laying down track. At Verve, Norman Granz and his director of recording, Val Valentin, matched Blue Note and Columbia every step of the way. Bill Putnam at Universal did the same, and then some.
            The music, the quality of sound that came out of those places during the mid fifties to late sixties has never been equaled since, IMHO. When the seventies rolled around it all started to decline. Multi-track recording, dry-sounding studio venues without live-rooms, crappy solid state consoles … and then the music itself lost momentum.
            So, to be able to dig out the real magic, to cut to the soul of that music, serious listeners should have access to seriously good equipment. Gear that has to be neither expensive nor bulky.
            A good starting point would be a refurbished turntable from the ’60s or 70’s when vinyl still ruled supreme. Thorens, Lenco and Dual all made high-quality players that still can be bought secondhand for decent money. The Thorens models TD 150, TD 160 and TD 125 are all first-rate and far better than the bulk of the record players you can buy new today. The same goes for the Lenco L75 and the Dual 1219, 1229 and 701. If well-maintained these turntables are for the ages.
            This is also true for the majority of the classic integrated tube amps of the 1960’s. You cannot go wrong with a refurbished Fisher X-100, Scott 299, Lafayette LA-224B or Eico HF-81. These are all hard-wired (no printed circuit boards) EL84/6BQ5 pentode-based amps, equipped with excellent output transformers and capable of outputs between 10 to 15 Watts of class-a power. Which may not seem like a lot on paper, but coupled to the right loudspeakers these amps sound simply amazing. Build quality is superior to almost anything new on the shelves today.
            Concerning speakers, there are lots of choices, but here it really pays off in sticking with certain British brands. Especially those that came out of the BBC’s R&D tradition. The Beeb back then had its own research facilities and many talented speaker designers like Spencer Hughes of Spendor fame, Raymond Cooke (Kef) and Dudley Harwood (Harbeth) all worked at the BBC at some point before they started their own companies.
            The BBC broadcast monitor design philosophy revolves around a flat frequency response, low cabinet coloration and benign impedance curves. Speakers of this pedigree present a comfortable load for the amplifier to drive. Which implicates there’s no need for big solid state amps and consequently you can concentrate on low-Wattage tube gear which delivers high-quality sound. The bulk of transistor amps, instead, pump out lots of power, which translates into rather disappointing low-quality, grainy sound.
            Speakers that can confidently be recommended, among others, are the Kef Cresta, Chorale, Cadenza, RR 104, LS3/5A; the Spendor S100, BC1 and SP1/2, SP2/3 and the Rogers LS6, LS7, LS3/5A and LS4.
            These models are all capable of a very good recreation of the program material in the home, without causing listening fatigue or being visually obtrusive. And apart from the Spendor S100 all are very affordable. Depending on the condition they are in they can be had for around 125 dollars a pair for the Kef Chorale, and something like 800 dollars for a decent pair of LS3/5A’s. The 5A’s are the smallest speakers of the bunch. They are the size of shoeboxes, but once positioned on matching stands they sound absolutely amazing on real (acoustic) music. Very few speakers can do a disappearing act the way the LS3/5A can. It must be experienced to be believed.
            Is the LS3/5A, or any of the other stuff, the be-all and end-all in all of hifi playback gear? No – because nothing ever is.
            But it sure is close enough.

      2. StephenJ

        Thanks for the recommendations Tim, I perhaps over-egged the pudding when I said I had never really bothered with jazz. I already have quite a number of the albums listed above and elsewhere from others in this piece.

        Bill Evans Waltz for Debby, Miles Davis Kind of Blue, Sketches of Spain, Ascent to the Scaffold, Bitches Brew, In a Silent Way. Mose Allison is great, as is Monk… Actually much more that I realised. I have the Dexter Gordon Go record and whatshisname with the plastic sax – The shape of things to come, Chet Baker – The Last Great Concert. Charlie Haden and various partners like Hank Jones and Jim Hall.

        Ross mentions Townes Van Zandt and I agree wholeheartedly, but not as antidote, Neil doesn’t require a salve. My favourite Townes recording is one that I acquired during the days of filesharing, sadly only as an MP3, but it will have to do, unless someone knows better…. That recording is called “Bethlehem PA Soundboard”, which is a live recording. I know his recordings well and this is the gem of my collection.

        I have to say though that I disagree with Ross’s ideas about how to play recorded music. You will NEVER get the kind of sound from any so called HiFi system, that you can get by listening to a real string, being plucked on a real instrument in a real room by a real person, which is what he seems to be attempting, the problem is that in doing, you end up tweaking far more than listening. Though I do agree with his views on buds and phones…. ugh!

        What one is trying to do when listening to music is to relax and be moved, running backwards and forwards changing albums or turning them over is a chore that interferes muchly. As I said, I used to have a Linn Sondek, unarguably one of the best turntables in the history of HiFi, still manufactured and sold… if one can afford it, $20,000 will get you set up, all you need then is an amp and speakers!

        Things have moved on, and downloads, as others have suggested here is the way to go.

        Lordy, I haven’t even started on where the problem with modern reproduction is concerned, but broadly speaking the problem is not the medium that contains the content, neither is it the method by which that content is stored, analogue or digital, our ears are not capable of telling the difference between a good example of either.

        The big difference is right here in this lengthening article of yours… We are all talking about the great recordings of the 50’s and 60’s, and I agree that the guys that made these recordings really knew what they were doing. The tools that they used were all analogue and the final products were masterpieces. Frank Sinatra recordings wow. I reckon that it is just like in photography, dynamic range that is the bit that digital has difficulty in coping with… Put simply, all digital media is stunted by the ascii tables, what do you do when you reach 256? You compress. What do you do when you run out of vinyl? You compress. And this is what the recording companies who record the music. and the camera makers that make digital cameras try to get away with. Anyone ever listened to a “Golden Hour of some musician” on a budget LP from the 1960s, an hour just doesn’t fit onto a 12″ LP and it sounds crap.

        If you squash a perfectly good recording by Miles Davis or anyone else onto a CD or an MP3 in digital form, you make a compromise, but if you give him more room, analogue or digital media, he sounds great.

        But here is the killer, if you shift forward to the years after 1979 which was the fateful year when recording engineers began to adopt digital equipment for their part of the job… Ry Cooder: Bop Till You Drop being the first example, dynamic range died, the loudness wars began and recorded music has never sounded as good since then.

        I do have a couple of more modern recommendations though:

        Gil Scott Heron – I am New Here.

        And the bloke that wrote the above song… (I am new here)

        Smog – A River Ain’t Too Much To Love.

        Sorry to drone on, but it felt good writing it.

        Mellencamp made an album half of which was recorded in the same hotel room with the same kind of equipment as used for the Robert Johnson recordings and half in the Sun studios as used by Cash, Presley, Lee-Lewis et al., worth a listen.

        1. Ross

          Twenty grand for a fully tricked-out Linn Sondek LP12? … You’ve got to be kidding me! For a record player that is in essence a souped-up Thorens TD 150?… On which the Linn was based, by the way. Lordy Lordy. Never underestimate the persuasiveness of clever marketing hype.
          I suggest anyone who’s willing to part with this kind of money to give a fully refurbished EMT 930 a spin. And witness 60 lbs of cutting-edge German engineering walk all over the poor Linn. At half the price.

          1. StephenJ

            The Sondek was based on the AR-XA Ross. Thorens was/is rubbish, I know, I was unfortunate enough to own a TD160. I have also been down the tube route. Leak TL12 mono blocks, Armstrong integrated, a friend of mine used to work for the BBC as an audio engineer and he brought home a redundant pair of Rogers LS1, which was the full scale studio monitor that the LS3/5A was based on… the LS1 had a bass response though. 🙂

            My point to Tim was that all he needed was some moving air… The use of headphones is about the worst way to listen to music. A decent pair of speakers controlled by a reasonably powerful amp rather than let them run away, which is the biggest problem with your old world 1 watt valves and paper cones, or even worse… horns.

            The best way is, live sans electronics, in a Mediaeval church perhaps. But that is not so easy when you are in the Carolinas developing some negs.

  3. eric de montigny

    i second KInd of blue, a musical revolution. i also like ascenseur pour l’échafaud.
    As for Neil i rather listen to an old bbc tv show with a shiity sound, the interpretation is better than on the harvest album.

  4. David Levenson

    I have just made a move back to listening to Hi-Fi quality music, without the need for a record collection or mass of equipment… Get a TIDAL account for the highest quality music files, and listen on a Bluesound Node 2 ( a combined amp and music streamer ) add some decent speakers or headphones, and you will be back where you used to be..

    1. StephenJ

      I have used Tidal, but my Qobuz recommendation is made because this company allows a download of an album or song at anything from nasty MP3 right up to WAV/AIF, and you don’t even need to pay a subscription.

      I can only think that perhaps French outfit, Qobuz is not available in the US.

  5. Robert Moore

    iTunes and MP3 do sound terrible … but you have picked the lowest common path for sound.
    Perhaps like using JPG with a quality of 3/sRGB/8 bit color and no profile.

    IF you want cheap and easy … Chord Mojo and Kaisertone on your iPhone … with a decent
    pair of earphones or in ear monitors. Download a couple of your favorite albums from a decent
    HQ provider and you may realize that digital can do MF or 8×10 quality. I recommend looking at ROON as software to stream all of your music … its database allows your to free associate from an album to all the music ever produced by all of the performers on the album to hundreds of associated music forms.

    And integrating TIDAL into the mix allows you to stream HQ music through ROON at about $20 a month … anywhere in the world.

    BTW … normally with TIDAL you can listen to all five albums that have to song you are interested in. Actually for those of us who remember the golden days of stereo … TIDAL has a bunch of trash … but ROON allows you to dive into it with precision …

    Analog sounded great but was a PITA … all you will miss is the crackles and pops.

    I recently moved all my music to a NAS on the second floor of our home … and am able to stream it anywhere I have internet access … all in HQ … 800 albums.

    Start here …. https://roonlabs.com

    http://store.acousticsounds.com/superhirez

    https://www.computeraudiophile.com

    https://www.cyberfort.jp/for-iPhone/eng/kaisertone.html

    Regards,

    Bob

  6. Ross

    “I thought technological innovation i.e. digitization was going to revolutionize my hi-fidelity listening experience? Didn’t happen, not even close; go listen to the album I’m currently listening to – Neil Young’s Everyone Knows This is Nowhere – on vinyl on any half-decent turntable, amp and speakers, and then listen to it run thru iTunes as an mp3 and you’ll be shocked at the diminunition in audio quality we now accept as a given in the interests of quick and easy. It pisses me off when I think of the vinyl collection I once had – the usual 60’s and 70’s era Rock and Roll, but also an impressive collection of 50’s and 60’s era jazz: Coltrane, Rollins, Shorter, Monk, Gordon, Adderley, Webster, Coleman, Ellington, Miles Davis, Bill Evans – all now mp3 files on my computer and phone, pushed out through earbud headphones or streamed through my Apple TV to the attached Bose sound system, where they sound like shit – thin, tinny, screechy, hollow – whenever you try to play them at a decent volume”

    Ah, mp3, and the numerous other fairytales and “perfect sound forever”-claims the digital industry has bestowed upon us. Indeed, there is no such thing as a free lunch. And bad sound kills great music, as the saying goes.
    Instead, let’s rip those buds from our ears, chuck out the digital crap and retrace our steps to the days we willingly disposed of all those vinyl records that became ‘obsolete’ overnight. People back then were happy to do away with their own history on an alarming scale.
    High Fidelity is not some off-the-shelf mass market commodity (although the industry is doing its best to let us believe otherwise). HiFi is, first and foremost, a PURSUIT. Just like great photography is, or any other craft that requires knowledge, experience, subtlety and above all the judicious use of one’s senses.
    So relax, buy back some essential music on vinyl that got lost all those years ago. Get a good, sturdy turntable and work your way up from there. Buy a decent amp and a pair of quality speakers to go with it. Take time to really listen and evaluate. And remember that the chain is as strong as its weakest link; in the same way that analog photography is.
    Kick back. Put on some Townes van Zandt. The album “Live at The Old Quarter” will do nicely. Cue straight up to “Lungs”. That is if you can stomach Van Zandt’s bare, unadorned poetic beauty. Allow yourself to be blown away.
    Van Zandt, of course, is long gone, but here he is beating Dylan and Young at their own game.

  7. David

    Hi Tim, always look forward to your musings. If you don’t have access to a darkroom, putting one together is not hard. I’ve done so recently and am enjoying the results. It’s mainly about the pictures, but seeing the results coming out of the dev trays I’m convinced that there is value in this process.

    1. Leicaphila Post author

      Thanks David. I do have access to a community darkroom but rarely if ever get there. I’ve settled on a hybrid process – develop and scan, print digitally. I do like the easy part of the quick and easy. Granted, thereis much to love about digital, ease of use certainly. But that doesnt mean I cant bitch about how it used to be. Consistency is not my strong suite. It can actually be fun to be a bitter old man watching the world pass him by.

    2. Rob Campbell

      Yes, it was the biggest hook. I am certain that had I grown up in the age of the digital route that I would not have felt the compulsion to make photography my career. The thing is, doing it the wet way you are hands-on; via computer there is no visceral input to write home about.

      In fact, there are so few constraints that you can sit there for hours, bit by bit constructing the picture and feel nothing really creative going on, just the same buzz as that monkey might get with his typewriter as he rewrites Shakespeare.

      To feel, you have to be hands-on. In many walks of life.

      Rob

  8. Éric de Montigny

    I just recalled something written by Miles peters on japancamerahunter in your bag no 402.. “Happiness comes through simplicity and the enjoyment of a few simple things of quality and in the practice of a craft.” My simple things of quality would be my M4, few lenses, my Trek T1 and my old focomat2c. I still wet print and the whole process is my craft. My goal is to document things i see, places i go and people i meet. I have three kids and plan to print three copies of every worthy pictures i keep so they can see the life i had through what i’ve seen. Archival quality 4X6 print on 5X7 fb paper. I’ve learn the hard way that i cant trust digital for that.

  9. Wayne

    I don’t know. Maybe it has something to do with the absence of the infinite. How do you produce, or your brain process a sense of infinite qualities associated with digitized sound or pixilated images?

    When you pluck a string on an acoustic guitar, you can feel the instrument vibrating long after you are able to hear the sound……………..Or, maybe in another sense, you do still hear it.

    Tube amp vs. solid state amp. I don’t know, but I figure Mr. Billy Gibbons could give a demonstration of the superiority of the former. I have to go listen to Mexican Blackbird now.

    1. Leicaphila Post author

      Love Billy Gibbons. Google “Billy Gibbons Daryl’s House”. Great Youtube video. Or listen a few times to “I Need You Tonight.” Loud.

  10. Rob Campbell

    How come nobody seems to think of Armstrong, Bechet, Bix, Ory, Oliver et al…

    Kinda reminiscent of digital guys not knowing or, to be kind, forgetting about film.

    😉

    Rob

  11. Ross

    “The Sondek was based on the AR-XA Ross. Thorens was/is rubbish, I know, I was unfortunate enough to own a TD160.”

    I’ll say this much Stephen: put one of the original Sondek’s and a TD 150 side by side; take the platters off, remove the belts and sub-platters, take the top plates off and examine the innards. Put them upside down, take the bottom plates off, examine the inside of both players and the conclusion is obvious: the Linn takes a lot of its design cues from the Thorens.
    Which is completely understandable from a Linn point of view: if you plan to bring a new turntable to market, and it happens to be your first, it’s not totally unwise to base your design on one of the most competent (in that specific price bracket) already around – and take it from there. Which makes nonsense of your claim that “Thorens was/is rubbish”.

    Concerning your comments on the LS3/5A:
    The Rogers LS1 and the BBC LS3/5A have absolutely nothing in common from a design or pedigree point of view. The LS3/5A was conceived by the BBC’s research department from the ground up and didn’t have any predecessors. At the time the BBC needed a compact monitor for outside broadcast use in cramped spaces (vans). The large studio monitors in use with the BBC (the LS5/8 and LS5/9) were simply too big to fulfill this task. And since no readily available commercial speaker from any manufacturer met with the Beebs stringent criteria they had to design their own. The little gem that finally emerged from all that groundbreaking work was the LS3/5A. It used Kef’s now-famous T27 and B110 drivers (tightly spec’d), a birch-ply thin wall cabinet construction with bitumen damping and an elaborate, complex crossover design. Hence the speaker’s low sensitivity.
    Over the decades since its inception in the early 1970’s the BBC has licensed a number of outside manufacturers to series-produce the little wonder. Albeit to the BBC’s own very stringent criteria, with every step of the design being tightly specified and logged. With Kef, Rogers, Spendor, Harbeth and Chartwell among the companies that were licensed.

  12. Archiver

    I grew up in a house with a Linn Sondek turntable, Nakamichi amplifiers and Linn Kan speakers, so I was really spoiled, even though I didn’t know it at the time.

    You may be surprised at the quality of sound you can get if you go into the rabbit hole of Head-Fi. Encode your music to flac rather than mp3 and listen with either a decent set of IEM’s or headphones, and a reasonable portable player. The cost is much less than high end HiFi and your wife won’t be appalled by a large pile of silver boxes festooned with cables.

    Look into brands like Fiio, Astell and Kern, Cowon and even Sony for their higher end portable players. For IEM’s, they range from one-size fits all from Shure and Westone through to custom molded earphones containing multiple drivers from JH Audio, Noble Audio and Ultimate Ears. Noble Audio have the Kaiser 10 IEM’s which manage to pack 10 drivers into earphones which are custom molded for your ears.

    If you don’t like things stuck in your ears, check out headphones from Audio Technica, Sennheiser, Grado, Audeze and of course, Stax. Stax are the granddaddy of electrostatic ear-speakers. Yes, ear-speakers, not headphones.

    With a decent portable player and some isolating IEM’s, you can be on a train, bus or plane and enjoying extremely high quality sound, and no one have a clue. And you can be relaxing at home to your favourite jazz albums without your wife hearing a thing. Or with a pair of open-back headphones you can thrill to live concert level sound with a spaciousness and clarity of speakers costing three times as much.

  13. insolublepancake

    HI Tim, catching up. I have to say i approve wholeheartedly of this new whiskey-related diversion. Looking at that bottle makes with want to have a wee dram of that single malt in the cupboard at home… happy new year by the way !

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