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Positive Feedback ISSUE46
Our readers respond…we respond right back!
As you know, the subject of Blue Note Records, its history, artists and recordings, is one that is very near and dear to my heart.
I was pleased to see some coverage of Blue Note in your latest issue... I'm speaking of the review of Somethin' Else by Cannonball Adderley by Tom Campbell. The review itself seemed to morph into a general discussion of the various folks who remaster the Blue Note catalog, and more specifically, into a discussion about the merits of stereo or mono with Blue Note.
Normally I stay out of commenting on reviewers' opinions, but Tom makes some remarks in this review that offend me deeply and require further comment.
Tom quotes a few lines from the portion of the Music Matters website dealing with the Mono/Stereo issue whereby I simply state the fact that ALL of the Blue Note masters past a certain date (that date being October 30, 1958) are actually stereo master tapes that include the notation: "Mo Master Made 50/50 from Stereo." This isn't my opinion, it's a fact. From March of 1957 until October 30, 1958, Rudy Van Gelder recorded both mono and stereo masters simultaneously when recording for Blue Note.
It is at this point in the review that Tom goes seriously wacky by saying that I am "playing with fire [a little bit]" by suggesting that this is how the monos were made. Really? Show me how. If only one master exists, and that master is a stereo tape, please have Tom Campbell explain to me how a mono acetate is made, other than by folding the channels together in some fashion.
Campbell then goes on to state he finds "Harley's suggestion that the mono mixes were willy-nilly afterthoughts unnecessary, careless and overreaching." This is utter [bleep]! Nowhere do I call or imply that the mono mixes are careless afterthoughts. Nowhere. Please have Campbell pull the quote where I say this. He can't, because I imply no such thing, nor would I.
Having the two stereo channels to work when making his mono fold downs also gave Rudy some degree of level control on the horns by reducing one channel or the other for mono.
Campbell calls words like "fold downs" and "summed mono" "loaded" and takes me to task for using them. OK Tom, so what word would you suggest I use? If you only have a stereo tape to work from, how do you make it mono?
Rudy made both mono and stereo master tapes for a period of about 17 or 18 months. He then stopped the practice and simply made stereo masters. Not opinion. Fact.
Instead of running two machines, Rudy could just run one and make his stereo or mono lacquer cut using the same tape. It was a matter of convenience I would imagine, not to mention that it saves tape.
I've seen the oft-quoted Rudy Van Gelder passage that Tom quotes, many times. He says they only had one speaker in Hackensack. That's certainly true for the many years that Rudy only recorded in mono. And it's probably true for much of the period from March of 1957 through October, 1958, when Rudy was running dual tapes.
As a matter of fact I have mentioned many times on other forums that I don't feel that the early Van Gelder stereo tapes sound quite right. On many of the stereo tapes from 1957, there's nothing in the middle, and that, to me, just sounds weird. It is entirely probable that Rudy really was only listening in mono... it certainly sounds that way to me. However, listen to what happens in the fall of 1957. All of a sudden Rudy puts the piano and bass in the middle. (I have written down somewhere the exact date where this happened. I'll try and find it.)
And a few sessions later, instead of placing the horns over on one side (left) he starts his decades-long practice of placing the sax on the left and the trumpet on the right (on a quintet session.) So now you have a very believable stereo presentation of a jazz quintet. It certainly SOUNDS like Rudy was mixing in stereo. Either that or these beautiful stereo mixes happened by accident. Steve Hoffman, Kevin Gray and I don't believe that is the case, and we've discussed this at length.
By the way, in my opinion Campbell is flat out wrong (or his system needs adjusting) with his description of Rudy's placement of Hank Jones' piano in the stereo balance of Somethin' Else as "peeking out from the far right of the stage" while on the mono "Jones is front and center." Don't take my word for it. Anyone with a stereo LP can take Somethin' Else, cue it up, and check out where Rudy has the piano on the stereo mix. Front and center. You see, by the time of this session (March 1958) Rudy was well into refining his stereo mix technique. While he still had Sam Jones' bass placed right, he had Hank Jones' piano coming up the middle. And this is a crucial distinction for me. When there is a big hole in the middle (as there is on many of the earliest Blue Note stereos from 1957), we (Music Matters) go with the mono tape. Not only is Hank Jones centered (there is always a bit of shifting since there are no baffles used and all the mics are "live"), but I find his piano on the stereo version to be nice and full-bodied, albeit within the context of the RVG piano sound. Campbell describes Jones' piano as thin and, as mentioned above, "peeking out from the far right of the stage." Not. If Campbell really hears this, then I'd say that something is off in his system.
It was right about this time that Rudy finally placed the bass in the center, along with the piano, and he established his decades-long practice of putting trumpet left, piano and bass center, and sax and drums right on quintet recordings. On quartet recordings, Rudy would place the lead instrument (trumpet or sax) leftish with the rest of the mix as above.
So how to explain Rudy's comments that Tom Campbell references? Honestly, I don't know for certain, but one possibility that comes to mind (one suggested, by the way, by someone who knows Rudy very well) is that he simply does not remember events from over 50 years ago with crystal clarity. Based on what I hear from sessions of that time, I have no problem at all believing that Rudy did not monitor in stereo when he first began recording in stereo. In fact, those very early stereo mixes don't really sound like anyone was "home".
But soon enough, you can hear Rudy placing instruments in the stereo field with great precision. I doubt very much that this was done "blind."
Now there's the question of whether you prefer stereo or mono. That's entirely a matter of taste. I LOVE good mono! Ask Marc Michelson (formerly with Soundstage), currently with his own very cool new site: www.theaudiobeat.com.
It was my raving about mono, and specifically mono LPs played back by mono cartridges, that got him to take possession of several excellent mono cartridges. Like me, he loves hearing mono LPs played back by mono cartridges.
At Music Matters, we put out the Blue Notes in the form that we feel most sounds like musicians playing in the studio. We've put out many great mono Blue Notes. We've also put a few sessions out in mono where early stereo masters exist. We do this since we feel that the stereo from that time is not up to snuff.
Finally, Tom Campbell mentions the fact that Hoffman/Grey Blue Note remasterings sound a bit warmer than original pressings. He's right, they do. Let's look at why this might be. And keep in mind that Ron Rambach and I have pristine original editions of the entire Blue Note catalog. Ron Rambach, in fact, is one of the country's leading purveyors of rare jazz vinyl.
In Blue Note seminars that I do, I often mention that I feel one of the many reasons Rudy Van Gelder was a genius was for his ability to take the playback systems of the day (think turntables/tonearms and cartridges from the '50s and '60s) and master his LPs to sound lively and believable on those systems. Also, keep in mind that the bane of labels then was returns "because the needle sticks." Rudy had to roll a bit of bottom and pump the upper mids to get the LPs to playback with a sense of life but without too much bottom end, which might cause styli of the day to "stick". RVG's pressings also played back fairly "loud." How did he do this? He did it by applying judicious amounts of limiting. All of this allowed Rudy and Blue Note to make records that were exciting to listen to, and records that didn't "skip".
Now, how do we know this? Easy, we listen to the master tape and compare it to original pressings.
So, taking a look mastering these great sessions now, what approach should we take? First of all, we're dealing with vastly superior playback equipment by and large. There's no shortage of top end in cartridges or speakers, generally speaking.
One of the first things that floored us when we began to listen to Rudy's master tapes was how DYNAMIC they are. We had frankly never heard from any of our vintage pressings this kind of dynamic range.
That was where the decision was made to do the transfers at 45 RPM. This was so we could run the tapes wide open, with no limiting of any kind.
What about EQ? Again, not having to play to the lowest common denominator, we did not have to roll the bottom OR pump the upper mids, for that matter. Sometimes a slight amount of EQ was used when we felt that it resulted in a superior playback.
Our goal is simple. We do whatever we can to give you the illusion that you are back in Hackensack or Englewood Cliffs at the original session. That's our goal. Why don't we release everything in mono? Let me ask this: when was the last time you attended a jazz concert and found the musicians all stacked up one behind the other, choo-choo train style? "Never," you say? More probably, you found the musicians arrayed on the stage in a way not too dissimilar from the way that Rudy mixed in stereo.
Again, I love mono! But where well done Blue Note stereo masters exist, I find that this often provides a more convincing portrait of musicians playing together. If you prefer everything in mono....enjoy! Music gets us high and however you chose to get high, go for it.
The opportunity to work on the cherished Blue Note masters is one the most thrilling experiences I've ever had. I truly love the label. To have someone I don't know try to impugn my reputation by making injudicious comments is highly offensive to me.
Please do pass along my thoughts to Mr. Campbell.
Best regards to you both,
Tom Campbell's response to Joe Harley's letter re: my Blue Note review
Before directly addressing some of Joe Harley's comments about my Somethin' Else review—and to insert a little perspective here—I think it's worth noting that the review in question contained the following passage:
"[The Music Matters and Analogue Productions Blue Note re-issues] are, simply put, some of the best LPs I've ever heard: beautifully mastered, beautifully pressed and, especially in the case of the Music Matters series, beautifully packaged. I have over a dozen of them, and there is not a dog in the bunch."
Sheesh… If this is Mr. Harley's response to a review with observations like that, I'd hate to see how he reacts to a really negative review. ;-)
Joe's published response is quite long, and includes an authoritative history of the way Rudy Van Gelder's sound evolved during the late '50s. But Harley's only really significant issue with what I wrote has to do with my interpretation of his note on the Music Matters website—in which, to my mind, in making a general case for the stereo versions of Blue Note sessions, he unnecessarily denigrates Rudy's famous mono mixes, referring to them as "fold-downs" of the stereo tapes and, in another paragraph, as "summed mono."
Perhaps the jargon and usage of actual recording engineers differs from that of audio writers, but in every audiophile publication I have ever read, the terms "folded-down mono" and "summed mono" are always used in a pejorative way. Those terms generally refer to creating a mono version of a recording by simply summing the two channels of a stereo recording into one without actually mixing them to create a coherent sound picture. As I stated in my review, "summed mono" is what you get when you hit the mono button on your preamp to listen to a stereo recording—it "generally creates a weird, opaque, cluttered sound: like having the musicians all on top of each other rather than spread out across a stage."
By his very usage of these phrases, it seemed to me that Harley was suggesting that the mono mixes were artless afterthoughts – when, in fact, Van Gelder himself has talked about the great pains that were taken with those mixes to achieve a natural balance and a convincing stage. If Joe says that those connotations are not what he intended, I will take him at his word. But when writing the review, I did not think that a person of his vast knowledge and experience would be unfamiliar with the customary use of those terms in the audiophile world.
Harley also asserts that Rudy Van Gelder employed compression and boosted the upper-mids at the LP mastering stage to make the original Blue Note albums sound good on the playback equipment of the day—and that the Music Matters re-issues, while indeed a bit warmer than the original LPs, are extremely accurate reproductions of what's actually on the master tapes. In saying this, he appears to be taking me to task for saying in my review that "The Classic re-masterings are more faithful to the Van Gelder sound and, presumably, to the master tapes."
Please note, however, the use of the term "presumably." I never said that I had heard the master tapes. In making my statement, I was in fact relying on the testimony of Harley's own business associate – and co-engineer of the Music Matters Blue Note project—Steve Hoffman. Here is what Hoffman wrote on his website (which was cited and paraphrased in my review; I've added the emphases below):
"Rudy Van Gelder recorded stuff to sound good THEN, not now. THEN is what counted! People had cheap phonographs or Hi-Fi's, nothing like what we have now.
Rudy did all his 'tricking' right on the master tape so he didn't have to redub and lose a generation... In other words, he didn't record something and re-dub it adding compression, echo, EQ, etc., he did it all live in real time while the music was being recorded.
Roy DuNann and Howard Holzer at Contemporary recorded everything flat and dry and the 'tricks' were added during LP disk mastering.
So, a Contemporary master tape today sounds amazing while a Prestige or Blue Note master tape needs a little 'reverse trickery' to get it to sound better."
So Harley says that Rudy did his "tricking" at the mastering stage, not on the tapes; Hoffman says the exact opposite. I don't know which is right, and the subject is ultimately moot—I clearly state in my review that the Music Matters re-mastering are uniformly gorgeous, and that the Classic Records re-issues are equally fine, but for those who prefer the "zing" of the original LPs.
Harley does catch me in one factual error: I made a mistake in stating that Hank Jones' piano on "Autumn Leaves" was merely "peeking out from the far right of the stage." I re-listened to the LP, and the piano is in fact centered; to me, it sounds right-center, not dead-center, but there's no point in splitting hairs—I was wrong in calling it hard-right. I will, however, stand by everything else I said on this particular subject: in my opinion, Jones' piano is altogether more present, impactful and immediate in the mono mix, while in the stereo it is comparably recessed, pushed a bit further back in the mix. Both versions of the recording are wonderful; I just happen to prefer the mono.
Finally, I caught a confusing contradiction in the final paragraphs of Joe's response. After stating several times that he loves good mono, he then goes on to say:
"Why don't we release everything in mono? Let me ask this: when was the last time you attended a jazz concert and found the musicians all stacked up one behind the other, choo-choo train style? 'Never,' you say? More probably, you found the musicians arrayed on the stage in a way not too dissimilar from the way that Rudy mixed in stereo."
If that is really the way he hears RVG's mono mixes—as "musicians all stacked up one behind the other, choo-choo train style"—I strongly disagree. And if that is really the way he hears these mixes, then isn't he dismissing and denigrating them in the way that I said? I'm not a dogmatist on this issue—there are many Blue Note sessions for which I prefer the stereo edition—but when I hear Van Gelder's best mono efforts, I hear a very cohesive mix in which I can "see" each player's position on the floor, in a way that seems more musically "right" to me than the hard-right, hard-left placement of certain instruments on the stereo versions. (To re-phrase Mr. Harley's question: When was the last time you attended a jazz concert and found the trumpeter standing on the furthest extremity of stage right, and the saxophonist on the furthest extremity of stage left?)
In the end, and as I said in my review, mono versus stereo is a case-by-case issue—and I will heartily agree with Joe in saying that it is also, above all, simply a case of what floats your boat!
Joe Harley is a major figure in the audiophile industry, one to whom a tremendous amount of respect and thanks are due. The Music Matter Blue Note re-issues will be treasured collector's items for as long as vinyl is collected. But I'm mystified by his lengthy, attacking response to my review—a review which contained no real criticism (and a great deal of praise) of his actual work, and but one criticism of something he wrote on the Music Matters website. I thought the phrasing of that note was questionable, and said so, but in no way was it my intention to "impugn his reputation."
If I misinterpreted him, then I apologize. But I maintain that my interpretation was a reasonable one, based on what he actually wrote.
Reviewer, Positive Feedback Online
While I thank you for your comments about Music Matters and my past work, your apparent befuddlement at why I would be offended by several of your remarks strikes me as disingenuous at best.
Tom, you say you are "mystified" by my "attacking response" to your review. Let's see... the review is for a Blue Note record by Cannonball Adderley called Somethin' Else... a record I had nothing to do with. Not too far into the review you turn your attention to me and make the following statement: "I myself find Harley's suggestion that the mono mixes were willy-nilly afterthoughts unnecessary, careless and overreaching."
I asked you Tom, to find the quote from me where I suggested that Rudy's mono mixes were "willy-nilly afterthoughts". You could not, because I've never said any such thing. Instead you again say that because of my use of the phrase fold-down and summed mono "it seemed to me that Harley was suggesting that the mono mixes were artless afterthoughts."
So... you have me calling Rudy Van Gelder's Blue Note mono mixes "willy nilly afterthoughts" and now "artless afterthoughts". And you seriously wonder why I might take offense to this? Are you kidding?
So "sheeesh" Tom....call me offended. I've loved Blue Note most of my adult life. I take the opportunity given to me and Ron Rambach by EMI and Michael Cuscuna very seriously, and I believe that shows in our Blue Note reissues. So when a writer I've never heard of comes along and inaccurately characterizes the way I view Rudy Van Gelder's mono mixing, you can bet I don't take it casually.
I find the fact that you go from presenting Hank Jones' piano placement on the stereo Somethin' Else as "peeking out from the far right of the stage" to now (once I corrected you) saying that it is "in fact centered" indicative of your need to be more careful as a writer. Otherwise, you run the risk of your readers deciding that your reviews are not very authoritative.
Now, on to your Steve Hoffman quote. I don't know the source or date of the quote... it may have been before we did all of these Blue Note reissues. It really doesn't matter either way. These are the facts: Rudy used compression on both the original recording and the mastering. To our ears (having extensive experience listening to the master tapes vs. original pressings), Rudy applied far more limiting during the mastering phase than during the original recording. That he did some limiting during his original live-to-two-track recording is obvious. And never have I said any different. But that he added much more in the mastering phase is even more obvious when you compare the master tape to a first generation pressing. This is the reason people are so shocked at the dynamics of the 45 RPM Blue Note pressings, whether from Music Matters or Analogue Productions.
It is also clear—again from listening to the masters vs. original edition pressings—that Rudy often bumped the upper mids and rolled the bottom during mastering to produce a record that was saleable, because it was playable, during the '50s and '60s.
What else? Mono vs. stereo. Bottom line...we at Music Matters release these tapes in the form we feel is most likely to make the listener feel that he or she is at the original session.
In conclusion, I do accept your apology, but ask that next time you'll be more careful when you get the urge to put words in my mouth, or assume that you know what I'm thinking without checking with me first.
[Tom Campbell's second response to Joe Harley]
With all respect, I have to say that Mr. Harley either doesn't get or refuses to acknowledge my repeated point that his use of the phrases "fold-down" and "summed mono" is tantamount to calling the original RVG mono mixes (in my phrasing) artless afterthoughts. In neither my review nor my reply to his initial response did I say he used the exact phrase "artless afterthought." That was my interpretation of what he wrote. But that's what a fold-down is: summing the two channels into one by flipping a switch. No mixing, no balancing, no nothing: the very definition of artless.
I also want to say that in my original review, I was presenting two sides — the pro-mono camp, represented by Classic Records and by Rudy Van Gelder himself, and the pro-stereo camp, represented by Harley and his colleagues. I absolutely believe in the merits of both sides, and rightly or wrongly, I did feel that Joe was unfairly maligning the mono mixes. But at all times, I tried to be fair-minded. It is worth mentioning that in the sentence just after the one that has Harley most inflamed—the "willy-nilly" comment—I made a point of balancing the scales:
"I myself find Harley's suggestion that the mono mixes were willy-nilly afterthoughts unnecessary, careless and overreaching. But in the end, I do think that both sides are sincere advocates for their respective positions, and each has legitimacy: Van Gelder can rightly claim that the mono mix represents the original artists' intentions, while Harley, Hoffman and Gray can fairly believe that they hear a straight-to-mic purity in the stereo tapes of which Van Gelder is not even aware."
In the end, I most object to the suggestion that my review was some sort of flame-throwing piece, filled with reckless accusations. I spent a couple of weeks writing that 4,000-plus-word essay, and tried very, very hard to weigh every word and support every opinion. If I misread Harley's words—and several colleagues whom I consulted beforehand misread it exactly the same way—it was an honest mistake, not an act of malice.
Reviewer, Positive Feedback Online
[At this point, Ye Olde Editor is going to draw the curtain on this vigorous exchange of views between Tom Campbell and Joe Harley on the subject of the Music Matters Blue Note re-issues. It’s been an interesting exchange, one of real educational value to our readers. I believe that both parties have made their points, have hit the point of diminishing returns, are not likely to agree, and so will have to agree to disagree.
I do note that I own a number of these wonderful re-issues, and appreciate the fine work that the very experienced Joe Harley and the Music Matters team has put into this important effort. May those of us who love these great recordings have many more of them in the coming days… whether we disagree about them or not!
Ye Olde Editor]
You try 7DJ8 tubes in your preamp and give them the thumbs down. This is to be completely expected. What car do you drive? If something with a hint of performance, would you seek out some 1940's war time 85 octane gas for it - and expect it to perform like it does using the 98 octane it's designed for?
Using a 7DJ8 in a preamp designed for 6DJ8s is a similar situation—although they won't damage it—whereas 85 octane in a modern high performance engine could create a disaster.
The 7DJ8 tube needs 7.3 volts on the heaters (that's what the "7" stands for) so running them at the normal 6.3V means they are nowhere near their correct operating temperature—hence they cannot work as expected.
They will work, and it's possible even work quite well, but nowhere near as well as if run at their correct voltage. Yet people all over just swap them in and out. The 7DJ8 was intended for 300mA series heater chains, and when used that way are superb, our RTP3D preamp used them for years.
Vacuum State Electronics
Glad to hear that you enjoyed you enjoyed The Tape Project piece and I appreciate your thoughtful insight into the proper usage and operation of the Telefunken (or other brands of) 7DJ8s in audio circuits.
Now I thought I had couched my listening impressions with the Bottlehead Repro outfitted with a Telefunken 7DJ8 by saying, "For whatever the reason and maybe they just didn't work in the Repro circuit…" As you point out, out they [7dj8s] will work, and it's possible even work quite well, but nowhere near as well as if run at their correct voltage." Furthermore, based upon the favorable reactions of friends trying 7DJ8s in their tube equipment—I didn't see the harm in giving the Telefunkens a listen in the Repro.
That said, your letter spurred me on to do some further investigation and as a result I discovered that Dan Schmalle employs in the Repro," an old school technique from tube RF days, to keep the noise floor down"; consequently he runs the Repro's stock 6922EH at slightly less than 6.3 V. So as you correctly point out, if a 7DJ8 is going be a unhappy camper when run at less than 7.3 V, it's going to be doubly unhappy when run at less than 6.3 V.
I also thought you (and PFO readers) might be interested in some further tube rolling listening sessions carried out since The Tape Project review was submitted for publication. Currently, a NOS Telefunken E88cc has replaced the Amperex E188cc/7308 as my favorite 6DJ8 tube type in the Repro. Compared to the Amperex E188cc/7308 tube, the Telefunkens are far more extended especially in the bass region, neutral, transparent and resolving. While the Telefunkens may not be quite as dynamic as the Amperexes, Dan shared his observation that, "a component that is less extended at the frequency extremes will tend to sound more dynamic compared to a component that has more resolution at the frequency extremes. That goes for transformers as well as tubes, and horn speakers too."
Nuno Antas de Campos
Dear Mr. de Antos de Campos,
Thank you for your kind words about the Leben RS100 review. I would be delighted to expand more on the Leben RS100 plus RS30EQ as compared to the RS28CX when using vinyl as the primary source, but it will have to be a bit into the future when I again install a turntable into my system, as I am at the moment between turntables.
Hello Mr. Mercer,
As will my next amplifier. My current stereo receiver is okay, but without these inputs and a DAC lives in its own isolated universe. I don't have to own an iPod to enjoy the benefits; a guest could bring one to a party, instead of lugging a shoebox full of CDs.
To the Editor,
Thanks for taking the time to read my review of the JHAudio JH-13 in-ear headphones. I appreciate the support and am glad you found it "entertaining and useful". Those words represent objectives I try for in all my articles: To both entertain and inform the reader/listener. One thing I never lose sight of is the fact that we are all individuals, and therefore we hear and interpret our sonic experiences differently. I try to share my findings as best I can, based on my experiences in both the audio and music businesses (and, of course, my experience as a music addict). When I speak of value (like in the JHAudio piece for example) I am referring to the components performance vs. its price, and whether I believe the unit is worth that cost. Unfortunately I can not say with complete authority whether a product will be valued equally by another individual. That would, of course, be up to them.
With regard to your concerns about the audio troops, and their expenditures, I wholly understand your point. While certain offers do exist for professionals in the audio and music industries, I never let that interfere, or affect in any way, my critique of hardware or software. Sure, sometimes I fall in love with a piece of gear I am reviewing, and I purchase the unit as a result, but I say that in my review as a way of expressing my sincere fondness for the gear. In other words; I love it so much I bought it! But I know the average consumer is going to pay the asking price, and therefore I base my decisions (on whether or not a piece of gear is worth the asking price) on the retail price.
As for comparing the JH-13 units to the Shures, and applying a quantifiable value to them in accordance with that comparison, I am afraid I can not do that. The headphones (Shures and JHAudios) are different in many ways, and I try to stay away from making blanket statements like that, as every component, whether it be an earphone or a line-stage, will have a sound that is ultimately unique to the individual hearing it.
I think the JH-13s are well worth $1,099.00, and while I know that is not cheap (as I indicate in the review) their musicality is simply stunning, and therefore I find them to be fairly priced. I think Shure makes a great in-ear as well, but you would have to hear for yourself in order to decide which is best suited for your needs and musical tastes. Those things also have an effect on whether or not we deem things worth the money; our individual musical tastes and requirements.
Again I appreciate the support! I do my best to share my passion and love for music and Hi-fi through my writing, and if that can help anybody find something that fills their needs as well that is a tremendous bonus.
Yours in Sound
Thanks for your kind comments about Mike Mercer's recent review of the JH 13 Pro's; "entertaining and useful" is a worthy accomplishment in an audio review.
The problem of relative worth is one that I have always considered to be irresolvable, as any economist would tell you. This question comes up repeatedly in fine audio; personally, I find the debates on the subject to be ill-advised and argumentative, good mainly for long and contentious threads on audio discussion boards. I choose to do other things with my time. (That is, by the way, another example of evaluation and relative worth in action.)
"Is it worth it?" is a question that can only be answered by a particular consumer, with his or her own resources, at a given moment, in a given setting. No one can answer that question for another person...which is why I do not try to do so. The "troops" of audio will have to determine this for themselves. To do this, reviews should be used as a guide, an indicator of possible merit, meshed together with audio groups, online discussion boards, audio shows, and contact with live music, all of which to be followed up whenever possible with personal listening and evaluation. Then a listener can make an informed decision as to the question of relative value, and whether they will make a transaction, which is the only thing that qualifies as real "demand" in economics.
Do the 13's at their MSRP of $1,099.00 provide "twice the listening pleasure, as the next rung down from the shures"? You've asked a question that cannot be answered, John. You are attempting to quantify "listening pleasure"…which cannot be done… and then correlate it to dollars in a way that resolves the question of relative worth in an absolute way…which also cannot be done. The audio trooper must make up his or her own mind, ideally using the process I indicated in the paragraph immediately above.
Which is precisely what my wife did at RMAF 2009. She listened to the JH Pro 13's, and then listened to the JH Pro 5's. She talked with me about both products; she considered our budget. She could hear that the 13's were better, but ended up deciding that the 5's provided her with what she was looking for in in-ear listening.
I listened to both, preferred the 13's (more detailed, better extension, and definitely more authoritative bass…but would never attempt to answer the question, "Is it 2.5x better?"), but decided that I would continue to stockpile my dollars for a major camera upgrade that I'm saving for. Every person goes through some variation of this when they purchase, or don't purchase. The better informed the decision, the more likely it is that they will be satisfied with it… but no one can answer the question "Is it worth it?" other than the person who confronts it. As your resources grow, or your sensibilities and preferences change, so will your answer to the question.
This is why I never answer the "Is it worth it?" question when I review at PFO. I tell our readers my impressions, give them as much information as I can reasonably do, tell them the price, and then let them make up their own minds. Which is what you…and every other PFO reader…will have to do.
By the way, my wife did decide to purchase the JH Pro 5's. She paid full retail.
All the best,
See? I, too, can live with the contradictions.
Again, your extensive and fair reply reinforces my pleasure at keeping up with your zine.
Hello again, John…
I am likewise thankful for your courteous notes. Your email gave an opportunity to write about my thoughts on this subject in as compact a way as I could, and so I am in your debt.
Your reference to Tevye, which had me chuckling… a wonderful movie!... led me to Robinson's corollary to a well-known economic metaphor: "A rising tide leads to bigger boats!" (Robinson's other tide corollary: "A rising tide lifts all boats, but drowns the guys staked down on the mud flats." ;-) )
Interestingly enough, I have been a teacher all my life, as has Dave Clark; we definitely have some things in common.
I'm listening to Harbeth HL-P3ES-2's in near-field in my computer-based audio system. Good stuff…my review is nearly done, and will appear this issue.
Glad that you are enjoying PFO, John!
All the best to you in your audio journey,
Best regards ,
I have not heard the Sony XA5400ES yet; perhaps I'll hear one at CES 2010 in January. Stereophile has it rated as a Class A+ component, which is quite amazing for a $1500 SACD player. It could well have an outstanding internal clock. Whether to mod or upgrade is a decision each listener will have to make for themselves.
The Higher End
About the "expectation of privacy" and those emails to Positive Feedback Online…
Ye Olde Editor
We do like hearing from you, our readers. It adds a great deal fun to what we do, encourages our editors and writers, provides information we may have missed, and correction that we may need. This is all to the good.
Your communication with us these days is almost always via the highly rational path of email. And we do read it, responding to the constructive correspondence—which is most of it, really—as quickly as possible. (The destructive stuff is routed directly to the bit bucket. Didn't yo' mama teach you better than that?!) Dave Clark and I are generally pretty rapid in getting back to you if a response is needed from us, or in re-directing inquiries to the appropriate person at PFO if it needs to go to an editor or writer.
By the way: please understand that the writers and editors at PFO are helpful folks, eager to assist their fellow audio/music lovers, or they wouldn't be doing what they're doing. Nevertheless, PFO is not an audio consulting service. Please do not clog the gears with complex requests for assistance with the sourcing of audio gear in your personal setting. Remember too that PFO is not, and has never been, an audio ombudsman. If you are having problems with a particular vendor, company, or dealer, please avail yourself of the normal channels for such resolution; no audio publication has the time or resources to take on such a responsibility for consumers. Enough said.
With an increasing flow of emails to Positive Feedback Online, and upon evidence of some recent confusion on the part of our email correspondents, it's become necessary to re-state the ground rules by which we operate here. So gather round the campfire, friends…
Any time an email, or an exchange of emails, is both constructive and of potential wider interest, we exercise the reserved right to publish it in "Reverberations," the letters section of PFO. This is, after all, a publication, a "journal for the audio arts." We are seeking to further educate and entertain our readership in our common love for fine audio, and contributions in the form of emails/letters from our readers are one way that we accomplish this goal. When you write to any of us… our essayists and reviewers included… we assume that you are aware of our nature as a publication, and that you write to us in the light of that knowledge.
This means that—unless you request confidentiality explicitly in your email or letter—there is no expectation of privacy here at Positive Feedback Online.
To put it another way: Any email or letter sent to this journal will be considered fair game for publication, unless you state in the document itself that the contents are private/confidential.
So… our default is PUBLISH.
The reverse is also true: the editors do reserve the right not to publish an email or letter. We are not obligated to publish your letter or comments simply because they are submitted. And hostile, negative, sarcastic, destructive emails or letters are never published.
So…sometimes we DON'T PUBLISH.
Finally, our subtitle for "Reverberations"—"Our readers respond—we respond right back!" is not a guarantee that we will always respond to an email or letter that is published. Often we do; sometimes we don't… usually when we don't, it's a case of res ipsa loquitur.
So finally… sometimes we PUBLISH WITHOUT RESPONSE.
I think that makes things clear. Having said all of this in the name of clarity, keep those cards and letters coming in!
All the best,
David W. Robinson