|Stephæn attended the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest in Denver this year on the nickel and time of AudioAsylum. We're very grateful for having been granted syndication rights to reproduce his report's conclusion which first published on the AudioAsylum and picks up where last year left off. Gracias, amigos - Ed.
Here he is, again, one year later, and like last year, I met Matt and his father Paul for lunch. Knowing that the conversation would eventually turn towards Matt's turntable project, I invited Pete Riggle, aka Mr. VTAF® to join us. Things got off to a slow start as Paul and Pete got to know one another by talking about fishing. Heavy sigh. Finally, I just pushed my way in:
Æ: Well, the tape's running, Matt.
Matt: I can tell.
Æ: Got a question for you. This year, for the show, I thought I'd try something different. Instead of cataloguing all the vendors, gear spec and prices, I'm asking each of them one question and want to give you the same one to get the ball rolling today.
The waiter appears and Matt orders the buffalo burger. Paul gets a Pannini. Pete orders the Mediterranean salad with salmon, and I get the Insalada Luis with salmon (instead of shrimp). I'm informed by the waiter that (unlike yesterday) this substitution will cost more. I suggest it should cost less (like yesterday) and then say "whatever."
Æ: The question I've been asking everybody is: At the end of the day, when you're done demonstrating your system for others, and done tweaking for your own benefit, and you've gotten out of your head, and everyone else is gone; when it's just you and your stereo and you're ready to enjoy something, what are three of your go-to recordings?
Matt: Would this be records or just certain songs?
Æ: A complete recording/album is what I had in mind. By the way, it can't be audiophile approved.
Matt: T. Rex The Slider, that's a good one. Let's see, lately I've been listening to Revolver ... The Beatles.
Æ: I knew there'd be a Beatles in there somewhere.
Matt: Always The Beatles. Hmmm, and The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.
Æ: Ah ... some Pink Floyd.
Pete: What? I never heard of that. Pipers what?
We clear the air for Pete.
Æ: Did you know their founding lead singer, Syd Barrett, passed away this July - diabetes related. I think he was just 60; younger than you, Pete.
Paul: You know, Matt was just enamored with the fact that Piper came out within two months after Sgt. Pepper's did. Same studio, too. How much influence did one have on the other since both bands were in there at the same time? Matt got busy looking on the Internet for other recordings made that year.
Pete: Simon and Garfunkel's Bookends came out that year, no?
Æ: I think that was late '68, Pete ...but close enough. Even so, '67 was quite a year with The Doors' self-titled album, and Axis: Bold As Love ... Jefferson Airplane's Volunteers came out in '67, too.
Paul: When he first got PATGOD, I kinda dismissed it, putting it in the camp of psychedelia. But he would pull the record out, sit there, and listen to "Astronomy Domine" ... I thought, this sounds outstanding. I don't know why it was overlooked ... it's so far ahead of its time. He got me hooked on it.
Pete: Matt, have you been able to get your buddies into this hi-fidelity stuff?
Matt: I've got friends who ... one's in my band. Sam plays guitar and I said "You know what? You've got this old record player ... I'll help you fix it up." And then I gave him an old record, the Beatles' Rubber Soul ... just a Capital ... and he's loved it and now he has some speakers.
Pete: Well, keep up the good work. I don't know what's going to happen to hi-fi with all the home theatre influence. It's ridiculous that people are missing out on the music.
Æ: So Matt, have you acquired a taste for your dad's Thin Lizzy recording, yet?
Matt shakes his head.
Æ: I recall it wasn't working for you last year, either
Matt: No. I can listen to it but I can't say I like it.
Paul: I'm not a huge fan of that album,but I am a fan of the white-label Japanese copy. It is so clean. I use it when my friends ask me what rock and roll should sound like on a stereo. After listening to it a while ago, I started to get back into T. Rex and then picked up that Italian version of The Slider.
Pete: Did I hear you say something about Tin Lizzy?
Paul: Thin Lizzy.
Pete: Never heard of them.
Paul: You don't need to ... unless all you care about is cymbals mixed correctly.
Æ: So Paul, what are three of your current got-to recordings?
Paul: Aimee Mann Bachelor #2, Johnny Cash American Recordings 1-5, RL Burnside and Jr. Kimbrough - all their stuff!
Æ: Nice list, Paul!
Æ: What's your band playing, Matt?
Matt: Everything. I actually have two bands now - technically three if you count my solo effort. It's all pretty widespread ... one plays Nirvana [and like stuff]; the other plays classic rock - pretty much everything. We usually learn about twelve songs at a time, then put them in a book for later.
Pete: What instruments are in your bands?
Matt: My friend Matt is the bass player, Max is the drummer and Sam plays the guitar ... he's my rhythm.
Paul: Sam is amazing, he can really play. He comes over to the house and I really try to encourage him.
Æ: Are you still playing piano?
Matt: Yeah, I play piano, bass, drums.
Æ: I remember last year, you were saying that you needed to learn multiple instruments just so you could have a band, since so few of your friends could do some of the basics. Sounds like you've got more people involved now.
Matt: I remember the first year, just starting out, it was ... it wasn't like frustrating but it was hard. Whenever I wanted to do something, the guys would say "No, we can't do that, it's too fast ... we have to slow it down." But now, they can actually kinda play!
Paul: This summer, there was an outdoor concert - a benefit for animal welfare. Bands could come in and do a set while the fund raiser was going on. One of the bands (all older folks, a doctor and what not) got Matt to play lead for them. There he was, fronting this rather experienced group. He'd name a tune and they'd pick it up - he didn't have to show them how to play it. Now he knows what it's like to work with serious musicians. You know, the downside of being 14 is that you're 14. Not many older people take you seriously. On the other hand, it's hard to find people your age who play strongly.
Æ: Or are willing to practice and put in the effort to become strong.
Pete: Do you have any multi-track recording capabilities?
Matt: Yeah ... I use that to record myself. I'll play some rhythm and then put the lead on another track ... then maybe mike a drum and do that. I've done all that ... it's hard, but it's really fun.
We chat a bit about recording, with Paul extolling the virtues (and challenges) of using a 16-track Yamaha unit (with hard disc). Matt sighs.
Æ: What's the sigh about?
Matt: Well, the Yamaha recorder takes forever to set up. And last time we tried to use it, it didn't work at all. I prefer the little Tascam.
Paul: Yup. Dump those tracks in a WAV file, throw it on the computer and you're good to go. The point is to capture stuff as you're playing along, not get frustrated.
Æ: So, on the analogue front, I heard a rumor that you're working up a table. Tell me about that.
Paul: Well ... we're battling with that.
Æ: Tell me about the battle. It's your table right, Matt? Or it's gonna be, no?
Matt: It's a ... hopefully it will be ... if somebody doesn't steal it.
Pete and I immediately look at Paul and we all start laughing.
Pete: Well, tell us more, Matt.
Matt: It started with us talking about what to get for starters [it's going to be a restoration]. I said I knew which one I wanted to do [an Empire 208]. Smart kid, going after a great motor and trusted bearing. But Dad said that such a promising unit would be nowhere to be found. So the next day, I look outside ... there's a box. I open it up ... and Dad says, "Oh, yeah - just wanted to let you know I bought it." Quite funny.
Matt does his best deadpan face.
Matt: I thought okay, I just might get a good record player ... turntable ... and we talked about what we were gonna do and started to get the materials.
Paul: Yeah, the key to that table is that it's tweak city. That table is designed to let you do something else with it. It's such a wonderful design, but you pick up the platter and hit it and it rings like a bell. And then you pick up the plinth and hit it and it sounds like a totally different bell. They ring. .
Paul and Matt discuss their efforts, scouring the Net and elsewhere for leads to the best next step.
Matt: We found this stuff called Smooth On. It's used for molding statues. We got samples and chose the one that was difficult to bend but still had a bit of give - and total return.
Paul: And it came back slowly.
Pete: So, since it had a bit of damping; it wouldn't just be filler.
Paul: Right. A lot of this came with the help of Paul Speltz. He's an Empire freak, too, so we sent over a sample and he agreed that this was the good stuff.
Matt: We also got a pound of powdered brass ... it was like really small, but you'd lift it and it would be heavy. We mixed that in. It came out so heavy when we were done that you just flick it and there's no sound at all.
Pete: You put it under the platter and under the table?
Paul: Yeah. We later took it to an audio society meeting (where they actually have a fully restored 208) and the guys looked at it and were just astounded.
Matt: They were hitting it and saying it was massive and totally dead. Next, we saw the Atma-Sphere plinth. I wanted it. Then I saw how much it cost. We'll have to make our own.
Paul: Maybe an acrylic and steel sandwich. So, that's been the project since the beginning of summer. I feel like I've been doing this walking-into-a-wall thing.
Pete and I look at each other and laugh out loud. We spent our entire summer vacation (and then some) on the Altec 604 project and still aren't done with the final voicing!
Paul: So it hasn't gone any further than that but it's a wonderful project. Seeing the simplicity of a turntable and the challenges it can pose has been enlightening for both us. It can be so hard to do right.
Matt: ... and with Winter coming up and staying inside more, we'll have more time to mess with it and then figure out the tonearm.
Pete: Matt, feel free to Email me anytime, with any questions, and I'll probably give you a bad answer.
Matt: That's how life works.
|Fast-forward through a lot of chatter about tone arms and several nightmare stories about cantilevers damaged by well-meaning maids and mothers-in-law. The conversation eventually moves back to RMAF and Paul reflects on their first trip, last year. He recalls Matt commenting about the nature of the music being played then and notes that things haven't changed this year.
Matt: They play very safe music here. Only two rooms would put on my Led Zeppelin album.
Æ: I saw you two shopping in the software room. What'd you wind up buying?
Matt: Well, we do our records together now coz it's too hard for me to get the good ones - Dad's got the cash. That's the way it works. He'll point something out and then I'll find something better (usually an import).
Pete: Ah ... the golden rule: He who has the gold rules.
Matt feigns a fake smile. He's happy.
Matt: Pink Floyd, DSOTM, Japanese pressing, half speed, first pressing - never been played! A German T. Rex, Electric Warrior ... The Beatles Album Box From Liverpool from Germany. ...
|the one that comes in a crate and has full color sleeves [on each LP that tell the story of the group].
Æ: How do you know which versions to buy? Research?
Matt: No, it's kinda like the general rule is Japanese, European and like English, German ... and also the rule of where was it recorded. If it's German or Japanese, I'll usually go with Japanese. They tend to be flat and silent.
Æ: I have it on good authority that Matt also has the Toshiba/EMI-of-Japan-issued The Beatles Collection that first came out in a limited edition blue box set.
Paul: Matt saved up Christmas money for that.
Matt: It came with all the inserts and stuff. It had never been played.
Æ: So, other than getting your Bad Company CD autographed by Steve Hoffman today, what have been the highlights of the show this year?
Matt: I get to miss school on Monday.
Matt: That's about it. Most everything else is kind of equal. I did like those huge SoundLab speakers. They were playing classical and it sounded like they were right here. It's live!
Æ: So you went back after the night before the show started?
Matt and Paul in stereo: Oh, yeah!
Æ: They've got it all dialed in now?
Paul: I'm not sure - it seems to be a work in progress.
Æ: I think that's what Ray Kimber would say, too. Bless him for his interest in experimentation. When I asked him that night why he was doing the display (certainly the most ambitious at the show), he said, "Just for fun".
Æ: Other than that $389,000 system, what was good?
Matt: AudioKinesis and Atma-Sphere.
Pete: Yes, very refined.
Æ: I was impressed with those speakers, too. And Duke's a really nice guy - no hard sell.
Matt: The [Firefly Audio] Mantis in the Soundsmith room I really liked. The Monarch, too.
Æ: What speakers are you using with your Dynaco electronics now?
Matt: Green Mountain Audio.
Æ: Ah, yes - very time-coherent stuff. No wonder you liked the Soundsmith room.
Matt: The Dragonfly (bookshelvers) had bass that was impressive. In the room, they had curtains behind the speakers and you could see them move when the bass hit hard.
Æ: Wow. SoundLabs, AudioKinesis and Firefly Audio. Something for every budget!
Paul: And a special mention goes to David Berning, for playing Neil Young's After the Goldrush. I had to shake his hand and say thank you! Berning basically responded by saying he couldn't stand eight hours of the typical show fare.
Æ: So he was playing music that he liked...
Paul: Yes, and recognizable to me! Although Stevie Ray seems to be artist for rock demos at this year's show.
Matt with eyes rolling: Last year it was Dark Side - e-v-e-r-y r-o-o-m.
Æ: What are three recordings you discovered this year, since we talked at the last show?
Matt: CCR, in general ... the band, but I like Cosmos' Factory ... I'm wearing that one out. I'm starting to listen to early Doors. And, a newer group that reminds me of older bands is Wolfmother*. I have the EP. I downloaded it - it's called Dimensions. It sounds 60's and 70's to me but they're a new band.
* For those of you as clueless as I, here's what Wikipedia has to say about the band: "Wolfmother is an Australian rock band from Erskineville, Sydney. The band consists of Andrew Stockdale (vocals/guitar), Chris Ross (bass/keyboards) and Myles Heskett (drums). Reviving trends popularized by psychedelia and hard rock/metal fusions, their music is inspired by bands such as AC/DC, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple."
Æ: Alright Matt, we'll end on the same question as last year. What advise do you have for all the (typically older) audiophiles out there?
Matt: You don't have to copy everybody else's stereo. Each one is different for a reason. Mine isn't very expensive but it sounds good. You don't have to go chase everybody's ideas.
Æ: Excellent, and thanks! I hope you keep us posted on the turntable project, okay? Doing that hands-on thing is significant because not only do you learn something intellectually about what appears to be a simple piece of gear, but your muscles and nerve paths develop useful routines. Best of all, you get to hang with your Dad and create something together, on many levels.
Paul: I wouldn't miss that for anything.