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The Ultimate History of Hi-Fi, the Universe and Everything…

What was the way towards today’s top-notch devices able to replay the sound of a needle falling on a carpet so that the window glass of the audio room starts to rattle? What does hi-fi actually means? And why does the hi-fi world needs its own Jamie Olivier?

 

 

An abbreviation hi-fi is kind of a sci-fi. Originally the label belonged to devices with a frequency range of 20 Hz-20 kHz. Due to non-existing borders of the label it can be attached to any microsystem of unknown origin and problematic performance. Back in 1960s a German normative office attempted to set a standard DIN 45500, which the producer was meant to fulfil; it was a kind of certificate of quality. The idea didn’t take up and today any sort of soya sausage can look like hi-fi bratwurst. How to simply distinguish quality from trash? The price label of the device certainly gives you a hint but if you want a complete information, it is certainly worth seeking an advice. How about trying it with us?

 

Is it snowing over there, Mr. Thiessen?

 

Reginald Fessenden – a creator of the first radio program

Discovering electromagnetic waves and an invention of radio transfer was at the beginning of history of audio media that can conserve sound and transfer it through time and space. It was of much use especially in communication of ship transportation (radio telegraph), but in parallel the fact electromagnetic waves can carry speech, audio and singing was discovered too.
The first time an anonymous public could hear a Canadian physic and inventor, a former employee of Edison, Reginald Fessenden, with a microphone in one hand and strings under his chin. Almost six years before that he managed to transfer human voice at one mile distance by using spark telegraph to ask his colleague about the snow situation. It sounded pretty crappy as shown by a later reconstruction with use of contemporary devices.  

A major improvement came with amplitude modulation (AM). On 24 December 1906 he could say hello to his listeners, play Händel´s Largo from opera Xerxes, play a piece on strings and sing a carol O Holy Night and remind them that in a weeks’ time at New Year´s Eve they can tune his radio program again.  As soon as the telegraphers heard a human voice in the speakers they were likely to get shocked and didn’t realise they were the very first listeners of a radio transmission…

 

 

Great June audiophile revolution

 

Vinyl record by Columbia company

While in 1948 there were communist revolutions all over the Europe, in a hall of the New York hotel Waldorf-Astoria stroke audiophile revolution out of the blue in 21 June the same year and in fact it was pretty capitalistic. The company Columbia Records announced at the press conference that from old fashioned shellac records, where each side contained about five minutes of music, it changes to a new format of vinyl record where each side has about twenty minutes of music. Soon the record that tuned with a speed of 33 1/3 per minute became a standard format; it suited mainly to classical music with multi minute orchestral sentences but soon it became clear they are perfect for popular music. The devil of rock´n´roll with its short striking tunes was slowly showing its little horns. A format of „music album“, that usually lasts between 45 and 60 minutes originates in this period for there is simply no space for this type of a record.

Only a year later a competition company RCA Victor tried to deprive Columbia from the throne with the records revolving 45 rpm, when it flooded the market with cheaper records with popular smash hits. The main reason for the format was a distaste to succumb to its competitor and pay a licence for using the system. An issue with a very short recording on a single record RCA Victor resolved by developing gramophones with automatic record changer that would happen that fast that it was impossible to hear any break; therefore it was easy to release the whole symphonies on 45 rpm records. In the end it showed that both formats can coexist and gramophone producers have been offering until today switching between both speeds.

LP geniality was proved by the following decade when for a long time they became the dominant audio media. As a common capitalism and an effort to overwhelm competition with a new business model was at the beginning, again capitalism was the reason of LP format coming to its end.

 

RCA Victor 45 J from 1951 with an automatic record changer 45 rpm

 

 

Ampex, model 200A z roku 1948. První magnetofon této značky.

The competition format became magnetophone tape. It was developed in Germany in the 1930s and the Nazis kept it secret. Alliance spies found out during the war that the enemy has some kind of a new audio format yet its true nature became clear only at the moment when the alliance took over the Radio Luxembourg and captured the players of German production. A commercial distribution of a format was taken care of by a singer and an actor Bing Crosby, who got together with Ampex that began to produce media and studio and home players.

The advantage of a magnetophone tape lies in the ability to record and transmit sound in a high quality and mainly better manipulation options than with vinyl records. The recording can be taped, erased and cut; the novelty gained a large popularity in radio and recording industries. During radio show it was possible to use tapes with recorded advertisement and commercial inserts and others. Apart from professionals the tape spread into hoses in form of magnetophone cassettes. At their roots was a company Philips, which in 1962 had the name „compact cassette“ patented. The most popularity got the cassettes from the second half of the 1960s and during the 1970s; ten years later their popularity started to drop and today their market volume is less than 4 per cent of all formats.  In fact they survive only as part of car players.

 

Technics RS-1700, probably the best players of magnetophone tapes of all times.

 

The big break for vinyls and tapes happened in 1982, when the first CDs were sold; the first CD album on market was 52nd Street by Billy Joel. Compact discs that were the result of cooperation of the best brains by companies Sony and Philips, became the format of future. Easier production, lower price, more data volume, user-friendly manipulation, lower risk of wear and tear and a technological jump ahead when an analogue recording was replaced by a digital tape with all its benefits; in comparison with all the advantages the old black vinyl looked like a Neanderthal man against a homo sapiens; and the same fate was in for it too.

Billy Joel, 52nd Street from 1978. The first album released in 1982 on CD

Yet it didn’t happen for the fact LP has mostly better sound parameters than a crystal clear yet quite a neutral CD for a common post production of microphone recordings “cuts out” the border bands that can maintain on gramophone records. On the other hand many vinyl records come through a digital post production so the final sound very much resembles compact discs. There are even theories that in the competition between vinyl and CD recording companies were in favour of the digital novelty and during 1980s they began to release their own gramophone records purposely without a proper audio maintenance so that the CD would finally win. It was easier to make money due to lower production costs and new distribution contracts. Nevertheless it appears that the consumers were neither dull nor deaf. Since the 1990s when all through the USA in 1993 only 300 000 vinyl records were sold and in 2010 the number amounted almost up to three million while the number has been increasing year on year by 25 per cent. It seems the things will never be the same as in the golden 1970s but the LP does not face the same fate as the medium, which a gate keeper of the garbage head of history plays Milli Vanilli, Sandra and Modern Talking.

 

The best hi-fi pieces of work by famous designers we reviewed also here:

Jacob Jensen: designer of sound

Dieter Rams: the man who inspireed Apple

Anders Hermansen: beo-designer from Bang & Olufsen

 

 

Mono-pol of stereo sound

 

Radio brought culture and art from concert halls and home saloons of noblemen to common people´s living rooms and created a demand that was satisfied by gramophone records. If there was a quality jump that added the desired „wow-effect“ to a mass production of smash hits, it was at the end of 1950s when a stereophonic sound became commercially successful. It was no technological novelty; a principle of multi-channel sound has been known since 1930s and in 1932 Duke Ellington recorded two compositions in stereo (by the way you can find those on a selection called The Duke Ellington Centennial Edition).

 

HH Scott Model 350 from 1961: The first stereo-radio sold in USA

In 1958 the big bosses of the largest music publishing houses got together and selected Westrex out of three competing stereophonic formats. By the end of year there were the first four stereo recordings on market; apart from train railway noise, crazy accordion gang and Dixieland there was also a recognized record of a jazzman Lionel Hampton. Stereo invention allowing for illusion of a space sound it founded a new branch of audio device production. Because until then all audio was in mono format, the base of contemporary audiophile equipment was a single playing box placed somewhere in the corner of the room next to the piano. Then not one but two speakers were required to be placed appropriately; due to financial means from the development the size and price was also decrease while the performance grew up significantly.

 A new segment of produce came at the market; home audio systems the advantage of which was the fact they fit into any bookshelf.  And here is today’s paradox; huge amount of people can afford to buy a player labelled hi-fi and play a CD or any music downloaded from internet. The problem is a mass production creating lower prices has to save money in a particular field that is the sound quality. With ordinary players you can only hear an undefined rumbling instead of border bands but a quality hi-fi allows you to hear all the recording really offers. This kind of sound information is obvious in respect of aliquot tones and other frequencies which a man cannot identify by his ears only but with the whole body; and this sensual experience is then essentially reduced.  

 

 

The one and only „truth about the sound“ is today guarded by hi-fi members of protestant sekt of technique oriented ascetics; a common mortal cannot appreciate their disputes on eternal search of the Hole Cable. Yet the way to better audio experience excluding many years of meditation in hi-fi ashram actually exists; same as more and more people are interested in food ingredients on their plate, similarly more people will be interested in what is actually coming from their speakers and headphones. The most important is to find someone who becomes Jamie Olivier of audio and video world. For a start you can follow Fullstars that focuses on quality hi-fi and well recorded music and address your request to us.

 

< >
Reginald Fessenden
Columbia - vinyl
RCA 45-J
Ampex, model 200 A
Revox A700
HH Scott Model 350
vintage stereo
Billy Joel_52nd Street
Technics RS-1700
Nakamichi Dragon
teac hifi studio 46X
Linn LP12
gramofon Zenith Cobra-Matic, 1954
Thorens TD 125 MK
Ariston RD  11S
Technics RS 1700
Sony Walkman_1979

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