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Tweeking, Tubes, and Binaural Sound

January 4th, 2010

So during a random Google search I came across a news article which is actually a scan from a newspaper. This got me thinking… how old of a loudspeaker review could I find? Well, I didn’t really find one but I found references to loudspeakers way back into the 20’s. Most of the articles forced me to pay to read them (yeah right, this is the Internet) so I may have missed one or two. What I wanted to do was to compare an old article to a new one and see how similar they were. After a while I gave up on that idea but not before I came across this.

Report from the First International Sight and Sound Expo
The Milwaukee Journal, Sept 3, 1953

So taking the article apart, the first bit is about how may people where there and how hardcore they were. That pretty much sounds like any CES writeup nowadays. Next, they are talking about binaural sound (we’d call that Stereo). What I found interesting was how similar that description resembles every other new tech that has come out. When DVDs came out, it was like looking through a window compared to VHS. Surround sound was like being there compared to stereo. Sure, maybe someone stepped back but I’m guessing they didn’t really think a train was coming through the 7th floor room. These descriptions all eventually fall flat after you’ve experienced the technology for longer than a few moments.

Next, the high fidelity committee of the Radio, Electronics, and Television Manufacturers’ association suggested that they were working on a definition of high fidelity based on actual measurements and specifications. Wow, what a concept. I wonder if they ever came up with anything? My guess is that then, like now, manufacturers don’t want to have too many labels on things. Why lock down exactly how to measure contrast ratio when you can do it however you want and get to claim 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000:1?

The last bit was telling and probably predictive of the future. Back then, apparently, no one wanted to see the tubes in their gear. They were ugly, unsightly, and generally undesirable. New gear was being designed to hide them and minimize the height of the gear. Today, tubes are all the rage (among some at least) and no manufacturer in their right might would consider hiding them.

Think about the products of today that might become the new tubes. Could it be the uber compact but still powerful B&O’s ICE Power amps? The oversized amps from companies like Emotiva? High end receivers from Denon and Yamaha? Not sure myself but rest assured that something we all discount or take for granted now will be tomorrow’s hot feature. Heck, someone like Audyssey could go belly up and their room correction could become crazy hot. (Note – I’m sure that’s not happening but it’s a good example.)

Lastly, there is a short paragraph about a manufacturer that has introduced a device that “virtually eliminate[s] annoying record scratch.” Interestingly enough, this is not in conjunction with any particular record player (they called them radio-phonographs), but a standalone device that can be used with any. That is six kinds of awesome. Tweeking your system way back then? And you know that no matter how “virtual” it was, it didn’t really work all that well. I’m thinking a weight on the tonearm? Who knows, but it reminds me of all those MP3 DSPs that are designed to “fix” highly compressed tracks.

So if you think you are going to convince tweekers to stop, think again. This is only one article from a bit over 50 years ago. I’m sure soon after the first audio device was sold, someone started modifying it. After that, it is only baby steps to trying to market those changes and make some money.

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  1. David
    January 5th, 2010 at 02:53 | #1

    I’m originally from Milwaukee and still visit quite frequently so the surrounding ads were very interesting to me.

    Did you see the one for the 17″ Emerson TV? Now with “More Power!” “More Detail” and “More for the Money!” $149.95 in original factory crates.

    Wow, that is geek nostalgia.

  2. David
    January 5th, 2010 at 03:07 | #2

    I have to post this as well from the same ad.

    “IMPORTANT! DON’T BE FOOLED ABOUT UHF-VHF TV!
    Many UHF-VHF sets advertised are equipped ONLY to receive Milwaukee stations-many can only be converted after considerable cost to you!
    -THIS SET is guaranteed to receive all 82 new stations authorized by the U.S. government!
    -THIS SET needs no conversion. No strips. no plugs-it has UHF-VHF already built in.
    -THIS SET is exactly as represented-you can tune every UHF-VHF station within range. Many Many new 1954 features!”

    I’m sold, it should be the last TV I’ll ever have to buy right?

  3. David
    January 5th, 2010 at 03:28 | #3

    There’s also a very timely ad for the “first 3 dimension western” with a great picture of a man on a horse charging out of the screen scaring a viewer from his seat in the audience on page 16.

  4. January 5th, 2010 at 11:35 | #4

    But we have Avatar so the true 3D potential has finally been reached, right? Anyone? Bueller?

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