Monday, December 1, 2014

Sound Reproduction

I have just decided to upgrade my sound system because I am doing a lot more listening these days and, especially with orchestral music, you need a decent system. For several years I have used an Aiwa micro hi-fi component system with a built-in cassette player that I bought mainly because I had some old concert recordings on cassette. Most of these I have transferred to CD so I probably don't need this system any more. It is ok, but there are probably better available.

The scene today is really different from when I was starting out in music. With the help of a friend I actually built my first decent stereo amplifier/receiver from a kit. Took several days and a lot of soldering. I forget the brand. Who was it used to offer amps in kit form? We also built our own speaker cabinets and I remember it was from a Wharfedale kit. They provided the speakers (two per enclosure) and the plans and you had to build the cabinets. I see from Amazon that they are still in business. Alas, not long after I put this quite decent component system together, I went to Spain for a year to study guitar. So I sold it.

I replaced it with several lesser systems over the years. Short of funds when I moved to Montreal in 1990, I bought used components from a repair shop. But, realizing that my speakers just could not do the job of transmitting clearly what was going on in the bass with Shostakovich symphonies, I broke down and bought a good set of Cerwin-Vega speakers. They were excellent. So good in fact, that when my wife and I threw a party for the McGill triathlon club, people from two houses away were phoning the cops. I think it was the Rolling Stones at maximum volume!

But again, when I moved to Mexico, I had to give them up. For a few years I didn't do very much listening and got by with a speaker bar that fitted onto the bottom of my computer monitor. Then I got some very crappy cheap speakers that plugged into my laptop. They were low end Logitech speakers and I can't recommend them because of a serious amount of distortion.

My iMac has a pretty good built in speaker system, but I have upgraded it with a Bose Mini Soundlink, that is excellent for the size:

But that is just for listening to stuff at/on the computer. For real sit-down listening to CDs, I am getting something better. It's a weird situation these days. Twenty or thirty years ago, when I lived in Canada, I always knew of a store where the audio buffs went to buy their serious component systems. Mind you, back then it was all Shure cartridges and heavy turntables and big speakers--vinyl, dude, vinyl! Apparently it's all coming back. A good friend of mine, music director at a big Canadian theater festival, used to have a really serious sound system and he said he really preferred analog and vinyl to the relatively new digital CD sound. The point was though, that digital CDs sounded better on cheap systems.

Anyway, I wasn't quite sure what to look for in the current environment and where I live there are no stores for audiophiles, just Radio Shack with crappy boom boxes:

Amazon to the rescue, of course. But the problem is that most sound systems are cheap ones. So how do you find a good one? Turns out that some of the old famous names are still around, like Wharfedale. I thought of Bang & Olufsen, but Amazon shows only one system (with terrible reviews) for a thousand dollars that doesn't ship to Mexico--and a bunch of cables. Hmm, browsing around, turns out Klipsch is still around and makes some nice components. But I was looking for a small, though good quality, system. I considered the Bose systems, they make a nice compact one that is well-liked, but I finally decided on this one from Harman Kardon:

Mmm, nice. Contains two 30-watt bass reflex speakers. I just ordered it on Saturday and they say it will be delivered on Thursday. You have to love Amazon.

I am quite eager to set it up. Wait, there is no setting up these days, with all those speaker wires and stuff. Remember getting out your knife and trimming your speaker wires? These days it is just open the box and plug it in. I'm getting that eager feeling to hear what it sounds like. Back in the day, when I got a new sound system or speakers, I had to go back and listen to all my favorites all over again, to see what more I could hear. This year, my favorite record is actually the box of the complete Haydn symphonies with Dennis Russell Davies conducting the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, so it might take a while!

And that gives me my envoi:

Why don't you treat yourself and upgrade your sound system?


Marc Puckett said...

Ha, would never have thought again about paring the plastic coating away from the wires and fitting the end into the little clamp things: and although I'm certain that there are some things past that I romanticize, I daresay this SLM sounds better than those old speakers.

Marc Puckett said...

Is there a web site that you know of that I can go to and enter e.g. the name of the aria 'Love sounds the alarm' (from Handel's Acis and Galatea) and be immediately! and effortlessly! informed what instruments are scored for it?

Bryan Townsend said...

Ask and ye shall receive. I think this is what you are looking for:,_HWV_49_%28Handel,_George_Frideric%29

The IMSLP site has the scores of most classical compositions not under copyright. Just download the pdf of the score and you can see the exact instrumentation.

Marc Puckett said...

Magnificent! Tomás Luis de Victoria's Responsoria for Holy Week are there! it is like Christmas Day. I almost, three weeks ago, broke down and ordered a copy from Boosey and Hawkes for... well, anything of quality printed these days is pricey. Very many thanks!

The Acis and Galatea I looked at was scored for oboes, first and second violins, basses and pianoforte (!); was listening to a recording that featured the harpsichord and 'period instruments'. It occurs to me that A&G is a good example of the several uses a piece of 'classical' music might be put to-- it's performed in concert, or staged in a variety of ways (I suppose), and was originally... party music with irruptions of dancing!