Our Stereo History

What I Couldn’t Hear on My 90s Tube System

Hot Stamper Pressings of Contemporary Jazz Available Now

More Piano Recordings that Are Good for Testing

I have a very long history with Bells Are Ringing, dating back to the ’90s. My friend Robert Pincus first turned me on to the CD, which, happily for all concerned, was mastered beautifully and comes highly recommended if you want to work on your digital playback or other non-analog aspects of your system such as your room, electricity, speaker placement and such like. (More recommended CDs here.)

Back in the day we often used it to test and tweak some of the stereos in my friends’ systems.

Playing the original stereo pressing, all I could hear on my 90s all tube system was

  • blurred mids,
  • lack of transient attack,
  • sloppy bass,
  • lack of space and transparency,
  • as well as other shortcomings too numerous to mention.

All of which I simply attributed at the time to the limitations of the vintage jazz pressing I owned.

A classic case of me rather foolishly blaming the recording.

I know better now. The record was fine. I just couldn’t play it right.

Well, things have certainly changed. I have virtually none of the equipment I had back then, and I hear none of the problems with this copy that I heard back then on the pressing I owned. This is clearly a different LP, I sold the old one off years ago, but I have to think that much of the change in the sound was a change in cleaning, equipment, setup, tweaks and room treatments, all the stuff we prattle on about endlessly on this blog.

My Old System

By the mid-90s I had been seriously into audio for more than twenty years.

I had the Legacy Whisper Speaker System with eight 15″ woofers and added subs.

I had a Triplanar tonearm and a VPI Aries turntable sitting on Aurios, using a Synchronous Drive System for the outboard motor.

I had custom tube amps and a custom tube preamp and phono stage. They were the best of their kind that I’d heard, at any price.

In short, I had a lot of expensive, high-quality equipment that sounded great to me.

Now, looking back on those days, I can see I was not at the level I needed to be in order to play Bells Are Ringing with any real fidelity to the recording. My stereo was simply not resolving enough.

This system can play the record and make it sound like live music. I thought my old one could too, because I didn’t have a clue as to just how good audio in the home could get.

Clearly I had a lot to learn.

This is, once again, what progress in audio in all about. As your stereo improves, your good records should sound better, and your mediocre-to-bad records should show you how mediocre to bad they really are. You need high quality sound before you can tell which are which.

The title of this letter gets right to the heart of it: “My stereo upgrades have widened the sonic chasm between good, old-fashioned records and their nouveau imposters.”

Still at It

We constantly strive to improve the quality of our cleaning and playback.

And we’re still at it. With this much money on the line, we had better be able to deliver the goods every time out.

Our customers seem to like the records they’ve been getting. They’ve written us hundreds of letters telling us so.

And we especially like the letters they write to us once they’ve compared our Hot Stamper pressings to the copies they owned that were Half-Speed mastered or pressed on Heavy Vinyl, or both.


Audio Cults – My Stereo from the ’70s and the Cult I Was In

More Commentaries and Advice on Equipment

More on Our Stereo System

A somewhat strange coincidence occurred not long ago. I found an old commentary describing the speakers I used to own, part of a discussion explaining why I have never wanted to settle for small speakers.

At the same time I saw a fellow on Audiogon was selling the electrostatic tweeter array for the very same speaker I owned, the RTR 280DR. Let me tell you, it really took me back; I haven’t seen a pair in over twenty years. 

Here is the story from the old listing talking about the RTRs, sparked by a discussion of Demo Discs.

Fooled Again

I was duped into buying my first real audiophile speaker, Infinity Monitors, when the clever salesman played Sheffield’s S9 through them. I desperately wanted them then and there. It was only later when I got home with them that none of my other records sounded as good, or even good for that matter. That was my first exposure to a Direct to Disc recording. To this day I can still picture the room the Infinity’s were playing in; it really was a watershed moment in my audiophile life.

And of course I couldn’t wait to get rid of them once I heard them in my own system with my own records. I quickly traded them in for a pair of RTR 280DR’s. Now that was a great speaker! 15 panel RTR Electrostatic unit for the highs; lots of woofers and mids and even a piezo tweeter for the rest. More than 5 feet tall and well over 100 pounds each, that speaker ROCKED.

This was the mid-’70s, more than forty five years ago, and I am proud to say I have never owned a small speaker since.

I’ve heard a lot of them — some good, most of them not so good — but that’s not a sound I could ever live with.

Small speakers can do many things well; that is not at issue.

What small speakers don’t do in my experience is move enough air to bring the music on recordings to life in a way that gives meaning to the term Hi-Fidelity


What Recordings Are Audiophile Writers Writing About Now I Wonder?

More Pop and Jazz Vocal Albums Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Female Vocal Albums

In the early seventies, when I was first becoming seriously interested in audiophile equipment, this was a well-known Demo Disc at some high-end audio salons.

Five years later I would have speakers larger and more expensive in real dollars than the speakers I now own. At a tender age I acquired Stereophile’s cost no object, state-of-the-art speaker system from the mid-’70s, the Fulton J. I was the youngest person ever to own a pair of the behemoths, a record that has never and will never be broken I suspect.

The other monster speaker from that time was the Infinity Servo-Static 1A, which I auditioned before buying the Fultons. During the audition the electrostatic drivers kept blowing if the level got up too high, so that was the end of that. Who wants a speaker that can’t play at realistic sound levels?

Of course, many of you may never have heard of Carmen McRae’s The Great American Songbook album, because the heyday for this record was probably 30-40 years ago, back when the audiophile magazines were actually writing about exceptionally natural, realistic recordings such as this one.

I don’t know what they write about now; I stopped reading them years ago. But I doubt very much that they are still writing about recordings of this quality.

What’s striking about this album is how immediate and unprocessed everything sounds. It really gives you the feeling of being at a live show in a club. It helps that the performance was captured directly onto analog tape with minimal miking. Michael Cuscuna was the remix supervisor, by the way.


The Townshend Seismic Isolation Platform Is Key to Better Orchestral Playback

One of our good customers has started writing a blog which he calls


Below is a review Robert Brook wrote for one of our favorite tweaks. We have most — but not all — of our equipment sitting on one of these stands. We were big fans of the earlier model all the way back in the early 2000s, the kind that had three air bladders inside for isolation. You had to pump air into with a bicycle pump.

Those Cursed Bladders

The unfortunate aspect of that design was the fact that the amount of air in the bladders had a profound effect on the sound quality of the system. We would pump the thing up, and then listen, and if the sound wasn’t right we would let some air out. We would do this a couple of times, and if the sound refused to get better, we would pump the thing up and start the process all over again.

For every shootout.

The air pressure changed during the day with the heat, and the bladders did not hold air all that well, so you had to do a lot of pumping and air releasing if you wanted to get the best sound.

Crazy, huh? And that’s in combination with all the VTA adjustments that were needed for each title.

Fortunately for you, dear reader, this design is set and forget, with no adjustments to make (although I have some advice for you if you buy one from us). We ordered one to keep around so that our customers can try it in their own homes before buying one. It should be here in a few months. They are hard to get these days, like lots of things that come from across the pond.

I would, however, like to take issue with the title of this commentary. Getting rid of distortion in your system and getting higher resolution sound, which is what this platform can help you do, is key to every kind of music.

It’s also key to getting your system to the next level, the level at which your mediocre modern pressings seem to fall further and further behind your best vintage pressings. If you keep making improvements such as the ones Robert Brook has been advocating on his blog, at some point all the criticisms we make about these new pressings become obvious. Self-evident even. You won’t need me to point them out to you. You’ll hear them just fine on your own. Many, if not most, of our customers already do, which is why they buy records from us that don’t sound anything like the Modern Remastered Records that everyone else seems to like.

The Townshend Seismic Isolation Platform IS The KEY to CLASSICAL!

The ARC SP3A-1 Tube Preamp – A Giant Leap Forward for Me, Circa 1976

Our Current Playback System

Advice on Making Audio Progress

Here’s a stereo blast from the past.

In the commentary below I talk about buying the amazing Audio Research SP3A-1 and what a difference it made in the ability of my system to reproduce music.

You could call my old Crown system BTM (Before Tubey Magic) and my new Audio Research-based system WTM (With Tubey Magic), if you wanted to be cute about it.

We talk a lot about Tubey Magic on the site and on this blog. This preamp is the very definition of that sound.

I was running Crown gear at the time, the DC-300 amp and the IC-150 preamp, so you can imagine that this tube preamp was a real game changer for me. The improvement in the sound was far greater than anything I could have imagined.

(Now we provide the same effect to the audiophiles of the world through our Hot Stamper pressings. Better sound than you can imagine. It’s practically our credo.)

As an uninformed, credulous audiophile with far-too-little experience in the world of audio, I soon found myself in one audio cult after another. Eventually I had sharpened my critical listening skills to the point where I could hear for myself what was better and what was worse, but it took more than twenty more years to do it. (You may be able to get there faster than I did, but don’t bet the farm on it.)

Recently I came across an old picture of me at the control center to my system, dating from the late ’70s or thereabouts. Sure enough there’s the ARC preamp. Brings back fond memories to this day!  But I sure wouldn’t want to go back to that sound. The changes to my stereo systems from that day to the present would number in the many, many hundreds.