Thursday Nov 23

Audio, ETC.

In the introductory days of audio componentry and the search for quality in reproduced music at home, Edward Tatnall Canby wrote a series of columns on the topic for The Saturday Review.  Those columns, along with related commentary by C.G. Burke and Irving Kolodin, appeared in book form in 1952 as The Saturday Review Home Book of Recorded Music and Sound Reproduction. I recently spotted a copy on eBay and placed a winning bid.

Canby's section is "The Record from Studio to Store." It includes a wonderfully evocative history of analog recording from Edison's experimental tinfoil wrap through the era of the LP tape.  He points out the problems of monaural recording, the potential benefits of binaural reproduction, and even manages to throw in the word "stereo" now and then.

What shines through the entire section is Canby's concern for musicality and many of his commentaries are as pointed today as they were more than 50 years ago.  Here's a short one that I found particularly telling.  I've changed some dated hardware references to more general terminology, but Canby's message remains wonderfully intact.

There are ways of listening to recorded music that involve quite different values from "live" listening.  Never, then, confuse recorded performance with "live."  Open your mental ears to the a recording's own values, without prejudice.  Search, not for a "concert hall" sound, not to convert your living room into a spacious auditorium such as it obviously can never be; but knowing that the recording is basically an ingenious trompe-l'oreille, a fooling-of-the-ear,give it aid in its own terms.

In other words, you're not going to get concert hall sound or, for that matter, nightclub sound, or stadium sound in your listening room.  The goal of high fidelity is fidelity to the musical experience, not necessarily fidelity to the actual sound.