The Birthplace Of High End Audio

The Birthplace Of High End Audio
Jonathan Foote
11 December 2001

On the Arugula Archipelago one blustery evening in 1937 (www.visitarugulagotcha.aa), my father, Decibellum Tewleffte Foote, was the first to stumble upon one of high-end audio’s most significant precepts. There wasn’t much to do on the archipelago’s Almost Biggest Island, nor was the place electrified. (Still isn’t.) The family phonograph was one of those old-timey, wind-up consoles, which, along with the thrift-shop xylophone, served as our modest entertainment center. As supply vessels arrived infrequently and then only with the necessities of life, the console’s in the event irreplaceable replacement steel needles soon wore down to where they became useless.

Almost Biggest Island is blessed with many varieties of cactus. For some reason, boredom probably, father collected cactus thorns, nicely cataloged and stored in Prince Albert pipe tobacco tins. How a thorn found its way into the console’s tonearm that fateful day is a matter of conjecture, father’s memory having gone from bad to worse, to deceased. But find its way it did to the family’s great amazement, for not only did the cactus thorn do the steel needle’s job, it did it better! Everyone remarked an improvement in midrange liquidity and low-end extension. But not for long. The cactus thorn had to be removed and sharpened with a penknife after each play and, as whittling soon reduced it to a fraction of its original self, another took its place. (You’re right, whittled cactus thorns at varying stages of usefulness accounted for an array of VTA’s and, as a consequence, sonic distinctions. This is the sort of thing you and I live for, and we’ve father to thank.)

Father’s cactus thorn collection soon became a matter of great domestic and, later, community interest. He would line up the dozen or so varieties and try them all, taking notes the while. As audio hardware reviewers like to say, the differences were not subtle, and father’s notepads filled to bursting. Mother, father, and my five older sisters heard these unsubtle differences (I was yet to be born), and so did our neighbor, who wondered why we’d acquired so many versions of the Anvil Chorus and could we play something else, please. The Widow Rumpmeyr simply refused to believe that she’d been hearing one recording, the differences consisting of a systematic change of cactus thorn. Father invited her in for a test session. “Gott in Himmel!” Who could ever forget that breathless cry of astonishment? If we are to understand high end audio’s very soul to reside in differences tweaks can make, I offer the Widow Rumpmayr’s homely exclamatory as the very first of its kind. The family’s emigration to the United States and father’s continuing interest in tweaks cannot compare to that first miraculous moment. Nevertheless, I offer for your consideration father’s audio firsts:

Father was the first to realize that vacuum tubes reproduce the speaking and singing voice with the accent of their country of origin. Those of you who operate audio components equipped with tubes from China, Russia, Slovakia, etc., can demonstrate this to yourselves by playing Oprah Winfrey’s Treasury of Hallmark Greetings [RealDeal Records RZR 0082, vinyl only]. Ms. Winfrey’s Chinese-flavored recitations are especially interesting.

Speaking of things Chinese, father was the first to exercise the ancient precepts of Feng Shui in the placement of audio components. Whatever the listening room’s dimensions or geometry, he discovered that a sound system performed best when the (then mono) speaker faced Edison, NJ. (A stereo pair’s lines of convergence would need to touch at Edison, NJ – a nuisance to calculate but, hey, we’re audiophiles!)

Finally, father is, I believe, the first to have relied upon a Ouija board in determining the layout of a transformerless power amplifier’s circuitry, but that’s a story for another time.

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