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No. 124 September 2014
THE AUDIOPHILE IN THE READING ROOM

he official data on illiteracy says that numbers are highest in so-called third world countries, where several percent of the population is unable to read. UNESCO’s statistics suggest that 3% of Europe’s population can’t read; in South America this number is 15%; 33% in Asia, and as much as 50% in Africa (these statistics apply to citizens above the age of 15). In Poland, the official government action to counter illiteracy was announced a success in 1952. UNESCO estimates that in 2012, less than 0.02% of Poles were unable to read and write. This is a very low number, and it can be safely said that all of us are literate.
The numbers look much worse when you investigate into how many Polish people actually read longer text. Roman Chymkowski’s report, Społeczny zasięg książki w Polsce w 2012 r. (“The social range of books in Poland in 2012”) alarmed the publishing sector, but only for a moment. The statistics suggest that 34% of Poles with a higher education admitted that they hadn’t read a single book through all of 2012. We’re talking about people who should be reading for leisure, during all of their breaks, before bed, and even while they sleep. In 2013 the National Library published the results of their studies: 11% of Poles regularly read books. The numbers wouldn’t be quite as shocking if this figure didn’t also include albums, self-help books, encyclopaedias, dictionaries and e-books. Only 11% of people in this country read more than 7 books in 2012 (or at least so they said)! To put these numbers in context, 73.5% of Polish men living in cities admitted that they regularly consume alcohol when they receive their paycheck. .

Experts came up with different diagnoses. The common factor between them was noticing the deep-running change in reading habits, connected to the dominance of the Internet. As experts say, the layout of text on webpages and the very short form they are presented in, as well as the growing popularity of short text messages and Twitter messages have changed our reading habits. Few people are able to focus on longer text. This tendency is only going to get worse. I have nothing against the Internet, even though I am often drowning under piles of real paper books and magazines, since I was born and raised in a time when they had more value. But without the Internet I wouldn’t have been able to found and run “High Fidelity”. The Web turned the publishing market into more of a democracy and created an opening for people with different opinions. This level of freedom won’t ever be taken away from us… unless the power goes out. The Internet also gives the unique advantage of search functions, dramatically easing access to information.

But even some of the advantages have become problems. Search engines, with Google.com being the leader of them all, present information in a specific way, a way that prefers the promoted and advertised results. The Internet is ruled by money, not by the weight of supplied information. And although this isn’t a problem to all people, the surplus of information should concern everyone.
Democracy assumes that everyone and everything is equal to one another. A complete idiot and a wise man have an equal say, as do a saint and a terrorist. A search engine tidies up results for us according to its algorithms (i.e. to the profit of its owner), but it also flattens them all down. This creates a cacophony of voices, many of which are idiotic or just “empty”. That’s what we call “information noise” – and we try to fight the noise in audio, don’t we? This is something that the XX century’s printing press market fought with information pre-selection within the editorial office, when the editors filtered texts, topics and authors. And although everyone complained about them, back in the day, they have probably realized now what has been lost.

I don’t intend to turn the tide and encourage people to leave the internet and torture themselves with long texts like my article about the new re-master of Czesław Niemen’s Dziwny jest ten świat… (recently also published by “Positive-Feedback Online” magazine; you can found it HERE), or my interview with John Marks. It wouldn’t be bad if this worked out. But I try to be a realist and I know it’s just not going to happen. But still, opposing my better judgement somewhat, I also write and publish articles like that. That must mean I see a point in doing so, right?
I think the world is going to gradually shorten the information that we pass on to each other. This “compression” after many centuries of “decompression” is some form of regression. But maybe the end result will be something good, with the condensed text making more sense than long, empty words. Either way, the shortening of information is inevitable. But it would be best if this was done in a controlled manner, otherwise we’ll be dealing with a civilizational downfall instead of compression.

That’s why it’s worth at least trying to read through a longer piece of text about something that we’re interested in. It really is worth collecting not only albums, but also books that relate to them, and music in general. Especially since there have recently been many extremely interesting and well-published releases relating to music and audio. I’d like to tell you a little bit more about some of the newest and most interesting ones.



The Absolute Sound’s Illustrated History of High-End Audio. Volume One: Loudspeakers
red. ROBERT HARLEY, Nextscreen, Austin 2014


This prestigious release has been announced on the website of “The Absolute Sound” as well as the magazine itself, since 2013. The gradually-released pdf fragments, as well as content descriptions, created a sense of anticipation for something very special. Robert Harley who plays the role of the volume’s editor, told me back then that the amount of work that went into preparing this release was huge and he had never prepared himself for it. He had undertaken the job of preparing a book which would become the model material about the most interesting, most famous and most important loudspeakers in the audio world, as well as their makers. The first tome is dedicated to that particular part of our little world: the subsequent volumes will be about amplifiers (volume two) and sound sources (volume three). The company presented the release’s content as follows:

  • The most significant loudspeaker designs of the last five decades
  • Profiles of 44 of the high-end's most influential loudspeaker manufacturers
  • Exclusive new interviews with the founding fathers of the high-end loudspeaker industry
  • Never-before-seen archival photos, many from the founders' personal photo collections
  • Richly illustrated timelines and commentary on landmark speakers and technologies
  • Lavish photos of the most beautiful, state-of-the-art loudspeakers
  • Classic and new TAS insights on the world's most iconic loudspeakers.

As soon as Robert told me about it, I pre-ordered the book, paid and waited patiently for its release. And nothing happened – I never got it, even though the TAS editor-in-chief assured me that it’s already on the market. After a few interventions it turned out that my parcel was lost somewhere along the way. And yes, instead of one of the earliest numbers I received one of the last ones: 2362. Only the first 2500 copies were hand-numbered.
This slight error was compensated for by the release itself, because it’s incredible. It is everything that Robert said it would be, everything that TAS announced, and so much more. The LP-sized (unfortunately without any attached disc!) book is an album edition, something that people in the USA call a “coffee table book”, something that is meant to be both read and displayed as a decoration. The hard covers are encased in a dust jacket with spot varnish. Unfortunately, my copy had the varnish moved slightly in relation to the elements it was supposed to cover. That’s the only problem I really noticed. The rest is perfect.

The volume’s editing work was done by the chief editor of TAS. The authors of specific stories, parts and descriptions are journalists and co-workers from the magazine. They are: Jonathan Valin, Steven Stone, Paul Seydor, Dick Olsher, Alan Taffel, Alan Sircom, Jim Hannon, Chris Martens, Wayne Garcia, Kirk Midtskog, Robert E. Greene and Jacob Heilburn. The point was for the particular companies, designs and technologies to be described by people who had most contact with them, people who used these products in their systems, people who have met their designers – in other words, people to whom this stuff actually MATTERS.
The order in The Absolute Sound’s Illustrated History of High-End Audio is chronological, starting with the pioneers, through to the 1945-1970 era, 1970-1980, the years between 1980 and 1995, and finally the 1995-2003 period. There’s also a separate chapter that talks about the newest and most interesting constructions. The last chapter is dedicated to the most interesting kinds of transducers, and the most interesting technologies, such as Heil’s AMT driver or speakers with full range drivers.

This isn’t a read for one evening, nor for one week, or even a single month. I see it more as a kind of “bible”. Of course there are things that could be improved, added or explained (every release of this kind is an open project of sorts), but so far I haven’t really found anything that needs improvement. The photos are excellent, the articles are well-written and packed with facts I didn’t know about. Ken Kessler has already paved the way with his monographs on the history QUAD, McIntosh and KEF (more to come) and now TAS really dots the i’s and crosses the t’s with this project. You just can’t not have this. And besides, the Illustrated history… provokes you to do something even better: to hunt the autographs of the people it talks about. Robert Harley signed it at the stand of the German “LP” magazine during the High End 2014 show in Munich – unfortunately, I wasn’t able to catch him. What I did manage to do, however, was to catch a few of the several dozen of audio icons I read about in the book – people who were kind enough to sign the appropriate articles in it.



Dust&Grooves. Adventures in Record Collecting
red. EILON PAZ, Dust&Grooves, Nowy Jork 2014


I don’t think we need to convince anyone about the fact that we love gadgets and gizmos. Although we loudly proclaim our love for music, we assure people that it’s all about the content and not about the way it’s delivered (hardware), we’re really lying to ourselves. In the perfectionistic world of audio both of these elements are equally important. And that’s that. We love both the music and the technology that we use for its playback.
That’s why it can be quite a shock when you read the stories and see the photos of people in the album Dust&Grooves. Adventures in Record Collecting, edited by Eilon Paz. It contains dozens of fantastic pictures of people and their record collections – vinyl maniacs. At the end, you can even read their stories. They’re the tales of DJs and owners of very special collections, i.e. Sesame Street records, maniacs of 78 rpm records with tens of thousands of discs, archivists with hundreds of thousands of vinyls, lovers of African or Cuban records in particular. People who are completely consumed by the passion of ownership. As they say themselves, their desire to collect is more important than the music (meaning they have something in common with us). But that’s not what is truly shocking: nearly none of the people Paz interviewed have a sensible audio system, most of their set-ups are a bad joke. The collections themselves are unbelievable, however, and completely different from one another.

Eilon Paz is a photographer. As he says, he got interested in people who like collecting things due to loneliness. In 2008 he left Israel, his homeland, and moved to New York. He fell upon dire times: the recession made it difficult for him to find a job. At the same time, on the audio market, the vinyl branch of music began stirring back to life, and almost every store got a designated section with black discs only – people began writing about them and it became a trendy topic. The trigger that released Paz’s incredible imagination was a photo of a man in combat boots, holding an AK-47, surrounded by an amazing number of records. The man on the photograph turned out to be a German, Frank Gossner, who regularly travelled to West Africa in search of vinyls. It was incredible in the sense that he lived very close to Paz, in Brooklyn. And that’s how the story begins.

Eilon Paz’s project was all about meeting collectors and taking photos of them and their albums. His photos and the stories behind them were published on the website “Dust & Grooves”. The next step was moving the project from the virtual world into the real world, in the form of a book. Although he had a good idea, he lacked the funds to bring it to life. It would require him to travel the world, after all. And thus he began collecting money using the online fundraising system, Kickstarter. He quickly gathered the required amount of money and got right down to work. The book was released at the perfect moment, on Record Store Day, April 14th 2014 (in the USA, it was available in Europe a month later; read more about the event in Kraków HERE).
It’s a large, 436-page-long release, hardcover, with tons of photos. You can really see how photography, when presented on a flat surface that isn’t a computer screen, really comes to life. In the book you can find pictures from the apartments of Gilles Peterson, Kieran Hebdan, Rich Medina, Gaslamp Killer and many more, with a foreword written by RZA, as well as over 250 photographs, often in large format (fold-outs).
The book is available in three versions – a classic one (68 USD) and two that come with a special “case”, i.e. something akin to a mini LP “box” (110 USD and 170 USD, respectively). The more expensive of the two is a limited edition with the author’s signature, number, and separately printed photo and large poster. My copy is numbered 036/400. The release isn’t cheap, but it’s worth every cent. At the moment, the second edition can already be ordered, with extra interviews.





MAREK KAREWICZ, MARCIN JACOBSON
Big Beat, Sine Qua Non, Kraków 2014


It so happens that the release of this book coincided with “High Fidelity” publishing an article about Czesław Niemen, part of our 10-year anniversary celebrations. This allowed me to use a fresh quote that begins the story of “Dziwny jest ten świat”.

When describing his first meeting with the author of Sukces, Marek Karewicz doesn’t hide the fact that the photos he took of people connected to Polish pop music and the Poland-specific “Big Beat” movement were only done for money. His first and biggest love was jazz music. That’s why the most valuable book to him is This is Jazz, with his photos of some of jazz biggest stars, from Miles Davis to Ella Fitzgerald. And yet it’s him, one of Poland’s most important photographers, who took pictures which became the album covers for artists like Breakout Blues, Ewa Demarczyk and her renditions of Zygmunt Konieczny’s songs, Czerwono-Czarni, Niebiesko-Czarni, Polanie, Czerwone Gitary, Niemen, Grechuta, No To Co, Skaldowie, Nalepa, Blackout, Halina Frąckowiak, SBB and many others. He has made over 1500 covers and has taken thousands of famous photos. The most iconic one remains the aforementioned Blues cover, where Tadeusz Nalepa, the frontman of Breakout, leads his little son Piotr by the hand. Every Polish music lover knows it.

Karewicz was an extremely cunning man who knew how to stand his ground. He shares the secret of how it was possible for him to create so many album covers in the introduction to his book, where he wrote:

To be honest, it was the Polskie Nagrania record label that really set me up on the market. In total, I designed over 400 covers for them. Since I knew how to process pictures, photography was my chosen medium.
The procedure was as follows. In the display case of a shop on Długa street, they put up a notice about a competition to make an album cover. For the competition to be regarded as valid, at least three projects had to be submitted. When people submitted more than that, the jury chose the top three, and then the winning one from amongst them. Since the minister responsible for allocating funds for these competitions didn’t acknowledge something like “album covers” even exists, the competition was officially between “projects for cargo packaging”. A full monetary award was given for the winning cover that was later printed, while the two other qualified projects in the top 3 received half-payment. All in all, it was still very profitable. Especially if I was the one submitting all three projects, while my competition snoozed.

Big Beat is a collection of Karewicz’s memories, written down by his friend, Marcin Jacobson. Karewicz only wrote the foreword, although his last name is still on the cover. The book is composed of memories regarding specific album covers, all kept in the spirit of “those days”, i.e. the 1960-1980 time period. The book is very nicely released, in the form of a 10” record, square in shape, with lots of brilliant photos and – obviously – album cover copies. And it’s the latter that I have concerns about: I think that larger, full-page album cover reproductions were what was really missing from this release. The miniatures I saw didn’t do justice to the original projects in the slightest. The book’s cover is made with a fancy technique, with an embossed, varnished title.



MAREK A. KAREWICZ,
DIONIZY PIĄTKOWSKI
Czas Komedy, Oficyna Wydawnicza G&P, Poznań 2013


A year prior, a different book with Marek Karewicz’s last name on the cover was published – a book he prepared with Dionizy Piątkowski, a music journalist and critic, a jazz promoter, and the man behind the idea for the Polish festival called Era Jazzu. Piątkowski is the author of the Encyclopedia of popular music – JAZZ from 1999.
Komeda’s Time is the author’s perspective on the life and work of the Polish jazz and film music giant. Gaining recognition for the soundtrack to Roman Polański’s movie Rosemary’s Baby (1968), the musician – a laryngologist by profession and pianist by passion – is one of the most important figures on the contemporary international jazz scene.
Karewicz and Piątkowski have prepared an album that gives insight into his story – including the more obscure parts – with photos (taken by Karewicz) and music (there is a CD attached to the book) to stimulate all the senses. The CD includes tracks by Komeda’s Sextet from 1966 and 1967, recorded at the Polish Radio’s studio in Poznań. The 143-page-long book is a quick and good read. The book is square, slightly larger than a vinyl single, and will look great on anybody’s shelf. What would I improve, personally? I’d attach an actual SP single to the book.





MILES DAVIS & QUINCY TROUPE
Miles. Autobiografia
Tłum. Filip Łobodziński,
Wydawnictwo Dolnośląskie, Wrocław 2013


It’s a wonder that this book saw a proper release only last year. It was published in the USA in 1989, two years before the artist behind Kind of Blue passed away, and its first Polish edition appeared in 1993, titled Ja, Miles (I, Miles). In 2006, the Constanti Jerzy Szczerbakow publishing house published the second edition, translated by Filip Łobodziński. Written down by Quincy Troupe, the memories of Miles Davis, a jazz legend, are a combination of the childhood, youth and adulthood of a trumpet player who will always be mentioned as one of the most important jazz musicians to ever play this instrument. But the memories are remarkable! Davis doesn’t drape his words in a veil of seriousness, he doesn’t strive for some “high style”, but he uses his everyday language – cursing where necessary, falling into deep thought at times, and always remaining extremely honest. The description of his addiction and the way he dealt with it reminds me of what Tomasz Stańko wrote in his autobiography, Desperado. Only after I read this book did I seriously sit down and start listening to his later albums, the ones that are less respected than his early work, i.e. the bebop, modal and fusion years (electric fusion with another “great” quintet). This man was a pioneer who paved the path for musicians after him, and yet he explains why he so often changed the musicians he cooperated with – why he was so picky while choosing them and then so ruthless when firing them. And I believe everything he said.
The jazzman, born in 1926 and deceased in 1991, is an icon. A living icon that still impacts music today, years after his death. His Autobiography is a moving story of a man who was aware of his greatness, and yet tried to play something new until the day he passed. And like all other great men, he was never fully understood. Filip Łobodziński’s translation from English is a masterful work, as always.




Another perspective
Choices by: BARTOSZ PACUŁA


When I was asked to choose the best books about music, I got a little grim. The times we live in have an almost absurd abundance of books of this kind, and before we even make it past the half-mark of a band’s biography, we are already being encouraged to buy another book about the same band, but a “bigger, better and truer/authorized/one-and-only” edition. I decided to handle this challenging mission as follows: I would like to recommend three books to those “High Fidelity” readers who have an interest in the given field and want to enrich their musical knowledge – these three books are the gems of their genres. One of them will be a classic biography, a book that follows the story of a band from the moment of their members’ births to the most recent of times; an autobiography, meaning the memories of a musician; and an extended interview, in which the story of a musician/artist is shown through a conversation with them.

Biography

MARK BLAKE
Prędzej świnie zaczną latać

Wydawnictwo Sine Qua Non


Prędzej świnie zaczną latać is the biography of a prog-rock legend, Pink Floyd. Although there is a multitude of books about Pink Floyd on the Polish market, I think that Blake did the best job at describing the lives of the Cambridge boys who had an enormous influence on pop culture of the 1970s. Mark Blake’s book maps out Floyd’s history for the reader, keeping a perfect balance between the hard (and theoretically boring) facts and funny anecdotes or accurate thoughts about the band or music in general. In addition, Blake’s writing style is brilliant, and he has worked as a journalist for prestigious music magazines like “Q” or “Mojo”, so he really knows his stuff. Thanks to that, even the dullest parts of Pink Floyd’s history can be studied with comfort and pleasure.
In Poland, the book has been released in three formats: paperback, hardback and as an e-book. As an owner of the latter two, I whole-heartedly recommend the hardback edition – it has been very nicely prepared, with embossed lettering and an interesting cover which works as a direct reference to The Wall and Animals.

Other biographies worth recommending:
Philip Norman – Szał! Prawdziwa historia Beatlesów
Mick Wall – Kiedy Giganci chodzili po Ziemi. Biografia Led Zeppelin



Autobiography

JOHNNY CASH
Cash. Autobiografia

Wydawnictwo Czarne


Johnny Cash is a character that spread country music to all corners of the Earth. Experts could argue for hours whether Cash was the best or not, which is why “Rolling Stone” magazine recently concluded that his song I Walk The Line is the best country song of all time. I have no doubts, however, that Johnny is the most famous artist of this particular genre. His autobiography is a book that very pleasantly presents the most important moments of his life: from his birth and childhood spent out in a cotton field, to the death of his brother and the start of his musical adventures, as well as much later times. The book can be seen as something more, too: as the insight of an older, experienced man into the events of his life. That’s why Cash doesn’t go easy on the funny and harsh comments later on in the book while describing his compelling adventures (and believe me, he lived a crazier life than many rock and metal stars). He also shares his thoughts – interesting and valuable ones, regardless of whether we agree with them or not.

The autobiography was written in a very pleasant way, and the Polish translation didn’t kill the Cash vibe in it. Thanks to that it makes an excellent, light evening read, to be enjoyed over a glass of wine or cup of tea.

Other autobiographies worth recommending:
Nick Mason - Moje wspomnienia Pink Floyd
Miles Davis - Autobiografia



Extended interview

TOMASZ STAŃKO
Desperado! Autobiografia

Wydawnictwo Literackie


This publication’s title can be misleading. Although extended interviews are generally accepted as autobiographies, some readers can be truly disappointed when, upon purchasing the book, they find out that they are actually reading a very long conversation log between Stańko and Rafał Księżyk, the editor-in-chief of Polish edition of “Playboy.” A completely unnecessary feeling of disappointment, however, since this is music journalism at its best. Księżyk leads a very interesting conversation with Poland’s greatest living jazz treasure, strolling down the path of his life, as well as delving into the philosophical/political/religious disputes on many aspects of the man’s life. Stańko is a smart man who has a clear stance on many issues – and it’s often very intriguing. What’s important is that Rafał Księżyk led the interview in a way that didn’t slow its pace at any point. There is a time for everything in it: for facts, for future projects, for deep thoughts and for many amusing anecdotes from the past, often relating to “junkie” adventures. Tomasz Stańko has lived a crazy, captivating life and that fact has been marvellously portrayed in this book. If anyone thought that good (auto)biographies can only be written by Western journalists, they were wrong. And Desperado!... is a great example of that.

Other extended interviews worth recommending:
Tymon Tymański – AD/HD. Autobiografia
Nergal - Spowiedź heretyka



P.S.

The time has come for me to change my preamplifier. After several years and a full-scale makeover that turned my Polaris III Custom Version into something that actually resembled the flagship Spheris II, the time has come for me to switch to the new Spheris III. That’s why my preamplifier is for sale. It’s a Signature Edition with much better components throughout and with Gerhard Hirt’s autograph on the rear panel. It’s in perfect condition. You can read more about it HERE.

I’m also selling my Acrolink 8N-A2080III Evo RCA cables – see HERE, in perfect condition, 1.8 meter length. I also have EntreQ Konstantin 2010 headphone cables for the Sennheiser HD800 and HiFiMANs, as well as the Atlantis for the HD800, all at a very good price.

Please direct all enquiries to: wojciech.pacula@highfidelity.pl

About Us

Our reviewers regularly contribute to “Audio”“Enjoy the Music.com”, “Positive-Feedback.com”“HiFiStatement.net”  and “Hi-Fi Choice & Home Cinema. Edycja Polska” .

"High Fidelity" is a monthly magazine dedicated to high quality sound. It has been published since May 1st, 2004. Up until October 2008, the magazine was called "High Fidelity OnLine", but since November 2008 it has been registered under the new title.

"High Fidelity" is an online magazine, i.e. it is only published on the web. For the last few years it has been published both in Polish and in English. Thanks to our English section, the magazine has now a worldwide reach - statistics show that we have readers from almost every country in the world.

Once a year, we prepare a printed edition of one of reviews published online. This unique, limited collector's edition is given to the visitors of the Audio Show in Warsaw, Poland, held in November of each year.

For years, "High Fidelity" has been cooperating with other audio magazines, including “Enjoy the Music.com” and “Positive-Feedback.com” in the U.S. and “HiFiStatement.net”  in Germany. Our reviews have also been published by “6moons.com”.

You can contact any of our contributors by clicking his email address on our CONTACT  page.



Photo

ALL PHOTOGRAPHS OF THE TESTED DEVICES ARE MADE USING THE EQUIPMENT OF THE COMPANY



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Canon EOS 5D MkIII

Lenses:
EF-16-35/L II USM
EF 100 mm 1:2.8 L IS USM


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