Wednesday, June 25, 2014

US Republican Party Audiophiles: A Self-Contradicting Stance?

Given that it was Ronald Reagan who cut public high school music programs in favor of team sports during his presidency, is being a US Republican Party audiophile a self-contradicting stance?

By: Ringo Bones 

Or maybe the proper term for it is an oxymoron, but it is probably during the political turbulence of the 2012 US Presidential Elections where US Republican Party / GOP stalwarts got labeled as “hypocrites” that ones begins to wonder if being a US Republican Party advocate in a relatively high financial cost but liberally tempered hobby such as being an audiophile / hi-fi enthusiasts is a self-contradicting stance. More than just a “broad brush” used to paint an entire American political movement, Republicans have always been accused of being “Philistines” since the time of Ronald Reagan given their propensity to throw public high-school music programs “under the bus” in times of government fiscal austerity. 

Even though the then US President Jimmy Carter was instrumental in the signing of the Omnibus Regulation Act of 1980 and 1981, it was President Ronald Reagan who used it to defund alleged non-essential programs such as public high school music programs and its ilk that eventually lead to the “Ketchup is a Vegetable Controversy” of the Reagan administration. Given such “anti-music outlook” what does a typical “Republican Audiophile” listens to in his or her hi-fi rig? 

Surprisingly, it is not the Themes From The General Electric Theater (ACS 8190) where a young Ronald Reagan served as “Host and Program Supervisor” while Elmer Bernstein serves as the orchestra conductor. I mean I have yet to hear first hand a “Republican Audiophile” tuning their system using a well recorded track of that signature “bland Ronald Reagan baritone”. So what then does a typical Republican Audiophile use to tune and play on their hi-fi rigs? 

 Most GOP voting audiophiles I know – and there’s only a handful that are still in speaking terms with me as of late – seem to gravitate towards the XLO Reference Recordings Test & Burn In CD as their primary test and set-up record for their system; Which is also very useful if they intend to upgrade their rig for something better sounding when they audition for new audio gear. Priced at US$ 29.98 back in 1995, it was easily one of the most expensive CDs widely available at every Tower Records branch across America – and the rest of the world. And it may have been the “snob factor” that makes this particular CD the “de rigueur” for “Republican Audiophiles”. 

With XLO’s Roger Skoff and Reference Recordings’ guru Keith Johnson sounding like the go to guys in a Ken Burns PBS documentary about iconic action star Charles Bronson, this is one foolproof CD to guide you in improving and burning-in your audio system and being HDCD encoded, the resulting superior audio quality when compared to the bog-standard 16-bit Redbook Spec CDs is also an added bonus. Inexplicably, the XLO Reference Recordings Test & Burn In CD uses mostly music tracks and a few useful test and burn-in tones to test your audio gear – not Ronald Reagan’s signature “bland baritone”.     

Given most US Republican Party stalwarts’ current unquestioning support of the American Military Industrial Complex with their rather dislike of “namby-pamby” parts of academia like government subsidized music education programs, timbre-accurate audiophile recordings of various kinds of gunshots from small arms to crew serve weapons systems and other military hardware that would certainly appeal to the dyed-in-the-wool GOP audiophile seems, at present, thin on the ground. The last time I saw one was back in the mid 1980s of an “audiophile quality sound effects LP record” that featured an allegedly timbre-accurate recording of an  M-14 rifle fired in an open field and in an armored personnel carrier and various other locations. Given the largely “liberal” political outlook of most keen sound recording enthusiasts, I don’t think that Stereophile’s John Atkinson is currently improving the ability of his proprietary microphone set-up to faithfully record the timbre of gunshots, so I and many others are probably not expecting an audiophile quality gunshot recording comparing a Colt M-1911 semi-automatic pistol firing a World War II era potassium chlorate doped ammunition to one firing a more modern, less corrosive ammunition. 

Originally released in Europe back in 1993, The Sound Check Alan Parsons & Stephen Court The Professional Audio Test Disc by Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab (SPCD 15) would surely have appealed to “Republican Audiophiles” because it featured – along with the de rigueur useful music tracks and test tones - a rather realistic sounding Chieftain Tank recording track! Legend has it that back in 1994 while testing their prototype of the Nautilus 801 Monitor Loudspeaker, the loudspeaker testing personnel at B&W using the Chieftain Tank recording track played at a realistic volume level in order to test the maximum power handling of their B&W Nautilus 801 Monitor loudspeaker prototype managed to brought down the ceiling of their loudspeaker test and demonstration room at one demonstration! Sadly, none of the “Republican Audiophiles” I know seem to have - and even heard of – The Sound Check Alan Parsons & Stephen Court test CD. 

And as usual, most Republican Audiophiles I know don’t seem to have – or had been rooting for to add to their record collections – one of history’s first ever audiophile test records – the 1957 EMI SDDI stereo demonstration LP. Complete with traffic noises and trains that when you are seated in the “sweet spot” of your listening room, manages to transform your two-channel stereo into a full blown surround-sound system with sounds that seems to come from behind you even if there are no speakers installed there. By the way, the bulk of the 1957 EMI SDDI stereo demonstration LP are audiophile quality music test tracks. 

Even if starting tomorrow “Republican Audiophiles” managed to acquire non-musical test tracks that would enable to set-up their hi-fi systems to almost faithfully reproduce full automatic assault rifle fire, it could uncover yet another can of worms – namely the sound effects in most movies made by Foley artists don’t always correspond with what they see on the screen. Though still in the minority, I’ve heard back in 2004 audiophiles whose two-channel stereo systems allow them to play movies in them had already reached a level of fidelity that they complained on how the timbre of the river sounds of the action movie Tears of the Sun sounds as if they are recorded in the Los Angeles flood control canal – not the actual sound of a natural riverside with a real large granite outcrop in the middle of equatorial Africa. 

Politically Contentious Hi-Fi Adverts?

Even though tastes and fashions changes at a “conservative” pace in the hi-fi world, does politically contentious hi-fi adverts being forced to evolve on a much more hectic timescale?  

By: Ringo Bones 

From the pastoral like veneer of innocence surrounding the post World War II Golden Age of hi-fi of the mid to late 1950s to the rather “flamboyantly themed radicalism” of the 1970s era hi-fi adverts, it seems that in the rather conservative political climes of the hi-fi world, it seems that how hi-fi adverts are themed in congruence with the contemporary concept of what passes as “politically correct” seems to be more hectically paced in comparison to the esoteric “audio engineering terms” used to flogged off the latest in audio gear. After all, when was the last time a revue of a thermionic vacuum tube zero negative feedback single ended triode audio power amplifier carried specifications for transient inter-modulation distortion and slew rate specifications that used to be the domain of high tech solid state amplifiers marketed during the late 1970s and early 1980s? For the benefit of those who might find the “hectic” pace of political fashions in hi-fi adverts that seems to be cleverly designed by Madison Avenue admen and focus groups of interest, here’s my take on it. 

Chauvinistically themed hi-fi adverts – when the “hi-fi” business took off during the Golden Age of Stereo, most of the “industry’s” customers where exclusively male and thus the glut of “chauvinistically themed hi-fi adverts” probably ran well until the end of the 1980s. One of the most famous – or notorious – of these adverts were printed back in an August 1962 issue of Stereo Review magazine on an ad for the Fisher 800-B receiver proclaiming it an audio system “even she can operate”; something which doesn’t fly anymore during the “politically-correct 1990s”. But if you consider the 1970s to be the capitalist West’s “Golden Age of Chauvinism”, an ad published in the August 1972 issue of Stereo Review magazine for an Empire speaker advert designed for use in a quadraphonic system (known a surround-sound these days) drives home the point with photos of conspicuously naked women. Even though hi-fi adverts that feature conspicuously naked women could be frowned upon as “too politically incorrect” during the first part of the early 1990s, some hi-fi loudspeaker manufacturers like Energy Loudspeakers and Wharfedale began to feature hi-fi adverts featuring conspicuously naked women by the mid 1990s onwards – though the Energy speaker ads also featured conspicuously naked Asian women and men and the re-release of a “naked” Mercury logo of Western Electric that used to be printed at the back of every AT&T phonebook during the 1950s – but is this as a salute to a Camille Paglia like interpretation of politically correct sexiness in the 1990s? But whether or not you consider “erotically themed” hi-fi adverts an affront to political correctness, it does surface from time to time well into the 21st Century. 

Anyone notice those politically-themed adverts that were widely published during the 1990s that seems to virtually vanish in the 21st Century – even on the manufacturers’ websites? Probably the best example is the “No Empire Lasts Forever” advert by hi-fi cable manufacturer Synergistic Research that features a Lenin statue with a noose around its neck. This was a widely published advert that I first saw on the March 1998 issue of Stereophile magazine at the time, but today, the “noose around the neck of a Lenin statue advert” seems to have virtually vanished of the face of the Earth and can’t even be found on the official website of Synergistic Research. Is the advert now politically contentious to “Czar Putin” and the resurgent Russian empire?