Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Zaph Audio: for the Speaker Obsessives Among Us

ZaphAudio.com is the labor of speaker love web site of John Krutke. John is an amateur speaker designer and builder, but 'amateur' is used in the very narrow monetary sense. To date I doubt his efforts have resulted in compensation remotely commensurate with the considerable body of his work. Although, it seems that this is about to change: John has hinted on his blog that he is about to go pro.

I confess I have a very serious fascination with the loudspeaker. I own dozens of pairs. My name is Nat, and I am a speaker obsessive. They are wood and metal and magically turn signal to sound. Some even do it well.

I discovered Zaph Audio 3 or 4 years ago when puzzling over a crossover in a small two way system. I love 'em and so, evidently, does John. John's designs are primarily very small, extremely high quality, high bang for the buck two way systems. John has designed projects for both Parts Express and Madisound, the two giants of the DIY world. Here is his latest project, the ZMV5. John does a great job of walking you through its design and implementation, and he includes his usual discussion of all the necessary compromises and possible options.

John is also a significant testing resource for the DIY community. His tweeter mishmash gets a workout every time Parts Express or Madisound runs a sale. As does his Small Driver Comparison, and his 5.5" Driver Comparison, and his 6" to 7" Driver Comparison. Impressive, eh? So far he has resisted the siren song of larger drivers, but he has recently solicited drivers for one last orgy of testing and is including some 8 inchers. Thank you, John, for scratching that particular itch.

John can be a bit of a curmudgeon; for some reason he wants a private life. He answers no email (go ahead click on it...), takes no advertising, and so far has not attempted to sell anything other than leftover drivers. For now John has indicate the site will remain, but driver evaluations will end due to a conflict of interest. So I highly recommend that you get them while they are hot!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Nat King Cole Shares the Stage

While snagging the YouTube of Nat King Cole performing Bobby Troup's Route 66, I stumbled on the following video. It's Nat on his tv show in 1957 sharing the stage with a very young performer:

Billy Preston!

What a charming performance. Make sure you watch Natalie Cole's comments at the end. Here are two of Billy's performances in '72 and '75 after his Get Back session work as the so-called 5th Beatle:

Billy backed a startling number of artists other than the Beatles: Little Richard, the Rolling Stones, Joe Cocker, Eric Clapton, Johnny Cash and even the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He appeared in films Let it Be and the Concert for Bangladesh. He even shared the American Idol stage in 2005 with Vonzell Solomon. No doubt 11 year old Billy would have been a sensation on that show.

He suffered the usual occupational hazards of his profession in the '80s, but rallied in the '90s. He passed away in 2006 due to complications from kidney failure. He was 59.

Billy was a scintillating performer with hair that was the envy of many an NBA power forward in the 70's and an outgoing personality capable of soothing even the squabbling Beatles. He left us way too soon.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Hi-fi Repair TV Feng Shui

Over the years Mike has accumulated a variety of on-the-job tics. What is with that thing he does with the 24 minute count down timer? It's a tiny, digital and counts down from 24:00 to zero and then beeps. Press the bottom button and Mike gets to do it again. All. Day. Long. All I can think of is an electronic version of this:

"Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives

Which brings us to tic #2, which is more like hi-fi repair feng shui: Mike has to watch his vintage tv shows while working. Evidently watching Ironsides is the perfect complement to re-capping a Marantz 2275. It is chronologically appropriate. One of the local Austin stations has filled the digital airwaves with vintage tv. It looks great, but for some reason the sound is way out of synch. Alias Smith and Jones with a 2 second sound lag is a bit tough to follow, but the picture sure is purty.

Which brings us to Emergency! Whenever nurse Dixie McCall (Julie London) appears on screen we all have to marvel that Jack Webb (Emergency! creator, who knew?) managed to successfully propose marriage to a knockout who could sell records on album covers alone. Here's Dixie and some guy...

One day I realized Bobby Troup played Dr. Joe Early, the guy above. Bobby Troup was a west coast jazz musician of note and actor who was Julie's husband after Jack Webb. I must say my opinion of Jack jumped a few notches on learning he gave the next hubby a very sweet gig on tv.

Here is Bobby singing his most famous composition:

I love it, but this will always be the definitive version of this song:

What an utterly graceful human being.

Tomorrow we will see NatKing Cole revealing another sort of grace...

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Gary Reiser: Sounds Good To Me!

Nestled near the front of the Traders Village on Eldridge Rd., Houston, in space 249, is the brick and mortar incarnation of Sounds Good to Me. Click the link for the web incarnation! Gary Reiser is the proprietor of both and is a 16 year veteran of the hifi wars. I would say 'grizzled veteran', but I am in no position to cast grizzly aspersions. But Gary can be accurately described as the go-to guy in the Houston area for great deals on vintage stereo gear. He also dresses like an Austinite:

I met Gary a number of years ago via a purchase of pair of L. W. Erath speakers. I stumbled onto his very nice web site, made the purchase via Paypal and then made the trek to Houston to pick them up.

Gary's space at the Traders Village is a flea market anomaly: no heaps of scrufty, unconnected gear here. His philosophy is based on a level of attention to detail that he thought was missing from the typical flea market experience. Every piece has been cosmetically detailed and verified as electronically sound. All components are connected in working systems for instant evaluation. All the tuners dialed in to the same station for convenient comparison. (Really. No, I am not kidding.) No vague assertions that something works, or that it would look great with a little elbow grease. Everything works and looks great, and best of all, is very reasonably priced. Visiting Gary's space in north Houston is like taking a quick trip back in time to my favorite parts of 1975. If this were a just universe Gary would be outselling Best Buy.

Here is Gary’s philosophy in his own words:

When I started this audio resale business, I saw others doing similar things on a smaller (and less organized) scale. Due to the nature of the vintage (and not so vintage) electronics, I knew that it was really not feasible to offer warranties on the items that I'd be selling. After seeing how most people that are selling this type of equipment have stacks of dirty pieces of gear piled on shelves ... not hooked up to demonstrate that they are working ... no prices marked on the items, etc, I decided that I would take a different approach. All items that we sell are tested, cleaned (repaired if necessary), priced and displayed in a working environment. Since a warranty is not offered, this is the next best thing ... the customer buys a product that they can see/hear is working properly, and in the case of items that have "glitches or tics" I am always up-front about any anomalies that I am aware of with pieces of equipment . I try to treat people the way that I want to be treated ... the simple Golden Rule.

Gary tends to reserve his more meat and potatoes systems for his Traders Village store front, but meat and potatoes can be choice: on my recent visit he had a very tasty Sansui AU 717 amp for sale. I left with a very nice Amber 50B integrated amp and a Harmon Kardon Award series tube receiver, both slated for this blog now that the workbench has been reopened.

And don’t forget to flip through Gary’s bin of dollar vinyl. You know you can never have too many records.

Gary tends to sell his more esoteric, expensive items for his web site. His web presence is as tidy as the brick and mortar site, nicely organized by component type. Turnover can be quick so be warned: he who hesitates is lost. As for esoteric: currently he has a very sweet looking JBL Metregon speaker system for sale, and he recently sold a massive pair of VTL Deluxe 600 tube monoblock amps. Not too shabby, eh?

Gary also provides a number of audio related services, including:

Speaker refoaming (no reconing). Transfers from LP's, cassettes and reel tapes to CD's. I just added a 1/2" 8 track reel to reel deck to transfer 1/2" tapes to CD's. A recent search of the web indicated that this is a rare service offering, so I hope that I can find a small niche with that odd service. Pricing on our refoaming and analog/digital transfer services are well below the majority of businesses that offer these services, with quality that rivals the best.

Gary is open for business at Traders Village roughly 50 weeks of the year. He takes a bit of time off in the heat of summer and confesses to closing a bit early when the Houston monsoons hit. But even Hurricane Ike met its match last year: Gary’s space was unscathed.

So, next time you wander close to the northwest side of Houston on a weekend, check out Sounds Good to Me in the Trader’s Village, space 249. It located just west of 290 on Eldridge Rd. For those of you so inclined, Gary can also be reached at (713) 385-4933. Go early and avoid the considerable crowds and the screaming Texas sun.

So check it out!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Baby Come Back by The Equals

This marvelous clip of The Equals is a favorite. Please note the middle guitar player: that's Eddy Grant of Electric Avenue fame. Eddy wrote this gem from the '60s, and supplied the great response to Derv Gordon's vocals. It was President Records only number 1 hit, reaching #1 in the UK, but only #32 in the US in 1968. And check out Eddy's guitar...

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Jitterbug, a Telefunken Console and Mantovani

Posting on this blog has ground to a halt because of the decline and passing of my father, John N. Weems. It is never easy to say goodbye, but it was Dad's time, and I will miss him.

Dad grew up in the Land Between the Rivers, otherwise known as the Hog Jaw, or the Jaw as the locals knew it. It is now known as the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. Dad's nickname to all his oldest friends was 'Bud', which I was surprised to learn as a teen was a corruption of 'Jitterbug'. Dad was shy, and evidently could not be persuaded to dance, something I can quite sympathize with. But one day someone convinced him to try and he was hooked. The power of dance!

Dad was a pilot in the Air Force and purchased a large mono Telefunken console in Germany in the late '50s. This was the system I played my Johnny Horton albums on. I was shocked (shocked!) to learn that Johnny was a country singer once I ventured beyond North to Alaska. Dad's musical taste was a bit syrupy and ran to Mantovani with a few stray forays into Pete Fountain and Al Hirt. A few years ago I found a stash of wonderful big band reissues at the now defunct Georgetown, Ky flea market. Dad knew all the bands well and even shared a few stories. As a young man he saw a number of them in person and even got to play cards with one that got stranded on his base for several weeks in 1943. The Telefunken was a very sweet workhorse for nearly 45 years, but it was abandoned in a move and a downsize several years ago. I regret that I was unable to get it here to Texas.

I sincerely hope that they are skipping the harps and letting Dad listen to Mantovani on his Telefunken...

We now resume our normal programming.

Photo of Telefunken console stolen from this site.