Tag Archives: music

Where are the bass and treble controls?

First a disclaimer: this is aimed at the newbie to audio “hi fi” systems. Audiophiles stay away; skip this article.

Let me tell this story as my personal experience, while dipping my toes into the pond of High Fidelity to experience the sensation of near-actual live studio/concert hall musical performances.

First, I found a mentor; an audiophile as crazy a perfectionist as you would expect. Someone who won’t blink an eye to put down mega dollars for that little incremental improvement towards perfection. This was to draw my inspiration from and to establish my own realistic (that’s tough!) benchmark against. When he had got me sufficiently excited, it was time to go shopping.

I set myself a budget of RM20,000 ( it was USD 5,800 then) for a reasonably good entry-level system. I settled for the NAIM 5i integrated amp, Marantz K.I. Pearl Lite CD player and a pair of floor-standing Polk Audio RTiA7.  For the interconnects, I use the Kimber Kable PBJ  and for the speaker cables the QED Bi-Wire. Just to be sure, I plonked some dollars down for the Chord power cables. My mentor gave me a pair of UPS to stabilise/clean up the incoming juice to my amp and player. On top of that he gave me some gadgets and additional tips to improve the sound quality; but that’s for a later different story.

I hooked that all up and fired them up and… yes! For a guy used to listening to music on a portable cassete/CD player, it sounded so sweet to my ears. It seemed like every instrument came alive. Then it happened. One day the sound just does not seem “right”. It felt lifeless and flat. Even a friend commented that his Bose integrated system sounds better than my so called Hi-Fi separates system. I invited my mentor to take a look. He suggested I relocate the system and to arrange them elsewhere in the living room and helped me pick a new spot. And he was right! The music came alive again! But not for long….

I enjoyed my system for a few months and then like before, it suddenly didn’t seem as sweet as it should be. It’s like, I suddenly realise the sounds were too bright and thin and there’s just not enough oomph in the low frequencies. Should I change my speakers? Should I change my amplifier? I don’t think it’s my Marantz K.I. Pearl-Lite; that should be good enough. After researching the Internet, I came to the conclusion that a sub-woofer would probably help fill the sound voids. But hey! Isn’t a sub-woofer really just meant for the home theatre? Researching some more turned up some literature that advocated adding a (right-type) sub-woofer to the system. But since the amplifier, unlike an AV Receiver, does not have a LFE sub-woofer output, it means the correct sub-woofer has to be able take high level input, straight from the amplifier’s outputs to speakers.

It took me a while to find a right-type hi-fi sub-woofer, but I found the REL range of subs a possibilty. Off I went to the local distributor’s showroom in Sunway Pyramid and auditioned a REL T5 hooked to a NAIM 5i. And it certainly made an audible difference. Next, I asked for a home demo; if it works just as well in my home on my system, then I will buy it. And what do you know? It works well! For me the acid test will be to see if the system now passes muster with my mentor the next time he visits.

So why did I go to all this trouble? Where are the Bass and Treble controls? Shoot! Just crank up the Bass and turn down the Treble! Can’t you?

Well, the answer to that is still the same reason why the Bass and Treble (and generally the equalisers) all went out of fashion in the 80’s in Hi Fi amplifiers. Apparently the move was started by NAIM and soon all other brands came around to the same notion as well.

And what’s that notion? Well, all equalisers, bass and treble controls are actually filters and they remove portions of the sounds that went into the media (CD, records, etc). And to the purists, that’s subtractive and not true Hi Fi. The controls actually distort the sounds. OK, so what’s the difference with the sub-woofer? The (Hi Fi) sub-woofer takes the actual signal from the amplifier and further amplifies the sounds (from the very low sub-bass 30 Hz to about 120 Hz). The result is that it adds to the overall sounds, very much like suddenly a bass guitarist fires up his instrument, or he turns up his bass guitar (or bass drum) volume. The original sounds from the floor standing speakers do not diminish in any way. When tuned properly, the sub-woofer should feel like an integral part of the overall Hi Fi System.

That’s all dandy, if….and that’s a very big IF, the sound engineers have done their jobs well and IF the CDs are all made very well. Who has not listened to a badly produced CD or track? No, not even the addition of a sub-woofer can make up for the CD that’s badly produced in the first place. Perhaps we should start a rating system for the sound engineers and music producers, like we rate movie directors and producers.

Music : Travelling Wilburys

220px-Traveling_WilburysWhere were you in 1988 when the Travelling Wilburys Vol. 1 débuted? It sold over 5 million copies, certified triple-platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America and won the Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group in 1989. Rolling Stone magazine named Traveling Wilburys, Volume 1 one of the 100 Best Albums of All Time.

And where was I? Why, I was a Sales Manager busy building my career and I must confess, the album passed me by completely. I wasn’t even vaguely aware of the Travelling Wilburys. And that was pretty amazing, considering that my wife and I considered ourselves pretty knowledgeable about the music scene.

It was in early 2011 when over lunch, I enthused about Jeff Lynne and his ELO (Electric Light Orchestra) to  Bob, an American retiree friend. Bob asked whether I knew that Jeff Lynne was also with another band called The Travelling Wilburys with George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty? No, I did not. Bob declared The Travelling Wilburys as a must-listen-to, and Bob went on to describe how this awesome motley of legendary stars met and formed The Travelling Wilburys. He told a fascinating story of how George Harrison was driving along LA one day when Roy Orbison stopped next to him at the lights. They got talking about how George was on his way to make a recording and would Roy care to come along? Then Roy got hold of  the rest of the guys and one thing led to another and they ended up forming a new group, The Travelling Wilburys. Little did I know then that as I delved deeper into this fascinating story and tracked down the album, that Bob’s story was one of many interesting legendary tales about the history of TTW. The real history was even more interesting and just as accidental as that imaginary meeting of George and Roy at the traffic lights. More of this later.

Thanks to Bob, I was so intrigued that I had to seek the tunes on the Internet and managed to listen to some MP3 recordings and  knew then that I simply had to get the original album. In 2012, my wife and I went to Liverpool for our son’s graduation and I tried to find the album in the music stores there but to no avail. Finally I found it online at “That’s Entertainment” and ordered it to be delivered to our apartment. Unfortunately, it didn’t arrive in time when we left our apartment to return home about 5 days later. It has to be assumed lost. Actually I found an original  copy for sale in a Liverpool flea market store shortly after I ordered a copy online.  I declined to buy the flea market copy, to my everlasting regret. I had to wait a full year before I finally found it in London’s HMV, the sole copy in the store, lucky me. And what a bonus! It was a 3-discs “The Travelling Wilburys Collection”. Vol. 1 and Vol. 3 are the songs with bonus tracks while Vol. 2 is a DVD with “The True History of The Travelling Wilburys” and the making of five songs. And boy! What a treat it is for Rock-n-Roll rockers.

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Here are some off-beat info about The Travelling Wilburys.

  • It started with George preparing a song for the B-side of his new A-side single, “This is Love”.  He knocked off a tune called “Handle With Care” with the help of his friends, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, Bob Dyland and Roy Orbison, for the B-side. But the head of Warner Bros Records, Mo Ostin, liked it so much that he and Lenny Waronke (head of A&R) asked George to turn this into a new album. The rest is History, as they say.
  •  George and Jeff Lynne were co-writers at that time and whenever there was any recording error caused by faulty equipment, they would say “We’ll bury them in the mix”.  In time, they would say the same thing  for any small performance error. And so it came to be that when they needed a name for this new group, George suggested “The Trembling Wilburys”, but Jeff offered “The Travelling Wilburys”, which the rest agreed.
  • Together, they were such an off-beat motley crew, that in the album they attributed the credits to: Nelson Wilbury (as George Harrison), Lefty Wibury (as Roy Orbison), Charlie T. Jr. (as Tom Petty), Lucky Wilbury (as Bob Dyland) and Otis Wilbury (as Jeff Lynne). Their drummer was Buster Sidebury (as Jim Keltner).
  • TTW Vol. 1 debuted in 1988. The second album was released in 1990 without Lefty Wibury (Roy passed away on 6-Dec-1988), and George Harrison called it Vol. 3.
  • The combined volumes, together with a 3rd disc (Vol. 2 DVD), called The Travelling Wilburys Collection was released in 2007.

TTW800So where were you in 1988 when The Travelling Wilburys wrote a chapter in Music History? If like me, it passed you by without you even being aware of it, get the classic collection now ( Traveling Wilburys (2 CD / 1 DVD) )

It was Samuel Butler who said, “The oldest books are only just out to those who have not read them.” This will apply equally to music, such as in this case of The Travelling Wilburys.