Companies like Mcintosh and Klipsch went to great lengths to educate the public on the fundamentals of high fidelity music reproduction with minimized distortion. The record companies of the day also explained why their recordings were the best sometimes telling you more about the production than the artists. This is a brilliant marketing tool from McIntosh called Lost Instruments. I've actually owned MC30's and they were wonderful.
I've always curious about what some of my favorite artist use for hi-fi playback. This Marc Bolan interview posted at TillDawn just made me smile. Marc Bolan records always sound so good to me and it is great to learn how much he cared about the finished product. Here are some insights to Bolan Universe.
Marc Bolan's hi-fi rates a little below zero in the good looks department. Oddly the enfant terrible who once foisted glam rock on the world and rouge on the teenage male face, couldn't care about audio cosmetics.
And it shows.
The now-acclaimed Godfather Of Punk prefers sounds to looks when dealing with the hardware of his profession. In the playback stakes he has a rugged Thoresn TD 150 Mk II turntable which, apart from the scratched wood veneer and assorted grease splashes, has a die-cast platter missing!
"Oh I took that off," admits Bolan. "Records are so badly pressed these days that a 12in platter only helps to accentuate any warping. I find it better to use the deck without one, only trouble is that I ahve to change the belt drive with my finger."
The SME arm is fitted with a Shure Supertrack V15 Type II cartridge, which was about to fall out. After negotiating these hurdles the disc signal goes through a Quad pre-amp fitted to a Quad 303 power amp finally emerging out of two JBL Model 4320 Studio Monitor speakers.
The result is fascinating - especially as Boaln demands more treble than bass and keeps the 7Khz button on the pre-amp depressed. The volume control is turned up high.
"This is practical hard-wearing stuff for me. It's been all over the place, Los Angeles, Monte Carlo, and it's still usable. The Thorens deck is really kicked about but it's still good. The set-up is a very true sound, a very real sound. I've got the whole thing tuned to my ear, or the pulse of the generation if you like," he acknowledges with a smile. "Most people listen to hi-fi wrongly," he says. "Practically everyone's house I've been to they have too much bass on because they think it's groovy to impress their girlfriends when it shakes a cheap bottle of vino. You know, it's stereo innit! I hate that. I love bass, but hat that boom. Bass has got to be bright funk."
By the way of another demonstration Bolan plays the latest 10cc single at shattering volume. It also has crystal clarity.
After more thatn a decade in the rock business, a string of No 1 hits and a current single (The Soul Of My Suit) and album (Dandy In The Underworld) in the charts, Marc Bolan has proved that he knows about musical sound.
And although his system, with its snake lair of wires all over the place, may seem a little unorthadox to anyone with the latest Bang & Olufsen design, it is highly effective. The secret lies inthe JBL speakers - expensive studio models - which Bolan says replaced a pair of Wharfedales he had many years ago.
"But as I progressed i wanted the system louder and louder. The point is if you go mixing a tape in the studio and you bring it home, I like to hear it on the same level. All rock musicians are deaf," he laughs. "Or let's say insensitive to mellow sounds, so I have to have plenty of power in my hi-fi. In fact we used the Quad amplifiers on stage at one time. I've got some more in the other room and a couple more of the same speakers, I think I nicked all the gear out of the studio one day," he smiles again.
"But seriously I don't try to chase after the latest audio stuff because although this is very much a utility system, it's good stuff. Idon't think you can get a better sound at home. There's low distortion; a wide tone spectrum and also plenty of volume. Mor than that you can't ask.
I actually master records myself - you know, cut the laquer - and that's the truest sound. When I bring it home and play it on this set up it does sound the same as when i cut it in the lab."
One thing missing from Bolan's "playback" system is a tuner. Instead he listens to a fairly ordinary transistor radio saying he prefers to hear pop music programmes that way. "That's how the majority of people buying records will first hear a disc, and it's good to identify with the type of listener you are making records for. "I did this once through a mixer," he says casually waving at the set-up. "It had limiting and echo on it as well so I could really play with the records, but I found that very unfair to the artist to have me re-mix everything. At the time I was listening to a Marc Bolan universe." The Bolan record collection, (roughly 20,000 albums) covers everything from the early Elvis Presley to the Damned and he continually sifts through them picking out favourites. Having recently moved into a house in Richmond, Bolan's hi-fi is tangled up in the bedroom, but when the house is finally decorated he will be installing it in a downstairs "music room".
"I suppose I'll have to stick a bit of chrome round it and tart it up a bit then," he acknowledges off-handedly. In fact I'll be having three music rooms. The whole part of the downstairs will be devoted to music and we'll live in the bedroom." One of those rooms will house the demo making machinery. In this department Bolan owns a reel-to-reel four channel Teac A3340 tape machine; another Revox A77 for overdubbing; two Teac AN 180 Dolby noise reduction units; three more Quad power amps; two more JBL 4320 monitor speakers; a ring modulator and a Garrard 401 deck. "If I knew we were going to talk hi-fi today I'd have got one of the roadies to stack all the equipment up. It would have made a good picture," he says, precariously holding the modulator balancing on top of everything else.
Bolan has his own views on the use of Dolby or the newer dbx noise reduction systems for making the finished product. "I've recorded records with and without Dolbys and sometimes it can be a pain - they can muffle the sound. So I don't think that any noise reduction system neccessarily makes for a better sound. They get rid of hiss but if you Dolby when you record and then Dolby when you master you can get a woolly sound. Some of the best classical records I've heard have been 78's.
"You'll notice I haven't got a cassette deck, because I don't like cassettes. They sound terrible. I like to record on them when I'm in the toilet writing songs or whetever but that's about it. I've go a Uher portable and one for the car buy no deck linked in to the system, and I've never seriously thought about building a home studio like so many rock musicians do.
"For the first two weeks it would be great but after that I know how bored I'd be and I'd never record anything. I did have an eight-track once but then I got so loose with drugs and drink that what I recorded was terrible. Now I like the feeling of preparing to go into the studio and record andI don't waste time when I'm there. It's good to keep that edge."
But if all this talk of eight-track home studios seems a little removed from the £ 350 musicentre you bought last week, remember it just shows how far the persuit of hi-fidelity can be taken, and is necessarily taken, by the recording artist. But of course, it wasn't always like that: "First thing I can remember the family having was a radiogram," recalls Bolan. "Then later came a Dansette when I was about nine and after that I din't have a record player for a long time until my mom bought what they called a "stereo". In fact it had two speakers but it came out in mono. It looked more like a piece of furniture than anything that had to do with sound, which I could never understand. I hate all that stuff. That was about all I listened to till I was 17 or 18 and then the first piece of equipment I got was a fairly good turntable with a Fisher amp and Wharfedale speakers. I think the whold thing cost about £ 200 in those days, but I got some money knocked off.
"Then later whenever I moved into a place I'd say to the roadie 'Hey get me a sound system.' When I was in the studio and saw the JBL speakers I decided to have some of those. I started off with a smaller model that those I've got now.
"No way could you call me a hi-fi fanatic," he protests. "And I've never been into the trappings of luxury. I seem to remember Mickey Finn (former T. Rex member) buying a record player where the record stuck up in the air with little bits on it and everything. It was totally impractical and £ 3,000 worth of crap, but it looked good. "I mean it was a talking point, but I'd rather have it sound good and I don't care what it looks like or what the name is. Mind you, I'd stop at a Russian hi-fi, that's what my mom's got and it doesn't work at all.
"I'm very much a media person. I always have the television on and the sound down when I'm listening to records. Then turn the on up and the other down as it suits me. "Now would you like to see my portable video camera......."
Hi-Fi gear Bolan was using at the time this article was written. JBL studio monitors 4320 Quad Preamp Quad 303 Power amp Garrard 401 Thorens TD150 MKII SME ARM Shure Supertrack V15 Type II cart Teac A3340 tape machine Revox A77 Teac AN 180 Dolby noise reduction units
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