Repairs and Maintenance

JOHN M. CONLY A a forintr New York and Washington newspaperman who is now an associate editor of Pathfinder, “ They Shall HareMusic” is a quarterly feature in the Atlantic.



THE music-loving lady was wound up, perhaps pardonably. To unwind, she sat down at her typewriter and extemporized, as follows: —

As a reader of your quarterly articles in the Atlantic, I have been influenced by what you have written about home-music installations to the point of persuading my husband to get it custom set instead of the commercial set we were thinking about. So perhaps you will be interested in our experience. I emphasize the cost aspects throughout because that is where I take issue with you. I do not question the superiority, from a musical point of view, of the equipment you advocate.
It was your March, 1950, Atlantic article, I believe, which listed the approximate costs of the components of a home-music installation and suggested how superior it was to a commercial set. We had been considering a $400 [trade name] set, but decided instead to get the custom set, since apparently it would cost no more, and probably less.
Let me say right here, we knew nothing whatever about the technical aspects of a phonograph or radio. We therefore planned to have all the installation and assembly done for us. Nor did we have an old radio cabinet; and since we live in an apartment, it was not very practical to install the set in the wall, so we had to have a cabinet built as well.
We went to Blank’s, here in the area, and put ourselves in the hands of one of their “knowledgeable young men,” as you call them. To house the set, he suggested a two-part cabinet — the bottom to hold the speakers, the top to contain the remaining components. These two parts, of mahoganv veneer, cost $150.
The young man described to us the merits of various components and we decided on a Meissner tuner, an Altec amplifier, a James Lansing speaker, and a Garrard 3-speed record changer, with General Electric pickup cartridges and sapphire styli. Later, on the advice of a friend, an enthusiast in these matters, we changed to a Brooks tuner, which costs more but has drift-proof [automatic frequency controlled] tuning. The total then amounted to $507, considerably more than we had anticipated — or than the commercial set —but we figured the difference would be justified by the extra musical performance we could expect.
This was in September, 1950. In a couple of weeks our set came and we promptly paid for it. Luckily, before the installer left, I made some reference to the Brooks tuner. This led to our discovering that the tuner was a Meissner — they had failed to make the change, though they had billed us for the Brooks. So the set had to go back for the change in tuners and it was a whole impatient week later that we finally got the set. I was somewhat disappointed to note that the upper cabinet was several shades lighter than the bottom, but we let that pass. I mention it only for the sake of completeness. The music — and, after all, that was the main thing — was superb. We particularly enjoy opera, and the wealth of operatic LP records available now are a real joy to us.
Your articles very definitely lead one to demand the best in musical reproduction. So, when our record player developed an unpleasant hum and, not long afterward, the radio’s volume collapsed to almost nil, we called on Blank’s knowledgeable young men again. And this is where our education really began. We learned that not only are the parts expensive, but the labor of these technicians is paid at the rate of $5 an hour. The volume loss was apparently due to some tubes, replaced for $6.80. The changer noise was due to a broken drive-belt — but it took the technician three trips to get everything fixed up, with a bill from Blank’s arriving promptly on the heels of each trip.
In fact, there were so many hills for such apparently’ inexpert work that, upon our protest, one of them was withdrawn.
The worst thing is that our favorite station, a local good-music station, is no longer as pleasant to listen to as it used to be. There is continual interference by another station, some kind of “harmonics,”which, unfortunately, occurs only in the evening. Blank’s young men do not work evenings. If they should do so, the rates, naturally, would be double. Blank’s thinks that something is “out of line,” and we are to try turning our set at different angles to see if that will eliminate the trouble before one of their experts comes out again.
All this happened about six months after we got our set. So can you blame me when I smile a bit wryly at your comment [April, 1951]: —
“It is a fact that, up to now, a music lover who bought equipment from these people almost could not be gypped, try as he might.”
I am not implying that we have been gypped. But I do think that, when it comes to costs, your attitude has not been completely realistic.
So please don’t make too many more recommendations on how we can improve our musical enjoyment. I’m afraid we just can’t afford anything like a uranium stylus, remotecontrol tuning, gold-plated baffles — or whatever is “in the cards for the future.”
Seriously, we have enjoyed the articles, and it is thanks to them that we have the wonderful music our set provides. Only, take off those rosecolored glasses.
(Mrs.) A. V. ROE

What makes Mrs. Roe’s letter impressive, a part from its acid waggishness, is the possibility that her real name may well be that ominous word, legion. It is estimated that something like a million high-fidelity, custom home-music sets are now operating in American homes. Owners of many of them, without doubt, were impelled to buy by the doting phrases of magazine writers, results, in cases, may have been distincty disappointing in terms of (a) economy and (b) performance.

The latter factor has not entered largely into Mrs.

Roe’s grievance, at least. And the economy factor, in her case, was complicated by a service problem.

Mrs. Roe, alas, had caught Blank’s in the very process of expansion, bedeviled by more business than they could handle. High fidelity was, for the nonce, a boom industry. Shopmen hired one day vanished the next, off to set up establishments of their own. Equipment was being sold without the leisurely inspection it used to get, so that trouble calls poured in continually, threatening to eat up the profits. Blank’s bothered bookkeeping partner was rushing out bills at the tinkle of a telephone. The cabinetmaker was making sectional cabinets in job lots, sometimes producing mismatches. No one liked the confusion, but no one had a quick cure for it. -Meanwhile, customers who squawked loudest got the best service. The milder ones, like Mrs. Roe, took the brunt of the boom.

At that, Mrs. Roe didn’t do too badly, bargainwise. In March, 1950, the Atlantic suggested $143 as the lowest practical price for a custom installation. in September, 1950, Mrs. Roe made her purchases. Between March and September, however, came June. In June came war in Korea, and prices began changing wildly in the United States. The components the Atlantic had tallied and priced at $143 jumped to well over $200.

Nor did Mr. and Mrs. Roe get a “minimum rig.” The inner works of their set cost $307. Those of the $400 commercial set they had considered would sell (net) at about $140. On their sectional cabinet they spent $150, more than the average rigbuyer spends and probably more than the commercial set’s cabinet would cost. But for it they got (as well as an unplanned two-tone color-effect) a sealed, bass-reflex, Fiberglas-padded acoustic chamber, which no readymade set under $700 offers. Even counting in the $50 installation fee which Blank charges, the Roes saved at least 30 per cent of what they would have had to pay for comprable performance in a factoryassembled set.

However, there was a certain amount of needless negligence in Blank’s installation. The disorder likeliest to afa Garrard record changer (and no make is immune to some trouble or other) is slippage of the drive belts which work its 33 1/3 and 45 revolutions-per-minute pulleys. Apologetically aware of this, the manufacturer tells what to do about it in a leaflet enclosed with every changer. The remedial procedure is as simple as changing a sewingmachine bobbin — except that Blank’s didn’t supply the Roes with the leaflet.

Blank’s would also have saved themselves money (they don’t really make any on service calls) by instructing the Roes, who are intelligent people, how to pull the tubes out of their FM tuner, so that they might bring them into town for testing. This is always good beginning procedure when radio volume dies down.

The same thing applies to the interference on the Roes’ favorite station. All FM is subject to directional effects. If the loop antenna, tacked to the back of the cabinet in most installations, intersects the line of broadcast at the wrong angle, it mav pick up a certain station feebly. If the tuner is a fairly sensitive one, like the Brooks, it may then pull in part of the signal of the next station up or down the dial to make up the deficiency, so to speak. (As a matter of fact, when the station it’s tuned to goes off the air, a Brooks automatic frequency control will hunt up the most convenient adjacent broadcast and bring that in, after a moment or two, instead.) All the Roes had to do was turn their cabinet, find out which angle brought in their good music station, unstaple the antenna from the cabinet, and spread it at the proper angle. There really was no occasion for a $5-an-hour technician to hurtle seven miles through the suburban night in a jeep to set things right.

Despite all this woe, the Roes were basically well-served. That is to say, they escaped even more distressing and less reparable troubles—and probab1y by having dealt with Blank’s.

Basically similar to Blank’s is the Shrader Manufacturing Company, of Washington, D.C., which is one of the largest installation firms in the country. William C. Shrader, 31year-old president of the organization, will readily admit having been through the same growing pains as Blank’s and having committed, at one hectic time or another, most of their sins, He thinks he has licked the service problem now by furnishing with each rig a service contract which guarantees complete service for ninety days at a rate of $5 per item when brought in by the customer, $10 when a pickup call must be made.

In the midst of explaining this, Shrader was called to the telephone to talk to a woman less fortunate than Mrs. Roe. She had recently bought, across the counter and in another city, a full set of components. She described them.

“What kind of music do you listen to most ?“ interrupted Shrader.

“ Chamber music.”

“Just a minute,”he broke in again. “Do the violins sound steely? Ever tried a wood-wind record? Does the clarinet squeak painfully? I thought so.”He talked to her briefly before hanging up.

“She,'' he rein a r ked , “really has troubles. That speaker she bought, and her amplifier, are both respectable components. Only, both of them have ‘peaks’ in the same place in the sound-spectrum. up in the middle treble range. Individually, each is tolerable. Together, they’re not. They reinforce each other’s faults. So — her rig is a shrieker.

“What can she do about it? Exchange her speaker, probably. There are about four others in the same price class. She got the precise one she shouldn I have, What she should have done, of course, was consult an experienced installation man before buying.”

Reminded that not all audiophiles live within calling-range of good installation men, Shrader nodded.

“In a pinch,” he suggested, “they can pick a few likely-looking components from catalogues, then write to the manufacturer of each and ask him what other components work well with his. Also, there are quite a few reliable sales organizations who’ll advise mail-order buyers.”

Shrader seemed to think, though he politely didn’t put it that way, that a little knowledge, in the audio field, is a dangerous thing. The first thing prospective buyers learn about is frequency range, and they focus on that.

“Balance!” said Shrader. “Balance— that’s the important thing. Before worrying about the last overtone of a piccolo or a 30-foot organ pipe, find out whether or not a rig will make middle C sound like middle C.”

Probably the amplifier is the first thing for a new, inexperienced buyer to choose. For one thing, the jumps from price class to price class are rather more abrupt among amplifiers than among other components. For another, the smaller, less expensive varieties of speakers have suddenly gained new respectability, as the experts have discovered new and better ways to use them.

The most ingenious of these techniques employ something every home possesses — a corner. Most of them, likewise, are derivatives of the Klipsch corner system.

The Klipsch system itself (which is described by its inventor in the Summer issue of High Fidelity) derives from the folded-horn system long ago worked out for theaters. In a Klipsch, which is both massive and expensive, the tweeter, or treble speaker, aims directly out into the room. The woofer, or bass speaker, is totally enclosed from the front. Its sound is guided back through a carefully measured series of folded passages, and emerges from apertures left between the sides of the cabinet and the two walls of the corner. In effect, the sound has traveled through a long and correctly flared horn, giving it a tremendous bass range.

The variations on the Klipseh theory mostly let the woofer generate, frontward as well as backward (whether this is good or bad is a controversial matter among the experts, but both sound good to the amateur). This allows small, one-unit speakers to get into the act. This method has been adroitly exploited by ElectroVoice in its “Aristocrat “ corner cabinet model. A saucy little device, the Aristocrat is but 30 inches high, 19 inches wide, and 16½ inches deep, and costs only It was designed for use with E-V ‘s $27 12-inch SP12-B speaker, but will work with most good 12-inehers. With the SP12-B, it delivers down to 35 cycles per second, which is as low as anyone need worry about. Developments like these give prospective buyers a little more leeway in the purchase of components other than speakers.

I taxing just read prepublication proofs of “They Shall Have Music for November, I strongly suspect that Mrs. Hoc’s letter, Blank Company’s behav ior, and certain of your remarks may leave your readers with some conclusions contrary to the best interests of high fidelity.
To begin with, there’s nothing new about home installation involving separate amplifiers, radio t uners, pickups, record players, or speakers — except that they’ve been getting better every year. To cite an extreme example of hi-fi’s antiquity, a design patent for corner horn speakers was granted to Audak’s ingenious Maximilian Weil in 1925. Hi-fi’s continuing development is precisely that of automobiles since the Model T and home permanents since the old stoveheated hair curler.
Regarding the upkeep of hi-fi systems, Radio Shack happily reports: the percentage of equipment failures and customer complaints (refunds, replacements, exchanges) is far lower in the hi-fi division than in any other segment of our business. There are highly acceptable products available in every price range. All American manufacturers guarantee free parts replacement within ninety days of purchase by the customer, and Hermon Hosmer Scott guarantees ///..v products for a full year.
Our policy goes the manufacturer one step further, permitting free repairs (including parts and labor) w ithin ninety days of the purchase date. In addition, all equipment is returnable for immediate refund or exchange within ten days. (In view of our policy, it should be clear that Radio Shack is not the B I a n k (’ o m p a n y, nor is Mrs. Roe a Radio Shack customer.) I am placing special emphasis upon these points because I know that I speak as well for the majority of our competitors on the selling end of Hi-fi.
Our advice to the Mrs. Roes of this world is to investigate the reliability of the company with which they are doing business and the manufacturers whose products they purchase. Trade advertisements, Dun & Bradstreet, consumer publications, and the advice of technically-minded friends are just a few of the resources open to everyone.
Hi-fi is tried, tested, and approved for performance and economy as advertised. We are amazed and chagrined to think your impressive audience will be exposed to the notion that one had apple can spoil this particular barrel.
Sincerely yours,
Radio Shack Corporation

Microgroove recording is now in its fourth year — and about 150 manufacturers are in business. The quantity of their output dismays even dealers, let alone reviewers and shoppers. A record need be in no way obscure to escape notice, and many of merit do. Here are some which shouldn’t :

Bach: The Musical Offering — “Das Musikaliselie Opfer" (Hermann Scherehen conducting nine “soloists"; Westminster: 12" EP). Few American listeners oxer heard of Vienna’s Herr Scherehen until his fine Haydn recordings began to appear last. year. Now they will find lie’s equally sure-footed with Bach — and this is deep Bach, easily botched. The instrumental chamber-group measures up handsomely. Recording: faultless.

Beethoven: Fantasia in C Minor for Piano, Orchestra and Chorus (Friedrich Wuehrer, piano, with Vienna Symphony Orchestra and Akademie Kammerchor, Clemens Krauss conducting), together with Schubert : Gesang der Geisler über den Wassern (Vienna Symphony Orchestra and State Opera chorus, Krauss conducting; Vox: 12" LP). Brahms comes inevitably to mind when these works are heard together, for here is Beethoven writing something very like the Academic Festival Overture in spirit, while Schubert clearly anticipates the Song of Destiny. The performances aren’t quite colossal (the Schubert is the better), but the recording is good.

Compenius Organ Album (Finn Vider playing an organ built by Compenius in 1610 and now in Frederiksborg Castle, Denmark; Gramophone Shop Celebrities Album No. 8: six 12" 78’s). The ancient wooden organ lisps and trills its way with great charm through works of such sixteenthand seventeenth-century composers as Gibbons, Praetorius, Frescobaldi, Cabezon, and Titelouze. Viderp is a deft organist as well as a musicologist. For those who crave a second helping, there is the GSC Album 8, in which Vider uses a 1944 baroque-style organ for a straight seventeenth-century program. Recording is by HMV , leaving nothing to be desired.

Debussy: Trois Chansons de Bilitis (Jennie Tourel, mezzo-soprano, with George Reeves, piano;

John Wummer, flute; Laszlo Vargo, cello), together with Ravel: Chansons Madccasses (Tourel and Reeves; Columbia: 10" LP). Until a musically and technically perfect record comes along, this will do nicely.

Gay, John: The Beggar’s Opera (with separate singing and acting casts, directed by Max Goberman and Frank Papp; Deslo: three 12" LP’s in album, with libretto). To ridicule Italian operas about dukes and counts, Gay wrote this one about thieves and “fences"; a sort of “Guys and Dolls of 1728.”In 1951, it still sounds crisp and tuneful, containing sixty-nine songs. Recording: good.

Machaut, Guillaume de: Notre Dame Mass (Dessoff Choirs and Now York Brass Ensemble, Paul Boepple conducting; Concert Mall: 12" LP). Written in 1364 for the coronation of Charles V of France, this probably is the first polyphonic Mass all by one composer. It’s modified Gregorian, with a good deal of pomp and sonority. Recording: good.

Mendelssohn: Concerto in E for Violin : Accompaniment Only (Carl Lamson, piano; Educational Recording Co., Washington, D.C.: 12" LP). Here is a chance for the budding violinist to play with Carl Lamson, Krcisler’s accompanist for thirty years. Selected short subjects fill out the record, which is the first of a series of accompanist-records this firm plans. Others will include accompaniments for voices, some advanced, some simple.

Mozart: Quintet in A Major (Sidney Forrest, clarinet, with Galimir String Quartet; Lyrichord: 12" LP). “Take it big" might be the Mozart-playing motto of this ensemble, and the result’s invigorating. Lyrichord is featuring Forrest, a young Baltimore clarinetist, in several records, including one of a Hindemith sonata (with Erno Baiogh, pianist) which is well worth listening to.

Pre-Baroque Sacred Alusie (Harvard University Choir, Radeliffe Choral Sociely, William E. Russell conducting; Festival: 10" LP). There isn’t the faintest glee-club taint about this, and the recording, done in Sanders Theater, is splendid, (dunposers include Dufay, Byrd, Palestrina, Josquin Despres, Praetorius.

Villa-Lobos: Baehianas Brasileiras No. I and Cboros No. 4 and No. 7 (Chamber groups under direction of Werner Janssen; Capitol: 12" LP). The Bachianas, for eight celli, will be familiar main listeners; the two chores, for winds, are less well known but immediately appealing. Another exemplary wide-range West Coast recording.

Alec Wilder Octet (Columbia: 10" LP or four 45’s). Subtle, witty, semi-baroque settings of songs like Street Sue, featuring harpsichord, flute, and other unlikely instruments. Best number: Sea Fugue Mama.