My Audio Interests

Robert Gilchrist Huenemann, M.S.E.E.

July 15, 2014

My Audio Systems

Back in approximately 1960, I owned a modest audio system consisting of a Rek-O-Kut belt drive turntable, a Shure Studio Dynetic pickup/tone arm, a Heathkit A-9C preamp/amplifier to which I had added a tapped screen (Williamson) output transformer, and an ElectroVoice Baronet loudspeaker.

I moved to Chicago in about 1960. Shortly thereafter, I attended a joint meeting of the IEEE Audio group and the Audio Engineering Society. Paul Klipsch came in with a pair of Klipschorns, a pair of McIntosh 60 watt amplifiers, and a professional Ampex tape deck. He had second-generation tapes of various material, including a beautifully recorded William Tell overture. I decided on the spot that someday I would own a pair of these speakers.

In about 1985 I designed the living room of my house around the classic Klipsch three-way system. Two Klipschorns plus a Belle Klipsch for the center channel. All from the same mill run of Kentucky oak. They are driven by a Denon AVR-3312CI receiver. The primary program source is a 400 disc Sony CDPCX455 carousel with optical output. I also have a HDMI Blu-Ray player and DirecTV HD DVR and a VHS HiFi VCR. I like the Denon receiver because it allows me to control the center channel speaker level and the left-right balance with the remote control. It also does HDMI switching in the standby mode, so I can watch video without running up the power bill. On paper, it is comparable to the Sony STR DA333es I had before. But I don’t think it sounds quite as good as the Sony.  Especially on string and vocal groups.

My living room is 24 feet square, which would be ‘all wrong’ except that it has a full cathedral ceiling.

I have about 800 CDs, including all of the George Wright recordings, many of the Michael Murray recordings and a bunch of other Telarc discs. And lots of bluegrass, traditional jazz, classical and blues. Charlie Musselwhite sounds great on this system. So do Ricky Skaggs, Emmy Lou Harris, and the like. And yes, I have CDs and videos of trains, planes and racecars.  I have VHS tapes and DVDs of many operas.

I have a computer data base for many of these recordings. It includes titles, artists, track listings and some program notes. I have 400 of my favorite CDs in the Sony carousel. I try to listen to one of them each day.

Audio Fraud

I am endlessly amused by the claims made in the audio field. There are ‘experts’ who have gotten wealthy by claiming that they can hear differences in speaker wire or differences between tubes and transistors. Some even claim that vinyl records sound better that digital media. The most outlandish claim is that you can improve the sound of your equipment by upgrading the power cords.

I have played all kinds of music all of my life, and my hearing is still pretty good. I think that CDs sound great and that ordinary lamp cord works quite well for speaker wire. I am thankful that I do not have to listen to vinyl records any more. My receiver sounds better than receivers I had previously. It should, because it has lower distortion specs. In other words, the improved sound correlates with something that can be measured.

Double blind experiments have shown that ‘experts’ cannot tell one kind of speaker wire from another, and they can’t tell much of anything else either. In fact, most of these experts now refuse to take part in double blind experiments because they come out looking like fools. But if you want to spend thousands of dollars on vacuum tube equipment, be my guest. At least your house will be warm.

Some Audio History

I grew up listening to Tom LehrerJohnathan and Darlene EdwardsAnna Russell, Peter SchickeleThe New Lost City RamblersGeorge LewisDoc EvansThe “Real” Dukes of DixielandTurk MurphyLeon BerryVirgil FoxGeorge WrightJohn Prine, etc. To my amazement, much of what I enjoyed as a youngster has been re-released on Compact Disc. I have a couple of Leon Berry CDs (Giant Wurlitzer Pipe Organ, Volumes 1 and 2). I would like to have a CD of the recording he made at the Hub in Chicago. I believe the title was Glockenspiel, Traps, and Plenty of Pipes. One of the tunes was Perfidia. Perhaps the master tapes of this session are gone.

The Australian Broadcasting Company has done a superb job of cleaning up early recordings by Bix Beiderbecke, Jelly Roll Morton, Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith and others. The early Armstrong recordings are especially important because it is easy to forget what an astonishing musician he was if you are only familiar with the end of his life. Listening to them is a humbling experience.

I have other subpages on this web site devoted to the recordings of E.D. Nunn and his Audiophile label.

The Telarc label started out by producing direct-to-disc recordings. However, they soon recognized the advantages of digital recording. They used minimal miking techniques that consistently produced some of the cleanest Compact Discs in the industry. I have many of their releases, and they are delightful. However, since they were bought out by Concord, they are pretty much just another label.

The first digital recordings made in the United States were by Virgil Fox in August, 1977. They were made using a Soundstream recorder on the 6791 pipe Ruffatti organ at Garden Grove Community Church in Garden Grove, California. The material was also recorded direct-to-disk and the original release was in that format. The digital recording was released in 1983 as “The Digital Fox, Volumes I and II” on the Bainbridge label (BCD-8104). This was the last recording session for Fox, who died three years later. The playing is astonishing, nonetheless. Anyone who is interested in the organ or the history of audio should have this Compact Disc. It is available from the Organ Historical Society as CD LL15-313.