I’ll confess — I’m a digital kind of guy. Perhaps it’s the ease, or the lingering aftereffects of my day-job, but digital wasn’t really a transition for me. Sure, I “came up” before Napster and all that stuff, and way back when, all that CD meant to me was “better mix tapes”, but by the time I was into audio, digital was a thing. Not a hi-fi thing, but a thing.
All of this is to say that I’m completely bemused by the “resurgence” of analog tape.
‘Resurgence’ is too strong. There is no resurgence. It’s a blip. A rounding error on the long tail of music availability. Analog tape appeals to the same impulses that lead folks to esoteric vacuum tubes, or custom transformers, or vintage loudspeakers. Analog tape is a niche, within a niche, wrapped up in a niche. It’s the very essence of nichy nichiness.
That is not to say that analog tape does not sound fabulous.
Folks like Greg Beron and Charles King are famous (notorious?) for beguiling audio show goers with their “secret tape stash” of “one-off master tapes”. I’ll be frank — I was not a believer, but I have seen the light.
Don’t get me wrong — any media that costs me $250-750 per album is pretty much a non-starter. Sure, there are eBay auctions where folks can get good deals and all that, but the point of it is — it’s not a viable avenue for anyone other than wealthy collectors. My vinyl collection is modest — I’m not exactly sure, but I must have several hundred LPs. My CD collection is 2 orders of magnitude larger, but most of them are ripped, the original silver disc long since abandoned. But with Tidal, I don’t use many discs of any variety. Tidal puts an entire record store at my finger tips.
But there is something about vinyl. The interactiveness of it. I like to think that my love for music predates tech, but my love of listening is rooted in vinyl. With analog, I have to slow down. Stop multi-tasking. Focus. It’s all very Buddhist — I can see that and appreciate that. And analog tape is no different.
But here’s the kicker — if you can get past the whole price-of-the-album thing, and the whole extremely-limited-catalog thing, then tape is amazing. Some of these experiences — great tape on a refurbished deck — have blown my doors off when it comes to expectation of what “good sound” can be. Taken that way, the investment is a couple-grand for the deck, and a couple of grand in albums, and you have yourself a “source” that will rival megabuck vinyl rigs — and by megabuck, I mean imaginary.
So, when Jeff Joseph of Joseph Audio found me on Thursday, pre-show, and stage-whispered that Chad Kessem of Acoustic Sounds had asked if Jeff would like one of Chad’s tape machines and some tapes (Acoustic Sounds is soon going to be selling tapes — more on that soon, I hope) to use at the show, Jeff looked at me with that little-kid-grin and waggled his eyebrows: “So of course I said, ‘Sure, Chad!'”
Jeff was showing off his newish loudspeakers, the Profile ($7,000/pair). Profile differs in many ways from the more-upscale Perspective — both are floorstanders — but the Profile uses different drivers and a different cabinet (all prismatic and angular, like the “baby” Prisms), with a custom Joseph Audio proprietary crossover. While I’m a fan of his Prism, the Profile has a whole other thing going on — with more apparently power, probably due to a deeper reach. To my mind, this is the “steal” of his current line.
Here finished in a matte black, and set up in his usual hotel-room kitty-corner arrangement, Jeff was also showing with Jeff Rowland, with a VPI turntable up top-of-the-rack, and ropes of blue Cardas Clear cabling running throughout.
But the undoubted star of that showing was this clearly vintage Ampex studio tape deck. Playback from this machine sounded warm, and liquid, and rich … with layers upon layers of sound, effortlessly constructing a sonic confection that was indulgent and irresistible.
Listen — if Chad can offer those tapes at less than $200 a piece, he’s gonna make a killing. Off of me. Because I’m buying.
All in all, this room was a total treat. Old meets new meets old (me). Easily one of the best at the show, and one of the best demos that I’ve heard, period.
Very well done.