Small Treasures

I recently spent a weekend cleaning up my home office, the retreat where I write much of my deathless prose. I hadn't rummaged through some of my files for several years, but had to make room for the piles of new stuff that have managed to build up to the point where I couldn't find things. This sorting process invariably takes longer than you plan, as you find things that require instant action (as they did two years ago) and others that demand to be re-read and enjoyed again.

OK, so I'm bad at throwing things out. I found tax records older than some IRS trainees. But buried in the mess I found some long-forgotten gems. One of them was a small collection of audio-related cartoons drawn by the late Charles Rodriguez, who livened up the pages of Stereo Review (now Sound and Vision) from its founding until he retired in the 1980s (I believe—I don't have the exact date). I scanned the best one, above, which I suspect may date from as far back as the 1960s. The presence of an older salesman and the fact that salesman and customer are wearing suits and ties is something of a giveaway, given the rarity of both today.

Rodriguez published a book of these cartoons in the 1980s called Total Harmonic Distortion, but it appears to be out of print. I saw one listed as a collectable on Amazon for $80! A search of your local library may be more productive—and cheaper.

This segues nicely to another discovery: an obviously tongue-in-cheek summary of the "Laws of Acoustics." I'd credit it (it's not my work) but unfortunately the single sheet I have lists neither source nor author.

Laws of Acoustics

Any idiot can design a loudspeaker and, unfortunately, many do.

You can say anything you want, who's to prove you wrong?

The right amount of magnet is the right amount of magnet.

The only transient of significance in the audio business is tranquility. It is also the briefest.

Accuracy of reproduction is determined by how well a sound system models someone's warped set of preconceived notions.

In audio, as elsewhere, foolproof systems prove the existence of fools.

Price buys not performance but paranoia.

The most outspoken experts on concert hall sonic reality have seldom, if ever, been to a concert.

The more money spent on an audiophile system, the less time spent listening to music.

And my favorite: In a minimum phase system there is an inextricable link between frequency response, phase response, and transient response, as they are all merely transforms of one another. This, combined with minimalization of open-loop errors in output amplifiers and correct compensation for nonlinear passive crossover network loading, can lead to a significant decrease in system resolution lost. However, this all means nothing when you listen to Pink Floyd.

The author concludes with a Final Truth: The audio business is no place for reasonable people to make a living.

I'm certain that someone here will recognize this list and chime in that there were two more "Truths" on it. True enough. One was something creepy about low frequency response and perceived sexual dysfunction. Clearly R-rated. The other conflated small audio manufacturers with Phineas T. Barnum. The writer obviously did not subscribe to the axiom that cables and amps don't all sound the same!

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