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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fred's picture

too bad about rodriguez. he was the best!

Steve's picture

I remember his cartoons from the old 70s Lampoon mag. I'll have to dig in my basement for those. -- Thomas, I had a question about digital TV if you don't mind my asking here. Scott Wilkinson (on Leo's TechGuy show) mentioned that you live in a remote area and had to install a high antenna in order to receive digital tv. I only marginally pick up a few standard channels with an antenna now and wonder if the digital signal will be weaker when everything changes over next year. Do you know - or recommend an inexpensive antenna if that will be the case? Also, will it be possible to split a digital tuner signal to multiple TVs in the house? or would I truly need a box for every tv? I'm still searching for a portable unit for my van tv. You can reply to cartoons at netzero dot net. Thanks!

Tom Norton's picture

Scott hasn't looked closely at my antenna in a while. It isn't that high--perhaps 10 feet or so above the garage, but it uses a booster and was carefully aimed with the help of former UAV contributer Peter Putman. Interestingly, It's no help at all with analog stations, but does pick up several HD digital ones?just the opposite of what you would expect. But I haven't used it in a couple of years. My local cable company now carries more HD stations than the antenna can pick up, and fortunately most are of very high quality. Your best bet for an antenna is a good UHF model with a powered booster (I used a Channel Master; the amp is mounted to the mast and is powered through the antennal cable from the power supply located in the house near the set). As to the relative weakness of digital stations, that will depend entirely on local conditions. Once you've decoded the signal in an outboard digital tuner, you can use an HDMI or component splitter to feed different sets--with

Tom Norton's picture

As I was saying when I was rudely interrupted by the character counter, if you want to receive different digital stations on different digital sets, you'll need an RF signal splitter and a separate digital tuner (or converter box if the set it analog) for each set. These might include the tuners built into one or more of the sets. But passive splitters also split the energy of the signal, reducing the strength on each leg. Whether or not all the tuners/sets will receive enough signal strength to lock onto a station will, again, vary with the strength of the reception, but this time with the splitter, the RF wiring in your house, and the sensitivity of each tuner thrown into the mix. Enough variables, in fact, to make this a job for SuperInstaller, who will need sophisticated equipment to check signal strength and recommend appropriate boosters, etc.

Paul Matwiy's picture

Not to quibble with Tom's selection of the best Rodriguez audio cartoon, but my all time favorite was one where two men were listening to an analog tape recorder system. A sour faced woman was off to the side. The caption was (to paraphrase), "No, that's not tape hiss. Emma hates Bartok." And we did post the classic one (at a former audio store) of a repair manager cleaning out a customer's ears with a Q-tip.

D G Weiss's picture

...and Recoton head cleaning fluid.

John Gannon's picture

Just caught this...always late to the game, I'd guess...but MY all-time favorite Rodriquez was a couple of hifi salesmen outside their store, in front of a huge sign reading something like "Hear the X-1, the World's Greatest Loudspeaker" they threw every other speaker to the curb in a pile for the trash pickup. Cheers!

Rodriquez's picture

When the Rodriquez book came out, my procrastination was enough to not purchase it, and by the time I was ready to buy, the book had ceased publication. Thanks to patience, one mint copy finally appeared on eBay, and I bid a huge amount to guarantee it would be mine. Fortunately, no one else bid (their loss) and I have it on my "treasured books" shelf. Every cartoon was worth the price of admission.

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