Time Keeps On Slipping Into The Future
Article by Steven R. Rochlin
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Here many of us sit and wait.
Should we or should we not get a DVD player, or SACD player... or Technics
DVD-Audio player? Why bother when we all know waiting will bring us cheaper
prices and better gear than being gouged buying first generation products. Of
course it never ceases to amaze me how many people have decided to forget digital
and go back to their roots of musical enjoyment. Namely in buying a new
turntable. There is something which seems to connect the owner to the music more
with a turntable than with digital.
No, i'm not talking about sound quality. What i am discussing
here is the actual physical act it takes to enjoy vinyl versus it's digital
counterpart. Records are larger items requiring a two-handed contact when
putting them on, or taking them off a turntable. Of course then you need to
physically move the tonearm and carefully place the needle into the desired
groove (unless you have the Goldmund automatic T3F tonearm or the likes). Why is
it that the simple act of playing a record seems so, well, right? Maybe this all
harks back to human nature where we all desire some interaction within the
process. Upon writing the rough draft of this article it got me really
thinking of a recent event in my own life. Namely, my watch fetish.
And there is time to kill today
Now let it be said here and now that audiophiles and watch
addicts lead, at times, parallel lives. The highs of the acquisition, the lows
of eventual dissatisfaction, and the eventual trading in and purchasing of
another watch (or worse still, keeping the watch you have and acquiring more).
In this world of the usual battery powered Seiko and $25 no fuss no muss Timex watches
are also hand built manual wind watches whose cost can equal that of most
America's annual income! In fact for those of you who feel audio exotica that
costs $250,000 is expensive, try a few million for a nice pocket watch as seen
Ok, so i went a bit to the extreme with the above multimillion
dollar watch, but isn't this what audio guys do when dreaming about their
While we audio nuts talk about using different tubes and
capacitors and carefully describe the circuitry inside our audio exotica, watch
folks wax lyrically about the specific mechanics inside their fine timepieces
(referred to as the movement). i mean, c'mon folks, it is only a watch. You
know, something that tells you the time. In fact my Swatch collection keeps better
time than some of these fully manual $10,000 time keepers. Ah, but what does
this have to do with audio?
Well, anyone with half a brain must admit that a CD player has
the potential for lower distortion than vinyl. In fact the speed stability of a
$59 CD player, regulated by an internal digital electronic clock mechanism, is more accurate than a
$10,000 turntable made today! So how is any sane person to make sense of all
this? Hmmm... Maybe that is the problem. You see we are trying to analyze all
this using simple logic and that is the crux if the matter. The one most
important part is forgotten. That part is the "human factor". No
matter how much we try to escape it, and no matter where we go, there we are. So
now let us take a look at who is the best and why.
In audio the best of the best gear tend to use certain special
parts which are specifically made by, or for, a manufacture. The same can be
said about time pieces where they even make a distinction between a
"manufacture" and a watch company. A "manufacture" actually
makes their own movement parts. In audio you have people like conrad-johnson who
has specially made signal capacitors, Audio Note and their own capacitors, wires,
etc while some digital to analogue converter companies have their own DSP
algorithms to decode the ones and zeros on our CDs and turn them into music.
One of the most prized manufacturers in the watch industry is Patek Philippe
who are the last watch company who not only builds each and every watch by
hand, but that each part within the watch itself is also made in-house at their
facility in Geneva. In this modern day of one company buying another only to see
a dot com buy everyone else out, Patek Philippe is the last independent watchmaker in Geneva.
That is amazing considering they have been in business since 1839 producing,
arguably, some of the most exquisite timepieces in the world.
Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
Now you would think time keeping technology is complete. Just as
in audio, we effectively have been told the CD is "perfect sound
forever". And here is another parallel in both hobbies. Although the audio
signal is virtually perfect as it runs through it's electrical path, there still
seems to be new innovations. While theoretically the CD's 16-bit/44.1kHz is
"perfect", we now have at hand DVD-Audio with the potential of
24-bit/192kHz. When it comes to watch making, newer more elegant movements and
designs are still garnishing high praise from their perspective community.
Meanwhile we have all new cartridge and turntable designs which are today
receiving critical acclaim from the worldwide press.
What i find truly endearing is that with both hobbies the public
truly values the handcraftsmanship involved. While a Timex or that Seiko can be
made more precisely by some robot in a mass production facility by the hundreds
of thousands, the truly top notch products are made by
well-seasoned craftsmen and artisans one at a time. Each hand assembled unit may seem alike,
yet in anything fully made by a human will have small yet probably measurable
deviances. Maybe a part is a even so slightly to the left or after assembly
the unit runs a little faster than another. The inevitability of being human.
The time is gone
The song is over
Thought I'd something more to say
In the end, regardless of all the above ranting you just read
through, we also must realize the human factor for wanting more... and better.
The desire to strive for something even if it is unobtainable. For it is
sometimes in the chase that brings the most excitement. As Spock once said
"It is sometimes better to want than to have." Once one has what they
have been searching for, does the search really end, or do the stakes
simply get higher? Like audio, watch fanatics seem to mainly be men. Of
course to try and explain that fact would need a totally new
article. Some of my joys in life are in both of these hobbies... and Ferrari
cars. In the end what really matters to me is that you...
Enjoy the music,
Steven R. Rochlin