Saturday, October 13, 2007

Lo-fi hi-fi

We (finally) bought a new, cheap-o preamp for our record player and can now listen to records again! It's been a while and it's been lame. And, if only for the fact that we haven't been able to do so for the last few months, we patched in this little Sansui reverb thing we bought for $20 last year but hadn't used much.

I'm here to tell you: get one. Don't pay more than $20, but get one. It's a magic box.

We tried it out first on an obvious candidate: Robert Gordon.

Robert Gordon played rockabilly in the late 70s, but with none of the echo box eccentricities of Tav Falco or The Cramps to make his records anything other than "genuine." "This music is who he is," the back of the LP jacket reads, and the recording quality is equally honest: despite being a throwback to a time when school PA systems had reverb sends built into them, the production here is clean, restrained and boring. But pass this platter through the RA-700 and it really comes alive! I'm not joking-- hitting the button "off" and "on" gave us with two different records: as originally issued and enjoyable.

Because the RA-700 was built for an undiscerning consumer market in a time when everyone was smoking dope, it doesn't even pretend to improve the sound quality of whatever you pass through it. When engaged, the bass drops off, the midrange distorts and the reverb effect sounds exactly like what it is: a cheap, short-spring Hammond enclosure. Somehow though, and I've been waiting years for this to be true: three wrongs make a right.

Case in point: a record we liked already: "Colossal Youth" by Young Marble Giants

Young Marble Giants played minimalist pop better than anyone, and "Colossal Youth" is what they're remembered for. By design, there are huge open spaces throughout the album, and the "if you can't do it live, don't do put it out" rule is firmly in place-- there isn't a second guitar track to be found on it from start to finish. Someone hit record, the band played and now we have "Colossal Youth." It's from 1980, when "cutting edge" meant cold digital reflections, but aside from spots of that here and there, it has a simple, understated mix (think "Before Hollywood" era Go-Betweens, with less drums).

But sure enough, add in some splashy reverb and it's a better album! Well, not entirely (we pulled the Amount dial back on a few songs), but by and large, it sounds better with RV-700 in the mix. The title track bounces even more with a little slapback and "The Wind in the Rigging" sounds cinematic with the dial turned to full.

Pick up an RV 700 (or RV-500... they're the same, from what I can tell) and try it for yourself! I think you'll like it!

(Question: are there any published mods for these machines?)

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