Dick Pierce Anecdotes

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William K. McFadden

Feb 24, 1992, 1:59:02 PM2/24/92
I have received about 20 responses regarding the Dick Pierce Anecdotes,
so I have decided to post them. They are batched together in this
posting. Enjoy!


Date: 02 Oct 87 19:02:31 GMT
From: r...@teddy.UUCP (Richard D. Pierce)
Subject: The Best of Audio Anecdotes of the <interval>
Organization: GenRad, Inc., Concord, Mass.

As a public service, and in celebration of my upcoming job as Director
of Engineering Research and Development for Precision Loudspeakers, Inc.,
I forthwith resubmit for the edification of the readers of rec.audio, the
best (in my sole judgement, tough if you don't agree) of my Audio Anecdotes
of the interval.

Disclaimer: The stories depicted here are based on real people and real
incidents. Any resemblence to any real people is, in most cases, unfortunate
but true. I simply take no responsibility for the way people are, or aren't,
and press on, regardless.

Audio Anecdote
of the

Today's episode: Fire in the hole!

A letter from one of you out there set my mind a-thinkin, and I
recalled the following incident. The letter, from a Mr. Peter
Christy, went something like:

"Don't know where you spent your youth but remember
some Boston stories. During my college days there got
together with Danny Boynton who owned Audio Lab. He was
wonderful -- he didn't get confused about the issues,
but rather shamelessly sold on the psychological
issues. ... His only redeeming grace was that he sold
top of the line, quality material, and ... sold it to
me at cost so I got a Mac amp and preamp early on."

Well, I was quite familiar with Mr. Boynton and some of his
shenanegans, one of which is most amusing.

Audio Lab was quite fanatic about MacIntosh equipment. Any
criticism of it (and I was more than willing to supply a lot of
criticism!) was treated simply as heresy. The equipment was kept
in a showroom noted more for its reverential hush than its
suitable listening environment.

As expected, less than rational means were used to promote the
equipment. One example that impressed many uninformed buyers was
the EPI 100 loudspeaker kept in the MAC room. The grill cloth was
burned out completely, the speaker cone was mere ash and portions
of the front of the cabinet were charred. This speaker, according
to the Audio Lab legend, was set upon by none other than the
almight MacIntosh 2105 power amp. "So much power," it was told,
"that the speaker literally caught fire!"

This seemed most suspicious to me. I inspected the speaker
casually, and noted with great interest that in spite of all the
apparent damage, the voice coil, the spider and the linen wrap on
the speaker frame were in perfect condition!. It was, at this
point, very apparent that the speaker had been burned, not by the
almighty MacIntosh, but by the lowly Burnz-O-Matic propane torch.

I decided to play a little trick of my own. I challenged Audio
Lab to a bet. I said that I could do the same thing to a
MacIntosh speaker with a mere Japanese receiver. They accepted
willingly. I purposely selected the lowest power receiver around
that also proved to be the most unstable into reactive loads (I
think I finally ended up with a 25 watt Pioneer of some sort. We
hooked it up to the Mac speakers, and I was given the helm.

My game plane was well established. I ran the volume to full
level, selected (purposely) an album of Beethoven String
Quartets, to make the situation even more ludicrous, and, with
the cuing lever down, dropped the stylus onto the middle of the
record at about a 45 degree angle, at a very impolite speed. The
stylus bounced once, and then obligingly scooted across the
record to land on the label.

Well, the first bounce absolutely destroyed the midrange, the
skipping then promptly fried the tweeter with a most satisfying
flash that was visible through the grill cloth! Now, as I had
hoped, this poor little amplifier, clipping up the wazoo, was
staring at a most awful reactive load, as the destruction of the
drivers had now rendered the crossover something else entirely.
The amplifier promptly latched up to the positive supply, dumping
about 30 volts DC into the voice coil of the woofer. The speaker
gave a couple of final squacks, and then was silent. The whole
affair took, maybe, 4 seconds. Then, there was the unmistakeable
odor of burning resins, and but the slightest hint of a curl of
smoke coming through the grill of the speaker.

The staff was absolutely dumfounded. The scene must have been
like that in biblical times, with the mauraders staring in horror
as Goliath lay dead, bleeding by the temples, on the battlefield,
slain by a mere boy. My only comment was, "When in Rome, don't
f*** with the Gladiators."

You see, it was all quite simple. A small receiver, driven into
clipping, can be most unstable, oscillating at high frequencies,
suffering from power supply recovery problems, and so forth. I
had a much better chance of killing the speaker with something
small than with something big.

Needless to say, I was quickly made Audio Lab's official
Persona-non-Grata for Life. And till their dying day, I made sure
that everytime I was in Harvard Square, I was sure to pass by and
wave. By the way, the poor little receiver that couldn't but did
survived unscathed, and ended up in a friend's apartment where,
as far as I know, it remains playing music to this day.

Dick Pierce

Audio Anecdote
of the

Today's episode: Loose lips sink ships..

Back in the mid-70's, there was rumored to be a most amazing
loudspeaker designer working out of the mid-west (Indianapolis)
by the name of Roy Cizek. That he used some novel and
questionable design techniques may be something of an
understatement. For example, his solution to the problem of cone
break-up (which is, essentially, standing wave patterns on the
cone) was to slit the cone with a razor blade. Interesting, if
not somewhat misguided.

Well, one day, Roy Cizek shows up in the Boston area, and starts
haunting our store, listening, asking questions, probing, and so
forth. All in all, not a bad fellow, if not somewhat of a
nuisance. It seems he's decided to design yet another
loudspeaker. "Gee, Roy," we say, "that's nice."

Several months later, we get a call from Roy. How would we like,
he asks, to hear is new loudspeaker? Sure, why not, it's winter
and nobody is coming into the store. Roy says he'll be right
down. Maybe 15 minutes later, in ambles Roy, carrying his
speakers. The first thing I do is rip off the grill cloth and
comment, "But Roy, the cone is in one piece!" Roy was not amused.

We sit down and listen to the speakers. Not bad, not great, but
quite inoffensive. The one obvious drawback is that they have no
bass. Trying to be as diplomatic as possible, we say, "Roy, your
speakers have absolutely no bass." Roy, surprisingly, replies,
"Yeah, I know, I can't quite figure out why. But they are
reasonably efficient." That they were, and that was the obvious
clue as to the problem. It seems that Roy had selected a woofer
that was far to damped electro-magnetically for the enclosure he
had designed. Thus, while the large magnet on the woofer
contributed to a high-effciency, it also meant that the bass was
far too tightly controlled.

To me, the answer was obvious. If you wanted bass, and you have
decided that you want a speaker of such and such a size using
such and such a woofer, you got a choice, either low efficiency
and bass, or efficiency and little bass. Opting for the former,
my choice would have been to save money and order the woofer with
a smaller magnet. Roy would hear none of that, however. No, he
wanted a big magnet to properly control the woofer, which was
exactly his problem.

The discussion went on and on, Roy not wanting to hear anything
about efficiency/bandwidth/power-handling trade-offs. Finally, in
frustration, I said, "Well, Roy, why don't you just stick an 8
Ohm, 50 watt resistor in series with the whole damn speaker.
That'll give you some bass!" Feeling even more bold, I said, "In
fact, why don't you put a big switch in there, and convince
customers they have a "Q" switch?" Well, everybody laughed, even
Roy, just a little bit, though, and we closed up and went home.

A year or so later, I was working at another store when in
marches the sales rep for Cizek Loudspeakers. The speakers looked
the same and, of course, had no bass. When that objection was
raised, the rep said, "No problem, Cizek has developed this
revolutionary new method for increasing bass response. They have
added a "Q" control switch." He promptly threw the toggle switch
on the back of the enclosure, and, obligingly, the efficiency
dropped in half and the bass came back! I turned to the rep and
the store manager and said, "I'll bet you $1000 that that switch
is connected to an 8 ohm, 50 watt resistor." They looked at me
incredulously. I just said to check it out.

About half an hour later, the manager and the rep came running
into my lab yelling "DICK! DICK! Look! You were right!" Sure
enough, Roy had taken any advantage that his big magnet had and
thrown it out the window with a big resistor. I figured at the
time the retail price of the speaker could easily have been
reduced by $100 a pair by not having the resistor and having the
right sized magnet to begin with.

And the speaker, in the "High-Q" position was not a bad
loudspeaker, not a great one, but quite inoffensive. Although, it
did have reasonable bass.

Dick Pierce

PS: Extra credit question: What is so ridiculous about the
advertising propoganda from Cizek having a picture of Roy Cizek
staring intently at a B&K real-time spectrum analyzer?

Audio Anecdote
of the

Today's episode: How to hit a moving target by shooting yourself
in the foot.

A decade past, I worked for a brief period for the great
consortium of companies known as Harmon International. Included
in this collection of companies was, of course, Harmon-Kardon, as
well as JBL, Ortofon, and Tannoy (Remember- Tannoy without the
"T" spells "annoy"!)

I was fortunate (?) to visit the JBL facilities in and around Los
Angeles, and there gave witness to some of the most incredible
things I have ever seen.

First, who is the largest producer of electric fog-horns for use
in marine navigation, such as lighthouses? Why, JBL, of course.
They took over that title when the Wurlitzer Organ company gave
up the ghost.

I was given the 50 cent tour of the factory. First, to the
cabinetry department. Here is a model of reasonably efficient,
good-quality high volume cabinetmaking. Panels are cut to size
and routed using appropriate jigs. Glue is then spread on the
joints and the cabinet is assembled and held together using
gigantic rubber bands. The whole affair is popped into the
woodworking equivalent of a microwave oven (actually, an MHF RF
heater) and the glue is "cooked" for about 5 minutes, after
which, the cabinet is ready for finishing. So far, so good. The
cabinet are inspected for any damage, and bad units rejected. So
far, about $25 has been invested in a cabinet for something like
a JBL L-100. Now the fun begins. The rejected cabinets, rather
than being tossed away, are shuttled over to a room occupied by a
bevy of middle-European craftsmen, who take the cabinets, sand
off the veneer, and glue on a whole new veneer skin. This takes
several hours per cabinet, and, as I later calculated, costs
about $100 per repaired cabinet. Now, given a reject rate of
about 20%, this means that it costs nearly $40 per cabinet when
you spread the cost of repairs over the entire production run!
Now you know why JBL products can be so expensive!

By far the most shoking discovery was the "quality control"
department for drivers. At first glance, it seemed
straightforward enough. A Hewlett-Packard dual-channel audio
spectrum analyzer was used. The driver was placed in a test
chamber, and a sweep signal applied. This was read into one
channel of the analyzer, and compared to the response of a
"reference" driver stored in the other channel. Any response
falling outside certain pre-established limits causes the driver
to be rejected. Ok, so what's the beef here? Sure, you might
argue, such a sweep signal cannot possibly measure all
performance aspects of a driver. Well, you're probably right.
What about distortion, you might ask? Yup, ain't measured. But
the problem with JBL's technique is that the reference driver
used is the first driver off the production line that day.

Travel with me now, as we recall that fateful day, 10 years ago:

ME: So you use the first driver off the line as your
standard, eh?

THEM: Yep!

ME: Why?

THEM: That way, we don't have the problem of having a
reference that ages and changes with time!

ME: Aha. Do you measure that first driver and compare
IT to anything.

THEM: (very innocently), Why, no, of course.

ME: Of course (short pause) What, uh, happens if that
first driver is a piece of unmittigated s**t?

THEM: Why, of course, then that means that, uh,
(pause), well, ... uhm (pause), see, it's not what you
think because we, uh, (pause) well, (very, very long
pause), uh... (total silence for a long time).

ME: Thank you, gentlemen, you've answered my questions
to my satisfaction.

We then proceeded to get a half-dozen drivers out of stock, each
with a different date code, and measure them. Surprise, surprise,
no two were the same, in fact, they weren't even close. As this
had been going on for several YEARS, needless to say, there was
much weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth.

One of the other things I witnessed was the unveiling of the
prototype JBL state-of-the-art monitor loudspeaker (something
like the L-600). It had and 18 inch sub-sub-something and a 15
inch sub-hoochy and a 10 inch mid-sub dingo and a 8 inch mid-
dingy and a horn-horn here and a horn-horn there, here a ring-
radiator, there a diffusion lens, everywhere a driver. It was, I
think I can state unequivocably, the very worst loudspeaker, bar
none, I have ever heard.

I resigned my position at Harmon International the next day.

Dick Pierce

Audio Anecdote
of the

Today's Episode: The Emperor's New Pre-amp

The recent discussion on the net about what's wrong with 741's in
audio components reminded me of the time when rationality was
secondary in audio, it was all hype and personality that counted
(what?, you mean it's still true? people still think skin effect
is really important for speaker cables? ARRRGGGHHH!).

During the latter days of my tenure (incarceration?) in the audio
business there arose a voice, seemingly out of the desert. One
Andrew S. Rappaport claimed to have the bestest mostest pre-ampo
that was possible. This was in the days of the Levinson JC-2 and
the like (subject for yet another article).

Andy's pre-amp was another of the featureless, simple designs.
Opening it up revealed the standard black epoxy brick, albeit
somewhat amaturishly executed. Sure, the volume control was real
noisy, and the switches popped, but positively everyone thought
it was the best thing since sex. Some of the off-the-wall audio
magazines nearly choked themselves on praise. They talked about
transparency and depth and resolution and image stability and
detail and smoothness and... and... and the new wunderkind of
audio, Andrew S. Rappaport, could do no wrong. My impressions
were somewhat different. The unit sounded hard, muffled,
indistinct and severely compressed.

At the time, I ran the repair department in a high-end store. The
department was only loosely connected business-wise to the store,
and therefore I felt no compunction to ascribe to the opinions of
the store owner. (If I had felt any, rest assured I would have
quickly dashed them upon the rocks of sanity). The owner revered
Andy as a new diety, even toyed with inviting him up to inspect
the store, but knew that Mr. Rappaport would be far to busy
working more audio miracles, and would not have the time to
mingle with the faithful. I suggested that if the invitation were
extended, Andy would be there within the week, as no one in their
right mind would turn down a free meal. I was wrong. He arrived
within 2 hours of the invitation!

Andrew S. Rappaport turned out to be an abrasive, snot-nosed,
second-rate engineering school dropout. In my worst moments, I
have stated that I forget more about audio going to the bathroom
than some people ever knew. Well, I am afraid that Andy was truly
one of those people. He suffered from more totally unfounded
opinions than anyone I have met, before or since. He made
statements like, "Quad ELS's are ok, except for the fact that the
box is built in such a way as to make them boom a lot." When we
pointed out that Quads were wide-range electrostatics that didn't
even have a box, his reply was something technical like, "You

Well, enough of this, said I. We decided to take a look at his
preamp in more detail. We took the demo unit off the shelf,
headed into the basement, and proceeded to chisel the bricks

After an hour of sculpting, what should be presented to our eyes
but nothing more than a Motorola edition of a uA 741, with a
slightly modified version of the RIAA phono preamp taken out of
the National Semiconductor Audio Applications guide. The slight
modification was most bizarre, however. The overall gain had
been upped by about 10 db or so, and the final 50 uSec pole had
been eliminated. Why? Because Andy had decided that since the
open loop gain of the device was dropping anyway, why bother with
another pole in the feedback network? To compensate for the
increased gain, there was a simple 10 db attenuator on the

Measuring this jewel was most amusing. Static figures were OK,
except for pretty severe errors in the high end frequency
response. The transient characteristics were perfectly dismal.
Pre-equalized square waves of typical values often caused the
circuit to latch up, sending 12 volts to the output for 10's of
milliseconds at a time! The noise was truly dreadful, a full
order of magnitude worse than under $200 receivers. Distortion
was OK (not great) below about 3 Khz, but managed to reach as
high as 10% at 10 Khz. IM was unimaginably bad.

Well, I don't think anyone has heard of Andrew S. Rappaport in
recent years (although I suspect I will! :-), but the circus
keeps on playing to eager audiences.

Ah, well...

Dick Pierce

Audio Anecdote
of the

Today's episode: Hey, I only wanted to charge you less!

About 12 years ago I ran what became a very well-respected repair
department specializing in state-of-the-art components. I became
known as one of the few Revox wizards that not only did great
work, but did it in less than 10 years. I had a very impressive
array of equipment and documentation, equalled by almost no other
repair agency, and exceeding most manufacturers, as well.

Another store in the area (the Music Box, in Wellesley) had a
similar reputation. They had one thing I did not: a legend. One
of the sources of their legend was the alignment work they did on
the venerable and awesome Marantz 10B tuner.

The Marantz 10B was a tube-based tuner that boasted some very
impressive specifications. It had near-infinite alternate-channel
selectivity, adjacent channel rejection that bettered most other
tuner's alternate channel specs. Its image rejection was
phenomenal. Its audio distortions were remarkably low. And it had
an oscilloscope for a tuning meter (actually a usefull thing in
those days). What it had as a disadvantage was tubes.

The tuner did need its periodic alignment. For this the Music Box
was legend. The standard price for 10B alignment and setup was
$250. My God, everyone said, this must be the best alignment
around! My God, I thought, what could possibly cost that much?

Well, the inevitable happened, someone brought a Marantz 10B into
my shop for alignment. There it was, on my bench. A true diety of
audio, and I had to work on it. Was I worthy? Was I able?

I happened to have a 10B service manual, so I sat down to study
it. Wait a minute, I thought, this can't be a 10B service manual,
it's too simple and straightforward. There's no magic. The only
thing different is that they require you to align the IF section
for minimum group delay and frequency dispersion. So what?

Well, this first job took an hour or so. When I was all done, the
tuner met or exceeded every spec. I was most pleased. Hooking it
up, it sounded wonderful. In the middle of Boston, no multi-path
problems, no birdies.

The gentleman came to pick up his tuner. Out of his pocket he
pulled a wad of $20 bills. "That'll be $45.", I said. "WHAT!", he
exclaimed. I calmly explained to him that it took me an hour and
a half, and my going rate was $30 and hour. He reluctantly forked
over $45, took his tuner, and immediately marched over to the
Music Box, and had them align it for $250! He then brought it
back to me two weeks later and told me to measure how much better
it was. It measured exactly the same. He left with his tuner
under his arm and his nose quite high in the air.

Well, it occured to me there that I had severely UNDERcharged
him. The next time someone brought a 10B in, it took me 20
minutes, and I tried charging $75 dollars. The customers comments
were, "Well, your not as expensive as the Music Box is, but I
guess you get what you pay for." He left, moderately happy.

Well, shit, I thought. Why not try playing the game as others do.
The next time someone brought in a 10B, I took 20 minutes to
align it, and tried charging $225. The customer was in seventh
audio heaven. Finally, he said, someone who can do as good a job
as the Music Box, and charges less to boot!

There use to be a local radio program on HiFi in Boston. The next
program, this guy calls in and can't say enough good things about
me. Says I do the best 10B alignment in the world, and I also
charge honest prices. Next thing I know, I have more people
beating my door down trying to get me to align 10Bs than I know
what to do with.

I later met the service man at the Music Box on neutral
territory, and compared notes. It turns out that he took the same
time I did, he did the same things I did, and he encountered the
same response I did. "Why charge $250 to do such a simple job?",
I asked. His reply was most simple, "Because people refuse to pay

Here we have, to me, a moral dilemna: I do a $30 job on a piece
of equipment, charge $30, and people are not happy. I do the same
$30 job, charge $225, and people are ecstatic. I did the best job
possible, but in my mind, it was not worth $225.

Is my job to make people happy, or to charge them fair prices? An
interesting source of debate material, indeed.

Dick Pierce

Audio Anecdote
of the

Today's episode: Chrome-Dome and The Use of Loudspeakers as
Offensive Weapons

The main character in our story here was a young (high-school)
kid subsequently dubbed "Chrome-dome". Here is his (our) story:

Way back when, shortly after I and several others had started a
high-end hi-fi store in Boston, we were selling, amongst other
things, the then completely new Yamaha electronics line and
Celestion speakers. For those who may not be familiar with them,
Celestion, at that time, made a line of speakers that combined
reasonable accuracy with high efficiency and remarkable power
handling. The top of the line speaker, the Ditton 66, consisted
of a 12 inch woofer/passive radiator bass system, a phenominal 2"
dome midrange that would handle untold power, and a very wide
band uncollored 1" dome tweeter.

One day, this kid walks in, carrying a copy of Pink Floydd's
"Dark Side of the Moon". Seems he's looking for a killer hi-fi
system. He had been sold on JBL speakers and Phase Linear amps
and Crown preamps at another store. His budget, unfortunately,
was about 40% shy. We suggested he listen to a system comprised
of the Celestion 66's and a Yamaha CA-1000 integrated amp. The
combination (once he got done with turntable, et al) was within
his budget, the only remaining task was to convince him that the
system met his needs.

He handed us his record, and we said we already had a new copy.
"No," he said, "I don't trust stores' records, they're usually
awful." OK, we say, we'll play yours. To this person, record care
was something you did with stuff you scrape of your sneakers and
apply with 40 grit sandpaper! He agreed that his record was "a
bit worn", but that was done by another store. We put our copy
on, and he was happy.

While it was playing (fairly loud), he asked that it be turned
up. Up it went. Not loud enough for him, he wanted it even
louder. At this point the level was approaching painful, but
there was plenty of reserve left in the Yamaha, so we didn't care
much. It was far louder than we had ever listened to things, but
we were amazed at how the speakers were managing to handle
things, and they showed no signs of distress. Louder and louder,
he wanted things.

He was not convinced until the strangest thing happened. The
Celestion speakers were sitting on a couple of short pieces of
2x4's because, sitting directly on the floor, the bass could
sometime be overwhelming. The 2x4's seemed to cure the problem.
Well, whoever had set up the speakers didn't have them seated
squarely, and, during a particularily loud passage, the left
speaker slipped of one of the 2x4's, and, rocking on the verge of
total imbalance, proceeded to walk forward about a foot or so!

Well, this kid was impressed beyond recovery. At that point, he
took out his and paid us for the system, cash! This despite our
repeated attempts to convince him that the speaker had merely
slipped, and wass not walking under its own bass prowess!

He took the system home, and immediately called us up to tell us
how wonderfull the system was.

For several weeks we heard nothing. In the interim, it seems his
father had gotten sick and tired of his hippy kid playing that
rock music at deafening levels. So he grapped our hero, dragged
him to a barber shop, and had his hair cut. This kid ended up
with a crew cut the of which there has never been any whicher,
before or since. I doubt there existed a single folicle exceeding
1/16"! At his next visit, we didn't even recognize him. He said
of his fate, "Well, I guess you guys can call me Chrome-dome!"
The name, of course, immediately stuck fast.

This visit of his was not all that humorous. It seems that the
speakers didn't sound as clear as they once did. A quick listen
revealed the problem: the tweeters were very thoroughly fried. We
replaced them no charge, and advised him that he should excersize
some caution. He went away happy, while we tried to figure out
how he had managed to fry two tweeters.

A week later, our friend was back. Same problem. New tweeters
were installed. This time, he was required to pay for them,
since the problem seemd not with the equipment. At $36 a crack,
this was to become an expensive lesson to learn. The next day,
he was back again. This time he brought his amp along. I checked
it out, just to make sure that it was not unstable or oscillating
or anything like that. Well, we had warned him, and told him to
get his $72 ready. I retired to the lab to replace the tweeters.

WHen new units had been installed, I tested the speakers. There
was no high frequencies still, and the midrange sounded truly
strange!. I quick checked the feed to the tweeters and found
nothing. So, out came the woofer, and all the damping, and there
was the crossover before me, or what remained of the crossover.
Both high frequency pass capacitors were gone. Simply not there
anymore, quite totally in absentia. One of the midrange caps
looked more like a sausage than an electronic component. There
was the unmistakable odor of burnt plastic, and the rear wall of
the enclosure looked like it had been hit by shrapnel. And there
was a lot of paper and aluminum confetti just floating about!

Well, Chrome-dome was put on the hotseat. "What happened?", we
drilled. After a few minutes of questioning, he revealed that he
like to play his harmonica along with whatever music was playing.
And, conveniently, the Yamaha amp had a nice microphone jack on
the front panel. Well, visions of infinite feedback squeal danced
in our heads. Sure, I thought, that might be enough abuse to send
an amp so far into clipping that it might destroy some tweeters.

He even agreed to demonstrate. We, instead, suggested that we
show him how, if he really had to do it, how it should be done.
He hauled out his microphone, and we plugged it in, and carefully
turned it up until it was at the level he wnted it at. The volume
control was at about 2/3 full. He said, "No, that's not how I do
it." At which point, he removed his microphone, turned the volume
all the way up, and proceeded to slam the microphone plug back
into the jack. There was, of course, a deafening "KABOOM",
accompinied by a very sharp but muffled "CRACK". Simultaneous to
this was the unmistakeable ring-like flash of light acround the
periphery of the tweeter domes, signalling that the tweeters in
our floor models had gone to join their compatriots in some
direct-radiator nirvahna. A few seconds later, we detected the
strong odor of burning plastic, tempered by a slight acid smell.
Our floor models were destroyed! The capacitors had been blown
apart, in one case fracturing the crossover PC board!

And there, next to the Yamaha, which had shut down in protest,
was Chrome-dome, smiling his toothy grin, saying, "Wasn't that

Dick Pierce

Audio Anecdote
of the

Todays episode: Truth

Ok, gang, In honor of the new year, I have decided to do a
special issue. Over the years, I have formulated several laws of
acoustics, based on empirical evidence gathered in the business.
So, without further adieu, I give you "Dick Pierce's Laws of
Acoustics" (formerly "Suffolk Audio's Laws of Acoustics").

Dick Pierce's
Laws Of Acoustics

First Law:

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

Second Law:

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

Third Law:

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

Fourth Law:

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

Fifth Law:

Accuracy of reproduction is determined by how
well a sound system models someones warped
set of pre-conceived notions.

Sixth Law:

In audio, as elsewhere, fool-proof systems
prove the existance of fools.

Seventh Law:

The size of a woofer is determined not by
desired low-frequency response, but by
perceived sexual dysfunction. After all, it's
not the mass, it's the motion.

Eighth Law:

Price buys not performance but paranoia.

Ninth Law:

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

Tenth Law:

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

Eleventh Law:

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 non-linear passive
crossover network loading can lead to a
significant decrease in system resolution
lost. However, this all means jack shit when
you listen to Pink Floydd.

Twelfth Law:

All small state-of-the-art audio
manufacturers are really manifestations of
Phinias T. Barnum.

Last Law:

The audio business is no place for reasonable
people to make a living.

Respectfully, (-:

Dick Pierce

PS: The "last law" seems not quite as funny now as it did when I wrote
it 2 years ago!!

of the

Today's Episode: Crank, Charlatan and Dilettante (a Famous Design

First, a glossary:

char-la-tan n [It., lit. inhabitant of Cerreto] 1: QUACK <~s
killing their patients with empirical knowledge> 2: one mak-
ing usu. noisy or showy pretenses to knowledge or ability :

crank n [ME cranke] ... (2) c: an eccentric person; also:
one that is overly enthusiastic about a particular subject
or activity d: a bad tempered person: GROUCH

dil-et-tante n [It. fr. prp. of dilettare to delight] ... 2:
a person having superficial interest in art or a branch of

During my public involvement (do I really mean to say penance?)
in the consumer audio field, I came across more than my share of self
appointed experts; people who knew more than anybody. They usually got
that way by one of two routes: first, they knew more than anybody sim-
ply because of their own estimation of the tremendous bulk of
knowledge they had acquired (actually made up themselves), or second,
even if they didn't know much of anything, everybody else was simply
too stupid to keep up with them.

Our store was located for a time between Harvard Square and MIT
in Camdridge, MA. For those not familiar with the area, Bostonians
consider their town to be the hub of the universe, an arguably paro-
chial view at best. The crazies, the obnoxious and the professionally
wierd consider the territory we unwittingly occupied to be the hub of
their universe, unfortunately.

Saturday was show and tell day. This is when all the freshman
EE's from MIT came in waving their Maxwell's equations and bandying
their calculators about like so many highly-polished sponge-rubber
sabers. They came in droves to show us how much they knew and tell us
how stupid we were. There were many other stores in the area, but,
given that we had established ourselves as the most knowledgeable
audio store around, we were especially vulnerable to, as it turns out,
these kamikaze attacks.

Let me present to you a typical conversation that might have hap-
pened. Let me further embellish the tale by showing you how we would
respond and how a salesman at another, less expert store might
respond. Note that I see a valid case for both approaches:

Our approach:
"May I help you?"

Other approach:
"May I help you?"

MIT student:
"Those speakers can't possibly work the way you claim them they

Our approach:
"Well, are you contemplating purchasing a pair, or some alterna-

Other approach:
"Well, are you contemplating purchasing a pair, or some alterna-

MIT student:
"Look, I go to MIT, and I know so much more than you do, it's

Our approach:
"Well, if you have some information you would like to share with
us, and someone has a moment, OK."

Other approach:
"Get out of here before I call the police!"

MIT Student:
"Yeah, that's just typical for some stupid salesman to say some-
thing like that."

It is important to note that at this point, no matter what was
said to the guy, there seemed to always be a fixed set of responses.
We could even sometimes say the guy's lines right along with him. I
have always wondered if one of the EE fraternities brainwashed fresh-
men and sent them out on these hi-fi suicide missions. But, back to
our movie:

Our Approach:
"Well, I don't recall making any claims to you about how those
did or did not work. And, by the way, those aren't speakers,
they're a pair of broken dehumidifiers, so maybe you might want
to direct your attention to our showroom, where you might find
something more interesting."

Other Approach:
"Where's the damn phone? I'm tired of these nuts!"

MIT Student:
"AHA! See, you've already proved my point!"

Now, there are some mumblings while, in our store, the MIT stu-
dent looks over our line of speakers like someone casually and indif-
ferently chosing some lamb chops, while we flip a coin to see who is
going to have to deal with this nerd. In the other store, the MIT
student looks over their line of speakers like someone casually and
indifferently chosing some lamb chops, while someone is trying to get
911 to answer and the others are flipping coins trying to decide who
is going to have to throw this nerd out.

Our Approach:
"Is there something that you might like to listen to?"

Other Approach:
"Is there something that you might like to say before we finally
boot your tail out?"

MIT Student:
"I want to listen to the frazemblat gegaugger 3's."

Our Approach:
"We don't carry those, try something else."

Other Approach:
"We don't carry those, go play in traffic."

Now, the MIT student unleashes his most powerful weapon, fully
expecting us to reel back in abject fear of being smitten by the audio

MIT Student:
"I am taking an acoustics class with Dr. Amar Bose."

Our Approach:
"So what?"

Other Approach:
"So what?"

MIT Student:
"Well, he said ... blah blah ... and then when it comes to the
low end ... blah blah ... and of course, anyone who is not a
complete fool would realize that Maxwells equations for charges
moving in a constant frobenser states that the conditions of zero
source resistance at absolute zero then, but always
... blah blah ..."

This goes on for some ten minutes, complete with seemingly uncon-
trolled hand-waving and scribbling of very cryptic equations on scrap
sheets of papers that might have once been a set of class notes or
behaviour rules for the halls or the cardboard back from a package of
twinkies. After his little speech, our invader stands there exhausted,
dripping in sweat, barely able to shape his face into the smug grin
that is the hallmark of self-appointed audio experts everywhere.

Now, it is our turn.

Our Approach:
"Well, what you've said is most interesting and entertaining how-
ever, I would like to point out a few small technical flaws in
your assertions. Take for example the point where you were talk-
ing about the interaction of a second-order mechanical resonance
and the reduction in radiation resistance below the point where
the wavelength being produced is comparable to the diaphragm
size. If your assertion there is true, then ...."

At this point, it is so trivially easy to find some gross error
in his little equations. Going through his same derivation, only mak-
ing sure that you carry and borrow correctly:

"... it seems that, by your own equations, that 1 equals 5. Now
that seems to be just a might impossible to me. Does it seem a
might impossible to you, too?"

MIT Student:

The Other Approach is structurally similar, differing only in

Other Approach:
"Well, what you've said is most interesting and entertaining,
however I would like to point out that you have shit for brains.
Did I just see a Cambridge Police cruiser?"

MIT Student:

This would happen every Saturday, rain or shine (it would seem,
though, that the worse the weather, the more of these kind would show

The other kind of self-appointed expert was often a professional
of some sort or another, often in his 50's, and usually dripping in
affluence. These encounters went something like:

Our Approach:
"May I help you?"

Other Approach:
"May I help you?"

"I'm here to buy a system and let me tell you that I've been dab-
bling in hi-fi, even with two speakers, mind you, for well over
(10, 25, 50, 12,000) years now!"

Other Approach:
"Well, I guess it takes some people a lot longer than others!"

Our Approach:
"Well, I guess it takes some people a lot longer than others!"

The guy wants to buy something like a huge pile of Macintosh
equipment or a BeoCenter, but invariably ends up buying the cheapest
receiver, turntable and speakers possible, claiming, "It's really for
my son who's studying engineering at MIT, you know." Damn, that MIT
nerd has a family!

I had several occasions to give talks before audio organizations
such as the Boston Audio Society. In one lecture, way back in '74 or
thereabouts, I and one of my partners gave a talk on the incompatabil-
ity of otherwise high-quality components. This one one of the first
times that this issue was addressed in the detail that we talked
about. The talk had two basic areas: first, the interaction of phono
cartridges, turntables and tone arms and second, the sometimes
surprising interactions between electronic components. We were able to
demonstrate that an otherwise fine high-compliance cartridge, when
placed in an otherwise fine high-mass tone arm, led to absolutely
dismal results.

On the second topic, I was able to show that to otherwise reason-
able components, a preamp and a power amp, together made for a very
unstable combination. The preamp showed an otherwise normal 2nd order
Butterworth rolloff at about 85 Khz, while the power amp showed simi-
lar characteristics, only at about 40 Khz. The combination showed all
sorts of bizarre ripples in the response, along with the associated
phase and group delay problems, and the whole mess was on the verge of
breaking into uncontrolled oscillations. I made the remark, "It's
almost as if we had somehow managed to synthesize a poorly aligned 4th
order Chebychev filter, but...". Before I could say that this might be
due to instability because of incompatible grounding, one Mark Davis
(later of Davis-Brinton preamp fame) literally flew out of his seat,
waving his hands uncontrollably, shouting, "There is no way in the
universe that cascading two 2nd order Butterworth filters can produce
a Chebychev response, because ... blah blah blah blah ... and any fool
knows that ... blah blah ... and if you think that ... blah blah ...
then you are, of course, stupid!" My partner leans over and whispers,
"Ten bucks says he goes to MIT."

After Mark was all done, sitting in his chair panting and sweat-
ing, barely able to wear the smug grin that is the hallmark of self-
proclaimed audio experts everywhere, I said, "But Mark, I never said
that. If you had been kind enough to let me finish, I was going to say
that any fool knows that without something else going on, you can't
get a 4th order Chebechev from two 2nd order Butterworth filters. I
was going to say that there appeared to be a strange feedback loop
going through the isolated grounds of the preamp-power amp cables."
Mark's response was, "Well, if you had said that, you would have been
wrong." I said, "But I didn't say that." Mark replied, "Well, your
damn lucky you didn't!"

I felt like replying, "Get out of here before I call the police."

Dick Pierce

Bill McFadden Tektronix, Inc. P.O. Box 500 MS 58-639 Beaverton, OR 97077
bi...@tv.tv.tek.com, ...!tektronix!soul!bill Phone: (503) 627-6920
"How can I prove I am not crazy to people who are?"

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