London Office lOa Soho Square
GRAMOPHONE Incorporating VOX, THE RADIO CRITIC and BROADCAST REVIEW
COMPTON MACKEN'ZIE and CHRISTOPHER STONE
Telephon. Gerrard 2136. 2137
Telecrams Parmaxto, Rath. London
Am pi ification
FIRST of all for this indignant letter about ampli.. fication. Mr. C. P. Widdowes writes:
" Of the many absurdities that fill the pages of THE GRAMOPHONE, I really think the obsession about over-amplification is about the worst.
" As a matter of real fact the softer parts of recording are all under-amplified, giving the effect of listening in the next room, with the door closed.
"There are technical reasons-of which you are apparently unaware-why, unless music is fully recorded and fully reproduced, we hear only just about half of it.
" However, I am not concerned with your particular ta stes, and I do not suppose . anyone takes much notice of the critics, but what I am anxious to know -and to me i t is a great mystery-is why, if this annoys your reviewers, they do not have instruments provided with volume controls? I have always been under the impression that all electric sets had them: if on the other hand they use acoustic machines, there are needles giving the very softest effects for those who like their music inaudible.
"Being a lover of music (not thank Heaven a , musician ') I like to hear all there is in my music, and the only way to avoid all the distracting extraneous noises is to have sufficient tone in th e record to cover them .
"Some people, like myself, want to reproduce in a large room or hall, and there is no reason why records should be made for use only in the parlour of the workman's dwelling.
"Personally I do not like my Sibelius with the sizzling of sausages, but i t seems that the' musicians' do, and in conclusion I would again ask what is the objection to the use of a volume control or a soft needle? "
I take i t that what our reviewers mean when they refer to over-amplification is volume at the expense of veracity. The volume controls on radiograms are abused by half the people who have them, because they are unable to detect when the loudness they . enjoy begins to distort the music . Many of them cannot even tell when a speaking voice is being distorted by over-amplification, and that being the case there is precious little hope of their recognising the distortion of a tutti passage played by a full-size orchestra. A friend of mine the other day observed with the relish of an ogre in his voice that when his wireless was going well he could feel the floor vibrating. Mr. Widdowes's contempt for mites and respect for mammoths tempts me to suppose that he and this friend of mine would find themselves in sympathy. On an acoustic machine, provided that a good soundbox is being used, the loudest needle merely gives more noise but does not distort the sound emitted. In the case of a speaking voice a loud needle might exaggerate the vigour of delivery, but i t would not change the voice radically. Mr. Widdowes must have noticed the ridiculous distortion of a platform voice by loud-speakers.
My own complaints about over-amplification have always been directed against vocal records, but during the last two or three years vocal recording has immensely improved, no doubt because of improvements in microphones, which are much more sensitive than they used to be. When I was recording at the B.B.C. this autumn i t was necessary for me to hold the typescript on a level with my lips to prevent my voice's vibrating back from the table, which was covered with a kind of thi ck baize. This precaution would not be necessary with every voice.
I hope that the enthusiasm of Mr. Widdowes for music and his contempt for critics, musicians, and small rooms does not mean that he refuses to temper the wind to th e shorn lamb, for I do not feel perfectly convinced that he is sure when music ends and noise begins. One may dislike the sizzling of sausages, but that is not a valid excuse for throwing the sausages at everybody in the i'oom.
Mr. Widdowes may be misunderstanding what our critics mean when they refer to over-amplification. I shall leave i t to them to explain their point of view. To be sure, they suffer from the handicap of knowing something about music, but this should not debar them entirely from exerci sing common-sense.
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