Not taking sides — updated


I gather there were some issues with people not being able to see the previous version of this post. Apos for that! I had restricted the access condition to subscribers, naively imagining that my readers mostly had a subscription. Some do, but have difficulties opening posts. I have taken this up with WordPress, but not gotten very far. I have definitely changed the setting on this updated post to Access: Everyone. People who get the alert, but can’t see the whole post, could try refreshing their browser.

Anyway, I am putting this update at the head of the post, so people who could read the content previously posted don’t have to scroll through it again. I previously discovered that the channels on the turntable were hooked up incorrectly, in the sense that the right hand channel was actually the left, and vice versa. Then I wondered whether I was having the same problem with my disc player. It wasn’t easy to determine, because I didn’t have a stereo check CD or DVD. However, the player (a Cambridge Audio) has a fairly primitive YouTube browser built in. So I found a stereo check video and played it back. This was basic in the extreme, consisting of someone reciting “Left channel, left channel, left channel”, then “Right channel, right channel, right channel”. (The sound was put through the correct stereo channel alternately, obvs.) Anyway, it showed me that each channel is coming through the correct speaker. Here endeth the update.


Warning — ultra nerdy content ahead.

I had an interesting trawl through my local op shop yesterday, coming back with three DVDs and two LPs. We watched one of the DVDs last night, quite an interesting 2007 “neo-noir psychological thriller”, Disturbia . A good mid-week flick, featuring a breakout role for Shia LaBeouf. (The other discs I haven’t seen yet.) I regard op shop DVDs as a cheap indefinite loan. For convenience I have the region settings of the Blu-ray recorder in my phone, so I don’t end up buying something I can’t play.

The vinyl was pretty interesting. The first one I played was Vangelis’ sound track to Chariots of Fire. (Not going to link this, you’ve all seen it!) Side 1 comprised various tracks from the movie sound track, all played by the monomynous Vangelis, except for the original choral version of “Jerusalem”, by Hubert Parry. (This must also have featured in the sound track — it was so long ago that I saw it, I really don’t remember.) Side B was a kind of fantasia on the main Chariots of Fire theme, played on various keyboard instruments also by Vangelis. This was all quite a blast from the past, and a very well produced LP.

The second one was quite an ear opener. This was a demonstration disc called “Miracle in Sound: the Festival Stereo Sampler” (Festival Records, SFL-2/1). Strangely, this is an Australian label, although the content originates in the US. Side 1 began with a follow-the-bouncing-ball track, intended to show whether your speakers are set up with the correct left to right orientation and phase. A bouncing ping pong ball sounded first out of the left, then the right channel. Following this, the bouncing ball is heard alternately left and right. Finally, the ball appears to be bouncing in both channels simultaneously, to allow one to hear the elusive “middle channel”.

I have had stereos since the 1970s, when vinyl and cassettes were all there was. I used to have about 300 records, most of which I gave to 3MBS-FM. However, the vintage Luxman tube pre-amplifier I bought about seven years ago has a very good phono stage. This has encouraged me to start collecting vinyl again. Well, when I played “Miracle in Sound”, I was glad I was sitting down! My speakers were reversed — for the turntable, at least. What I had thought was the left channel was actually the right, and vice versa. This is totally a rookie error, which I couldn’t believe I had made. Still less, having made it, that I hadn’t noticed it! Que?

Something that made the reversal harder to pick up was that the balance control worked correctly, i.e. when turning the knob to the left, sound was transferred to that channel, and vice versa. My stereo also is hellaciously complicated to set up. This is because it has not only a separate power amplifier and pre-amplifier, but also a powered subwoofer. My valve amplifier guru Dallas drew me a diagram to aid me in which leads have to hook up to what. Physical access is quite complicated also, with little room to get behind everything and check. So the possibility that, at some point, I swapped over some leads is quite a real one.

There is a subtler extenuating factor, if you like, to do to with orchestral layout. Growing up and going to concerts in Australia, one might think that orchestras are always sitting with first fiddles on the conductor’s left hand, followed (reading left to right) by second fiddles, violas, and cellos. Second and third tiers are woodwinds and brasses, with double basses behind the cellos. Percussion at the back. Well, after looking at maybe a hundred Berlin Philharmonic concerts (on their Digital Concert Hall service), I can tell you, their string sections sit quite differently. First fiddles on conductor’s left (same as here), but then violas and cellos next to them, then second fiddles on conductor’s right. Alternatively, the violas can swap with the second fiddles. Double basses can be behind the first fiddles in the second tier, on the conductor’s left, or in the middle. It all depends. All these seating arrangements affect the sound stage; otherwise, I might have realised something was wrong earlier.

Fortunately the pre-amp has a nifty feature — a “Reverse Stereo” switch. This swaps around the channels left to right, without having to touch any wires. Everything suddenly sounded as I imagined it should! Simple. Except that now I have to figure out whether the outputs from my my disc player are reversed left-to-right as well. If so, when I am going from playing a record to a CD or DVD, I have to remember to un-reverse the channel reversal. Hifi paranoia, here we come!

PS Please, no advice to ditch the stereo for something simpler! If I didn’t have this to fiddle with, what would I do?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s