Did you ever wonder why some of the things we deal with every day are the way they are?
I have; I remember once, when I was a really little kid, asking my father why cars have grilles. I don’t remember if he ever gave me any kind of an answer, but I did eventually find out for myself: It’s because cars generate a lot of heat as they run (it’s all that burning gasoline) and they need a way to cool-down the engine, or they’ll melt, seize-up, and stop running. With most internal combustion cars (as opposed to steam or electric ones) the cooling comes from exposing either a radiator containing liquid coolant (like most cars) or the engine, itself (for cars with air-cooled engines like the early VW) to a stream of air to carry-off excess heat, and the grille is the “hole” that the air passes through to get to them.
Another one, that comes from audio this time, instead of cars, and that, frankly, I’ve never yet found a reasonable answer for is this: Why is it that interconnects and most video and digital cables are sold by the meter, but speaker cables and AC cords are sold by the foot? When I first got into the cable business as a manufacturer, my company obviously needed to have a price sheet, and in setting out to create one, I asked a whole bunch of other cable manufacturers why cables were sold that way: NOT A ONE OF THEM HAD EVEN THE SLIGHTEST CLUE!
How about this one, also from audio: In the old days of analog tape recording, tape speeds ran all the way from 30ips (inches per second), which was rarely used, except for attempts at “Super HiFi” or some other purpose where extended high frequency response was required (Generally, given appropriate biasing, the faster the tape moves past the recording head, the higher the frequencies that can be recorded), all the way down to 1 7/8ips, neatly slowing by 50% at each reduction (15, 7 ½, 3 ¾, 1 7/8ips). Of those, the slowest speed, naturally, wasn’t all that great-sounding, and was used almost exclusively for voice or archival recording. On that last subject, incidentally, a number of REALLY slow recorders were made, just for logging purposes. One of those was made by Scully,
and ran (if I remember correctly) at 15/16ips, and the slowest of all was made by Schafer Electronics and Matrix corporation (companies of which I was, incidentally, a principal) and ran at 5/6 ips, allowing a full month of 24-hour-a-day logging on one single reel of tape!
The point here is that, except for the Schafer/Matrix unit, every one of the various analog tape speeds – even the Scully’s 15/16 ips, which was half of 1 7/8 ips – was exactly half the next higher speed. So why were records cut at a high speed of 78rpm, with a next lower speed of 45rpm, a next, after that, of 33 1/3 rpm, and finally, a slowest speed of 16 2/3 rpm for speech recording? Why is it that, except for that final halving from 33 1/3 to 16 2/3 rpm, all of the other speeds seem to have been chosen at random? Where’s the pattern? Where’s the logic?
By that same token, why are all commercial vinyl records cut on a lathe with a tangential arm, when – except for certain Hifi exotica like my superb Eminent Technology tangential arm (designed by Bruce Thigpen, known for all kinds of neat stuff) – they are almost certainly going to be played on a pivoted arm and suffer (except when even more exotic exotica like the B&J “pantograph” arm is used) at least some degree of tracking error as a result?
Why is it that — when floor and ceiling reflections are known by practically everybody to be potential acoustic problems — so many speakers (conical horns, for example) are designed to radiate sound equally in both the horizontal and vertical planes? And why, when limited-vertical-dispersion horns ARE used (Yay!), as, for in-room applications, they SHOULD be, are the tweeter horns so often placed (at least on BIG horn systems) well above the ear level of a seated listener, where, precisely BECAUSE OF their limited vertical dispersion, they may not be properly heard?
Why is it that vacuum tubes with identical numbers (5881, 6L6, 12AU7, etc.) and claimed identical specifications sound so different when they come from different manufacturers? And why is it that everybody can hear differences in tubes, but so many people either can’t hear them in cables or claim that the differences that they DO hear are imaginary?
For all of those and many, many more of our hobby’s mysteries — including how a thing that has no apparent explanation and is obviously “snake oil” can still make a clearly audible difference in the sound of a system – I haven’t got a clue. But I’m going to keep on trying to get one. That’s part of the fun!