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New NanoHiFi Compact Stereo Channels Retro Boom Boxes


With a boxy design that reminds one of the boom boxes of yore, the NanoHiFi intends to be your new favorite compact home stereo system. It comes equipped with Bluetooth, USB, an iPod/iPhone dock, and a CD slot for when you want to rock "old school" — you can even detach the two end speakers to dispense sounds however you please. Hailing it as the only compact stereo on the market designed to deliver the same sound as a much larger unit, NanoHiFi has only recently been made available to the US market. Though the speakers are small, they are made up of the company's patented Multi Yoke Loudspeaker tech and Extended Bass Radiator — which apparently helps get a higher sound pressure level at low frequencies. In the end, it may not be that much different from other stereos on the market, but we definitely like the retro lines and color options (white, maroon, and silver).


Fleeing Cold Perfection For Lovable Lo-Fi Sound

WHEN Mariah Carey was marketing her last album, "Music Box," she distributed advance copies of the CD to radio stations around the country. Soon, her record company started receiving telephone calls complaining that the sound was defective on one of the songs, "Dream Lover."

"Naturally, there was nothing wrong with the CD's," said David Kahne, the senior vice president of artists and repertoire at Columbia Records, who added that old-fashioned needle scratches had been mixed in intentionally. "They just couldn't believe that there could be all this record scratch on a brand new Mariah Carey album. So we took all the ticks out of the master tape. But you know what? In the end, the record company said: ɾverybody's used to it. Leave it the way it is.' " "Dream Lover" went on to the Top 10 of the Billboard pop charts.

Once, the music industry used the latest, most advanced technology to make recordings as pristine and clear as possible. But a sonic upheaval is taking place, one that centers around the thing that was the most undesirable a few years ago: noise.

"There's definitely a trend toward dirtier tracks," Mr. Kahne said with conviction. "Tape hiss, guitar-amp noise, low-level garbage. Five years ago, we would have cleaned all that up. But today, the prevailing wisdom is to go lo-fi and let that noise become part of the music."

Lo-fi. It's the latest buzz word in the recording industry. And although it was originally coined to describe the crude demo tapes alternative bands made at home on budgets that wouldn't cover the cost of one of Ms. Carey's haircuts, the term has been adopted by those who feed at the top of the Billboard food chain as well. Already, artists like Beck, Sebedoh, Liz Phair, P. J. Harvey and Sheryl Crow have achieved commercial success with lo-fi, and they have inspired less extreme forms of bargain-basement audio to surface in the mainstream. John Mellencamp, Los Lobos, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dr. John and Richard Thompson have all been working with producers in an attempt to capture a less digital sound on their recordings.

When Ms. Crow recorded her first album, two years ago, she decided not to release it because she felt the production values were too slick, said Stacey Sanner, a national director of publicity for A & M Records. She went back to the studio and produced a relatively lo-fi album, "Tuesday Night Music Club." Songs from the album were nominated for five Grammies this week. So, good-bye, Milli Vanilli.

David Fricke, the music editor of Rolling Stone magazine, believes that the popularity of lo-fi is a direct response to overbearing studio technology.

"People were tired of having plastic foisted upon them," he said. "That's what the whole Nirvana-Pearl Jam mutiny in the early 1990's was all about. You can only listen to so many clean keyboards and high, squeaky harmonies that sound like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Everybody just stopped and said, 'Hey, this isn't what rock-and-roll is supposed to sound like.' "

The mechanics of lo-fi essentially emphasize old-fashioned analogue over digital technology. The recording format of choice is four track (although, 8- and 16-track are not uncommon), a system that was introduced in the early 60's. (The term four-track refers to the four separate channels on the magnetic tape -- rhythm on one, guitar on another and so on, far fewer than the 48 tracks of current digital recording machines.) In lo-fi, instruments are amplified by vacuum tubes rather than newer transistor amplifiers, inexpensive microphones are used, and special effects are created through ingenious maneuvers, like running vocals through guitar amps rather than through synthesizers.

"Frankly, our studio work hasn't been as successful as the sessions we've done on our own," said Tony Grimaldi, the guitarist for the Niagaras, a popular rock band based in New York that is dedicated to lo-fi recording. "Somehow the four-track stuff is more immediate and organic. In fact, we're prepared to go super lo-fi. We want to record one of our concerts live in stereo."

Instead of trying to eliminate all incidental room sounds, a lo-fi artist embraces incidental noise and incorporates it into the mix to achieve a heightened sense of reality. On Jack Logan's critically acclaimed debut album, "Bulk" (Medium Cool Records), laughter, a whirring air conditioner and a barking dog are all distinctly recognizable through a thick wall of tape hiss. Beck's recent album "Mellow Gold" was recorded on a four-track in his kitchen. It has sold well, and the video went into heavy rotation on MTV.

Chuck Cleaver, the lead singer of Ass Ponys, a band that made its debut album, "Electric Rock Music" (A & M), for $2,500 -- "excluding beer and pizza," he said -- considers lo-fi to be more than retro-technology: it's an attitude.

"If you listen to our album, you can hear a screw up on every song," he said. "We could have gone back and fixed it, but it didn't seem appropriate. Listen to Gary U. S. Bonds, or the Kingsmen's 'Louie, Louie' sometime. Those guys were horrible musicians, but the stuff sounded great. It's more about passion than pushing buttons." Evidently, A & M agrees. The Ass Ponys issued the demo as a compact disk without any alterations.

Instruments, too, can be lo-fi. They should all be old and relatively cheap, like the vintage Fender Mustang electric guitar favored by Kurt Cobain of Nirvana.

Finally, says Mr. Kahne of Columbia Records, if one is a purist, vintage recording tape is a must. "It's practically impossible to find, but if you can, it will make more of a difference than everything else put together," he said in a hushed tone, as if divulging a fraternal handshake. "The tape compression is strong, it has a greater mid-range and the high end is warm without being shiny."

Collectively, all this contributes to an intimate sound with a raw edge. Moreover, musicians are liberated from the sterile confines of recording studios that add greatly to production costs.

The lo-fi concept is not entirely novel. One of the definitive lo-fi recordings was the Rolling Stones' 1968 anthem "Jumping Jack Flash," recorded on a $9 Japanese cassette recorder and then played directly into a four-track machine. (Of course, at the time, four-track was the height of technology, used to record the Beatles' "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.")

As late as 1982, Bruce Springsteen recorded the album "Nebraska" on an inexpensive 4-track recorder in his basement.

Nonetheless, these were isolated sonic experiments. Most musicians became addicted to 48-track recording sessions and the lavish budgets necessary to finance them. Even now, most mainstream artists still use the modern studio and its digital technology.

Clay Sheff, the owner of Smash Studios in Chelsea, says that lo-fi for popular artists today involves a synthesis of old and new technologies. And Chris Gill, the associate editor of Guitar Player magazine, said: "The 80's were about a very processed, perfect sound. But today we're moving away from that to more of a live sound. To achieve that warm sound, you have to use a lot of analogue gear. Then you run all of that gear through a 24-track recorder to manipulate the music. And presto -- you have the best of both worlds. Lo-fi doesn't necessarily have to sound like it was recorded in a bathroom with a boom box."

"I think our tastes are changing musically," he continued. "What we expect from a record is different now compared to several years ago. We're becoming increasingly conditioned to hear the grit and dirt on records. Aside from that, we're conditioned to accept a more genuine performer, not someone that's manufactured by some corporate exec at a record label. I think Henry Rollins said it best: 'Nirvana killed the hair bands.' When 'Never Mind' came out, Bon Jovi and Poison were history."

Don Was, the record producer who worked on the Rolling Stones' recent "Voodoo Lounge" album, suggests that the current vogue for lo-fi will eventually swing in the opposite direction. "All this stuff goes in cycles," he said. "A new generation of audio equipment comes out, and everybody gets excited and milks it to death, to the point where every possible musical texture is exhausted. Eventually everyone's records start sounding the same. So what do you do? You go back to basics."


Fleeing Cold Perfection For Lovable Lo-Fi Sound

WHEN Mariah Carey was marketing her last album, "Music Box," she distributed advance copies of the CD to radio stations around the country. Soon, her record company started receiving telephone calls complaining that the sound was defective on one of the songs, "Dream Lover."

"Naturally, there was nothing wrong with the CD's," said David Kahne, the senior vice president of artists and repertoire at Columbia Records, who added that old-fashioned needle scratches had been mixed in intentionally. "They just couldn't believe that there could be all this record scratch on a brand new Mariah Carey album. So we took all the ticks out of the master tape. But you know what? In the end, the record company said: ɾverybody's used to it. Leave it the way it is.' " "Dream Lover" went on to the Top 10 of the Billboard pop charts.

Once, the music industry used the latest, most advanced technology to make recordings as pristine and clear as possible. But a sonic upheaval is taking place, one that centers around the thing that was the most undesirable a few years ago: noise.

"There's definitely a trend toward dirtier tracks," Mr. Kahne said with conviction. "Tape hiss, guitar-amp noise, low-level garbage. Five years ago, we would have cleaned all that up. But today, the prevailing wisdom is to go lo-fi and let that noise become part of the music."

Lo-fi. It's the latest buzz word in the recording industry. And although it was originally coined to describe the crude demo tapes alternative bands made at home on budgets that wouldn't cover the cost of one of Ms. Carey's haircuts, the term has been adopted by those who feed at the top of the Billboard food chain as well. Already, artists like Beck, Sebedoh, Liz Phair, P. J. Harvey and Sheryl Crow have achieved commercial success with lo-fi, and they have inspired less extreme forms of bargain-basement audio to surface in the mainstream. John Mellencamp, Los Lobos, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dr. John and Richard Thompson have all been working with producers in an attempt to capture a less digital sound on their recordings.

When Ms. Crow recorded her first album, two years ago, she decided not to release it because she felt the production values were too slick, said Stacey Sanner, a national director of publicity for A & M Records. She went back to the studio and produced a relatively lo-fi album, "Tuesday Night Music Club." Songs from the album were nominated for five Grammies this week. So, good-bye, Milli Vanilli.

David Fricke, the music editor of Rolling Stone magazine, believes that the popularity of lo-fi is a direct response to overbearing studio technology.

"People were tired of having plastic foisted upon them," he said. "That's what the whole Nirvana-Pearl Jam mutiny in the early 1990's was all about. You can only listen to so many clean keyboards and high, squeaky harmonies that sound like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Everybody just stopped and said, 'Hey, this isn't what rock-and-roll is supposed to sound like.' "

The mechanics of lo-fi essentially emphasize old-fashioned analogue over digital technology. The recording format of choice is four track (although, 8- and 16-track are not uncommon), a system that was introduced in the early 60's. (The term four-track refers to the four separate channels on the magnetic tape -- rhythm on one, guitar on another and so on, far fewer than the 48 tracks of current digital recording machines.) In lo-fi, instruments are amplified by vacuum tubes rather than newer transistor amplifiers, inexpensive microphones are used, and special effects are created through ingenious maneuvers, like running vocals through guitar amps rather than through synthesizers.

"Frankly, our studio work hasn't been as successful as the sessions we've done on our own," said Tony Grimaldi, the guitarist for the Niagaras, a popular rock band based in New York that is dedicated to lo-fi recording. "Somehow the four-track stuff is more immediate and organic. In fact, we're prepared to go super lo-fi. We want to record one of our concerts live in stereo."

Instead of trying to eliminate all incidental room sounds, a lo-fi artist embraces incidental noise and incorporates it into the mix to achieve a heightened sense of reality. On Jack Logan's critically acclaimed debut album, "Bulk" (Medium Cool Records), laughter, a whirring air conditioner and a barking dog are all distinctly recognizable through a thick wall of tape hiss. Beck's recent album "Mellow Gold" was recorded on a four-track in his kitchen. It has sold well, and the video went into heavy rotation on MTV.

Chuck Cleaver, the lead singer of Ass Ponys, a band that made its debut album, "Electric Rock Music" (A & M), for $2,500 -- "excluding beer and pizza," he said -- considers lo-fi to be more than retro-technology: it's an attitude.

"If you listen to our album, you can hear a screw up on every song," he said. "We could have gone back and fixed it, but it didn't seem appropriate. Listen to Gary U. S. Bonds, or the Kingsmen's 'Louie, Louie' sometime. Those guys were horrible musicians, but the stuff sounded great. It's more about passion than pushing buttons." Evidently, A & M agrees. The Ass Ponys issued the demo as a compact disk without any alterations.

Instruments, too, can be lo-fi. They should all be old and relatively cheap, like the vintage Fender Mustang electric guitar favored by Kurt Cobain of Nirvana.

Finally, says Mr. Kahne of Columbia Records, if one is a purist, vintage recording tape is a must. "It's practically impossible to find, but if you can, it will make more of a difference than everything else put together," he said in a hushed tone, as if divulging a fraternal handshake. "The tape compression is strong, it has a greater mid-range and the high end is warm without being shiny."

Collectively, all this contributes to an intimate sound with a raw edge. Moreover, musicians are liberated from the sterile confines of recording studios that add greatly to production costs.

The lo-fi concept is not entirely novel. One of the definitive lo-fi recordings was the Rolling Stones' 1968 anthem "Jumping Jack Flash," recorded on a $9 Japanese cassette recorder and then played directly into a four-track machine. (Of course, at the time, four-track was the height of technology, used to record the Beatles' "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.")

As late as 1982, Bruce Springsteen recorded the album "Nebraska" on an inexpensive 4-track recorder in his basement.

Nonetheless, these were isolated sonic experiments. Most musicians became addicted to 48-track recording sessions and the lavish budgets necessary to finance them. Even now, most mainstream artists still use the modern studio and its digital technology.

Clay Sheff, the owner of Smash Studios in Chelsea, says that lo-fi for popular artists today involves a synthesis of old and new technologies. And Chris Gill, the associate editor of Guitar Player magazine, said: "The 80's were about a very processed, perfect sound. But today we're moving away from that to more of a live sound. To achieve that warm sound, you have to use a lot of analogue gear. Then you run all of that gear through a 24-track recorder to manipulate the music. And presto -- you have the best of both worlds. Lo-fi doesn't necessarily have to sound like it was recorded in a bathroom with a boom box."

"I think our tastes are changing musically," he continued. "What we expect from a record is different now compared to several years ago. We're becoming increasingly conditioned to hear the grit and dirt on records. Aside from that, we're conditioned to accept a more genuine performer, not someone that's manufactured by some corporate exec at a record label. I think Henry Rollins said it best: 'Nirvana killed the hair bands.' When 'Never Mind' came out, Bon Jovi and Poison were history."

Don Was, the record producer who worked on the Rolling Stones' recent "Voodoo Lounge" album, suggests that the current vogue for lo-fi will eventually swing in the opposite direction. "All this stuff goes in cycles," he said. "A new generation of audio equipment comes out, and everybody gets excited and milks it to death, to the point where every possible musical texture is exhausted. Eventually everyone's records start sounding the same. So what do you do? You go back to basics."


Fleeing Cold Perfection For Lovable Lo-Fi Sound

WHEN Mariah Carey was marketing her last album, "Music Box," she distributed advance copies of the CD to radio stations around the country. Soon, her record company started receiving telephone calls complaining that the sound was defective on one of the songs, "Dream Lover."

"Naturally, there was nothing wrong with the CD's," said David Kahne, the senior vice president of artists and repertoire at Columbia Records, who added that old-fashioned needle scratches had been mixed in intentionally. "They just couldn't believe that there could be all this record scratch on a brand new Mariah Carey album. So we took all the ticks out of the master tape. But you know what? In the end, the record company said: ɾverybody's used to it. Leave it the way it is.' " "Dream Lover" went on to the Top 10 of the Billboard pop charts.

Once, the music industry used the latest, most advanced technology to make recordings as pristine and clear as possible. But a sonic upheaval is taking place, one that centers around the thing that was the most undesirable a few years ago: noise.

"There's definitely a trend toward dirtier tracks," Mr. Kahne said with conviction. "Tape hiss, guitar-amp noise, low-level garbage. Five years ago, we would have cleaned all that up. But today, the prevailing wisdom is to go lo-fi and let that noise become part of the music."

Lo-fi. It's the latest buzz word in the recording industry. And although it was originally coined to describe the crude demo tapes alternative bands made at home on budgets that wouldn't cover the cost of one of Ms. Carey's haircuts, the term has been adopted by those who feed at the top of the Billboard food chain as well. Already, artists like Beck, Sebedoh, Liz Phair, P. J. Harvey and Sheryl Crow have achieved commercial success with lo-fi, and they have inspired less extreme forms of bargain-basement audio to surface in the mainstream. John Mellencamp, Los Lobos, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dr. John and Richard Thompson have all been working with producers in an attempt to capture a less digital sound on their recordings.

When Ms. Crow recorded her first album, two years ago, she decided not to release it because she felt the production values were too slick, said Stacey Sanner, a national director of publicity for A & M Records. She went back to the studio and produced a relatively lo-fi album, "Tuesday Night Music Club." Songs from the album were nominated for five Grammies this week. So, good-bye, Milli Vanilli.

David Fricke, the music editor of Rolling Stone magazine, believes that the popularity of lo-fi is a direct response to overbearing studio technology.

"People were tired of having plastic foisted upon them," he said. "That's what the whole Nirvana-Pearl Jam mutiny in the early 1990's was all about. You can only listen to so many clean keyboards and high, squeaky harmonies that sound like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Everybody just stopped and said, 'Hey, this isn't what rock-and-roll is supposed to sound like.' "

The mechanics of lo-fi essentially emphasize old-fashioned analogue over digital technology. The recording format of choice is four track (although, 8- and 16-track are not uncommon), a system that was introduced in the early 60's. (The term four-track refers to the four separate channels on the magnetic tape -- rhythm on one, guitar on another and so on, far fewer than the 48 tracks of current digital recording machines.) In lo-fi, instruments are amplified by vacuum tubes rather than newer transistor amplifiers, inexpensive microphones are used, and special effects are created through ingenious maneuvers, like running vocals through guitar amps rather than through synthesizers.

"Frankly, our studio work hasn't been as successful as the sessions we've done on our own," said Tony Grimaldi, the guitarist for the Niagaras, a popular rock band based in New York that is dedicated to lo-fi recording. "Somehow the four-track stuff is more immediate and organic. In fact, we're prepared to go super lo-fi. We want to record one of our concerts live in stereo."

Instead of trying to eliminate all incidental room sounds, a lo-fi artist embraces incidental noise and incorporates it into the mix to achieve a heightened sense of reality. On Jack Logan's critically acclaimed debut album, "Bulk" (Medium Cool Records), laughter, a whirring air conditioner and a barking dog are all distinctly recognizable through a thick wall of tape hiss. Beck's recent album "Mellow Gold" was recorded on a four-track in his kitchen. It has sold well, and the video went into heavy rotation on MTV.

Chuck Cleaver, the lead singer of Ass Ponys, a band that made its debut album, "Electric Rock Music" (A & M), for $2,500 -- "excluding beer and pizza," he said -- considers lo-fi to be more than retro-technology: it's an attitude.

"If you listen to our album, you can hear a screw up on every song," he said. "We could have gone back and fixed it, but it didn't seem appropriate. Listen to Gary U. S. Bonds, or the Kingsmen's 'Louie, Louie' sometime. Those guys were horrible musicians, but the stuff sounded great. It's more about passion than pushing buttons." Evidently, A & M agrees. The Ass Ponys issued the demo as a compact disk without any alterations.

Instruments, too, can be lo-fi. They should all be old and relatively cheap, like the vintage Fender Mustang electric guitar favored by Kurt Cobain of Nirvana.

Finally, says Mr. Kahne of Columbia Records, if one is a purist, vintage recording tape is a must. "It's practically impossible to find, but if you can, it will make more of a difference than everything else put together," he said in a hushed tone, as if divulging a fraternal handshake. "The tape compression is strong, it has a greater mid-range and the high end is warm without being shiny."

Collectively, all this contributes to an intimate sound with a raw edge. Moreover, musicians are liberated from the sterile confines of recording studios that add greatly to production costs.

The lo-fi concept is not entirely novel. One of the definitive lo-fi recordings was the Rolling Stones' 1968 anthem "Jumping Jack Flash," recorded on a $9 Japanese cassette recorder and then played directly into a four-track machine. (Of course, at the time, four-track was the height of technology, used to record the Beatles' "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.")

As late as 1982, Bruce Springsteen recorded the album "Nebraska" on an inexpensive 4-track recorder in his basement.

Nonetheless, these were isolated sonic experiments. Most musicians became addicted to 48-track recording sessions and the lavish budgets necessary to finance them. Even now, most mainstream artists still use the modern studio and its digital technology.

Clay Sheff, the owner of Smash Studios in Chelsea, says that lo-fi for popular artists today involves a synthesis of old and new technologies. And Chris Gill, the associate editor of Guitar Player magazine, said: "The 80's were about a very processed, perfect sound. But today we're moving away from that to more of a live sound. To achieve that warm sound, you have to use a lot of analogue gear. Then you run all of that gear through a 24-track recorder to manipulate the music. And presto -- you have the best of both worlds. Lo-fi doesn't necessarily have to sound like it was recorded in a bathroom with a boom box."

"I think our tastes are changing musically," he continued. "What we expect from a record is different now compared to several years ago. We're becoming increasingly conditioned to hear the grit and dirt on records. Aside from that, we're conditioned to accept a more genuine performer, not someone that's manufactured by some corporate exec at a record label. I think Henry Rollins said it best: 'Nirvana killed the hair bands.' When 'Never Mind' came out, Bon Jovi and Poison were history."

Don Was, the record producer who worked on the Rolling Stones' recent "Voodoo Lounge" album, suggests that the current vogue for lo-fi will eventually swing in the opposite direction. "All this stuff goes in cycles," he said. "A new generation of audio equipment comes out, and everybody gets excited and milks it to death, to the point where every possible musical texture is exhausted. Eventually everyone's records start sounding the same. So what do you do? You go back to basics."


Fleeing Cold Perfection For Lovable Lo-Fi Sound

WHEN Mariah Carey was marketing her last album, "Music Box," she distributed advance copies of the CD to radio stations around the country. Soon, her record company started receiving telephone calls complaining that the sound was defective on one of the songs, "Dream Lover."

"Naturally, there was nothing wrong with the CD's," said David Kahne, the senior vice president of artists and repertoire at Columbia Records, who added that old-fashioned needle scratches had been mixed in intentionally. "They just couldn't believe that there could be all this record scratch on a brand new Mariah Carey album. So we took all the ticks out of the master tape. But you know what? In the end, the record company said: ɾverybody's used to it. Leave it the way it is.' " "Dream Lover" went on to the Top 10 of the Billboard pop charts.

Once, the music industry used the latest, most advanced technology to make recordings as pristine and clear as possible. But a sonic upheaval is taking place, one that centers around the thing that was the most undesirable a few years ago: noise.

"There's definitely a trend toward dirtier tracks," Mr. Kahne said with conviction. "Tape hiss, guitar-amp noise, low-level garbage. Five years ago, we would have cleaned all that up. But today, the prevailing wisdom is to go lo-fi and let that noise become part of the music."

Lo-fi. It's the latest buzz word in the recording industry. And although it was originally coined to describe the crude demo tapes alternative bands made at home on budgets that wouldn't cover the cost of one of Ms. Carey's haircuts, the term has been adopted by those who feed at the top of the Billboard food chain as well. Already, artists like Beck, Sebedoh, Liz Phair, P. J. Harvey and Sheryl Crow have achieved commercial success with lo-fi, and they have inspired less extreme forms of bargain-basement audio to surface in the mainstream. John Mellencamp, Los Lobos, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dr. John and Richard Thompson have all been working with producers in an attempt to capture a less digital sound on their recordings.

When Ms. Crow recorded her first album, two years ago, she decided not to release it because she felt the production values were too slick, said Stacey Sanner, a national director of publicity for A & M Records. She went back to the studio and produced a relatively lo-fi album, "Tuesday Night Music Club." Songs from the album were nominated for five Grammies this week. So, good-bye, Milli Vanilli.

David Fricke, the music editor of Rolling Stone magazine, believes that the popularity of lo-fi is a direct response to overbearing studio technology.

"People were tired of having plastic foisted upon them," he said. "That's what the whole Nirvana-Pearl Jam mutiny in the early 1990's was all about. You can only listen to so many clean keyboards and high, squeaky harmonies that sound like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Everybody just stopped and said, 'Hey, this isn't what rock-and-roll is supposed to sound like.' "

The mechanics of lo-fi essentially emphasize old-fashioned analogue over digital technology. The recording format of choice is four track (although, 8- and 16-track are not uncommon), a system that was introduced in the early 60's. (The term four-track refers to the four separate channels on the magnetic tape -- rhythm on one, guitar on another and so on, far fewer than the 48 tracks of current digital recording machines.) In lo-fi, instruments are amplified by vacuum tubes rather than newer transistor amplifiers, inexpensive microphones are used, and special effects are created through ingenious maneuvers, like running vocals through guitar amps rather than through synthesizers.

"Frankly, our studio work hasn't been as successful as the sessions we've done on our own," said Tony Grimaldi, the guitarist for the Niagaras, a popular rock band based in New York that is dedicated to lo-fi recording. "Somehow the four-track stuff is more immediate and organic. In fact, we're prepared to go super lo-fi. We want to record one of our concerts live in stereo."

Instead of trying to eliminate all incidental room sounds, a lo-fi artist embraces incidental noise and incorporates it into the mix to achieve a heightened sense of reality. On Jack Logan's critically acclaimed debut album, "Bulk" (Medium Cool Records), laughter, a whirring air conditioner and a barking dog are all distinctly recognizable through a thick wall of tape hiss. Beck's recent album "Mellow Gold" was recorded on a four-track in his kitchen. It has sold well, and the video went into heavy rotation on MTV.

Chuck Cleaver, the lead singer of Ass Ponys, a band that made its debut album, "Electric Rock Music" (A & M), for $2,500 -- "excluding beer and pizza," he said -- considers lo-fi to be more than retro-technology: it's an attitude.

"If you listen to our album, you can hear a screw up on every song," he said. "We could have gone back and fixed it, but it didn't seem appropriate. Listen to Gary U. S. Bonds, or the Kingsmen's 'Louie, Louie' sometime. Those guys were horrible musicians, but the stuff sounded great. It's more about passion than pushing buttons." Evidently, A & M agrees. The Ass Ponys issued the demo as a compact disk without any alterations.

Instruments, too, can be lo-fi. They should all be old and relatively cheap, like the vintage Fender Mustang electric guitar favored by Kurt Cobain of Nirvana.

Finally, says Mr. Kahne of Columbia Records, if one is a purist, vintage recording tape is a must. "It's practically impossible to find, but if you can, it will make more of a difference than everything else put together," he said in a hushed tone, as if divulging a fraternal handshake. "The tape compression is strong, it has a greater mid-range and the high end is warm without being shiny."

Collectively, all this contributes to an intimate sound with a raw edge. Moreover, musicians are liberated from the sterile confines of recording studios that add greatly to production costs.

The lo-fi concept is not entirely novel. One of the definitive lo-fi recordings was the Rolling Stones' 1968 anthem "Jumping Jack Flash," recorded on a $9 Japanese cassette recorder and then played directly into a four-track machine. (Of course, at the time, four-track was the height of technology, used to record the Beatles' "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.")

As late as 1982, Bruce Springsteen recorded the album "Nebraska" on an inexpensive 4-track recorder in his basement.

Nonetheless, these were isolated sonic experiments. Most musicians became addicted to 48-track recording sessions and the lavish budgets necessary to finance them. Even now, most mainstream artists still use the modern studio and its digital technology.

Clay Sheff, the owner of Smash Studios in Chelsea, says that lo-fi for popular artists today involves a synthesis of old and new technologies. And Chris Gill, the associate editor of Guitar Player magazine, said: "The 80's were about a very processed, perfect sound. But today we're moving away from that to more of a live sound. To achieve that warm sound, you have to use a lot of analogue gear. Then you run all of that gear through a 24-track recorder to manipulate the music. And presto -- you have the best of both worlds. Lo-fi doesn't necessarily have to sound like it was recorded in a bathroom with a boom box."

"I think our tastes are changing musically," he continued. "What we expect from a record is different now compared to several years ago. We're becoming increasingly conditioned to hear the grit and dirt on records. Aside from that, we're conditioned to accept a more genuine performer, not someone that's manufactured by some corporate exec at a record label. I think Henry Rollins said it best: 'Nirvana killed the hair bands.' When 'Never Mind' came out, Bon Jovi and Poison were history."

Don Was, the record producer who worked on the Rolling Stones' recent "Voodoo Lounge" album, suggests that the current vogue for lo-fi will eventually swing in the opposite direction. "All this stuff goes in cycles," he said. "A new generation of audio equipment comes out, and everybody gets excited and milks it to death, to the point where every possible musical texture is exhausted. Eventually everyone's records start sounding the same. So what do you do? You go back to basics."


Fleeing Cold Perfection For Lovable Lo-Fi Sound

WHEN Mariah Carey was marketing her last album, "Music Box," she distributed advance copies of the CD to radio stations around the country. Soon, her record company started receiving telephone calls complaining that the sound was defective on one of the songs, "Dream Lover."

"Naturally, there was nothing wrong with the CD's," said David Kahne, the senior vice president of artists and repertoire at Columbia Records, who added that old-fashioned needle scratches had been mixed in intentionally. "They just couldn't believe that there could be all this record scratch on a brand new Mariah Carey album. So we took all the ticks out of the master tape. But you know what? In the end, the record company said: ɾverybody's used to it. Leave it the way it is.' " "Dream Lover" went on to the Top 10 of the Billboard pop charts.

Once, the music industry used the latest, most advanced technology to make recordings as pristine and clear as possible. But a sonic upheaval is taking place, one that centers around the thing that was the most undesirable a few years ago: noise.

"There's definitely a trend toward dirtier tracks," Mr. Kahne said with conviction. "Tape hiss, guitar-amp noise, low-level garbage. Five years ago, we would have cleaned all that up. But today, the prevailing wisdom is to go lo-fi and let that noise become part of the music."

Lo-fi. It's the latest buzz word in the recording industry. And although it was originally coined to describe the crude demo tapes alternative bands made at home on budgets that wouldn't cover the cost of one of Ms. Carey's haircuts, the term has been adopted by those who feed at the top of the Billboard food chain as well. Already, artists like Beck, Sebedoh, Liz Phair, P. J. Harvey and Sheryl Crow have achieved commercial success with lo-fi, and they have inspired less extreme forms of bargain-basement audio to surface in the mainstream. John Mellencamp, Los Lobos, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dr. John and Richard Thompson have all been working with producers in an attempt to capture a less digital sound on their recordings.

When Ms. Crow recorded her first album, two years ago, she decided not to release it because she felt the production values were too slick, said Stacey Sanner, a national director of publicity for A & M Records. She went back to the studio and produced a relatively lo-fi album, "Tuesday Night Music Club." Songs from the album were nominated for five Grammies this week. So, good-bye, Milli Vanilli.

David Fricke, the music editor of Rolling Stone magazine, believes that the popularity of lo-fi is a direct response to overbearing studio technology.

"People were tired of having plastic foisted upon them," he said. "That's what the whole Nirvana-Pearl Jam mutiny in the early 1990's was all about. You can only listen to so many clean keyboards and high, squeaky harmonies that sound like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Everybody just stopped and said, 'Hey, this isn't what rock-and-roll is supposed to sound like.' "

The mechanics of lo-fi essentially emphasize old-fashioned analogue over digital technology. The recording format of choice is four track (although, 8- and 16-track are not uncommon), a system that was introduced in the early 60's. (The term four-track refers to the four separate channels on the magnetic tape -- rhythm on one, guitar on another and so on, far fewer than the 48 tracks of current digital recording machines.) In lo-fi, instruments are amplified by vacuum tubes rather than newer transistor amplifiers, inexpensive microphones are used, and special effects are created through ingenious maneuvers, like running vocals through guitar amps rather than through synthesizers.

"Frankly, our studio work hasn't been as successful as the sessions we've done on our own," said Tony Grimaldi, the guitarist for the Niagaras, a popular rock band based in New York that is dedicated to lo-fi recording. "Somehow the four-track stuff is more immediate and organic. In fact, we're prepared to go super lo-fi. We want to record one of our concerts live in stereo."

Instead of trying to eliminate all incidental room sounds, a lo-fi artist embraces incidental noise and incorporates it into the mix to achieve a heightened sense of reality. On Jack Logan's critically acclaimed debut album, "Bulk" (Medium Cool Records), laughter, a whirring air conditioner and a barking dog are all distinctly recognizable through a thick wall of tape hiss. Beck's recent album "Mellow Gold" was recorded on a four-track in his kitchen. It has sold well, and the video went into heavy rotation on MTV.

Chuck Cleaver, the lead singer of Ass Ponys, a band that made its debut album, "Electric Rock Music" (A & M), for $2,500 -- "excluding beer and pizza," he said -- considers lo-fi to be more than retro-technology: it's an attitude.

"If you listen to our album, you can hear a screw up on every song," he said. "We could have gone back and fixed it, but it didn't seem appropriate. Listen to Gary U. S. Bonds, or the Kingsmen's 'Louie, Louie' sometime. Those guys were horrible musicians, but the stuff sounded great. It's more about passion than pushing buttons." Evidently, A & M agrees. The Ass Ponys issued the demo as a compact disk without any alterations.

Instruments, too, can be lo-fi. They should all be old and relatively cheap, like the vintage Fender Mustang electric guitar favored by Kurt Cobain of Nirvana.

Finally, says Mr. Kahne of Columbia Records, if one is a purist, vintage recording tape is a must. "It's practically impossible to find, but if you can, it will make more of a difference than everything else put together," he said in a hushed tone, as if divulging a fraternal handshake. "The tape compression is strong, it has a greater mid-range and the high end is warm without being shiny."

Collectively, all this contributes to an intimate sound with a raw edge. Moreover, musicians are liberated from the sterile confines of recording studios that add greatly to production costs.

The lo-fi concept is not entirely novel. One of the definitive lo-fi recordings was the Rolling Stones' 1968 anthem "Jumping Jack Flash," recorded on a $9 Japanese cassette recorder and then played directly into a four-track machine. (Of course, at the time, four-track was the height of technology, used to record the Beatles' "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.")

As late as 1982, Bruce Springsteen recorded the album "Nebraska" on an inexpensive 4-track recorder in his basement.

Nonetheless, these were isolated sonic experiments. Most musicians became addicted to 48-track recording sessions and the lavish budgets necessary to finance them. Even now, most mainstream artists still use the modern studio and its digital technology.

Clay Sheff, the owner of Smash Studios in Chelsea, says that lo-fi for popular artists today involves a synthesis of old and new technologies. And Chris Gill, the associate editor of Guitar Player magazine, said: "The 80's were about a very processed, perfect sound. But today we're moving away from that to more of a live sound. To achieve that warm sound, you have to use a lot of analogue gear. Then you run all of that gear through a 24-track recorder to manipulate the music. And presto -- you have the best of both worlds. Lo-fi doesn't necessarily have to sound like it was recorded in a bathroom with a boom box."

"I think our tastes are changing musically," he continued. "What we expect from a record is different now compared to several years ago. We're becoming increasingly conditioned to hear the grit and dirt on records. Aside from that, we're conditioned to accept a more genuine performer, not someone that's manufactured by some corporate exec at a record label. I think Henry Rollins said it best: 'Nirvana killed the hair bands.' When 'Never Mind' came out, Bon Jovi and Poison were history."

Don Was, the record producer who worked on the Rolling Stones' recent "Voodoo Lounge" album, suggests that the current vogue for lo-fi will eventually swing in the opposite direction. "All this stuff goes in cycles," he said. "A new generation of audio equipment comes out, and everybody gets excited and milks it to death, to the point where every possible musical texture is exhausted. Eventually everyone's records start sounding the same. So what do you do? You go back to basics."


Fleeing Cold Perfection For Lovable Lo-Fi Sound

WHEN Mariah Carey was marketing her last album, "Music Box," she distributed advance copies of the CD to radio stations around the country. Soon, her record company started receiving telephone calls complaining that the sound was defective on one of the songs, "Dream Lover."

"Naturally, there was nothing wrong with the CD's," said David Kahne, the senior vice president of artists and repertoire at Columbia Records, who added that old-fashioned needle scratches had been mixed in intentionally. "They just couldn't believe that there could be all this record scratch on a brand new Mariah Carey album. So we took all the ticks out of the master tape. But you know what? In the end, the record company said: ɾverybody's used to it. Leave it the way it is.' " "Dream Lover" went on to the Top 10 of the Billboard pop charts.

Once, the music industry used the latest, most advanced technology to make recordings as pristine and clear as possible. But a sonic upheaval is taking place, one that centers around the thing that was the most undesirable a few years ago: noise.

"There's definitely a trend toward dirtier tracks," Mr. Kahne said with conviction. "Tape hiss, guitar-amp noise, low-level garbage. Five years ago, we would have cleaned all that up. But today, the prevailing wisdom is to go lo-fi and let that noise become part of the music."

Lo-fi. It's the latest buzz word in the recording industry. And although it was originally coined to describe the crude demo tapes alternative bands made at home on budgets that wouldn't cover the cost of one of Ms. Carey's haircuts, the term has been adopted by those who feed at the top of the Billboard food chain as well. Already, artists like Beck, Sebedoh, Liz Phair, P. J. Harvey and Sheryl Crow have achieved commercial success with lo-fi, and they have inspired less extreme forms of bargain-basement audio to surface in the mainstream. John Mellencamp, Los Lobos, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dr. John and Richard Thompson have all been working with producers in an attempt to capture a less digital sound on their recordings.

When Ms. Crow recorded her first album, two years ago, she decided not to release it because she felt the production values were too slick, said Stacey Sanner, a national director of publicity for A & M Records. She went back to the studio and produced a relatively lo-fi album, "Tuesday Night Music Club." Songs from the album were nominated for five Grammies this week. So, good-bye, Milli Vanilli.

David Fricke, the music editor of Rolling Stone magazine, believes that the popularity of lo-fi is a direct response to overbearing studio technology.

"People were tired of having plastic foisted upon them," he said. "That's what the whole Nirvana-Pearl Jam mutiny in the early 1990's was all about. You can only listen to so many clean keyboards and high, squeaky harmonies that sound like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Everybody just stopped and said, 'Hey, this isn't what rock-and-roll is supposed to sound like.' "

The mechanics of lo-fi essentially emphasize old-fashioned analogue over digital technology. The recording format of choice is four track (although, 8- and 16-track are not uncommon), a system that was introduced in the early 60's. (The term four-track refers to the four separate channels on the magnetic tape -- rhythm on one, guitar on another and so on, far fewer than the 48 tracks of current digital recording machines.) In lo-fi, instruments are amplified by vacuum tubes rather than newer transistor amplifiers, inexpensive microphones are used, and special effects are created through ingenious maneuvers, like running vocals through guitar amps rather than through synthesizers.

"Frankly, our studio work hasn't been as successful as the sessions we've done on our own," said Tony Grimaldi, the guitarist for the Niagaras, a popular rock band based in New York that is dedicated to lo-fi recording. "Somehow the four-track stuff is more immediate and organic. In fact, we're prepared to go super lo-fi. We want to record one of our concerts live in stereo."

Instead of trying to eliminate all incidental room sounds, a lo-fi artist embraces incidental noise and incorporates it into the mix to achieve a heightened sense of reality. On Jack Logan's critically acclaimed debut album, "Bulk" (Medium Cool Records), laughter, a whirring air conditioner and a barking dog are all distinctly recognizable through a thick wall of tape hiss. Beck's recent album "Mellow Gold" was recorded on a four-track in his kitchen. It has sold well, and the video went into heavy rotation on MTV.

Chuck Cleaver, the lead singer of Ass Ponys, a band that made its debut album, "Electric Rock Music" (A & M), for $2,500 -- "excluding beer and pizza," he said -- considers lo-fi to be more than retro-technology: it's an attitude.

"If you listen to our album, you can hear a screw up on every song," he said. "We could have gone back and fixed it, but it didn't seem appropriate. Listen to Gary U. S. Bonds, or the Kingsmen's 'Louie, Louie' sometime. Those guys were horrible musicians, but the stuff sounded great. It's more about passion than pushing buttons." Evidently, A & M agrees. The Ass Ponys issued the demo as a compact disk without any alterations.

Instruments, too, can be lo-fi. They should all be old and relatively cheap, like the vintage Fender Mustang electric guitar favored by Kurt Cobain of Nirvana.

Finally, says Mr. Kahne of Columbia Records, if one is a purist, vintage recording tape is a must. "It's practically impossible to find, but if you can, it will make more of a difference than everything else put together," he said in a hushed tone, as if divulging a fraternal handshake. "The tape compression is strong, it has a greater mid-range and the high end is warm without being shiny."

Collectively, all this contributes to an intimate sound with a raw edge. Moreover, musicians are liberated from the sterile confines of recording studios that add greatly to production costs.

The lo-fi concept is not entirely novel. One of the definitive lo-fi recordings was the Rolling Stones' 1968 anthem "Jumping Jack Flash," recorded on a $9 Japanese cassette recorder and then played directly into a four-track machine. (Of course, at the time, four-track was the height of technology, used to record the Beatles' "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.")

As late as 1982, Bruce Springsteen recorded the album "Nebraska" on an inexpensive 4-track recorder in his basement.

Nonetheless, these were isolated sonic experiments. Most musicians became addicted to 48-track recording sessions and the lavish budgets necessary to finance them. Even now, most mainstream artists still use the modern studio and its digital technology.

Clay Sheff, the owner of Smash Studios in Chelsea, says that lo-fi for popular artists today involves a synthesis of old and new technologies. And Chris Gill, the associate editor of Guitar Player magazine, said: "The 80's were about a very processed, perfect sound. But today we're moving away from that to more of a live sound. To achieve that warm sound, you have to use a lot of analogue gear. Then you run all of that gear through a 24-track recorder to manipulate the music. And presto -- you have the best of both worlds. Lo-fi doesn't necessarily have to sound like it was recorded in a bathroom with a boom box."

"I think our tastes are changing musically," he continued. "What we expect from a record is different now compared to several years ago. We're becoming increasingly conditioned to hear the grit and dirt on records. Aside from that, we're conditioned to accept a more genuine performer, not someone that's manufactured by some corporate exec at a record label. I think Henry Rollins said it best: 'Nirvana killed the hair bands.' When 'Never Mind' came out, Bon Jovi and Poison were history."

Don Was, the record producer who worked on the Rolling Stones' recent "Voodoo Lounge" album, suggests that the current vogue for lo-fi will eventually swing in the opposite direction. "All this stuff goes in cycles," he said. "A new generation of audio equipment comes out, and everybody gets excited and milks it to death, to the point where every possible musical texture is exhausted. Eventually everyone's records start sounding the same. So what do you do? You go back to basics."


Fleeing Cold Perfection For Lovable Lo-Fi Sound

WHEN Mariah Carey was marketing her last album, "Music Box," she distributed advance copies of the CD to radio stations around the country. Soon, her record company started receiving telephone calls complaining that the sound was defective on one of the songs, "Dream Lover."

"Naturally, there was nothing wrong with the CD's," said David Kahne, the senior vice president of artists and repertoire at Columbia Records, who added that old-fashioned needle scratches had been mixed in intentionally. "They just couldn't believe that there could be all this record scratch on a brand new Mariah Carey album. So we took all the ticks out of the master tape. But you know what? In the end, the record company said: ɾverybody's used to it. Leave it the way it is.' " "Dream Lover" went on to the Top 10 of the Billboard pop charts.

Once, the music industry used the latest, most advanced technology to make recordings as pristine and clear as possible. But a sonic upheaval is taking place, one that centers around the thing that was the most undesirable a few years ago: noise.

"There's definitely a trend toward dirtier tracks," Mr. Kahne said with conviction. "Tape hiss, guitar-amp noise, low-level garbage. Five years ago, we would have cleaned all that up. But today, the prevailing wisdom is to go lo-fi and let that noise become part of the music."

Lo-fi. It's the latest buzz word in the recording industry. And although it was originally coined to describe the crude demo tapes alternative bands made at home on budgets that wouldn't cover the cost of one of Ms. Carey's haircuts, the term has been adopted by those who feed at the top of the Billboard food chain as well. Already, artists like Beck, Sebedoh, Liz Phair, P. J. Harvey and Sheryl Crow have achieved commercial success with lo-fi, and they have inspired less extreme forms of bargain-basement audio to surface in the mainstream. John Mellencamp, Los Lobos, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dr. John and Richard Thompson have all been working with producers in an attempt to capture a less digital sound on their recordings.

When Ms. Crow recorded her first album, two years ago, she decided not to release it because she felt the production values were too slick, said Stacey Sanner, a national director of publicity for A & M Records. She went back to the studio and produced a relatively lo-fi album, "Tuesday Night Music Club." Songs from the album were nominated for five Grammies this week. So, good-bye, Milli Vanilli.

David Fricke, the music editor of Rolling Stone magazine, believes that the popularity of lo-fi is a direct response to overbearing studio technology.

"People were tired of having plastic foisted upon them," he said. "That's what the whole Nirvana-Pearl Jam mutiny in the early 1990's was all about. You can only listen to so many clean keyboards and high, squeaky harmonies that sound like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Everybody just stopped and said, 'Hey, this isn't what rock-and-roll is supposed to sound like.' "

The mechanics of lo-fi essentially emphasize old-fashioned analogue over digital technology. The recording format of choice is four track (although, 8- and 16-track are not uncommon), a system that was introduced in the early 60's. (The term four-track refers to the four separate channels on the magnetic tape -- rhythm on one, guitar on another and so on, far fewer than the 48 tracks of current digital recording machines.) In lo-fi, instruments are amplified by vacuum tubes rather than newer transistor amplifiers, inexpensive microphones are used, and special effects are created through ingenious maneuvers, like running vocals through guitar amps rather than through synthesizers.

"Frankly, our studio work hasn't been as successful as the sessions we've done on our own," said Tony Grimaldi, the guitarist for the Niagaras, a popular rock band based in New York that is dedicated to lo-fi recording. "Somehow the four-track stuff is more immediate and organic. In fact, we're prepared to go super lo-fi. We want to record one of our concerts live in stereo."

Instead of trying to eliminate all incidental room sounds, a lo-fi artist embraces incidental noise and incorporates it into the mix to achieve a heightened sense of reality. On Jack Logan's critically acclaimed debut album, "Bulk" (Medium Cool Records), laughter, a whirring air conditioner and a barking dog are all distinctly recognizable through a thick wall of tape hiss. Beck's recent album "Mellow Gold" was recorded on a four-track in his kitchen. It has sold well, and the video went into heavy rotation on MTV.

Chuck Cleaver, the lead singer of Ass Ponys, a band that made its debut album, "Electric Rock Music" (A & M), for $2,500 -- "excluding beer and pizza," he said -- considers lo-fi to be more than retro-technology: it's an attitude.

"If you listen to our album, you can hear a screw up on every song," he said. "We could have gone back and fixed it, but it didn't seem appropriate. Listen to Gary U. S. Bonds, or the Kingsmen's 'Louie, Louie' sometime. Those guys were horrible musicians, but the stuff sounded great. It's more about passion than pushing buttons." Evidently, A & M agrees. The Ass Ponys issued the demo as a compact disk without any alterations.

Instruments, too, can be lo-fi. They should all be old and relatively cheap, like the vintage Fender Mustang electric guitar favored by Kurt Cobain of Nirvana.

Finally, says Mr. Kahne of Columbia Records, if one is a purist, vintage recording tape is a must. "It's practically impossible to find, but if you can, it will make more of a difference than everything else put together," he said in a hushed tone, as if divulging a fraternal handshake. "The tape compression is strong, it has a greater mid-range and the high end is warm without being shiny."

Collectively, all this contributes to an intimate sound with a raw edge. Moreover, musicians are liberated from the sterile confines of recording studios that add greatly to production costs.

The lo-fi concept is not entirely novel. One of the definitive lo-fi recordings was the Rolling Stones' 1968 anthem "Jumping Jack Flash," recorded on a $9 Japanese cassette recorder and then played directly into a four-track machine. (Of course, at the time, four-track was the height of technology, used to record the Beatles' "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.")

As late as 1982, Bruce Springsteen recorded the album "Nebraska" on an inexpensive 4-track recorder in his basement.

Nonetheless, these were isolated sonic experiments. Most musicians became addicted to 48-track recording sessions and the lavish budgets necessary to finance them. Even now, most mainstream artists still use the modern studio and its digital technology.

Clay Sheff, the owner of Smash Studios in Chelsea, says that lo-fi for popular artists today involves a synthesis of old and new technologies. And Chris Gill, the associate editor of Guitar Player magazine, said: "The 80's were about a very processed, perfect sound. But today we're moving away from that to more of a live sound. To achieve that warm sound, you have to use a lot of analogue gear. Then you run all of that gear through a 24-track recorder to manipulate the music. And presto -- you have the best of both worlds. Lo-fi doesn't necessarily have to sound like it was recorded in a bathroom with a boom box."

"I think our tastes are changing musically," he continued. "What we expect from a record is different now compared to several years ago. We're becoming increasingly conditioned to hear the grit and dirt on records. Aside from that, we're conditioned to accept a more genuine performer, not someone that's manufactured by some corporate exec at a record label. I think Henry Rollins said it best: 'Nirvana killed the hair bands.' When 'Never Mind' came out, Bon Jovi and Poison were history."

Don Was, the record producer who worked on the Rolling Stones' recent "Voodoo Lounge" album, suggests that the current vogue for lo-fi will eventually swing in the opposite direction. "All this stuff goes in cycles," he said. "A new generation of audio equipment comes out, and everybody gets excited and milks it to death, to the point where every possible musical texture is exhausted. Eventually everyone's records start sounding the same. So what do you do? You go back to basics."


Fleeing Cold Perfection For Lovable Lo-Fi Sound

WHEN Mariah Carey was marketing her last album, "Music Box," she distributed advance copies of the CD to radio stations around the country. Soon, her record company started receiving telephone calls complaining that the sound was defective on one of the songs, "Dream Lover."

"Naturally, there was nothing wrong with the CD's," said David Kahne, the senior vice president of artists and repertoire at Columbia Records, who added that old-fashioned needle scratches had been mixed in intentionally. "They just couldn't believe that there could be all this record scratch on a brand new Mariah Carey album. So we took all the ticks out of the master tape. But you know what? In the end, the record company said: ɾverybody's used to it. Leave it the way it is.' " "Dream Lover" went on to the Top 10 of the Billboard pop charts.

Once, the music industry used the latest, most advanced technology to make recordings as pristine and clear as possible. But a sonic upheaval is taking place, one that centers around the thing that was the most undesirable a few years ago: noise.

"There's definitely a trend toward dirtier tracks," Mr. Kahne said with conviction. "Tape hiss, guitar-amp noise, low-level garbage. Five years ago, we would have cleaned all that up. But today, the prevailing wisdom is to go lo-fi and let that noise become part of the music."

Lo-fi. It's the latest buzz word in the recording industry. And although it was originally coined to describe the crude demo tapes alternative bands made at home on budgets that wouldn't cover the cost of one of Ms. Carey's haircuts, the term has been adopted by those who feed at the top of the Billboard food chain as well. Already, artists like Beck, Sebedoh, Liz Phair, P. J. Harvey and Sheryl Crow have achieved commercial success with lo-fi, and they have inspired less extreme forms of bargain-basement audio to surface in the mainstream. John Mellencamp, Los Lobos, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dr. John and Richard Thompson have all been working with producers in an attempt to capture a less digital sound on their recordings.

When Ms. Crow recorded her first album, two years ago, she decided not to release it because she felt the production values were too slick, said Stacey Sanner, a national director of publicity for A & M Records. She went back to the studio and produced a relatively lo-fi album, "Tuesday Night Music Club." Songs from the album were nominated for five Grammies this week. So, good-bye, Milli Vanilli.

David Fricke, the music editor of Rolling Stone magazine, believes that the popularity of lo-fi is a direct response to overbearing studio technology.

"People were tired of having plastic foisted upon them," he said. "That's what the whole Nirvana-Pearl Jam mutiny in the early 1990's was all about. You can only listen to so many clean keyboards and high, squeaky harmonies that sound like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Everybody just stopped and said, 'Hey, this isn't what rock-and-roll is supposed to sound like.' "

The mechanics of lo-fi essentially emphasize old-fashioned analogue over digital technology. The recording format of choice is four track (although, 8- and 16-track are not uncommon), a system that was introduced in the early 60's. (The term four-track refers to the four separate channels on the magnetic tape -- rhythm on one, guitar on another and so on, far fewer than the 48 tracks of current digital recording machines.) In lo-fi, instruments are amplified by vacuum tubes rather than newer transistor amplifiers, inexpensive microphones are used, and special effects are created through ingenious maneuvers, like running vocals through guitar amps rather than through synthesizers.

"Frankly, our studio work hasn't been as successful as the sessions we've done on our own," said Tony Grimaldi, the guitarist for the Niagaras, a popular rock band based in New York that is dedicated to lo-fi recording. "Somehow the four-track stuff is more immediate and organic. In fact, we're prepared to go super lo-fi. We want to record one of our concerts live in stereo."

Instead of trying to eliminate all incidental room sounds, a lo-fi artist embraces incidental noise and incorporates it into the mix to achieve a heightened sense of reality. On Jack Logan's critically acclaimed debut album, "Bulk" (Medium Cool Records), laughter, a whirring air conditioner and a barking dog are all distinctly recognizable through a thick wall of tape hiss. Beck's recent album "Mellow Gold" was recorded on a four-track in his kitchen. It has sold well, and the video went into heavy rotation on MTV.

Chuck Cleaver, the lead singer of Ass Ponys, a band that made its debut album, "Electric Rock Music" (A & M), for $2,500 -- "excluding beer and pizza," he said -- considers lo-fi to be more than retro-technology: it's an attitude.

"If you listen to our album, you can hear a screw up on every song," he said. "We could have gone back and fixed it, but it didn't seem appropriate. Listen to Gary U. S. Bonds, or the Kingsmen's 'Louie, Louie' sometime. Those guys were horrible musicians, but the stuff sounded great. It's more about passion than pushing buttons." Evidently, A & M agrees. The Ass Ponys issued the demo as a compact disk without any alterations.

Instruments, too, can be lo-fi. They should all be old and relatively cheap, like the vintage Fender Mustang electric guitar favored by Kurt Cobain of Nirvana.

Finally, says Mr. Kahne of Columbia Records, if one is a purist, vintage recording tape is a must. "It's practically impossible to find, but if you can, it will make more of a difference than everything else put together," he said in a hushed tone, as if divulging a fraternal handshake. "The tape compression is strong, it has a greater mid-range and the high end is warm without being shiny."

Collectively, all this contributes to an intimate sound with a raw edge. Moreover, musicians are liberated from the sterile confines of recording studios that add greatly to production costs.

The lo-fi concept is not entirely novel. One of the definitive lo-fi recordings was the Rolling Stones' 1968 anthem "Jumping Jack Flash," recorded on a $9 Japanese cassette recorder and then played directly into a four-track machine. (Of course, at the time, four-track was the height of technology, used to record the Beatles' "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.")

As late as 1982, Bruce Springsteen recorded the album "Nebraska" on an inexpensive 4-track recorder in his basement.

Nonetheless, these were isolated sonic experiments. Most musicians became addicted to 48-track recording sessions and the lavish budgets necessary to finance them. Even now, most mainstream artists still use the modern studio and its digital technology.

Clay Sheff, the owner of Smash Studios in Chelsea, says that lo-fi for popular artists today involves a synthesis of old and new technologies. And Chris Gill, the associate editor of Guitar Player magazine, said: "The 80's were about a very processed, perfect sound. But today we're moving away from that to more of a live sound. To achieve that warm sound, you have to use a lot of analogue gear. Then you run all of that gear through a 24-track recorder to manipulate the music. And presto -- you have the best of both worlds. Lo-fi doesn't necessarily have to sound like it was recorded in a bathroom with a boom box."

"I think our tastes are changing musically," he continued. "What we expect from a record is different now compared to several years ago. We're becoming increasingly conditioned to hear the grit and dirt on records. Aside from that, we're conditioned to accept a more genuine performer, not someone that's manufactured by some corporate exec at a record label. I think Henry Rollins said it best: 'Nirvana killed the hair bands.' When 'Never Mind' came out, Bon Jovi and Poison were history."

Don Was, the record producer who worked on the Rolling Stones' recent "Voodoo Lounge" album, suggests that the current vogue for lo-fi will eventually swing in the opposite direction. "All this stuff goes in cycles," he said. "A new generation of audio equipment comes out, and everybody gets excited and milks it to death, to the point where every possible musical texture is exhausted. Eventually everyone's records start sounding the same. So what do you do? You go back to basics."


Fleeing Cold Perfection For Lovable Lo-Fi Sound

WHEN Mariah Carey was marketing her last album, "Music Box," she distributed advance copies of the CD to radio stations around the country. Soon, her record company started receiving telephone calls complaining that the sound was defective on one of the songs, "Dream Lover."

"Naturally, there was nothing wrong with the CD's," said David Kahne, the senior vice president of artists and repertoire at Columbia Records, who added that old-fashioned needle scratches had been mixed in intentionally. "They just couldn't believe that there could be all this record scratch on a brand new Mariah Carey album. So we took all the ticks out of the master tape. But you know what? In the end, the record company said: ɾverybody's used to it. Leave it the way it is.' " "Dream Lover" went on to the Top 10 of the Billboard pop charts.

Once, the music industry used the latest, most advanced technology to make recordings as pristine and clear as possible. But a sonic upheaval is taking place, one that centers around the thing that was the most undesirable a few years ago: noise.

"There's definitely a trend toward dirtier tracks," Mr. Kahne said with conviction. "Tape hiss, guitar-amp noise, low-level garbage. Five years ago, we would have cleaned all that up. But today, the prevailing wisdom is to go lo-fi and let that noise become part of the music."

Lo-fi. It's the latest buzz word in the recording industry. And although it was originally coined to describe the crude demo tapes alternative bands made at home on budgets that wouldn't cover the cost of one of Ms. Carey's haircuts, the term has been adopted by those who feed at the top of the Billboard food chain as well. Already, artists like Beck, Sebedoh, Liz Phair, P. J. Harvey and Sheryl Crow have achieved commercial success with lo-fi, and they have inspired less extreme forms of bargain-basement audio to surface in the mainstream. John Mellencamp, Los Lobos, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dr. John and Richard Thompson have all been working with producers in an attempt to capture a less digital sound on their recordings.

When Ms. Crow recorded her first album, two years ago, she decided not to release it because she felt the production values were too slick, said Stacey Sanner, a national director of publicity for A & M Records. She went back to the studio and produced a relatively lo-fi album, "Tuesday Night Music Club." Songs from the album were nominated for five Grammies this week. So, good-bye, Milli Vanilli.

David Fricke, the music editor of Rolling Stone magazine, believes that the popularity of lo-fi is a direct response to overbearing studio technology.

"People were tired of having plastic foisted upon them," he said. "That's what the whole Nirvana-Pearl Jam mutiny in the early 1990's was all about. You can only listen to so many clean keyboards and high, squeaky harmonies that sound like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Everybody just stopped and said, 'Hey, this isn't what rock-and-roll is supposed to sound like.' "

The mechanics of lo-fi essentially emphasize old-fashioned analogue over digital technology. The recording format of choice is four track (although, 8- and 16-track are not uncommon), a system that was introduced in the early 60's. (The term four-track refers to the four separate channels on the magnetic tape -- rhythm on one, guitar on another and so on, far fewer than the 48 tracks of current digital recording machines.) In lo-fi, instruments are amplified by vacuum tubes rather than newer transistor amplifiers, inexpensive microphones are used, and special effects are created through ingenious maneuvers, like running vocals through guitar amps rather than through synthesizers.

"Frankly, our studio work hasn't been as successful as the sessions we've done on our own," said Tony Grimaldi, the guitarist for the Niagaras, a popular rock band based in New York that is dedicated to lo-fi recording. "Somehow the four-track stuff is more immediate and organic. In fact, we're prepared to go super lo-fi. We want to record one of our concerts live in stereo."

Instead of trying to eliminate all incidental room sounds, a lo-fi artist embraces incidental noise and incorporates it into the mix to achieve a heightened sense of reality. On Jack Logan's critically acclaimed debut album, "Bulk" (Medium Cool Records), laughter, a whirring air conditioner and a barking dog are all distinctly recognizable through a thick wall of tape hiss. Beck's recent album "Mellow Gold" was recorded on a four-track in his kitchen. It has sold well, and the video went into heavy rotation on MTV.

Chuck Cleaver, the lead singer of Ass Ponys, a band that made its debut album, "Electric Rock Music" (A & M), for $2,500 -- "excluding beer and pizza," he said -- considers lo-fi to be more than retro-technology: it's an attitude.

"If you listen to our album, you can hear a screw up on every song," he said. "We could have gone back and fixed it, but it didn't seem appropriate. Listen to Gary U. S. Bonds, or the Kingsmen's 'Louie, Louie' sometime. Those guys were horrible musicians, but the stuff sounded great. It's more about passion than pushing buttons." Evidently, A & M agrees. The Ass Ponys issued the demo as a compact disk without any alterations.

Instruments, too, can be lo-fi. They should all be old and relatively cheap, like the vintage Fender Mustang electric guitar favored by Kurt Cobain of Nirvana.

Finally, says Mr. Kahne of Columbia Records, if one is a purist, vintage recording tape is a must. "It's practically impossible to find, but if you can, it will make more of a difference than everything else put together," he said in a hushed tone, as if divulging a fraternal handshake. "The tape compression is strong, it has a greater mid-range and the high end is warm without being shiny."

Collectively, all this contributes to an intimate sound with a raw edge. Moreover, musicians are liberated from the sterile confines of recording studios that add greatly to production costs.

The lo-fi concept is not entirely novel. One of the definitive lo-fi recordings was the Rolling Stones' 1968 anthem "Jumping Jack Flash," recorded on a $9 Japanese cassette recorder and then played directly into a four-track machine. (Of course, at the time, four-track was the height of technology, used to record the Beatles' "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.")

As late as 1982, Bruce Springsteen recorded the album "Nebraska" on an inexpensive 4-track recorder in his basement.

Nonetheless, these were isolated sonic experiments. Most musicians became addicted to 48-track recording sessions and the lavish budgets necessary to finance them. Even now, most mainstream artists still use the modern studio and its digital technology.

Clay Sheff, the owner of Smash Studios in Chelsea, says that lo-fi for popular artists today involves a synthesis of old and new technologies. And Chris Gill, the associate editor of Guitar Player magazine, said: "The 80's were about a very processed, perfect sound. But today we're moving away from that to more of a live sound. To achieve that warm sound, you have to use a lot of analogue gear. Then you run all of that gear through a 24-track recorder to manipulate the music. And presto -- you have the best of both worlds. Lo-fi doesn't necessarily have to sound like it was recorded in a bathroom with a boom box."

"I think our tastes are changing musically," he continued. "What we expect from a record is different now compared to several years ago. We're becoming increasingly conditioned to hear the grit and dirt on records. Aside from that, we're conditioned to accept a more genuine performer, not someone that's manufactured by some corporate exec at a record label. I think Henry Rollins said it best: 'Nirvana killed the hair bands.' When 'Never Mind' came out, Bon Jovi and Poison were history."

Don Was, the record producer who worked on the Rolling Stones' recent "Voodoo Lounge" album, suggests that the current vogue for lo-fi will eventually swing in the opposite direction. "All this stuff goes in cycles," he said. "A new generation of audio equipment comes out, and everybody gets excited and milks it to death, to the point where every possible musical texture is exhausted. Eventually everyone's records start sounding the same. So what do you do? You go back to basics."


Fleeing Cold Perfection For Lovable Lo-Fi Sound

WHEN Mariah Carey was marketing her last album, "Music Box," she distributed advance copies of the CD to radio stations around the country. Soon, her record company started receiving telephone calls complaining that the sound was defective on one of the songs, "Dream Lover."

"Naturally, there was nothing wrong with the CD's," said David Kahne, the senior vice president of artists and repertoire at Columbia Records, who added that old-fashioned needle scratches had been mixed in intentionally. "They just couldn't believe that there could be all this record scratch on a brand new Mariah Carey album. So we took all the ticks out of the master tape. But you know what? In the end, the record company said: ɾverybody's used to it. Leave it the way it is.' " "Dream Lover" went on to the Top 10 of the Billboard pop charts.

Once, the music industry used the latest, most advanced technology to make recordings as pristine and clear as possible. But a sonic upheaval is taking place, one that centers around the thing that was the most undesirable a few years ago: noise.

"There's definitely a trend toward dirtier tracks," Mr. Kahne said with conviction. "Tape hiss, guitar-amp noise, low-level garbage. Five years ago, we would have cleaned all that up. But today, the prevailing wisdom is to go lo-fi and let that noise become part of the music."

Lo-fi. It's the latest buzz word in the recording industry. And although it was originally coined to describe the crude demo tapes alternative bands made at home on budgets that wouldn't cover the cost of one of Ms. Carey's haircuts, the term has been adopted by those who feed at the top of the Billboard food chain as well. Already, artists like Beck, Sebedoh, Liz Phair, P. J. Harvey and Sheryl Crow have achieved commercial success with lo-fi, and they have inspired less extreme forms of bargain-basement audio to surface in the mainstream. John Mellencamp, Los Lobos, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dr. John and Richard Thompson have all been working with producers in an attempt to capture a less digital sound on their recordings.

When Ms. Crow recorded her first album, two years ago, she decided not to release it because she felt the production values were too slick, said Stacey Sanner, a national director of publicity for A & M Records. She went back to the studio and produced a relatively lo-fi album, "Tuesday Night Music Club." Songs from the album were nominated for five Grammies this week. So, good-bye, Milli Vanilli.

David Fricke, the music editor of Rolling Stone magazine, believes that the popularity of lo-fi is a direct response to overbearing studio technology.

"People were tired of having plastic foisted upon them," he said. "That's what the whole Nirvana-Pearl Jam mutiny in the early 1990's was all about. You can only listen to so many clean keyboards and high, squeaky harmonies that sound like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Everybody just stopped and said, 'Hey, this isn't what rock-and-roll is supposed to sound like.' "

The mechanics of lo-fi essentially emphasize old-fashioned analogue over digital technology. The recording format of choice is four track (although, 8- and 16-track are not uncommon), a system that was introduced in the early 60's. (The term four-track refers to the four separate channels on the magnetic tape -- rhythm on one, guitar on another and so on, far fewer than the 48 tracks of current digital recording machines.) In lo-fi, instruments are amplified by vacuum tubes rather than newer transistor amplifiers, inexpensive microphones are used, and special effects are created through ingenious maneuvers, like running vocals through guitar amps rather than through synthesizers.

"Frankly, our studio work hasn't been as successful as the sessions we've done on our own," said Tony Grimaldi, the guitarist for the Niagaras, a popular rock band based in New York that is dedicated to lo-fi recording. "Somehow the four-track stuff is more immediate and organic. In fact, we're prepared to go super lo-fi. We want to record one of our concerts live in stereo."

Instead of trying to eliminate all incidental room sounds, a lo-fi artist embraces incidental noise and incorporates it into the mix to achieve a heightened sense of reality. On Jack Logan's critically acclaimed debut album, "Bulk" (Medium Cool Records), laughter, a whirring air conditioner and a barking dog are all distinctly recognizable through a thick wall of tape hiss. Beck's recent album "Mellow Gold" was recorded on a four-track in his kitchen. It has sold well, and the video went into heavy rotation on MTV.

Chuck Cleaver, the lead singer of Ass Ponys, a band that made its debut album, "Electric Rock Music" (A & M), for $2,500 -- "excluding beer and pizza," he said -- considers lo-fi to be more than retro-technology: it's an attitude.

"If you listen to our album, you can hear a screw up on every song," he said. "We could have gone back and fixed it, but it didn't seem appropriate. Listen to Gary U. S. Bonds, or the Kingsmen's 'Louie, Louie' sometime. Those guys were horrible musicians, but the stuff sounded great. It's more about passion than pushing buttons." Evidently, A & M agrees. The Ass Ponys issued the demo as a compact disk without any alterations.

Instruments, too, can be lo-fi. They should all be old and relatively cheap, like the vintage Fender Mustang electric guitar favored by Kurt Cobain of Nirvana.

Finally, says Mr. Kahne of Columbia Records, if one is a purist, vintage recording tape is a must. "It's practically impossible to find, but if you can, it will make more of a difference than everything else put together," he said in a hushed tone, as if divulging a fraternal handshake. "The tape compression is strong, it has a greater mid-range and the high end is warm without being shiny."

Collectively, all this contributes to an intimate sound with a raw edge. Moreover, musicians are liberated from the sterile confines of recording studios that add greatly to production costs.

The lo-fi concept is not entirely novel. One of the definitive lo-fi recordings was the Rolling Stones' 1968 anthem "Jumping Jack Flash," recorded on a $9 Japanese cassette recorder and then played directly into a four-track machine. (Of course, at the time, four-track was the height of technology, used to record the Beatles' "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.")

As late as 1982, Bruce Springsteen recorded the album "Nebraska" on an inexpensive 4-track recorder in his basement.

Nonetheless, these were isolated sonic experiments. Most musicians became addicted to 48-track recording sessions and the lavish budgets necessary to finance them. Even now, most mainstream artists still use the modern studio and its digital technology.

Clay Sheff, the owner of Smash Studios in Chelsea, says that lo-fi for popular artists today involves a synthesis of old and new technologies. And Chris Gill, the associate editor of Guitar Player magazine, said: "The 80's were about a very processed, perfect sound. But today we're moving away from that to more of a live sound. To achieve that warm sound, you have to use a lot of analogue gear. Then you run all of that gear through a 24-track recorder to manipulate the music. And presto -- you have the best of both worlds. Lo-fi doesn't necessarily have to sound like it was recorded in a bathroom with a boom box."

"I think our tastes are changing musically," he continued. "What we expect from a record is different now compared to several years ago. We're becoming increasingly conditioned to hear the grit and dirt on records. Aside from that, we're conditioned to accept a more genuine performer, not someone that's manufactured by some corporate exec at a record label. I think Henry Rollins said it best: 'Nirvana killed the hair bands.' When 'Never Mind' came out, Bon Jovi and Poison were history."

Don Was, the record producer who worked on the Rolling Stones' recent "Voodoo Lounge" album, suggests that the current vogue for lo-fi will eventually swing in the opposite direction. "All this stuff goes in cycles," he said. "A new generation of audio equipment comes out, and everybody gets excited and milks it to death, to the point where every possible musical texture is exhausted. Eventually everyone's records start sounding the same. So what do you do? You go back to basics."


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