Steve Hoffman at CES

Thursday, 18 Jan 2007 | CDs, Entertainment

I have had an interest in high fidelity and audio components since I was a teenager. Music has been such an integral part of my life. Music and photography help me to remember all those wonderful moments I've experienced. It's hard to imagine a world without images and sound.

I went to the Venetian suites to see Mike Slaminski of Precision Audio & Video on the first day of CES. Mike is the owner of this high end audio dealer located in Moorpark, California. I had not seen him in several years. I bought several pieces of my audio gear from him. When I saw that he would be at CES, I was eager to drop in to say hi.

When I entered the suite, I saw there was an audio system set up with a pair of very impressive sounding and looking speakers. Mike informed me these were the best speakers he's auditioned. These were $30,000 speakers from a company I wasn't familiar with called Venture Audio. They truly sounded wonderful. Didi, the creator of these speakers kindly invited me to stay for a session with Steve Hoffman, pointing to a sign announcing his appearance. I didn't think much of it, but decided to stay.

After Steve Hoffman was announced, I realized who he was. Steve Hoffman is a reknowned record mastering genius. He has mastered countless hits on vinyl, CD and SACD. I knew about Steve from the numerous DCC Gold CDs I own that he mastered, including The Cars Greatest Hits, Barry Belafonte's Jump Up Calypso, Paul McCartney & Wings' Band on the Run, the Doobie Brothers Best of the Doobies and Elvis Presleys' Elvis 24 Karat Hits!

Steve Hoffman's talk was so interesting. He played tracks from personally recorded CDs on the Venture Audio system. For each song he played, Steve explained the recording equipment used and the details about the recording and performers. It was such a treat because these were songs mastered by Steve Hoffman and not available for purchase on commercial CDs. The sound quality was impressive, even on the older recordings. They sounded so fresh and clean. Steve's "Less is More" philosophy results in musical reproductions full of life and emotion.

I was impressed with the quality of Peggy Lee's Fever he played for us. I didn't realize older recordings posessed this level of fidelity. Then he played an unreleased version of the Beatle's I'm So Tired from their White Album. John Lennon's and Paul McCartney's vocals had an immediacy that was infectious.

Then he played Ray Charles performing Somewhere Over the Rainbow. This one was so moving and heartfelt it moved me literally to tears. It was absolutey beautiful. Steve said Ray Charles was not familiar with this song when he recorded it. He learned it in one day, reading the lyrics in Braille as he sang. Steve said Ray Charles had such a good ear he could zero the levels on his recording equipment by sound, not even using the meters for assistance. Steve talked of going to Ray's house. On one visit, Ray's Walkman had stop working and Ray asked Steve where he could go to purchase a new one. Steve said, "Well, we could go to Circuit City. They sell them there." Ray said, "Let's go." So, Steve and Ray Charles and entourage got in the car are travelled to the local Circuit City store. When Ray Charles walked into the store, everyone went silent and still. They all stopped what they were doing and stood staring at Ray Charles. Ray asked Steve why nobody was helping him and Steve told him that he thought they were afraid of him. Ray asked Steve which Walkman he would recommend and Steve told him he liked the cheapest Sony Walkman. Ray said he agreed. Steve thought is was quite a compliment and honor to be asked his opinion. Steve also talked about always having the same food when visiting Ray Charles. They would always have Wonder bread and hot links from a local Hollywood barbecue joint.

I also listened to a 1963 outtake of There's a Place by the Beatles, La Grange by ZZ Top, Everything I Have is Yours by Billy Holiday, a song by Bing Crosby and Fire and Rain by James Taylor from his Sweet Baby James album. Steve is currently mastering Sweet Baby James for vinyl from the original master tapes that were never used for any other release. The studio made compressed audio copies of the master and used them because the dynamic range was too much for the playback medium of that time. The original tapes were sealed with a sticker that read "Do Not Use."

I'm so glad I stayed to listen to Steve Hoffman. It was a delight to hear these beautiful recordings and listen to Steve tell stories about the artists and recording scenarios. The music sounded so good played on the Venture Audio speakers. It turns out Steve Hoffman uses Venture Audio speakers in his mastering studio. They're that good.

Earlier that day, I had the good fortune to listen to some unreleased tracks at the Thiel speaker room. I just happened upon a gentleman who had CDs of unreleased material from the BBC. I heard songs by the Beatles, Pink Floyd and an accapella version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen by Simon & Garfunkel. What a treat!

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