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Home » Intrinsic nature of his art » JEAN SHEPHERD & Sound Part 4

JEAN SHEPHERD & Sound Part 4

Whether based on his fascination with the infinite diversity of human life in general, or, on occasion, connected to a commercial enterprise, Shepherd enjoyed sharing his enthusiasms.  Whatever the nature of the subject, for listeners and readers, he was their guru and he held their trust.  A 1958 Pickering speaker brochure, eight small pages of text and illustrations, announces on its cover: “ISOPHASE a new kind of sound—by Jean Shepherd.”  The entire brochure features him as an authority.  A page titled “About Jean Shepherd” includes a photo of him with the Isophase speaker and an appreciative text about his background.  Copy here describes Shepherd’s enthusiasm for hi-fi, noting that he “has contributed a great deal toward a better understanding of high fidelity by non-technical music lovers through his radio shows.  In fact, his was one of the very first radio programs that had ‘shirt-sleeve’ discussions on the subject of high fidelity [KYW Philadelphia from Spring of 1951 to early 1953]…the program was just brimful of good, interesting hi-fi music and Mr. Shepherd’s familiar, easy-to-listen-to chats on hi-fi.”

Shepherd’s text, which dominates the brochure, gives a good sense of his very personal approach to engaging his listeners and readers.  He begins by noting that most hi-fi advertising of the time claimed to describe some “new” product but that “I have found that the truly new and revolutionary is a very rare thing indeed in any field of human endeavor.”  After thus relating his particular experience with audio equipment to all other behavior patterns of his fellow humans, he writes that “I invested in 581B [the Isophase speaker] and have used it in my own system for some time now and I continue to be amazed at it.”

He concludes the first portion of his oh-so-casual tale by describing how he came to write this piece.  He says that at the New York Hi-fi Show he was introduced to the president of Pickering, and upon telling him how much he liked the Isophase, the president asked if he would “write a few notes about the speaker.  He felt it would be something that the average non-technical Hi-fi enthusiast would be interested in reading.”  Shepherd, legendary as a radio storyteller, adds, as he did hundreds of times on the air, “Here is the story,” thus ending the paragraph and leading us onward to hear his tale. As Shepherd’s listeners might expect, he continues with yet another personal note, commenting that he “enjoys pouring the juice on from time to time when I feel the neighbors are away for the weekend or when I want to break a lease.”  After adding that he also likes to play his equipment at very low volume, he assures the reader that the speaker performs magnificently both ways.  He now engineers the transition between his casual style and the nuts and bolts that every audiophile needs to have and to hold.  He grafts his offhand attitude to his authoritative modus operandi: “…when I sat down to knock out this piece I did a lot of reading and nosing around in order to get at the facts about the Isophase speaker.”  To unconcernedly “knock out this piece,” our investigative reporter, good old Sherlock Shep, did his most important detective work while, apparently, just “nosing around.”

isophase part 2First double-spread of the brochure. As Shepherd wrote almost the

entire contents, one might wonder if he also drew

the several small drawings.

Indeed, he was an avid sketcher with pen and paper

during the time in which the brochure was made.

(Click on images to enlarge for reading.)

For several pages he describes outstanding features of the speaker.  First, as a devoted wordsmith, he dissects the name Isophase as a neologism based on “equal” and “phase,” that suggests the speaker’s “high efficiency in the middle and upper frequency ranges over a full dynamic scale,” and that it is superior to other, conventional tweeters.   He notes that, with an effective diaphragm size of 24” by 32”, this large, quite slim, and slightly curved speaker is so lightweight that it can be mounted anywhere.  Scattered throughout the text, varied installation options are illustrated with the same, simple pen and ink technique Shepherd often used for his personal sketching during this period, suggesting that, though the drawings are unsigned, his very essence may well dominate this small, one-man exposition even more than one might have at first suspected.  He discusses a few technical issues, pointing out that “You can see I’ve been delving into the guts of this thing,” before concluding that “For my taste, it is the most pleasing sound in Hi-fi today.”

isophase part 3Center pages of brochure

(Click on images to enlarge for reading.)

In summing up he notes, “I know that in my case, I continually hear things on tapes and recordings of mine that I had no idea were on them.”  He is enamored of this speaker and suggests that everyone “who is truly interested in fine sound” should give it a try.  He concludes his homage with his own special brand of hyperbole: “As for myself, my business revolves around sound in one fashion or another and I feel that the Isophase is about the best investment I’ve made in Hi-fi since I threw out my old crank-wound windup turntable with the green felt spinner and the cups for used steel needles on the side.”

isophase part 4Final double spread. The back page with its description of Shepherd

I posted in the earlier section of this essay.

(Click on images to enlarge for reading.)

Jean Shepherd has done it again.  A guru-worthy epiphany wrapped around a connoisseur’s authoritative counsel capped off with just a tad of humorous-yet relevant-imagery.  Where can I get my hands on one of these Isophase speakers?

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