The unveiling of what might be the best record player in the world happened in Brooklyn, New York, but it began in an old clothing factory in rural Pennsylvania.
“This is the most sensual fun you will have that will not end you up in a 12-step program,” Johnathan Weiss told CBS News’ Jeff Glor.
Weiss is the founder and CEO of Oswald Mills Audio and Fleetwood Sound. After majoring in international relations at Princeton, he pursued a career as a documentary filmmaker until he realized his true passion was sound.
He set off on a quest to build the finest sound amplification system. Everything is made by locals, using local products.
“The slate’s from here. The wood’s from here. Our welding shop is right over there. The people who do water jet cutting, this is cut on a five-axis water jet machine by Mennonites. You’re sitting here on a treasure trove of both materials and human know-how and abilities,” Weiss said.
The quality of the work is almost as impressive as the sound it produces, and it is needed. Weiss said over the past several decades, the quality of recorded music around the world has entered a very dark place.
“The problem is that in technology, the idea that things get better, cheaper, smaller — that works with things like computers, but it doesn’t work with sound. Because sound waves, they’re our size. What we hear is actually our size. And you want to miniaturize it? You screw it up,” he said.
When most of us listen to music these days, we hear MP3s. Introduced in 1993, they took off with Napster, and became ubiquitous. But Weiss said 95% of the sound is gone in MP3s.
“Can you imagine watching a television set where 95% of the pixels are dark? You wouldn’t watch that at all. But your brain and your ears are so much more sophisticated with sound,” he said.
Weiss said that MP3s compress the sound to make room for more songs. “The algorithms for MP3s, the reason that you can have 10,000 songs on a iPod is because 95% of the information in the music is gone. It’s compressed away. It doesn’t come back on the other end,” he said.
That is where giant cone-shaped horns come in. Weiss said their size and shape make them the best way to amplify and direct sound without any distortion.
The idea isn’t new. The design dates back to some of the earliest phonographs, which required a way to amplify sound without electricity. Those original players used wax cylinders, which later evolved to vinyl records. Many argue it is the purest way to listen to recorded music, and people seem to be getting the message.
Last year for the first time since 1986, sales of vinyl outstripped CDs. Turntables can cost between hundreds of dollars and hundreds of thousands of dollars. The brand new player Weiss unveiled costs $300,000.
He said he hates talking about the price because “we’re in a culture where price is the product. Where people go like, ‘It’s a ‘X hundreds of thousands of dollars thing,” and then that’s what it is. I don’t want that for this. I want people to look at this and go, like, ‘Wow. That’s cool looking. I wonder what it sounds like.'”
Fleetwood Sound is intended to be a lower-cost option to the Oswald Mills brand. For Weiss, music is a spiritual experience he hopes the next generation is willing to invest in.
“What art is more intrinsic to the human condition than music? Everyone listens to music and makes music everywhere. But what we’ve done because of our culture is we’ve reduced music to something that is really just a pale shadow of what it was,” he said.
“What do you want your musical legacy to be?” Glor asked.
“I just want people to realize what is possible,” Weiss said.
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