In Remembrance of Enid Lumley

enidlumley

 

1938 – 2008

Enid Lumley was, for me anyway, somewhere in the ether. She was before my time, hence someone I had just heard about, at brief intervals throughout my audiophile career. But, I know of her. She was someone to remember. And what I had heard of her, never failed to intrigue me. She became known for her work as a reviewer for The Absolute Sound. She wrote a column called “Lumley’s Corner”, and also wrote for IAR (International Audio Review) under the moniker “Auntie Enid Lumley”. How’s that for different? Had she been known for nothing more than by-the-numbers audio reviews, Enid would already be unique. Because I said “she”. Before her (or even after?!), I had never heard of a female high end audio reviewer. Yes, she prompted male hobbyists to say there should be more females in the hobby…. But as far as I can tell, it hasn’t really changed. High end audio, for good or for worse, remains a male dominated hobby.

But what most intrigued me about Ms. Lumley was how on occasion, she would make an observation about a strange phenomenon… and end up saying things that no other audio reviewer was saying. For example, she advocated checking the neutral blade on the cords of non-polarized AC equipment (the old NA-type, where the plug blades were the same size). Stating that your audio system’s sound would get worse or better, depending on which way you plugged the components in. (And I suppose one of the reasons I am sometimes compared to Enid Lumley, might be that I go one better. I make a similar claim that your hifi sound will get worse or better, depending on which way you plug your unit in…. but that is regardless of whether it is a piece of audio equipment, or a toaster! I call this hypothesis “advanced polarity”). In fact, in the pursuit of high fidelity, Enid advocated using cheater plugs, even for grounded equipment with polarized plugs.

Along the same lines, Enid paid considerable attention to things in components not wired in phase – back when no one did and no one cared. She advocated cable elevation long before manufacturers ever starting producing products solely to elevate cables! (She devised “cable tunnels” made of pine, with the cable suspended on eye hooks!). She advocated power isolation and power line treatment, long before that also became a staple of high end audio. She advised using brass screws for mounting cartridges, long before manufacturers starting making special screws to mount cartridges. She recommended pure copper as superior to all the metals that audio cables can be made of.

While some of her ideas that I just described have had a significant impact on the audio community, what strikes me as most appealing about Enid Lumley, is those ideas that didn’t. These are the ideas that even those who remember her fondly, dismiss as being “way out there” and “going too far”. Regardless of whether they’ve tried them or not, of course. They simply decide that Enid must have had psychological problems, when she was advocating these particular (read: controversial) ideas (never mind that she had a master’s degree in pschology…). To give one example of this, that pizza tripod I describe in my free tweaks section? That was something that Enid demonstrated back in the eighties!  For another, she used to hang wet towels in her listening room (low to high humidity will change acoustics by 10db in the HF range).

As the naysayers like to point out, she’s also remembered for writing about how pointing flashlights at your speakers will make them sound brighter, and how her system sounded brighter or darker, depending on which way the kitchen spout was oriented. These are the type of pronouncements that garner an instant backlash against this outstanding reviewer. The reaction is typically “She was ahead of her time, but sometimes, she was way out there”. Well I don’t know that. I’ve never experimented those particular things. But my experiments in Beltism have long since taught me never to assume something that seems improbable, is impossible. For example, I have done audio-related experiments with flashlights, modified and not. If the flashlight is poorly modified, shining it on an object (particularly an audio-related object like speakers), is likely to have the effect of degrading the sound. Often, such a degraded effect reduces bass and fullness to the sound, which I suppose can come off as sounding “bright”. You have to be one hell of a skilled bastard to hear that difference, mind you. So that there might say something about Enid Lumley’s abilities, to me.

As for pointing the spout away from the audio system? Again, I’ve never tried that. I can’t say that I see much of a correlation between that practice and my own experiments. But I have done experiments in and around the kitchen, experiments with water, experiments on plumbing for the faucets, and I do know that direction of objects in general plays a role in the sound you hear. So even in theory that is not, to me, out of the realm of the possible. For those who know nothing about what is possible in audio, what can affect the sound we hear, they will quickly dismiss these elements of Enid’s theories.

I don’t say that she can’t be wrong about anything. Maybe she is about the spout? I think the true reasoning behind much of the more advanced theories Enid promoted, were not well understood by her, and sometimes misunderstood. She just made observations. But she is remarkable if only for two things: 1) She many observations and engaged in practices that pushed the envelope for what audio was and is. And in order to be able to do that, she had to have a remarkable ear. She had to be a very quick, super-skilled listener. Much in the way Peter Belt is, or (dare I say so!), myself. 2) She came forward with those observations. Most reviewers wouldn’t, for fear of their careers. Unlike most of her peers, she obviously wasn’t in this hobby for love of money. From all I have learned of her, this journalist was no dilletante. She could tune and maintain Mapleknolls (the air bearing turntable) like nobody’s business. She knew audio and truly had it in the blood. She just had a genuine interest and talent for this hobby.

Lest her detractors presume this reviewer just imagined her beliefs, and posessed no real listening skills…. one David Spiegel (developer of the first switchbox used in blind listening audio tests), issued a “challenge” to high end audio reviewers. Out of those who came forth to accept the challenge, he said that Enid Lumley was the only reviewer that could successfully pass his stringent blind listening switchbox test! Just to give you an idea, audio skeptics themselves are notorious for not being able to pass blind listening tests that they exclusively advocate!

From what I can gather, after the eighties and in the next phase of her life, Enid shunned all things audio. She sold off all of her high end audio equipment and paraphenalia, and I don’t know…. lived “off the fat of the land”, Steinbeck style. She was, by all accounts, sick and tired of “the biz” that is the audio world. If that is so, I don’t blame her. By the time chose this complete different path, (one involving camp grounds and solace in arid climates), you would not be hearing talk of polarized cables at that point. I suspect had you met her at that time, you would never know of her legendary status in the audio world. She stands as an inspiration to all of us would-be pioneers, to all of us who don’t play follow the leader, to all of us who never stop in our search for answers and understanding.

Enid Lumley.

She was truly an advanced auiophile. and truly before her time. I wish I knew more about her, and I wish there were more Enid Lumley’s in the world. There needs to be.

 

- The Advanced Audiophile

 

“Ms. Lumley seems able to hear, with remarkable clarity, subtleties which few other audiophiles can perceive. The Lumley syndrome is described as an anxiety/depression induced by the conviction that there are others out there in audioland who are endowed with finer, more-sensitive auditory perceptions.”

- J. Gordon Holt, founder of Stereophile magazine.

 

I have also noticed many other flying Gremlins in my house and decided to chase them down and stomp on them, in hopes of getting better music from my system. I hope to help you get same from yours too. These damned Gremlins are everywhere… Virtually everything. If it’s not busy radiating an electromagnetic field, it’s busy radiating an electrostatic one. Even your drapes, the paint on the walls, paper, your records, the record jackets, the turntable dust cover – all are doing their thing to your stereoand it’s audible. Being aware of these offenders and what they do to your sound is the first step toward controlling them. The sonic effects the Gremlins have are unpredictable, and so I cannot describe to you a set of individual symptoms to listen for in hunting down each one. One thing that is a constant: the degradation of true transparency, that is, images of instruments and voices that are palpable in a palpable space containing the air of the hall. The feeling that you are there.
 

- Enid Lumley, The Absolute Sound, no.45, Feb. 1987

 
I have one extension cord with no load attached to it (and thus no current is flowing) that gives a dulled high end and loss of detail and another cord placed nearby that causes glare in the highs. Both cords are located 30 feet away from the system and needless to say, both are unplugged at the wall socket when I listen to music. Whatever, the real point is that Gremlins galore lurk in lamp cords, extension cords and the like.

- Enid Lumley

 
 We’ve just gotten started. How about all those metal objects in the house, for example, the sinks, the faucets, the fridge and stove, the metal frame in your listening chair, the metal fencing in the ASC Tube Traps so popular with most of us…From personal experience, all of these things degrade the sound. Your main components themselves are potent sources of radiated fields, both electrostatic and electromagnetic…
 

For your own ears, turn on a CD machine whilst playing your analogue records on the turntable and hear the junk put into your music. The CD player is not even hooked into the system. It’s just sitting there, playing a CD. If you want to hear something really grotesque, try playing a string quartet or massed violins on your analogue turntable while the CD is operating. You may decide to remove components not in use rather than just unplugging them. Listen to your big stereo as you remove that unused component from the room entirely. Do not try shielding these sources of interference by using metal of any kind, as you will see why it is wrong to do so in the next issue.

 
Have fun. If nothing else, it should be a learning experience and should open your ears.

- Enid Lumley