Listening #8

Hurt not the earth, neither the sea nor trees...—Revelation 7:3

Not long ago, my wife and I were sitting around the kitchen table—actually one of those huge, empty cable spools, which we stole from a construction site, brought home, and decorated with a candle in a Chianti bottle—thumbing through our old copies of Mother Jones, The Nation, and Listener and talking about how much we miss Al Gore. After a while, the conversation shifted to our jobs, and as I scratched my goatee and adjusted the beret that covers my bald spot, I wondered aloud: "What else do you suppose I could do to annoy Stereophile's most self-serious readers?"

Janet tugged at the collar of her black turtleneck, took a long, thoughtful drag on her French cigarette, and peered at me over the rims of her Wayfarers. "How about devoting an entire column to a crazy tweak for their CDs—something that doesn't work, and that ruins all their discs, to boot?"

"Like spraying them with a popular vinyl protectant?"

"Yeah, that's the ticket!"

"Nah. Not one single person would fall for something like that."

"Hmmm," she mused. "Why don't you take a side in the DVD/SACD debate? It doesn't matter which side you take—you're bound to annoy somebody."

"Nope. They only pretend they care. Any true audiophile is happy to buy both formats." I sighed.

"Well," she said, "you could fill up your column with lots of leftist political propaganda."

We paused, looked at each other in silence, then broke into a laughing fit that lasted a whole minute.

After the hilarity subsided, I lit another Gauloise and shook out the match. "I know just what to do..."

Musical Fidelity A3.2 integrated amplifier
The Musical Fidelity A3.2 is a better-than-average integrated amp, and it's somewhat underpriced at $1495. I also like its styling: The A3.2, like most other MF products, is among the few hi-fi components on the market that look original without being weird or obvious about it. Pressed further, I'd say that Antony Michaelson, CEO of Musical Fidelity Ltd., is by far the finest amateur clarinetist I have ever heard, and one who understands the importance of instrumental color at the heart of Mozart's music. Andy Statman wishes he had tone like Michaelson's.

I'll also admit: Before I actually listened to the A3.2—my first Musical Fidelity product—I was torn between the two poles of my narcissism: On the one hand, I hoped I would hate the A3.2, because then I would be Artie the Hero, tilting against the great establishment devil. On the other hand, I hoped I would love the MF, because then I could bring Stereophile's weeniest, weediest critics one step closer to ventricular fibrillation: All it would take is one more positive MF review to push some of those fatties over the brink, I figured.

While I'm on the subject: Have you noticed that when Stereophile's critics aren't busy demanding that the magazine give its writers free rein (to write about cheap components, expensive components, SET components, megatransistor components, DVD components, SACD components, or non-Musical Fidelity components), they're demanding that they rope us in? Unleash us, rope us in, unleash us, rope us in...cripes, lady, make up your mind!

Back to the A3.2, which I recently used in my Quad-based system (yes, I bought the sample pair of ESL-989s I wrote about in the May Stereophile): As so often happens in real life, the truth is more moderate than extreme. The A3.2 is good. It isn't the best integrated amp I've heard, and it isn't even my favorite $1500 amp, but it's very good.

During its time here, the A3.2 expressed a strong preference for classical music, for two apparent reasons. For one thing, the amp sounded very clear, open, and extended, especially in the trebles. I don't think you'd consider it bright—the A3.2 was well-balanced in my system, with deep, tactile bass to balance out the strong highs—but with any more treble extension than it has now, you might.

The amp did justice to "difficult" instruments, catching both the timbre and, more important, the distinctively unnuanced playing style brought to the baroque violin by Marianne Rorez in Affetti Musicali's 1998 two-disc set of Biber's Mysterien Sonaten (Winter & Winter 910 029-2), a peerlessly beautiful recording in every way. The A3.2 also seemed to capture just the right "hooty" sound of the organ continuo, not to mention the characteristic hall sound.

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