It wasn't so much a vow as a prediction: After selling my last pair of Ticonal-magnet drivers and the homemade horns I'd carted around to three different houses, I supposed I would never again have a Lowther loudspeaker in my humble house.
That remains literally true: The 7" full-range drivers to which I'm listening today are from a German company called Voxativ; the horn-loaded cabinets from which they play were also designed by Voxativ, and are made in Germany by the Wilhelm Schimmel piano company. And, with all due respect to Lowther, the 75-year-old English loudspeaker firm that launched a thousand DIY fantasiesnot to mention a thousand very lively wavefrontsthe Voxativ drivers and horns take the Lowther concept further than anyone else of whom I'm aware.
As metaphors go, the silver bullet is somewhat ambiguous, given that it's used to represent both the reliably destructive and the reliably beneficial. (Who would have guessed that an idea from a Lon Cheney Jr. film would prove too subtle and complex for people in the 21st century?) Nevertheless, at Montreal's Salon Son et Image on April 2, those of us who comprised Stereophile's reliably responsive "Ask the Editors" panelJohn Atkinson, Robert Deutsch, and Ivolleyed it with the sort of sprightly, vernal abandon that is the sole province of men with gray hair. To wit: We agreed that no materials, technologies, or design decisions can either guarantee or prevent good sound. Not vinyl. Not star grounding. Not class-A circuits. Neither tubes nor transistors. Neither belt nor idler nor electrostats nor multiway nor single-driver nor copper nor silver nor silk nor beryllium. Not even harmonic distortion. Each of those ideas may mean something to someone, in the short term, in the narrow view, but that's all. There are no silver bullets.
"Push it gently in the foam to correct." It sounds like a line from The Dairyman's Guide to BDSM, but it's actually a quote from the installation manual for Linn's latest upgrade for the Sondek LP12 turntable. The kit in questiona DC motor, plus an outboard power supply/control unitis probably the most extreme to arrive from the Scottish firm, thus earning one of the company's least abstract name in ages: It is, indeed, the Linn Radikal. And along with a newly designed onboard phono stage called the Urika, the Radikal is the latest of what Linn calls their SE-series upgrades.
Like most people who are neither radio talk-show hosts nor members of the Westboro Baptist Church, I'd rather be known for my loves than my hates. And after wandering this audio wilderness for umpteen years, I can stand before you and say without shame: An unlovable phono transformer has yet to step into my path.
Audio journalism is an unwitting form of pornography, albeit one that debases the soul with materialism instead of carnalism. It encouragesinadvertently, of coursethe objectification of its subject matter, and can lead to Chronic Disappointment Syndrome, as well as a lifelong difficulty in forging healthy relationships with technology.
Those used to be just fun things to say. But now I worry they might be true, if only because thinking, reading, and writing about domestic audio have, of late, brought with them the chalky aftertaste of guilt.
That was called "love" for the workers in song; probably still is, for those of them left.Leonard Cohen
It started around 1950, as postwar economies boomed and commercial radio stations multiplied like bunnies: Broadcasters needed reliable, high-quality turntables, so Garrard Engineering and Manufacturingan offshoot of Garrard & Co., England's first Crown Jewelertook up the challenge. They brought their considerable engineering talent to bear on a new design, invested in the personnel and facilities required to make the thing, and released the model 301 motor unit in 1953. It was a huge successand, strangely enough, it still is.
Now I remember why I'm no longer a car enthusiast. I haven't got the time.
In my youth, when I wasn't driving my beloved car, I was washing it. Polishing it. Waxing its engine compartment. Spraying Armor All on its hoses and bushings. Cleaning its interior vents with cotton swabs, and its shifter boot with Lexol. I did all of my own maintenance and some of my own repairsthose of the latter that didn't require specialized tools, at leastand I kept the car covered with a car cover I bought from a mail-order house, along with lots of other crazy junk.
At the start of my teaching career, I discovered that it was more difficult to maintain order in a sixth-grade classroom early in the day than at any other time. First thing in the morning the kids were noisy and aimless, and banging my open palm on the chalkboard for their attention worked only once. So I gave my students that which most children crave, consciously or un-: a simple, clear explanation of what I expected of them.
What I expected of themin the short term, at leastwas this: They were required to answer three new questions, written for their benefit on that still-vibrating chalkboard, at the beginning of each and every school day. If the children didn't hand in their answers before the first-period classes began, I would not accept their homework from the night before, thus earning them a score of nothing. On the other hand, a good record of correct or at least entertaining answers to those morning questions would, I promised, be used to nudge upward any borderline report-card grade at the end of each quarter.
When you play recorded music, you have before you a work of art with almost no physical existence at all; reconstituting it requires electricity, which will itself imitate the musical continuum represented by the bumps in the groove or the zeros in the datastream. When you listen to recorded music, you are listening to your household AC, and better AC equals better playback. That sounds obvious to me and you, even as it sends the technocodgers into paroxysms of puritanical indignation.
The English public may not like music, but they absolutely love the sound it makes.Sir Thomas Beecham
Just as car magazines are filled with descriptions of how fast their subjects don't go and how surely they don't stop, magazines such as ours are filled with descriptions of how neutrally our subjects don't play tones, and how precisely they don't place images in space.
If you've followed their story here and elsewhere, you probably know that Tokyo's Shindo Laboratory (footnote 1) has a reputation for defying the two most monolithic of all high-end audio commandments.
One more word for unhappy consumers, in any marketplace, who confuse praise for the new with rebuke for the old: 20 years on, I continue to admire the best qualities of my Linn Sondek LP12 turntable (itself not the first LP12 I've owned). I smile to think of all the records I enjoyed during those two decades.
Over the years, Stereophile and its writers have been taken to task for doing, thinking, and saying any number of things. We've been raked over the coals for enjoying acoustic music, electric music, old music, new music, light music, serious music, and music God put here as a test, just to see if we're smart enough to hate it. We've been taken to the woodshed for comparing new products to known references; for failing to compare new products with known references; for borrowing known references for the purpose of such comparisons; for taking advantage of professional discounts so that we can buy and keep known references for the purpose of such comparisons; for being out-of-touch naïfs who haven't owned enough gear in our lives to know anything about anything; and for being spoiled, materialistic pigs who have owned so many things that we've lost touch with The Common Man. We've been assaulted for loving analog, dissed for loving digital, tasered for loving tubes, sucker-slapped for loving solid-state, and mauled for loving mono. We've even been impeached, indicted, secretly reassigned to a new diocese, and flown back to Russia without an adult guardian for being overly concerned with current events.
At our best, audiophiles are the selfless and generous custodians of a thousand small libraries, keeping alive not only music's greatest recorded moments but the art of listening itself. At our worst, we are self-absorbed, superannuated rich kids, locked in an endless turd-hurl over who has the best toys.