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.
Nineteen days after J. Gordon Holt died, my daughter and I drove west on NY Route 20, passing lawn sale after lawn sale on our way to the supermarket in Richfield Springs. Each sale promised a pleasant waste of time on that hot afternoon, but only one caught my eye: There, among the Avon bottles and the 8-track tape cartridges, were two large bookshelf loudspeakers, dressed in walnut veneer and light-colored fabric grilles. AR 3s, I thought. Or maybe Large Advents. "They'll still be there when we come back this way," I said, stupidly.
On two occasions I've caught myself wondering how to afford a pair of Wilson Audio loudspeakers. Interestingly, both happened within the past year. The first was in April 2009, at the Son et Image show in Montreal, during a demonstration of the MAXX Series 3. The experience was notable for its blend of genuinely great sound with genuine musicality: Each performance unfolded of its own natural accord, with human randomness and nuance, and without the fussy, mechanical, shallow artifice that attracts some audiophiles in the way a carnivorous plant attracts fliesand, if they're lucky, kills them (the audiophiles, that is).
It's a guy thing, dating from those sandbox days when such declarations were not only socially acceptable but expected of us: Mickey Mantle could run the bases faster than Whitey Ford, the Chevrolet Corvette was cooler than the Ford Mustang, Jimmy Page played faster than Jeff Beck, Superman was stronger than Batman. (Women, those devious serpent-hearkeners of Old Testament fame, are for once blameless: They never argue that Charlotte Bronte wrote better tea-drinking scenes than Jane Austen, or that Hugh Grant looks better in a powdered wig than Daniel Day Lewis.)
For an artform in which sound is everything, popular music has been blessed with strangely little poetry: There may be no other genre where high-mindedness falls with such a thud. Leonard Cohen remains the most striking exception, not just for the genuine seriousness of his music or the adulation of his audience, but for the ability of the former to survive the latter.
A new integrated amplifier called the Lars Type 1, which made its debut at the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show, has given my notion of a dichotomy between mainstream audio and alternative audio a severe beating. In that sense, the Lars Type 1 has been a life-changing product, although the change took longer than expected for me to digest.