When audio designer Ken Shindo was a little boy, his father kept an enormous collection of 78rpm records in their home in Tokyo. During the final days of World War II, the Japanese authorities did their best to evacuate the city, but the elder Shindo was steadfast: He refused to leave, for fear that the records would be gone when he returned.
Today is Monday, February 5, and it's so buttercupping cold outside that the custodian couldn't get our school's oil burner started. Consequently, my daughter is home for the day, playing on the rug in front of the fireplace. (Santa brought a wooden castle and a fine selection of medieval figurines, some of which are headed for the dungeon as we speak.) I'm at my desk in the music room, on the upwind side of the house—and the wind is murder. The west wall is cold. The north wall is cold. The floorboards are cold. But the air inside is warm as toast: I'm driving my Quad ESL speakers with a Joule Electra VZN-80 amplifier ($12,000) that isn't at all bashful about squandering a goodly amount of energy as heat. I can't think of a more delightful quality for an amp to have, at least on a day like this.
I was going through a box of old photographs, lingering over some pictures I'd taken at the Quad loudspeaker factory in Huntingdon, England, a number of years ago. It was my second trip overseas—1994 or '95—and while I remember being intrigued by the machinery and the test equipment and all, I know that the real impact of the tour was probably lost on me: I wasn't yet a Quad owner.
Here's something that's difficult to visualize but nonetheless true: If you attempt to isolate from their environment the working bits of a record player—the main bearing, platter, tonearm, and cartridge—by means of an elastic drive belt and a suspended subchassis of the usual sort, you'll create almost as many problems as you solve.
People love it when audio reviewers reach for that highest of all compliments: "I enjoyed the thing so much, I decided to keep it" (footnote 1). Manufacturers love it for obvious reasons. Readers love it because nuance is out of style at the moment, and the ambiguities implied by less decisive conclusions can be frustrating to adults who read with their mouths open. Publishers love it because strong, declarative statements have been scientifically proven, in double-blind reading tests, to attract subscribers.
In his June, 2006 "Listening" column, Art Dudley discussed the original Quad ESL loudspeaker, and started to describe the task of refurbishing a 47-year-old pair of them; this month, Art fries a pair of transformers and nearly ruins his new wall oven—but finishes the job nevertheless. Please remember that sharp tools, solder flux fumes, and the high voltages typically present inside an electrostatic loudspeaker can sicken or kill you if you don't proceed with caution, and neither Stereophile nor its parent company, Primedia, can be responsible for the suffering or loss that may befall readers who follow Art's advice. Thank you.
Going from being an audio hobbyist to a professional reviewer is like passing kidney stones in an emergency room staffed with Playboy bunnies: Not only can you not have what you want, but you don't even want it anymore. In fact, you begin to consciously associate desire with a blinding pain in your crotch.