"The bottom line is that good stuff really is better, and unfortunately, it usually costs more," proclaimed my friend Charlie over lunch one day. Our conversation had drifted to our newest toys, and although Charlie isn't an audiophile, he's passionate about his hobbies and appreciates performance and quality. He'll talk animatedly about exotic mountain bikes or Leica cameras, for example, and he has a garage full of Snap-On hand tools. Last winter he conducted an exhaustive search before selecting a particular pair of Zeiss binoculars—and the price of one of his James Purdey or 1930s-vintage Charles Daly shotguns would stagger even a veteran audiophile.
History teaches us that the full flowering of any social phenomenon takes place after the seeds of its destruction have been sown. That tourist magnet, London's Buckingham Palace, for example, was built decades after the English Revolution and the Restoration had redefined the role of the British monarchy as being merely titular, and made the elected Parliament the real seat of power.
I think I've finally figured out the secret of Stereophile's success. You, cherished reader, don't read this mag because it's chock full o' reviews of tantalizing audio gear (even though it is). And you don't read this mag because JA and RL strive so hard to keep the literary quotient as hi as the fi (even though they do). And I know you don't read this mag cuz trusting yer own sensory input is a mighty scary proposition indeed so you look to Stereophile as to a Holy Bible that eases your Earthly burden by telling you, Ah say Ah say TAILING YEW what to buy (do you?).
"Them which is of other naturs thinks different," said Martin Chuzzlewit's Mrs. Gamp. If that is true, then Naim's Julian Vereker must be of a very different nature indeed. Vereker—and, by extension, Naim—has never done things the conventional way. Take, for example, power regulation and stiffening power supplies. Long before the rest of the world was taking them seriously, Naim offered upgrades to their components not by changing the audio circuitry, but by adding stiffer and stiffer outboard power regulation.
Man, has Balanced Audio Technology come a long way in a short time. I think partners Steve Bednarski and Victor Khomenko have comprehensively put the kibosh on the notion that newcomers can't succeed in high-end audio.
My wife's cousin Steve used to sell antiques. Whenever he would display in his shop's window an impeccable (and expensive) item such as a Colonial pie safe, someone would inevitably walk into the shop and demand to know its price. He'd quote a staggering figure, and the browser would get excited. "Why, I have a piece at home exactly the same as that one! Do you think I could get that sort of money for it?" Steve, having learned his lesson the hard way, would be noncommittal.
Back in my bass-player days in the 1970s, I used to do a regular cabaret gig, providing musical support for sundry British stand-up comic acts. I flashed back on those days when I recently watched Fierce Creatures, the John Cleese/Jamie Lee Curtis/Kevin Kline/Michael Palin vehicle, on satellite. There, playing the part of a zookeeper, was pint-size comedian Ronnie Corbett, whom I backed a few times. (He always bought the band a bottle of Scotch—you remember stuff like that!) Ronnie used to open his act with the old "They said Thomas Edison was crazy...they said Henry Ford was crazy...they said Albert Einstein was crazy..." gag, which ends with "They said my Uncle Charlie was crazy...actually, my Uncle Charlie was crazy!"
A few nights ago, John Atkinson and I played host to a speaker designer and a turntable manufacturer. We were all chewing over the 1998 Consumer Electronics Show, talking about different systems we'd heard there and speculating as to which designs would be around for the long haul. The speaker designer said he'd heard no truly bad sound at the Show. Nods all around the table—none of us had. The turntable manufacturer asked if any of us could recall hearing any spectacularly bad products recently. We all shook our heads.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a company more protective of its reputation than Krell. At a recent meeting of the Academy for the Advancement for High End Audio and Video, a motion was made to replace the phrase "High End" with the more purely descriptive "High Performance." Krell's CEO, Dan D'Agostino, objected—while he knew the description fit his products, he wasn't sure about those from some of the other members.
My next-door neighbor bought a late-'70s Porsche 924 last week, and I'm really glad he did. For one thing, it adds a little class to the 'hood—my 1984 Grand Wagoneer's peeling "wood paneling" is far more typical of the vehicles in my part of town. And Eric is just so obviously thrilled to own a piece of the legend—a real Teutonic driving machine.
We are now well past the era in which every review of digital playback equipment had to begin with an apology for the medium. CD replay performance may, in fact, now be bumping up against a glass ceiling. But that doesn't discourage high-end audio manufacturers from trying to advance the art, and tempt audiophiles (at least those among us who are not hopeless digiphobes) out of our minds.
If there is a component category that causes the "objectivists" in the audio community to splutter uncontrollably over their cups of herbal tea, it is the high-end CD transport. For in their "bits is bits" world, all a transport is required to do is recover the digital data from a disc—much like a grown-up cousin of your computer's $25 floppy-disk drive. The thought of paying up to $10,000 for something so humble—and, in their eyes, unnecessary—typifies what these blinkered folks regard as the insanity of the High End.