You can read all about an automobile, check its gear ratios, and ponder the engine's horsepower all you want—but until you put yourself in the driver's seat and take that baby out for a spin, you have no idea whether or not it's going to be fun to drive.
Consider the lowly spork, that modern marvel of versatility: half spoon, half fork. In theory, you should be able to eat just about anything short of a flank steak with it. But the sad fact is, whether you're eating soup or salad, you might as well try to shovel it in using a tongue depressor. The damn thing's so versatile, it almost doesn't work at all. There's a lot to be said for specialization.
My first reaction to the Prima Luna Prologue One was based solely on looks: For $1095, I might not have been disappointed had it sounded no better than a Bose Wave Radio. Its casework straddles the breach between vintage and modern in a way that little else does, at any price. The dark gray-blue finish, hand-rubbed to a tactile gloss, wouldn't look out of place on an Alfa GTV (the new one, which resembles a drop of oil). And for the first time in my experience, a high-end audio manufacturer has figured out a way to make a protective tube cage easy to remove and replace: with banana plugs and sockets. Why couldn't one of the high-price American brands have figured that out?
How times have changed. When Krell first debuted its KAV-300i, in 1996, it risked having people question its high-end credibility simply for having considered producing an integrated amplifier, much less an affordable one. After all, Krell was the company best known for massively overbuilt—and, many claimed, overpriced—power amplifiers that were uniquely capable of driving speakers of ridiculously low impedance. In Martin Colloms' review of the 300i in the July 1996 Stereophile, he asked the question on everyone's minds: "Is Krell risking its reputation?"
In Hinduism, an avatar is an incarnation of spirit—a god who descends to earth in bodily form. For Kevin Hayes of the Valve Amplification Company (VAC), the Avatar was meant to be nothing less than his defining statement of the state of the audio designer's art. Drawing on the high-tech refinements and scrupulous attention to individual components that distinguish his flagship high-end amps and preamps, Hayes has filtered it all down into one attractively priced integrated amplifier.
The search for signal transparency has led to much experiment and debate concerning losses in fidelity that can be traced to the preamplifier or—as it's more often and awkwardly called these days when the phono stage is omitted—the "line controller."
The women in my family and extended circle of friends are generally captivated by good sound, but are often appalled by the brutish, monolithic packaging that passes for "styling" in high-end gear. "Not in my living room," is the refrain, often played in a minor key.
With its high-end heart and home-theater brain, Chord's powerful CPM 3300 integrated amplifier ($9500 with the aluminum-cylinder Integra leg option, $8950 without) is a uniquely fascinating audio product well worth considering. High-tech innards and magazine-cover good looks don't hurt either, but what originally got me interested was the superlative sound Chord products have consistently delivered at trade and consumer shows when paired with Wilson-Benesch loudspeakers.
The old advertising jingle "Who put eight great tomatoes in that itty-bitty can?" bubbled through my head as Musical Fidelity's Antony Michaelson proudly unboxed the new $4500 M3 Nu-Vista integrated amplifier. How did they cram it all in there?
There's an aesthetic dimension to the Manley Laboratories Stingray that transcends high-end audio and borders on modern sculpture—not unlike the E.A.R. V20, which I auditioned in the October issue. Still, the Stingray is by no means an exercise in gimmickry. Form has clearly followed function at every step in the design process, the ultimate goal of which was to fashion a vacuum-tube integrated amplifier with real-world power that defined the outer limits of high-end performance in a functional, affordable, bare-bones package...with a touch of style.
Have you ever gone into a high-end audio emporium dressed not to the nines, but more like the threes or fours, and been ignored by the shop's staff because they've sized you up as being too low-budget? Even though you were carrying a high-powered, fully equipped, state-of-the-art wallet in that fanny pack, they assumed the opposite and shunned you.
Dating was murder, especially in the months just before I met my wife. I knew some nice women back then, many of whom were good-hearted and others of whom were beautiful. One was both, and talented, too: She gave me presents for no reason and wrote tender things in cards with pictures of sweet meadows or the sea: My love goes on and on, they said. But for whatever reason, I just couldn't love her back, and Oh! how the shit hit the fan the day I told her so. I meant it as a respectful act of honesty and forthrightness; she took it as a cowardly act of rejection, and responded in a manner that would forever remind me of Maggie bouncing the rolling pin off Jiggs's head while calling him an insect. That day, I learned two things: 1) women are unlearnable; and, 2) honesty, while an unassailably good thing in and of itself, makes a poor tool, mostly because it lacks a safety handle.