About 2200 years ago, a Greek writer named Antipater of Sidon compiled a list of the seven wonders of the world, which included a 100'-high statue of the Sun god Helios, erected next to the harbor of Rhodes on the Aegean sea. A of S called it the Colossus of Rhodes, for an obvious reason. Now there's a new Colossus, the derivation of whose name is a little less obvious, but which could justifiably be included in any contemporary listing of the seven wonders of the audio world.
It says something for the state of technology that, after a quarter of a century, there still is no authoritative explanation for why so many high-end audiophiles prefer tubes. Tubes not only refuse to die, they seem to be Coming back. The number of US and British firms making high-end tube equipment is growing steadily, and an increasing number of comparatively low-priced units are becoming available. There is a large market in renovated or used tube equipmentI must confess to owning a converted McIntosh MR-71 tunerand there are even some indications that tube manufacturers are improving their reliability, although getting good tubes remains a problem.
Ever since Stereophile took up the cudgels for subjectivity, and had the temerity to insist that even the best products have certain colorations, we have stressed compatibility in choosing components. By compatibility we do not mean merely matching impedances and signal levels, but mating components whose sonic peculiarities tended to offset one another.
Every engineer has known for years that, while beryllium has excellent physical qualities for use as a speaker radiatorlight weight, rigidity, and a remarkable degree of internal dampingit is not usable as such because it cannot be stamped out like most other materials. It will not stretch, and any attempt to shape it simply causes it to split.
When I attended the Audio Engineering Society convention in October 1987 (my first time in over eight years; full report in this issue), I was impressed by the incredible technology now available to composers of music. I was also dismayed, however, by the extent to which so-called purist audio, as well as "acoustical" music, have been consigned to oblivion by the pro audio community. It was clear, both from the exhibits and the many conversations on which I eavesdropped, that audio professionals are no longer concerned about fidelity, in the sense of trying to reproduce sounds accurately. A "real" sound has become to them merely raw material of no value except as something to be processed, manipulated, folded, bent, and spindled to produce any sonic effect except the original one. About a third of the products displayed at the 83rd AES convention were tools for doing that.
Many audiophiles who have only recently subscribed to Stereophile will be surprised to find that those clunky, heat-producing, short-lived tubes that reigned up through the mid-'60s are still Executive Monarchs in the mid-'80s. Why, for Heaven's sake? Because, despite everything, people like them.
When I first heard the Eagle 2 at the 1985 Winter CES I knew this amplifier was a winner. I was eager for a chance to get my hands on it, but I also knew that J. Gordon Holt was champing at the bit to do the same. So it came as both a surprise and a delight when ye Gracious Editor gave me first crack at the Eagle 2. I wasn't disappointed; the little Eagle more than lived up to expectations. It's not the best power amplifier I've ever heard, but it's damn good. It is, in fact, better than its big brother, the Eagle 7A, in significant ways; in view of the 2's reasonable price, that's saying a lot.
A reader who asked to remain anonymous wrote to tell us the results of some tests he saw conducted on one of our top-rated loudspeaker systems. Frequency-response checks showed that the system had virtually no deep bass, a midbass peak, a midrange slump, and a high-end rise. Further checks had shown gross distortion at input levels of over about 6W, and a definitely limited (although adequate for Row-M listening) maximum output-level capability. Said reader then went on to ask how we could possibly consider such a speaker to be one of the best available.
Before launching into Stereophile's first-ever report on a Mark Levinson product, an important point needs to be clarified. Although Mark Levinson products were originally made by Mark Levinson, they are no longer. Au contraire, Mark Levinson products are now being made by Madrigal, Ltd., which bought Mark Levinson Audio Systems' assets and trademark two years ago. Mark Levinson's products, as distinguished from Mark Levinson products, are now being manufactured by a company called Cello. But the subject of this report, the Mark Levinson ML-7A preamplifier, is a product of Madrigal, Ltd., not of Cello. Now that I've made that all perfectly clear, we may proceed.
A letter in the April 1988 issue (Vol.11 No.4) from reader Harold Goldman, MD, decried the seemingly appalling failure rate of high-end products, citing a $10,000/pair power amplifier, an $11,000 turntable, and a $1500 CD player which had all been reported in recent issues as having failed during or shortly after testing by Stereophile. And Dr. Goldman's list was far from complete. We have also experienced during the past couple of years the failure, or inoperation upon delivery, of two $2500 solid-state power amplifiers, a $1700 subwoofer, a $5000 hybrid amplifier, two pairs of $1200 loudspeakers, several pairs of under-$1000 loudspeakers, and many CD players costing over $1000 each, mainly those based on Philips transports.
Is it possible to make a $700 "mainstream-audio" power amplifier sound exactly like a high-priced perfectionist amplifier? Bob Carver, of Carver Corporation, seemed to think he could, so we challenged him to prove it.
In my rather jaded report from the 1986 Winter CES (Vol.9 No.2), I remarked that there was nothing really new in the field of high-end audio. Well, I was wrong. I overlooked the Acoustic Sciences Corporation Tube Traps, a patented new acoustic device designed by Arthur Noxon (president of ASC). The Traps represent the first practical and effective solution to a perennial audiophile problem: standing waves in the listening room.
One of the nicest features of the High End is its diversity. Regardless of whatever trend is fashionable, there will always be manufacturers to buck it, and sell alternative concepts and sounds. VMPS is just such a case. With few exceptions, the recent trend in speaker systems has been toward small-to-medium-sized "monitors" with good imaging and high resolution, but limited bass and dynamics (footnote 1). The VMPS SuperTowers provide the former, but buck the trend by adding reproduction of the deepest bass and outstanding full-range dynamics.
As the person who "invented" subjective testing, I have followed with great interest the many articles in the mainstream audio press which purport to prove that none of us can really hear all the differences we claim to hear, particularly those between amplifiers. My reaction has usually been: "Why didn't they invite me to participate? I would have heard the differences under their double-blind listening conditions." I could make that assertion with supreme confidence because I had never been involved in any such test.