For a subjective equipment reviewer, whose writings are based as much on impressions as on observations, it is very important to approach a product without personal bias. Of course, all of us lay claim to this ideal, and some of us even manage to maintain the appearance of impartiality most of the time. But just under the reviewer's veneer of urbane professionalism and deliberative restraint lies a darker force—a leering hobgoblin of anarchy and mischief which scoops usually forbidden adjectives from a well of calumny and offers them for the writer's consideration as the perfect word to describe what he is trying to express. It's an ever-present temptation to accept the suggestion, because every critic harbors a secret urge to be another Dorothy Parker, trashing mankind's most earnest endeavors with devastating bon mots that will endure long after the writer has ceased to. Most of the time, the reviewer is able to resist the temptation to broadside a product, but some products, and the people they represent, make this very difficult. In fact, sometimes it is impossible.
The Magnep1anar Tympani I that is the subject of this report is already an obsolete model, having been superseded by the Tympanis IA, II, and III that were unveiled at the CE Show in Chicago this past June. Since many of our readers already own Tympani Is, and dealer stocks of them are being sold at a substantial price reduction, the report should still be of interest. We will publish follow-up reports on the newer models as soon as they become available for testing.
In 1966, two avid audiophile/music lovers—a nuclear physicist named Arnold Nudell and an airline pilot named Cary Christie—labored over weekends and evenings for 18 months in Nudell's garage to put together the world's first hybrid electrostatic/dynamic loudspeaker system. It cost them $5000 for materials, launched a company (New Technology Enterprises), and helped contribute to the popular myth that all of the really important audiophile manufacturers got started in somebody's basement or garage (footnote 1). The system was marketed as the Servo-Statik I, for the princely sum of $1795. (At the time, the most expensive loudspeaker listed in Stereo Review's "Stereo/Hi-Fi Directory" was JBL's "Metregon," at $1230.)
As you may have noticed, Stereophile's approach to equipment testing is quite different from that of "mainstream" audio publications. Instead of throwing a bunch of measurements at you, and telling you how we think components ought to sound because of those measurements, we test them as you would: by listening. But we have an extra problem: we have to convey to someone else—you—a feeling for what we hear from that component. It ain't always easy.
First I should clear up what may be an ambiguity in the driver-lineup spec for these speakers. In each system, three 8" cone units serve as woofers. Two of these crossover from the midrange drivers at 100Hz. Crossover to the third 8-incher, the subwoofer, is at 40Hz. Thus, two woofers are active from 100Hz down to 40Hz, and all three are active below 40. In other words, the third woofer does not come into play until the frequency drops to the point where the radiating area of two 8-inchers starts to become inadequate for moving air, at which point the additional area of the third speaker is thrown in. Below 40Hz, all three are working together.
Richard Shahinian has been offering loudspeakers to music lovers for more than 15 years. I use the word "offering" here in its strictest sense, because Dick has never "sold" his products—by pushing them. Indeed, he is probably one of the worst self-promoters in the business. If we think of "soft sell" in the usual context of laid-back and low-pressure, then Shahinian's approach would have to be called "mushy sell."
Most Stereophile readers are aware by now of why the full-range electrostatic should, in theory, be the ideal transducer. (If you aren't aware, see the accompanying sidebar.) Acoustat was the first manufacturer to design a full-range electrostatic that was so indestructible it came with a lifetime warranty. (MartinLogan is now offering a three-year warranty on their speakers, and is considering going to a lifetime warranty). But Acoustat was never able to solve another problem that has plagued all flat-panel speakers: treble beaming.
Well, it was inevitable. Prior to the MCD, every CD player had been a product of a major Japanese or European manufacturer, and we all know what kind of audio electronics "major" manufacturers usually design: adequate, but rarely much better. The MCD is the first player from a small, perfectionist-oriented firm, and an English one at that (Boothroyd-Stuart).
What, a high-fidelity product from Magnavox? The company that 20 years ago had a reputation for building massive, polished-console boom-boxes and was scornfully referred to in audiophile circles as "Maggotbox"? Some important things have happened to Magnavox since those days. Mainly, it became a subsidiary of the Dutch Philips company, co-developer of the laser video disc and now the audio Compact Disc. The Magnavox CD players are actually made by Philips for US distribution by Magnavox.
A couple of months back (March 1993, p.7), I wrote that as far as I was concerned, video was television dressed up in fancy dress, thus there was no place for coverage of the medium in Stereophile. As the magazine's founder, J. Gordon Holt, has been a committed videophile for many years, I sat back and awaited a reaction from him. One was not long coming. I am running his response as this month's "As We See It" feature.—John Atkinson
During the late 1950s, when high fidelity exploded into a multimillion-dollar industry, product advertisements bragged about bringing the orchestra into your living room. Apparently, no one realized what an absurd concept it was, but there are still many people today who believe that's what audio is all about. It isn't. There is no way a real orchestra could fit into the average living room, and if it could, we would not want to be around when it played. Sound levels of 115dB are just too loud for most sane people, and that's what a full orchestral fortissimo can produce in a small room.
Dateline: late August 1989. The scene: my palatial office in the Stereophile Tower. Present were the magazine's official technowizard Robert Harley, Circulation Kahuna Michael Harvey, and myself. The subject under discussion was the program for the Stereophile Test CD, launched in this issue, and Bob had been dazzling Michael and myself with a description of the sophisticated signal-processing power offered by the Digidesign Sound Tools music editing system with which he had outfitted his Macintosh IIX computer. (He had to fit it with a 600-megabyte hard-disk drive!) "It'll even do edits as crossfades as well as butt joins," enthused Bob. "Let me tell you about the crossfade I once did when editing a drum solo for a CD master that lasted ten seconds..."
An equipment reviewer for one of the consumer hi-fi magazines once confided to a manufacturer that he found it hard to like electrostatics because of the kind of people who usually like electrostatics. His implication—that certain kinds of people gravitate towards certain kinds of sound—is an interesting thought, and one that might bear some further investigation. But there is no questioning the fact that electrostatic speakers in general do have a particular kind of sound, that might be characterized as "polite."
Several issues back, I mentioned a major "new wave" of power amplifiers coming along: the Adcom 555, the New York Audio Labs transistor-tube hybrids, and the latest Krells, for example. They demonstrate that major audible improvements are still possible in something as well-explored as the power amplifier. Not only that, some of these products demonstrate that superior performance can be combined with relatively low price.