In the name of journalistic ethics (footnote 1) I have to come clean. David Manley once gave me a gift. He presented me with a large, rather heavy, Russian-made watch at the 1995 Las Vegas WCES. A very manly watch: In fact, it said "Manley" right on the dial. The watch worked fine for about six months. Then it developed a very subjective approach to timekeeping. Time stood still, and my life wasn't even passing before my eyes. The watch has become a nice, albeit slightly ugly, miniboat anchor; now my rubber ducky stays where I put it in my bathtub.
Although I'll be spending most of my time at Stereophile reviewing affordable gear, I will from time to time examine so-called "trickle-down" designs from high-end designers who have made their mark in the upper-price echelons. More and more, such designers are taking what they've learned and applying it to less-expensive products in order to broaden their customer base. Cary Audio Design, for example, of single-ended triode fame, has entered the ring with the SLM-100 pentode monoblocks.
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.
My reviews always begin in bizarre ways. Take David Manley...please! (Just kidding.) On the last day of Winter CES 1995, I found myself towing a tuckered-out JA to a few final rooms. (This was just after the January '95 David Manley/Dick Olsher tube-rolling brouhaha, footnote 1, regarding who should do what to whom, and with which particular tube.) So as we passed Manley's room, John Atkinson thought to stick his head in (the noose) and say hello.
Neither its rather pedestrian name nor Manley Labs' own literature gives much of a clue as to the 175 monoblock's special pedigree. Where are the bands, the fanfare?! After all, the rolling-out of a 6L6based high-power audiophile-grade tube amplifier definitely qualifies in my book as a momentous occasion. Deplorably, such happenings are rare indeed; the 6L6 has been unjustly neglected in high-end circles.
Remarkably, I set out to audition the Hyperion HT-88 amplifier ($2800/pair) over two years ago, only to be confounded by shipping errors, miscommunications, and, in the end, a stealthily defective tube. I almost gave up.
Based in the Czech Republic, KR Enterprise is headed by an occasionally gruff Dr. Riccardo Kron and his American-born wife, Eunice, who operate the company out of a partially abandoned factory that was once part of the state-owned Tesla High Vacuum Technology facility in Prague. The Swiss-funded company is unique in that it manufactures both amplifiers and the tubes that power them. KR's tubes have found favor with other amplifier makers as wellespecially the 300BXS, electrically identical to a standard 300B but rated at 25W in class-A.
The last time I was in England, I happened to be rummaging through some boxes in my mother's garage, boxes containing photographs, my old school books, concert programs, diaries, postcardsall the bric-a-brac you collect throughout your life that you'll never have a need for and can never discard. If anything, such rubbish is perhaps the nearest thing to roots that anyone can have these days. Among the boxes was an amplifier that had been an everyday companion of mine for many years, the vintage Vox AC100 I had used to amplify my Fender bass when on the road.
Stop me if you've heard this one: Back in the early 1990s, just after the fall of the Soviet Union, I debated professor of music engineering and magazine columnist Ken Pohlmann on a talk show on the CBS radio network. The subject was analog sound vs digital sound, but I guess when Pohlmann felt I was getting the upper hand, he felt he needed to play the tube card. Derisively, he said, "I bet you're one of those tube guys, too, aren't you?" Before I could open my mouth, he continued: "You know, the Soviet Union's military gear, including the MIG fighters, ran on tube electronics, and look what happened to them!"
Ars-Sonum is a Spanish audio company that, as far as I can tell, makes only one product—but it's a doozy (footnote 1). The Filarmonía SE is a tube integrated amplifier that is, in many ways, an homage to Dynaco's iconic Stereo 70 power amplifier of 1959, but the Filarmonía is by no means a slavish copy. Get down to specifics, and it's actually more of a clean-sheet-of-paper design.
Brian Tucker, the US Quad importer, introduced me to the Woodside MA50 tube amplifiers and their manufacturer, John Widgery, during the 1992 Summer CES. Tucker's combination of Woodside MA50 tube amplifiers and Quad ESL-63 USA Monitors sounded unusually neutral, dynamic, and detailed. This was good news; back in 1987, Dick Olsher (Vol.10 No.6, pp.104–5) was unable to recommend an earlier Woodside-manufactured amplifier, the Radford STA 25 Renaissance. Brian mentioned that the MA50's design is a much-improved version of that earlier Radford model. Time for another review.
When I attend Stereophile's annual Home Entertainment show, I rarely sit and listen to music for very long. Instead, I try to hit every room, press the flesh, find out about new products, and play a little jazz.
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.