YBA Integré integrated amplifier
It was the Brass Ear, aka Bill Brassington, at HI-FI '96. Brass was covering the Show for The Audiophile Voice.
"Yes. YBA and Mordaunt-Short."
I half expected Brass to laugh. He didn't.
"I know. That YBA stuff is good. Let's go listen."
"Bring a disc. What do you have?"
"Something Lars would like. You too. Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky, performed by Yuri Termirkanov and the St. Petersburg Philharmonic." (RCA 6196-2).
This is full-bodied orchestral/choral music, to say the least. It is, in fact, the Swede-bashing score from the Serge Eisenstein film classic of the same name. (I think Lars stopped listening to the piece after I pointed out that Nevsky's victory marked the end of Sweden's sway as a world power.)
The Mordaunt-Short Performance 880 speakers sounded great. Solid imaging, great brass bite, and deep, tight bass—the Brass Ear really liked that. No wonder they got such a rave review from Martin Colloms in the August Stereophile. Too bad Martin beat me to them.
Equally impressive were the YBA electronics. Not the top-of-the-line YBA gear that JS has been listening to of late and reports on in the next issue. Not even the YBA separate preamps and power amps. This was the gear at or near the bottom of the YBA line: the dual-transformer version of the Integré integrated amp and the least expensive of the three CD players, the YBA CD 3. All the equipment, including the Mordaunt-Shorts, was exhibited by the US importer, Daniel Jacques, aka Audio Plus Services.
"Think of it, Brass," I whispered during a relatively quiet passage. "This is a 50Wpc integrated amp and a CD player we're listening to."
You might think that such a room would have garnered a sizeable number of votes for Best Sound at the Show. But no. There were no votes to speak of. Roy Hall didn't show, either—in the vote, that is—even though his room had terrific sound for even less money.
Here's how I figure it. US audiophiles like big stuff. Big speakers. Big amps—the kind you have to put on the floor. Speaker cables that look like garden hoses, snaked over the carpets. ("That's a real man's amp," an amplifier manufacturer once said, as he handed me one of his products.)
What's wrong with this?
For starters, some audiophiles can't afford to compete, get discouraged, and drop out—or burn out—while other folk may decide they don't want or can't afford in. Womenfolk, especially. More than public apathy or the industry's lack of marketing muscle, this is what limits the appeal of high-end audio.
Reviewers (and magazines) make matters worse. What reviewer wants to review the inexpensive gear when he (there are almost no shes) can review exotic, top-of-the-line stuff and enhance his status? We all know: The more expensive the equipment, the more important the reviewer. Ask yourself...does Sam Tellig get any respect? Do manufacturers take him out to dinner? (Well, sometimes. But I make sure Larry Archibald picks up the tab at least half the time.)
Dealers make matters worse. Rather than try to sell sane gear to non-audiophiles—which might require some sales and marketing savvy—they stock the stuff that appeals mainly to geeks. Then they wonder why they don't have more customers. And then they try to save themselves by selling expensive TVs—ie, by turning to Home Theater.
I think this undercurrent of dissatisfaction is part of what's behind the single-ended triode phenomenon—a dissatisfaction with, and looking for an alternative to, mainstream high-end. But the appeal of single-ended triode is limited. Most non-audiophiles won't touch tubes—assuming they even know that tube gear is still being made.
Fortunately, there are options other than those he-man amps and tiny triodes.