If you've got a thousand dollars to spend, I think asking for advice in choosing between the Coriolis Effect Deluxe Rev.3.2 power cord and the Shamelessly Hosing Neither Balanced Nor Unbalanced Tofu-Filled Mystical interconnect (footnote 1) is usually asking the wrong question.
One of the engrossing and rewarding things about the study of history is that, every now and then, someone comes up with a plausible solution to a historical mystery—or some aspect of a historical mystery—that is decades, or even centuries, old. It often is the case that all the evidence was right there under everyone's noses all along. It's just that no one had yet managed to put all the pieces together properly and look at them from the right angle.
I have not seen Borat! Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, and I am not likely to. But the phrase cultural learnings of America is a good jumping-off point for an important topic: cultural literacy.
The recording project I've mentioned before in this column, that of documenting the historical and significant pipe organs of Rhode Island, is finally (!) in the can. (Except that today, of course, we no longer use cans. Or tape, for that matter.) It has been a learning and growing experience for us all—more than a dozen remote-location recording dates, spread over eight months.
My "Musical Cultural Literacy for Americans" write-in competition seems to have been a smashing success. I received 65 entries, and only a very few missed the mark. A few more were obvious, so-so, or lacking in passion. Many were good. But a score or more were of enviably high quality. Choosing the top 12 was tough. At the end, who won a prize and who did not was entirely my own subjective decision. The winning entries are posted in full on Stereophile's website as an appendix to my April column. Here are the points I made online in announcing the results:
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.
I want to start this year's gift recommendations by briefly revisiting the results of my Musical Cultural Literacy for Americans write-in competition, which ran in the April issue. All 12 winning entries of 12 selections each are posted online (footnote 1).
US composer Morten Lauridsen's Lux Aeterna is one of the indisputable masterpieces of the 20th century. John Atkinson has recorded the male vocal group Cantus's performances of Lauridsen's O Magnum Mysterium (on Comfort and Joy: Volume One, Cantus CTS-1204) and Ave Maria Dulcissima (on Cantus, Cantus CTS-1207). (And great recordings they are—one engineer chum thinks JA's Cantus recording of OMM is the single best-engineered choral recording he's ever heard.)
We continue the search for the successor to Fried's Q loudspeaker of yore. Renaissance Audio is the former Morel USA, so they have a long track record in both OEM driver manufacture and making complete loudspeakers. As I mentioned in my June column, their MLP-403.5 loudspeaker is a two-cubic-foot, sealed-box three-way with a dome midrange driver, at the near-improbable price of $1090/pair (footnote 1).
"The long tradition of professional connoisseurship has resulted in the development of a bewildering universe of specialist terminology. In certain cases, it must be admitted, there was self-indulgent proliferation of words relating to some minute feature....In fact, no clear distinction can be made between one term and its closest neighbor in meaning."—from the Introduction to Kanzan Sato's The Japanese Sword, A Comprehensive Guide, translated and with an introduction by Joe Earle (New York: Kodansha America, Inc., 1983)
In a moment, I will resume my ongoing quest to put together a music lover's stereo system for about half the cost of my last such effort (see my columns in the October and December 2005 issues): $3750 rather than $7500. But first I want to urge everyone who hasn't already done so to check out the results of the Five Great Art Songs of the Rock Era write-in competition announced in my February 2008 column. The winning entries are greatreally thought-provoking. Indeed, some of the lists, plus an unaccountably belated recollection, prompted me to put together my own alternate list. This list doesn't invalidate or replace my original one, but it benefited from the energy all the entrants (thanks, everyone) put into theirs. Here goes: