Once upon a time there was a violin maker who had two quarrelsome sons, and their names were John and Rudolf. When the boys came of age, their father put them to work in his shop, but John and Rudolf found it difficult to get along with one another, and they quarreled even more bitterly after the old man died.
When I was a boy, silent dog whistles were all the rage. They were sold mail-order from the backs of comic books, alongside whoopee cushions and sneeze powder and X-ray spex. The whistles aren't so easy to find anymore, but don't read too much into that fact. Don't read into that at all.
It's a strange sort of progress: As culture and commerce evolve, most people look for simple, easy solutions to their needs. Enthusiasts, however, go out of their way to complicate matters, often choosing products that are expensive and difficult to use. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the world of home audio, where typical consumers have embraced the notion of smallish, self-contained music systems—yet audiophiles, who are surely as crazy as bedbugs, seem bent on parsing an ever-increasing number of individually distinct products from the basic concept of a music system.
Our December 2004 issue honored 56 contemporary audio products that stood out from the pack during the course of the year. Of those 56, fully nine were phonograph components (footnote 1), including one—the Linn Sondek LP12 turntable—that's been on the market for something like a hundred years.
If I wrote a column for a car magazine and I learned that the magazine's readers were using their cars to run over kittens, I would be deeply troubled. I would beg them to stop. Failing that, I would find another line of work.
I wish the domestic audio industry of 2005 were more like the pop-music industry of 2005, with its variety, vitality, and ability to reach beyond its boundaries to move people. And its sense of fun, which hi-fi often seems to entirely lack.
I'm beginning to understand why some people enjoy writing about crazy tweaks like electron counseling and magic listening trousers: When an idea is that new, it brings with it the chance for some gifted but heretofore unappreciated journalist to rise through the ranks and describe it to an anxious world. By contrast, when a defeated and baggy old establishment writer sets out to describe a CD player or amplifier, the product is surely the millionth such thing to come down the pike, and before long the readers complain: We used to like you, but you don't try very hard to excite us anymore.