A new integrated amplifier called the Lars Type 1, which made its debut at the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show, has given my notion of a dichotomy between mainstream audio and alternative audio a severe beating. In that sense, the Lars Type 1 has been a life-changing product, although the change took longer than expected for me to digest.
For an artform in which sound is everything, popular music has been blessed with strangely little poetry: There may be no other genre where high-mindedness falls with such a thud. Leonard Cohen remains the most striking exception, not just for the genuine seriousness of his music or the adulation of his audience, but for the ability of the former to survive the latter.
It's a guy thing, dating from those sandbox days when such declarations were not only socially acceptable but expected of us: Mickey Mantle could run the bases faster than Whitey Ford, the Chevrolet Corvette was cooler than the Ford Mustang, Jimmy Page played faster than Jeff Beck, Superman was stronger than Batman. (Women, those devious serpent-hearkeners of Old Testament fame, are for once blameless: They never argue that Charlotte Bronte wrote better tea-drinking scenes than Jane Austen, or that Hugh Grant looks better in a powdered wig than Daniel Day Lewis.)
On two occasions I've caught myself wondering how to afford a pair of Wilson Audio loudspeakers. Interestingly, both happened within the past year. The first was in April 2009, at the Son et Image show in Montreal, during a demonstration of the MAXX Series 3. The experience was notable for its blend of genuinely great sound with genuine musicality: Each performance unfolded of its own natural accord, with human randomness and nuance, and without the fussy, mechanical, shallow artifice that attracts some audiophiles in the way a carnivorous plant attracts fliesand, if they're lucky, kills them (the audiophiles, that is).
Nineteen days after J. Gordon Holt died, my daughter and I drove west on NY Route 20, passing lawn sale after lawn sale on our way to the supermarket in Richfield Springs. Each sale promised a pleasant waste of time on that hot afternoon, but only one caught my eye: There, among the Avon bottles and the 8-track tape cartridges, were two large bookshelf loudspeakers, dressed in walnut veneer and light-colored fabric grilles. AR 3s, I thought. Or maybe Large Advents. "They'll still be there when we come back this way," I said, stupidly.
In the town where I grew up there were two places to buy records: a family-owned department store and the local Woolworth's, both long gone. The first record I ever bought, the 45rpm single of Roger Miller's "King of the Road," came from the former in 1965. I was 11 years old.