From London, England, to Santa Fe, New Mexico, is a pretty big jump, both geographically and culturally. From Hi-Fi News & Record Review to Stereophile, however, is a mere hop; the similarities overwhelm the differences. Unlike the US, mainstream magazines in the UK have managed to keep in touch with the fact that hi-fi components sound different; to edit and to write for an ostensibly "underground" American magazine presented no major philosophical problems. (I say "to edit," but as mentioned in "The Big Announcement," Vol.9 No.3, my editing is done in harness with Stereophile's founder and guiding light, J. Gordon Holt.)
We're not really sure who coined the term—it is usually attributed to Alistair Cooke, former host of the "Omnibus" TV program—but "audible wallpaper" is an apt term for something that is of more than passing concern for the serious music listener.
If I had to pick one amplifier designer as having had the greatest continuing influence on the high-end market, as much as I admire John Curl, Audio Research's Bill Johnson, and Krell's Dan D'Agostino, the name of David Hafler inexorably springs to mind. Not because he challenged the very frontiers of hi-fi sound, but because he combined a fertile, creative mind (footnote 1) with a need to bring good sound to as wide an audience as possible, both by making his products relatively inexpensive and by making them available as kits. (The Major Armstrong Foundation apparently agrees with methey presented David with their "Man of High Fidelity" award at the summer 1988 CES.) It remains to be seen if the Hafler company will continue in this tradition, now that David has sold it to Rockford-Fosgate. But there is no doubt that many audiophiles were first made aware of the possibilities of high-end sound by Hafler products in the late '70s, and by Dynaco in the '60s.
In the early 1950s, a quiet, undistinguished Senator named Joseph Raymond McCarthy began a crusade against what he imagined were subversive, dangerous elements in American government. His tactics included irresponsible accusation, militant attacks on his opponents, and self-aggrandizing witch-hunting. So virulent were his methods the term "McCarthyism" entered the language. McCarthyism came to mean any unjustified persecution and the false conformity this strategy engendered (footnote 1).
Five or six years ago I wrote a breezy, introductory-type piece on mid-fi "knob-surfing," winding up with a reprise on the old line that the number of the knobs, lights, and tattoos on the faceplate is often inversely proportional to the quality behind them.
Following the introduction of their very expensive, tube/FET hybrid SP11 preamplifier, there were rumors that Audio Research was working on a hybrid tube/transistor preamplifier targeted to cost less than $2000. The rumors were confirmed when ARC showed a black-and-white photo of the SP9 at the 1987 Winter CES. Obviously, like all magazines, we were impatient to receive a review sample, but the first review of the SP9 actually appeared in the summer '87 issue of Peter Moncrieff's IAR Hotline. Peter's review was almost intemperately enthusiastic, comparing the SP9 positively with early samples of the SP11 and suggesting that its sound quality was considerably better than would be expected from its $1695 asking price. Naturally, we were anticipating good things when our review sample arrived in Santa Fe in late July.
I have a confession to make: I play contrabassoon . . . for a living. Now to many this may not seem like such a sin, but within the musical community my instrument is viewed with about as much regard as the common garden slug. This perception is not completely unjustified; often being relegated to roles depicting monsters and evil, along with the occasional digestive grunt, helps perpetuate the general disdain for the contra. However, playing the lowest (non-keyboard) instrument in the symphony orchestra gives me a somewhat different perspective on things, not unlike that of a dwarf in a crowded elevator: a view from the bottom up. It's amazing just how much pitch and harmonic coloration there is down in the subbasement. And shoring up the foundation of the wind section, as well as being the true bottom of the orchestral sonority, can be very satisfying. Although playing an instrument with a limited repertoire can sometimes be disconcerting, it also has its advantages. During rehearsals, if I'm not required for a certain work, I can go out into the house for my own private concert, or stay put in the orchestra and get a sonic thrill that makes the IRS and WAMM systems sound like tin cans.
Please let me explain. Because I've never been especially adept at making lifelong commitments and irrevocable decisions, when it came to naming this new column, Managing Editor Debbie Starr and I decided that we would gather the passionate (and supremely efficient) minds of the Stereophile production staff, add a near–life-threatening amount of margaritas, and put the question to them.
I must admit that even before I connected up this amplifier I was put off by the accompanying literature. B&K makes some persuasive points about the validity (or rather the lack thereof) of some traditional amplifier tests, but the literature was so loaded with flagrant grammaticides, syntactical ineptitudes, and outright errors that I could not help but wonder if the same lack of concern had gone into the product itself (eg, the term "infrasonic" is used throughout to mean "ultrasonic"). Good copy editors aren't that hard to find; B&K should have found one.
Since the introduction of the original B&W 801 monitor loudspeaker in 1980, it has been adopted as a reference by several recording studios around the world, Over the past five years, I have seen 801s present in just about every recording session with which I have been artistically involved. While the original 801 monitor had its strong points, I was never satisfied with the detached and muddy-sounding bass, discontinuous driver balance, and low sensitivity. Unless this speaker was driven by an enormous solid-state power amplifier, with an elevated high-frequency response, the tubby and slow bass response often obliterated any detail in the two bottom octaves of musical material.
These diminutive little sleepers have been available in the US for quite some time but have attracted little attention because (1) they have never really been promoted and (2) they are just too small to look as if they could be worth $430 a pair.
Several issues back, we reviewed rather enthusiastically a pre-production prototype of this preamp. The original was an unprepossessing-looking device on two chassis, interconnected by a 3' umbilical, with a squat little preamp box and an even squatter power supply with humongous cans sticking out the top. We averred that it sounded nice. The production model is so nicely styled and functionally smooth that we wondered if it might not be another Japanese product. 'T'ain't.
Quad: The Closest Approach
by Ken Kessler. Cambridge, England, UK: International Audio Group Ltd., 2003. Hardcover, 12" square, 215 pp. ISBN 0 954 57420 6.
Available from: Quad dealers or IAG America, 15 Walpole Park South, Walpole, MA 02801. Tel: (508) 850-3950.
The Bose 901 has created more of a stir in audio circles than any other loudspeaker we can think of, with the possible exception of the original Acoustic Research system. Much of the 901's popularity is attributable to Julian Hirsch's rave report in Stereo Review, and there is no doubt but that Amar Bose's compellingly convincing ads had their effect, too. But these things alone could hardly account for the 901's popularity.
The Bozak Concert Grand is a loudspeaker dreams are made of. I was just a boy, but I remember to this day the impressive pictures of them in Audio magazine. I thought they must be the best loudspeakers ever made because they were so big—they would let more of the music come out. I suspect the Bozaks beckoned to me in some primal way, just as those giant construction trucks do—the ones that have tires bigger than a man.