The Hartleys I wrote about last month may be the loudspeaker drivers that time forgot, but the venerable Lowthers of Sidcup, England, reign supreme as the horseshoe crabs of the loudspeaker world: strange, ungainly things that have scarcely changed since the days when Franz Schmidt and Robert Johnson walked the earth. Literally.
There was once an Englishman named H.A. Hartley, who was a contemporary of H.G. Baerwald, P.G. Voigt, P.K. Turner, and other men whose first two names are lost to us. Hartley was a capable designer and audio theorist, not to mention a gifted lecturer and writer—his literary achievements include a book on astrology (footnote 1), of all things—and he's often credited with coining the expression high fidelity. Most important of all, in 1928 H.A. Hartley teamed up with the aforementioned P.K. Turner to create an audio manufacturing company known as Hartley Products, Ltd. The Hartley company made electronics and loudspeakers, the latter of which included full-range coaxial drivers using energized field coils and, later on, quite powerful permanent magnets—just like their countrymen at Lowther Loudspeakers, Ltd.
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.
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.
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.
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.