Revolver? More like evolver: 80 years after the first electrically driven record players became available, professional and amateur engineers continue to seek new ways to spin LPs with ever-greater steadiness and precision.
I'm fortunate to own some very nice hi-fi gear: Different turntables, tonearms, and pickups for different records. Two pairs of really superb full-range loudspeakers. A choice of mildly exotic amplifiersmy favorite combination of which (a stereo preamplifier and a pair of monoblock power amps) sells for a little over $21,000. The average American consumer would think that's insane.
The best, most enduring audio products have in their favor more than great sound: They have some sense of history as well. Particularly good examples abound from the British companies Spendor, Rogers, and Harbeth, some of whose products were actually commissioned into being by the British Broadcasting Corporation. Better that, I suppose, than existing to fill a price point.
To some, the measure of a company has less to do with the amount of money it makes than with the honesty of the things it sells: the assurance that every product in its line is designed not as a marketing exercise but as a straightforward and presumably unique answer to a real consumer need.
After too long an absence, Harry Weisfeld brought VPI turntables and tonearms to a show in New York, alongside his son and business-partner-to-be Matthew Weisfeld. Here we see Harry with the stunning VPI Classic 4, sized for outsized or even multiple tonearms ($10,000).
Every hi-fi show seems to harbor a few restful rooms where the music is well selected and the playback quality is serenely good; at SSI, the exhibit space shared by Scandinavian manufacturers Hegel and Amphion served that purpose for me. (The white fabric walls probably added to the sense of calm.) The Amphion Argon7 L loudspeakers ($6k$7k/pair, depending on finish) sounded clear, smooth, and altogether lovely with Hegel amplification and digital source components.
The same qualities I strive for in my system at homea sense of touch and drive, rich sonic textures and colors, musical momentum and flowseem often to be abundant in the systems put together by the New York-based distributor and retailer High Water Sound. Given that, and the fact that HWS proprietor Jeff Catalano has superb taste in music, I was sad when the time came to leave this room and move on.
High Water Sound, the New York City-based retailer and distributor, created one of my favorite demonstrations at the show, as much for proprietor Jeffrey Catalano's choice of musicGabor Szabo's instrumental version of Donovan's "Three King Fishers" was playing when I came inas for the exotic and unassailably musical system on display: TW Acustic Raven Black Night turntable ($40,000) and 10.5 tonearm ($5500), Tron Seven GT line-level preamp and phono preamp ($18,000 each), Tron Telstar 211 SET amplifier ($40,000), and the striking Affascinate loudspeaker ($62,000) from Cessaro Horn Acoustics, the latter using an 11" woofer in a back-loaded horn, a proprietary compression driver for the spherical midrange horn, and a modified horn-loaded TAD beryllium tweeter. The sound was tactile, impactful, and thoroughly involving on every recording I heard.
I was never happier to be an audiophile than when my train stopped at the US/Canada border on my way home. The customs officers who boarded our train were quite serious-minded, and as I waited in my seat I heard them grill other passengers regarding the precise nature of the Canadian goods they harbored. When it came my turn, a surly-something man in a black uniform examined my Customs Declaration, saw that I was bringing some new LPs into the US, and broke into a friendly smile: “What vinyl did you get?” We chatted amiably for a moment about old Quads and Garrard 301s before he went on to crack other skulls than mine. (Just kidding. In fact ours was the rare trainin my experience, at leastfrom which no passengers needed to be removed for lack of a passport.)
There's pretty much only one way to hear Rammstein at a hi-fi show: Visit the demonstration room of Swedish-based, American-built Sjöfn HiFi. (As close as I can tell, the name is pronounced hoofin, although you have to do something funny to the H.) Sjöfn 's Managing Director, Lars Erickson, approaches the selection of demo music with a adventurousness and whimsythis is the man who turned me onto the great Israeli trance duo, Infected Mushroomand the sound of his new two-way loudspeaker, The Clue ($999/pair, direct, including shipping) was up to the task. As with earlier Sjöfn designs, I have no idea whatsoever how he manages to wring such enormous scale, clarity, and impact out of such a tiny box. But he does.