In Stereophile's "Recommended Components," most full-range Class A speakers—and even some in Class B—are behemoths. Some are tall, some are wide, some are deep, and some are just plain big. Most of us would find such no-compromise devices physically imposing and visually distracting in our listening rooms. Putting aside the infamous "Spousal Acceptance Factor," how can you ignore such speakers' presence and concentrate on the music?
The very first amplifier I bought was a Harman Kardon PC-200, aka The Prelude. It was a 10Wpc integrated, but I chose it over the competition for some of the same reasons that the HK 990 has appealed to me. Almost all amps back in the1960s had a plain cake-pan chassis with tubes, capacitors, and transformers studding the top. Integrated amps had the standard four knobs on the front for input selection, volume, bass, and treble. The HK PC-200 had an enclosed black chassis cage that formed a graceful cowl over the brushed-copper front panel and the six matte-black knobs: for Input selection (with three phono turnover settings), Volume, Bass, Treble, Loudness contour, and Treble rolloff. In addition, it had a Rumble Filter switch. The PC-200 was not only more beautiful than the rest of the push-pull competition powered by EL84 tubes, it also had more useful features. (Take that, you fans of the Grommes Little Jewel!). Over the decades, H/K products have always been stylish and innovative, but in today's fractured marketing world, most such creative energies are applied to audio/video receivers and lifestyle products.
Athena Technologies has been known for surprisingly high-value speakers tailored for home theater. At CEDIA, they unveiled a new LS Series, with the audiophile's taste in mind. The line features cabinets with curved sides so that the profile tapers at the rear, fiber-glass cones and aluminum-dome tweeters. The top-of-this-line, LS-500B is only $350 each! If the voicing is as stated and the finish quality is as remarkable as the floor samples, this line could have a huge market impact.
Iván Fischer, founder and conductor of the Budapest Festival Orchestra, has performed with many major orchestras and recorded for a number of major labels, most significantly with Philips, from 1995 to 2004. Fischer/BFO made the first multichannel orchestral recording for SACD, which Philips used as a demonstration disc for their first SACD players. I still treasure that disc—it demonstrates many of the advantages of the medium with a wide and varied program—but it has never been commercially released.
It was love at first sight when I saw a Jamo Reference R 909 loudspeaker in sparkling red lacquer on the floor of the 2007 Consumer Electronics Show. It made no sound, but it was beautiful, and I wanted it. It summoned up all my latent predilections for snazzy colors, striking shapes, and dipole speakers. But, as with many passing encounters in life, nothing came of it.
Erstwhile Stereophile scribe Jonathan Scull, now firmly established in the worlds of public relations and marketing, conducted an in-room presentation of new Furutech products including an LP flattener, an LP demagnetizer and, with especial relish shown in the picture, an LP degausser. Also, shown were some beautiful AC receptacles and <$100 power cords with various connectors. Beautiful stuff.
KEF and I go way back. As a very young man in the 1960s, I was obsessed with building speakers, and that was just about the time that KEF founder Raymond Cooke was revolutionizing driver design by using new synthetic materials for cones and surrounds, and experimenting with such innovations as transmission-lineloaded midrange drivers. I found it all very heady and, by direct import from the UK, obtained versions of the oval, flat-diaphragm B139 woofer, the Bextrene-coned B110 and B200 woofers, and the T-15 and T-22 dome tweeters. Fifty years ago, this was all cutting-edge speaker technology.
Oh boy! This was one of my most eagerly anticipated auditions. At my first demonstration of an OLS loudspeaker system several years ago, I was bowled over not only by the demo, but also by the idea that OLS's Kharma line was topped by the $1,000,000 Grand Enigma system!
The manufacture and marketing of so-called "universal" digital disc players should have been a no-brainer right from the start. I recall the first demo of SACD I attended, when both SACD and DVD-Audio were little more than promises and contentions. That prototype Philips player consisted of several cubic feet of hardware controlled by a computer, even though mockups of more marketable SACD players were arrayed around the room. After the demo, I asked one of the Philips engineers if it were possible to make a player that could handle CD, SACD, and DVD-A. His reply: "Sure, if they let me do it."
When it comes to ripping CDs and downloading music, I've been sitting on the sidelines feeling more than a bit of envy. Stereophile's reviews of various media servers have whetted my appetite, but not so much as to overcome my timidity about getting into a new realm of technology in which I would be a beginner all over again. Still, I've sneaked a few peeks.