We thought Audo Research's previous-model SP-2C (footnote 1) was excellent, but this is even better—the closest thing available, in fact, to the ideal straight wire with gain. Our sample had a minor glitch—there was a slight "plop" if you rotated the tone controls rapidly—but we could find nothing else about it to criticize. Currently, by far the best preamplifier than money can buy. And would you believe it uses tubes (at reduced heater voltage, for extended life and cooler operation)!
As you may have noticed, Stereophile's approach to equipment testing is quite different from that of "mainstream" audio publications. Instead of throwing a bunch of measurements at you, and telling you how we think components ought to sound because of those measurements, we test them as you would: by listening. But we have an extra problem: we have to convey to someone else—you—a feeling for what we hear from that component. It ain't always easy.
It was 45 years ago this month that the first issue of Stereophile, just 20 pages in length, went in the mail. It had been founded by one J. Gordon Holt. Gordon had been technical editor of High Fidelity magazine in the 1950s, and was tired of being asked to pander to the demands of advertisers. "I watched, first with incredulity and then with growing disgust, how the purchase of a year's advertising contract could virtually insure a manufacturer against publication of an unfavorable report," he said in a 1974 article looking back at those dark times. And if a company didn't buy advertising, they didn't get reviewed at all. The Stereophile, as it was then called, was Gordon's answer to audiophiles' need for an honest, reliable source of information. "Okay, if no one else will publish a magazine that calls the shots as it sees them, I'll do it myself," he later wrote.
A letter in the April 1988 issue (Vol.11 No.4) from reader Harold Goldman, MD, decried the seemingly appalling failure rate of high-end products, citing a $10,000/pair power amplifier, an $11,000 turntable, and a $1500 CD player which had all been reported in recent issues as having failed during or shortly after testing by Stereophile. And Dr. Goldman's list was far from complete. We have also experienced during the past couple of years the failure, or inoperation upon delivery, of two $2500 solid-state power amplifiers, a $1700 subwoofer, a $5000 hybrid amplifier, two pairs of $1200 loudspeakers, several pairs of under-$1000 loudspeakers, and many CD players costing over $1000 each, mainly those based on Philips transports.
While I refuse to admit publicly how long I have been sitting on these loudspeakers before doing the report on them, I must say that it is probably a good thing I wasn't in all that of a hurry to get around to it. They did not sound very good in the room where I had initially installed them, and had I written the report on that basis, it would have been lukewarm, to say the least.
I have now had the opportunity to live with the Acoustat 2+2s in my usual listening room, which is more like a typical listening environment (19' by 24' by 9' and moderately padded), and I am more than a little impressed. This is an extremely good speaker, particularly at its price of $2100/pair.
The 2+2 resembles the Model Four in that it contains four of Acoustat's full-range electrostatic panels per side, but differs from it in that two of the panels (per side) are stacked on top of the first pair to produce a radiating surface twice as high and half as wide as that of the Four. The result, particularly in the case of the black-grilled version we tested, bears a startling resemblance to the mysterious obelisk in 2001, A Space Odyssey. The 2+2 system towers almost to the ceiling (and at just under 8' may be too high for some ceilings), and although it is more graceful in appearance than a pair of Fours, it tends to dominate a listening room at least as much.
In my rather jaded report from the 1986 Winter CES (Vol.9 No.2), I remarked that there was nothing really new in the field of high-end audio. Well, I was wrong. I overlooked the Acoustic Sciences Corporation Tube Traps, a patented new acoustic device designed by Arthur Noxon (president of ASC). The Traps represent the first practical and effective solution to a perennial audiophile problem: standing waves in the listening room.
One of the oldest names in US audio, Altec Lansing was building speakers for theaters and recording studios long before the introduction of the microgroove LP in 1948 (which date many see as marking the inception of high fidelity). Started in 1931 under the name All-Technical Services ~Corp., the firm later purchased another audio firm called Lansing Engineering, and merged the names. Altec's Model 604, one of the first true coaxial speakers, was adopted for home use by many early hi-fi buffs and, several permutations later, is still widely used for monitoring in disc-cutting rooms.
When something called "high fidelity" assumed fad status during the 1950s, many manufacturers climbed on board by the simple expedient of adorning their last year's product with a high fidelity label. The Home Theater bandwagon is a little harder to jump on, because loudspeakers for use with television sets require something "ordinary" stereo speakers don't: magnetic shielding (or, more accurately, magnetic cancellation). Without it, placing the speakers within a few feet of a large-screen set does psychedelic-type things to the color (footnote 1). However, adding magnetic shielding, usually in the form of a second magnet glued to the rear of each loudspeaker's motor magnet, is the only thing that some loudspeaker manufacturers change before slapping a Home Theater label on last year's stereo speakers.
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.
In the real world, "knowledge is power" means that if I know more about something than you do, I am better able than you to control it or use it to my own advantage. This is no less true in high-end audio, where a gut-level understanding of how a component works can free its owner from the constraints and frequent inaccuracies of instruction manuals, folklore, advertisements, and the nugatory, nullifidian nonsense in the mainstream audio press assuring you that most of what you know damn well you are hearing is really only a figment of your imagination.