One of the most striking aspects of high-end audio is that you can never take any component for granted. Most of the radical change in audio at present takes place in new front-end and speaker technologies, but other components are changing as welland with at least as much impact in making recorded music seem believable.
There is something especially exciting about a new loudspeaker design, if only because speakers are the component where one constantly hopes for the sonic miracle that will suddenly make it all sound real. No other component has the same overall impact in coloring the system, presents more room problems, or inspires more frustration on the road to the perfect system.
The Mod Squad Line Drive System Control Center is a purely passive stereo switching unit with a volume and balance control, five line inputs, and additional facilities for two tape decks. It allows the audiophile to replace a preamp, with its active gain stagesand resulting colorationwith a device that introduces no distortion or coloration other than that in the wiring, switches, and controls.
It takes more than passing courage to make another assault on building the world's best tube preamplifier. You face stiff competition from well-established firms like Audio Research, Conrad Johnson, and Counterpoint. Such units can't be made inexpensively, and you face the steadily growing problem of tube supply: it is getting harder and harder to get tubes that are stable, have predictable sound and performance characteristics, and are long-lived. And you have to show audiophiles who have been burned before that you will still be around when they need service.
Whenever I think of cone speaker systems, I think of three brand names: Snell, Thiel, and Vandersteen. There are many good loudspeakers and many good designers and manufacturers, but it is these three who, in my opinion, consistently produce the best cone loudspeaker systems. All three companies produce full-range systems, transparent systems, and systems which mate well with a wide range of equipment. Their systems can be owned and enjoyed for years. Long after some fad or special feature has given a competing designer brief notoriety, these are the products you turn back to for music.
The Oracle Delphi Mk.II ($1250) is both a turntable and work of art. It is a visually stunning product, retaining a level of styling that, in my view, has never been equalled by any other audio component. It also adds enough sonic improvements to the original Delphi that it ranks close to the VPI HW-19, and is superior, in naturalness of sound quality, to the SOTA Star Sapphire.
One of the nicest features of the High End is its diversity. Regardless of whatever trend is fashionable, there will always be manufacturers to buck it, and sell alternative concepts and sounds. VMPS is just such a case. With few exceptions, the recent trend in speaker systems has been toward small-to-medium-sized "monitors" with good imaging and high resolution, but limited bass and dynamics (footnote 1). The VMPS SuperTowers provide the former, but buck the trend by adding reproduction of the deepest bass and outstanding full-range dynamics.
Several issues back, I mentioned a major "new wave" of power amplifiers coming along: the Adcom 555, the New York Audio Labs transistor-tube hybrids, and the latest Krells, for example. They demonstrate that major audible improvements are still possible in something as well-explored as the power amplifier. Not only that, some of these products demonstrate that superior performance can be combined with relatively low price.
If analog disc is fading, it is a twilight of the gods. Tonearms, cartridges, and turntables get steadily better; the overall quality of the best analog disc systems today is far better than it was two years ago. Bruce Thigpen and Edison Price's new Eminent Technology Two tonearm is a case in point. It has evolved from a highly specialized product for only the bravest of audiophiles to a reference quality arm that any dealer can install, and any audiophile can safely use. More importantly, it may have no sonic equal at any price.