It was back in the mid-'70s that David Berning made a name for himself in the Baltimore-Washington area as an avant-garde designer—someone with a truckload of fresh ideas about tubes. At the time, though Audio Research was starting to crank out pretty decent amplifiers, tube design was pretty much reduced to a rehash of the Williamson circuit and the Dynaco mod of the month.
Let me take you back some 40 years to the mono days of the early 1950s. It's unlikely that the minimonitor genus of loudspeakers, of which this French JMlab is a prime example, would have survived back then. There was the practical problem of available amplifier power. The average amp could squeeze out no more than 10 to 15W into an 8 ohm load—far less power than the typically insensitive minimonitor demands for adequate dynamic headroom. But that in itself would not have sufficed to displace the minimonitor from the marketplace. After all, "high-power" amps (50-watters) could be had at a price.
Frankly, I'm fed up with the prophets of doom, those false seers who forecast vinyl's imminent demise. Some claim to have seen the writing on the wall as far back as ten years ago, sensing that the advent of the CD would perforce relegate the stylus-in-groove method of transduction to the trashpile of history. First of all, most of the music I enjoy happens to be on LP. And I'm sure I speak for many audiophiles who have also spent a lifetime building up a vinyl collection when I say we're not about to throw away our cherished treasuries of music. These LPs I expect to enjoy until the end of my time. Thus, I welcome any phono-system technological advance that will recover more information from the groove.
A "CD processor," is how I distinctly heard Cary Audio's Dennis Had describe it. The venue was Stereophile's High End Hi-Fi Show in New York last April. Nothing really unusual in today's digital marketplace, I thought to myself, though a bit out of character for a company dedicated to vacuum-tube technology. But wait a minute. Dennis had described it as an analog CD processor. Analog!? Well, yes, the unit processes the analog signal from a CD player.
As Laura Atkinson shuffled into my listening room one evening, she spied the Stage loudspeakers tucked away in the corner. "Hey, Dick, those look like Apogees, but they're kind of small." Rising to the occasion, I responded with: "Honey, I shrunk the Apogees." At roughly 3' tall by 2' wide, the Stage is far from intimidating; it even feels more compact and is certainly much cuter looking than the old Quad ESL. Yet Junior's resemblance to the rest of the Apogee family is unmistakable. The canted baffle, the vertical tweeter/midrange along the inside edge of the baffle, and the pleated aluminum-foil woofer clearly bear the imprint of the larger Caliper and Duetta models. It's almost as though Apogee started shrinking the Duetta until the price tag shrank below two kilobucks.
Ten seconds to ignition. Relax, buckle in, and welcome to Stereophile's Good Times time machine. Flux capacitors fully energized. Ignition. Not to worry, that slight tingling sensation is perfectly normal. Roll back your calendar to...June 28, 1933. We're at the Eighth Annual convention of the Institute of Radio Engineers in Chicago. Harry Olsen is on the podium, describing a new wide-range cone loudspeaker for high-fidelity sound reproduction.
Quiet, please, Mr. Olsen is about to describe the disadvantages of multipledrive-unit systems. "The radiating surfaces must be separated by a finite distance, with the result that this system will exhibit peculiar directional characteristics in the overlap region where the sound radiation issues from both sources. To reduce this effect to a minimum, the overlap region must be confined to a very small range which requires an elaborate electric filter system for allocating the frequency bands of the units. The greater space required for the two loudspeakers is another important factor. The cost of two separate field structures and vibrating systems will be considerably greater than that of a single unit."
Even to a nontechnical observer, someone without a deep grasp of the germane technical issues, the Amazing Loudspeaker should indeed prove a source of amazement. First of all, there's no box. Don't mistake the back grille for an enclosure—if you pass your hand along the Amazing's behind, you'll realize that the grille is merely a cosmetic cover; you can actually stroke the woofer magnets if you're so inclined. Yet without an enclosure or electronic trickery, this speaker boasts excellent dynamic headroom and true flat bass extension almost to 20Hz. Just think of the woodworking costs inherent in trying to coax such low-end performance from a conventional box speaker. The savings in carpentry have been put toward one heavy-duty ribbon design. The Amazing begins to sound like an incredible bargain at its modest (by high-end standards) asking price. What's the catch? Fundamentally, the answer lies in superior engineering. And, as Bob Carver will readily admit, good engineering isn't inherently any more costly than bad engineering.
Do you believe in beginner's luck? If so, some of your personality traits should be quite predictable. Let's see. You're very likely an optimist with a "bull-market" mentality, play the lottery, and, most important, bought a CD player within a year of its introduction, or a solid-state amp in the '60s. You're apt to mail in a profusion of bingo cards (you know, the kind Stereo Review is full of) and spend hours perusing specifications in the hope of finding a kernel of truth in all of that chaff. You'd particularly be appalled at that fellow I ran into the other day, who had bought an AR-1 in 1956 and waited another decade before buying another speakerjust to make sure stereo wasn't a fad. Hey, relax, I won't turn you in; the mere fact that you're reading Stereophile is sufficient reason for redemption.
When it comes to loudspeaker drivers, Dynaudio has earned an enviable reputation for quality and reliability. To use an automotive analogy, they are the Mercedes Benz of the driver universe. If you're a speaker builder, the odds are that you have already experimented with these drivers. And even if you're not a speaker builder, it's quite possible that your speakers use Dynaudio drivers. After all, some of the finest speaker systems in the world do. A case in point is the Duntech Sovereign, which single-handedly embodies almost the entire Dynaudio catalog.
There was a time, as recently as 40 years ago, when frequencies below 100Hz were considered extreme lows, and reproduction below 50Hz was about as common as the unicorn. From our present technological perch, it's too easy to smirk condescendingly at such primitive conditions. But just so you're able to sympathize with the plight of these disadvantaged audiophiles, I should tell you that there were two perfectly good reasons for this parlous state of affairs. First of all, program material at that time was devoid of deep bass; not because it was removed during disc mastering but simply because there wasn't any to begin with. The professional tape recorders of the day featured a frequency response of 5015kHz, ±2dBjust about on a par with the frequency performance capability of a cheap 1988 cassette tape deck.