I've been reading a fascinating book, Leonard Shlain's The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image (New York: Viking, 1998). Shlain's thesis is that the invention of the alphabet was the cause of immense changes in primitive society, upsetting previously widespread norms of gender equality and horizontal (rather than hierarchical) social relations in general.
My "As We See It" in the July 2011 issue seems to have touched a nerve. At the AXPONA NYC audio show last June, more than one person stopped me in a corridor to take issue with what they thought I'd written.
That column certainly brought the Beethoven worshippers out of the woodwork. Look, I revere Beethoven, and I stand by what I wrote in the July issue: There can be little doubt, in terms of his impact on the course that Western music would follow, that Beethoven was the most important composer. But "most important" in terms of music history is not the same thing as the composer whose works most deeply touch my heart. For that, Beethoven is just not in my Top Five.
In large part because I was fascinated by the potential of Direct Acoustics' Silent Speaker II loudspeaker ($748/pair) in affordable systems (see my columns in the June 2011 and August 2011 issues), I rounded up three CD receivers that are network- and Internet Radioready and cost under $1000: one each from TEAC, Marantz, and Denon. These models are functionally and cosmetically more similar than different, and, it turned out, sounded more alike than not.
When I was a young music lover, I'd often listen to Simon and Garfunkel's Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme LP, specifically the song "Scarborough Fair/Canticle."
Are you goin' to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.
Remember me to one who lives there,
She once was a true love of mine.
That memory came back during the e-mail exchanges I had with John Atkinson and Stephen Mejias about the positives and negatives of the proliferation of regional audio shows. (JA's reflections on these shows were the subject of last month's "As We See It.")
I think any newish company launching yet another expensive (ie, anything over $2000) digital-to-analog converter on the roiling waters of the audiophile marketplace needs at least two things: a truly great product, and a good story to tell. I think Bricasti Design Ltd., of Medford, Massachusetts, has both.
When people feel passionately about somethingwhether books, golf, auto racing, dog breeding, or musicthere is an understandable impulse to create rankings, hierarchies, and lists. Such lists can be helpful. I am quite likely to read someone's list of The 100 Most Important Jazz Recordings, or of The 100 Greatest Novels in the English Language. Engaging with such rankings and lists has several benefits. First, we all like to see our prejudices validated. When I discover that someone else is also a fan of Ralph Vaughan Williams's An Oxford Elegy, or of Herbert Howells's Master Tallis's Testament, I feel a warm glow of kinship, and feel that my respect for that person reflects well on me. (We are all human, after all.)
Getting on two years ago, in an effort to identify the best bargains for music lovers on a budget, I wrote a series of columns exploring the field of affordable loudspeakers and CD receivers. I hadn't planned to revisiting that topic so soon, but two developments have convinced me to: first, my encounter with one of the most idiosyncratic budget loudspeakers ever to grace my listening space, and in some ways is a new benchmark for performance vs price, especially for classical-music fans; and second, the advent of a new product category: Affordable Internet-Radio-Capable CD Receivers with Built-in WiFi and USB Connectivity.
But now that I have your attention, I'll first tell you about some great recordings you should check out. Then come the loudspeakers and, in my next column, the new CD receivers.
Direct Acoustics is a loudspeaker company in Weston, Massachusetts, that sells, by mail-order only, just one product: the two-way, floorstanding Silent Speaker II ($748/pair).
Its seemingly paradoxical name refers not to any inability of the Silent to create sound, but rather is intended by its maker to indicate two aspects of its performance. First is the ability of the loudspeaker boxes to "disappear" in the sense of not being readily apparent as sound sources. Well, okay, everyone wants that. The other intended sense of Silent is that the woofer and its loading arrangement were designed to minimize stray noises created by the woofer's excursion, or by the movements of air within, or in and out of, its vent or port.
This month I am writing about the Loudness Wars! But first a DVD, They Came to Play. The quest, or the hero's journey, has been a major theme of literature for as long as there has been literature. From the epic of Gilgamesh to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to Moby-Dick to The Lord of the Rings, the quest's plot trajectory has remained pretty much consistent: be confronted by a challenge; leave home; bond with a new friend; survive climactic showdown; discover true self.
That last one is the payoff. Great literature allows us to benefit vicariously from the hero's hard-won self-knowledge. But without question, the thrills and chills and the cliff-hanging moments are what have put the fannies in the theater seats, from ancient Athens to your local megaplex.
When US audiophiles think of the oldest firms still making high-performance audio equipment, they usually think of McIntosh Labs, founded in 1948. The UK's Quad traces its corporate origins back to 1936. Japan's Luxman, however, has them both beat: Luxman began making transformers and switches for radio sets in 1925. This is to the good; the company obviously has a sense of history. The iffy part is that Luxman's product line, which blends modern and heritage products, is a bit quirkily confusing. Luxman is by no means alone in having a product line that does not make intuitive sense to the uninitiated. A prime example is Harbeth's having two loudspeakers both costing $5000/pair, the Monitor 30 and the Super HL5.
I discussed Luxman's DU-50 near-universal player ($4990, it plays SACDs, DVD-As, DVD-Vs, and CDs, but not Blu-ray discs) in no fewer than five columns in 2009 (February, April, June, August, October).