When I say that this past—and last—Summer CES in Chicago was dead daddy dead, I'm not talking about fewer high-end exhibits and attendees than ever before. I'm talking I walked in the front door of the Chicago Hilton and almost puked from that smell of dead, mealy meat that hits you in the face and kicks-in the gag reflex. The smell of death you can taste even if you're breathing with your mouth. In most religions, it's a sin to let something that dead just sit there without at least spreading some lye on it to kill the stink. I once cut a man for misadjusting the VTA on my cartridge, and that man lying on my listening-room floor with an Allen wrench still clenched in his hand wasn't as dead as this last SCES.
I know, I know"NOT ANOTHER $%#$ SONUS $%#$# FABER REVIEW IN $%#$# Stereophile!!" In just the past two years or so alone we've spilled a pretty fat bottle of ink on this Italian speaker line: Martin Colloms reviewed the $12,500/pair Extrema (Vol.15 No.6) and $9000/pair Guarneri Homage (Vol.17 No.7); Jack English covered the $4500/pair Electa Amator (Vol.15 No.10); and Larry Greenhill wrote about the $1800/pair Minima FM2 (Vol.16 No.4). That's a lotta jizzatoni, so let me tell you right off the bat that when I called Italy a few months ago, speakers were the last thing on my mind.
Of all the speakers I've heard through the years, the $3000 ProAc Response 2 (footnote 1) is definitely one of my all-time faves. One of the few high-end speakers at any price that sounds equally at home pumping out Prong as it does Puccini, the Response 2 blew me away with its incredible musicality and just plain "rightness." The Response 2 doesn't call strict attention to any one area of technical achievement, like so many Audiophile-Approved jobs, but just makes music so naturally and unforcedly that I hesitate, even considering its remarkable performance, to call it an "audiophile" loudspeaker. Yah, I dig the Response 2! So last year when ProAc introduced the Studio 100, a new affordable version of the Response 2, I got excited.
What makes someone a good hi-fi reviewer? A fine critical sensibility? A good technical background? Ears? Eyes? Nose? Throat? So many different people are reviewing audio gear these days that it's downright impossible to characterize a good reviewer. But I do know that Beavis and Butt-head would make killer hi-fi reviewers!
When Ken Kantor helped to found Now Hear This, Inc. (most commonly referred to by its initials, NHT) in 1986, he brought with him a wealth of design and production experience learned from stints with NAD and Acoustic Research. He also brought a desire to build and market products that a wide range of people could afford. NHT began by producing small, two-way designs distinguished by the angled front baffle which remains the company's trademark. The latter is no gimmick, but was designed to optimize the loudspeakers' radiation pattern, a matter of keen interest to Kantor ever since his undergraduate thesis work at MIT. This interest continued at AR, where he was responsible for the MGC-1 loudspeaker—probably his best known pre-NHT loudspeaker design.
If you asked me to name a single specific high-end audio component that could make or break a system, I'd name the Linn LP12 turntable. Of all the thousands of hi-fi products I've heard over the years, not a one of 'emnot a speaker, amplifier, or digital processorhas been able to draw me into the music, no matter what the associated componentry, like the LP12. I've heard the most highly regarded speakers/amps/processors fall flat in certain situations due to a lack of synergy with their surrounding systems, but I've never heard an LP12-based system that didn't put a smile on my face and make me green with envy.
Hasil Adkins: Out to Hunch
Norton Records (no catalog # whatso-a-ever) LP, no CD. No producer, no engineer, no studio, no stereo, no mikes that weren't carbon police dispatcher models, no other people at all in fact—just Hasil Adkins, vocals and guitars and one-man drums and some weird rhythmic screeching that may or may not be LP surface noise. TT: infinite, as I can't stop hearing it in my head hours after I raised the needle off it. To order, send $10 to Norton Records, Box 646, Cooper Station, New York, NY 10003. If you don't, you shall burn in hellfire eternal. Hasil Adkins Fan Club; Hasil Adkins Headquarters.
Okay, here you are: You're a Real World music lover trying to sling together a Real World hi-fi rig. You gotcha budget-king NAD/Rotel/JVC/Pioneer CD player, your SOTA Comet/Sumiko Blue Point analog rig, and your cool-man NHT/PSB/Definitive Technology entry-level speakers. Hell, you've even gone out and bought a few pairs of Kimber PBJ interconnects to hook it all up. This ain't no dog and pony showyou want that High-End High, not just some cheap'n'cheerful, low-rez rig to stick in the rumpus room so the kids can listen to that weak-ass, faux-grunge, watered-down Hendrix-howl that modern-day wimp-boys like Pearl Jam dish out to anyone under 30 who doesn't know any better.