Since its founding just over ten years ago, Mission Electronics has grown to become one of the largest "real" hi-fi companies in the UK. Although their product line originally consisted of three relatively conventional loudspeakers, it rapidly grew to encompass high-end pre- and power amplifiers, cartridges, tonearms, and turntables, and, in the mid 1980s, a system concept based on CD replay and relatively inexpensive electronics: the Cyrus amplifiers and tuner.
In its first three years, UK hi-fi manufacturer Mission Electronics employed a number of engineers to reinforce the creative talents of founder and hi-fi enthusiast Farad Azima. The lineup included John Bicht, now with Versa Dynamics, and Stan Curtis, now heading up Cambridge Audio. But when Farad's brother Henry"Henry" is actually a nickname and I am sure you can see the derivationjoined the company in 1979, he brought both a much-needed stability, and initiated a considerable degree of commercial success for the company's products. Now resident in Canada, he spends his time commuting between his laboratory in Toronto and the company's headquarters near Cambridge, England (footnote 1). Prior to joining Mission, however, Henry had served in the Iranian Navy for 15 years, an unusual training for an audio engineer. I asked him if this had been an appropriate preparation for the world of hi-fi.
Henry Azima: I had actually been a student in the UK, studying electronic engineering at the University of Surrey in Guildford. When I left the Navy in 1979 after the revolution in Iran, I moved to the UK and got a job with my previous University as an Assistant Lecturer and Researcher. However, Farad then asked me out of the blue to join Mission. I said, "Well, I have no idea about hi-fi, and stuff like that." He said, "You will learn, there's no problem!"
Some six or so years ago, the Linn Asak cartridge set new standards for imaging and soundstage reproduction. I can remember the first time I heard an Asak in a system using Quad ESL-63s—I had never experienced such depth of soundstage and solidity of imaging from any system, and that with Quad amplification! The Asak was relatively quickly overshadowed in this area, however, and in any case, soundstaging precision by itself didn't seem to be a high priority for the Linn design team, who were apparently more concerned with dynamics and a musical integration of the sound across the frequency range.
Enid Lumley accosted me in the corridors of Santa Monica's BayView Plaza Hotel in March: "That doesn't sound like a real piano!" I was taken aback. The sound to which the redoubtable Ms. Lumley was referring emanated from a 7' Steinway we had hired for James Boyk to play at the Stereophile show. Jim was conducting a series of tutorials on how the sound of a real piano is constituted, so Enid's criticism, on the face of things, seemed absurd. As my face obviously showed this conclusion, she hastily explained that, of course it was a real piano, but the fact that it overloaded the 40-seat room in which it was being played caused it to sound different from the sound of a real piano played in a concert hall. To lead visitors to the show to expect piano records to sound similar to what Jim was producing was dishonest.
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.
The accuracy of a hi-fi system's "soundstage" reproduction seems to be of paramount importance these days, just as a component must now have "transparency" to possess hi-fi righteousness. If the system in which that component is used doesn't give good soundstage, then the system's owner has definitely fallen by the wayside. But what defines a good soundstage? Stereo imaging must have something to do with it, I hear you all cry. (I would have said stereo imagery until Larry Archibald pointed out that imagery has far less to do with hi-fi than with good writing, something I'm sure we agree has no place in a hi-fi magazine.) OK, what defines good stereo imaging?
It was eight years ago that I first met Aalt Jouk van den Hul. I was visiting Ortofon in Denmark, and, with a group of hi-fi journalists from all over Europe, was traveling by bus to visit the cartridge-production facility in the far south of that country. Bus journeys are not my ideal way of passing time; naturally I gravitated to the rear of the bus, where bottles of Tuborg were making their presence felt. One journalist, however—a pixieish fellow hailing from The Low Countries—resisted the blandishments of the opened bottles. Producing a sheath of black-and-white glossies from his briefcase, he announced that he had just developed the ultimate stylus profile!
The quest for a full-range electrostatic loudspeaker has occupied many engineers' minds for many years. The problems are manifold: large physical size (which can lead to room placement problems and poor dispersion), the difficulty of achieving high sound pressure levels, the need for a potentially sound-degrading step-up transformer, and the unsuitability for production-line manufacture. Even so, the potential rewards are so great that one can understand why loudspeaker designers keep on attempting the apparently impossible. Epoch-making models do appear at infrequent intervals, keeping the flame burning since the appearance of the original Quad in 1955: Acoustat, Sound Lab, and Beveridge in the US, Stax in Japan, Audiostatic in Holland, Quad, of course, in England, and now MartinLogan.
The Question of Bass: J. Gordon Holt A few issues back, in Vol.9 No.3, I used "As We See It" to clarify what Stereophile writers have in mind when they use the term "transparency" in equipment reports. This time, I'll do the same thing for the performance parameters of bass reproduction.
"I am not in love; but I'm open to persuasion," sings Joan Armatrading in her song "Love and Affection," the track I was playing when I finally realized that my attempts to get a sound from the Apogee Caliper ribbon speakers approaching what I had heard at the 1986 Chicago CES were bearing fruit. And that sentence pretty much describes the creed of the professional audio critic. Each new product that arrives at your door could be the one to pass the J. Gordon Holt "goose-bump" test, to leave the hairs on your arms permanently erect. Did the Caliper full-range ribbons excite my previously quiescent nerve-endings? Did Bobby Ewing return from the dead? Did Sam propose to Diane? Will Alan Alda ever outgrow Hawkeye? What on Earth made Georgette marry Ted Baxter? Why can't Tubbs roll up his jacket sleeves like Crockett? How could a fine actor like Jack Klugman accept such a dreadful role? Some of these questions will be answered overleaf, but in the meantime, what is a ribbon speaker?