At our best, audiophiles are the selfless and generous custodians of a thousand small libraries, keeping alive not only music's greatest recorded moments but the art of listening itself. At our worst, we are self-absorbed, superannuated rich kids, locked in an endless turd-hurl over who has the best toys.
Nineteen days after J. Gordon Holt died, my daughter and I drove west on NY Route 20, passing lawn sale after lawn sale on our way to the supermarket in Richfield Springs. Each sale promised a pleasant waste of time on that hot afternoon, but only one caught my eye: There, among the Avon bottles and the 8-track tape cartridges, were two large bookshelf loudspeakers, dressed in walnut veneer and light-colored fabric grilles. AR 3s, I thought. Or maybe Large Advents. "They'll still be there when we come back this way," I said, stupidly.
Besides my 20th wedding anniversary and the 15th anniversary of Listener magazine's first issue, this year marks the 25th anniversary of Roksan Audio Ltd., easily one of the most innovative design and manufacturing firms in British audio. Before Roksan came upon the scene in 1985, none of us had ever seen a loudspeaker whose tweeter was isolated from its surroundings by a sprung suspension. Or a commercial phono preamplifier designed to fit inside a turntable, just a centimeter away from the tonearm base. And who among us could have guessed that the Linn LP12's hegemonyamong flat-earthers, I meanwould be broken by a turntable from outside of Scotland? Yet the Roksan Darius loudspeaker, Artaxerxes phono stage, and, above all, Xerxes turntable accomplished those things and more, to the genuine surprise of nearly everyoneand to the benefit of our industry at large, as other firms took those ideas and ran with them.
Although LPs remain, for me, the high-end medium of choice, I'm not terribly interested in today's high-end record players. Most of them, from the 1980s through the present, have been soulless, uninspired, me-too products that utterly fail to communicate the presence, momentum, and punch of recorded music. And in certain waysexpense, complexity, size, cosmeticssome have been, quite simply, ridiculous.
With so many lookalike, workalike remote handsets littering the ring-stained table of our hobby, new ones seldom stand outor work better than the old ones. Pioneer has finally produced a breakthrough: Anyone who buys a new Pioneer VSX-1020 receiver (expected to go on sale in America in June, for approximately $800) will have the opportunity to download a virtual handset from the Apple apps site, for use with his or her iPod Touch or iPhone. The finished product looksand worksexactly like the knobs and switches on the amp's front panel. Here's one remote control that will probably never get lost under the couch or dropped in the toilet. (Don't ask.)
Cable manufacturer JPS Labs is now connected (sorry) with the Canadian importer AudioScape Canada, which also distributes amplifiers and CD players from PrimaLuna, turntables from Dual, loudspeakers from Usher, and other delights. At Salon Son et Image, Joe Skubinski of JPS unveiled a new version of his popular Digital AC power cord, now called Digital AC-X. The cable's filter network has now been upgraded to handle higher frequencies than before, but the price remains the same: $399 for a 2-meter run. Sweet!
For a journalist at a trade show, few things are more awkward than entering a room and finding that the exhibitor and his staff are the only people there: No dealers. No customers. Just a few desperate souls ready to pin their last half-hope on a man with a badgeand the badge says Press.