Every now and then an affordable product comes along that's so good, even wealthy shoppers want it. Past examples in domestic audio include the Rega RB300 tonearm, the original Quicksilver Mono amplifier, the Grace F9E phono cartridgeeven Sony's unwitting CD player, the original PlayStation. Based on word of mouth alone, one might add the HRT Music Streamer+ to that lauded list.
It's a guy thing, dating from those sandbox days when such declarations were not only socially acceptable but expected of us: Mickey Mantle could run the bases faster than Whitey Ford, the Chevrolet Corvette was cooler than the Ford Mustang, Jimmy Page played faster than Jeff Beck, Superman was stronger than Batman. (Women, those devious serpent-hearkeners of Old Testament fame, are for once blameless: They never argue that Charlotte Bronte wrote better tea-drinking scenes than Jane Austen, or that Hugh Grant looks better in a powdered wig than Daniel Day Lewis.)
For 15 years, lovers of low-power amplifiers have clamored for more and better high-efficiency loudspeakers (footnote 1). For 15 years, their choices have remained limited to products with varying combinations of colored sound, poor spatial performance, basslessness, high cost, and cosmetics that range from the weak to the repulsive.
For an artform in which sound is everything, popular music has been blessed with strangely little poetry: There may be no other genre where high-mindedness falls with such a thud. Leonard Cohen remains the most striking exception, not just for the genuine seriousness of his music or the adulation of his audience, but for the ability of the former to survive the latter.
The unusual Miyajima Shilabe moving-coil cartridge ($2800) came to my attention through a friend, and I obtained one from the importer, Robin Wyatt of Robyatt Audio, a music lover and dedicated audiophile who imports gear as a sideline, and who lives nearby in New Jersey.
This whole thing started up again when I tried to improve the phono-input section of my main systemnot to enhance its performance (although you might expect that to happen), but to provide a fairer, more flexible context for evaluating new cartridges.
In the early to mid-1980s, I read every high-end hi-fi magazine I could get my hands on. Among the consequences was my discovery that the Grado Signature Seven phono cartridgewhich was better and cheaper than the Signatures One through Sixwas the cartridge that God wanted me to have. So I cut back on all manner of luxuries, saved every dollar I could save, and a few months later brought a walletful of cash to Harvey Sound in midtown Manhattan, where an unpleasant man with a bad comb-over handed me a little pill bottle of a plastic tube.
While my enthusiasm for the long-discontinued Sony PlayStation 1 remains high (see the July 2008 Stereophile), I freely acknowledge that not every high-end audio enthusiast wants a CD player with an injection-molded chassis, a Robot Commando handset, and a remarkable lack of long-term reliability: Yes, the Sony sounds wonderful, but sound isn't everything.