My first one-piece stereo—I think I paid $60 for it, including a pair of speakers with pegboard backs—gave me a lot of pleasure when I was young, and I loved it. Everything that came after has been better in every way but one: None has inspired that kind of love. And most have left me wondering if there might be something just a little bit better.
Although she'll deny it, my wife thinks ill of me because I've failed to buy her a new Mini Cooper. I can point to a number of things in my defense—especially the Mini's lack of all-wheel drive, which we need for climbing our quarter-mile driveway in bad weather, and its insufficient cargo and passenger space—all of which would constrain a Dudley-owned Mini Cooper to recreational use only. And a new round of car payments would be difficult to justify for those reasons: not because I'm cheap, and not because I'm too old to appreciate a car that's fun to drive.
On weekends, I play guitar in a string band whose membership varies between two and five members, depending on the location of the job and the amount of pay offered. We're reasonably good at picking and singing, but we lack the originality that would make someone want to buy our albums, which is why we haven't made them. Our little group is McDonald's, not Le Circe or even Applebee's, and I'm at peace with that.
Whenever my family and I travel together, I catch a glimpse of how the human mind works. Immediately after checking into our hotel, my wife goes to work distributing the contents of our suitcases among the room's various cabinets, closets, and drawers. Then, the next morning, I discover the location of my underpants heuristically: seeking without knowing, in the hope that some newly learned pattern will be imprinted on my brain. Thus do I earn the luxury of complacence: Every morning thereafter, my things are right where I know they should be.
In 1962, when tennis rackets were made of wood, newspeople were known for challenging the government, and the off-Broadway musical The Fantasticks was in its second year (the show closed in 2002), Nippon Columbia's Denki Onkyo (or Den-On) division introduced to the professional audio world a brand-new moving-coil phono cartridge. Developed in cooperation with the Japan Broadcasting Corporation, the DL-103 was one of the first attempts at making a truly wide-bandwidth stereo cartridge that nonetheless could withstand the rigors of back-cueing. The DL-103 was a nearly instant success with broadcasters, and its popularity spilled over into the world of domestic audio.
Is it my imagination, or has the low-power tube movement of the last 15 years gone hand in hand with a renewed interest in moving-coil step-up transformers? Trannies remain misunderstood or ignored by most of the audio press—requests for review samples continue to be met with genial shock, rather like tourism in the Budapest of the 1990s—but enthusiasm for the practice seems only to grow. That leaves me to wonder: Did the unquestioning use of active pre-preamps for so many years grow out of the same bad attitude that gave us all those awful-sounding high-power amps and low-sensitivity loudspeakers? You know the mindset: Parts are cheap. Gain is free. Do it because you can...