Every two or three years my family and I travel to Disney World in Orlando, Florida—one of those places I used to think I'd hate, but which I always enjoy in spite of myself. No such trip would be complete without visiting the Mitsukoshi department store at Epcot Center, which represents the pinnacle of Japanese consumer culture. At the Epcot Mitsukoshi store—the 430-year-old company's only US location—one can buy the finest of everything, including the rarest and most expensive writing papers and inks, the most exquisitely crafted pottery, and the loveliest freshwater pearls on Earth. Young shoppers are accommodated with the latest toys, trends, and technology—but there's nothing frantic or cheap about the manner in which they're offered. The watchword at Mitsukoshi is quality, and the presentation borders on being artistic.
I was the member of the family on whom the others could depend for technical assistance: mending eyeglass frames, fixing the radio, replacing the lightbulb in the oven, getting the car to idle smoothly. No job too big or too small. House calls a specialty.
Today is Monday, February 5, and it's so buttercupping cold outside that the custodian couldn't get our school's oil burner started. Consequently, my daughter is home for the day, playing on the rug in front of the fireplace. (Santa brought a wooden castle and a fine selection of medieval figurines, some of which are headed for the dungeon as we speak.) I'm at my desk in the music room, on the upwind side of the house—and the wind is murder. The west wall is cold. The north wall is cold. The floorboards are cold. But the air inside is warm as toast: I'm driving my Quad ESL speakers with a Joule Electra VZN-80 amplifier ($12,000) that isn't at all bashful about squandering a goodly amount of energy as heat. I can't think of a more delightful quality for an amp to have, at least on a day like this.
For a word that first appeared in print only 35 years ago, prequel has a lot of impact—if only in a commercial sense. The television series Smallville has become a staple of American broadcasting. Film producers gambled millions on the chance that audiences would want to know what happened when Batman began. And while moviegoers have turned their backs on the apparently awful Hannibal Rising, the book of the same name is doing brisk business indeed.
Taken together, these unusual interconnect, loudspeaker, and AC cables brought a new measure of spaciousness, scale, smoothness, heretofore unimagined detail, and overall musical ease and naturalness to my music system. And they did it while sounding neither dull nor bright—just right.
In the early 1980s, Ivor Tiefenbrun, of Linn Products, Ltd., compared digital audio to "a nasty disease" that his company offered not to spread. Less than 25 years later, digital sources outnumber analog ones in Linn's product line—so much so that the venerable Scottish manufacturer has expanded its line of disc players to encompass two different formats: multi- and two-channel.
I was going through a box of old photographs, lingering over some pictures I'd taken at the Quad loudspeaker factory in Huntingdon, England, a number of years ago. It was my second trip overseas—1994 or '95—and while I remember being intrigued by the machinery and the test equipment and all, I know that the real impact of the tour was probably lost on me: I wasn't yet a Quad owner.