Analog maven Wally Malewicz is no stranger to these pages. His first commercial product, a cartridge-alignment tool called the WallyTractor, became a hit among the vinyl cognoscenti after Michael Fremer wrote about it in "Analog Corner" in the November 1998 Stereophile, and Malewicz's full kit of Wally Analog Tools was the joint winner of our Accessory of the Year award in 2002.
My opinions keep changing—more evidence of life before death, I suppose—including my thoughts on audio-system hierarchies. I used to think that preamps were among the most sonically influential components, certainly more so than power amplifiers. I'm not so sure anymore (footnote 1).
Yet another of the best systems I've ever heard at a hi-fi show was an exhibit by some former distributors for the English manufacturer Exposure Electronics, at a Chicago Consumer Electronics Show in the late 1980s. The exhibitors seemed to believe it was better to impress with a humble product than to overwhelm with a full-bore assault, because they limited their display to a single amplifier: the then-new Exposure X (as in "10") integrated, mated to a record player comprising a Linn LP12 turntable, Ekos tonearm, and Troika cartridge, and a pair of Linn Kan loudspeakers.
On the first morning in June I opened all the windows in my listening room and played Classic Records' LP reissue of Dvorák's Cello Concerto (RCA Living Stereo LSC-2490), with Piatigorsky and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The sunny weather put me in a fine mood, and so did the sound of my music system, which made me feel prouder than usual: Was ever a Linn record player more expertly adjusted? Wasn't I smart for keeping those Lamm monoblock amplifiers? Could a pair of Quads possibly sound better than mine?
I'm beginning to understand why some people enjoy writing about crazy tweaks like electron counseling and magic listening trousers: When an idea is that new, it brings with it the chance for some gifted but heretofore unappreciated journalist to rise through the ranks and describe it to an anxious world. By contrast, when a defeated and baggy old establishment writer sets out to describe a CD player or amplifier, the product is surely the millionth such thing to come down the pike, and before long the readers complain: We used to like you, but you don't try very hard to excite us anymore.