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.
"The realistic reproduction of orchestral music in an average room requires peak power capabilities of the order of 15 to 20W when the electro-acoustic transducer is a baffle-loaded moving-coil loudspeaker of normal efficiency."
—Peter Walker and D.T.N. Williamson, writing in the Journal of the Audio Engineering Society in 1954
Here we are, back to the Arcam I know and love: a company that not only invents good products, but good product categories as well. Like the Arcam Black Box of the 1980s, which gave so many people fits at the time—yet which, once you heard it, made good musical sense. It made good marketing sense, too: With that one stroke, teensy, weird, nestled-away-in-the-English-countryside Arcam did nothing less than create the domestic market for outboard digital-to-analog converters.
I wish the domestic audio industry of 2005 were more like the pop-music industry of 2005, with its variety, vitality, and ability to reach beyond its boundaries to move people. And its sense of fun, which hi-fi often seems to entirely lack.