Once upon a time there was a violin maker who had two quarrelsome sons, and their names were John and Rudolf. When the boys came of age, their father put them to work in his shop, but John and Rudolf found it difficult to get along with one another, and they quarreled even more bitterly after the old man died.
One of my best friends is a serious jazz collector with a side interest in good replay gear. The last time we got together over a meal, he asked, "What do you think is really the most important component in an audio system?" He might have added "these days": It's a subject we come back to from time to time.
The observation has been made, often and well, that audio writers are out of touch when it comes to judging value for money. For one thing, we get to live with exotic gear for months at a time, without spending a penny. For another, when we do decide on a more permanent upgrade, we usually get the opportunity to buy at wholesale—at a so-called "industry accommodation price," extended to us because, after all, we are a part of the industry.
I'm never more conservative than when the subject turns to home audio. And at the end of the day, I want little more than to preserve the hobby's finest institutions: Alnico magnets. Parchment cones. Mono. Sonata form. Ballads that actually tell stories. Give me tubes. Give me vinyl. Give me thin-walled hardwood cabinets, obsolete tweeters, and handmade polypropylene woofers. Give me the Spendor BC1.
A man dies and goes to hell, and Satan meets him at the gate: "Just this once, I'm going to let a newcomer choose his own torment," he says as he leads the deceased from room to room, opening doors on all manner of abuse—burning, flaying, Lou Reed's The Raven, you name it.
When we last heard from Englishman Tim de Paravicini, whose EAR 890 amp I reviewed in Stereophile's April 2004 issue, the veteran audio designer suggested that he could make a transistor amplifier equal in performance to any of his successful tube designs. Whatever else it may be, the new EAR 324 is my first chance to test that claim: a stereo phono preamplifier without a single tube in sight. It isn't TdP's first all-solid-state product: That would be the line-plus-phono EAR 312 preamplifier, introduced to no small fanfare a little over three years ago. For all intents and purposes, the 324 is a standalone version of the phono section of that $18,000 flagship: The designs are virtually identical—excepting, of course, their casework and power supplies.
A grainy film is said to exist that proves the viability of a mechanical antigravity device. The inventor, a native of Syracuse, New York named Harry W. Bull (footnote 1) placed his so-called "bootstrap machine" on a bathroom scale, focused a borrowed home movie camera on the dial, powered up the machine, and watched as the numbers spun backward. This event, and the development work that led to it, were the basis for a series of articles—and a subsequent exchange of heated letters—in Popular Science magazine. The year was 1935.
The first time I heard an Audio Note preamp was seven or eight years ago, when I sampled their entry-level M1—a refreshingly musical thing that brought the same kind of color and drama to preamplification that Audio Note's more famous products brought to the driving of speakers. And the M1 cost only $1250 at the time, with phono stage. (Newcomers, please don't wince: That's awfully cheap for what it was.)