As the music swelled in the background, Humphrey Bogart leaned toward Ingrid Bergman and tenderly said, "Mnn mmmm mnn nnrm murrrmr."
Damn! I hate when that happens. I ran the laserdisc back and played it again, this time louder.
"MNN MMMM MNN NNRM MURRRMR," said Bogart.
When you think about it, the center channel is probably the most important channelif you don't believe this, watch a movie sometime with the dialog speaker turned off and see how compelling the experience is. I mean, I like explosions, rocket launches, and train wrecks as much as the next guy, but what I really want from a video sound system is the words.
About a decade ago, I read in Stereophile about the SRC, an add-on remote-control unit manufactured by Acoustic Research. I bought one the next day ('swhat happens when you work across the street from a hi-fi shop). Suddenly I was able to make incremental changes in volume and balance from my listening position—and let me tell you that that's the way to do it. What a phenomenal difference in realistic dynamics and soundstaging.
As Stereophile's Equipment Reports Editor, I get a lot of calls from readers asking how we choose the gear we review, and from manufacturers asking how to get their products reviewed. So I told JA to take the month off from writing this column so that I could talk about Stereophile's Equipment Reports section.
"Why no review of the Ayre V-3?" queried Stephen Slaughter in July's "Letters" column, echoing several urgent posts to my e-mail address. Word of mouth on this remarkable 100Wpc amplifier was reaching fever pitch. Show reports over the last several years had sounded a consistent note—rooms that demoed with V-3s kept getting mentioned in "Best of Show" overviews. Naturally, this also meant that the pendulum had started its backward swing. "It's not really as good as people are saying," one WCES attendee confided in me. "That's why they won't give it to critics."
Years ago, I uncovered a piece of my father's secret soul. Hidden in the back of a closet was a treasure trove I'd give anything to possess today. It was my father's stash of mementos from his service in the Eighth Air Force during WWII: his A-2 leather and lamb's-wool flight jacket, a silk scarf with a detailed topographic map of his Theater of Operations imprinted on it, his "50 mission hat" (an Air Corps-lid with the shaping frame removed, carefully crumpled through the middle so that every mother's son would know he was no FNG), his ruptured duck, and, thrust in one pocket, his old headsets—a pair of Bakelite earpieces held together with a leather-covered steel strap. They were funky-looking cans, but to me, they spoke of all of the nobility and courage displayed by the boys who flew over Fortress Europe. I don't actually remember ever plugging them into anything, but I sure wore them for years in every fantasy situation, from plucky French underground guerrilla to Wes Phillips Space Raaaangerrr!
What, I hear you asking, is an integrated drive? The MID is part of McCormack's much lauded "Micro" series (see my review of their Micro Line Drive in Vol.18 No.6), which are designed to offer the same dedication to quality as McCormack's full-size components, but at a lower price (and in a smaller package). The MID was initially the Micro Headphone Drive, sporting two ½" stereo phone-jacks on the front panel, a two-position input switch, and a volume control. The rear boasted two inputs and an output (controlled by the volume pot). It was designed to be a high-quality headphone amp and a minimalist preamp. In this configuration, I ran into it at the 1995 WCES where—almost as a gag—Steve McCormack had made up a few ½" stereo phone-plug to 5-way binding post connectors. He could, he explained, run small speakers from the headphone outputs. There was a serious purpose behind the joke, of course. Showing that the MHD could drive speakers spoke volumes for its ability to drive headphones.
For headphone listeners, this is truly a golden age—we have multiple choices at many different price levels. During the course of this review, I had as many as five headphone amplifiers (and, in several cases, multiple power supplies) set up for comparison. Yet many people don't understand why we might want a headphone amp in the first place.
It's hard to know what to call the SHA-Gold. It is a superb headphone amplifier—maybe even the target all future headphone amps need to shoot at—but it's also a full-function preamplifier. At two grand, it's not exactly a unit you'd add to your current system just to get a headphone connection...Wait a minute! What am I saying? I'm sure that there are folks out there who would add this to their existing reference systems as casually as I'd buy the Audio Alchemy headphone amplifier—but they'd be missing out on a great line stage.