Wood is not an engineering material. It might look pretty, but it's inconsistent and therefore unpredictable. So we smash cheap wood into sawdust and then glue it all together again to create something that can be machined. This is called medium-density fiberboard, or MDF. We then thinly slice some classy hardwood—hopefully harvested from sustainable sources—and use it to cover the ugly MDF. This might have made sense back when Chippendale was making furniture, but it seems strangely old-fashioned in our age of plastics and composites. I haven't seen wood trim on a TV set for more than a decade. Why is it still the norm for loudspeakers?
Let us pause for a moment to reflect on the passing of one of hi-fi’s most venerable components. For 30 years, Rega’s Planar 2—recently, simply known as the P2—has provided countless hi-fi enthusiasts with their first taste of the potential that the vinyl disc has to offer. Now Rega has decided to stop making it.
I don't know whether Sam Tellig or I first discovered the delights of some slightly idiosyncratic loudspeakers made by Triangle—Tree-ON-gle, if you add the relevant accent—in the northeastern corner of France. I do recall feeling quite relieved to find that I wasn't the only hi-fi writer who liked and wrote about them.
Angus McKenzie was a wholly remarkable individual. One of British hi-fi’s legends, he was the country's leading equipment reviewer for more than a decade, but that was only one of several careers and passions he pursued with repeated and conspicuous success, despite losing his sight completely at the age of 26.
Rumors have been circulating for some weeks now that the Chinese-owned, UK-based International Audio Group (IAG), which owns and operates the Quad and Wharfedale brands, was in talks with TAG McLaren, with the intention of taking over the latter's Audio division.
It's rare to find people praising a competitor in this hi-fi business, but I first met John Michell soon after one of his biggest rivals had described him as an "engineer's engineer." Memorably, he'd be the first port of call for anyone in the UK who wanted something done properly and without compromise. Another competitor described him as quite the nicest person he'd worked with, and a naturally gifted practical engineer.
I reviewed JMlab's Mezzo Utopia loudspeaker in the July 1999 Stereophile (Vol.22 No.7). By chance, the Mezzos had followed a pair of B&W Nautilus 801s into my listening room, and the substitution had proved rather interesting. For all their many fine qualities, the 801, with its 15" bass driver, was distinctly bass-heavy in my room, whereas the 11" drivers of the Mezzos seemed just right in this regard.
At the end of July, UK-based TAG McLaren Audio, which had been experiencing difficult trading conditions and was reducing its workforce, issued a rather pessimistic announcement. The core of the announcement concerned the firm's commencement of "a full strategic review of its participation in the audio market."
The international uncertainties of 2003 have not been kind to the specialist hi-fi sector, and are probably a key factor in this week's shock announcement. In a statement that sounds depressingly valedictory, the press release (reproduced in full below) baldly states: "TAG McLaren Audio ceases development of new products and commences a full strategic review of its participation in the audio market," before signing off with, "TAG McLaren Audio would like to thank everybody for their kind support over the years."
I've long been a fan of Naim electronic gear, and have used it for many years. I also have admiration and respect for the company's uncompromisingly consistent and determinedly individualistic approach to the various tasks and problems of loudspeaker design. But my enthusiasm for Naim speakers has long been tempered by a feeling that mechanical aspects of the design are given priority over acoustics and styling.