According to designer Bill Reed, the Nelson-Reed 8-04/B was not originally intended to be an audiophile speaker system, but was instead designed as a high-quality monitor for the critical recording engineer who wanted to be able to walk from the studio into the control room and hear the same thing from his speakers that he heard "live." The fact that modern studio mike technique ensures that this could never happen is probably beside the point. The point is that reproducing the original power and dynamic range of live music is a formidable challenge, which practically no audiophile speakers have met successfully. On the other hand, so-called studio monitors, which can do that routinely, have tended to be highly colored and otherwise generally lousy in all areas of fidelity except output capability. The 8-04/B was an attempt to combine the strengths of both kinds of speaker, while avoiding their usual weaknesses.
I was so impressed by the Nelson-Reed 8-04/B loudspeaker's low-end range that I seriously doubted the add-on subwoofers could add enough of significance to be cost-effective.
I was wrong.
Two of the subwoofers were provided, along with the necessary electronic crossover unit. Each 1204 unit contains four 12" woofers in a very solid sealed enclosure, with two facing to the front and two facing the rear. The electronic crossover has three controls, besides the AC power switch: a hardwire (footnote 1) bypass switch, a stereo/mono switch, and a subwoofer level control. In the stereo mode, the low frequencies are kept separate, left from right; in mono mode, they are blended together for feeding to a single subwoofer. I will not resurrect the question of whether or not it is important to maintain stereo separation into the LF range, except to echo N-R's observation that there is no LF separation on analog discs to begin with; the lows are mixed together, to limit vertical excursions of the cutting stylus that could cause it to rise above the disc surface or, worse, dig into the aluminum base of the master disc.
Every once in a while, and particularly around the first of the year, news writers (of which I am one) get the urge to play oracle, laying our credibilities on the line by attempting to divine what the coming year will bring. Since I am writing this at the end of January, the chances of my miscalling my shots have already been reduced by a factor of 0.083. But there are still 11 months to go, and some possibility that a prediction or two may be wrong. Nonetheless, I shall intrepidly grab the bull by the horns, the crystal by the ball, and the opportunity of the moment to take an educated guess at what the rest of 1988 holds for audio.
Now that Sony has bought CBS's records division, and the infamous Copycode bill seems to be dying in Congress, the way may be clearing at last for the US introduction of the new Digital Audio Tape system. This has sparked renewed speculation in the industry about the impact DAT will have on existing formats, particularly the fledgling CD. Some are convinced DAT will kill CD, because of its ability to record as well as play digital recordings. Others believe DAT won't even gain a foothold in the market, for the same reason quadraphonic sound laid an egg back in the '70s: The public can't handle more than one "standard" format. I feel that both views are wrong, and thatas is usually the case with extreme viewsthe truth lies in between. I believe DAT will catch on in the marketplace, but never in a big way, and certainly not the way CD has. Here's why.
When I attended the Audio Engineering Society convention in October 1987 (my first time in over eight years; full report in this issue), I was impressed by the incredible technology now available to composers of music. I was also dismayed, however, by the extent to which so-called purist audio, as well as "acoustical" music, have been consigned to oblivion by the pro audio community. It was clear, both from the exhibits and the many conversations on which I eavesdropped, that audio professionals are no longer concerned about fidelity, in the sense of trying to reproduce sounds accurately. A "real" sound has become to them merely raw material of no value except as something to be processed, manipulated, folded, bent, and spindled to produce any sonic effect except the original one. About a third of the products displayed at the 83rd AES convention were tools for doing that.
The Ortofon MC-2000 may just have been the most impractical cartridge to be unleashed upon the audio community for some years. With a high compliance (20cu) that made it ill-suited for most tonearms, it also had a preposterously low signal output of 50 microvolts, which gave new meaning to the terms hum and noise. Few MC preamps had enough gain to deliver adequate driving voltage to a system, and none of those that did had low enough noise to be usable with the 2000. If the problem wasn't hum, it was hiss; if hiss was acceptably low, there would be too much hum. At least Ortofon had the sense to be aware of the problem and to do something about it, in the form of their T-2000 step-up transformer, which is the only device I ever found that would allow the cartridge to be operated without a constant background of hum or hiss. Despite all this, I have used the MC-2000 as my reference cartridge for the last two years. Why? Because of all the cartridges I've tried, it is by far the most accurate.
There is something vaguely disturbing about the idea of an $8000 turntable and arm combination. That's more money than a lot of audiophiles have invested in records through the years. Total overkill! Or so it might seem. But the entire history of analog disc reproduction, from the first LP to the present, has been one of seemingly open-ended discoveries—of subtleties nobody ever imagined were frozen in those tiny grooves, of levels of quality no one ever guessed the medium was capable of. Yes, newer LPs are a lot better than the first ones, but that is only to be expected in any technologically advancing field. What is amazing about the LP is that, 40 years after its introduction, we are still finding out that all of them, from the first to the latest, are better than anyone could have imagined. An improved phono unit doesn't just make the latest release from Wilson Audio or Reference Recordings sound better, it does the same for every LP you own!
When I attended Britain's Heathrow Penta hi-fi show in September 1987, I had hoped to come back with big news about some breakthrough cartridge or preamp or loudspeaker system. I didn't. No, the talk of the Penta show was something called the "Belt Phenomenon," which may possibly be a breakthrough of some kind, but then again, it may not.
Following the introduction of their very expensive, tube/FET hybrid SP11 preamplifier, there were rumors that Audio Research was working on a hybrid tube/transistor preamplifier targeted to cost less than $2000. The rumors were confirmed when ARC showed a black-and-white photo of the SP9 at the 1987 Winter CES. Obviously, like all magazines, we were impatient to receive a review sample, but the first review of the SP9 actually appeared in the summer '87 issue of Peter Moncrieff's IAR Hotline. Peter's review was almost intemperately enthusiastic, comparing the SP9 positively with early samples of the SP11 and suggesting that its sound quality was considerably better than would be expected from its $1695 asking price. Naturally, we were anticipating good things when our review sample arrived in Santa Fe in late July.