UK, 1976: Upon its release, Rega Research's original Planar 3 turntable became the poor man's Linn Sondek LP12. It opened a gateway of affordability to the exotic world of high-quality British record players. Forty years later, the new Planar 3 turntable and its "light and rigid" engineering aesthetic, as conceived by Rega founder Roy Gandy, still occupy an admirably working-class, pro-music position in an audio world increasingly populated by gold-plated tonearms and quarter-ton turntables.
Right now, I swear, Schiit Audio's Mike Moffat and Jason Stoddard are sitting there in California, smugly smirking at me and John Atkinson. While JA was struggling to properly measure Schiit's Ragnarok (Fate of the Gods) integrated amplifier for my review in the May 2016 issue, I sent Moffat an e-mail: "Are you smiling?"
"Yup," he replied. He'd known in advance that the Ragnarok wouldn't look good on standard tests. But he hadn't warned us: The Ragnarok's output-stage bias program responds to music sources, not signal generators.
I am an Anglophile and a Brit-fi guy. I just am. Back in 1982 I really wanted a wood-cased A&R Cambridge A60 to drive my Rogers LS3/5a speakers. But I couldn't afford its modest price. Somewhere around then, this venerable UK company simplified their name to Arcam.
Look at that photo, with the beautiful wood-plinthed KT88 amp. What do you notice? That's not a dCS digital stack lying on the table bottom-right: It's an iPad. A fancy red cable, whose name I forgot to get, is connecting a portable music source to the line-level input of a $1850 single-ended stereo integrated headphone amplifier called the Mogwai.
Technics spent all of 2016 re-emerging into the Euro-American audio marketand they did it with full-on high Japanese style and connoisseur-level sound. At last year's CES, Technics introduced their Grand, Premium, and Reference class audio productsincluding the 100 percent new SL-1200GAE/G/GR turntables! They made a big splash then, and now they're doing it again.
Today, in Vegas, DeVore's super-sensitive Orangutan O/96 loudspeakers ($12,000/pair) were powered by Sugden's Masterclass LA-4 line preamplifier ($3750) and Sapphire FBA800 40Wpc class-A amplifier ($7500). The system was playing Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings (on Daptone Records) with super cool but hot-running LP joy.
The one that has me the most stoked is the Rogers High Fidelity 65V-1 class-A, single-ended EL34/KT88 integrated amplifier ($3999). Not to mention: I have never seen an amp painted with industrial-black crinkle paint that I didn't love.
Both sides of the Atlantic are making tube products that (again) sound at least a little like actual vacuum tubes and less like high-strung solid-state racing cars. Both cultures now want genuine tube sound but demand 21st century tube longevity and reliabilityand, of course, a discrete headphone amplifier.
Emotiva looked so direct-sales, street-wise smartand everybody was talkin’ about how musical Emotiva’s stuff sounds: “It sounds goodand they're givin’ it away!” I couldn’t wait to try one of their products.