When I was first getting interested in "high fidelity," as we called it back in the 1960s, there was an audio dealer in Worthing, England called Bowers & Wilkins. Their advertisement in the February 1966 issue of Hi-Fi News features their annual sale, with a Quad Electrostatic Speaker priced at $l30 instead of the manufacturer's recommended $l37 (footnote 1), and offering other bargains, from ReVox, Quad, Rogers, Leak, and Armstrong. Conspicuous by their absence from the ad are Bowers & Wilkins speakers. The first reference to those I could find was in the August 1968 issue of what was then called The Gramophone, when race-car driver turned audio critic John Gilbert raved about the P2 Monitor. Designed by avid concertgoer John Bowers with Peter Hayward and featuring an EMI bass unit and a Celestion tweeter, the two-way P2 was priced at more than twice the Quad speaker, at $l159/pair.
It was 20 years ago that I appeared on one of the UK's equivalents of NBC's Today show to comment on the launch of CD. I wanted to talk about digital technology, but my host was more interested in the medium's lack of surface noise, which he demonstrated by showing that a disc smeared with butter and marmalade—this was breakfast television, remember—would play without skipping. (Actually, it wouldn't play; after the jammy CD was loaded, the program cut to a pretaped segment in which the player had a pristine disc inside it.)
We are saddened to report the death of Decca recording engineer Kenneth E. Wilkinson on January 13 at the age of 92, in Norfolk, England. The news was reported by LP historian Michael Gray of The Absolute Sound on the Internet newsgroup rec.audio.high-end.
Hanging above the expensive desk in my penthouse office atop Manhattan's prestigious Stereophile Tower is a photocopy of a New Yorker cartoon, in which a bewildered-looking guy complains, "There has been an alarming increase in the number of things I know nothing about."
Sony's first flagship Super Audio CD player was the two-channel SCD-1, reviewed by Jonathan Scull in November 1999. (The $5000 SCD-1 had balanced outputs; the cosmetically different but otherwise identical $3500 SCD-777ES had unbalanced outputs and was reviewed by Chip Stern in April 2001.) Sony's second-generation flagship player, the $3000 SCD-XA777ES, was reviewed by Kalman Rubinson in January 2002, and added multichannel capability with channel-level adjustment and bass management. Sony's third-generation flagship is the SCD-XA9000ES, also priced at $3000, which adds time-delay adjustment for its multichannel analog outputs and is presented in a smart new styling that Sony calls "Silver Cascade." The disc drawer and the most frequently used controls are on the angled top half of the brushed-aluminum front panel; in the lower half are the display, the headphone jack and its volume control, and the multifunction control knob.
Since 1992, Stereophile has recognized components that have proved capable of giving musical pleasure beyond the formal review period by naming its "Products of the Year." These are the components that can be recommended without any ifs or buts, that will grace any system in which they used.
I am saddened to report that Peter James Walker, the founder of quintessential English audio company Quad, passed away on December 10, after a long illness. He was 87. Peter Walker had been married twice; both his wives had died before him. He is survived by a daughter, Victoria, and a son, Ross, the latter having played a major role in managing Quad through the 1970s and '80s.
The 2004 Stereophile Buyer's Guide hits the newsstands this week. Within its 228 jumbo-sized and color-coded pages you'll find listings of every audio component currently available in the US (other than boomboxes and other portable players), along with their specifications and prices. It also includes what we feel is the most complete listing of audio manufacturer websites on the planet.
John Gourlay, Stereophile's publisher since 1998, left the company at the beginning of November. John had been a valued collaborator and the moving force behind the launch of the 2004 Stereophile Buyer's Guide (see related story). We all wish him well in his future career.
The talented loudspeaker engineer is a man who is always in competition with himself. When PSB's Paul Barton put the finishing touches on his Stratus Gold model back in 1990 (footnote 1), I'm sure he had more ideas in mind that he could have used in a flagship design. Yet the Gold offered so much performance at such a competitive price—$2000/pair in 1991, rising to $2100/pair by 1997, then $2400/pair for the the Gold i, an evolutionary development—that it was not surprising that Barton applied his talents to developing ranges of more affordable speakers, such as the best-selling Alpha and Image series.