One of my favorite parental duties is dispensing advice that's calculated to make me sound wiser than I am. Among those pearls: Every so often you should change your point of viewyour philosophiesjust to see if your opinions can stand the strain. In doing so, you may discover a few things that are better than you expected them to be!
Over the years, Stereophile and its writers have been taken to task for doing, thinking, and saying any number of things. We've been raked over the coals for enjoying acoustic music, electric music, old music, new music, light music, serious music, and music God put here as a test, just to see if we're smart enough to hate it. We've been taken to the woodshed for comparing new products to known references; for failing to compare new products with known references; for borrowing known references for the purpose of such comparisons; for taking advantage of professional discounts so that we can buy and keep known references for the purpose of such comparisons; for being out-of-touch naïfs who haven't owned enough gear in our lives to know anything about anything; and for being spoiled, materialistic pigs who have owned so many things that we've lost touch with The Common Man. We've been assaulted for loving analog, dissed for loving digital, tasered for loving tubes, sucker-slapped for loving solid-state, and mauled for loving mono. We've even been impeached, indicted, secretly reassigned to a new diocese, and flown back to Russia without an adult guardian for being overly concerned with current events.
A clever engineer with an interest in home audio says that the real obstacle to high-fidelity sound is the adverse and unpredictable way in which speakers interact with most domestic rooms. To address that need, he brings to market a loudspeaker that disperses sound in a new and original way. Controversy ensues. Controversy endures.
At our best, audiophiles are the selfless and generous custodians of a thousand small libraries, keeping alive not only music's greatest recorded moments but the art of listening itself. At our worst, we are self-absorbed, superannuated rich kids, locked in an endless turd-hurl over who has the best toys.
Before last year, I had no more than a professional interest in the products of Wilson Audio Specialties. But before last year I hadn't experienced Wilson's Sophia Series 2 loudspeaker ($16,700/pair)which, like the wines I tend to order when my wife and I go out to dinner, is the second-cheapest item on their menu. Within weeks of the Sophias' arrival, respect had turned to rapture, like to love, and an entirely new appreciation for Wilson Audio was mine (footnote 1).
Nineteen days after J. Gordon Holt died, my daughter and I drove west on NY Route 20, passing lawn sale after lawn sale on our way to the supermarket in Richfield Springs. Each sale promised a pleasant waste of time on that hot afternoon, but only one caught my eye: There, among the Avon bottles and the 8-track tape cartridges, were two large bookshelf loudspeakers, dressed in walnut veneer and light-colored fabric grilles. AR 3s, I thought. Or maybe Large Advents. "They'll still be there when we come back this way," I said, stupidly.
Besides my 20th wedding anniversary and the 15th anniversary of Listener magazine's first issue, this year marks the 25th anniversary of Roksan Audio Ltd., easily one of the most innovative design and manufacturing firms in British audio. Before Roksan came upon the scene in 1985, none of us had ever seen a loudspeaker whose tweeter was isolated from its surroundings by a sprung suspension. Or a commercial phono preamplifier designed to fit inside a turntable, just a centimeter away from the tonearm base. And who among us could have guessed that the Linn LP12's hegemonyamong flat-earthers, I meanwould be broken by a turntable from outside of Scotland? Yet the Roksan Darius loudspeaker, Artaxerxes phono stage, and, above all, Xerxes turntable accomplished those things and more, to the genuine surprise of nearly everyoneand to the benefit of our industry at large, as other firms took those ideas and ran with them.
Although LPs remain, for me, the high-end medium of choice, I'm not terribly interested in today's high-end record players. Most of them, from the 1980s through the present, have been soulless, uninspired, me-too products that utterly fail to communicate the presence, momentum, and punch of recorded music. And in certain waysexpense, complexity, size, cosmeticssome have been, quite simply, ridiculous.