I'm never more conservative than when the subject turns to home audio. And at the end of the day, I want little more than to preserve the hobby's finest institutions: Alnico magnets. Parchment cones. Mono. Sonata form. Ballads that actually tell stories. Give me tubes. Give me vinyl. Give me thin-walled hardwood cabinets, obsolete tweeters, and handmade polypropylene woofers. Give me the Spendor BC1.
A man dies and goes to hell, and Satan meets him at the gate: "Just this once, I'm going to let a newcomer choose his own torment," he says as he leads the deceased from room to room, opening doors on all manner of abuse—burning, flaying, Lou Reed's The Raven, you name it.
When we last heard from Englishman Tim de Paravicini, whose EAR 890 amp I reviewed in Stereophile's April 2004 issue, the veteran audio designer suggested that he could make a transistor amplifier equal in performance to any of his successful tube designs. Whatever else it may be, the new EAR 324 is my first chance to test that claim: a stereo phono preamplifier without a single tube in sight. It isn't TdP's first all-solid-state product: That would be the line-plus-phono EAR 312 preamplifier, introduced to no small fanfare a little over three years ago. For all intents and purposes, the 324 is a standalone version of the phono section of that $18,000 flagship: The designs are virtually identical—excepting, of course, their casework and power supplies.
The first time I heard an Audio Note preamp was seven or eight years ago, when I sampled their entry-level M1—a refreshingly musical thing that brought the same kind of color and drama to preamplification that Audio Note's more famous products brought to the driving of speakers. And the M1 cost only $1250 at the time, with phono stage. (Newcomers, please don't wince: That's awfully cheap for what it was.)
A grainy film is said to exist that proves the viability of a mechanical antigravity device. The inventor, a native of Syracuse, New York named Harry W. Bull (footnote 1) placed his so-called "bootstrap machine" on a bathroom scale, focused a borrowed home movie camera on the dial, powered up the machine, and watched as the numbers spun backward. This event, and the development work that led to it, were the basis for a series of articles—and a subsequent exchange of heated letters—in Popular Science magazine. The year was 1935.
My wife and I have this ongoing riff: We try to make each other laugh by sharing examples of words we've looked at too quickly and misread—mistaking offered for overfed, bagel for kegel, that sort of thing. All very subtle and dry and Garrison Keillor. You can hear the belly laughs from there, can't you?
Most of us have at least some taste for gear that jumps out—for audio components whose sonic and musical distinctions are easy to hear from the start. In audio, unlike in the art of music itself, there's nothing wrong with being obvious.