"You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve?"Lauren Bacall, To Have and Have Not, 1944
Yesterday, I played a minor role in a dustup on Facebook. It began when a fellow journalist posted a controversial quote from a veteran manufacturer known for generating same. The bait proved irresistible, and a long line of audio mavens, myself included, swam around the hook for an hour or so. The manufacturer himself also waded in, and before the fight was over, he'd made a show of demanding the home address of one of his antagonists, thus raising the manly specter of bodily harm. If there were any women in the audience, I'm sure they were impressed.
In the wake of my October 2013 "Listening" column and its negative take on the Pete Riggle Woody tonearm (footnote 1), I was surprised and gratified by the offer of another new arm: a gesture of trust not unlike sending one's children to a sleepover at Casey Anthony's house. The supplier was Phillip Holmes, of Texas-based Mockingbird Distribution (footnote 2), and the new tonearm was the Abis SA-1, the design and manufacture of which was commissioned by the Japanese firm Sibatech, itself a distributor of dozens of high-end audio brands, including Zyx, Mactone, Zerodust, and, perhaps most famously, Kondo.
I know someone who bought, for his own kitchen, a stove intended for the restaurant trade, simply because it enhances his enjoyment of cooking. Another friend, a motoring enthusiast, has equipped his garage with a brace of tools, including a hydraulic lift, that would be the envy of some humbler repair shops. Yet another friend indulges her enthusiasm for ceramics with a potter's wheel and kiln that one might find in a well-endowed art school. Among the most serious consumers, it seems, the watchword is professional; odd, then, that professional-quality monitors don't account for an even bigger chunk of the domestic loudspeaker market.
Ken Shindo, the Japanese audio designer whose electronics, loudspeakers, and accessories have influenced the parallel worlds of tube audio and analog audio, and who is shown above (right) with loudspeaker designer John DeVore, died late last month after a brief illness. He was 74.
The road to hell is paved with good inventions: clever ideas that appear, in hindsight, motivated more by a desire to sell clever ideas than to make musically superior products.
The DiaLogue tube amplifiers from PrimaLuna have, at their heart, a clever idea of their own: an output circuit that is user-switchable between triode operation, in which the screen grid of a tetrode or pentode power tube is defeated by means of connection to the tube's anode; and Ultralinear operation, in which the screen grid of a tetrode or pentode carries a portion of the AC music signal, supplied by a tap on the output-transformer primary, in a feedback-like effort to reduce distortion and increase power. Fans of the former often report a sweeter, more tubey sound, while fans of the latter report a tighter, more detailed, more timbrally neutral sound. Audio enthusiasts are given to reporting any number of things.
Domestic audio is based on two simple processes: transforming movement into electricity and electricity back into movement. Easy peasy.
Audio engineers have been doing those things for ages. Have they improved their craft to the same extent as the people who, over the same period of time, earned their livings making, say, automobiles and pharmaceuticals? I don't know. But if it were possible to spend an entire day driving a new car from 50 years ago, treating diabetes and erectile dysfunction with the treatments that were available 50 years ago, and listening to 50-year-old records on 50-year-old playback gear, the answer might seem more clear.
If you travel along Route 20 in upstate New York, you might see the hitchhiker my family and I refer to as the Old Soldierso called because this slightly built man, whose age could be anywhere from 55 to 90, is always dressed in a military uniform from some long-ago campaign. When we first saw him, his topcoat suggested a recent return from Chateau-Thierry; in more recent sightings, the old man has taken to wearing the trim khakis and sharply creased legionnaire cap of the late 1940schronological zigzagging that made me think, at first, that this traveler was aging in reverse.
Last summer, in an uncharacteristic fit of wanderlust, I took an American Airlines flight to London. Two days later, I rode the Eurostar train to Paris in the company of my daughter and my wife, a travel agent, who had secured first-class train accommodations on her professional discount. Our ride was brisk, but the upgrade would have been a waste at any price: The Eurostar food was vile.
"We put music in the souls of our amplifiers. Every amplifier, every tube, every transformer has music in its soul."
Not to be cynical, but I've heard, over the years, countless variations on that sentiment. Not to be naïve, but it rang with somewhat-greater-than-usual sincerity when given voice by 45-year-old Richard Wugangfounder, with his late father, of Virginia-based Sophia Electric, Inc.
Memory mitigates adversity.Lucius Lactantius (ca 240ca 320 AD)
Pity the aging perfectionist, the happy diversions of whose younger dayswashing records, oiling turntables, leveling equipment racks, cleaning tube pinshave now become hated chores. And this from a man who used to redo his Roksan Xerxes setup every few months, just for "fun."