Listening #10 Page 2

The Moon i-3 wasn't perfect—although I see no reason why a $1750 one-box amp couldn't some day be considered "the best," whatever that means to me or you—and its combination of strengths and weaknesses differed from those of other integrateds I've enjoyed lately. For instance, as much as I enjoyed the Moon with piano music, I liked the Naim Nait 5 that I wrote about in August a little more: The English amp had an even more organic sense of flow, and while the Moon sounded more extended in the upper range, I wonder if the Naim's more limited frequency range didn't work to its benefit in that regard—by which I mean, am I more inclined to respond to a wide-bandwidth amp as hi-fi than music?

The Moon i-3 didn't have all the color, presence, or natural texture of the Musical Fidelity A3.2, which I also wrote about in August, but it wasn't far off—and the Simaudio amp never sounded slow in the bass the way the MF often did. Given a choice between a phono section and a balance control, I would always choose the latter, since that's impossible to add after the fact. I would even give top marks to the i-3 for its owner's manual, which is thorough, clear, and unusually informative. By comparison, two nice, glossy booklets came with the MF, but these seemed geared mostly toward selling other MF products; Naim's current standard-issue booklet was just okay.

Ease of use was good: The input jacks and bog-standard binding posts were unfussy, and although the side-mounted heatsinks got warm to the touch, the temperatures never rose to dangerous or even unpleasant levels. My only complaint is that the buttons for selecting inputs and adjusting volume and balance, on both the amp's front panel and the remote, were a bit flighty on my sample: Sometimes I had to press the Input button twice before the next source would come up; more frequently, pressing either the Volume or the Balance button would often take me a step further than I wanted to go.

But that's not a terribly big deal, and, as I said, this product was a pleasant surprise, all in all. I'm always happy to admit my stupid prejudices, and even happier to see them confounded so soundly: The Simaudio Moon i-3 is a fine amp at a fair price, and deserves to be auditioned by anyone shopping in this price range.

This is Sad
Not long ago, I received a press release from somebody—the return address on the envelope was "RCA Victor Group," the accompanying letter said "BMG Classics," and the press release itself said "RCA Red Seal"—describing in bubbly terms the venerable company's latest scheme for selling classical music to a public they obviously believe is not interested in same. Their new series of discs, called Entertaining Made Simple, contains the following four titles: Champagne, Chocolate & Chopin; Chardonnay, Shellfish & Schubert; Pinot, Pasta & Puccini; and Merlot, Filet Mignon, and Mozart.

I scarcely know where to begin.

I suppose I should start by thanking RCA Victor Group/BMG Classics/RCA Red Seal for dropping this wonderful gift in my lap. I might not have enough to write about if not for things such as this.

I should also thank "Celebrity Chef" Andrea Immer, a handsome young woman whom I admire for her accomplishments as a world-class wine steward, and whose brainchild the RCA project apparently is. I have benefited from this package already, without having heard or even seen the discs: The press release alone includes such quotes as "Entertaining does not have to be complicated" and "Wild mushrooms in a basket make a fragrant centerpiece that echoes the earthy note in Merlot." It's remarkable what you can learn for free in this day and age.

After that, we should all thank everyone involved for the chance to do battle with the notion that no classical composer can be appreciated without also consuming food and drink that alliteratively complements his name—or hers, I suppose, given my suspicion that Joan Tower's popularity is held back only by most listeners' indifference to Tequila and Teddy Grahams.

My disdain for the Entertaining Made Simple discs carries no condemnation of fans of the accomplished Ms. Immer. Most classical labels repackage moth-eaten performances of Mendelssohn's and Wagner's wedding music for sale to brides-to-be, and I have nothing against brides-to-be. In recent years, classical labels have also aimed discs or series of discs at mothers-to-be, fathers-to-be, babies, gay men (remember the Lohengrin CD from a few years back with the Helmut Newton photo of a man wearing a leather police officer's hat and dog collar and holding a swan and...oh, never mind), heavy-metal fans, insomniacs, and that most yellow-and-black of all contemporary groups, Dummies. I have nothing against any of them.

Whoops—I left out people who hate classical music, as in Classical Music for People Who Hate Classical Music, the title of yet another oily collection (on the famous Classical Heritage label). That one is offensive on so many levels: The cover is yet another reproduction of that damn stupid painting of the bored-looking angel—the one we all found so pleasing the first bajillion times we saw it. The contents are the über-predictable Eine kleine Nachtmusik, you-know-who's Kanon, and so forth. And the title itself is...well, it's insulting, isn't it? Can you imagine baseball for people who don't like baseball? Mormonism for people who don't like Mormonism? Rock music for people who don't like rock music? (Actually, there was such a thing at one time. They called themselves Chicago.)

Suppose you owned a classical record company and you wanted to get more people interested in the music. How would you do it? Well, assuming that a great many Stereophile readers have an interest in the genre, I should begin by asking: How did you come about it?

For most classical fans, I believe you'll find that the answer is something like My parents taught me or I was raised around classical music. Which is to say, that route is blocked for all other adults. It's too late, unless you want to petition André Previn and Anne-Sophie Mutter to adopt you.

How about everyone else? I was lucky to have a high school music teacher—a man named Doug Jones—who got me interested in singing in the varsity choir, and who introduced me to the choral music of Poulenc, Dello Joio, and Randall Thompson, beyond the usual Handel's Messiah and assorted Christmas carols. More than just a well-rounded classicist, Jones was a superb teacher who taught me the value of musical inquisitiveness.

All right, then: I guess every school needs a Doug Jones, so let's get busy hiring them.

Not so fast. For one thing, there isn't enough money there to pay them, because your taxes are going (ahem) someplace else. For another, even if they could afford them, the same school administrators who want to spare our children the burden of learning how to spell and perform calculations without a calculator would also like to spare them the burden of anything as Eurocentric as classical music. So for once we can scatter the blame to both the left and the right.

God knows, I can't really even blame the record companies themselves. How else should BMG spend the money they're wasting on the salaries of fools who would package and promote such condescending junk as Entertaining Made Simple or Head-Bangin' Classix? Donate it to some charity that promotes classical music? Honey, there ain't none. No offense, but the primary goal of the American Symphony Orchestra League seems to be the preservation of the American Symphony Orchestra League, leaving only the orchestras themselves to do the outreach work—which most of them do as well as can be expected, in accordance with their own limited budgets.

But in a day and age when certain first-rank American orchestras don't even have major-label record deals, what am I supposed to say? "BMG, fire your publicists and give the money to the Philadelphia Orchestra instead"? Hell, they should start by giving the Philadelphia Orchestra a recording contract, for God's sake.

And so it goes. The problem won't be solved any time soon, and it almost certainly won't be solved in the pages of an audio magazine. But neither will it be solved over sushi and designer martinis by classical-music professionals who act as though the 99.9% of the population outside their immediate world view is too stupid or coarse to buy their product without a gimmick. As I learned when I was a grade-school teacher, acting as if you expect bad behavior is the best way to guarantee that you'll get it.