“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
McIntosh Laboratory is no stranger to that adage. Ever since its founding, in 1949, by Frank McIntosh and Gordon Gow, the company has designed and made audio components oriented more toward those who prefer to buy such a product once or, at most, twice in a lifetime. For that, I applaud them. In this industry, sustainable and profitable rarely go together -- you’re far more likely to see an only slightly revised version of the same product offered every two or three years instead of every five to ten, or even only once every decade or two. This may be forgivable for products in the rapidly evolving digital categories of streamers, DACs, even AVRs -- but for analog gear, and especially amplifiers and preamplifiers, it’s seldom necessary.
Blue Note ST-84199/0850312
Musical Performance: ***½
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****
Just when I think I’ve bought too many Blue Note reissues on vinyl, the label releases something I like but own only on CD. Trumpeter Lee Morgan recorded The Rumproller in April 1965, and Blue Note released it in January 1966. The album followed The Sidewinder, which had become a surprise hit following its release in July 1964.
Despite all evidence to the contrary, there might still be some trusting souls who imagine that all audio reviewers are consummate professionals so seasoned in the ways of audiophilia that mistakes aren’t just few and far between, but nonexistent; that their judgment, honed through years or even decades of experience, is infallible; that the process of sitting down to conduct some critical listening is highly ritualized, even sacred. Let’s imagine what that rite might look like:
Man, can I drag things out. I wrote the first installment of “Jeff’s Getting a New Stereo System,” for SoundStage! Ultra, in July 2017. That series of six articles, the most recent published in December 2017, chronicled my search for -- you guessed it -- a new audio system. When I conceived of the series, I was about to move from our former home, had just sold my $400,000 reference stereo system, and was looking forward to whatever might be next. Perhaps the title of the series should have been “Jeff’s Getting a New Stereo System . . . or Not.”
I do love an elegant-looking speaker. There’s something to be said for architectural grace. After all, accepting into your life and home a pair of full-size speakers is a serious commitment. The damn things have to sit there, damn near in the middle of your room. You have to stare at them as you’re listening. I could live with a pair of boxes made of MDF wrapped in vinyl, but I sure as hell would rather not.
World Circuit WCV094
Musical Performance: ****½
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****½
Nigerian drummer Tony Allen, who’s been recording and touring since the late 1950s, is best known for his long stint with Fela Kuti’s Africa 70, which incorporated American funk and soul music into the African-influenced jazz that was Kuti’s specialty. The result came to be called Afrobeat, and Allen was the music’s driving rhythmic force. He recorded more than 30 albums with Kuti over the next ten years, and when Africa 70 disbanded in the late 1970s he went on to play as leader and sideman on a vast number of recordings. Pop-music fans will recognize him as a member of the British band The Good, the Bad & the Queen.
I grew up in a family that adhered to self-discipline, hard work, and frugality -- in short, to the Protestant work ethic, a phrase first coined and a concept first formulated, in 1904-1905, by German sociologist and philosopher Max Weber, who attributed to this ethic the rise of capitalism. So the idea of spending a lot of money on something for how it looks and feels, instead of for its main reason for being -- its utility -- gives me pause.
I wondered -- if I were putting together a system of used components today, what would I buy? So this morning, housebound by COVID-19, I passed some time by going to Audiogon.com and assembling a virtual audio system. Because, well . . . why not?
I go way back with Shunyata Research, and fondly remember the days of The World’s Best Audio System (TWBAS) events -- gatherings of manufacturers at my home for which I’d chosen and assembled into amazing systems the best audio components then available -- and the sense of discovery we all felt. My first TWBAS, in 2004, included products from Wilson Audio Specialties, EMM Labs, and Shunyata Research. TWBAS 2004 was a watershed for me -- at the time, it was, by far, the best sound I had ever attained in my home. Although that system’s sound would be greatly surpassed by subsequent TWBAS systems, the bar set by that first one was already very high. Shunyata was represented in TWBAS 2004 by their Hydra Model-8 power conditioner ($1995 at the time; all prices USD), various models of power cord from their Anaconda and Diamondback lines, and their Constellation Aries and Andromeda signal cables (these models were discontinued long ago; see archived articles for cable prices).
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