Last Saturday night I was at a friend’s birthday party at a local cafe. With the music blaring in the background, one of the attendees stared when he learned that I contribute to the Absolute Sound. “Does anyone even need a stereo anymore?” he asked. “Isn’t an iPod enough?”
No, it isn’t. Anyone who listens to a good stereo system knows that there’s a lot more to be had. Whether it’s meaningful to you is another matter. But I thought his comment was a telling sign of the uphill battle that audiophiles confront: an uncomprehending public that has been seduced into believing that an iPod is the ne plus ultra of sound. Don’t get me wrong: I have nothing against iPods. Use the little devils to your heart’s content.
And yet, and yet… Why does an I-Pod have to preclude a stereo system? A kind of reverse snobbery has emerged, in which it’s fashionable to look down upon stereo systems as silly frivolities from an earlier era. Indeed, my interlocutor simply raised his eyebrows when he learned that my audio habit isn’t confined to CDs, but extends to vinyl.
I didn’t pursue the argument. It was a party and who wants to come across as a dreadful bore preaching to frozen smiles about the glories of audio. But sneering at audio seems like a peculiarly blinkered mindset at the very moment that more products are available, particularly in the analog arena, than ever before, offering better performance than anyone could have dreamed of even a decade ago. An audio Rip van Winkle, who emerged after a long sleep, would be amazed at the progress that the industry has made. Nowhere is this more true, I would wager, than in the sphere of vinyl playback.
There are several products currently flying under the radar that I hope to sample and that have already generated a good deal of buzz. Among them is Harry Weisfeld’s VPI Classic Turntable, which retails for a relatively inexpensive, as these things go, $2500. This retro design, which features an AC synchronous motor directly mounted to the platter, is said to be hot stuff. Then there’s the world of phono stages. The South Korean firm Allnic has three models out that, like the VPI, are throwbacks in their technological approach, relying upon hand wound transformers to boost the tiny signal emanating from the cartridge. The entry level H1200, which is imported by David Beetles of Hammertone Audio, lists for $1600 and, according to reports I’ve heard, is a giant killer. Like Allnic, transformers are also key to the pricier ($25,000) and very spiffy looking Ypsilon VPS 100 phono stage, distributed by Brian Ackerman of Aaudioimports.
I myself have not yet heard any of these products and so can’t comment on their performance. But the proliferation of analog products is striking and suggests that the audio industry is more vigorous than the naysayers comprehend or are willing to acknowledge. The losers aren’t the music lovers swaying to the beat of fine sound. The true loss is among those who aren’t even aware that it exists in the first place.