Can a product be both great and seriously flawed? This is a question
we've been asking ourselves a lot recently, with a number of really interesting, off-the-wall designs coming through our doors, which sound superb – in a way – and yet have quite obvious downsides too...
There's little doubt in my mind that we're seeing more of this sort of product, not less, of late. Think back to the early nineties, and you had a wash of
Sonys, Pioneers, JVCs, Denons, Audiolabs and Arcams which were just plain good, or sometimes very good, and that was it. With very little in the way of fatal foibles, you could say they had ‘no distinguishing
marks'. These days we still get such products launched – Aurum's thoroughly likeable A5 amplifier [reviewed on p46] is one such example – but we also get far more designs like Ming
Da's MC300 preamp [p12] which are close to being bonkers, sound magnificent and yet are ‘holed below the
waterline' for some engineering reason or other.
JoSound's £4,000 JO45/1 loudspeaker [p18] is a perfect case in point. Exquisitely built with excellent quality components and sublime cabinetry, it is a highly lucid music maker – yet fails to match most £300 standmounters in some important respects. How do you assess such a thing? Products like this certainly
don't make it easy on poor magazine editors!
But for every quirky and faintly mad Scandyna MiniPod [p70],
we've got a sensible shoes Cambridge Audio 751BD [p22] for you – so it's not like the supply of thoroughly well engineered, capable-across-the-board designs is drying up. The hi-fi world is changing though, as our hobby becomes more rarefied and
specialised, and less informed by
what's going to shift bucket-loads one Saturday afternoon on a High Street near you...
The good thing is that it's creating a space for interesting and innovative new products – such as Audio
Research's PH6 tube/transistor hybrid phono stage [p104] for example – where there frankly
wasn't one ten or even five years ago. There's an old Chinese proverb that says
it's better to be a dog in peaceful times than a man in chaotic ones, but I kind of like it this way. Hi-fi is getting less prosaic and predictable, not more –
who'd have thought it?
David Price, editor
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