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Audio Ramblings - Why we can't make new
friends, Audio Art cables, and the Artemis PL-1 phono stage
There is simply a lot of good stuff out there—audio-wise—for us to go after. That is, the audiophile or music lover (are they one in the same? …sometimes I wonder) can find really good gear and whatnot for not so much cash. On the other hand, one of the main points of contention for why the younger generation is not joining our ranks is that stuff is absurdly expensive or the cost-to-value ratio is obscenely skewed in the wrong direction, and that if you go cheap, you get cheap. Truth is we fail to see that the real reason is simply that …well, that it is not simply any one reason. There are as many reasons why the younger generation is not coming on board as there are members of the younger generation, and to assume that it is because of any one thing shows an ignorance of the social-personal complexities of our society. Many of which this industry has no control over.
I would, though, like to suggest that some things we do have control over is marketing, marketing, and marketing. Let us be honest, we market to ourselves. We market a perception of audio-geek-dom. We market that high-end has to be expensive to be really good and appreciated. We market that this stuff is complex and tweaky. We market that it is for men—predominately older, white, and conservative in ways that is not attractive to the more style-conscious, what-is-in, what-is-right, what-is-acceptable generation (e.g. the music, the attitude, the personas, etc.—we seem to have it all wrong!). What we market is big and imposing—visually—and aesthetically devoid of style (most, but not all). We simply market to keep it exclusive.
You want to attract younger people to audio? Make it attractive, make it accessible, and make it desirable. Simple as that. Like the Zu Cable guys... now there is a prime example of people who understand how to reach a WAY broader audience. One that is young and hip—like Zu. One that the industry needs to stay going—like Zu!
Then there are people like Josh Ray of SonicFlare, who are taking this on by going after the iPod generation. His site is all about getting the word out to people his age (early 20s) that it does not have to be expensive, it does not have to be about older white guys sitting around by themselves listening to audio-drivel, it does not have to be complex, and that it does not have to exclude your interests—your wants and needs! His site is linked to the sites that the younger people (like we used to be) flock to for music and information—music sites, iPod sites, gadget sites, etc.
Then there are the people at Audio Art. This is a new cable company (yeah another one of those…) offering cables based on the designs of those from DH Labs Silver-Sonic. They are nice and attractive visually, easy to handle and not the least bit tweaky, offer excellent sonics, and are very, very reasonably priced. Moreover, the ad campaign features cool visuals that are artistic and fresh. In comparing them to the $2500 a meter Audio Magic Clairvoyants (actually Josh Ray was here at the time, so it all comes around…), any differences were more an issue of resolution, dimensionality, and refinement than anything else was. That is the two cables sounded harmonically very much alike. At the price of $79 for the IC-3, this cable is a real giant killer. Rich and tonally right, we were stunned as to how difficult it was to tell which cable was which in switching back and forth between the two. (We listened to the cable via the Artemis PL-1 phono stage—it has two outputs, so all I had to do is change the input selector on the preamp to compare the two cables. More on this later.).
In some ways, this was very much a DBX test (not really, but sort of…), so any real differences would be difficult to discern due to the brief comparisons—all we could hear was how much they were alike, which is what a DBX test was designed to show. After Josh left, I spent more time with the IC-3 in the system and realized that while it is a very good cable for the money, differences between it and the AM cable were all about refinement, more refinement, and space. The AM cable simply offered a way more refined presentation (less grit and grain, much smoother and silkier midrange and treble, more palpable images, etc.), was much more dimensional and airier, and had greater bass weight and dynamics. Then again, it costs 25x times more so it had better do something better—and better it is. Even so, the IC-3 offers great musicality for a lot less than a very good bottle of wine. Highly recommended as a great cable for the Audio Space Mini-1998SE and matching speakers (approx $1300 from Gini Systems) between, say a DLO docking station (a cool idea) for an iPod! Now that would be killer and a great system for someone new to the high-end. Plus, it looks cool, is small, is easy to operate, and is not tweaky! My son has the DLO docking station—acts as a remote controlled preamplifier for an iPod while it charges, and has a stereo pair of RCAs outs for connection to a separate system—and with the IC-3s in the loop as opposed to the supplied generic Beldon-based interconnects, he found that his music came across with more emotion and presence. Not my taste in music, but he heard and appreciated the differences! Ah… a budding audiophile he is!
Audio Art also offers the IC-1, which is an all copper cable—the IC-3 is silver over copper—for $39. This is even a better value than the IC-3, though it offers less resolution and presence than the IC-3—silver versus copper sort of thing. The IC-1 is more forgiving and has that solid copper presentation—a richer fuller sound. Either is a good bet, just a different slice of the sonic pie.
Let me ramble off a bit here …I mentioned earlier the Artemis PL-1 phono stage, and while it does not fall into the realm of "just what we need to offer to attract new people to high-end audio", it certainly is worthy of an audition by anyone looking to step up the proverbial ladder to audio nirvana. Compared to the PhD by Sutherland, the PL-1 is more dynamic and bigger sounding in the sense of scale and presence. While not sounding like a tube preamplifier—make that the stereotypical tubed preamplifier of yore—PL-1 has more of a solid-state presence, being big and bold, with very good drive and slam. I did prefer overall the PhD as it was more refined and simply there when listening to our LPs. That is the Sutherland was quieter and offered less colorations or artifacts within the sonic tapestry as compared to the AC fueled PL-1. While these colorations and artifacts were subtle and not overt in any way, the PhD has more of what we want in our music than the PL-1. Even so, I recommend the PL-1 to anyone who wants to hear just how good a tubed phono-stage can be had for a reasonable amount of cash by today's audio standards.
Anyhow, yes there is good stuff out there to attract the newbies that just may keep the audio-cycle a'turning! We just need to get the word out that the stuff exists, that one does not have to sacrifice eating, that they can fit into one's life-style, and that you can still be cool too. Check out SonicFlare and you will see what I am talking about!