This rant was prompted by a thread on Audiogon, wherein a poster commented that the Dynavector XV1s is a dated design.
If an audiophile looked at a Stradivarius, they’d dismiss it as old technology.
The thread title is somewhat provocative, as I'm in no way against continual process improvement resulting from new materials and design refinement. My premise below, is that all great designs are products of stable, mature architectures which are improved over time.
It got me to thinking about the mind of the audiophile, and how they are continually attracted to the latest and greatest, shiny new distraction, with the most significant change being the draining of their checking account and their continuing sonic disappointment. One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
I've always tried to pick mature, stable designs for both my listening as well as for the products I offer for sale. Companies like Atma-sphere, Quicksilver, and Dynavector produce stable, mature designs that were conceived of correctly the first time around. I like to think my approach with Galibier turntables mirrors their philosophy.
All too frequently, the product that “gets it right” the first time, is penalized in the public eye, because it is “old technology”. What is it about the mind of the typical audiophile that reaches such a conclusion?
Surely, we live in an ad-driven, marketing intensive world, and we’ve become habituated to our Ipad becoming obsolete before our credit card transaction has been processed.
I look at honest, high-end audio as a respite from this frantic activity, and not an extension of it. I liken our hobby to the “slow food” movement. We have forgotten how to relax – even with the toys created for the purpose of transporting us into another world. When people ask me about vinyl playback, I bring up this contemplative approach as much as I do the sonics. Vinyl is as much an attitude as it is a technology.
Now, the products I embrace (both as an audiophile as well as a manufacturer/dealer) are not perfect (nothing is), but they are mature and stable designs, and they most certainly undergo continual process improvement over time. First and foremost, they honor the music. It is these points I want to drive home.
A great product has a stable, mature architecture, and improvements build on this architecture. I like to bring the example of both the Porsche 911, as well as the bicycle to these conversations. Would you mistake a 2010 911 for a 356 from the 1950’s? Of course not, but the lineage is readily apparent. The same applies with the bicycle, and I would argue for audio components as well (if you know what to look for).
In the case of the bicycle, one could argue that the only improvements since the invention of the derailleur (over a century ago) have been in material science. Surely, integrated brake levers / shifters have been an ergonomic improvement, but frame geometry (for example) has been essentially static for some 80 years – with small changes back and forth. I’m leaving the time-trial bike out of this discussion, and thinking mainly about road bike geometry.
One could argue as well that nothing significant has changed in Porsches in 60 years. The architecture was set at that point, and it’s as valid today as it was then. Surely, a 2010 911 is superior in every way to a 356 from the ‘50’s, but these changes were evolutionary in nature – as material science improved, and of course, electronic control became more sophisticated.
In the world of vacuum tube audio, we’re re-discovering the archives of Bell Labs – seminal research from the 30’s through the 50’s that is as valid today as it was back then. We have more materials choices now than we did then (although one could argue the opposite position with success).
So, when someone tells me that a cartridge like the XV1s, or a product from Atma-sphere or Quicksilver is a dated design, it ruffles my feathers just a bit.