Remembering the Cassette and Its Inventor, Lou Ottens

SoundStage! UKWith the way the Grim Reaper has been harvesting of late, there is nothing coincidental, ironic, or remarkable about two of audio’s most inventive individuals leaving us these past few months, so closely together. It is simply a sad sign of the times. I am starting to get the tiniest whiff of what it must have been like during the Great Plague of 1665 and have stopped counting friends and acquaintances lost this year, let alone the litany of recently deceased celebrities who made the news.

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Retro Hi-Fi in Several Forms

SoundStage! UKLovers of retro come in two types. They are not mutually exclusive, but most of the retro-addicts I know are absolutists, one way or the other. There are (1) those brave enough to employ actual, vintage items, and (2) those who prefer the peace of mind offered by brand-new products which are retro in concept but otherwise modern. Examples include running an original Fiat 500 or Mini vs. buying a new one; wearing a 1940s British military watch or choosing one of the recent replicas; and, of course, listening to aged hi-fi equipment or only to current models.

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I Hate Streaming

SoundStage! UKAfter last month’s wander down the Format Memory Lane and my continued bleating about open-reel tape, many of you might assume that I am a dyed-in-the-wool Luddite, but that is not the case. Yes, I champion tubes, vinyl, and open-reel, as well as the 45-year-old BBC LS3/5A, Decca cartridges, Quad Electrostatics, and other hoary, venerable items, but my work demands that I use current, up-to-the-minute equipment for reviewing, while I adore SACD and do not write with a quill. No, my issue is with streaming.

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Formats Gone but Not Forgotten

SoundStage! UKYou have to laugh: there’s an ad on TV in the UK plugging some financial app for people who want to invest in shares but are clearly too stupid to seek out a legitimate, accountable broker. Whatever. Anyway, the gist of the ad is that you wouldn’t ask your brother-in-law or bartender for stock market tips, and it shows some grubby-looking, beardy, unkempt schmuck suggesting one should invest in LaserDiscs to the far cooler-looking target of the advertisement. Chuckle? I almost fell off the sofa.

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Munich's High End Returns . . . Maybe

SoundStage! UKAs I write this, in late November, my diary is empty for the foreseeable future. Lockdown in the UK has been reintroduced to a draconian level, e.g., restaurants are closed except for take-out, the only open retail operations are pharmacies and supermarkets, etc. Thus, less-essential matters such as hi-fi retail, let alone shows or press events, are non-starters. Indeed, I haven’t attended anything hi-fi-related since the Tonbridge Audiojumble in February.

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Listening More . . . and Enjoying It More

SoundStage! UKAt first, I thought that reports of a slight upswing in hi-fi sales might be wishful thinking. If there was any discernible upward blip, it could only be attributed to people rediscovering their sound systems, due entirely to being stuck at home. Along with all manner of neglected pursuits, all those hobbies savaged by iPads and Kindles and Xboxes and PlayStations, interest in hi-fi has increased along with board games, jigsaw puzzles, model aircraft and car building, Lego, home-baking, and the like.

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Don't Forget the CD

SoundStage! UKSome years ago, in an interview I gave to a magazine in Hungary (I think), I said that the Vinyl Revolution would never grow beyond that of a cult, albeit a fair-sized one. I am pleased to stand corrected, as mid-September 2020 saw an announcement that must have had my colleague Michael Fremer punching the air and shouting, “I told you so!” Apparently, LPs outsold CDs in the USA for the first time in more than a quarter-century.

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Ken Kessler: "Audio Research: Making the Music Glow"

SoundStage! UKIndulge me this month, please: the culmination of my 52 years in hi-fi, 37 in audio journalism, and two years of intense work are about to come to fruition. My fourth brand history is published this month, and if I can’t plug it, who can? It’s the story of the company responsible for the electronics in my reference system for a few decades, so there’s a personal element to Audio Research: Making the Music Glow.

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What Is Your Current Reference System?

SoundStage! UKAfter “Which component should I buy?” the most oft-asked question of reviewers is: “What is your current reference system?” Both are loaded requests because of myriad implications. Most obvious is the suspicious thought related to the first demand: Why did he/she recommend Product X and not Y or Z? As for the second query, your nagging doubt is, How can a schmuck like you afford Product X, Y, or Z?

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Hi-Fi Shops: The Death Rate Continues

SoundStage! UKWhile I can only speak for the UK -- every country is reacting differently to the relaxing of the lockdown -- I must admit to a newfound pessimism about the future of all retail, but especially hi-fi. Stores in the UK deemed “non-essential,” which includes anything other than pharmacies or supermarkets, reopened on June 15th, but shopping in 2020 is (1) hellish due to limited numbers allowed in-store so one has to queue, the 6' distancing, and wearing masks, and (2) unsustainable for something like hi-fi, where you don’t just enter a shop, pick up what you need, pay, and depart.

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