In 1973 my system consisted of a Kenwood integrated amplifier and pair of Phased Array loudspeakers (precursors to the Dahlquist brand). The Kenwood had very little power to drive these loudspeakers, sounded pretty bad, and I got convinced by one of my buddies to move to separates and get rid of the integrated. Soon I had replaced the Kenwood with a Dynaco 70 tube power amplifier and a Pat 4 solid state preamp – both David Hafler designs. This change in system was a revelation to me, but one that lasted less than a month.
The tube power amp was a nice change but it still didn’t have enough power to really fill the room with effortless sound. Enter the Phase Linear 400. Good grief. This Bob Carver designed monster just rocked my world and probably changed everything I know and think about high-end audio, the need for headroom and gobs of watts for speakers. Such is the power of separates, which is what we’re onto in the last few days of posts.
Yesterday I mentioned that the value of separates can be broken down into two categories: functionality and performance. From the quick story I just related above you can see I went from needing greater functionality to needing better performance within the span of less than 30 days and all was accomplished with separates. This is the practical and makes-sense side of separates and why separates remain a strong category. But with the advent of the new paradigm of digital audio do we really need separates and will they remain a strong category? I don’t think they will in the same way we think of them now and so let’s dig a bit deeper to get to the bottom of this thought.
I am going to take a big step off a giant cliff when I suggest this but here goes. It is now entirely possible and close to practical to eliminate everything in the system but the loudspeaker itself. No cables (save for the power cord), no power amps, no preamps, no disc players, no nothing. You would need your media on a storage device like a hard drive but, of course, that too has a short life as we move everything to the cloud and internet speeds take a major leap.
As a thought just imagine for a moment that this was the new way we go (it’s not, don’t panic). The built in power amplifier is perfectly matched to the speakers, as is the D to A, the wireless connection, the room EQ – well everything is now perfect. Your control point is a hand held mobile device or who knows what and your music is being reproduced perfectly in the room. What comes out of your speakers into your world is perfect music reproduced in a way that brings musical nirvana into the home. Far fetched, yes. Pipe dream, no.
Now, compare that to what we have with separates today: cables, power cords, boxes, long snakes running down the living room floor, discs, turntables and so on.
The loudspeaker is the end result of anything we attempt to do when playing our music. As an electronics manufacturer I build products and separates that serve loudspeakers and allow you, the Audiophile, to mix and match to best play music through the loudspeakers you have. That model will be with us for a long time to come, but I can clearly see where it is heading.
Now before you have me tarred and feathered, remember I am the guy who first introduced the idea of the separate D to A converter to the world – turning an existing separate (the CD player) into a two piece affair (transport and DAC) that magnified the separates market even more than it was.
Now that I have probably upset half of my readers, we’ll delve a little into the more practical tomorrow – because separates have their place and will continue to be important. I just think in a different way.