Our March issue wasn't planned to be heavy in valves and vinyl. We aim to offer a broad cross section of content so there's something for everyone, from budget to esoteric, from deep digital like streamers to simple valve amps anyone can afford – never forgetting vinyl of course, in steady ascendancy against all the odds.
But ever more intriguing products and ideas find their away into our offices, most undercover, as it were. A good example is Quad's VA-One, reviewed by Martin Pipe in this issue (p11). It's a thoroughly modern idea, a mini-amp designed to drive both loudspeakers and headphones, small enough to sit on a shelf or desk and not take over. Equipped with Bluetooth and a USB input, as well as traditional digital TosLink optical and electrical S/PDIF digital inputs, it'll work with phones, computers and portable players. Fifteen Watts per channel will deliver high volume into any loudspeaker – more than most listeners and neighbors can stand. Yet it uses valves. Inexpensive ones known for their sweet sound: EL86s. If you are intrigued by the idea of listening to a modern valve amplifier, here's a great starting point.
The great debate about LP sound quality rumbles on: this is something we can all relate to easily. Yes, they are meant to sound good but – er – often do not. It's frustrating for everyone and the reasons seem to be random and mysterious, hidden away in the vicissitudes of production. Our readers letters this month raise many issues and provide some warnings (p28), as well guidance on where to go for a good sound, in this case Sony Legacy. Many modern LPs are derived from digital copy masters, not always of good quality.
Digital moves ahead so rapidly that what was state of the art yesterday is dust today. Interesting then that Direct Stream Digital (DSD) is slowly gaining cred. as easier on the ear than Pulse Code Modulation (PCM) and perhaps in future we'll see better LP sound as a result from DSD masters.
Mobile Fidelity meanwhile have put into practice a better, if more expensive way to produce an LP, as Paul Rigby's fascinating interview with them (p89) explains. Take one popular classic album like Carlos Santana's Abraxus, produce it by this new method, charge $100 and what do you have – a sell out. Curses! When I read the piece I thought "I'll pay money to hear that", but no chance. Everyone else has beaten me to it. Just goes to show where vinyl is going at this very minute: it's almost an overheated bubble market. But a fascinating one all the same.
And finally, as if all this wasn't crazy enough, Martin Pipe digs deep into a technological corner – that of RIAA equalization – and comes up with some intriguing facts. The free computer editing program Audacity has the ability to digitally apply RIAA and inverse RIAA correction. See his column on p73. There seems to be no end to the unholy alliance of valves, vinyl and digital.