While non-audio events made 1997 a year one wants to forget – the deaths of the Princess of Wales and Mother Theresa, the collapse of various Asian economies, the arrival of a Labour government in the UK, ad tedium – certain moments of hi-fi delight broke through the gloom.
As the year wound down, Audio Research released an affordable all-tube pre-amp, the LS8, which adds to the growing list of stunning ‘entry-level high end’ devices heralded by the Krell KAV300i integrated. Bow Technologies launched the stunning Wazoo solid-state integrated amp in the same price category, while at the other end of the scale we experienced the first-ever domestic audio gem from Nagra: the all-tube PL-P pre-amp. Of all the goodies which arrived in 1997, this is the one I’d love to own most.
Speaker highlights were equally budget oriented, with the ridiculously inexpensive Ruark Epilogue and Tannoy’s M1 and M2 making life easier for those spending UK£250 or less. Better still was the arrival – also late in the year – of ATC’s A7, which delivers the quality and design features of the company’s highly desirable dearer models at a mid-fi price.
Digitalia? A non-event, what with DVD failing to appear outside of Zone 1. The good news is that PAL territories can now have Dolby Digital, but in many ways the damage has already been done. For me personally? I’d like DVD to be the biggest disaster since Elcaset, if only to teach the electronics industry a lesson in consumer awareness, diplomacy, planning, realism and, above all, the need never to stray again from global standardisation. Other than that, the most memorable CD player of the year was Krell’s KAV300cd, while Musical Fidelity produced a honey of a converter in the pocket-money-priced X-DAC. Hell, the entire X-Series deserves credit for making budget hi-fi exciting again.
Probably the biggest events of the year had nothing to do with specific products so much as with companies. In the last quarter of the year, Quad and Wharfedale found a new home which might prove more sympathetic, while Audiolab ended up as part of the TAG-McLaren empire. Now that’s going to be a company to watch in 1998.
(Perfect Pitch, 1998)