Australian HIFI - - CONTENTS -

Rod Eas­down is wor­ried. Very wor­ried. His oa­sis of hi-fi tran­quil­lity is be­ing vi­o­lated…

In a world be­set by Kar­dashi­ans, road rage and Don­ald Trump, hi-fi stands as an oa­sis of tran­quil­lity. Hi-fi is a place of the se­ri­ous, the pas­sion­ate, the un­com­pro­mis­ing, a place of rea­son. Amid storms of fake news and Twit­ter rants it is a rock of re­li­a­bil­ity. There have al­ways been those who press their nose against the win­dow­pane seek­ing any cred­i­bil­ity they can rub off, the ‘in­ven­tors’ of lit­tle black boxes that will widen your sound­stage or bot­tles of gloop to pre­vent the leak­age of laser light, but mostly such folk evap­o­rate soon af­ter they ma­te­ri­alise and hi-fi stands strong, res­o­lute, and stead­fast as ever.

Lately, how­ever, I worry. Three de­vel­op­ments com­ing in rapid suc­ces­sion may be the start of an alarm­ing trend.

First one: Two guys in Lithua­nia are try­ing to make tape cas­settes sexy. I’d say ‘sexy again’ ex­cept even when they were brand-new in the early 1960s cas­settes weren’t sexy, they were reel-to-reel tape thinned down, slowed down, dumbed down; easy enough for numb­skulls to use. They were the MP3 of their age, rub­bish un­til Dolby came along and even then they still weren’t as good as open-reel tape. But these two guys fig­ure the world will beat a path to their door be­cause they have come up with a clever piece of kit to play cas­settes.

It’s called the El­bow and it’s sur­pris­ingly com­pact and tech­ni­cally in­ge­nious; its only prob­lem is that it plays cas­settes. Right now it’s at pro­to­type stage and when I asked the guys for de­tails (Spec­i­fi­ca­tions? What spec­i­fi­ca­tions?) they asked me for the names of likely in­vestors in Aus­tralia.

Sec­ond one: Ev­ery­thing has been go­ing so well with the re­birth of vinyl. We can talk about record stores again, we can once more buy di­rect-to-disc record­ings. And a whole new gen­er­a­tion of ter­rific turnta­bles has emerged, many for less than $1,000. So what’s go­ing wrong? The Spin­box, that’s what’s go­ing wrong.

The Spin­box is a DIY turntable. You as­sem­ble it your­self. Did you get that?

You as­sem­ble it your­self! And the tar­get mar­ket is peo­ple who know nix, nada, noth­ing at all about turnta­bles. But that’s not the scari­est thing. The scari­est thing is that it’s card­board. Did you get that? Card­board.

It has been cre­ated by a Tai­wanese vinyl star, of whom I was bliss­fully un­aware un­til now, called DJ Ques­tionMark, a man who spends much of his per­for­mance time in a go­rilla suit. When he re­leased his first vinyl al­bum a few years ago he no­ticed that although many of his friends bought it, they couldn’t lis­ten to it be­cause they didn’t have a turntable to put it on. Which may tell you enough about DJ Ques­tionMark’s friends to make cer­tain as­sump­tions about DJ Ques­tionMark.

‘ I’ve been DJing and col­lect­ing records for over 10 years,’ he as­serts on the Spin­box web­site. ‘ When I spoke with peo­ple about vinyl I found that many were in­ter­ested but felt that set­ting up a turntable was too com­pli­cated or ex­pen­sive. I de­cided to cre­ate a more ap­proach­able way to ex­pe­ri­ence vinyl—a turntable that’s fun, af­ford­able and easy for ev­ery­one to use.’

Fun, af­ford­able, easy to use. Re­mem­ber that. So tell me which sounds eas­ier and more fun to you; set­ting up a turntable or as­sem­bling one from scratch with bits of per­fo­rated card­board? Af­ford­able? You can buy a fac­tory turntable, com­plete and ready to roll, for less than DJ Ques­tionMark is ask­ing you to pay for his Spin­box.

Here’s an­other scary thing. The card­board box in which the Spin­box is sup­plied ac­tu­ally forms the plinth of the fin­ished turntable so if it ar­rives at your place with any dam­age or crimp­ing com­pli­ments of the var­i­ous postal and freight ser­vices by which it has jour­neyed, your turntable may turn out to be per­ma­nently off level. Or in terms DJ Ques­tionMark’s friends may bet­ter un­der­stand, it will be a bit wonky. If this doesn’t mat­ter to you then you likely oc­cupy ex­actly the de­mo­graphic Spin­box is tar­get­ing.

Please for­give my cyn­i­cism but it’s hard to get ex­cited about any turntable sup­plied with a ceramic sty­lus and a slip mat for per­form­ing groovy DJ tricks, let alone one made of card­board. So how are your precious records go­ing to sound when this spins them up?

And so to the third one… and this is the re­ally, re­ally wor­ry­ing one be­cause it comes from a known, trusted and se­ri­ous brand. KEF, no less. It has un­veiled a new $4,799 vari­a­tion of its very, very good wire­less book­shelf speak­ers, the LS50Ws. They are called Noc­turnes and that’s be­cause… um, maybe pre­pare your­self for what’s com­ing. For ex­am­ple if you have a mouth­ful of red wine, best to swal­low be­fore read­ing on so as not to risk un­tidi­ness. OK, you’ve been warned, I shall con­tinue now: These are called Noc­turnes and that’s be­cause they glow in the dark. Rod Eas­down

Rod Eas­down is wor­ried. Very wor­ried. His oa­sis of tran­quil­lity is be­ing vi­o­lated…

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