They walk up to it almost fearfully as though approaching their first living tiger. They ask a reliable group of questions. Privately, I have come to title them the Usual Suspects: What is that thing over there? Does this actually work? How long have you had it? What year was it made? Doesn't it take a lot of work? Is it safe?
Then there are the Usual Declaratives: I (my friend/cousin/girlfriend) had one of these in college. My dad had one of these but we sold it after he died. I had one of these but it was a pain in the ass. And so on and so forth. In fact, if I didn't just happen to know the true production quantities of this particular model, the Usual Declaratives would have it that there were two made for every man, woman and child in the known universe. Let's face it - as chunks of hardware go, this is not one to be owned by the shy.
If you have a weakness for classic industrial design -- and who hasn't? -- this is a thing of beauty. In its presence, one is constantly wondering why anything (toasters, stereos, cars, trains or even shoes) were ever 'improved' in the first place. Of course, once asked, that becomes rather a fey question. Things were improved over the decades because (most) people simply didn't like the machines in their lives looking like, well, machines. After all, are we not a modern society? Can't I reasonably demand that a mere touch of a button deliver what I ask without the ugly mechanical how and why on blatant display?
Enter the black box. One waltz down HiFi row at Best Buys (Dead Man Walking!) is all the proof we need. Then pop the hood on any automobile made since 1990 and tell me if what you see bears any resemblance to the internal combustion engine. No. It's all fucking legos. Black legos. Snapped together and designed to (1) help the consumer believe in magic and (2) make it easy for a shamefully unskilled workforce to fix, update and replace bits and doodads as required.
Grrrr woof woof. So here it is. Technology that was well proven even at the time of its manufacture (1961, in this case). Wattage that could barely excite a Christmas-stocking Maglight. Looks that declare, without a trace of anything remotely apologetic, "I am a machine". Could contemporary solid-state, muscle-bound, embarrassingly family-friendly descendants blow off its doors in the sheer power department? Yes. Does it require a fine-tuned ear to ferret out the occasional mechanical misbehavior? Double yes. Does it lack all of the modern conveniences our remote-controlled world has come to view as mandatory? Yes and yes again. But it's doable. Assuming a person wants to, such a person possessing the most minimal mechanical talents can fix, tune and otherwise keep this baby in fighting trim. Here you find all the complexity of a lawn mower engine: Point-to-point wiring, single-ended output, each unit in the chain with a reason and a job to do and importantly, not many units in the chain. The typical faceplate on a bog standard A/V receiver has no less than a hundred more active parts than this thing has in its working entirety. Keep it stupid, simple.
How does it sound? Just the way it should. Just the way I want it to. Rich, slightly bloomy, fully open and displaying a performance pedigree but never too loud. As a friend once said over the cacophony of a Harley with straight pipes, "that's the noise of one single asshole going out to buy a pack of cigarettes."
I confess, cherished reader, that as the weather has warmed and the days grown longer, I have been less attracted to the Listening Room. My contributions to this 'zine have retracted in kind. But that's only because my madness has shifted to another collection of wires and metal. British. Persnickety. Agile. Antique. Quick if not technically 'fast' by today's standards. It's what my wife none too fondly calls "the other woman". It's my '61 MGA 1600 Roadster. Permit a pedestrian hobbyist temporarily elevated to press pass level to share some friendly advice with audiophiles everywhere: It's summer. Go outside. And oh - the whole S.E.T. thing? Listen. Turns out not many things improve with improvement.