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It was two years ago this month that I made a decision to submit a review to Dagogo and see if Constantine was interested in publishing it. I really didn’t have in mind becoming a reviewer, I just wanted more people to know about the incredible little preamplifier I had just discovered. I was already a writer, but most of what I write is for public speaking or for newsletters that are meticulously edited. As I have known for years, being very dyslexic (thank goodness for spell check) and a writer can be quite embarrassing at times. Well, to my surprise my review of the little Shindo preamp was well received and before I knew it I had become an “Audio Reviewer”.

Speaking of surprises, that’s what this month’s Beatnik’s column is all about. I want to share with you this Beatnik’s ‘Five Biggest Surprises’ of the last two years, in audio that is.

Surprise Number One

When I started reviewing, I owned a pair of $12,000 Audio Note E speakers which I dearly loved. Anyone who was a frequent visitor to the Audio Asylum web site could tell you how much I liked the Audio Note speakers. So it’s no contest that the most surprising thing of all has been the WGA’s Ikonoklast Model 3 speakers. I would have never believed these diminutive speakers from a unknown manufacturer could have convinced me to give up my beloved Audio Notes. The Ikonoklast continues to amaze me. They are really quite a bit better than I realized when I wrote the review. I have now listened to them with better amps and preamps. It was totally by accident, as I shared in the review of the Ikonoklast 3s, that I came to hear these speakers.

I am not trying to review the Ikonoklast speakers again; I just want to say that with all the speakers that have come and gone though here in the past two years, and all the speakers I have heard at shows and in other people’s homes, the only speakers I have found that I like better than the Ikonoklast model 3s are the Shindo Latour Field Coil Loudspeakers. Oh yeah, the Latour only costs ten times more than the Ikonoklast. One thing though, I would still rate the Audio Note E’s as the next best full range speakers I have heard.

Surprise Number Two

With all the great and sometimes not-so-great amps that have come through here, the only amp or amps that were good enough to make me sell my beloved Wavac MD 300B amp was the company’s own EC 300B. Thank goodness for getting a great price on a used one. I won’t say much more, you can read the two reviews, but I would like to say that Wavac amps designed by Nobu Shishido seem to bring music alive in the same way the Shindo preamps do.

There were some close contenders, the Shindo’s Cortese F2A is an incredible single-ended amp for the money, and gives you a clear choice to the Wavac MD300B. The deHavilland Aries 845-G is a more powerful amp with great bass and drive. I should also mention that I have not had a chance to hear the Shindo 300B amps in my system.

Surprise Number Three

My reviewing all started with a Shindo preamplifier; the little Shindo Aurieges-L. I have over the last two years had a chance to spend considerable time listening to most of the Shindo preamps. I personally settle on owning the Shindo Masseto. The surprise though is that for me, it doesn’t matter if you’re talking about the Aurieges or the-cost-no-object Petrus, the Shindo preamps take recorded music and make it sound more like live music than any piece of audio equipment I have ever heard.

The Shindo preamps all seem to be cut from the same sonic cloth and each one gives you a more emotionally involving experience as you move up the line, but ever the basic Aurieges with a good transformer like the Auditorium 23 and a good moving-coil would be my pick over any other preamp I have heard except for a better, but not different Shindo.

Surprise Number Four

How much more I enjoy vinyl than even the top echelons of digital has been a shocking revelation for me. Having had some bad experiences with vinyl when my children were young; I had gone to digital and then became an early adopter of SACD. I had a VSEI Level 5+ modded Sony SCD 777ES, second only to the new Meitner player in my estimation, when I tried vinyl again.

I have had a chance to listen to some great digital in my system from Audio Note, Audia Flight, Wadia, and others. I can’t say vinyl is more accurate, or a purer reproducer of the real event, but even on the rare occasion when I think the digital is as good, I would still prefer to listen to the vinyl if it’s for more than a few songs.

The other surprise with vinyl has been the cost of buying records. I had long used as an excuse that it would cost too much to go back into vinyl because I had sold all my old records. I was dead wrong. Even new vinyl rarely cost what SACDs cost and most of my vinyl has cost between 1.99 and 3.99, heck some only a quarter.

One last surprise has been that I find no real correlation between the quality of new and used vinyl. Often the used records I buy sound nearly mint, and often the new ones have surface noise or, worse yet, are warped. So I buy more used and most of the used stores have great return policies.

Surprise Number Five

…is simply the manufactures themselves. Most all of them have been great to work with. I couldn’t believe how helpful John at Audience was even before I reviewed a single product of theirs. Or how helpful George and Kara were when I was just getting started and asked them if I could do a review of an amp and preamp.

Most of them have just been a joy to get to know and work with, but there are a few that do things that just amaze me. For example why would a manufacturer send someone their very expensive speakers and not send the stands they sound best with, or why wouldn’t they be interested in getting their product back when the review has been completed, or the one that bugs me most: Why would they ask if the review can be done in six weeks and then send instructions that the products needs a few hundred hours to break in?

Well, those are the exceptions. On the whole I have found the last two years of being an audio reviewer a really fun experience, and have been so surprised at how great most everyone in the biz is to work with.

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