SUBJECTIVE AUDIO: The great sounds; Radford, Spectral, Lecson, Infinity, SoundLabs, JBL Century, Beveridge, Beard and more

Neil McCauley asks Howard Popeck:

What were the best reproduced sounds you ever heard in the early days?

Not easy to answer. Depends on one’s definition of best. If you take just listenability i.e. the customer’s sound is so good right now that I'm not going to unpack my demo gear, then it would have to be the Radford ST-25 into Quad 57s. And the same amp into LS3/5a speakers. It’s worth bearing in mind that we didn’t stock Radford or Quad 57’s. In terms of sheer impact, without too much attention to accuracy, well Ricardo (MD of Absolute Sounds) once played me that ‘Two Tribes’ 12” from ‘Frankie Goes to Hollywood’ on his giant SoundLab electrostatics driven by Jadis and Goldmund front end. Awesome, truly awesome. For delicacy, balance, details it would have to be the Beveridge SW2-2 full range line-source electrostatic. For visceral slam and an all enveloping experience, Infinity IRS. No doubt about it.

Closer to home, the Meridian M2 speakers for their size were truly amazing. An utterly brilliant design, both acoustically and visually. My own Meridian M1s, which I still use, driven by my spectral DMC-12 preamp and my old Trio KT917 tuner – listening to a live Radio 3 classical concert. Goose pimple time. And then there’s those combinations I mentioned earlier – the magical ones.

More, more!

You’ve got me going now. Lecson HL1 horn speakers. My own JBL Century L100 speakers. Still got ‘em, still working. Spendor BC3s on classical music. What a design. Some of the IMF speakers and nearly all of the TDL range. The Magneplanar MG3a. We sold loads of those, even at £3k in the mid 1980s. Once a customer bought those, well you’d kiss ‘em good-bye as far as speaker upgrades were concerned. The small Magneplanar SMGa speakers were great, specially in the black and chrome finish.

Apogee Scintilla. Real amp destroyers they were, but what a sound. Phenomenal. Possibly, no probably one of the greatest speakers ever built. We used to sell them either with 4 mono Krell power amps and once, with Beard mono P100 power amps. You looked at the Beards and you’d think, no way – no way. But those mono amps were something really special. That guy made really great power amps. His preamps weren’t too clever though.

The Krell KSA-50. what a breath of fresh air. A cast-iron classic. No doubt about it. Frankly, my view is Krell built bigger, but never better. There was a real magic to that specific model. If I could find one today I’d probably buy it. Levinson Ml-6a and ML-7 preamps. A giant 4-box Krell preamp I can’t remember the model number of. That was a great bit of kit, that was.

And the worst?

Well, I never got on with Linn speakers. Maybe because I didn’t have Naim amps. But I thought the Sara Mk1 speakers were a disaster and the Kan Mk1s even worse. I didn’t really like the Meridian M3s either, but that’s probably because we drove them too hard. Some of John Michell’s more exotic turntable designs, the Prisma for example, looked great but sounded average. He really got it right though with the Gyro and Orbe.

Your attitude to Linn is what – ambivalent?

It was back then. These days though .... Ivor and I get on very well.

Do you want to enlarge on that?

Not right now, no.

Thanks Howard

And thank you Neil for dragging me down memory lane to re-visit the good bits!

End