A daily dose of Hughes; Jimmy Hughes aka James Michael Hughes – “Are valves returning from the dead?”

Despite a few dissenting voices, Valves were History. Indeed, the ‘comeback’ of the valve amplifier (which in the UK started with the Michaelson and Austin TVA-1 integrated) was something quite remarkable and virtually without precedent. For while there were a few diehard listeners who preferred 78s to LPs, or Mono to Stereo, there was never any suggestion of reverting back to these earlier ‘obsolete’ technologies.

The analogue/digital battle was more keenly fought, with many discerning listeners being less than convinced by CD despite promises of Pure Perfect Sound Forever. True, some buyers of CDs were equally partisan and would only buy all-digital DDD recordings. But generally there was less of a backlash, because many listeners found that the best analogue recordings sounded as good as (or better than) their modern digital counterparts.

By the end of the ‘80s, the sonic distinctions between old and new recordings had started to blur. Even audiophiles were choosing recordings based more on artist merit and repertoire, than date or type of recording. Moreover, there was a growing realisation (which probably began towards the end of the ‘70s) that many recordings from the early stereo period were actually rather good, technically.

Yet less than a decade earlier, things were very different. In 1974, one hi-fi magazine ran article highlighting excellent ‘old’ recordings – and chose Boult’s EMI LP of Holst’s Planets suite from 1967 as an example of something long in the tooth but still good! It’s laughable – something issued only 7 years previously was considered old. Yet at that time I too thought of this technically outstanding recording as old – albeit, superb.

To understand this, you have to appreciate that the ‘50s and ‘60s were times of rapid advancement for hi-fi. In a decade or so we’d gone from shellac ‘78s to stereo. When Miles Henslow launched Hi-Fi News in 1956, many thought him foolish. The feeling was that hi-fi and recording quality were advancing so rapidly, perfection would quickly be achieved. That being the case, soon there wouldn’t be anything to write about!

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