Neil McCauley asks Howard Popeck
Howard, Historically, what did you mean by ‘accidental magic’?
Well …….. a combination of equipment that previously you’d not encountered and which sounds right immediately. Unusual combinations. Amps and speakers that just by chance sound magical together – even though the makers probably hadn’t used each other’s equipment. That kinda thing.
Hmm. Well. two immediately spring to mind. Celestion SL600s with Levinson ML2a power amps. Just a beautiful combination. A magical sound. You could listen to it all day. The original A&R A60 integrated into Spendor BC1s and Harbeth HL1’s. Wonderful.
Err, well let’s see. One day at Subjective we’d taken in an original Audiolab integrated amp. And for no good reason we partnered it with a pair of Etude speakers from France (imported by Absolute Sounds) and a cheap Denon CD player. We played Avalon by Roxy Music. Track 7, ‘Take A Chance With Me’. Couldn’t stop listening to it. We left that combination together for a few weeks in one of the less busy demo rooms. Some of us would go in there, to listen to that, just to wind down after the shop shut.
There were other combinations we stumbled on that were magical. Meridian 107 power amp (very few were made) into Gale 401a speakers. Lecson AC1/AP3 into Spendor BC3s. Lecson AC1/AP1 into Monitor Audio MA3s.
No valves thought?
No, not really. Apart from Beard and the original Michaelson/Austin TVA-1, I never really got into valves. The only valve gear I really liked was by EAR. We didn’t stock it though. Oh yeah, and Radford STA-25s into Quad 57s. Whenever we came up against that combination, I just couldn’t legitimately recommend anything to change. I had to sit back in awe and just listen. Now that ….. that really was/is a magical combination.
And with turntables?
Well, I’ve often said I should never have sold my Pink Triangle/Breuer 8 Dynamic and EMT cartridge. That really was magical. I loved the original un-modified Linn with Grace/Supex. I never thought the Ittock/Asak came close. Whoa – Glasgow hated me for that one. The original Air Tangent on the Oxford Acoustics. The OSK – the Oracle/Sumiko/Koetsu had a special something. We sold 11 of those. Big money. Big big money. SME Series 2 improved with Shure V15 on a Michell Electronic Reference. STAX UA7 on a MicroSeiki DX1000. Syrinx PU/3 on an unmodified Linn. Is that okay?
Well, again I didn’t follow the Linn ethos – even though their imported Supex SD900 and high output SD901 were great cartridges. I have a lot of affection for the Grace F9E. Got us out of trouble many times.
It was smooth. Ultra smooth. It was a sensible way of taming a sharp top end such as when you felt assaulted by original Linn Kans or the Meridian M3 actives.
We did big business with Dynavector. The 17D was a classic. All their cartridges were great. Clean, crisp, tight bass, dynamic – the lot. But again, needed carefully matching to rest of the system.
Well, you’d never partner a low cost Dynavector with Linn Kans or the Meridian M3s – unless you wanted to give your customer a real headache – or they were very hard of hearing. Putting that combination together would have been a health hazard! Shure were great value. Some of the Ortofon range, especially the cheap ones were excellent. Grado cartridges and so on. The Koetsu range of course. The original ‘Black’ was dazzling.
So, we've covered the historic aspect. So what about now?
Accidental magic today is for me defined by LFD amplification driving all and any Harbeth speakers.
There must be others but I'm unaware of them.