Standing on the shoulders of giants…

Recently, I’ve had the good fortune to live with several game-changing loudspeakers – the various Stenheims, the Clarisys Auditoriums, several Avantgardes and most recently, the Peak Consults. Despite their obvious technological and topological differences, all of these speakers have one important thing in common: they are all based on firmly established principles, developed over time. The Stenheims combine high-sensitivity drivers and phase coherent crossovers with low volume damping and thin-wall cabinets. The Clarisys is clearly a direct but much improved descendent of the Apogee speakers of old. Both the Avantgardes and the Peaks build on lessons learnt in their own shop, incremental developments of established products and procedures. “Shiny and new” might have worked for Madonna. It might impress marketing departments and copywriters, but the best products are built on substance. It’s not that new technology or new formats are bad. It’s more often that they are oversold. ‘Latest’ definitely doesn’t necessarily equate to ‘Greatest’.

When it comes to bikes, I’m lucky. I’m no ‘steel is real’ evangelist, living and breathing the values of a rose-tinted past. I don’t have to choose between the virtues of traditional steel or ‘high-tech’, ultra aero carbon. I have bikes that neatly straddle the divide. Yes, they’re bikes that, if they involved any more carbon would probably be worth mining for petro-chemical deposits. But – and here’s the rub – rather than monocoque frames, they also use the same hand-built, lugged tube construction as the Mercian.

If you are not a cyclist, the ride qualities of a traditional steel frame might be a hard thing to envisage or relate to. But to put it into audiophile terms, the sensation is a bit like your system finding its groove. It’s not to do with resolution or detail. It’s not even to do with bandwidth or dynamics. It is all about the holistic qualities of the performance: how much sense it makes of the music. For the bicycle designer or buyer, the choice is stark. Where do you want to be on the continuum between comfort and ultimate efficiency. Specialist time-trial bikes are super fast – but nobody would claim they’re a pleasure to ride. In audio terms the choices are rather more nuanced – or perhaps just less clearly defined or understood. There are no silver-bullet solutions, components or topologies you can simply import from the past to guarantee success. What is available is a range of listening experiences that can inform us how systems can and have worked to become greater than the sum of their parts; experiences that constantly challenge and enlighten current thinking; experiences it is all too common to forget in the light of shiny new technologies. Every audio designer and manufacturer is faced with a choice: stand on the shoulders of giants – or risk standing in their shadow. Either way, we ignore the lessons of history at our peril.