CEC TL0-X CD transport (Mid-2000s, £12,000)
So a CD player costs – what, a couple of hundred quid? Not so in high-end Japanese audio land, where this amazing piece of machinery, with its ‘first colony on the moon’ looks, would have set you back £12,000 almost a decade ago.
It draws on classic record-player design, with a belt linking its motor and the spinning disc platter. Because apparently ‘micro-vibrations scatter light and reduce the integrity of the digital data stream.’ The player uses a stabliiser weighing 450g (or 1lb in old money), plus DRTS suspension – which stands for Double Rubbers and Triple Springs. Well, we guess you can never be too careful.
McIntosh MC275 amplifier (2012, US$6500)
The looks of McIntosh equipment – all black and chrome and blue-lit analogue meters – has remained unchanged throughout most of the New York company’s 50-plus-year history. It’s what makes a McIntosh a McIntosh, and a US high-end icon.
So what did the company do to mark its anniversary? Not one of its classic-looking products, but a special edition of its bare-bones MC275 vale amplifier, first seen in 1961. The circuit was the same, but some niceties like remote power control and up to date ‘toobs’ – as they’d say at the factory – were added. Oh, and it’s good for 75W per channel, which isn’t bad for a valve amplifier.
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JBL Paragon speaker system (1957, US$1800)
Those were the days, when speakers looked like this: no, the JBL Paragon isn’t your granny’s radiogram, just a speaker, designed to deliver stereo sound from a single unit – and to blend in with the American living rooms of the Mad Men era.
It was designed by a Col. Ranger – they did good names in those days – and the original was no less than 2.75m wide, but the JBL engineers soon shrunk that down. The finished version was 2.69m wide (!), weighed well over 300kg and was delivered in three pieces by special delivery/assembly crews. At the time it sold for £1830 (£650 at the exchange rates of the time), and the equivalent of US$15,000 today. These days, perfect examples can sell for anything up to US$20,000.
Pro-ject 1 turntable (1991, £100)
Credited by many for more or less single-handedly revitalising the audiophile turntable market, Pro-ject is based in Vienna, but makes its turntables in the old Tesla factory in Litovel, Czech Republic.
The business started when company founder Heinz Lichtenegger went to a party and heard a turntable being used by a girl who’d come to Austria from Litovel; he asked where she’d got it, and the answer was ‘Out of the skip at the factory where my uncle works’.
When he went to explore the factory, he was told it was in the process of closing down – so he decided to keep it open by ordering more turntables, and today the factory still hand-builds Pro-jects, every one tested and listened to before shipping. It now sells 40,000 turntables a year.
NaimUniti network music system (2009, £2000)
For a company famed for taking its time getting into CD players – for many years it didn’t think they sounded good enough – Naim didn’t hang around when it came to developing a streaming system. It already had its pricey – and known to just a few – NaimNet custom-installation multiroom system in place, but the arrival of the NaimUniti in 2009 changed everything.
After all, this was the company best-known for splitting even preamplifiers into two boxes, and for its ‘six-pack’ pre/power amp system filling entire racks, and here we had an all-in-on combining network streaming playback, CD, internet/FM/DAB tuners and a stereo amplifier complete with digital and analogue inputs. Not surprisingly, it was a huge hit for Naim, which now has a dozen or so streaming products on its books.