Amps. The once ubiquitous stallwart of any electrical store now seem to be on the ‘close to extinction’ list. Nowhere in Harrogate could you walk in off the street to buy a straight home entertainment audio amp. A week or so ago, I had the notion to set up a ‘proper’ music system that we’d had gathering dust in the cellar for ages that I’d forgotten all about. An amp and a CD deck. I’d recently acquired a set of really good quality studio monitor speakers and so what at the time I thought would be a simple ‘plug and play’ type excersize turned into an audiophile quest. Ironically, the rarity of a music free Bank Holiday weekend for me, that involved no gigs, parties, festivals or other (as is not usually the case) had a large amount of it dedicated to the introduction of a new audio set up in DragonDrop.
The first problem was that said amp from the cellar (a Sony F-242) had popped. No power. I’d committed myself by buying a few meters of high ish end new speaker cable and shuffled things into place. As the amp was written off I decided to look on eBay for a suitable, reasonably priced amp – so that I could ‘simply’ plug speakers in, a cd deck in and off we go. Over the prior weekend and week I’d researched, read up on, hunted down and eventually sourced a very nice looking marantz amp. When this arrived on Friday I was gutted to find that it also, didn’t work.
A friend and I decided to go and have a look around the typical generic electrical shops – Curry / Commet / PC World / Maplin etc. A mission I’d dipped my toe into the previous weekend, to see if I could pick up a new amp. At one point not too long ago, these type of shops showed a dazzling array of components from the ‘ separates’ market. Now, disappointingly, the beating heart of any hi fi system – the amp – cannot be bought separately from the high street.
For music, docking stations for your iPod seem to be the de rigeur with blister pack hi-fi units that seem to resemble something from a space station crossed with a fruit machine, a close second. The combination of a tv’s surround sound amp being the closest cousin to the endangered amp. The days of separate boxes doing separate, specialist jobs seem to be over. If one bit goes, the whole system is kaput. If one bit is a cheap-o short cut, the whole system suffers. Admittedly, modern audio technology has come a long way and some of the new mainstream stuff does sound pretty good – but it’s key selling feature seems to be that it is friendly, stylish and “well designed”. The ‘separates’ seem to have been pushed right out of the market.
As it happens, I put a note on facebook asking if anyone had an amp and an old friend came up trumps with a Mirantz pm-43, which I rigged up with a decent CD Deck and a superb set of Tanoy speakers – end result – it sounds amazing. I’ve also rigged a second set of Wharfedale Diamonds on the second set of speaker outputs through in the next room (kitchen) and have also got a record player and aux (from pc / spotify) and a DAB radio feeding it.
I am now a happy badger as far as my aural pleasures go, but am just bit disheartened to see this homogenisation of home audio equipment. I don’t know if its the case that the application and inconvenience of a ‘big’ audio system isn’t practical in the modern lifestyle, or that its possible to get incredible sound via earphones combined with omnibox convenience or that pure music as a home entertainment format isn’t standing its ground any more, but I was surprised to see such a demise of mainstream audio geekism.