The usual gusto whereby reviewers and consumers alike are apt to embrace the latest and greatest facilitates, in its darker shadows, forgetfulness over things that were great not merely once and in their long-gone days but might well still challenge the new or at least represent an equally valid and enjoyable alternative - if we didn't forget about those first loves or trusty companions that have moved on or that we've moved away from since. Hence the title for this column: The One That Got Away. Here our writers or even readers will reminisce fondly about audio gear they wish they hadn't sold; or about which a new arrival rekindles memories and doubts over whether the new is really any better and not just merely more expensive. The purpose is simply to create a little forum that might encourage certain readers to investigate such components which could remain available on the used or even new market and, in the opinion of the contributors, still sing a seductive siren song: #1.

I have owned a million products just like the rest of you but to be honest, I can think of only three components that I have let go of but wish I hadn't. At the same time, I am quite sure that none of these components would find their way into my current system or into one I would contemplate having now. But that doesn't mean I ain't real sorry that I don't own them anymore. And, I am not going to let the same thing happen to my Well-Tempered Classic. The three that got away are: The Magnepan Tympani 1s, European Holophone Systems Sopranos and the Audio Note DAC 1.1. I owned the Magneplanar Tympani 1s when they first came out. I sold them when my wife Mimsie and I moved from a house in Wisconsin to an equivalently priced abode in Berkeley/California. The problem was that the same green that could purchase a three-bedroom house in the suburbs of Milwaukee only bought us a modified guest-house/garage extension in Berkeley. The Tympanis were larger than the living
room of our new place. We had a friend who flew for TWA. One of her routes was London. I asked her to pick up some Rogers LS3/5a monitors for us which certainly would be more size-appropriate. The shop she dealt with encouraged her instead to purchase Jim Rogers' own design which wasn't based on the BBC mini-monitor though it used the same drivers - the JR149. I ended up owning these on two separate occasions along with a pair of the LS3/5as. Loved 'em all, too - but they were not the Tympanis and lacked the sheer size, imaging and bottom end of the Magneplanars.

The European Holophone Systems Soprano loudspeaker was based on a psychoaucoustic project from the University of Brussels in the early 1970s, I believe. The speakers themselves were built at a violin manufacturing firm in Brussels during down time when one run of violins was completed and a new one wasn't yet up and running. Originally, Bruce Jacobs of Wisconsin's Salon One Audio imported them while Hart Hutschens of Audio Advancements represented them later. Bruce then took over import and distribution a second time until the European distributor apparently ran into some legal problems and the speakers brought into the states during the late 80s were notably different and not nearly the equal of the originals.

This was the first really exotic, esoteric, tweaky, magical and idiosyncratic audio component I had. In most ways, it was also the most extraordinary speaker I have ever owned. The floorstanding Soprano was no more that 32 inches tall, with decoupling not recommended. The wood cabinet was finished in musical instrument quality wood veneer. The enclosure housed two Peerless 6-inch woofers in a d'Appolito configuration around a fabric dome Audax tweeter. You wouldn't necessarily know this owning a pair because the grills could only be removed by the dealer and you were expected to listen with them on. The speaker had a port that was partially stuffed but then again you wouldn't necessarily know that either.

The speaker was efficient and loved 30-watt tube amps to death. It fell in love with every single EL34-based tube amp I could put in front of it. I drove my last pair of Sopranos with a Komuro-modified Dynaco Stereo 35 and on some tunes, I cried listening to the speakers. I have never since had a speaker that was nearly as emotionally captivating. And now for the best part: This speakers needed to be placed a good three feet from the wall but could be spaced 12 - 15 feet apart. Set up correctly -- which was not difficulty -- they could fill a room the size of my current listening room of 30' x 18' by 9' with glorious music. They were without peer at what they did well - convey the harmonic complexity of the music. They were dynamic and involving in every way. They were truncated a bit at the frequency extremes, a bit veiled by modern standards and modestly detailed by current audiophile standards. Alas, there were few if any loudspeakers that could make music as they could.

At different times, I owned three pairs and one pair of Altos which were a bit larger. They came in Soprano, Alto and Tenor models. I never heard the Tenor but the Soprano was unbeatable. Why did I let them go? Well, I let them go thrice because I was certain that I needed more and could find it if only I kept on looking. And I was right - but it has taken me fifteen years to do so. They would never do in my current reference system but boy am I ever sorry I don't have a pair of them now to pull out every once in a while to be reminded about how wonderful and simple music playback can be.

In fact, thinking about the EHS and the Well Tempered turntable reminds me what it is like to now have the flagship Shindo WE300B Ltd amplifiers and their Catherine preamplifier. It is emotionally exactly like what the EHS and the Well Tempered could do, plus all the things they didn't do which always had me looking for something different that could do those. If you are the sort of person who would be moved by the EHS but kept looking for more resolution, for the veils to be parted and the frequencies to be extended, then the Shindo WE300B Ltd is to amplifiers what you were looking for in that speaker. That's true for the Catherine preamp as well but to a lesser extent. I have never found a speaker yet that is the Holophones plus the missing parts. I have found speakers with the missing parts and varying degrees of what the Holophones did. I sometimes believe that the best I could hope for is to find genuine excellence in the features of musical playback I long for but which will remain different than what the Holophones offered. The Holophones weren't just good at what they did, they were pure magic but then just did not do the other things. And eventually you missed what they didn't do and off you would go to look for something else that did it all. Haven't found it yet; at least not in speakers. Translate that search to amplifiers, however, and you arrive at the Shindo WE300B Ltd.

I also owned a completely tricked-out Audio Note DAC 1.1 with a variety of award-winning mods. I gave it up to modify a Sony SACD player. The latter was fine but always sounded like a Sony. The AN DAC sounded much better. I have had a lot of digital through since that far surpasses the Audio Note DAC in every way, from the Audio Logic to the Reimyo to the Denon Exemplar. I am sure the VRS will 'kill' the Audio Note DAC as well. But the truth is that the AN DAC was simple (if poorly built), honest, musical and a tremendous value. It would probably take an Audio Note DAC 5.1 to equal what I have heard from digital here in the past year but in a strange way,
there was something more satisfying and honest about the original non-filtered AN DAC. Mine used the 12AU7 tube which sounded just right to my ears - not the last word in anything but never needing a reason to apologize. I wish I had it around to use with the Holophones, especially when life seems way too complicated.