21st century music consumption is a confusing beast. On the one hand we’ve got quicker, cheaper access to a never-ending stream of music ; iTunes revolutionised how we buy it, whilst Spotify has in one foul swoop cast aside all memories of the mix-tape. This is obviously all terrible news for the labels, but it’s brilliant for the lay music listener. B’boys, indie kids and bassheads alike have got music on tap, on laptops and on the move.
But our methods of listening to this music have never been poorer. We’ve got all the tunes in the world, but we listen to them through tinny phone and laptop speakers where audible bass is as likely as a kazoo on a 50 Cent tune.
Marshall are looking to change this with their new Hanwell amp; the iconic brands’ first foray into home audio, in their 50th year. It’s a simple stack which will connect to your smartphones and laptops with a 3.5mm jack. In a nod to the fact that it’s 21st century machine (albeit one with a 20th century soul), there is no CD player.
The machine is a triumph of design and sound; it looks gorgeous. Marshall amps are pretty spicy at the worst of times, but the gold trim round the speaker is enough to tremble knees from New Orleans to Tin Pan Alley, whilst the brass plate where the bass, treble and volume knobs live lend the whole thing a sense of trashy glamour. The matt black vinyl surrounding the speakers is vintage Marshall, as is the logo emblazoned across the front, also gold in commemoration of the 50th birthday.
Of course, a pretty exterior is one thing, but without the goods under the hood it doesn’t mean much. Marshall, in connection with Zounds industries, have put in a 100W Class D amp and dual 6 inch long sub-woofers for the bass, and two ferrofluid cooled hi-fi tweeters to take care of the high end. N.W.A turned up gave our office floor a resounding bassy hum, while the grumble-growl of Johnny Cash’sThe Man Comes Around felt like it had finally found its spiritual home.
There’s a very valid argument that CDs will be made redundant with 10 years. Vinyl will be safe and always have a place in the heart of the aficionados and hipsters, but they are so much physical; the artwork actually looks like art; you have to flip sides and position the needle, somehow establishing a connection between you and the music. But CD will eventually be crushed by the march of digital, and if we are to be saved from a lifetime of shrill speakers, systems like the Hanwell will surely become the norm in every household. And if that’s the case, you might as well invest in the best. As it stands, the best looks and sounds an awful lot like Marshall.
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