I was driving back to New York from North Carolina, chasing a winter storm northward. I wanted to get to Peter Breuninger's place in Philadelphia before the roads froze over, to drop off a pair of vintage AR3a speakers for him to review, as well as pick up an antique EICO HF81 integrated amp for measurement. The last thing I needed was to be stuck in stalled traffic on the Washington Beltway.
North Carolina? Raleigh, to be specific, where I'd taken part in two evenings of music presented by dealer Audio Advice. Why? I feel it's time for action.
Back in Stereophile's mid-October e-mail newsletter, I had alerted readers to a call to action by the High-End Community, from a group led by retailer Ted Lindblad. "Are the doomsayers right? Is high-end audio headed for extinction? Is it true that people no longer respond to high-quality music reproduction?" asked Ted and his colleagues in their open letter. "Not at all," was their answer, "But it's up to us to prove the doomsayers wrong. And we can." They went on to announce the formation of the "A5"—the American Association for the Advancement of the Audio Arts.
Following the ultimate failure of the Academy for the Advancement of High End Audio in the 1990s, I have my doubts about industry-wide organizations. But I certainly agree that a disconnect has developed between the audio industry and its traditional customer base. I offered some thoughts on this subject in January's "As We See It," concluding that "perhaps the high-end audio industry's woes stem from its no longer being able to persuade baby boomers that they need what it has to offer."
Jim Spainhour, of Musical Fidelity distributor Signal Path, is convinced that, at least to some extent, the audio industry has forgotten the importance of demonstrating the benefits of what it has to offer. He therefore initiated a series of events he calls "Music Matters," in which manufacturers, joined by Stereophile writers and editors, present evenings at participating dealers in which music is played back in a congenial setting with the highest possible quality.
The first such event took place last August, at Seattle's Definitive Audio, with Michael Fremer representing the magazine. (Mikey mentioned his experience in his review of the Musical Fidelity kW750 amplifier in our December 2005 issue.) The second event was the one I attended, at Audio Advice. There must have been 150 audiophiles and music lovers present over the two evenings, enjoying good Italian wine, good Italian food, and good music. Lots of music.
Wilson Audio Specialties' Peter McGrath played some of his incomparable live recordings in surround sound; Chris Browder of B&W and Dave Nauber of Classé played some of their favorite recordings on B&W 802D speakers and Classé's stylin' new electronics; Walter Schofield from Mark Levinson put together a system based on the Harman company's new gear and the first pair of Wilson Sophia Mk.2s to leave the factory; and Transparent's Karen Sumner provided all the cabling.
I played the hi-rez masters of some of my Stereophile recordings on the B&W-Classé system, and on Wilson WATT/Puppy 7s driven by a Musical Fidelity kW750, each of these combos driven by the S/PDIF output of my Mac PowerBook and Metric Halo FireWire rig fed to a Musical Fidelity DAC. I enjoyed people being able to hear my recordings in their original full 24-bit/88.2kHz resolution, particularly tracks from upcoming albums by Cantus and pianist Robert Silverman. But what impressed me was how much fun it was—how much everyone got from listening so long to music with such a high quality of sound. This seems so obvious, but it's something that the industry, pursuing the bucks in home theater and custom installation, has perhaps lost sight of.
Thanks, Jim, for inviting me; and thanks, Leon, Gregg, Brandon, and everyone at Audio Advice, for hosting such a stimulating event. I hope it has the necessary effect.
Bridges of People
As I was reading G. Matthew Wong's letter analyzing the statistics of Stereophile's equipment reviews (p.11), it struck me that the year just passed saw, and the year just started sees, a significant number of anniversaries among the magazine's staff. Magazine publishing traditionally suffers from a high rate of staff turnover. Yet as I checked my back issues for people's starting dates, it struck me that Stereophile is unusual in how long so many of its people have been bringing you their thoughts.
Some might regard the list below as evidence of aural ossification. I disagree. While the hairs on some of our heads are definitely acquiring a distinguished-looking silver sheen, Stereophile is wider and deeper in its coverage of audio-related subjects than it ever has been. We have outgrown our paper pages, expanding into the most fact-filled audio website in existence, along with reader forums, daily blogs, an annual Buyer's Guide, and our bimonthly e-newsletters. We release recordings. We promote an annual Home Entertainment Show. And every day, we look for ways to further expand our franchise—participating in the "Music Matters" evenings, for example. None of this would be possible without a committed long-term team of talented individuals.
So I feel it appropriate to offer my recognition, in order of appearance on our stage, of: Sam Tellig (it's been 23 years since his first column on inexpensive gear appeared, in January 1983); Larry Greenhill, who's been with Stereophile 22 years (his first review was of the Tandberg TCD3004A, Nakamichi ZX-7, and B&O 9000 cassette decks, in January 1984); ad salesperson Laura LoVecchio, who joined us from Audio magazine in January 1988; Robert Deutsch, who crossed over from our record-review staff 15 years ago with reviews of the Conrad-Johnson PV11 and Threshold FET/9E preamplifiers, in December 1991; photographer Eric Swanson, whose first Stereophile cover shot appeared on our December 1993 issue; blogger Wes Phillips, whose literate word-spinning first appeared in our pages in August 1994, in a review of the Duntech PCL-25 speaker; vinyl maven Michael Fremer, now well into his 11th year with Stereophile (Mikey's first "Analog Corner" column was published in July 1995); Kalman Rubinson, whose first review was of the Audio Alchemy DDS•Pro CD transport, in September 1996; self-proclaimed Web monkey Jon Iverson, who walked through my virtual door nine years ago this month; assistant editor and blogger Stephen Mejias, who joined our staff five years ago last August; managing editor Elizabeth Donovan, who celebrates her fifth anniversary in March; editor at large Art Dudley, who has been adding to the magazine's controversy quotient for three years; and, last but not least, Richard Lehnert, who has been copyediting the words you hold in your hand almost without a break since July 1985, when he worked on Vol.8 No.3. (I should also look forward to our September 2006 issue, which will witness both music editor Robert Baird's 10th anniversary and the beginning of my 21st issue year as Stereophile's editor.)
Thanks, guys. That you're all still here is, I am sure, as much appreciated by the magazine's readers as it is by me. And to those active contributors I have not mentioned: You are just as important, just not yet as bedded in.