Happy 1985, Music Lovers!
Without a doubt, 1984 has been Stereophile's most successful year. We reviewed 114 major products last year, without counting the brief reviews Tony Cordesman made of countless products in his feature "Having a Grand's Time," or the casual mentions you come across in "The Audio Cheapskate." Patting ourself on the back? Hell, yes.
Funny thing is, it doesn't seem that we're running out of products to review. The current issue contains a veritable outpouring of phono cartridge reviews, yet just since we closed the issue we've received another 10 or so cartridges, including the Ortofon MC1000, the Shinon Red, a high-output model from Azden, the Highphonic, a barely visible diamond-cantilever model from Dynavector, and a bunch of others. In other words, the harder we try, the more there is to do!
For the music-lover, though, this is all good news. Many of the superb high-output cartridges reviewed in this issue cost less than $500, require no expensive step-up device, and outperform the $1000 cartridges of two years ago. And there are very decent cartridges in the under-$200 range. In speakers, our survey in Volume 7, Number 4 just barely scratched the surface of under-$500/pair speakers, a price range where nothing particularly good was available a few years ago. Since then we've received significant products from Siefert, MCM Systems, Spectrum (see "The Audio Cheapskate" in this issue), and Fostex, not to mention improvements made (in the form of new products) by Phase Tech, Dayton Wright, and Spica.
For those of you who can't see spending less than $2000/pair on speakers, we have on hand products from Infinity, MartinLogan, JBL (the 250ti, which promises to be good), and look forward to the latest from Apogee, B&W, KEF, the updated Stax F-81s and F-83sand who knows what else.
The amazing thing about high-end audio as a hobby is that the manufacturers keep coming up with products that aren't just new knobs on the same old box. The new amplifiers under $1000 sound better than what cost $3000 a few years ago. The new tape deck from Revox (their B-215) outperforms their older B-71O, has countless automatic features, and costs $600 less. Tandberg did the same thing last year with their 3014, outdistancing and underpricing their 3004. This is an industry where consumers care about the substance of what they are buyingand the only way manufacturers can survive is by delivering better, and better substance.
And there are entirely new fields to conquer; The interaction of good sound and high-quality video has been highly touted, particularly at trade shows where dealers are trying to figure out what promotional strategies will ensure their survival. In truth, though, this field is in its infancy. If you think VHS or Beta Hi-Fi is a big step up from broadcast television, wait until you try LaserVideo discs with a Tate decoder for rear channel ambience (airplanes flying right over your head, for instance), and picture from a Kloss NovaBeam. ]GH has branched out into high-end video, even to the point of starting an underground magazine called LaserNews, and we'll be keeping you filled in on the latest developments as he uncovers them. Never fear, though, audio will remain our primary subject.
If there's a cloud on our editorial horizon, it's our record reviews. Particularly with the past few issues, equipment coverage has squeezed out the few record reviews we've had on hand. This is fine for equipment nuts, but not so great for those of you who want to know about the latest, finest LPs and Compact Discs. Last year at this time I was making solemn promises about actually publishing eight times a year, issues with 80 pages and more, and drastically increased equipment coverage. Well, I made good on those promises, so here's this year's New Year's Resolution: by this time next year (and I hope a lot sooner), Stereophile will be carrying up-to-date news of the latest and most significant releases on LP and CD, and we'll offer significant coverage of the historic LPs that we may have missed until now. And you can hold me to it.
As you're no doubt aware, Stereophile is not the only publication that covers high end audiojust the best! Interestingly enough, the three "major" hifi magazines, Audio, High Fidelity, and Stereo Reviewin order of increasing circulation and decreasing excellence,are devoting more and more space not just to video (an obvious ploy to scrape for new readers and attract those vast video advertising budgets) but also to high-end audio. Since, except for Audio, the advertising prices these magazines command put them out of reach for the perfectionist manufacturers we deal with, it must be that high-end audio is what consumers are really interested in.
After numerous articles attacking the High End as a refuge for maniacs, Stereo Review is now reviewing Mark Levinson ML-9s and Linn Sondek LP-12s! And High Fidelity has squeezed out some equipment reviews that are frankly critical, much to the discomfort of their normally coddled reviewees (who, as yet, don't happen to be advertisers). Audio, of course, has for some time published critical reviews, though you had to make your way through Richard Heyser's technical expertise to get most of it. Under the cautious guidance of Eugene Pitts, however, Audio is doing much more, and even has frankly subjective reviews from Bascom King and our own (!) Tony Cordesman.
We can but applaud. Give them another 20 years and they'll have the experience of a J. Gordon Holtbut of course by then, he'll have forty-five years!
The Absolute Sound
One of the less attractive attributes of the "underground" publishing field is the seeming need the various magazines have to swat at each other relentlessly. My own tendency has been to ignore these jibes where possible, and to forgo many of our own. The most recent issue of TAS, however, was a bit much, and I must respond.
On page 16 of Number 35 (Autumn, 1985), Harry Pearsonthe Editor and˙ Publisherstates that "Stereophile only recently began paying lip service to the notion of live music as the reference standard," and he goes on to attack our early stand on transistors and our current stand on digital. As Mr. Pearson well knows, being not only a recipient of a complimentary subscription but a paying subscriber to Stereophile prior to starting his own magazine, Stereophile has always used the sound of live music as a reference. A facsimile of the first highly specific mention in these pages is reproduced below. It is from the magazine dated Volume 1, Number 8 August, 1964 though there were numerous less specific references prior to that issue:
"The concept of concert-hall realismthe sound of an orchestra as heard in a concert hallis necessary to provide a standard for evaluating reproduced sound."
In fact, Number 35 of TAS spends a lot of time attacking Stereophile. There is in these attacks an unusual bitterness; I wonder why.
Finally, a tremendous "Thank You" needs to be offered to the many people who work diligently and emotionally (this is an emotional magazine) to bring you this rag: Suzanne, Gail, Ken, Tony, Steve, Dick, Bill, Larry, Anne, Allen, Alvinand, of course, primarily, J. Gordon. Not to mention you thousands of subscribers. On to a New Year!Larry Archibald