"Rarely, if ever, can this densely written sonata have been presented so lucidly with each note precisely in place...the dramatic and lyrical aspects were never slighted or taken for granted." —Peter G. Davis, writing in the New York Times about Robert Silverman's New York debut in 1978, when he performed the Liszt B-Minor Piano Sonata in Alice Tully Hall.
The inspiration for this project came from Stereophile's Gretchen Grogan and Erich Vollmer of the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. Music Festivals are perhaps the healthiest aspect of classical music making, allowing ad hoc ensembles to chart the farthest reaches of the repertoire, as well as retracing the familiar ground of the great works. Why not, they thought, capture a representative selection of works performed at the 1995 Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival? This would not only document some of the great performances to be heard, but also allow music lovers everywhere to participate in what has increasingly been recognized as one of the US's best summer music festivals.
You're a typical audiophile. You read this magazine and others like it cover to cover, month after month, keeping up with industry trends and insider gossip. You've ingratiated yourself with every hi-fi dealer in your area, all of whom will let you take equipment home for extended auditions, give you generous trade-in allowances, and sell to you at a small percentage above their cost. Never pay retail, you chuckle to yourself, checking the newspaper's classifieds for audio bargains.
One of the great imponderables in hi-fi is how much the vibrations of a dynamic loudspeaker's cabinet walls contribute to its overall sound quality. Studies by William Stevens in the mid-1970s showed that, with some speakers, the acoustic output of the enclosure could be almost as much as that from the drive-units. Since then, responsible speaker designers have worked hard either to damp cabinet vibrations or to shift them to higher frequencies where their effect on the music will be less deleterious.
Although I still haven't been able to listen to the Cary Audio Design 805 single-ended tube monoblocks that Stereophile praised so highly a year ago (Vol.17 No.1, p.104), I've recently auditioned many other tubed single-ended designs. Undeniably, a good SE design has a distinctive quality of harmony and atmosphere in the midrange that reaches well beyond the average attainment of its solid-state brethren.
Time to 'fess up: How many of you actually read the "Measurements" sections of Stereophile's equipment reports and understand what's being measured, and why? I suspect that many readers skip over the technical assessment of the reviewed product and make a dash for the "Conclusion."
Back in the spring of 1990, Stereophile introduced its first Test CD, featuring a mixture of test signals and musical tracks recorded by the magazine's editors and writers. Even as we were working on that first disc, however, we had plans to produce a second disc which would expand on the usefulness of the first and feature a more varied selection of music. The result was our Test CD 2, released in May 1992.
For a while, I've been hearing rumors that the record-club editions of popular compact discs differ from the original versions produced by the record companies. I've met listeners who claim their club versions are compressed in dynamics, and some have reduced bass. Perhaps the clubs, in their infinite wisdom, think the typical member has a lower-class stereo system (in fact, the opposite may be true). Maybe these lower classes could benefit from some judicious dynamic compression, equalization, and digital remastering.
"What's that noise?" Bob Harley and I looked at each other in puzzlement. We thought we'd debugged the heck out of the recording setup, but there, audible in the headphones above the sound of Robert Silverman softly stroking the piano keys in the second Scherzo of Schumann's "Concerto Without Orchestra" sonata, was an intermittent crackling sound. It was almost as if the God of Vinyl was making sure there would be sufficient surface noise on our live recording to endow it with the Official Seal of Audiophile Approval. Bob tiptoed out of the vestry where we'd set up our temporary control room and peeked through a window into the church, where a rapt audience was sitting as appropriately quiet as church mice.
If you read much promotional literature for recently introduced high-quality equipment, you'll notice a common theme emerging: balanced connection. Balanced inputs and outputs are becoming a must for any audio equipment that has any claim to quality. The word itself has promotional value, suggesting moral superiority over the long-established "unbalanced" connection (for the purpose of this discussion, I will call this "normal"). What's my problem with this? Simply this: The High End could be paying dangerous, costly lip service to the received wisdom that balanced operation is the goal for an audio system.
High-end audiophiles are space freaks---we relish the warmth and spaciousness of a fine, old performing hall almost as much as we do the music recorded in it. But my attendance at a series of orchestral concerts held last summer brought home to me---as never before---the sad fact that our search for the ultimate soundstage is doomed to failure: we're trying to reproduce three-dimensional space from a two-dimensional system, and it simply can't be done.
Editor's note: When Jonathan Scull reviewed the Shun Mook devices back in 1994, he unleashed a hailstorm of controversy that continues to this day. Below is his original report along with some of the follow-up articles and fallout.
Not that long ago, digital audio was considered perfect if all the bits could be stored and retrieved without data errors. If the data coming off the disc were the same as what went on the disc, how could there be a sound-quality difference with the same digital/analog converter? This "bits is bits" mentality scoffs at sonic differences between CD transports, digital interfaces, and CD tweaks. Because none of these products or devices affects the pattern of ones and zeros recovered from the disc, any differences must be purely in the listener's imagination. After all, they argued, a copy of a computer program runs just as well as the original.