This essay first appeared in the May 2005 Stereophile eNewsletter. But as the opinions and comments are still relevant in 2014 and in some ways the phenomenon of over-compression in recorded music (footnote 1) is just as bad, I thought it worth republishing.John Atkinson
I write these words mere hours after returning home from Home Entertainment 2005, the Show cosponsored by Stereophile magazine that took place from April 28 through May 1 at the Manhattan Hilton. A full report will appear in the August 2005 issue of the magazine.
When I became Stereophile's editor in 1986, the median age of the magazine's readership was the same age as I was then, 38; ie, half the readers were younger than 38, half older. According to our most recent reader survey, the median reader age is now 48, meaning that in the intervening 19 years, that median reader has aged at half the rate of the rest of us. A nice trick. But older that reader certainly has become, which has led to cries of doom from some quarters of the audio industry.
There are all sorts of ways of having fun, and just as many ways of spending money. Most of the time, spending money is necessary to have fun; whether it's going to a movie, having dinner out, scrapbooking, playing video games, whatevernothin's free.
"Without content, television is nothing more than lights in a box."Edward R. Murrow, 1958
"When it comes to video, most audiophiles are insufferable snobs."J. Gordon Holt, 1984
Those who have followed the arguments between audiophiles and home-theater enthusiasts in the pages of StereophileI lifted the Murrow quote from a 1996 battle between Steve Guttenberg (representing the former community) and Joel Silver (representing the latter)will have no doubt over which side of the argument I am on.
You could sense the frustration in Keith Pray's e-mail. "We are on the same team. I have always respected your wishes and will continue to do so," he had written me. At the request of a possible advertiser, Stereophile's publisher had asked me a question about something appearing in the issue of Stereophile we were preparing. I had responded that not only would I not give him an answer, I felt it inappropriate for him to ask.
In April 2013, Stereophile editor John Atkinson took part in two Music Matters evenings held by Colorado retailer ListenUp. JA took time off from the formal presentations to talk to ListenUp's George McClure about how we perceive music and about what matters most when we record and playback music.
"It's not just it doesn't work as well, it doesn't sound as good!"
Veteran audio reviewer Martin Colloms and I were taking a preprandial walk across London's Hampstead Heath, following Cream's reunion concerts at the Royal Albert Hall last May. Martin was getting animated:
I'm still using a Mac mini as a music server, using iTunes on this host server to stream music to my listening-room system via the Apple Airport Express WiFi hub. However, as the Airport Express is limited to CD-quality music, I tend to use them for nonserious listening, when I am involved in some other activity. One of those activities this past week or so was reading a new book from erstwhile Stereophile record reviewer Allen St. John: Clapton's Guitar: Watching Wayne Henderson Build the Perfect Instrument (hardcover, 288pp; Free Press, New York, $25).
John Atkinson at the 2012 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest
Since I gave this presentation at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest in October 2012, based on one of the topics in my Richard C. Heyser Memorial Lecture and mentioned in my March 2013 "As We See It," I have repeated it at Music Matters evenings at Definitive Audio in Seattle and Listen-Up in Denver, and at audiophile society meetings in Minneapolis, California's Central Coast, and Connecticut. I will be repeating the presentation at a Music Matters event at Georgia retailer Audio Alternative, Wednesday April 24, at 6pm, at T.H.E. Show Newport Beach, at 12 noon, May 31, and at The Audiophile Society in Brooklyn, NY on June 22.
"...and measures bad, then you're measuring the wrong thing!" If one motto could sum up this magazine's philosophy, this would be it. Too many times we have discovered components that sounded musically fabulous while offering measured performance that was, at best, merely competent. Yet recently, I'm starting to lose confidence in that old saw.
On a number of occasions, I or another of Stereophile's reviewing team has heard a product sounding flawed in ways later revealed by measurements. A closed story, you might thinkbut consider the NEAR-50M loudspeaker reviewed by Dick Olsher in this issue. Despite hearing many good things in the speaker's sound, Dick was bothered by a tonal-balance problem in the low treble. He was also disturbed by a lack of integration between the tweeter and midrange unit. When I measured the '50M, my response graphs (footnote 1) pretty much explained why Dick heard what he heard. Nevertheless, other reviews of this loudspeaker have been ecstatic in their praise, one even stating that it was "one of the most transparent and balanced dynamic loudspeakers available at any price" (my italics).
Wandering through Tower Records the other night, I was struck by the amazing diversity of music available to us. There's music from every part of the globe, for every taste and interest, from "show-me-the-good-parts" compilations of classical highlights to obscure releases by unknown artists. There's music for the ecstatic, music for the angry, music for the straight, the gay, the bent, and the twisted. The subcategories replicate like rabbits, as if in a demographer's nightmare. Genus spawn species, which quickly mutates into subspecies, race, tribe: cult begets subcult.
People of my generation have learned that change is certain. You can't know what the change will be, but you can bank on the fact that there will be serious change over the next ten years. Look at the historically most important change in ten years: microcomputers.