Back in 1968, nothing sounded better to me than "Penny Lane"—one of my all-time favorite songs—blasting out over my Dad's home-built Eico gear (when no one else was around, of course). For some reason, the various sounds packed into that song grabbed my attention as much as that old integrated amp whose steel case got as hot as the tubes inside—ouch! When the Beatles broke up, I played Magical Mystery Tour over and over for days before I felt I'd paid them sufficient homage. Like everyone else, I heard a lot of the Beatles through the '70s and '80s. (And now, of course, it may as well be the '60s again: if you can stomach another "Magic Carpet Ride" every hour (or so it seems), just tune in your local "classic rock" station and you'll hear lots of "Penny Lane," too.)
Some folks claim to have actually seen the legendary Bigfoot, the enormous, manlike beast said to roam the backwoods of the Pacific Northwest. Others have stood in his footprints or plucked foul-smelling patches of hair from trees he has recently passed. A few have gotten close enough to take vague snapshots or shaky video clips of the beleaguered creature. One or two attest to frightful chance encounters with him. His size alone has given rise to rumors that he is dangerous, but no firm evidence has ever been produced to substantiate this.
In debates about audio, philosophy, literature, fine art, or whatever, people often adhere to either absolutism or relativism. Absolutism supposes, for example, that either analog or digital is superior and that whichever is better holds for all parties concerned. Michael Fremer, for instance, is not just advertising his opinion about the superiority of analog; he believes that everyone would acknowledge it if they paid attention to the evidence. Relativism, on the other hand, teaches that no such absolute and univocal consensus can be reached. In the end, we all have our own subjective preferences, and that, quite simply, is that. If we disagree about whether tube amps are better than solid-state, or single-ended is better than push-pull, c'est la vie.
So you've spent thousands (hours, that is...in terms of dollars, don't ask!) trying to improve the sound of your stereo, and you're still dissatisfied. Here's a list of sure-fire steps which, if followed precisely, will without a doubt have you happy as a lark for days afterward. (What? You expected to be happy with these improvements for months or even years? Get with it! This is high-end audio we're talking about. When was the last time you were satisfied more than a few hours with your costly upgrades?!)
Do you suffer from Audiophilia nervosa, that dreaded disease afflicting long-time readers of Stereophile, The Abso!ute Sound, Hi-Fi News & Record Review, and various other sordid high-end rags? Well, take heart, my friends---relief is on the way. But before treatment can begin, as with all illnesses, proper diagnosis is of paramount importance. To help facilitate this, I have compiled a set of multiple-choice questions. Please take the time to read through these carefully, and jot down your best-guess response from the choices below. You really should use a #2 pencil, as the lead in a #2 is bound to give you the smoothest response, with the least amount of writer's fatigue, allowing the letters to flow effortlessly from the first movement of your hand to the last.
"Equipment Reports," "Record Reviews," "Letters," "Industry Update," "Sam's Space," "As We See It," "The Final Word"---I read and enjoy them all. But the section of Stereophile I especially look forward to reading is "Manufacturers' Comments." How is the manufacturer going to respond to a review that's considerably less than 100% positive? Can they take criticism gracefully, or do they have an attitude? If I were a consumer considering purchase of one of their products, would their comments convince me that they'd be a good company to deal with? Are they uptight beyond reason, or do they have a sense of humor? Can they respond to a positive review without gloating?
It's useful to ponder the wonders of democracy in this election year—not because of elections, but despite them. Were you to judge democracy by this election year, you might conclude that it consists of judging who has the best PR people, who the best pollsters, and who can muster the nastiest, most effective "negatives" about the other guy.
"Like many audiophiles I have often sped home from a concert to fire up the audio system, and then, to the sore vexation of my wife and guests, spent the rest of the evening plunged in the morbid contemplation of what, exactly, was missing."
I'd like to expand on the "expensive electronics/inexpensive speakers" discussion begun by John Atkinson in his Levinson No.26 & No.20 reviews. "Perhaps because it acts as a bottleneck on the signal," he wrote, "the quality of an amplifier or preamplifier is far more important than that of a loudspeaker when it comes to preserving or destroying the musical values of the signal. This would appear to be heresy in the US where, to judge by the letters I receive, large, complicated, expensive loudspeaker systems are often driven by relatively inexpensive, modestly performing electronics, the rationale behind this being that, to quote one correspondent, 'It is the loudspeakers that produce the sound, therefore they are where the majority of the budget should be allocated.'"
Alright already, quit shoving. I know I don't belong here. This magazine already has a place for manufacturers---in the back, where those large egos are squeezed into small column inches so they can't hurt you. Not that I'm exactly proud of my job. On social occasions, if pressed as to my profession, I will usually admit to some honest toil such as mortician or hodcarrier. Speaker design is downright devious work. As proof, examine the specifications for the 1376 models in Audio's 1988 equipment directory. Much of this data, when compared with each described system's real-world performance, looks like Joe Isuzu wrote it on a bad day.
The electric clocks in my house keep better time than the ones I wind, yet I scarcely look at them. It is the ticking, I think, that comforts me. I like to lean my ear against these various pendulums and, back and forth, gently rock my life away.
Editor's Introduction: Stereophile's "Recommended Components" feature is, as I am sure you will have guessed, produced by a committee. The reviews are studied, the reviewers polled to verify the continued validity, the merits and demerits of specific pieces of equipment are discussed or, rather, argued over at length by JGH, JA, and LA, and out of the whole business emerges the "truth." But, as with the findings of any committee, what is presented as a consensus will have significant undertows and countercurrents of opinion; if these are very strong, a "Minority Report" is often also produced. Such has been the case this time, concerning loudspeakers.