As We See It

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Robert Schryer Posted: Jun 23, 2015 14 comments
A decade ago, my mother, on noticing a copy of Stereophile on my kitchen counter, asked me, "Are you still into that sound stuff?" Her tone had a touch of exasperation.

"Geez, Mom. I've been an audiophile for 15 years. This isn't a phase I'm going to outgrow."

Instead of motherly empathy, I got a slight smirk and a retort: "But it's always the same thing."

J. Gordon Holt Posted: Jun 16, 2015 Published: Aug 01, 1975 6 comments
The summer of 1975 will be remembered by us, with no fondness whatsoever, as The Time the Roof Fell In. Or the Murphy Months, or the Period of the Plague Upon Our House.

Ye Editor can recall from the days of WWII hearing and reading about the depredations of some mischievous sprites called Gremlins, who would cause aircraft hatchcovers to jam and control cables to get hung up at the worst possible moment, but I don't think I ever really did believe in Gremlins. I think I sensed somehow that the mishaps attributed to their malevolent machinations were too capricious to be the work of thinking, calculating little spirits. But I was not clever enough to put my finger on what was going on. That had to wait for a gentleman named something-or-other Murphy, who was (to my knowledge) the first person to put a tag on it, and to formulate a basic law about it. The tag was "the perversity of inanimate objects," and the law was "If anything can possibly go wrong, it will."

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Jack Hannold Posted: Jun 09, 2015 Published: Mar 01, 1977 0 comments
Editor's Note: We are reprinting this 38 year-old "As We See It" essay because if you substitute the words "WiFi" and "cellphone" for "Citizen's Band" and "CB Radio," you will realize that not much has changed in the decades since, with our audio systems still awash in a bath of RFI.—John Atkinson

Although Citizen's Band radio may hold little interest for perfectionist audiophiles, there is a good chance that it may intrude upon our activities in some disastrous ways if we, and the audio industry in general, sit back and ignore what has been going on behind the scenes in Washington, DC.

J. Gordon Holt Posted: May 28, 2015 Published: Aug 01, 1976 3 comments
Editor's Note: In Stereophile's second decade of publication, things were starting to unravel, with long gaps between each issue. There were just seven issues published between January 1974 and January 1978. The late Harry Pearson has gone on record that he founded The Absolute Sound in 1973 part because he was tired of waiting for the next issue of Stereophile to reach his mailbox. In this "As We See It" essay from the "Surface Noise" issue in August 1976, founder J. Gordon Holt owns up to it appearing 8 months late!
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John Marks Posted: May 21, 2015 5 comments
The day before I began writing this, John Atkinson posted on Stereophile's website a chart from Nielsen Soundscan showing the ski-jump–like path CD sales have been on since 2004. In 2004, total sales were 651 million units; in 2014, 141 million units. All that is lacking from that impactful visual to make the ski-jump analogy perfect is the little uptick at the end to launch the skier into free air. Those numbers look to me like a total decline in sales of 78%. Ouch.
J. Gordon Holt Posted: May 14, 2015 Published: Sep 01, 1975 5 comments
While we will not pretend for a moment that the millennium of high fidelity has arrived, we are finally having to face up to a fact that has been staring us in the face and nudging us in the ribs increasingly rudely of late: The state of the art of sound reproduction has gotten to be pretty damned sophisticated. Perfection is just as unattainable as it was almost 100 years ago when Thomas Edison was diddling with different diaphragm materials on his phonograph because some sounded better than others.
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John Atkinson Posted: Apr 15, 2015 Published: May 01, 2015 109 comments
I write this in a Seattle coffee bar—my flight home to New York has been canceled due to a snowstorm. As I try to put down these thoughts, I'm listening to the high-resolution masters of the April issue's "Recording of the Month," Sasha Matson's jazz opera Cooperstown, on my Pono player using Ultimate Ears UE18 in-ear monitors. I was in Seattle for Music Matters 10, held by retailer Definitive Audio, and this was my first road trip with the Pono since I reviewed it for the April issue. (Bruce Botnick and Charles Hansen comment on that review elsewhere in this issue.)
J. Gordon Holt Posted: Apr 10, 2015 Published: Dec 01, 1977 1 comments
Many years ago, the now-defunct Life magazine ran a feature article about science and its sacred cows, in which a cartoon showed a huge inverted pyramid-shaped structure of great complexity, tapering downward to a single support at its base: a toothpick. The toothpick was labeled "basic premise," the inverted pyramid was the entire body of scientific knowledge.

Everything we do or think or know is based upon assumptions, some of which are rather more justified than others. When we set the alarm clock, we assume there will be a tomorrow. When we reach for the car's brake pedal without glancing at it, we assume it will be where it was yesterday, and that it will stop the car. When we scorn a phono cartridge because it is too bright, we assume the brightness is in the cartridge, not in the rest of our system. We have to trust our toothpicks or live in a world totally devoid of security—a world where 2+2 can equal anything from 3 to 11, all the laws change unannounced every few days, and Greenwich Mean Time is determined by a roulette wheel.

J. Gordon Holt Posted: Apr 02, 2015 Published: Oct 01, 1978 2 comments
Despite the myriads of technological breakthroughs announced month after month with tedious regularity by manufacturers of pickups, amplifiers and loudspeakers, there are only five developments in the 101-year history of audio reproduction (footnote 1) that we would call truly revolutionary. We will doubtless offend many by stating that Edison's phonograph was not one of them. It was the starting point, it was not a turning point. Emile Berliner's disc was revolutionary, in that it changed the whole format of sound reproduction, and made possible true mass production of recordings (footnote 2).
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Steve Guttenberg Posted: Mar 16, 2015 Published: Apr 01, 2015 61 comments
I've known a lot of folks with impressive LP and CD collections who were perfectly content with the sound of the crappiest of hi-fis. This diverse group has included recording engineers, musicians, and owners of record stores. Loving music isn't the same thing as caring about the sound of music, and maybe, in some alternate universe, those folks would-have-been, could-have-been audiophiles. But in this universe, they didn't, and I'm not sure why.
J. Gordon Holt Posted: Mar 10, 2015 Published: Apr 01, 1980 2 comments
Editor's Note: We are republishing this report from the 1980 CES both because many of the themes strike resonances 35 years later, and because it emphasizes the hard time high-end audio was having at the end of the 1970s. The LP had been eclipsed by the cassette and 8-track cartridge as the primary massmarket media for recorded music and the decade-long hi-fi boom that had been fueled by the entry of Japanese brands was running out of steam. Ironically, it was the launch of Compact Disc three years later that was to reinvigorate the audio business.John Atkinson

The 1980 Winter CES, held in Las Vegas in January 1980, came on the heels of the worst business year the audio field has seen in almost a decade. So-called high-end audio, in particular, had distressing sales declines during the last year of the 1970s, with some dealers (who had not yet gone out of business) predicting that their books for 1979 would probably show as much as a 30% loss in sales from the previous year. Dealer turnout in the Las Vegas Jockey Club, where most of the high-end manufacturers were showing their wares, was nonetheless surprisingly good, although makers of the highest-priced exotica were not as ecstatic about the turnout as were those exhibiting more-affordable gear. One high-end entrepreneur was heard to say (to one of his associates), "It doesn't look any better for this year than last."

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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Feb 24, 2015 Published: Mar 01, 2015 31 comments
To put it mildly, Jack Vad (second row in photo, orange shirt) was dismayed. The Grammy Award–winning media producer and chief engineer for the San Francisco Symphony had just returned from the 2014 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, and was trying to make sense of his experiences there. When he'd carried his latest recordings, which I think are superbly recorded, into rooms at the show and asked if he could play them, exhibitors were anything but enthusiastic.
J. Gordon Holt Posted: Feb 24, 2015 Published: Aug 01, 1980 0 comments
Recently, we've been asking a representative sample of Stereophile subscribers for suggestions as to how the magazine could be improved. We got 'em, in droves. And the one thing that led every list of suggestions we received was: "Publish more often!" Second in importance was: "Do more reports on affordable components, and let's have more suggestions for cheap ways of improving existing systems."
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Robert Schryer Posted: Jan 28, 2015 Published: Feb 01, 2015 5 comments
Audiophilia nervosa. It's a running gag with a mean streak. As audiophiles, we know its effects intimately. We know how it can turn what was once a source of pleasure and pride—listening to good music over a good sound system—into an irritating itch that can't be scratched.

The UrbanDictionary.com defines audiophilia nervosa (AN) as "the anxiety resulting from the never-ending quest to obtain the ultimate performance from one's stereo system by means of employing state-of-the-art components, cables, and the use of certain 'tweaks.' Although the goal is supposedly to achieve maximum appreciation of the music, those afflicted with this condition are merely obsessed with their electronics."

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Steve Guttenberg Posted: Dec 22, 2014 Published: Jan 01, 2015 12 comments
We all have secrets, and it's about time I came clean with one of mine: I enjoy recorded music more than concerts.

I know, that's a sacrilege—as a lifelong music lover, I'm supposed to relish the live event, with all of the energy and connection between musicians and audience that can happen only when they're all breathing the same air. That may be true for you, but not for me. I've harbored the guilt for years: When I take the plunge and attend a concert, I rarely enjoy the experience enough to justify the effort and expense.

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