Perhaps it's the air in San Francisco, or more likely the fact that exhibitors and attendees were equally upbeat, but I came back from Home Entertainment 2003, held at the grand old Westin-St. Francis Hotel days before I write this month's column, jazzed. I was one of 15,123 consumer, international press, and trade attendees, according to the official stats, and we were treated to more than 100 exhibit rooms showing and demonstrating 225 brands of audio and home-theater gear. Stereophile's full report on what we saw and heard at the Show will appear in our September and October issues, while our web coverage can be found starting here(footnote 1).
At the 2003 Consumer Electronics Show in January—see the report in this issue—Sony and Philips held an SACD Event at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas. There were trippy lights. There were the Grand Pooh-Bahs of Sony, Philips, and the record labels. There was loud multichannel Big Brother and the Holding Company. And there was Sony's main SACD man in the US, David Kawakami, supplying the pep talk.
There's a widespread myth that writers who get published are more talented than writers who don't get published, and that musicians who make records are more talented than musicians who don't make records. But anyone with any talent who has ever tried to earn a living as a writer, a musician, or any other kind of artist understands that the correlation between merit and success is, at best, loose. Some successful artists are talented, and some talented artists are successful. But for every talented artist who manages to make a living there are a dozen more, equally deserving, who have no choice but to keep their day jobs.
"What? What??? No Smiths?" asks reader Steven J. Wilder in this issue's "Letters" (p.9), regarding my interjection in the "Honorable Mentions" sidebar of last November's "40 Essential Albums." Hey, I think The Smiths suck—okay, Mr. Wilder? Morrissey's self-absorbed adolescent whining had no place on a list that included music from such grownups as Morrison, Mitchell, and Mingus. I'm not alone in this sentiment. Jon Iverson, www.stereophile.com's webmaster, almost stapled together the pages of Mojo magazine's April 2001 retrospective of Morrissey's and Marr's music so he could skip over it without running the risk of the veins on his forehead exploding.
Surfing the Usenet newsgroups and the Web audio forums recently, it struck me that the old wisdom is correct: If you keep your mouth shut, you won't say anything with which anyone can disagree. A topic that seems to be of perennial interest is how Stereophile chooses the products it reviews. Yet the more I have explained how it's done, the greater the criticism that is heaped on the magazine.
"Suicide junctions," I calls 'em. The ones with which I'm most familiar are on I-278, just north of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge in Brooklyn, New York, and along North Mopac in Austin, Texas, but they must exist all over the US. Traffic about to enter the freeway must first cross the line of faster-traveling offcoming cars, the intersection's on- and off-ramps crossing in a shallow X.
"The monthly miracle," it's called in publishing: that magical moment when the new issue of your magazine arrives in the mailbox hot from the printer. And with this issue of Stereophile—No.274, or Vol.25 No.11—we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the start of our "miracle." With the 20 pages of Issue No.1, Vol.1 No.1, cover-dated September-October 1962, "Ye Editor & Publisher" J. Gordon Holt introduced both a new audio magazine and the philosophy that an audio product is best reviewed by doing exactly what its purchasers will do: listen to it. On that small rock of an idea was founded not only Stereophile but the entire high-end audio industry. Here, reprinted from a 1974 anthology of the first 12 issues, is J. Gordon Holt's description of the events that led up to the founding of Stereophile:
"My god. This was better than any hi-fi I had ever experienced—I actually had Sergei Rachmaninoff in the room, playing Mendelssohn just for me. I am not ashamed to say that I wept." I wrote those words in the January 2001 Stereophile, about hearing a piano-roll transcription of Rachmaninoff performing Mendelssohn's Spinning Song (Op.67 No.34) on a Bösendorfer Imperial 290SE reproducing piano. I was in the middle of recording Robert Silverman's cycle of Beethoven piano sonatas at the Maestro Foundation in Santa Monica, where there just happened to be a floppy disk with Wayne Stahnke's transcription of the Rachmaninoff for the Bösendorfer mechanism, which Stahnke invented.
Although I was trying to earn a living playing in rock bands in the early 1970s, I occasionally used to drag my Fender bass over to a school canteen in the next town for an after-hours session with what used to be called a "rehearsal band." (I have no idea what the derivation of that name is, except that, with the exception of a couple of veterans of the Ted Heath Orchestra, we were certainly in need of all the rehearsal we could get.) I would set up my Marshall stack the other side of the drummer from the pianist and sit behind a set of trumpet players, a brace of trombonists, and a scrum of players of the common saxophone flavors—a couple of altos, three or four tenors, and a baritone wielded by a gentleman with the magnificent moniker of Albert Bags. We played Glenn Miller and Woody Herman charts, and, on one memorable night, a Stan Kenton arrangement. Our technical chops didn't match our musical ambitions, but the feeling that welled up inside us when we all reached the final measure at the same time couldn't be beat.