In 1960 the high-fidelity field was in a period of stasis. The hi-fi boom was starting to crest out, and there were three magazines for audiophiles: High Fidelity, Stereo Review and Audio. The first two were (and still are) little more than vehicles for their advertising, more dedicated to promoting their advertisers' wares than in advancing the state of the art. Audio was more into equipment testing than either of the mass-hi-fi magazines, but it too was contributing to the stagnation by listening to its test results rather than to the components.
Hey, kids, here's the Big News. We've been deluding ourselves all along, worrying about piddling little bits of distortion that we can't hear at all. How's your preamp distortion? 1% at 1 volt out? You have a perfect preamp—a veritable straight wire with gain! That ear-shattering shrillness is all in your mind, because it has now been demonstrated that the human ear cannot perceive distortion levels of less than 6–12% on "normally complex music." If you think you can hear 0.1%, you are deluding yourself.
"As We See It" in the Stereophile issue dated Summer 1968 (actually published in 1970) noted the idealistic, glowing claims about how four-channel sound could put you right in the concert hail, but urged readers to wait before buying, to see whether quadrisound would indeed bring higher fidelity. We predicted it wouldn't—that whatever the potential of quadrisound (footnote 1), it would not be used to increase fidelity, but rather to play ring-around-the-rosy with music.
Editor's Introduction:In 1963, Stereophile's founder J. Gordon Holt published attacks on what he saw as the single largest step backward in high-fidelity sound reproduction at that time: RCA's introduction of "Dynagroove" LP records, where the recorded signal was pre-distorted and dynamically equalized to compensate for the poor performance of cheap phonograph players. "Issue 5...revealed most of RCA Victor's 'revolutionary' new system as nothing more than a sophisticated way of bringing higher fi to record buyers who don't care enough about hi-fi to invest in a decent playback system." Ten years later, Gordon wrote that, "As of 1974, the best we can say for Dynagroove is that there is no audible evidence of it on current RCA releases." (These articles were reprinted in June 1992, Vol.15 No,6, as part of Stereophile's 30th-anniversary celebrations.)—John Atkinson
We're not really sure who coined the term—it is usually attributed to Alistair Cooke, former host of the "Omnibus" TV program—but "audible wallpaper" is an apt term for something that is of more than passing concern for the serious music listener.