A very popular myth among the audio unwashedand one still perpetuated by the pop hi-fi writersis that nothing is to be gained by paying more than $1000 for a stereo system (footnote 1). Members of the general public, including masses of people who enjoy live, unamplified music, have the impression that more money simply buys one wider and wider frequency range, and defend their $500 "compact" systems with the lame excuse that their ears aren't all that good, and who needs to hear what bats hear anyway? This is no doubt a soothing emollient for one's disinclination to invest more money in audio gear, but it is a supreme self-deception.
"Reviewed in the box!" is what Stereophile's founder, the late J. Gordon Holt, used to call it. You might think you're reading a review, but the realization slowly dawns that there's nothing in the text that could not have been gleaned from the manufacturer's brochure, nothing to indicate that the writer had even opened the box the product came in. When I read a review in another publication or online, I judge it by doing what I recommend Stereophile's readers do when they read this magazine: I look for the nugget I didn't already know, the facet I wasn't expecting, the concluding jewel I couldn't have predicted without ever having tried the component myself. Sadly, all too often too many of what are promoted as "reviews" on the Web are merely descriptions.
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.
In an e-mail exchange with Stephen Mejias about why the mere mention of cassette decks on www.stereophile.com can so easily inflame our readers (and John Atkinson), I began to develop the idea that the brains of audiophiles and music lovers are governed by three complementary needs, or desires, that define who we are. I joked to SM that these desires, which apparently shift over time, constitute the Holy Trinity of Audiophiledom. They are, respectively, the love, desire, and need for:
The American computer industry was a little shaken up to learn recently that the Japanese micro manufacturers had gotten together and standardized their component interconnections so that any Japanese computer will (supposedly) plug into any Japanese printer, modem, or competing computer, and work right off the bat. Anybody who has tried to fire up an Apple computer with a Diablo (Xerox) printer will appreciate what the Japanese move means in terms of compatibility. It means "For no-hassle interconnections, buy Japanese."
Now that audio technology seems to be on the verge of being able to do anything asked of it, it seems only fitting to wonder about what we should be asking it to do. We probably all agree that high fidelity should yield a felicitous reproduction of music, but felicitous to what? Should a system give an accurate replica of what is on the disc, or of the original musical sounds?
There was a time, very recently in terms of human history, when high fidelity promised to free the music lover from the constraints of the concert hall and the local repertoire, allowing him to choose at his whim any orchestra in the world playing any work he desired under the baton of any conductor he preferred. "All the pleasure of concert-hall listening, in the comfort of your home," was the way one display advertisement painted this musical utopia which, only 20 years ago, seemed right around the corner.
As another Consumer Electronics Show rolls around, we are seeing some interesting and not-entirely encouraging things taking place in the audio field. The people for whom high fidelity was originally intendedso-called serious music listeners have abandoned audio almost completely, leaving the pursuit of perfect music reproduction to a group of hobbyists who have more interest in hardware than in music. This, plus the recession, has almost killed middle-fi, which is now flailing out in all directions looking for a new market. Here's how it all came to pass:
A world-renowned musician had scheduled an appearance as guest soloist with the string quartet in residence at a certain university. When he arrived he noticed a pair of microphones arrayed over the small stage and, following the wires, located a college student backstage next to a tape recorder and a pair of headphones.
Not too many years ago, high-fidelity movement was being hailed from all quarters (and many halves) as a revolution. In the sense that it took the country storm, and made billions of dollars for many entrepreneurs during heyday, it was indeed a revolution. But now the public has grown tired of high fidelity and is turning other electronic diversionsvideo, video games, and computering. And what, as of this summer of 1982, do we have to show for the high-fidelity revolution?
I was visiting a high-end audio manufacturer several years back, and as the chief engineer and I talked about speaker design, the company's president popped her head around the door and told him that she was sending MacroVision their annual five-figure check.
I always enjoy CES. Like the Big Apple, or the City of Angels, the Consumer Elecronics Show is stimulatingly frenetic and enjoyably fatiguingthings that would soon put me in the funny farm if I lived with them year 'round, but can easily cope with twice a year. In fact, attending CES is rather like visiting the city of my birth, a place whose culture is one with my own because I grew up there, and where half the pleasure lies in seeing once again those audio peoplethe Allisons, Marantzes, Frieds, Beveridges, Haflers, and Tuckerswhose durability as friends always reminds me of how rapidly time passes and how little of it we may have left.
A persistent complaint from some of our readers concerns our seeming preoccupation with exotic components. (Presumably what they mean are scarce, unusual, or hard-to-find components, because "exotic" really means "from a foreign country," and there is sure as hell nothing hard-to-find about a Panasonic receiver.) "Why," you ask, "do you devote so much space to reports on components we can't buy from our local audio discounter? Why can't we have more reports about products from the old, established, reliable companies like KLH, Harman/Kardon, Electro-Voice and Sansui, whose stuff we can listen to at a local dealer before we commit our hard-earned dollars to a purchase?" One subscriber even cancelled his subscription because of this, claiming that the unavailability of the products we review makes our reports "irrelevant." Well, he had a point, but not a very good one.