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.
I may have had 4000 LPs and a perfectly wonderful Linn LP12 turntable, but I could go for weeks on end without listening to a single LP. But I still thought of myself as one of the vinyl faithful, even as I rationalized my digital-centric listening tendencies. I loved analog in theoryI just couldn't bring myself to listen to it all that much.
Now that Sony has bought CBS's records division, and the infamous Copycode bill seems to be dying in Congress, the way may be clearing at last for the US introduction of the new Digital Audio Tape system. This has sparked renewed speculation in the industry about the impact DAT will have on existing formats, particularly the fledgling CD. Some are convinced DAT will kill CD, because of its ability to record as well as play digital recordings. Others believe DAT won't even gain a foothold in the market, for the same reason quadraphonic sound laid an egg back in the '70s: The public can't handle more than one "standard" format. I feel that both views are wrong, and thatas is usually the case with extreme viewsthe truth lies in between. I believe DAT will catch on in the marketplace, but never in a big way, and certainly not the way CD has. Here's why.
During my recent interview with the Sheffield Lab people in connection with their Moscow recording sessions (Vol.10 No.3), both Lincoln Mayorga and Doug Sax had some unkind things to say about the cost of recording an orchestra in the US. Their complaints are justified. It costs more to record in the US than anywhere else in the world, and these astronomical costs are detrimental both to symphonic music in the US and to the audiophile's pursuit of sonic perfection.
Everyone knows music is a good thing. More than merely good, it appears to meet some kind of human need, because every race in every land has a musical tradition going back to before recorded or recounted history. Some of their music may not seem like music to our unsophisticated ears, but as soon as someone discovered that two sticks of different sizes produced different pitches when struck on a venerated ancestor's skull, he advanced beyond mere rhythm to what must be considered music. (Two sticks would, presumably, play binary music: the first precursor of digital sound.) In fact, were there no music at all today, humankind would probably find it necessary to invent it on the spot, along with a mythology relating how it was created on the eighth day, after ingrown toenails.
Back in the last century, I mused in this space about the essential difference between recorded sound and the real thing. I had been walking to dinner with friends when I heard the unmistakable sound of live music coming from a window. But here was the kicker: rather than the instruments being of the audiophile-approved acoustic variety, they were two amplified electric guitars. Their sounds were being reproduced by loudspeakers, yet it was unambiguously obvious that it was not a recording being played through those loudspeakers, but real instruments.
Until recently, I have considered LaserVision video discs as a rather dubious medium for serious music reproduction. The only review I had read about it by a critical listener (Harry Pearson in The Absolute Sound) was I singularly unenthusiastic, and since I had not heard one myself, I was inclined to take his word for it.
I'm fortunate to own some very nice hi-fi gear: Different turntables, tonearms, and pickups for different records. Two pairs of really superb full-range loudspeakers. A choice of mildly exotic amplifiersmy favorite combination of which (a stereo preamplifier and a pair of monoblock power amps) sells for a little over $21,000. The average American consumer would think that's insane.
Although inclined to mood swings bordering on the manic-depressive, I am generally a very patient, tolerant person, willing to accept and overlook the foibles of those less perfect than myself. But even my incredible equanimity has its limits, beyond which the milk of my human kindness curdles, becoming as lumpy as last month's yogurt.
Now that Stereophile's reporting on the 1985 Summer Consumer Electronics Show has ended (I hope!), I would like to express strong dissent with its style and content. In fact, I believe that most of it should never have appeared in print.
When it comes to video, most audiophiles are insufferable snobs. These normally reasonable people, who are among the first to admit that great sound in a motion picture theater makes a great film much more enjoyable, nonetheless. scoff at the very idea of augmenting their own sound with images, or of trying to create the kind of audio-visual experience in their home that they routinely enjoy at the cinema. Doing that involves video, which they equate with TV, which they equate with LCD (footnote 1) dross. This is unfortunate, because visuals can enhance good sound, and good sound can do wonders for non-TV video programs like Hollywood motion pictures.
Stereophile is happy to start off another year, only one issue behind our published schedule. For most magazine subscribers, this would seem a confession of weakness; underground aficionados will, however, know what I'm talking about. We did in fact publish eight issues last year, but the first one happened to be Volume 6, Number 6 (the last issue in that volume), so that puts us still one behind. Ambitiously, I predict we'll get out nine (count them, 9) issues in 1985 and catch up with our schedule.
Though the January 2010 issue of Stereophile will be hitting newsstands before the holidays, this is nominally the last issue of 2009. But already in October, on my return flight from Denver to New York following this year's Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, it struck me that 2009 had not been a good year for the world of high-end audio. Yes, the worldwide recession has bit deep into the economic health of audio manufacturers and retailers, but in the past 12 months too many of those who have helped make our hobby great, and have helped promote our shared passion for listening to music with as high a quality as possible, have breathed their last.