The announcement in October 1995 of the Digital Versatile Disc (DVD) set the hearts of audiophiles and music lovers pounding. Although primarily a digital video and computer-data storage format, DVD's massive capacity could be applied to a "super CD" audio-only disc. Finally we would be liberated from the musical limitations of the CD's 16-bit word length, 44.1kHz sampling rate, and two-channel format. We were tantalized by reports of 96kHz sampling rate, 24-bit word length, and multichannel playback. Digital redemption appeared to be just around the corner.
It was 45 years ago this month that the first issue of Stereophile, just 20 pages in length, went in the mail. It had been founded by one J. Gordon Holt. Gordon had been technical editor of High Fidelity magazine in the 1950s, and was tired of being asked to pander to the demands of advertisers. "I watched, first with incredulity and then with growing disgust, how the purchase of a year's advertising contract could virtually insure a manufacturer against publication of an unfavorable report," he said in a 1974 article looking back at those dark times. And if a company didn't buy advertising, they didn't get reviewed at all. The Stereophile, as it was then called, was Gordon's answer to audiophiles' need for an honest, reliable source of information. "Okay, if no one else will publish a magazine that calls the shots as it sees them, I'll do it myself," he later wrote.
The following was submitted as a letter to J. Gordon Holt, in response to his Editorial "Digital Revenge," in issue #53 (August 1982, Vol.5 No.6). We are publishing it as a guest editorial, because the writer is one of the few audio people whose judgement we respect who disagrees with us about digital's merits. The feeling, it would seem, is mutual.—Ed.
Many audiophiles will look back on the summer of 1982 as the year the creeping cruds invaded their hallowed halls of hi-fi. In the Conrad Hilton hotel, where most of the high-end contingent gathered at the June 1982 Consumer Electronics Show, one exhibitor was featuring a videodisc presentation with wide-range audio and insisting that this was the way of the future. And at least three others had managed to smuggle in digital tape recorders (all Sony PCM-F1s), and were giving many CES visitors their first taste of real, unadulterated, digital reproduction.
In recent months, Stereophile's "Letters" column has been filled with complaints about the equipment we choose to review. "Too rich for my pocketbook" is the universal sentiment. This puzzles me, considering that Stereophile does review many "affordable" components. In part, I think this reaction is due to the high profile invariably associated with very expensive gear. Although we did put both speakers on our cover, one review of a Wilson Grand SLAMM or a JMlab Grand Utopia seems to outweigh 10 reviews of more realistically priced products. Our writers love to cover the cutting edge of audio—witness Martin Colloms's report from HI-FI '96 in this issue—because progress is more easily made when a designer is freed from budget constraints. But without the Grand SLAMM or Utopia, would Wilson have been able to produce the $9000/pair WITT, or JMlab the $900/pair Micron Carat, to name two high-value, high-performance designs recently reviewed in the magazine?
As Stereophile's Equipment Reports Editor, I get a lot of calls from readers asking how we choose the gear we review, and from manufacturers asking how to get their products reviewed. So I told JA to take the month off from writing this column so that I could talk about Stereophile's Equipment Reports section.
"If the midrange isn't right, nothing else matters." StereophilefounderJ. Gordon Holt's decades-old observation of the musical importance of the midrange has become a truism cast in stone. Gordon's other famous observation, "The better the sound, the worse the measurements," was made only partially in jest.
"Why didn't they choose a color set?" I had been reminiscing about the early days of TV and how my parents bought a black-and-white set so we could watch the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. My daughter Emily's question had me stumped. It is difficult to explain to someone born 10 years after the launch of CD—someone who, for example, has never seen, let alone used, a typewriter, and who enjoys a comparatively infinite set of choices among mature 21st-century technologies—that it was not always thus.
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.
Back on April 13, Stereophile assistant editor Stephen Mejias posted the following thought on his "Elements of Our Enthusiasm" blog: "Is it possible to listen to music and listen to the hi-fi? Or are they two entirely different activities, incomparable and incompatible? Right now, for me, they seem to have nothing in common, whatsoever."