As easy as it is to communicate electronically, some things are still better done in person. At too-infrequent intervals, I visit Stereophile's writers, listen to their systems, and basically get them to show'n'tell the components they're reviewing. In this way, if they describe what I'm hearing, I have the confidence to publish their review, even if its findings run counter to accepted wisdom.
As in any community bound tightly together by shared enthusiasms, the High End is regularly swept by tides of fashion. Some of the fads prove to be based on something of value, and outlast the initial burst: loudspeaker spikes and Tiptoes, for example, or the resurgence of tube designs, or making use of high-quality passive components. Other fads, particularly if not based on good engineering, fall by the wayside. (Does anyone still use a Tice Clock in their system? Or suspend their cables and interconnects on little acrylic bridges?)
Conventional wisdom has it that the perfect sculpture is present, but hidden within the raw material. And the same conventional wisdom similarly applies to magazine editing: all it needs is careful chipping away at the extraneous material in the raw text files we receive from our authors—sometimes the barest degree of reshaping, repointing, and restructuring—and you have a finished product that both maximally communicates the writer's message and makes the anonymous artisan-editor proud of a job well done.
I was once in a sushi bar in Osaka; sitting next to me was a live abalone, stoically awaiting its fate. It stuck its siphon out of its shell, the waiter tapped the tip with a spoon, the siphon withdrew. Again the siphon appeared, again the waiter tapped it with a spoon, again it withdrew.
In this month's "Letters," Donald Bisbee raises the subject of the government's proposed reduction in funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), I agree with Mr. Bisbee that commercial radio broadcasting in the US is an intellectual desert. Music is narrowcast, with listeners' tastes bound into predigested categories. There is no depth or analysis to radio news programs, other than discussions by populist commentators who, no matter what you may think of their politics, usurp the ability of their audiences to think for themselves. As a regular listener to NPR and watcher of PBS, I feel that public broadcasting is an essential factor in American public discourse (footnote 1), but not for the reasons some might think.
In common with the mood of our times, there seems to be an increasing amount of bad temper in the High End. There are more people around who, in Jonathan Scull's timeless phrase, have a "level of audiophile rage very close to the surface." Witness, for example, the "cancel my subscription" letter from Professor Daniel H. Wiegand in this issue: he obviously feels a line has been crossed.
"All great editors are men able to see how stories, episodes, and personalities flow and merge one into the other to reproduce the pattern of a world that only their own inner eye perceives.—Henry Robinson Luce, Founder, Time and Life magazines
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.