40 Years of Stereophile: What Happened When Page 5
Circulation drops slightly, to 78,000—just as well, given the burden of paper costs: the largest issues are January, April, and October, at 356 pages each. But in our last year as a digest we publish a record 2013 pages of editorial out of a total of 3456 pages.
The December issue features the CAT preamplifier, 1993's "Product of the Year," in a cover photo taken by Eric Swanson, who goes on to photograph almost every product featured on a Stereophile cover through to the current day.
1994: Not only does the January issue see the debut of our "Recording of the Month" feature, it also introduces our new size—at 10" by 7", the same size as the Chinese Stereophile, which proves to be efficient to print in terms of wasted paper—and a new cover price of $6.95. Reader reaction ranges from positive to very negative, but partly as a result of the better exposure we now receive on newsstands, and perhaps because we offer subscriptions for $19.95, we significantly overshoot our circulation target to end up with a total of 92,000 readers by year's end.
Preparing for the change in size, we get headaches trying to predict how much it will cost to print the new book, and how many pages we can therefore devote to editorial. Each new page is 60% larger than one of the old digest-size ones, and while the opportunity for improved design and an easier-to-read typeface will use up some of the extra real estate, we can publish the same amount of editorial material in a third fewer pages. We decide to go for the 50:50 ratio of advertising to editorial that persists to this day. The upside is that when the advertising market is healthy, the issues can contain enormous numbers of reviews and articles; the flipside is that when the audio industry slides into one of its cyclical recessions, Stereophile's page count can shrink dramatically.
In other news, Wes Phillips and Russ Novak join the reviewing team, and we release Robert Silverman's two-CD Concert set, recorded, as its name suggests, live in concert. (Other than at hi-fi shows, this was the magazine's first and last venture into concert promotion.) HI-FI '94 takes place in the idyllic surroundings of Miami's Doral Resort, and we publish 1430 editorial pages out of a total of 2896. Most significant, December witnesses the launch of Stereophile Guide to Home Theater, at first an annual, then a quarterly, and finally published 10 times a year from January 1998 on.
1995-1997: As we settle into our new size and fine-tune the magazine's design, the high-end audio business booms, fueled by Asian sales, resulting in enormous issue sizes. We average 276 pages per issue in 1995 and 288 pages in 1996, and although we drop back to 252 pages in 1997, due to the collapse of the Far Eastern market for high-end audio gear, the demand for articles and reviews subjects the staff to major stress. Richard Lehnert decides to resign as music editor in 1996, reducing his responsibilities to those of copy editor. Robert Baird, formerly editor of CD Review, takes RL's place in September of that year, and remains music editor to this day, contributing his "Aural Robert" column to each issue.
With Tom Norton taking on much of the responsibility for the content of the Guide, Wes Phillips moves from Brooklyn to Santa Fe to join the full-time staff and take over the administration of the equipment reports, as well as write as many reviews as he can manage.
The magazine purchases a Nagra-D digital recorder for its recording projects, and in July 1995, at the urging of Stereophile's new assistant publisher, Gretchen Grogan, JA begins a four-year relationship with the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, recording a selection of their summer concerts for the Stereophile label. In 1996 we release Robert Silverman turning in a heroic performance of Franz Liszt's grand B-minor piano sonata, first on CD, then on an LP mastered by Stan Ricker directly from the 20-bit digital master. In '97, with Hyperion Knight, we commission a new orchestration of Rhapsody in Blue to celebrate Gershwin's forthcoming centenary. Magnificently performed and conducted on a Stereophile CD by Hyperion, this is both JA's first high-sample-rate digital recording of an orchestra and his first surround-sound recording.
We return to Los Angeles for HI-FI '95, which climaxes with a fine concert by Taj Mahal, but the 1996 show recognizes both the prosperity and the new maturity of the High End by being held at our most prestigious venue yet: Manhattan's Waldorf=Astoria Hotel. For the '97 Show we choose a similarly grand San Francisco hotel, the St. Francis, to which we will return in 2003.
Corey Greenberg, Mark Fisher, Russ Novak, Robert Harley, Dick Olsher, Don Scott, Guy Lemcoe, Lewis Lipnick, and Jack English all leave the magazine, and Peter W. Mitchell passes away, but Muse Kastanovich, Kalman Rubinson, Lonnie Brownell, Shannon Dickson, and Bob Reina join. Rick Rosen starts "Rick Visits...," his fascinating peek into musicians' secret lives as audiophiles, and George Reisch offers "Undercurrents," a bimonthly examination of audio's philosophical underpinnings. Most important, Michael Fremer joins us after a lengthy apprenticeship at The Abso!ute Sound to contribute "Analog Corner" and component reviews, and Lisa Astor begins to examine the pathological behavior of "her audiophile" in her bimonthly column, "Astor Place." In addition, Paul Miller becomes our "Test & Measurement Consultant" in 1997, to help JA develop new strategies for assessing product performance. (The first fruit of the measurement program initiated in 1989 was a paper on what loudspeaker measurements mean, presented by JA to the Audio Engineering Society at its September '97 convention in New York and reprinted in expanded form in the magazine.)
The Schwann guides are sold to Valley Media. Stereophile's circulation stabilizes at just above 80,000 by the end of 1995, where it has remained ever since. This is its natural level, as predicted by JA when he joined the magazine a decade earlier.