Academic? Page 2
Compared with the effective manner in which recipients of the 1988 awards had been nominated and selected, the 1991 procedure definitely needs some fine-tuning before the 1993 event. The original number of categories was too large, the criteria for nomination too vague. Apparently no individual garnered enough votes to be nominated. A second round of nominations, with fewer categories and a suggestion that the judges consider the contributions of individuals during the last five years, gave a suitable result: once the judges had burned up the fax lines with their suggestions, they were tallied by an independent CPA who placed into nomination those names that garnered enough votes. Every Academy member was then sent the list of nominations and a ballot form; their votes were again tallied by the CPA to ensure an honest outcome. (The awards themselves are plaques designed by The Absolute Sound's long-serving cover artist Robbii Wesson.)
So who was nominated and who won? Following an appearance by violinist Arturo Delmoni, who had to compete with unfavorable acoustics and airconditioning noise to turn in superb performances of the Bach D-Minor Chaconne and Fritz Kreisler's Op.6 Recitativo and Scherzo, MC Ken Kessler (a poacher temporarily acting as gamekeeper) introduced the various governors and committee members of AAHEA to present the awards.
Analog Playback: The nominees were John Bicht (Versa Dynamics), A.J. Conti (Basis), Bill Firebaugh (Well-Tempered), Bob Graham, Pierre Lurné, and Touraj Moghaddam (Roksan), with John Bicht getting the award. As John couldn't attend the dinner, his award was accepted by George Cardas.
Digital Playback: Nominated by the judges were Keith Johnson (Spectral), Mike Moffat (Theta Digital), Don Wadia Moses (Wadia), and Bob Stuart (Meridian), with Mike Moffat getting the most votes. In Mike's absence, the award was accepted by Theta's Ed Dietermeyer.
Recordings: The Chesky brothers, Dorian, Reference Recordings' Keith Johnson, Wilson Audio Specialties, and Sheffield Lab were all nominated; Norman and David Chesky received the award for their work with reissues.
Cables and Accessories: The nominees were Bruce Brisson (MIT), George Cardas, Bill Low (AudioQuest), Ray Kimber, David Saltz (Straight Wire), and The Mod Squad's Steve McCormack, the result being a tie between Bruce Brisson and George Cardas.
Electronics: Dan D'Agostino (Krell), Mark Levinson and Tom Colangelo (Cello), William Z. Johnson (Audio Research), David Manley (VTL), Nelson Pass (Threshold), David Reich and Glen Grue (Classé), Michael Sanders (Quicksilver), and Jeff Rowland were all nominated, but it was Dan D'Agostino who ended up with the award.
Loudspeakers: There were a record nine nominees for the loudspeakers award: John Bau (Spica), Charles Hansen (Avalon), Gayle Sanders (MartinLogan), Jim Winey (Magnepan), Jason Bloom and Leo Spiegel (Apogee), Jim Thiel, Richard Vandersteen, David Wilson, and Arnie Nudell (now Genesis Technologies, but until late 1989 one of the main men at Infinity). And it was Arnie Nudell who got the most votes and the award. As Arnie wasn't able to attend the dinner, Classé's Glen Grue accepted the award on his behalf.
Aesthetic Design: I felt this to be an important category, given that many people associate the words "high-end audio" with black, industrial-looking amplifiers you can cut your hands on and loudspeakers that make any room they're placed in look worse. As Karen Sumner said, the High End has been responsible for "a few lulus in the aesthetic department." The nominees were Gayle Sanders for the MartinLogan speakers, Allen Boothroyd for the Meridian digital loudspeakers and components, the Madrigal design team for their Proceed line, Michel Reverchon for the Goldmund loudspeakers, Dan D'Agostino for Krell amplifiers and digital components, Ed Meitner, and Tom Thiel (brother of Jim). The well-deserved award went to Gayle Sanders.
As with the 1988 Awards, it was felt appropriate to elect five people into the Hall of Fame for Lifetime Achievement. Those honored were Peter Walker (again), Paul Klipsch, Henry Kloss, Edgar Villchur, and Saul Marantz. (Someone remarked that the latter was particularly appropriate since 1991 sees the 40th anniversary of the introduction of the Marantz Model 1 preamplifier, a no-compromise product which pretty much defined the high-end path.)
All things considered, I feel those honored with awards by their peers were worthy. The worst thing that can happen with such awards schemes is for the list of winners not to correlate with their genuine status but instead to reflect the influence of various cliques and power groups (footnote 3). This has seemed to have happened with the Grammies, for example, where the selection of a Bette Midler single as "Record of the Year" has perhaps as much to do with the influence of her record company as it does with the artistic merit of that record, or where Telarc's and the Atlanta Symphony's astonishing record of successes is probably not unconnected with the fact that many of that orchestra's members also have a vote when it comes to selecting the best classical recording.
If these biannual AAHEA awards degenerate into a similar celebration of fraternal backscratching, then their consequent irrelevance, while not necessarily bringing high-end audio into disrepute, will help keep it parochial. But if they continue as they have started, with those honored being truly deserving, then the future is bright.
Which brings me to one thing that puzzled me greatly about the awards weekend in Atlanta (footnote 4). Given that the major long-term goal for the Academy is to more widely promote the idea of creating a better, more musically satisfying audio experience in the home, why was no one from the general press present? In an interview in TAS No.67, Larry Archibald had stated that "the awards ceremony will bring regular publicity and encourage attention to the High End." And as might be expected, The Absolute Sound and Stereophile were well represented editorially (though Harry Pearson unfortunately didn't attend).
But where, for example, was anyone from Stereo Review's (or even from Audio's) editorial staff? (Audio only sent two of its advertising sales representatives.) Where were audio writers who are widely read outside of the specialty press, such as New York's David Denby, Vanity Fair's Ed Rothstein, Chicago's Rich Warren, The New York Times's Hans Fantel (who also writes for Rolling Stone), or even someone from that bastion of audio ignorance, Consumer Reports? MTV, Inc. and Penthouse magazines, USA Today, and The Wall Street Journal have also recently touched on the activities of the high end, the writers finding their own way, unguided, to our community (footnote 5). Was anyone from these high-profile media invited to Atlanta? If not, why not?
I picked up a feeling in Atlanta that the fledgling Academy's successful 1990 lobbying of Congress on behalf of the American hi-fi industry was regarded as badge enough of the organization's merit. But the question that every member should ask of the Academy is not "What did you do for me?" but "What have you done for me lately?" If the general public is to stop generally equating the word "Hi-Fi" with "not made in the USA," then it is essential for the Academy to generate greater general editorial mileage with such events as their awards ceremony. The alternative is convergence, not divergence, for its members to remain medium-sized fish in a very small pond rather than expanding the size of that pond, to the benefit both of themselves and of American music lovers in general.
Footnote 2: I understand that, for various reasons, four other writers asked to take part in the final nomination process—J. Peter Moncrieff of International Audio Review, Ed Long of Audio, Anthony H. Cordesman of TAS and Audio, and Jeff Goggin of the defunct Sounds Like...—declined or were unable to do so.
Footnote 3: And is probably the reason why Luis Bunuel once said, "Nothing would disgust me more...than receiving an Oscar."
Footnote 4: Which was otherwise well-organized by Tina Pruitt and Reference Recordings' Janice Mancuso.
Footnote 5: Given George Tice's statements in his and his wife's letter in this month's "Manufacturers' Comments," the irony is that it was CD Stoplight—the infamous green-ink pen—that alerted these putative Pulitzer seekers to the High End's existence.