A Babel, a Babble . . . Letters part 2

More. You've reported that Stereophile's distribution has outpaced TAS's. True. Because Stereophile has persistently covered the mid-fi markets, it ought to have this wider appeal...and it does. Likewise, Sansui's sales surpass Goldmund's; and Ford's that of Ferrari's. While the pyramid is wide in the middle, it is even wider at the base. And so, not surprisingly, Stereo Review's subscription list is even larger than Stereophile's (granted that SR covers mostly imported, mass-produced appliances). The lowest common denominator always wins. In contrast to Stereophile, TAS is expressly aimed at the High End. Obviously, the pyramid is narrower at the top. It is, however, unlikely that any one publication can properly cover both the mid-fi and high-end arenas. While Stereophile has brought mid-fi awareness to the masses, obviously it has not properly covered the high end. On the other hand, TAS is not likely to get deeply involved in mid-fi, simply because it will not dilute its coverage of what is important to its readers.

As for which has the best writers, Stereophile or TAS (is this now becoming a contest?), isn't it interesting that former TAS, Audio, and Stereophile contributor Cordesman returned to TAS specifically because he wished to identify with hi-, rather than mid-fi? Curiously, at the time of his departure, Cordesman had the highest following of the Stereophile crew. So Stereophile's stand that it has the best may be specious. Or should I remind you of TAS's Pulitzer Prize winner, authors of reference books, and its PhDs? Anyhow, let the readers decide...But seriously, this is not a contest between two apples, but rather—if a contest it has become—between a passion fruit and a potato.

And this brings me to the crux of the comparison. The fact is that, just like Stereo Review, Stereophile is a bottom-line-oriented business. Conversely, TAS celebrates the art of sound reproduction and the glory of music. Proof? Well, TAS was not profitable for many years and Harry, I might add, never sold out. Sorry fellows, but Stereophile and TAS are not two of the same species. Perhaps not even from the same place. Indeed, your Lewis Lipnick was right (for once) when he offered that if you want to learn what the high end is all about, then go to New York. I'll say. (To be precise, Sea Cliff, New York.)

And funny, unlike your "Audio Cheapskate," HP discovered some 20 years ago that mid-fi just doesn't cut the mustard. And again (unlike Sam Tellig, who so recently discovered the same), HP is castigated for not compromising higher standards by those who will not, cannot, or are unable to listen—or to hear. Here I speak of, for example, your own Peter "What did I do with my graph?" Mitchell. By the way, Mitchell's comment about TAS's "incompetent" reviewers "speculating" about the sound of components is just as richly presented as the graphs he listens to.

Which leaves us with a puzzle. According to GAG and his "students," TAS treats its readers with "contempt." One might rethink this assumption if he considers that Stereophile, whose overriding criterion is its circulation figures, is the one—and not TAS—that treats its readers with disrespect and scorn
.—Andrew G. Benjamin, No address given

...to the sensible?

As I watched Harry Pearson bear-hug J. Gordon Holt and hand him the first High-End "Lifetime Achievement" Award at TAS's 15th anniversary party, I said to myself, "Maybe the infantile name-calling going on in both magazines will finally stop." After reading the transcript of your staff pow-wow in the November 1989 issue, I guess I was being overly optimistic, naïve, or both.

I didn't realize the depth of the problem at Stereophile. J. Gordon Holt began the meeting on an exquisitely focused note: "Stereophile is obviously in the driver's seat...As to where it's going, I'm not at all certain about that." He goes on to suggest that the magazine exercise leadership rather than just reporting what's going on.

Instead of taking Holt's cue and engaging in a serious discussion of what the magazine's founder had correctly identified as Stereophile's biggest weakness and how to overcome it, your staff indulged itself mostly in invidious name-calling with the emphasis on irrelevant (and untrue) buzzwords and labels.

Peter Mitchell set the negative agenda by dumping collectively on The Abso!ute Sound's reviewers. They are "incompetent" technically, he charged, to speculate about what they hear. Anyone involved in high-end audio who unreservedly embraced first-generation CD sound and its technology as uncritically as Mitchell did should think twice before calling others "incompetent."

Does Mitchell mean to include the learned Professor of Mathematics Dr. Robert E. Greene? Or the esteemed Tony Cordesman, a former Stereophile reviewer? Or Richard Marsh? Whom does he mean? He doesn't say because he is dealing in labels, not truths or relevant criticisms. Defining oneself by stereotyping is a negative, anti-intellectual tactic. From it springs unpleasantnesses like racism and prejudice.

Lewis Lipnick's ignorant crack about TAS writers having "to toe the party line" to get published and to avoid being ridiculed by the magazine's editor is ugly. Worse yet, it flies in the face of truth. Harry Pearson has never censored me, or, to my knowledge, any other writer. HP does, however, demand quality. Lipnick apparently doesn't understand that there is a similarity of aesthetic viewpoints among TAS writers and that this aesthetic is based on adherence to the sound of the real thing. Precisely the opposite is true at Stereophile, where there seems to be a lack of guiding principles about the nature of sound reproduction. The distinction between editing and censorship is obviously lost on Lipnick, and in the case of the transcript in question, I'm afraid on Stereophile's editor as well.

As editor's footnotes are unacceptable to Lipnick because of Pearson's pithy pronouncements, so the wild canard repeated (but I don't think believed) by Stereophile's editor that TAS speaks with one voice (HP's) is to me. How can a magazine that has a policy of printing comments from differing reviewers speak with one voice? This is the same magazine that encourages its contributors and readers to air their differences of opinion in its very own pages. Makes you wonder if you guys really read TAS.

What's most telling about the name-calling is the religious and mystical symbolism in so much of it. Dick Olsher refers to Harry Pearson as "the Pope of Sea Cliff," surely as offensive to Catholics as it is to HP. Gary Galo adds the phrase "the mystics on Long Island." Strong stuff coming from a writer for a magazine that advocates the "goose bump" factor as an aid in evaluating equipment—a factor I happen to think has some validity—but then I write for the magazine that takes "the astrological approach," according to Galo. Subtle. But what is he talking about?

Share | |
Site Map / Direct Links