Music Matters

I began writing these words on December 1, 2010, 13 years to the day that the magazine's website, www.stereophile.com, emerged from the digital darkness. That first, 1997 edition of our website was to a large extent the brainchild of one man, webmonkey Jon Iverson, who ever since has overseen its design and growth.

That growth resembled the gradual expansion of a stately home, with rooms, apartments, and outbuildings tacked on as required. The result was that, up till last November, our site was using four different Content Management Systems (CMSes) running on four different servers, as not one CMS we were able to use offered everything we wanted or needed. News stories, magazine articles, and equipment reviews resided on one server, forums and galleries on a second, blogs and show reports on a third, and the weekly Vote sat by itself on the fourth server.

While the individual sections of the site ran efficiently, with the seams invisible to surfers, there were downsides. The fact that we had four generations of URL styles for archived articles and reviews had already been solved with massive lookup tables that didn't slow the server's operation to any noticeable extent. The problems of the magazine's staff having to be familiar with the idiosyncrasies of the four different CMSes didn't affect readers' experience of the site. However, the only CMS with a search engine was on the server hosting the articles and reviews—it could not include in its findings search results from the blogs, forums, or show reports. Conversely, while the blog and forum CMSes readily allowed readers to post comments, this wasn't possible with the CMS used for reviews and articles.

All through 2010, therefore, with the help of Source Interlink Media's director of application development, Jennifer Watterud, and outside IT contractor Leonard Porcano, Jon planned, oversaw, and implemented the migration of all our online content to a single CMS running on a single server. This wasn't just a facelift but a re-creation of the entire site, with Jon taking advantage of the opportunity to redesign the appearance of every page. Everything was to change. The entire weekend before Thanksgiving, we all held our breaths as the big switchover took place. And at 4:27pm on Sunday, November 21, we got the e-mail from Jennifer Watterud: The new server was up and running.

Phew!

Inevitably, there were bugs and inconsistencies that needed to be sorted out, but other than the photo galleries, which had not yet been moved into the new system at the time of writing, all of www.stereophile.com's content had survived the transition to its new home.

The most obvious change with the new system is the use of a wider column for the content, with larger photographs. But as Stephen Mejias and Jon Iverson explained online, with everything on one server and managed by one CMS, the search engine has acquired superpowers. If it's on our site, you'll find it. "Do you have a favorite Stereophile contributor?" asked Stephen and Jon. "Would you like to spend all afternoon reading every Michael Fremer review that's ever been posted to our site? You can! Just click on his byline, and your wish will be granted. In addition, our new search engine allows you to streamline your search according to specific words, phrases, site categories, or story types."

Most important, all the content at Stereophile.com is now open to readers' comments. Stephen and Jon again: "We believe your intelligent and thoughtful comments will not only improve our website, but will improve our entire hobby. We want to hear from you. Our equipment reviews, interviews, music reviews, think pieces, and blog entries are the starting blocks from which we race to explore the reasons we love hi-fi, share that love with others, and work to keep our passions forever growing."

The weekend of the great website migration, I was driving back from North Carolina, where I had been doing something else to keep audio passions growing. Leon Shaw, Scott Newnam, and Phil Melton, all of specialty retailer Audio Advice, had asked me to take part in two "Music Matters" evenings at their Raleigh and Charlotte stores, filling in for an indisposed Michael Fremer. Having taken part earlier in the year in such evenings at Listen-Up's three Colorado stores (in Colorado Springs, Denver, and Boulder), and having found those events very stimulating, I didn't need to be asked twice.

"Music Matters" is the name given an evening hosted by a retailer, during which manufacturers and audio journalists play music and give presentations to an audience of audiophiles. The North Carolina evenings featured Peter McGrath of Wilson Audio Specialties, Dave Nauber of Classé, Steve Silberman of AudioQuest, Jim Spainhour of Peachtree Audio, Sandy Gross and John Miller of GoldenEar Technologies, Dave Gordon of Audio Research, Alex Brinkman of Ayre Acoustics, Eric Joy of B&W, Mike Pyle and Keith Parke of Mark Levinson, JBL, and Revel, and Brad O'Toole of Transparent Audio. As I had done in Colorado, I gave a series of musical presentations based on my "As We See It" column of November 2009, "The Spaces Between the Notes," in which I demonstrated the evils of the "Loudness Wars," and how the overuse of compression actually minimizes the musical content of recordings.

Like the Listen-Up events, Audio Advice's "Music Matters" evenings were well attended and the audience was engaged, interested, and enthusiastic. Some 'philes had driven there from as far away as Atlanta. And it was personally gratifying when, in Charlotte, Brad O'Toole mentioned to me that Transparent Audio regularly uses our online review archive to look up amplifier output impedances in order to best match their cables to a customer's system. But more important, these evenings illustrated something I had mentioned at a similar event in England a quarter-century ago: that the role of the specialty retailer is to be less like a fisherman who passively waits for customers to drift pass his door, and more like a farmer tilling the earth and sowing seeds to be more certain of an eventual harvest.

I applaud dealers who promote evenings such as these, which is why we devote space in each issue, in the "Calendar" section of "Industry Update," to list the events we know of. Were every retailer in the US like Audio Advice, Listen-Up, Definitive Audio, Innovative Audio, Bjorn's, Overture, Audio Visions (San Francisco), and the others who give up their evenings to promote recorded music and keep their customers' passions growing, the audio industry would return to its preeminence.

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COMMENTS
deckeda's picture

Because they now all seem to have a similar layout and blog-like format. Just curious. Also, since we're on the subject of site design, my login for Comments here isn't remembered from one visit to the next.

John Atkinson's picture
Yes, Jon is responsible for all the websites in our group.

Regarding your question, what browser do you use? I ask because while I don't have this problem with Firefox, Internet Explorer 8 doesn't remember my log-in on this site, even when I ask it to.

deckeda's picture

I'm currently using the latest Safari on OS X 10.6.6 (various Macs here) or the mobile version on iOS 4.2 on iPad and iPhone. Never tried this site with anything else.

re: "even when I ask it to."

I haven't been able to locate an option to stay logged in (via checkmark or otherwise) at either the comments section or in my user profile.

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