September 1997 saw the 35th anniversary of Stereophile magazine, founded by J. Gordon Holt back in 1962. If any interview needs no introduction, this is it. My interview with Gordon was conducted around the kitchen table in Gordon's Boulder, Colorado home over a couple of cold beers. It seemed appropriate to start at the very beginning... J. Gordon Holt: I don't remember when that was.
A musical highlight for us at Stereophile in 1995 was the opportunity to record several concerts at the world-famous Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. The result was a Stereophile CD, Festival (STPH007-2), which features the original chamber version of Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring, Darius Milhaud's jazz-inspired La création du monde, and the premiere recording of the 1995 Festival commission, Tomiko Kohjiba's The Transmigration of the Soul (see Stereophile, January 1996, Vol.19 No.1, p.132). We were pleased, therefore, to be asked back by the Festival in 1996. Once again we have produced a CD of live recordings, Serenade (STPH009-2), which features chamber works by Mozart, Brahms, and Dvorák.
Pollock, Rothko, Amperex, and Sylvania? Last spring I went to a contemporary art show out on Chicago's Navy Pier. I wanted to get away from things with wires and knobs—you know, rub elbows with Chicago's better-dressed, sip some wine, maybe practice talking about artistic creations that I usually don't understand ("It's so brutally honest...yet, somehow, still deceptive"). But there's no rest for the weary, confused audiophile. Along with artists, paintings, and sculptures from all over the world, thousands of vacuum tubes had descended on the Pier.
An equipment reviewer for one of the consumer hi-fi magazines once confided to a manufacturer that he found it hard to like electrostatics because of the kind of people who usually like electrostatics. His implication—that certain kinds of people gravitate towards certain kinds of sound—is an interesting thought, and one that might bear some further investigation. But there is no questioning the fact that electrostatic speakers in general do have a particular kind of sound, that might be characterized as "polite."
Remember the old mathematical riddle about moving a football from a hundred yards out to the goal line? Known as Xeno's Paradox, it goes like this: if each time the ball is moved it travels half the distance to the goal, how many moves will it take to get there? The answer: an infinite number, because no matter how many times you cut the distance to the goal by half, you'll always be some infinitesimal distance away from it.
It takes more than passing courage to make another assault on building the world's best tube preamplifier. You face stiff competition from well-established firms like Audio Research, Conrad Johnson, and Counterpoint. Such units can't be made inexpensively, and you face the steadily growing problem of tube supply: it is getting harder and harder to get tubes that are stable, have predictable sound and performance characteristics, and are long-lived. And you have to show audiophiles who have been burned before that you will still be around when they need service.