Much as I like the prospect of being able to grunt a heartfelt Je ne regrette rien immediately before expiring, I know there will be too many what-ifs and wish-I-hadn'ts to make that even remotely possible. But here is one missed opportunity that won't flash before me, because John Atkinson has granted me a second chance.
John Atkinson and I were On the Road, whistling down I-95 in a big, Kona Blue Metallic 2011 Ford Edge Ltd with voice-command everything. To paraphrase Raoul Duke at the very beginning of Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, we were somewhere around Princeton, New Jerseynot quite the edge of the desertwhen the drugs began to take hold. Just as in the original text, "there was a terrible roar all around us, and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car . . ." I decided that there was no point in mentioning the bats to JA. He'd bought the Criterion Collection DVD of Terry Gilliam's film version of Fear and Loathing at Princeton Record Exchange. He knew about the bats.
We all know that women generally have better hearing than men and enjoy music at least as much as men do, but women are conspicuously absent from every segment of the high-end audio scene. The vast majority of high-end companies are owned by men, and any head count of female designers, retailers, reviewers, or consumers will yield a pitifully small number. High-end audio is a man's, man's, man's world.
High-end audiophiles are space freaks---we relish the warmth and spaciousness of a fine, old performing hall almost as much as we do the music recorded in it. But my attendance at a series of orchestral concerts held last summer brought home to me---as never before---the sad fact that our search for the ultimate soundstage is doomed to failure: we're trying to reproduce three-dimensional space from a two-dimensional system, and it simply can't be done.
It's time to celebrate another memorable year in high-end audio. Each December since 1992, Stereophile has named a few special components its Products of the Year. These are components that not only define the present audio landscape, but that we hope will someday be seen as classicsthings you'll want to pass on to future generations of audiophiles and music lovers.
In his very English way, Sony's then managing director for the UK, Tim Steele, was getting a touch, er, desperate. His oh-so-cultured voice rose a smidgen as he resorted to a direct selling of the benefits of what he was talking about. "Look, you're all sitting on riches," was his fundamental pitch. "You can sell music-lovers your entire back catalog all over again—at a higher price!"
Although Philips invented the Compact Disc, it was only when Sony got involved in the early 1980s that it was decided—at the prompting of conductor Herbert von Karajan, a close friend of Sony's then-president Akio Morita—that the CD should have a long enough playing time to fit Beethoven's Ninth Symphony on a single disc (footnote 1). Even if the conductor was using very slow tempos, and even given the minimum pit size and track pitch printable at the time, the 16-bit data and 44.1kHz sampling rate they settled on gave them a little margin.
"My system has great imaging!" "I can hear sound coming from beyond my speakers." "The depth image in my system goes back at least 20 feet." Yes, we audiophiles are proud of our imaging (footnote 1), and we've worked hard to get it. My back is still aching from the last time I tweaked my speakers until the image was just right.
Since 1992, Stereophile has named a select few audio components its "Products of the Year." In doing so, we recognize those components that have proved capable of giving musical pleasure beyond the formal review period.
Since 1992, Stereophile has recognized components that have proved capable of giving musical pleasure beyond the formal review period by naming its "Products of the Year." These are the components that can be recommended without any ifs or buts, that will grace any system in which they used.
Stereophile's "Products of the Year," now in its 13th year, recognizes those rare components that prove capable of giving musical pleasure beyond the formal review period. These are the components that can be recommended with no ifs or buts, that will grace any system in which they are used.