I was once in a sushi bar in Osaka; sitting next to me was a live abalone, stoically awaiting its fate. It stuck its siphon out of its shell, the waiter tapped the tip with a spoon, the siphon withdrew. Again the siphon appeared, again the waiter tapped it with a spoon, again it withdrew.
Now that Stereophile's reporting on the 1985 Summer Consumer Electronics Show has ended (I hope!), I would like to express strong dissent with its style and content. In fact, I believe that most of it should never have appeared in print.
It is inarguable that the quality of magnetically recorded sound has improved immeasurably in the last 101 years. 101 years? Yes, according to a fascinating account in the May 1988 issue of the Journal of the Audio Engineering Society, it was in 1888 that the Cincinnatti-based engineer Oberlin Smith experimented with recording information on steel wire by drawing it across the corner of an electromagnet around which a coil had been wound. Smith only carried out experiments without producing a practical recording system, and it wasn't until 1898 that the Dane, Valdemar Poulsen, was granted a German patent for a "Method for the reception of news, signals, and the like."
Stereophile is finally collectible. Either that, or I'm the biggest audiophile sucker out there. A few weeks back, I finally caved into temptation and signed up for an account on eBay, the website via which millions of folks buy and sell stuff in an online auction, and on which someone once tried to sell a human kidney. (It was not allowed.)
About 2200 years ago, a Greek writer named Antipater of Sidon compiled a list of the seven wonders of the world, which included a 100'-high statue of the Sun god Helios, erected next to the harbor of Rhodes on the Aegean sea. A of S called it the Colossus of Rhodes, for an obvious reason. Now there's a new Colossus, the derivation of whose name is a little less obvious, but which could justifiably be included in any contemporary listing of the seven wonders of the audio world.
I don't know how many of you buy disposable diapers, but while Harry (now 6) and Emily (now 5) were still toddlers, diapers played a large role in my life. I can still remember my panic when I first saw the miles of drugstore shelves devoted to Pampers and Huggies—not just large, medium, and small, but such a variety that it could almost have been possible that each child had a diaper tailored for him or her. I'm sure that even the weirdly shaped backside of Tommy Pickles could have been securely wrapped.
Thanksgiving will mark two years since Charles died. I still miss him.
I first met Charles in the 1990s, around the time I began to review recordings and audio equipment. I had just left my apartment and was driving slowly down the street when I spied a somewhat bent-over, wizened-looking man carrying a copy of Stereophile under his arm. My astonishment at discovering another Stereophile reader whom, it turned out, living just two buildings away, brought my car to a sudden halt.
There's an old Woody Allen bit about his mother running the family's food through a "deflavorizing machine" a couple of times, just to make sure dinner was completely tasteless. Well, that's what a lot of contemporary music sounds like to me. Booker T. Jones's recent album The Road from Memphis has some great tunes, but the sound of the album pales in comparison with his seriously funky work with Booker T. & the MG's in the 1960s. It's not just that the new CD is maximally compressed and processed to a fare-thee-wellit's a totally lifeless recording. But this isn't just another analog vs digital diatribe. The problems have little to do with the recording format; it's the way recordings are now made. Too many are assembled out of bits and pieces of sound to create technically perfect, Auto-Tuned, Pro Tooled music. It's not that great music can't be made that way, but it's sure as hell less likely to get my mojo workin'.
In early 2000, the British magazine The Economist published a lead editorial addressing America Online's acquisition of media giant Time Warner. In the editors' view, TW was a clunky, old-style media company that needed a fresh injection of dot-com blood to help them reach a more narrowly targeted audience. "Sex, shopping and violence," the editors wrote, echoing Internet visionary George Gilder, "...are what people have in common. What differentiates them is their enthusiasm for folk music, tropical fish, or Viennese waltzes."
A persistent complaint from some of our readers concerns our seeming preoccupation with exotic components. (Presumably what they mean are scarce, unusual, or hard-to-find components, because "exotic" really means "from a foreign country," and there is sure as hell nothing hard-to-find about a Panasonic receiver.) "Why," you ask, "do you devote so much space to reports on components we can't buy from our local audio discounter? Why can't we have more reports about products from the old, established, reliable companies like KLH, Harman/Kardon, Electro-Voice and Sansui, whose stuff we can listen to at a local dealer before we commit our hard-earned dollars to a purchase?" One subscriber even cancelled his subscription because of this, claiming that the unavailability of the products we review makes our reports "irrelevant." Well, he had a point, but not a very good one.
Surfing the Usenet newsgroups and the Web audio forums recently, it struck me that the old wisdom is correct: If you keep your mouth shut, you won't say anything with which anyone can disagree. A topic that seems to be of perennial interest is how Stereophile chooses the products it reviews. Yet the more I have explained how it's done, the greater the criticism that is heaped on the magazine.
The following was submitted as a letter to J. Gordon Holt, in response to his Editorial "Digital Revenge," in issue #53 (August 1982, Vol.5 No.6). We are publishing it as a guest editorial, because the writer is one of the few audio people whose judgement we respect who disagrees with us about digital's merits. The feeling, it would seem, is mutual.—Ed.
Hey, kids, here's the Big News. We've been deluding ourselves all along, worrying about piddling little bits of distortion that we can't hear at all. How's your preamp distortion? 1% at 1 volt out? You have a perfect preamp—a veritable straight wire with gain! That ear-shattering shrillness is all in your mind, because it has now been demonstrated that the human ear cannot perceive distortion levels of less than 6–12% on "normally complex music." If you think you can hear 0.1%, you are deluding yourself.
"A newspaper can flout an advertiser...but if it alienates the buying public, it loses the one indispensable asset of its existence."—Walter Lippman, 1922, reprinted in Public Opinion, New York: Free Press, 1965.