As I walked through Stereophile's Taipei High-End Hi-Fi show (see the full report next month), I was startled to see four ladies in their 50s carrying Stereophile bags full of brochures. They'd just left a demonstration of Martin-Logan CLSes driven by Aragon electronics and were talking animatedly among themselves as they busily made their way to the next exhibit room. My surprise was repeated throughout the show as I saw an amazingly diverse group of people who had enough interest in high-end audio to get themselves to the Taipei Hilton and pay the show's admission price. Young couples, old couples, entire families, and women were all there to see and hear high-end audio. This was in sharp contrast to the narrow demographic group seen at US and European hi-fi shows: predominantly young to middle-aged males to whom audio is a hobby.
In my January "The Fifth Element" column, I discussed the concept of value in the context of audio component manufacture. This month's "Letters" includes a response to that column from Austrian distributor Hans Hirner. In his letter, Herr Hirner writes about some of his Web-surfing non-customers: "If that weren't enough, they also call me or my dealers to tell them how proud they are, after having taken all from me that is possible in system matching and trial—and even denoising their systems—to have been able to find 'our' products cheaper out there."
The October 1982 issue of Stereo Review published what must be hailed (or derided) as the first reasoned assessment of high-end audio ever presented in a mass-circulation hi-fi publication. We disagreed with a few of the author's points, but our main gripe about the piece prompted a letter to Stereo Review. This is what we wrote:
This issue contains a report on a truly ingenious little device called the ABX Comparator, which takes the fraud out of subjective testing. It does this by making its own selection of source A or source B for each listening trial, without telling you which was selected. Only after all the tests will it reveal what you were listening to each time. "Score" sheets are provided so you can list your guesses, compare them with the cold, uncompromising truth, and file the results for posterity. Or better still, for the first hard evidence that has ever been presented that a lot of people can hear differences that cannot as yet be measured.
Most readers of Stereophile are in it to read about great products—things that make the hobby and art of home sound reproduction exciting. In this respect, reviewers aren't too different—we love sound reproduction and music in general, and products that help bring this to life are the cat's meow. Reviewers that can't respond with this kind of excitement don't have a place writing for this magazine.
On January 5, 2011, I was flying to Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show (footnote 1). On January 5, 1914, Henry Ford announced that he would pay a minimum of $5 to eligible employees who worked an eight-hour day. (At that time, a good wage was $2.50 for a workday of 10 hours.) Ford was not being altruistic; he wanted to motivate his employees both to become more productive and to stay loyal to their employer. And there were strings attached: A Ford employee "must show himself to be sober, saving, steady, industrious and must satisfy . . . staff that his money will not be wasted in riotous living." But Ford also wanted his workers to be able to afford the products they made. It was Ford's action, I believe, that triggered the rise of the American middle class, and it was that middle class's combination of disposable income and increased leisure time that fueled the growth of high-end audio.
Cole Porter: An All-Star Tribute (DVD, VAI) includes outtakes of the great Ethel Merman filming for TV, in 1960, a performance of Irving Berlin's "Alexander's Ragtime Band." In take after take, something goes wrong. Each time the director shouts "Cut!," Merman stops in her tracks, almost as if deflating; when the director yells "Action!" she starts from the top, fresh as new, the model showbiz professional.
I believe it was 1958 when I first heard a transistorized audio product. The Fisher TR-1 was a small battery-powered box that provided microphone preamplification and inputs for three magnetic phono sources.
Stereophile Consulting technical editor Robert Harley and I were walking down Brooklyn's Flatbush Avenue trying to remember where we'd parked our rental car. We were in town for the Fall 1993 Audio Engineering Society Convention, and had just had dinner with record reviewer Beth Jacques.
I'm scared. I've just returned from a visit to the isle of my birth, Manhattan. As the spouse and I walked to Stereophile's offices to meet John Atkinson and Stephen Mejias for dinner, we passed some of the most valuable real estate in the country. It was hard to imagine that, if global warming continues at its current, ever-accelerating pace, the buildings we were marveling at will soon be below sea level.
For roughly the same amount of money, you can buy a new Toyota Camry or a used mid-sized Mercedes-Benz sedan. The new car has several things going in its favor: no one else has ever driven it, smoked in it, or ferried dogs and kids and fast-food leavings in it, and it comes with a fresh warranty and the latest safety equipment. But the used Mercedes has other things in its favor: having started with a much larger "build budget," it is, simply, more car for the money all aroundyou just have to pick a good one.
In the wrap-up of his coverage of the 2013 Salon Son & Image show in Montreal, which took place at the end of March, Robert Deutsch asked if there were too many audio shows. The Chicago AXPONA show was held two weeks before SSI, the second New York Audio Show followed less than three weeks later. In May, there was the humongous High End 2013, in Munich, followed two weeks later by the third T.H.E. Show Newport Beach, followed by: the Capital AudioFest, in Washington, DC (July 2628); the fourth California Audio Show, in the Bay Area (August 811); the tenth Rocky Mountain Audio Fest (October 1113); and TAVES in Toronto (November 13).
While this is no more shows than took place in 2011 or 2012, many exhibitors, manufacturers and distributors alike, to whom I talked at the spring events felt that the high-end audio industry is suffering from an overload of audio shows.
Much of the descriptive terminology used in subjective reporting describes things we hear in live music, and expect—or, rather, hope—to hear from reproduced music, too. I'm referring to terms like width, depth, perspective, spectral balance, and tonal accuracy. If you read our reports, you know these terms as well as I do, and since they are (for most people) self-explanatory, I will devote no more time to them.