As part of this issue's coverage of the recent Consumer Electronics Show (see Sidebar), I report on my dissatisfaction with almost all the surround-sound demonstrations I experienced in Las Vegas. As a music-lover, the last thing I want is to have trumpets and drums attacking me from behind, yet almost without exception, that is what record producers seem to feel is an essential part of the DVD-Audio and SACD experiences.
In common with the mood of our times, there seems to be an increasing amount of bad temper in the High End. There are more people around who, in Jonathan Scull's timeless phrase, have a "level of audiophile rage very close to the surface." Witness, for example, the "cancel my subscription" letter from Professor Daniel H. Wiegand in this issue: he obviously feels a line has been crossed.
"The large peak at 16kHz reported by Stereophile...was nowhere in evidence...The most probable explanation of this discrepancy is that the [Waveform supertweeter's] very light ribbon depends on the air load for damping, and that load is much smaller in the thin air up there at 7000' in Santa Fe than at altitudes where less lightheaded and scientifically more accountable reviewers dwell." Thus spake Peter Aczel (footnote 1), erstwhile loudspeaker designer and Editor/Publisher of the reincarnated The Audio Critic, a publication that advertises itself as having "unusual credibility among the top professionals in audio."
A reader who asked to remain anonymous wrote to tell us the results of some tests he saw conducted on one of our top-rated loudspeaker systems. Frequency-response checks showed that the system had virtually no deep bass, a midbass peak, a midrange slump, and a high-end rise. Further checks had shown gross distortion at input levels of over about 6W, and a definitely limited (although adequate for Row-M listening) maximum output-level capability. Said reader then went on to ask how we could possibly consider such a speaker to be one of the best available.
Charles Hansen said it best, in a recent e-mail: "People have been holding back from criticizing this technology because they weren't certain that some new discovery hadn't been made." Ayre Acoustics' main man was talking about "upsampling," whereby conventional "Red Book" CD data, sampled at 44.1kHz, are converted to a datastream with a higher sample rate. (Because of its association with DVD-Audio, 96kHz is often chosen as the new rate.)
I recently bought a turntable, the first I've owned in about 15 years. I had sold my vinyl collection—a mix of classic rock, early 1980s pop, and the odd jazz or classical LP—when I was in grad school, for economic reasons: I needed the money for rent, or food, or beer, or something. Nor do I know what happened to my old plastic turntable; more than likely, I left it curbside for anyone strolling by who was able to appreciate its value.
Every music-loving audiophile has a unique storya story of the first time he or she was grabbed, body and soul, by a first, usually low-budget listen to a 78, LP, CD, open-reel, cassette, or MP3a story that continues today in that audiophile's quest for high-end bliss. For me, it was my desire to move closer to the voices of the singers I most loved.
I've recently been rereading Mark Lane's and Donald Freed's 1970s screenplay cum novel, Executive Action, which develops the theory that John F. Kennedy was assassinated by a conspiracy between organized crime, expatriate Cuban Batistists, and Eisenhower's "military-industrial complex." Long predating Oliver Stone's JFK, the book is fascinating, convincing stuff, from authors who had done considerable research into what really happened in November 1963. But, like all conspiracy theories, it falls down on the hard rock of reality: the more people and organizations are involved in a conspiracy, the less likelihood there is of anything happening at all, let alone going according to plan.
Mastering engineer Denny Purcell let out a long sigh. "Does anyone in this room believe that any of this is going to do any good?" he asked. Of the eight or nine people—each with decades of experience in the music and/or audio industries—hanging out at Georgetown Masters Studios for SDMI's Phase II listening tests this past October, not one said "Yes." The consensus: the watermarking issue will probably be dead and forgotten within a year.
I left you last month 104 miles from Santa Fe, New Mexico, heading east on I-40 accompanied by a dog and two cats, with 1946 miles to go to reach Stereophile's new editorial home, New York City. To cut a long story short, I did arrive in New York (covered in dog and cat hair). After a nerve-wracking delay, so did our furniture. We will be living out of boxes for a while chez Atkinson, but that's a mere inconvenience compared with the Great Adventure of setting up a new listening room.
As I write these words, it is exactly 15 years to the day since I left the English magazine Hi-Fi News (then Hi-Fi News & Record Review) to take the editorial helm of Stereophile. What has driven my editing of both magazines (and, Carol Baugh, p.10, I certainly do "edit" them) has been the view that the traditional model of a magazine—that it dispense and the readers receive wisdom—is fundamentally wrong. Instead, I strongly believe that a magazine's editors, writers, and readers are involved in an ongoing dialog about their shared enthusiasms. Stereophile's involvement in Shows stems from this belief, and it is in this light that its "Letters" column should be regarded as the heart of each issue.
In 1960 the high-fidelity field was in a period of stasis. The hi-fi boom was starting to crest out, and there were three magazines for audiophiles: High Fidelity, Stereo Review and Audio. The first two were (and still are) little more than vehicles for their advertising, more dedicated to promoting their advertisers' wares than in advancing the state of the art. Audio was more into equipment testing than either of the mass-hi-fi magazines, but it too was contributing to the stagnation by listening to its test results rather than to the components.