It was the strangest feeling: to be part of something yet without any understanding of how what I was doing fit into the whole. Back in the early 1980s, I had graduated from playing miscellaneous instruments in an early-music ensemble to devoting myself to the recorder (the end-blown fipple flute, not the audio archiving machine). My teacher, Nancy Winkelmann, had introduced me to various ensembles, and one Saturday afternoon, an ad hoc group of us was working with a composer of so-called "aleatoric" music; literally, music by chance.
A couple months back, a question from a dealer set me back in my chair: "Are you guys really going to put out Stereophile on a monthly basis?" I was surprisedwhen he put the question, we were just starting production work on the issue you hold in your hands, the twelfth to hit the stands since we started publishing monthly. Beginning with Vol.10 No.5 in August 1987, a Stereophile has gone in the mail every month, pretty much on time despite having gone through the trauma of changing printers last December on one issue's notice.
This magazine's "Recording of the Month" feature has been running without a break since it first appeared in our January 1994 issue. The idea of its progenitor, then-music editor Richard Lehnert (who still copy-edits every word you see in Stereophile), was that every month we would recognize a recording that defied "Holt's First Law" by offering superb sound and wonderful music (footnote 1). I think we've succeeded at that goal. Despite the letter that Robert Baird mentions in his "Aural Robert" column this month (p.113), whose writer objected to the February issue's pick (Shelby Lynne's Love Shelby, Island ISLF 15426-2), if an audiophile's music collection consisted entirely of Stereophile Recordings of the Month, there wouldn't be a dog in the whole eclectic bunch.
A psychological theory (footnote 1) that I've always been fond of is the one that proposes the perceptual/personality dimension of Sharpening vs Leveling. As defined by the early Gestalt psychologists, Sharpening is an exaggeration of differences, Leveling a minimization of differences. In visual-perception research on this topic, when test subjects were presented with an asymmetrical figure, some later recalled it in ways that exaggerated the figure's asymmetry (Sharpeners), while others minimized or eliminated it (Levelers).
When I was a young music lover, I'd often listen to Simon and Garfunkel's Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme LP, specifically the song "Scarborough Fair/Canticle."
Are you goin' to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.
Remember me to one who lives there,
She once was a true love of mine.
That memory came back during the e-mail exchanges I had with John Atkinson and Stephen Mejias about the positives and negatives of the proliferation of regional audio shows. (JA's reflections on these shows were the subject of last month's "As We See It.")
From London, England, to Santa Fe, New Mexico, is a pretty big jump, both geographically and culturally. From Hi-Fi News & Record Review to Stereophile, however, is a mere hop; the similarities overwhelm the differences. Unlike the US, mainstream magazines in the UK have managed to keep in touch with the fact that hi-fi components sound different; to edit and to write for an ostensibly "underground" American magazine presented no major philosophical problems. (I say "to edit," but as mentioned in "The Big Announcement," Vol.9 No.3, my editing is done in harness with Stereophile's founder and guiding light, J. Gordon Holt.)
Every summer, I invite a representative sample of Stereophile's equipment reviewers to the magazine's Santa Fe HQ. For the third successive year, I decided to tape some of the free-for-all discussion that takes place and offer readers the opportunity of peeking over the participants' shoulders by publishing a tidied-up version of the transcript.
Audiophiles constantly seek ways to improve the experience of hearing reproduced music. Preamps are upgraded, digital processors are compared, turntables are tweaked, loudspeaker cables are auditioned, dealers are visited, and, yes, magazines are readall in the quest to get just a little closer to the music.
We're not really sure who coined the term—it is usually attributed to Alistair Cooke, former host of the "Omnibus" TV program—but "audible wallpaper" is an apt term for something that is of more than passing concern for the serious music listener.
In the early 1950s, a quiet, undistinguished Senator named Joseph Raymond McCarthy began a crusade against what he imagined were subversive, dangerous elements in American government. His tactics included irresponsible accusation, militant attacks on his opponents, and self-aggrandizing witch-hunting. So virulent were his methods the term "McCarthyism" entered the language. McCarthyism came to mean any unjustified persecution and the false conformity this strategy engendered (footnote 1).
"If the midrange isn't right, nothing else matters." StereophilefounderJ. Gordon Holt's decades-old observation of the musical importance of the midrange has become a truism cast in stone. Gordon's other famous observation, "The better the sound, the worse the measurements," was made only partially in jest.
People of my generation have learned that change is certain. You can't know what the change will be, but you can bank on the fact that there will be serious change over the next ten years. Look at the historically most important change in ten years: microcomputers.
For a field based on science, high-end audio has a relationship with its parent discipline that is regrettably complex. Even as they enjoy science's technological fruits, many audiophiles reject the very methodsscientific testingthat made possible audio in the home. That seems strange to me.
As I write this in the first quarter of 2007, CD sales are off over 22% compared to this time last year. The music industry as we know it, based on sales of some kind of physical medium, is over. While CDs and even LPs will remain available—they're so easy and cheap to make—they've become irrelevant to the mass market and to the future of audiophile recordings. The major labels have also become irrelevant (not to mention highly irritating).