It's the voice that grabs you first, balanced preternaturally high in the mix. As the singer effortlessly projects the vocal line, imperceptibly grabbing breath without disturbing the long, meandering melody, you can't help but realize what a superb instrument she had. As the song's harmonies modulate their way to the dominant, the bass guitar stubbornly sticks to the tonic so that what would otherwise be a conventional chord progression is transformed into a yearning series of suspensions echoing the lyric's despair. As guitarist Tony Peluso hammers down on his power solo, his instrument so fuzzed and compressed that the very plectrum strokes are thrown forward as disconnected transients, it becomes evident that there are layers upon layers to the backing vocals, each carefully placed upon the others by a master orchestrator, each appropriately filling in the gaps in the harmonies without turning the mix to glutinous syrup.
Every once in a while, and particularly around the first of the year, news writers (of which I am one) get the urge to play oracle, laying our credibilities on the line by attempting to divine what the coming year will bring. Since I am writing this at the end of January, the chances of my miscalling my shots have already been reduced by a factor of 0.083. But there are still 11 months to go, and some possibility that a prediction or two may be wrong. Nonetheless, I shall intrepidly grab the bull by the horns, the crystal by the ball, and the opportunity of the moment to take an educated guess at what the rest of 1988 holds for audio.
As Stereophile's Equipment Reports Editor, I get a lot of calls from readers asking how we choose the gear we review, and from manufacturers asking how to get their products reviewed. So I told JA to take the month off from writing this column so that I could talk about Stereophile's Equipment Reports section.
Stereophile is happy to start off another year, only one issue behind our published schedule. For most magazine subscribers, this would seem a confession of weakness; underground aficionados will, however, know what I'm talking about. We did in fact publish eight issues last year, but the first one happened to be Volume 6, Number 6 (the last issue in that volume), so that puts us still one behind. Ambitiously, I predict we'll get out nine (count them, 9) issues in 1985 and catch up with our schedule.
The January 2000 issue of Stereophile is actually the last to be published in 1999, so, at the risk of adding to your millennial fatigue (footnote 1), it is appropriate to devote much of this month's magazine to navel-gazing. Robert Baird, Chip Stern, David Patrick Stearns, and Larry Birnbaum examine the state of recorded music, while in the first of two articles, Markus Sauer questions the beliefs that underpin the audiophile world. And this "As We See It" offers an overview of what used to be called "high fidelity."
I'm fortunate to own some very nice hi-fi gear: Different turntables, tonearms, and pickups for different records. Two pairs of really superb full-range loudspeakers. A choice of mildly exotic amplifiersmy favorite combination of which (a stereo preamplifier and a pair of monoblock power amps) sells for a little over $21,000. The average American consumer would think that's insane.
The night after we got home from the 1999 Consumer Electronics Show in January—see the report in this issue—my dear companion and I attended a performance of Madama Butterfly at San Francisco's beautifully refurbished War Memorial Opera House. It was a Tuesday evening, traditionally a big event for the Opera's benefactors. From our box seats, we had an excellent view of a production musically sumptuous and visually austere—and of a sea of gray and balding heads.
101 years ago, the tinfoil cylinder started it all. Within 22 years, its heyday was done, and public support swung to favor the then-new wax-mastered disc. 1948 saw the switch to a slower speed and a finer groove, but the flat disc, traced by a stylus, has held sway for almost 80 years now. Even today, people with multi-speed turntables and a couple of arms (or plug-in cartridges) can reproduce from a single phono unit the earliest or the latest discs merely by the flip of two switches (for speed change and cartridge change). All that is about to come to an end.
A recent e-mail from a reader asked why we list the recordings and systems used by Stereophile writers in their reviews. I responded that we do so in order that readers can place our value judgments in context, and predict how those products might sound with different ancillaries and recordings when they audition the products reviewed at their local high-end audio retailer.
The American computer industry was a little shaken up to learn recently that the Japanese micro manufacturers had gotten together and standardized their component interconnections so that any Japanese computer will (supposedly) plug into any Japanese printer, modem, or competing computer, and work right off the bat. Anybody who has tried to fire up an Apple computer with a Diablo (Xerox) printer will appreciate what the Japanese move means in terms of compatibility. It means "For no-hassle interconnections, buy Japanese."
A hot topic for discussion in recent issues of Stereophile has been the impact Home Theater has had on the High End. Some of the magazine's contributorsJ. Gordon Holt and Corey Greenberg, for examplehave written that the advent of Home Theater means that we should expand the audio context of the magazine to include reviews of video components (footnote 1). Others, including Bob Harley, Tom Norton, and myself, feel that we should stick to what we know and loveaudioand enter the new field only to advise Stereophile's readers on how to achieve the best sound from a Home Theater system. However, missing from the debate in our pages so far have been any comments from those in the business of selling and demonstrating high-end products and, increasingly, Home Theater systems. Accordingly, this month I am running a guest editorial from a man who perhaps typifies the high-end, specialist retailer: Ken Gould of Audio Nexus (footnote 2). Please note that Mr. Gould's opinions are his own and do not represent those of the magazine.John Atkinson
I've watched from the sidelines with great interest the recent debate in this column over Home Theater (footnote 1) At one extreme is the suggestion that Stereophile begin reviewing video and Home Theater products. The other end of the spectrum was best expressed by John Atkinson at Stereophile's 1993 High-End Hi-Fi Show in San Francisco. Hearing the booming bass overflow of a Home Theater demonstration blasting down a hallway, he said, "They've brought televisions to our hi-fi show!"