"Without content, television is nothing more than lights in a box."Edward R. Murrow, 1958
"When it comes to video, most audiophiles are insufferable snobs."J. Gordon Holt, 1984
Those who have followed the arguments between audiophiles and home-theater enthusiasts in the pages of StereophileI lifted the Murrow quote from a 1996 battle between Steve Guttenberg (representing the former community) and Joel Silver (representing the latter)will have no doubt over which side of the argument I am on.
The year was 1948. As a six-year-old, I haunted record stores with my Uncle Stan. A quiet bank teller from Manchester, England, childless himself and quite overpowered by my Aunt Emily, Uncle Stan shared with me his love of music and movies.
I walked through my local Best Buy recently and didn't see one stereo receiver. Boomboxes, table radios, surround-sound gear, and computer speakers were everywhere. But the hi-fi staple of the 1960s and '70s—the plain-vanilla two-channel receiver—was not to be seen. Even if one or two were lurking there, the fact remains that high-quality two-channel audio is now so disconnected from consumer electronics that it's hardly at the "high end" of anything at all. It's a world unto itself.
In a dark, smoky office, a desk lamp beams a cone of light onto papers, books, pipes, and notepads. A theoretical physicist hunches over his desk, half-illuminated, visualizing the world inside his equations.
Call me naÏve, but I thought the Hi-Fi Wars were merely in-house squabbles. Yes, meter-carrying objectivists and wide-eyed subjectivists can carry on worse than Republicans and Democrats in Congress. But I always figured that once someone cues up Dark Side of the Moon or Kind of Blue, the partisanship subsides as we revel in our common passion for music and sound. C'mon, everybody—group hug! Okay, I exaggerate.
Mary is a scientist living in a distant galaxy. She and her fellow humanoids are just like us, but their knowledge is highly advanced. It's so advanced, they've solved the most daunting problem in science—understanding the brain and mind. They know everything scientifically possible to know about the brain's neurons, its architecture, and how consciousness, ideas, feelings, and memories occur. Perception and sensation are understood, too. Mary knows exactly how light and sound waves become colorful visions and beautiful melodies. On her planet, aspiring neurobiologists are out of luck. There's nothing more to aspire to.
This essay first appeared in the May 2005 Stereophile eNewsletter. But as the opinions and comments are still relevant in 2014 and in some ways the phenomenon of over-compression in recorded music (footnote 1) is just as bad, I thought it worth republishing.John Atkinson
I write these words mere hours after returning home from Home Entertainment 2005, the Show cosponsored by Stereophile magazine that took place from April 28 through May 1 at the Manhattan Hilton. A full report will appear in the August 2005 issue of the magazine.
During the late 1950s, when high fidelity exploded into a multimillion-dollar industry, product advertisements bragged about bringing the orchestra into your living room. Apparently, no one realized what an absurd concept it was, but there are still many people today who believe that's what audio is all about. It isn't. There is no way a real orchestra could fit into the average living room, and if it could, we would not want to be around when it played. Sound levels of 115dB are just too loud for most sane people, and that's what a full orchestral fortissimo can produce in a small room.
Call me sentimental, but I'm sad to see turntables disappear. They were my original calling. Back in 1973 or so, when a kid from my neighborhood insisted that I see his brother-in-law's "fantastic stereo," I was entranced by a huge Pioneer receiver and walnut AR3a speakers. But most alluring by far was the Marantz turntable. Its brushed stainless-steel controls and gleaming, chromed tonearm made it look like some delicate and expensive scientific instrument. Compared to the all-in-one plastic unit I played my Partridge Family records on, the mere sight of it put me on the audiophile path. (And I mean just the sight of it. We weren't allowed to touch.) Eventually, his brother-in-law played a record for me—Gordon Lightfoot's Endless Wire. Since that day, I can chart the passage of my life according to the turntables I've owned—if it's VPI, this must be Chicago.
Mojo Nixon sings, "Elvis is everywhere." My version is "Darwin is everywhere." Last Thanksgiving, as my extended family was gathered around the dinner table, my 11-year-old nephew abruptly reminded us that Darwin was there, too. Out of the blue, he broadcast the $64,000 question:
This is my final "Final Word." Although, combined with the announcement of A HREF="http://www.stereophile.com/news/10541/">J. Gordon Holt's resignation, this will undoubtedly cause rumors to swirl about Emap Petersen forcing all the old guys out, I assure you that my departure is of my own volition. It's a process that started back in 1997, when John Atkinson and I first talked about selling Stereophile, and for me it reaches its conclusion here.
You could sense the frustration in Keith Pray's e-mail. "We are on the same team. I have always respected your wishes and will continue to do so," he had written me. At the request of a possible advertiser, Stereophile's publisher had asked me a question about something appearing in the issue of Stereophile we were preparing. I had responded that not only would I not give him an answer, I felt it inappropriate for him to ask.