September 1997 saw the 35th anniversary of Stereophile magazine, founded by J. Gordon Holt back in 1962. If any interview needs no introduction, this is it. My interview with Gordon was conducted around the kitchen table in Gordon's Boulder, Colorado home over a couple of cold beers. It seemed appropriate to start at the very beginning... J. Gordon Holt: I don't remember when that was.
Thirty-five years ago this month, the first issue of a new audio magazine—cover price 50 cents—cautiously made its way out of a Philadelphia suburb. Its black'n'white cover featured a chessboard adorned with tubes and XLR plugs. Its 20 advertising-free pages included a feature on how to write an ad for an audio product, which had been penned by one Lucius Wordburger, a footnote helpfully pointing out that this was the nom de plume for one J. Gordon Holt, "who wishes to remain anonymous."
"The monthly miracle," it's called in publishing: that magical moment when the new issue of your magazine arrives in the mailbox hot from the printer. And with this issue of Stereophile—No.274, or Vol.25 No.11—we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the start of our "miracle." With the 20 pages of Issue No.1, Vol.1 No.1, cover-dated September-October 1962, "Ye Editor & Publisher" J. Gordon Holt introduced both a new audio magazine and the philosophy that an audio product is best reviewed by doing exactly what its purchasers will do: listen to it. On that small rock of an idea was founded not only Stereophile but the entire high-end audio industry. Here, reprinted from a 1974 anthology of the first 12 issues, is J. Gordon Holt's description of the events that led up to the founding of Stereophile:
"Most important." That was the phrase I used when I e-mailed the members of Stereophile's extended family of reviewers and writers to ask for suggestions when I began to compile this list. I didn't want to be more specific because I wanted to cast the net as wide as possible. But there are many factors that make an audio component "important": design innovation, sound quality, sales figures, influence on other designers, influence on the evolving market, influence on system synergy.
And I used to think our annual "Records To Die For" issue was difficult. Whew! When it came down to choosing the 40 most influential rock/pop, jazz, and classical records of the past 40 years, during which this magazine has been the most honest and enjoyable source of high-end audio journalism, my initial list contained more than 200 choices. A painful paring-down process ensued, with input from every member of the Stereophile staff.
Like many Stereophile readers, I have often sped home from a concert to fire up the audio system and then, to the sore vexation of my wife and guests, spent the rest of the evening plunged in the morbid contemplation of what, exactly, was missing.
I have been reading a lot of late. Whether it is due to the reduced appeal of recorded music owing to the ever-decreasing shelves of LPs in our local specialty record store (the owner explains that he still wants to sell LPs; it's the record companies that make it increasingly harder for him to do so with punitive returns policies and deaf ears to back orders), or the fact that it's Spring, I don't know. But the fact remains that I have recently found myself devouring a shelf-full of titles sometimes only vaguely related—horrors!—to high fidelity. Stuart Chase's The Tyranny of Words, for example, first published in 1938 and a finer examination of what came to be called semantics you wouldn't want to find, should be essential reading for anyone involved in writing articles that are still intended to communicate some meaning.
Beginning with this issue, Stereophile readers will notice that more of the subjective equipment reviews are augmented with technical reports describing certain aspects of the component's measured performance. Although test data have lately been increasingly included in reviews, Stereophile has recently made a major commitment to providing readers with relevant measurements of products under review. We have just finished building an audio test laboratory featuring the Audio Precision System One, a sophisticated, computer-based audio test measurement system.
By now you've no doubt realized that Stereophile has changed its size—from 5½" by 8 7/16" to 7½" by 10¼". (All right—maybe you didn't know the exact dimensions of the change, but that's what they are.) We have Edward Chen, Publisher of Stereophile's Chinese edition, to thank for our new size. It is the same size as the Chinese Stereophile and a common size in the Far East. We've been admiring it in Chinese for the last two-and-a-half years, and we thought it would make sense in English as well.
"Tax proposed to fund Public TV, radio," read the newspaper headline. The Working Group for Public Broadcasting, described as a "private study group," was proposing to free public broadcasting "from improper political and commercial influences" by replacing its $228 million in congressional appropriations and $70 million or so in corporate funding with $600 million to be raised from a new sales tax on electronic equipment. The article went on to say that the proposal was being sent to the congressional panels concerned with communications (ie, the commerce committees), where it could become the basis for a new Public Broadcasting Act.
I am reluctant to call any given transistor power amplifier a "best buy" or "breakthrough." From my talks with designers and other audiophiles, it is clear that the state of the art in power amplifiers is about to change. From where I stand, the Adcom GFA-555 is the first sample of this new wave. It is so clearly superior to past amplifiers in the low- to mid-priced range—not to mention most amplifiers two to three times its pric—that I can unhesitatingly recommend it for even the most demanding high end system.
One of the oldest names in US audio, Altec Lansing was building speakers for theaters and recording studios long before the introduction of the microgroove LP in 1948 (which date many see as marking the inception of high fidelity). Started in 1931 under the name All-Technical Services ~Corp., the firm later purchased another audio firm called Lansing Engineering, and merged the names. Altec's Model 604, one of the first true coaxial speakers, was adopted for home use by many early hi-fi buffs and, several permutations later, is still widely used for monitoring in disc-cutting rooms.
By the time you read this, I will have been fortunate enough to have attended a banquet put on by Harry Pearson in celebration of The Abso!ute Sound's 20th anniversary. Stereophile and TAS may have had their disagreements from time to time, but I take this opportunity to congratulate Harry and his staff on 20 years of excellent high-end publishing. I believe it's not excessively immodest to report that high-end manufacturers frequently remind me of their gratitude for the healthy and vibrant high-end publishing community which exists in the United States—and does not in most other countries. Many publications make up this community, but Stereophile and TAS are certainly the most widely read.
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.