A number of recent letters have accused us of snobbishness and elitism because we devote so much space to reports about components that "common folk" can't afford. We are "snobbish" because we seem to look down on anything less perfect than a Wilson WAMM speaker system or an Audio Research SP-10 preamplifier. And we are "elitist" because we seem to show little interest in any components which fall short of state of the art. Far from being chastened by these letters, I am proud, to declare that they are right on target.
Our long-awaited laser-audio disc player (usually called the CD, for "Compact Disc") finally arrived, along with a real bonanza of software: two discs—a Polygram classical sampler of material from Decca, Deutsche Grammophon and Philips, and a Japanese CBS recording of Bruckner's 4th Symphony, with Kubelik.
High-quality, low-cost loudspeaker systems are not an everyday blessing. The Rogers LS3/5a has survived for more than a decade precisely because so few US manufacturers sought musical accuracy as distinguished from high output and powerful bass. The economics of loudspeaker manufacture also don't lend themselves to economy. The cost of woodwork is driving the price of speakers up almost as fast as the cost of sheet-metal work is escalating the price of electronics.
The title of this month's column is the legend Sheffield Labs emblazoned on a T-shirt a couple of years ago, to promote their jaundiced view of digital audio. Since then, even Sheffield's reactionary perfectionists softpedalled their anti-digital crusade, perhaps because of the number of CDs they've been selling! Their personnel no longer wear those T-shirts at CES, which is unfortunate. Although most people in the audio field no longer see digital audio as madness, digital denouncing is still very much with us.
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.
From time to time in this column, I have alluded to what appears to be a loss of direction in high-end audio. It's not that the state of the audio art has stopped advancing; the technology is improving in many ways, as is obvious every time we listen to a new preamplifier or cartridge or loudspeaker that has better this, that, or the other thing than anything which has come before. The problem is that these improvements don't really seem to be getting us anywhere. And I believe the reason for this is that the audio community no longer agrees about where audio is supposed to be going in the first place.
After a number of years of equipment reviewing, one gets rather blasé about "compact" loudspeakers. The appearance of yet another one that looks like hundreds of others and embodies no radically new innovations to pique one's curiosity is likely to be greeted with a passionate Ho-Hum.
The rumors have been flying, and his arrival is imminent—a couple weeks after you read this—so it's time our readers know: John Atkinson, for the last four years Editor of Britain's prestigious Hi-Fi News & Record Review, is joining the staff of Stereophile as Managing Editor and International Editor.
As the person who "invented" subjective testing, I have followed with great interest the many articles in the mainstream audio press which purport to prove that none of us can really hear all the differences we claim to hear, particularly those between amplifiers. My reaction has usually been: "Why didn't they invite me to participate? I would have heard the differences under their double-blind listening conditions." I could make that assertion with supreme confidence because I had never been involved in any such test.
Is it possible to make a $700 "mainstream-audio" power amplifier sound exactly like a high-priced perfectionist amplifier? Bob Carver, of Carver Corporation, seemed to think he could, so we challenged him to prove it.
Now that Stereophile's reporting on the 1985 Summer Consumer Electronics Show has ended (I hope!), I would like to express strong dissent with its style and content. In fact, I believe that most of it should never have appeared in print.
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.
Hey, kids, here's the Big News. We've been deluding ourselves all along, worrying about piddling little bits of distortion that we can't hear at all. How's your preamp distortion? 1% at 1 volt out? You have a perfect preamp—a veritable straight wire with gain! That ear-shattering shrillness is all in your mind, because it has now been demonstrated that the human ear cannot perceive distortion levels of less than 6–12% on "normally complex music." If you think you can hear 0.1%, you are deluding yourself.