As Chester Rice, co-inventor of the moving-coil loudspeaker, once ruefully observed: "The ancients have stolen our inventions." So often, what is painted as new and innovative turns out to be something someone thought of long before. We have a habit of forgetting, and that applies not only to inventions, but to knowledge of other kinds as well.
I was sitting in the main listening room of In Living Stereo, a small Manhattan hi-fi shop nestled between Greenwich Village and the East Village, when my conversation with store owner Steve Mishoe turned to the economy's current dismal state. In the face of slow sales, Mishoe had noted an encouraging trend: Because we have less money to spend, we want to make sure that what money we do spend goes for products that not only deliver the thrill of something new, but also promise enduring quality. If this is true, then we have reason to celebrate. By shifting our focus from the so-called "latest and greatest" to that which will provide lasting enjoyment, we set ourselves up for some real happiness and fun. Editor John Atkinson had this in mind 17 years ago, when he began our "Products of the Year" ritual. He felt it important to distinguish the truly good products from all the flashy pretenders that too often win the affections of our capricious hearts.
Until the Recording Industry Association of America hit the headlines in recent years with its antipiracy campaign, the initials RIAA meant one thing to seasoned audiophiles: the vinyl-disc equalization characteristic introduced in the 1950s to standardize what had previously been an anarchy of different EQs. Three decades later, as CD gained ascendance, a large proportion of audiophiles still knew what RIAA equalization was, and a good number of them had some idea or better of what the RIAA EQ curve looked like, and why it was applied.
Times are hard. Our current economic landscape bears more than a passing resemblance to that darkest of American nightmares, the Great Depression. As I write this, the House of Representatives is set to vote on a $700 billion bailout plan to buy distressed mortgages and thereby offer a crutch to our ailing financial system. Times are hard, yet we persevere. Though we may lack some discretionary income, we find ways to maintain the essentials: food, clothing, shelter, and, for audiophiles, music. So for a short while at least, let's put aside our struggles and lighten up. After all, this great hobby of ours is meant to be fun, and is supposed to cure any depression. Let's celebrate music, and those wonderful audio components that bring us closest to it.
"Physical discs seem so 20th century!" That's how I ended my eNewsletter review of the Logitech (then Slim Devices) Squeezebox WiFi music server in April 2006, and it seems that increasing numbers of Stereophile readers agree with me. In our website poll of January 5, 2008, we asked, "Are you ready for an audiophile music server?" The response to that question was the highest we have experienced: 32% of respondents already listen to music via their computer networks, many using home-brewed solutions, and 44% intend to. We've published a lot of material on this subject in the last five years, and it seemed a good idea to sum it up in this article.
Headphones get pretty short shrift in much of the hi-fi press, which is puzzlingthe headphone market is burgeoning. I don't know what the equivalent US figures are, but in recent years the UK headphone market has increased by an annual 1520% in both units sold and overall revenue. It's easy to dismiss this as a natural byproduct of the Apple iPod phenomenon, but 20% of the market value is now accounted for by headphones costing over $120; a significant subset of consumers would seem to be looking for quality. When you also consider that many people's first exposure to higher-quality audio comes via headphones, there is ample reason for treating them more seriously.
Surround Sound: Up and Running (Second Edition)
by Tomlinson Holman. Published by Focal Press, an imprint of Elsevier (footnote 1) (Oxford, England, UK; www.elsevier.com). 2008. Paperback, 248 pages, ISBN 978-0240808291. $44.95.
Swiss Precision: The Story of the Thorens TD 124 and Other Classic Turntables Swiss Precision: The Story of the Thorens TD 124 and Other Classic Turntables
by Joachim Bung. Published by Joachim and Angelika Bung, Schmitten, Germany (firstname.lastname@example.org), 2008. Hardcover, 288 pages, four-color, ISBN 978-3-00-021162-1. Price: €59 plus overseas mailing.
It's said that your first experience on entering a space sets the tone for all that follows. At LP pressing plant Record Technology, Inc. (RTI), that experience is my encounter with veteran pressman Richard Lopez, who responds to my request for direction. As he leaves his vintage record press to lead me to owner Don MacInnis, Lopez reads aloud the sticker on a box of recently pressed LPs. "WORLD'S FINEST PHONOGRAPH RECORDS," he declares with pride. As I reflect on how few workers today feel so connected to the products they make, I sense that something special lies ahead.
As Wes Phillips recently reported on this website, CD sales are down and legal downloads of audio files are up. Stereophile has been criticized more than once for not paying enough attention to the subjects of MP3 and other compressed file formats, such as AAC, and for offering no guidance at all to readers about how to get the best sound quality from compressed downloads.
Well, ladies and gents, it's been a long year. As I write this, on an unusually humid and hazy October morning, I'm still feeling the lingering effects of my beloved Mets' sudden and tragic collapse from the top of the National League East. I sat there, at Flushing Meadows' Shea Stadium, covered in peanut shells and with tears in my hazel eyes as the scoreboard went cruelly blank and Coldplay's "The Scientist" wept over the stadium loudspeakers. It was brutal.