As We See It

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John Darko Posted: Jan 27, 2016 5 comments
How many advertisements for hi-fi or head-fi hardware do you see on your morning commute? Two? Three? If you live in Los Angeles, Sydney, or Paris, most likely it'll be zero.

Not so in Tokyo, where commuters, tourists, and shoppers moving through the Shinjuku or Shibuya subway stations will find it almost impossible to ignore Sony's latest advertising campaign, which colorfully announces a new range of affordable portable audio players (né Walkmans). Inside, banners suspended from the cars' ceilings promote Panasonic's latest headphones and shoebox-sized stereo system. Many of the bigger Japanese manufacturers treat audio gear as a mainstream concern.

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John Atkinson Posted: Dec 15, 2015 Published: Jan 01, 2016 95 comments
My spirits sank as I read the comments on Stereophile's Facebook page. In the November issue, we had published reviews of UpTone Audio's USB Regen device by Kalman Rubinson, Michael Lavorgna, and myself. Michael and Kal had enthused about the positive effect the USB Regen had made, but I could detect no measurable difference. On Facebook, Dan Madden had written, "I think a device like this would need a blind listening test to verify that a listener could hear the difference in a statistically measurable way, in a very high percentage of times."
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Robert Schryer Posted: Nov 18, 2015 Published: Dec 01, 2015 43 comments
It never fails. Browse Stereophile's Facebook page, scroll through the comments to an article that refers to life as an audiophile, and splat—appearing like bird droppings on your glistening screen are anti-audiophile wisecracks pointing out exactly how far off the "normal" track our hobby has derailed. Occasionally, I catch myself in mid-sentence, already replying to one of these droppings, the gist of my intended message invariably being: "If you're an anti-audiophile, what are you doing using up what life you have left reading a webpage devoted to a hobby you don't get? Shouldn't you be hanging out with your own friends?" Then, realizing that I'm wasting my time.
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Richard Lehnert Posted: Oct 20, 2015 Published: Nov 01, 2015 35 comments
"There are two kinds of music. Good music, and the other kind," Duke Ellington is famously supposed to have said. But that doesn't tell us how to recognize "good music," and it doesn't define good. Nor will this essay. Many have described the music of, say, Mozart or J.S. Bach with such phrases as the music of heaven or the mind of God or—especially Bach's music—that it embodies the basic structure of the universe/existence/reality. I've said such things myself.
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Steve Guttenberg Posted: Sep 22, 2015 Published: Oct 01, 2015 38 comments
I began working as a salesman of high-end audio gear in 1978. I was 29, and, as I recall, a healthy percentage of my customers were about my age. Most of the top high-end designers and entrepreneurs, too, were young: John Curl, Dan D'Agostino, Jon Dahlquist, Ray Kimber, Mark Levinson, Bill Low, Mike Moffat, Nelson Pass, Peter Snell, Bob Stuart, Jim Thiel, Ivor Tiefenbrun, A.J. van den Hul, Richard Vandersteen, Harry Weisfeld, David Wilson. The fact is, high-end audio's Golden Age—the late 1970s to the mid-1980s—was largely fueled by the under-40 set, and most high-end journalists were fellow baby boomers. Now we're all oldsters, with just a smattering of under-fortysomethings. That's about to change.
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Ken Micallef Posted: Aug 25, 2015 Published: Sep 01, 2015 58 comments
Photo © Kipnis Studios 2015

Are you on Facebook? Twitter? Instagram? Reddit? Social media has done much to bring together people of every interest imaginable to share their fascinations, desires, and, occasionally, delusions. From fans of frogs (FrogStomp) and proponents of clean public toilets (Benjyo Soujer) to a group that challenged an Iranian cleric's statement that women's flimsy attire causes earthquakes (Boobquake), social media is a global town square in which anyone with a keyboard and an attitude has an equal voice.

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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Jul 21, 2015 Published: Aug 01, 2015 32 comments
Most of us have experienced the proverbial curveball that comes out of nowhere to smack us right in the head. My most recent such encounter was pitched by Stereophile contributor Steve Guttenberg.

Steve's whammy arrived amid an e-mail exchange among Stereophile writers concerning a rather clueless column in another publication on the dearth of women audiophiles. After asking how many female audiophiles each of us knew, Steve G. defined what he meant by audiophile: "a person who frets over their system, agonizes over choices, loves gear, and sometimes music. You know, the kind of person who reads Stereophile or The Abso!ute Sound. Merely owning a nice stereo doesn't make you an audiophile. Owning a Leica doesn't make you a photographer. You have to be at least a little obsessed."

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Robert Schryer Posted: Jun 23, 2015 Published: Jul 01, 2015 14 comments
A decade ago, my mother, on noticing a copy of Stereophile on my kitchen counter, asked me, "Are you still into that sound stuff?" Her tone had a touch of exasperation.

"Geez, Mom. I've been an audiophile for 15 years. This isn't a phase I'm going to outgrow."

Instead of motherly empathy, I got a slight smirk and a retort: "But it's always the same thing."

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John Marks Posted: May 21, 2015 Published: Jun 01, 2015 5 comments
The day before I began writing this, John Atkinson posted on Stereophile's website a chart from Nielsen Soundscan showing the ski-jump–like path CD sales have been on since 2004. In 2004, total sales were 651 million units; in 2014, 141 million units. All that is lacking from that impactful visual to make the ski-jump analogy perfect is the little uptick at the end to launch the skier into free air. Those numbers look to me like a total decline in sales of 78%. Ouch.
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John Atkinson Posted: Apr 15, 2015 Published: May 01, 2015 109 comments
I write this in a Seattle coffee bar—my flight home to New York has been canceled due to a snowstorm. As I try to put down these thoughts, I'm listening to the high-resolution masters of the April issue's "Recording of the Month," Sasha Matson's jazz opera Cooperstown, on my Pono player using Ultimate Ears UE18 in-ear monitors. I was in Seattle for Music Matters 10, held by retailer Definitive Audio, and this was my first road trip with the Pono since I reviewed it for the April issue. (Bruce Botnick and Charles Hansen comment on that review elsewhere in this issue.)
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Steve Guttenberg Posted: Mar 16, 2015 Published: Apr 01, 2015 61 comments
I've known a lot of folks with impressive LP and CD collections who were perfectly content with the sound of the crappiest of hi-fis. This diverse group has included recording engineers, musicians, and owners of record stores. Loving music isn't the same thing as caring about the sound of music, and maybe, in some alternate universe, those folks would-have-been, could-have-been audiophiles. But in this universe, they didn't, and I'm not sure why.
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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Feb 24, 2015 Published: Mar 01, 2015 31 comments
To put it mildly, Jack Vad (second row in photo, orange shirt) was dismayed. The Grammy Award–winning media producer and chief engineer for the San Francisco Symphony had just returned from the 2014 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, and was trying to make sense of his experiences there. When he'd carried his latest recordings, which I think are superbly recorded, into rooms at the show and asked if he could play them, exhibitors were anything but enthusiastic.
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Robert Schryer Posted: Jan 28, 2015 Published: Feb 01, 2015 5 comments
Audiophilia nervosa. It's a running gag with a mean streak. As audiophiles, we know its effects intimately. We know how it can turn what was once a source of pleasure and pride—listening to good music over a good sound system—into an irritating itch that can't be scratched.

The UrbanDictionary.com defines audiophilia nervosa (AN) as "the anxiety resulting from the never-ending quest to obtain the ultimate performance from one's stereo system by means of employing state-of-the-art components, cables, and the use of certain 'tweaks.' Although the goal is supposedly to achieve maximum appreciation of the music, those afflicted with this condition are merely obsessed with their electronics."

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Steve Guttenberg Posted: Dec 22, 2014 Published: Jan 01, 2015 12 comments
We all have secrets, and it's about time I came clean with one of mine: I enjoy recorded music more than concerts.

I know, that's a sacrilege—as a lifelong music lover, I'm supposed to relish the live event, with all of the energy and connection between musicians and audience that can happen only when they're all breathing the same air. That may be true for you, but not for me. I've harbored the guilt for years: When I take the plunge and attend a concert, I rarely enjoy the experience enough to justify the effort and expense.

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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Nov 25, 2014 Published: Dec 01, 2014 23 comments
With increasing frequency, many audiophiles and industry professionals have accepted that the quest for highest-quality sound quality is a luxury and esoteric pursuit that, by its very nature, can appeal to only a small niche market. According to this view, the masses—the 99%, if you will—are either satisfied with Pioneer, Bose, Samsung, Dr. Dre, and iPhone/Android/tablet sound; can't tell the difference between quality and dreck; or will never have the money or imagination to move beyond lowest-common-denominator sound. To the extent that the vast majority knows anything about high-end audio, it regards it as an absurdly overpriced indulgence and a target for their disdain.

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