"Everyone I know used to sit in front of the stereo and listen to music...Now no one I know, except for us lunatics, listens to music the way one would watch a movie on TV."—from The Audiophile Network
"A newspaper can flout an advertiser...but if it alienates the buying public, it loses the one indispensable asset of its existence."—Walter Lippman, 1922, reprinted in Public Opinion, New York: Free Press, 1965.
When J. Gordon Holt founded Stereophile in 1962, it was very much the outsider. Compared with the mass-market magazine of which he had been Technical Editor, High Fidelity, Gordon's Stereophile was the very model of an "underground" publication, with a publication schedule as irregular as its production values were inconsistent. Its writing was from the heart, however.
Watching the Beatles Anthology TV shows last Thanksgiving, I was struck by how good recorded sound quality was in the early to mid-1960s and how bad it had become by the era of Let It Be. Early Beatles recordings may have been primitive in terms of production, but their basic sound quality was excellent, with extended response at the frequency extremes and a natural, clean-sounding midrange. Late Beatles recordings lacked highs and dynamic range, and sounded grainy by comparison. This was partly because, by 1969–70, studios had replaced their simple tubed mixing consoles with the first generation of solid-state desks, and their old tubed two-track Studers and Ampexes with solid-state multitrack recorders. These featured track widths so narrow that only the massive use of Dolby-A noise reduction made it possible to produce recordings that had any dynamic range at all!
As you can read in this month's "Industry Update" (pp.35 & 37), the two conglomerates who hitherto seemed driven to offer the world two competing standards for the forthcoming Digital Video Disc came to their senses. Instead of consumers being offered Toshiba/Warner/Matsushita's SD and Sony/Philips's MCD, there will be just one high-density 4.75" disc to take both video and audio data storage into the 21st century.
As someone who started out as a classically trained musician but who then stepped sideways into rock, I'm fascinated by the one music I've never played: jazz. It seems to me that the essential difference between a performance of a classical work and a jazz performance is that in the former, the musicians use their technique to breathe life into dead notes on a page, while in good jazz, the performer not only applies a similar level of technical expertise, but also has simultaneously to have all of music theory at the fingertips in order to decide what the next note should be. It is a rare musician---Keith Jarrett, for example---who can excel in both arenas.
"All great editors are men able to see how stories, episodes, and personalities flow and merge one into the other to reproduce the pattern of a world that only their own inner eye perceives.—Henry Robinson Luce, Founder, Time and Life magazines
"The idea that intellectual property in a Net-based economy can lose its value horrifies most owners and creators. They'd better get over it."—Esther Dyson, "Intellectual Value" Wired, July 1995, p.136
In common with the mood of our times, there seems to be an increasing amount of bad temper in the High End. There are more people around who, in Jonathan Scull's timeless phrase, have a "level of audiophile rage very close to the surface." Witness, for example, the "cancel my subscription" letter from Professor Daniel H. Wiegand in this issue: he obviously feels a line has been crossed.
In this month's "Letters," Donald Bisbee raises the subject of the government's proposed reduction in funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), I agree with Mr. Bisbee that commercial radio broadcasting in the US is an intellectual desert. Music is narrowcast, with listeners' tastes bound into predigested categories. There is no depth or analysis to radio news programs, other than discussions by populist commentators who, no matter what you may think of their politics, usurp the ability of their audiences to think for themselves. As a regular listener to NPR and watcher of PBS, I feel that public broadcasting is an essential factor in American public discourse (footnote 1), but not for the reasons some might think.
Compuserve's CEAUDIO forum has been buzzing in recent weeks about audio cables. The subject even spilled over into an April meeting of the New York chapter of the Audio Engineering Society (see Wes Phillips's report in this month's "Industry Update"). Nearly two decades after Polk, Fulton, and Monster Cable raised our collective consciousness about the differences cable choice can make in an audio system, the debate still rages between audiophiles and some members of the engineering community. "High-priced tone controls" is how some engineers dismiss the subject of cables, while admitting that they can sound different. Other engineers adopt the "Hard Objectivist" line that if there are differences to be heard between cables, differences in the lumped electrical parameters of resistance (R), inductance (L), and capacitance (C) are all that are required to explain such differences.
When some unknown copywriter coined that immortal phrase to promote the worldwide launch of Compact Disc in late 1982, little did he or she foresee how quickly it would become a term of ridicule. Yes, early CDs and players offered low background noise, a flat spectral balance, and freedom from wow and flutter. But all too often, the music encoded in the "perfect-sounding" pits seemed to have taken a vacation, leading the renowned recording engineer John Eargle to offer, in the medium's defense, that if you were to hear just one CD that sounded good, digital technology would be proved to be okay.
Conventional wisdom has it that the perfect sculpture is present, but hidden within the raw material. And the same conventional wisdom similarly applies to magazine editing: all it needs is careful chipping away at the extraneous material in the raw text files we receive from our authors—sometimes the barest degree of reshaping, repointing, and restructuring—and you have a finished product that both maximally communicates the writer's message and makes the anonymous artisan-editor proud of a job well done.