Audiophiles constantly seek ways to improve the experience of hearing reproduced music. Preamps are upgraded, digital processors are compared, turntables are tweaked, loudspeaker cables are auditioned, dealers are visited, and, yes, magazines are readall in the quest to get just a little closer to the music.
DatelineChicago, May 30, 9:00pm. Exploding fireworks lit up the sky above the Chicago river as 200 leading high-end designers gathered in the Hotel Intercontinental for Stereophile's 30th Anniversary banquet. After a repast of four gourmet courses and five wines, the time came for after-dinner speeches to celebrate Stereophile's past and high-end audio's future. Publisher Larry Archibald described his adventurous transition from the high-end car business to risky publishing. Introducing J. Gordon Holt, he praised JGH's uniquely lucid writing and his unflinching insistence that equipment designed to reproduce music should be judged on its ability to do just thatthe unconventional view that launched high-end audio.
People of my generation have learned that change is certain. You can't know what the change will be, but you can bank on the fact that there will be serious change over the next ten years. Look at the historically most important change in ten years: microcomputers.
Editor's Introduction: Thirty years ago this month, in September 1962, J. Gordon Holt, lately Technical Editor of High Fidelity magazine, was working on the contents of the first issue of his brainchild The Stereophile, a magazine that would judge components on how they actually sounded. We thought it appropriate, therefore, to use the occasion of the 1992 Summer Consumer Electronics Show, held in late May in Chicago, to invite some 200 members of the international high-end industry to a dinner to celebrate the occasion. Larry Archibald dug deep into the magazine's coffers; Ralph Johnson took time off from organizing the 1993 High End Hi-Fi Show to burn up the long-distance telephone lines faxing invitations; the conversation was excellent, the food superb, and the wine even better. Which is probably why the venerable JGH took the opportunity to remind the assembled luminaries what this whole business is supposed to be about. Here follows the text of his speech. I hope you find it as stimulating reproduced in these pages as did those who heard it live.—John Atkinson
In the April 1992 Stereophile, reader Hilary Paprocki expressed his belief that recording engineers are unconcerned about sound quality. Indeed, he went so far as to allege that engineers intentionally use inferior miking techniques so that they can bill clients for additional time spent trying to fix the sound. The example he used was the engineer who places a microphone directly in front of a guitar amplifier, a technique Mr. Paprocki felt captured only "4%" of the sound. Mr. Paprocki also likened recording engineers to "featherbedders."
Epiphanies only come when you stop looking for them, and mine came in a room full of preschoolers watching cartoons at a Pizza Hut. I was taking my little nieces Alix (4) and Casey (1) out for dinner, and the last thing on my mind was audio; we wanted to PARTY! So my girlfriend Dara and I bundled them up in their car-seats and we high-tailed it over to the Hut, with visions of continuous-loop Tom'n'Jerry and cheap buffet pizza dancing in our heads.
In the four years since our last readership survey, Stereophile's circulation has grown by one third, from 45,000 to over 60,000 (footnote 1). We thought it time, therefore, to commission new numbers, from specialists Mediamark Research Inc. (footnote 2). Table 1 shows the demographic breakdown of the magazine's readers. While the launch of CD did bring more women into the audiophile fold almost 10 years ago, the proportion of Stereophile's female readers has not changed since 1988, at just over 1% (footnote 3). At one of the panel sessions at the 1992 High End Hi-Fi Show in Los Angeles, a man in the audience asked why high-end audio was so testosterone-bound when women were just as interested in music as men? The answers given by some of the many women at the show ranged from the fact that women only earn 47 cents on the dollar compared with men to conjecture that women are turned off by the hobby's tweak aspect. Certainly dealer Andrew Singer felt last October (footnote 4) that the high-end industry is hobbling itself by ignoring half the US's population.
My topic today is not the hardware that we use to reproduce sound, but the delicate precision instruments we use to detect it: our ears. Our enjoyment of musical sound is important enough to justify spending thousands of dollars on recordings, electronics, loudspeakers, and concert tickets. What is it worth to preserve your hearing so that you can continue enjoying great sound 10 or 20 years from now? I've been conducting an experiment for the last 30 years, at a cost of less than a penny a day. It began when I was 17.
The audio community's "Great Debate" has reached an amazing level of absurdity. On one side are the Objectivists, whose rationalist argument insists that all human auditory experience is the result of electro-physical phenomena which can be measured and mapped using established scientific methods. On the other side are the Subjectivists, romantics who believe in the synergistic interplay of music, room, equipment, and listener, and whose attempts to describe their experiences tend toward the florid and metaphorical.
In the early 1950s, a quiet, undistinguished Senator named Joseph Raymond McCarthy began a crusade against what he imagined were subversive, dangerous elements in American government. His tactics included irresponsible accusation, militant attacks on his opponents, and self-aggrandizing witch-hunting. So virulent were his methods the term "McCarthyism" entered the language. McCarthyism came to mean any unjustified persecution and the false conformity this strategy engendered (footnote 1).
Every summer, I invite a representative sample of Stereophile's equipment reviewers to the magazine's Santa Fe HQ. For the third successive year, I decided to tape some of the free-for-all discussion that takes place and offer readers the opportunity of peeking over the participants' shoulders by publishing a tidied-up version of the transcript.
As I walked through Stereophile's Taipei High-End Hi-Fi show (see the full report next month), I was startled to see four ladies in their 50s carrying Stereophile bags full of brochures. They'd just left a demonstration of Martin-Logan CLSes driven by Aragon electronics and were talking animatedly among themselves as they busily made their way to the next exhibit room. My surprise was repeated throughout the show as I saw an amazingly diverse group of people who had enough interest in high-end audio to get themselves to the Taipei Hilton and pay the show's admission price. Young couples, old couples, entire families, and women were all there to see and hear high-end audio. This was in sharp contrast to the narrow demographic group seen at US and European hi-fi shows: predominantly young to middle-aged males to whom audio is a hobby.