I was having breakfast in my hotel room on December 13, 2008, finally getting down to preparing the presentation I was to give at the Los Angeles and Orange County Audio Society scant hours later (footnote 1). I procrastinated a little more by checking my e-mail one more time. The message from Ivor Humphreys, once my deputy editor at the UK's Hi-Fi News & Record Review magazine (now just plain Hi-Fi News), and for many years technical editor at Gramophone magazine, was typically terse: "John Crabbe has died. He had a fall on the wintry ice a few days ago and broke an arm. He died at home yesterday. He was 79."
A psychological theory (footnote 1) that I've always been fond of is the one that proposes the perceptual/personality dimension of Sharpening vs Leveling. As defined by the early Gestalt psychologists, Sharpening is an exaggeration of differences, Leveling a minimization of differences. In visual-perception research on this topic, when test subjects were presented with an asymmetrical figure, some later recalled it in ways that exaggerated the figure's asymmetry (Sharpeners), while others minimized or eliminated it (Levelers).
Much has been made of the influence that Linn, Naim, and Rega have had on our ideas about music-system hierarchies: Before they and a handful of other British audio manufacturers kicked off the debate in the 1970s, the conventional wisdom worldwide was that the loudspeaker was more important than the record player, amplifier, or any other link in the domestic audio chain, and thus deserved to be the object of significantly greater care and attention, not to mention investment of cash. But the Brit-fi approach was different, and ostensibly better reasoned: Because musical information that's distorted or dropped entirely by a record player, a CD player, or any other source can't be made right by any other component in the system, it is the source that must be considered the most important component of all, and to which the majority of funds should be allocated.
If home-gallows prices keep coming down, people won't go to public executions anymore. The home brothel has reduced the amount of cash American men spend each year on banging strangers. And thanks to the home sweatshop, the CEOs of all the major clothing manufacturers have been forced to take pay cuts. (I mean, come on: It was either that or something totally unimaginable, like shipping American jobs overseas, or cutting healthcare benefits for the rank and file.)
At the end of August, we watched as the number of registered users in our online forums quickly ticked past the 10,000 mark. Ten thousand registered users! While it might prove interesting to learn just how that number breaks down into men and women, old and young, subjectivists and objectivists, or any of several other demographic and philosophical divides, that would only obscure the point: In our online forums, there are over 10,000 members who are eager to share their enthusiasm for music and hi-fi. What a beautiful thing!
I'm scared. I've just returned from a visit to the isle of my birth, Manhattan. As the spouse and I walked to Stereophile's offices to meet John Atkinson and Stephen Mejias for dinner, we passed some of the most valuable real estate in the country. It was hard to imagine that, if global warming continues at its current, ever-accelerating pace, the buildings we were marveling at will soon be below sea level.
One day in the early 1960s, Arnold Gingrich, Esquire magazine's founder and editor-in-chief, phoned his stockbroker with an unusual request: Gingrich needed a cashier's check for $12,000 right away. Would the broker please sell some of Gingrich's stocks?
In the 1970s, a small black-and-white ad sometimes ran in the pages of Playboy magazine. The ad pictured an attractive young woman with lots of disheveled hair and a crooked grin. There was little else to the ad other than the headline, which the reader would assume was being spoken by the model: "It takes more than Martinis to build an image, Mister!"
It was a simple little thing that turned into so much more. Michael Lavorgna started it. Out of the blue and as sudden as spring, he sent an e-mail to me and speaker designer John DeVore: "Let's plan a trip to the Princeton Record Exchange!" And, just in case 60,000 beautiful LPs wouldn't be enough of a lure, Michael put a cherry on top: "The Triumph Brewing Company is right next door!"
As the May issue was being put to bed, the Internet was all aflutter over a proposal by digital strategy consultant Jim Griffin to have Internet Service Providers (ISPs) levy a $5 surcharge—a "network licensing model"—on all broadband users. Under this model, Griffin proposes that ISPs collect the fee, which would then be paid into a pool to "compensate music-copyright holders." Griffin says that consumers who do not download digital music files would not be forced to pay the surcharge, but that he anticipates "70–80% would pay" for all the content they could download.
A few nights ago, I listened to mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson's recording of J.S. Bach's great solo cantata, "Ich habe genug" (It is enough), BWV 82 (Nonesuch 79692-2). Hunt Lieberson was one of those rare mezzos, like Janet Baker and Kathleen Ferrier before her, whose voice conveyed an innately spiritual sense of connection with something greater than the individual self. Especially when she sang softly, she was able to imbue her tone with a hallowed reverence that is easier to feel than describe in words. To the extent that anyone can communicate the "tender mercies" and sacred intimacies of life, love, and spirit, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson proved herself a master.
"Modern recordings, for all their glory . . . have conditioned audiences to expect an inhuman degree of performance accuracy, comparable to what a recording studio's editing team can produce by patching together the best moments from multiple takes."—James F. Penrose, Wall Street Journal, January 25, 2008
I'm writing these words on the flight home from the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show, held January 7–10 in Las Vegas. I wasn't sure what to expect at this year's CES. Though the official stats show that the US economy has grown for the fourth straight year, audio retailers I spoke with before the Show feel that that economic growth has not resulted in any increase in consumers' disposable incomes. In fact, with the drying up of credit, retailers are concerned that 2008 may well be a step back from 2007 in overall sales, and that high-end audio—a niche category within a niche category—will be adversely affected by the relative impoverishment of the middle class.
As I wrote in this space last month, test-equipment manufacturer Audio Precision has loaned Stereophile a sample of their top-of-the-line SYS2722 system, which has both significantly greater resolution and greater bandwidth than the Audio Precision System One Dual Domain we have been using since 1989. The reviews you can read in this issue include the first measurements I have performed with this impressive piece of gear, though there are still a number of graphs I produced using our System One. In fact, with the equipment I tested using the SYS2722, I performed duplicate sets of measurements using both the System One and the Miller Audio Research QC Suite in order to get a handle on how close the three systems agreed. (They did on the tests where the SYS2722's improved resolution was not a factor.)