Michael Fremer's review of the AudioPhysic Caldera III loudspeaker in this issue (p.81) reminded me of a subject I have written about many times in the past: what happens when a manufacturer submits a faulty sample for review. I formalized Stereophile's policy on this matter in late 1988, following both an unfortunate series of reviews in which the samples either arrived broken or broke during the auditioning, and my learning about how much went on behind closed doors at other audio magazines, where reviewers and editors too often appeared to collude with manufacturers.1 I wrote back then that:
Although you're reading this in October, I had to write it in the middle of summer's dog days—what Washington journalists used to call "the silly season," not so much because there's anything inherently funny about August, but because, in pre-AC DC, all the legislators went home then to escape the heat and humidity, leaving the press corps with little to write about other than "man bites dog" stories.
I've never lived in New York City, but I've visited often, especially the Upper West Side, where my wife's grandparents lived for many years. There's a little jazz bar there, on Broadway near 106th Street, aka Duke Ellington Boulevard.
The first epiphany I experienced in blind audio testing took place in the Dunfey San Mateo Hotel, in Northern California. We were stuffed into a largish, well-lit room in which dozens of listeners sat in chairs, and others stood around the back or sat on the floor. Up front were two large B&W Matrix 801 speakers on tall stands spaced far apart, behind them, opaque curtains hid a small pile of audio equipment. John Atkinson and Will Hammond stood at stage left.
On mornings when I can get up early enough after a late-night listening session, I take the last express bus from my Brooklyn suburb to Stereophile's Manhattan office. An inveterate people watcher, I notice that while my fellow travelers and I don't form a traditional queue at the bus stop, preferring instead to mill around in something that resembles a jelly donut, we still enter the bus in the order in which we arrived at the stop. The balance between individualism and social necessity is thus preserved.
On Friday morning, March 25, 2005, my friend Maura Rieland, Stereophile's show coordinator through the second half of the 1990s, e-mailed me to say that she had just learned of the passing of Ken Nelson.
In his "From the Editor's Desk" in the March issue of Stereophile's e-newsletter, John Atkinson recounts how, years ago, "erstwhile audio scribe Enid Lumley" demonstrated her pizza-box-tripod tweak at a hi-fi show. Lumley, JA writes, "placed the tripod atop a CD player and convinced her audience—including me—that the sound was better."
These days, too many audio stores are like hushed mausoleums. Audio gear is displayed like dead art, and the sales staff, unless you're known as a regular customer, either greets you with a predatory gleam or, certain that you've wandered in by mistake, ignores you.
Having just spent the last four days at the 2004 Audio Engineering Society conference in San Francisco, I was struck by the sunny enthusiasm shared by many industry professionals for 5.1-channel surround-sound music.
In early 2000, the British magazine The Economist published a lead editorial addressing America Online's acquisition of media giant Time Warner. In the editors' view, TW was a clunky, old-style media company that needed a fresh injection of dot-com blood to help them reach a more narrowly targeted audience. "Sex, shopping and violence," the editors wrote, echoing Internet visionary George Gilder, "...are what people have in common. What differentiates them is their enthusiasm for folk music, tropical fish, or Viennese waltzes."
"Bugger!" A Pennsylvania state trooper had stepped out from behind the overpass on the Turnpike and was aiming his radar gun straight at me. I reflexively jammed on the anchors, which was a) pointless and b) downright dangerous, considering I was in the middle of a phalanx of cars and trucks all cruising 5-10mph over the speed limit. But what can you do?
Conventional wisdom has it that you should listen to an audio component, preferably in your own system, before you decide to buy it. But who, these days, has the opportunity to do this consistently? Even an audition in the store isn't guaranteed; I have to drive two hours to get to the nearest dealer with decent customer service and a good inventory of interesting gear. And though he generally stocks a fairly wide range of components, like any dealer, he carries only a small sample of all the hi-fi gear that's currently, in principle, available.