At the 2003 Consumer Electronics Show in January—see the report in this issue—Sony and Philips held an SACD Event at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas. There were trippy lights. There were the Grand Pooh-Bahs of Sony, Philips, and the record labels. There was loud multichannel Big Brother and the Holding Company. And there was Sony's main SACD man in the US, David Kawakami, supplying the pep talk.
There's a widespread myth that writers who get published are more talented than writers who don't get published, and that musicians who make records are more talented than musicians who don't make records. But anyone with any talent who has ever tried to earn a living as a writer, a musician, or any other kind of artist understands that the correlation between merit and success is, at best, loose. Some successful artists are talented, and some talented artists are successful. But for every talented artist who manages to make a living there are a dozen more, equally deserving, who have no choice but to keep their day jobs.
"What? What??? No Smiths?" asks reader Steven J. Wilder in this issue's "Letters" (p.9), regarding my interjection in the "Honorable Mentions" sidebar of last November's "40 Essential Albums." Hey, I think The Smiths suck—okay, Mr. Wilder? Morrissey's self-absorbed adolescent whining had no place on a list that included music from such grownups as Morrison, Mitchell, and Mingus. I'm not alone in this sentiment. Jon Iverson, www.stereophile.com's webmaster, almost stapled together the pages of Mojo magazine's April 2001 retrospective of Morrissey's and Marr's music so he could skip over it without running the risk of the veins on his forehead exploding.
Surfing the Usenet newsgroups and the Web audio forums recently, it struck me that the old wisdom is correct: If you keep your mouth shut, you won't say anything with which anyone can disagree. A topic that seems to be of perennial interest is how Stereophile chooses the products it reviews. Yet the more I have explained how it's done, the greater the criticism that is heaped on the magazine.
"Suicide junctions," I calls 'em. The ones with which I'm most familiar are on I-278, just north of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge in Brooklyn, New York, and along North Mopac in Austin, Texas, but they must exist all over the US. Traffic about to enter the freeway must first cross the line of faster-traveling offcoming cars, the intersection's on- and off-ramps crossing in a shallow X.
"The monthly miracle," it's called in publishing: that magical moment when the new issue of your magazine arrives in the mailbox hot from the printer. And with this issue of Stereophile—No.274, or Vol.25 No.11—we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the start of our "miracle." With the 20 pages of Issue No.1, Vol.1 No.1, cover-dated September-October 1962, "Ye Editor & Publisher" J. Gordon Holt introduced both a new audio magazine and the philosophy that an audio product is best reviewed by doing exactly what its purchasers will do: listen to it. On that small rock of an idea was founded not only Stereophile but the entire high-end audio industry. Here, reprinted from a 1974 anthology of the first 12 issues, is J. Gordon Holt's description of the events that led up to the founding of Stereophile:
"My god. This was better than any hi-fi I had ever experienced—I actually had Sergei Rachmaninoff in the room, playing Mendelssohn just for me. I am not ashamed to say that I wept." I wrote those words in the January 2001 Stereophile, about hearing a piano-roll transcription of Rachmaninoff performing Mendelssohn's Spinning Song (Op.67 No.34) on a Bösendorfer Imperial 290SE reproducing piano. I was in the middle of recording Robert Silverman's cycle of Beethoven piano sonatas at the Maestro Foundation in Santa Monica, where there just happened to be a floppy disk with Wayne Stahnke's transcription of the Rachmaninoff for the Bösendorfer mechanism, which Stahnke invented.
Although I was trying to earn a living playing in rock bands in the early 1970s, I occasionally used to drag my Fender bass over to a school canteen in the next town for an after-hours session with what used to be called a "rehearsal band." (I have no idea what the derivation of that name is, except that, with the exception of a couple of veterans of the Ted Heath Orchestra, we were certainly in need of all the rehearsal we could get.) I would set up my Marshall stack the other side of the drummer from the pianist and sit behind a set of trumpet players, a brace of trombonists, and a scrum of players of the common saxophone flavors—a couple of altos, three or four tenors, and a baritone wielded by a gentleman with the magnificent moniker of Albert Bags. We played Glenn Miller and Woody Herman charts, and, on one memorable night, a Stan Kenton arrangement. Our technical chops didn't match our musical ambitions, but the feeling that welled up inside us when we all reached the final measure at the same time couldn't be beat.
This magazine's "Recording of the Month" feature has been running without a break since it first appeared in our January 1994 issue. The idea of its progenitor, then-music editor Richard Lehnert (who still copy-edits every word you see in Stereophile), was that every month we would recognize a recording that defied "Holt's First Law" by offering superb sound and wonderful music (footnote 1). I think we've succeeded at that goal. Despite the letter that Robert Baird mentions in his "Aural Robert" column this month (p.113), whose writer objected to the February issue's pick (Shelby Lynne's Love Shelby, Island ISLF 15426-2), if an audiophile's music collection consisted entirely of Stereophile Recordings of the Month, there wouldn't be a dog in the whole eclectic bunch.
Sometimes, taking what looks like the easy route turns out to be a bust. The line for cabs outside the Alexis Park Resort Hotel in Las Vegas, home of the high-end audio exhibits at the 2002 Consumer Electronics Show, must have been at least 50 people long. So much for the post-9/11 forecasts of doom that had preceded the convention: last fall's Comdex may have been a bust, but the official CES visitor count of 100,307, if a little lower than the past two years' attendances, still seemed respectable (and surpassed 1999's total of 97,370).
In my January "The Fifth Element" column, I discussed the concept of value in the context of audio component manufacture. This month's "Letters" includes a response to that column from Austrian distributor Hans Hirner. In his letter, Herr Hirner writes about some of his Web-surfing non-customers: "If that weren't enough, they also call me or my dealers to tell them how proud they are, after having taken all from me that is possible in system matching and trial—and even denoising their systems—to have been able to find 'our' products cheaper out there."