The year was 1948. As a six-year-old, I haunted record stores with my Uncle Stan. A quiet bank teller from Manchester, England, childless himself and quite overpowered by my Aunt Emily, Uncle Stan shared with me his love of music and movies.
I walked through my local Best Buy recently and didn't see one stereo receiver. Boomboxes, table radios, surround-sound gear, and computer speakers were everywhere. But the hi-fi staple of the 1960s and '70s—the plain-vanilla two-channel receiver—was not to be seen. Even if one or two were lurking there, the fact remains that high-quality two-channel audio is now so disconnected from consumer electronics that it's hardly at the "high end" of anything at all. It's a world unto itself.
Metallica's Lars Ulrich and Creed's Scott Sapp don't get it. But Courtney Love understands, and so does Stereophile's Jon Iverson, who pointed out in the October issue's "As We See It" that the dispute between the RIAA and Napster is more important to audiophiles than it might seem. The Napster-MP3 phenomenon is a crack in the dike that controls music distribution. How the water seeps through that crack now will determine how it will flow when the drip turns into a trickle, the trickle into a stream, the stream into a river. Audiophiles and pop-music fans alike will be in the same boat.
Art and commerce are butting heads once again, now that England's popular Brit Awards include a category for classical music. Last month's inaugural nominees included some highbrow names (Rachmaninoff, Bryn Terfel), but leaned heavily on such "crossover" artists as Paul McCartney for his orchestral forays, and classical violinist Kennedy (formerly known as Nigel Kennedy) for The Kennedy Experience, his CD inspired by Jimi Hendrix. Classical sales are still down, and record companies, one suspects, are latching onto quasi-classical popular works to boost the sector's profile. For traditionalists, of course, this shows that classical music is falling further into the cultural black hole of all things Madonna, Spice Girls, and McDonald's. They're pissed—in the American sense, that is.
It was 2am on January 8, 2000, and I was sitting at the bar of the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas. I'd just arrived for the Consumer Electronics Show and was recovering from a stressful day of travel. The airlines have a new computerized ticketing technology called the "electronic ticket": you get a reservation and a confirmation number, but no physical plane ticket, itinerary, or the feelings of security that accompany those pieces of paper.
This journal has seen a number of thoughtful ruminations on what it is that attracts us to music or to a given audio component, and how we should describe that attraction. The "Letters" pages have been filled by readers who have taken us to task for not adhering to rigorous scientific methods in the evaluation of components, those rigorous scientific methods usually being equated with double-blind listening. Other readers have praised the magazine for its stance that an educated listener in a familiar, relaxed environment will be more accurate in his or her assessment than an average of trained and untrained listeners in unfamiliar, stressful circumstances. Overall, sonic descriptions from diverse reviewers in different publications show a remarkable consensus of observation (not opinion).
Two scientists are racing for the good of all mankind—both of them working side by side, so determined, locked in heated battle for the cure that is the prize. It's so dangerous, but they're driven—theirs is to win, if it kills them. They're just human, with wives and children.
This is my final "Final Word." Although, combined with the announcement of A HREF="http://www.stereophile.com/news/10541/">J. Gordon Holt's resignation, this will undoubtedly cause rumors to swirl about Emap Petersen forcing all the old guys out, I assure you that my departure is of my own volition. It's a process that started back in 1997, when John Atkinson and I first talked about selling Stereophile, and for me it reaches its conclusion here.
Mary is a scientist living in a distant galaxy. She and her fellow humanoids are just like us, but their knowledge is highly advanced. It's so advanced, they've solved the most daunting problem in science—understanding the brain and mind. They know everything scientifically possible to know about the brain's neurons, its architecture, and how consciousness, ideas, feelings, and memories occur. Perception and sensation are understood, too. Mary knows exactly how light and sound waves become colorful visions and beautiful melodies. On her planet, aspiring neurobiologists are out of luck. There's nothing more to aspire to.
As January 1, 2000 approaches, and the MP3 whirlpool continues to swirl, one simple fact has made me feel as if I'm stuck at the starting line of the entire download controversy: The sound quality of MP3 has yet to improve above that of the average radio broadcast. Until that changes, I'm merely curious—as opposed to being in the I-want-to-know-it-all-now frenzy that is my usual m.o. when to comes to anything that promises music you can't get anywhere else.
Call me sentimental, but I'm sad to see turntables disappear. They were my original calling. Back in 1973 or so, when a kid from my neighborhood insisted that I see his brother-in-law's "fantastic stereo," I was entranced by a huge Pioneer receiver and walnut AR3a speakers. But most alluring by far was the Marantz turntable. Its brushed stainless-steel controls and gleaming, chromed tonearm made it look like some delicate and expensive scientific instrument. Compared to the all-in-one plastic unit I played my Partridge Family records on, the mere sight of it put me on the audiophile path. (And I mean just the sight of it. We weren't allowed to touch.) Eventually, his brother-in-law played a record for me—Gordon Lightfoot's Endless Wire. Since that day, I can chart the passage of my life according to the turntables I've owned—if it's VPI, this must be Chicago.
"Digital is superior," proclaims Mr. Alberto Arebalos in February's "Letters." I'm glad that's settled. Still, I'm typing this ten feet from a wall lined with LPs, Don Patterson's Satisfaction! is spinning on the old Systemdek turntable, and my usually cold, drafty Chicago apartment seems like a summer night at the Green Mill Jazz Club. But I agree: digital is superior. What's wrong with me?
Call me naÏve, but I thought the Hi-Fi Wars were merely in-house squabbles. Yes, meter-carrying objectivists and wide-eyed subjectivists can carry on worse than Republicans and Democrats in Congress. But I always figured that once someone cues up Dark Side of the Moon or Kind of Blue, the partisanship subsides as we revel in our common passion for music and sound. C'mon, everybody—group hug! Okay, I exaggerate.