Back in 1968, nothing sounded better to me than "Penny Lane"—one of my all-time favorite songs—blasting out over my Dad's home-built Eico gear (when no one else was around, of course). For some reason, the various sounds packed into that song grabbed my attention as much as that old integrated amp whose steel case got as hot as the tubes inside—ouch! When the Beatles broke up, I played Magical Mystery Tour over and over for days before I felt I'd paid them sufficient homage. Like everyone else, I heard a lot of the Beatles through the '70s and '80s. (And now, of course, it may as well be the '60s again: if you can stomach another "Magic Carpet Ride" every hour (or so it seems), just tune in your local "classic rock" station and you'll hear lots of "Penny Lane," too.)
Some folks claim to have actually seen the legendary Bigfoot, the enormous, manlike beast said to roam the backwoods of the Pacific Northwest. Others have stood in his footprints or plucked foul-smelling patches of hair from trees he has recently passed. A few have gotten close enough to take vague snapshots or shaky video clips of the beleaguered creature. One or two attest to frightful chance encounters with him. His size alone has given rise to rumors that he is dangerous, but no firm evidence has ever been produced to substantiate this.
In debates about audio, philosophy, literature, fine art, or whatever, people often adhere to either absolutism or relativism. Absolutism supposes, for example, that either analog or digital is superior and that whichever is better holds for all parties concerned. Michael Fremer, for instance, is not just advertising his opinion about the superiority of analog; he believes that everyone would acknowledge it if they paid attention to the evidence. Relativism, on the other hand, teaches that no such absolute and univocal consensus can be reached. In the end, we all have our own subjective preferences, and that, quite simply, is that. If we disagree about whether tube amps are better than solid-state, or single-ended is better than push-pull, c'est la vie.
Wandering through Tower Records the other night, I was struck by the amazing diversity of music available to us. There's music from every part of the globe, for every taste and interest, from "show-me-the-good-parts" compilations of classical highlights to obscure releases by unknown artists. There's music for the ecstatic, music for the angry, music for the straight, the gay, the bent, and the twisted. The subcategories replicate like rabbits, as if in a demographer's nightmare. Genus spawn species, which quickly mutates into subspecies, race, tribe: cult begets subcult.
So you've spent thousands (hours, that is...in terms of dollars, don't ask!) trying to improve the sound of your stereo, and you're still dissatisfied. Here's a list of sure-fire steps which, if followed precisely, will without a doubt have you happy as a lark for days afterward. (What? You expected to be happy with these improvements for months or even years? Get with it! This is high-end audio we're talking about. When was the last time you were satisfied more than a few hours with your costly upgrades?!)
Do you suffer from Audiophilia nervosa, that dreaded disease afflicting long-time readers of Stereophile, The Abso!ute Sound, Hi-Fi News & Record Review, and various other sordid high-end rags? Well, take heart, my friends---relief is on the way. But before treatment can begin, as with all illnesses, proper diagnosis is of paramount importance. To help facilitate this, I have compiled a set of multiple-choice questions. Please take the time to read through these carefully, and jot down your best-guess response from the choices below. You really should use a #2 pencil, as the lead in a #2 is bound to give you the smoothest response, with the least amount of writer's fatigue, allowing the letters to flow effortlessly from the first movement of your hand to the last.
"...and measures bad, then you're measuring the wrong thing!" If one motto could sum up this magazine's philosophy, this would be it. Too many times we have discovered components that sounded musically fabulous while offering measured performance that was, at best, merely competent. Yet recently, I'm starting to lose confidence in that old saw.
On a number of occasions, I or another of Stereophile's reviewing team has heard a product sounding flawed in ways later revealed by measurements. A closed story, you might thinkbut consider the NEAR-50M loudspeaker reviewed by Dick Olsher in this issue. Despite hearing many good things in the speaker's sound, Dick was bothered by a tonal-balance problem in the low treble. He was also disturbed by a lack of integration between the tweeter and midrange unit. When I measured the '50M, my response graphs (footnote 1) pretty much explained why Dick heard what he heard. Nevertheless, other reviews of this loudspeaker have been ecstatic in their praise, one even stating that it was "one of the most transparent and balanced dynamic loudspeakers available at any price" (my italics).
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.
"Equipment Reports," "Record Reviews," "Letters," "Industry Update," "Sam's Space," "As We See It," "The Final Word"---I read and enjoy them all. But the section of Stereophile I especially look forward to reading is "Manufacturers' Comments." How is the manufacturer going to respond to a review that's considerably less than 100% positive? Can they take criticism gracefully, or do they have an attitude? If I were a consumer considering purchase of one of their products, would their comments convince me that they'd be a good company to deal with? Are they uptight beyond reason, or do they have a sense of humor? Can they respond to a positive review without gloating?
It's useful to ponder the wonders of democracy in this election year—not because of elections, but despite them. Were you to judge democracy by this election year, you might conclude that it consists of judging who has the best PR people, who the best pollsters, and who can muster the nastiest, most effective "negatives" about the other guy.
"Like many audiophiles I have often sped home from a concert to fire up the audio system, and then, to the sore vexation of my wife and guests, spent the rest of the evening plunged in the morbid contemplation of what, exactly, was missing."