"You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve?"Lauren Bacall, To Have and Have Not, 1944
Yesterday, I played a minor role in a dustup on Facebook. It began when a fellow journalist posted a controversial quote from a veteran manufacturer known for generating same. The bait proved irresistible, and a long line of audio mavens, myself included, swam around the hook for an hour or so. The manufacturer himself also waded in, and before the fight was over, he'd made a show of demanding the home address of one of his antagonists, thus raising the manly specter of bodily harm. If there were any women in the audience, I'm sure they were impressed.
Way back when, I met this maenad woman at Caffe Reggio in Greenwich Village and told her I was an artist. She told me she was an art collector and invited me to her loft to see her collection. While she was showing me an impressive assortment of African and contemporary art, she was dropping names: William Burroughs, Bob Marley, John Cage, etc. Hmmm . . . really? I spoke up. "Oh, I love John Cage. What was he like?"
You don't need me to tell you that listening habits are changing. Although those who predict that the end of our beloved home stereo systems is near (footnote 1) have more than a little in common with those who predict the imminent destruction of humankind, there's no question that listening via computers, iPods, and headphones has become the order of the day among a large segment of younger Americans.
It's no secret that the high-end audio industry has done a poor job of reestablishing the mainstream respect it enjoyed through the latter half of the 20th century, but its lack of reach has never been as painfully obvious as it is today. Teens are inextricably tied to smartphones, moms and dads are infatuated with Bluetooth streaming, and most people would rather pay too much for an MP3 than anything at all for a DSD download. In a world dominated by fancy gadgets and intriguing technologies, the pursuit of true high-fidelity sound remains an obscure pastime for a relatively small group of aging males. Everyone knows Apple, Beats, and Bose, but few have heard of Vivid, Wilson, or YG.
It began innocently enough. In June, Slate.com published a sampling from an exhibit by the photographer Kai Schaefer, in which classic LPs of different eras were partnered with the similarly classic record players on which they might have been played: Tea for the Tillerman on a Dual 1219, Kind of Blue on a Rek-O-Kut Rondine, Sgt. Pepper's on a Thorens TD 124you get the idea. The photos worked as cultural documents, as good-natured kitsch, as surprisingly beautiful and compelling industrial art. I was thoroughly charmed.
Thanksgiving will mark two years since Charles died. I still miss him.
I first met Charles in the 1990s, around the time I began to review recordings and audio equipment. I had just left my apartment and was driving slowly down the street when I spied a somewhat bent-over, wizened-looking man carrying a copy of Stereophile under his arm. My astonishment at discovering another Stereophile reader whom, it turned out, living just two buildings away, brought my car to a sudden halt.
At the time of my August 2011 "As We See It," I was using a Wilson-McIntosh system. That system is still with me and still gets quite a bit of use. Its location, however, has changed. In its place is a system that I can't see switching out or needing to replace: Wilson Alexandria XLF speakers with VTL Siegfried Series II Reference monoblock power amps, TL-7.5 Series III Reference preamplifier, and TP-6.5 Signature phono stage. It might take a small army of people to move it, but beyond that, I think I'm good to go.
No one ever had to pay for recorded musicit was always "free" on the radioand the home taping of LPs, the copying of cassettes, and, later, burning CDs made buying music optional. Then Napster and other file-sharing sites kicked it up a notch and made it very easy to assemble a 10,000-song collection without spending a dime. Now, Spotify, BitTorrent, SoundCloud, MOG, and YouTube make music instantly accessible on demand. It raises the question: Will music lovers continue to buy music? Paying for recorded music is now, more than ever, a voluntary act.
For over three decades, I have felt compelled to turn people on to music. Throughout my career as a DJ, all of my endeavors have been linked by the desire to spread the joy of listening to records, in the hope that people would feel something like the emotional resonance I feel. My Classic Album Sundays adventuresee www.stereophile.com/content/classic-album-sundays-bellwether was born from this lifelong dedication to musical curating, and propelled by a eureka hi-fi moment.
In the wrap-up of his coverage of the 2013 Salon Son & Image show in Montreal, which took place at the end of March, Robert Deutsch asked if there were too many audio shows. The Chicago AXPONA show was held two weeks before SSI, the second New York Audio Show followed less than three weeks later. In May, there was the humongous High End 2013, in Munich, followed two weeks later by the third T.H.E. Show Newport Beach, followed by: the Capital AudioFest, in Washington, DC (July 2628); the fourth California Audio Show, in the Bay Area (August 811); the tenth Rocky Mountain Audio Fest (October 1113); and TAVES in Toronto (November 13).
While this is no more shows than took place in 2011 or 2012, many exhibitors, manufacturers and distributors alike, to whom I talked at the spring events felt that the high-end audio industry is suffering from an overload of audio shows.
I have a hunch that the overwhelming majority of Stereophile readers have pretty decent hi-fis, but they probably listen to a lot more music in their cars, or through computer speakers, or on the go with headphones. I'm in that last group, and log more hours listening to Jerry Harvey's astonishing JH13 Freqphase custom-molded in-ear 'phones than to my Magnepan MG3.7 speakersbut music moves me more through the 3.7s.
Few topics ignite more heated arguments among audiophiles than the price of audio equipment. How much do you have to spend to get really good sound? Are people who buy expensive gear wasting their money, or is it simply a matter of getting what you pay for? There are many such issues, most of which have been discussed at length in Stereophile and various online forums; here are a few I haven't seen addressed except in passing.
Cole Porter: An All-Star Tribute (DVD, VAI) includes outtakes of the great Ethel Merman filming for TV, in 1960, a performance of Irving Berlin's "Alexander's Ragtime Band." In take after take, something goes wrong. Each time the director shouts "Cut!," Merman stops in her tracks, almost as if deflating; when the director yells "Action!" she starts from the top, fresh as new, the model showbiz professional.
It's been 30 years since I began work on my very first equipment report, of the Goldbug Brier moving-coil phono cartridge, for Hi-Fi News & Record Review. That review appeared in the British magazine's May 1983 issue; I have lost track of how many equipment reviews I've written since then, but my review of the Vandersteen Treo loudspeaker in this issue is at least my 500th.
The demo seemed simple enough. A distributor proposed a session for the Bay Area Audiophile Society (BAAS) that would pit his relatively low-cost speaker cable against an ultra-expensive competing model named for a Norse god. We would listen to the music first with the high-priced spread, then with his cable, then discuss the differences. As far as the distributor was concerned, everyone would hear that the Nordic Emperor had no clothes.