J. Gordon Holt

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J. Gordon Holt Posted: Nov 19, 2014 Published: Jun 01, 1981 15 comments
To audiophiles who are aware that their household line voltage changes under varying loads, and have observed the absolutely fantastic differences in the sound of their system when the next-door neighbor turns on Junior's night light, it may come as a surprise to learn that there are folks out there who think you're full of crap. That's right, Virginia, they don't think you can really hear all those things you pretend to hear. (You are only pretending, aren't you?) They can't hear all those things, so how can you? Well, sometimes they can. They'll even admit that. But those tiny little differences are so trivial that they don't matter no more than a fruitfly's fart. That's the word in scientific circles these days. Or haven't you been following the "establishment" audio press lately?
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J. Gordon Holt Posted: Nov 19, 2014 Published: Oct 01, 1980 5 comments
Natural sounds produce different waveshapes during their positive and negative phases, and playback-system polarity reversal often changes the reproduced sound. Does this mean our ears are phase-responsive, or is there something else here we've been overlooking?

There has been much discussion recently among perfectionists about the importance of what is called "absolute phase" in sound reproduction. Basically, the contention has been that, since many musical sounds are asymmetrical (having different waveforms during positive and negative phases), it is important that a system make the proper distinctions between positive (compression) and negative (rarefaction) phases in playback.

J. Gordon Holt Posted: Nov 05, 2014 Published: Dec 01, 1981 4 comments
Editor's Note: On the 52nd anniversary of Stereophile's founding in 1962 by J. Gordon Holt, we are publishing this mea culpa "As We See it" essay from 1981, in which he explains why Vol.4 No.10 was almost six months late in mailing to subscribers. Gordon had relocated from the Philadephia suburbs to Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1978, and as he had explained in the April 1978 issue, the move had not gone well. "Much of the equipment necessary for testing got damaged or destroyed in transit," he wrote, adding that "What had promised to be a superb listening room turned out to have some sticky acoustical idiosyncrasies."
J. Gordon Holt Posted: Oct 22, 2014 Published: Oct 01, 1980 36 comments
We are aware that much of what we have to say about reproduced sound in these pages goes completely over the heads of a lot of our readers, simply because they have not heard live, un-amplified music recently enough (if ever) to relate their own listening experiences to our observations. These are the people who tend to have developed a strong mental image of what hi-fi ought to sound like, and it is not surprising that that image should bear little if any resemblance to reality. In most cases, this image of hypothetical perfection involves a broadly sweeping sense of spaciousness, awesome power, floor-shaking low end and silky, velvety highs—rather similar, one might say, to the sound of a Magnificent Magnavox with a couple of extra octaves at each end.
J. Gordon Holt Posted: Oct 21, 2014 Published: Oct 01, 1983 2 comments
Billy Joel: The Stranger
CBS CD 35DP2 (CD) and JC34987 (digitally mastered, CX-encoded LP).

This is one of four recordings we now have on hand in both the CD and digital-mastered LP formats, and all reviews of these will be parallel reviews. In the case of the CBS discs, there is no "conventional" version, as all of their recent LP releases are CX-encoded. Thus, I will be comparing decoded CXed CBS LPs (footnote 1) with their CD equivalents.

J. Gordon Holt Posted: Sep 17, 2014 Published: Jan 01, 1984 10 comments
We wrote a long, rather unkind report on the HQD, pointing out that, if that was typical of the way it was supposed to sound (And why not, after Mr. Levinson had installed and tweaked it?), then it had to be the most expensive bomb ever to be made available for civilian use. Mr. Levinson responded with a phone call during which he:

1) Told us we had not heard it at its best, but refused to address himself to our specific criticisms;

2) Claimed that many practicing professional musicians felt the HQD to be "extremely realistic";

3) Informed us that, since he sold very few HQD systems and would soon be discontinuing them anyway because Quad had ceased making those speakers, the "sensible" thing to do would be to kill the report; and

4) Mentioned, just in passing of course, that he was currently writing a feature article for Time on the subject of "underground" audio magazines.

J. Gordon Holt Posted: Sep 10, 2014 Published: Nov 01, 1983 4 comments
1183rotm.250.jpgRimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade
Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Fritz Reiner conducting.
RCA ".5 Series" ARP1-W27 (LP).

In case you didn't already know, ".5" is RCA's name for their half-speed-–mastered line of audiophile LPs, whose releases to date have included many recordings, as well as some real gems, from their archive of older stereo recordings.

Their choice of old recordings is interesting to say the least, as it shows a side of RCA's classical division that we thought had atrophied and blown away many years ago: musical judgment. Instead of going for their most sonically spectacular tapes from yesteryear, the choices here were clearly made on the basis of musical performance first, with sound as a secondary consideration.

J. Gordon Holt Posted: Sep 03, 2014 Published: Jan 01, 1984 2 comments
rotm184.pjil.jpgDebussy: Three Nocturnes; Jeux
Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, Bernard Haitink conducting.
Philips ACD 400-023-2 (CD).

This is the first classical CD I have heard that was originally mastered on analog tape, and the sound is quite different from what I'm accustomed to hearing from the silver discs.

I had read so many critics' complaints about excessive background (tape) hiss from analog-mastered CDs that I was fully prepared to be appalled. I wasn't. Perhaps my speakers (Watkins WE-1s as of now) are smoother than what some other critics listen to, perhaps I prefer a more subdued high end than some, but I did not find hiss to be a problem with this Philips disc. Yes, it is audible at high listening levels, but it is not a ssss, it is a hhhh, like the sound of a very gentle rain far off in the background. I have heard worse hiss from microphone preamps.

Dick Olsher Posted: Aug 13, 2014 Published: Aug 01, 1985 2 comments
885gale.promo250.jpgThe Gale loudspeaker dates back to the early 1970s. As I understand it, the basic design resulted from a collaboration of Ira Gale and Sao Win, who were college classmates at the time. Their speaker proved very popular in England and was subsequently imported to the USA during the mid-1970s by Audio Technica. Recently, Techport (the folks who import the Perreaux line) has taken over US distribution.

While the Gales have undergone same changes through the years, their distinctive appearance and, according to some, their equally distinctive sonic "flavor," have continued to earn the respect of critical listeners all over the world. Nonetheless, these speakers have also sustained their fair share of criticism; not everybody likes them. This sort of continuing disagreement usually means that what is at issue is a "different" kind of sound—a product that sounds quite unlike others, yet somehow offers a high enough degree of musical satisfaction to appeal to a lot of serious audiophiles. Of such products are cults made.

J. Gordon Holt Posted: Aug 13, 2014 Published: Jun 01, 1984 4 comments
684rotm.250.jpgBeethoven: Piano Concerto No.5 "The Emperor"
Rudolph Serkin, piano; Boston Symphony Orchestra, Seiji Ozawa, cond.
Telarc CD-80065 (CD). Robert Woods, prod., Jack Renner, eng.

Vivaldi: "The Four Seasons"
Joseph Silverstein, violin; Boston Symphony Orchestra, Seiji Ozawa, cond.
Telarc CD-80070 (CD). Robert Woods, prod., Jack Renner, eng.

I have never been a fan of Seiji Ozawa, feeling that his interpretive approach is too often cold and attached. That's not true of this performance of the "Emperor" Concerto. In fact, my only criticism is that the performance seems at time a little too broadly Romantic, where somewhat tighter phrasing would have been in order. Ozawa and Serkin have turned in one of the most satisfying performances in Telarc's catalog, which contains a remarkable number of lackluster performances.

J. Gordon Holt Posted: Aug 04, 2014 Published: Aug 01, 1984 6 comments
884rotm.ssph.jpgSaint-Saëns: Carnival of the Animals
Ravel: Mother Goose Suite

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, André Previn, cond.
Philips CD 400-016 2 (CD).

The whimsical Carnival, with its nose-thumbing at Saint-Saëns' contemporaries (eg a lugubrious "Can-Can" and a stately cello rendition of Berlioz's Dance of the Sylphs, from The Damnation of Faust), is given a delightful treatment here, and put on one of the best-sounding CDs I've heard to date from a major record company.

Philips has been less up-front about the roots of its CDs than most other record manufacturers, If fact, they have been downright sneaky about it. This release—billed prominently on the CD jacket as a "Digital Recording"—sounds very much as if it was analog-mastered. The is certainly nothing Philips should ashamed of, because this is a better-sounding recording than most digitally mastered ones.

J. Gordon Holt Posted: Jul 08, 2014 Published: Oct 01, 1984 3 comments
1084rotmjgh.jpgSaint-Saëns: Piano Concerto No.2
Rachmaninoff: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini

Bella Davidovich (pno), Concertgebouw Orchestra, Neeme Jarvi, cond.
Philips CD 410-052 2 (CD), 6514-164 (LP).

At last we're starting to realize some of the promise of CD from a major record company. This is the best CD recording I've heard yet from Philips. Both of these are virtuoso romantic works requiring a big piano sound and the stamina to produce it for 6–10 minutes at a stretch, which is probably why few lady pianists will tackle them. Bella Davidovich pulls these off with great aplomb.

To me, the Saint-Saëns is the better of the two, and is one of the truly great performances of this work. I grudgingly rate it as equal to my long-time favorite, the Rubinstein/Reiner performance on a 1958 RCA LP (LSC-2234), although I would have liked a little more TLC from Ms. Davidovich in the first movement. She seems a little rushed where an occasional lingering caress is indicated, but that is quibbling with what is a really rousing performance.

J. Gordon Holt Posted: Jun 17, 2014 Published: Dec 01, 1984 3 comments
1284rotm.promo.jpgBeethoven: Symphony 9 in d, Op.125 ("Choral")
Berlin Staatskapelle and Rundfunkchor, Otmar Suitner, cond.; Dietrich Knothe, chorus master; Magdaléna Hajóssyová, soprano; Uta Priew, contralto; Eberhard Büchner, tenor; Manfred Schenk, bass.
Denon CD383C7-7021 (CD).

This is a positively stunning performance, abetted by one of the best-sounding orchestral recordings on CD to date.

I have long felt that the best reading of Beethoven's Ninth ever committed to records was an antique Columbia 78 set with the Vienna Philharmonic and Felix Weingartner (later released on an abominable-sounding LP: SL-165). I almost hate to day it, because the oldest idols die the hardest, but Suitner's is better! This is a monumental, consummately joyous Ninth that leaves the listener with a wonderful feeling of elation. If the orchestral playing is at times a little less than world-class and a couple of the soloists not quite up to star level, so what? This may well be the definitive Ninth on CD, both interpretively and sonically.

J. Gordon Holt Posted: Jun 09, 2014 Published: Apr 01, 1980 18 comments
Dr. Alan Hill, president of Plasmatronics Inc., was previously employed by the US Government in laser research. His assignment: To increase the efficiency of lasers so that they could do something more impressive than produce holograms, mend leaky retinal blood vessels, and punch pinholes in steel blocks. Dr. Hill earned his keep, thus advancing laser technology a giant step closer to Star Wars, and then retired from government service to design. . . a loudspeaker?!!!?
J. Gordon Holt Posted: Jun 09, 2014 Published: Jan 01, 1985 1 comments
Performance Recordings is the closest thing to a one-man label. James Boyk is president, A&R director, musical director, recording engineer, production manager, jacket notes author, and the star performer. He is also Artist in Residence and lecturer in music and engineering (specifically sound recording and reproduction) at Cal Tech. And he happens to be one of digital's most ardent detractors, having conducted, and widely publicized, several controlled listening tests that proved to his satisfaction that digital recordings are destructive to musical sound. (I will not question his methodology or conclusions here; suffice it to say that James is as stalwartly pro-analog and anti-digital as it is possible to be.)

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