J. Gordon Holt

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J. Gordon Holt Posted: May 14, 2015 Published: Sep 01, 1975 5 comments
While we will not pretend for a moment that the millennium of high fidelity has arrived, we are finally having to face up to a fact that has been staring us in the face and nudging us in the ribs increasingly rudely of late: The state of the art of sound reproduction has gotten to be pretty damned sophisticated. Perfection is just as unattainable as it was almost 100 years ago when Thomas Edison was diddling with different diaphragm materials on his phonograph because some sounded better than others.
J. Gordon Holt Posted: May 14, 2015 Published: Mar 01, 1977 0 comments
We cannot recall when any new products have generated as much of a stir among perfectionists as the new solid-state equipment from Audio Research. Preceded by rumors of "a new kind of amplifying device—a cross between a tube and a transistor"—the announcement of ARC's new power amp and SP-4 preamplifier elicited very mixed reactions from loyal ARC customers, some of whom gleefully anticipated a virtual revolution in audio electronics, others of whom felt betrayed by the company which, having originally convinced them that "Tubes Are Better," suddenly seemed to be doing an about-face and espousing the views of the Enemy—the "Soiled-State"—forces.
J. Gordon Holt Posted: May 13, 2015 Published: Mar 01, 1986 0 comments
Meridian's MCD CD player was perhaps the first audiophile-quality player to be introduced in the high-end market. I met with Bob Stuart of Meridian at the Winter Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, in January, 1986 (footnote 1). My first question was about the name of the company he runs with industrial designer Alan Boothroyd:

J. Gordon Holt: Meridian in England is called Boothroyd Stuart, right?

Bob Stuart: Yes, the company is called Boothroyd Stuart, Limited, and the trademark is Meridian.

J. Gordon Holt Posted: May 07, 2015 Published: Apr 01, 1975 17 comments
Because this is an unusual and controversial tonearm design, and has had astonishing claims made for its performance by the manufacturer, this in-depth report goes deeper and is longer than is usual for Stereophile. We will return to a reasonable balance of reportage in the next issue.

The manufacturer's initial advertisement for their mis-named "Vestigal" arm (footnote 1) was so laced with nonsense that we will admit to having been skeptical about the product from the outset.

J. Gordon Holt Posted: Apr 10, 2015 Published: Dec 01, 1977 1 comments
Many years ago, the now-defunct Life magazine ran a feature article about science and its sacred cows, in which a cartoon showed a huge inverted pyramid-shaped structure of great complexity, tapering downward to a single support at its base: a toothpick. The toothpick was labeled "basic premise," the inverted pyramid was the entire body of scientific knowledge.

Everything we do or think or know is based upon assumptions, some of which are rather more justified than others. When we set the alarm clock, we assume there will be a tomorrow. When we reach for the car's brake pedal without glancing at it, we assume it will be where it was yesterday, and that it will stop the car. When we scorn a phono cartridge because it is too bright, we assume the brightness is in the cartridge, not in the rest of our system. We have to trust our toothpicks or live in a world totally devoid of security—a world where 2+2 can equal anything from 3 to 11, all the laws change unannounced every few days, and Greenwich Mean Time is determined by a roulette wheel.

J. Gordon Holt Posted: Apr 02, 2015 Published: Oct 01, 1978 2 comments
Despite the myriads of technological breakthroughs announced month after month with tedious regularity by manufacturers of pickups, amplifiers and loudspeakers, there are only five developments in the 101-year history of audio reproduction (footnote 1) that we would call truly revolutionary. We will doubtless offend many by stating that Edison's phonograph was not one of them. It was the starting point, it was not a turning point. Emile Berliner's disc was revolutionary, in that it changed the whole format of sound reproduction, and made possible true mass production of recordings (footnote 2).
J. Gordon Holt Posted: Mar 10, 2015 Published: Apr 01, 1980 2 comments
Editor's Note: We are republishing this report from the 1980 CES both because many of the themes strike resonances 35 years later, and because it emphasizes the hard time high-end audio was having at the end of the 1970s. The LP had been eclipsed by the cassette and 8-track cartridge as the primary massmarket media for recorded music and the decade-long hi-fi boom that had been fueled by the entry of Japanese brands was running out of steam. Ironically, it was the launch of Compact Disc three years later that was to reinvigorate the audio business.John Atkinson

The 1980 Winter CES, held in Las Vegas in January 1980, came on the heels of the worst business year the audio field has seen in almost a decade. So-called high-end audio, in particular, had distressing sales declines during the last year of the 1970s, with some dealers (who had not yet gone out of business) predicting that their books for 1979 would probably show as much as a 30% loss in sales from the previous year. Dealer turnout in the Las Vegas Jockey Club, where most of the high-end manufacturers were showing their wares, was nonetheless surprisingly good, although makers of the highest-priced exotica were not as ecstatic about the turnout as were those exhibiting more-affordable gear. One high-end entrepreneur was heard to say (to one of his associates), "It doesn't look any better for this year than last."

J. Gordon Holt Posted: Feb 26, 2015 Published: May 01, 1985 4 comments
Publisher's Note: For the first time since I've published Stereophile, we are running two completely different—and opposed— reports on the same product. Normally, we try to reach some conclusion as to why reviewers come up with opposite views on a product, and resolve the problem prior to publication. In this case, the problem lies in the differing sound systems used for review. Since some readers will have systems like SWW's, and others will have systems more like JGH's, I felt it was valuable to run both reviews.

For the record, SWW's reference system consists of Dayton Wright XG-lO speakers, BEL 1001 amplifiers, a Klyne preamp, a SOTA Star Sapphire turntable, the Well-Tempered Arm (or Sumiko Arm), and a Talisman S cartridge. The sound on analog disc is far preferable to that from CD, being much more alive and present, and with a tendency to exaggerate sibilants. The low end of the system is awesome, the high end extended, and transients are rendered with a great feeling of immediacy and quickness.

J. Gordon Holt Posted: Feb 24, 2015 Published: Oct 01, 1982 2 comments
The Sheffield Track Record
Robbie Buchanan and James Newton Howard, keyboards; Lennie Castro, percussion; Nathan East, bass guitar; Mike Landau, guitar; Carlos Vega, drums. Ron Tutt, and Jim Keltner, drum solos. TT: 22:13.
Sheffield LAB-20.

What, a recording of rock backup tracks? Who could care less? Me, is who. Quibble over the program if you will (actually, it isn't all that dull, and two of the numbers are fun to listen to), but this wasn't released for the program material. You might call it a tantalizing sample of where a lot of rock sound begins, before it is fuzzed, reverbed, and cross-dubbed God knows how many times before the final mess is released for the edification of the peons. This has to be one of the most astonishing rock recordings ever issued! The Absolute Sound's Harry Pearson (who obviously got his before we got ours, as you are reading this 9 weeks after our copy arrived) is quoted on the jacket as declaring this to be "Absolutely the best-sounding rock record ever made." He's right.

J. Gordon Holt Posted: Feb 24, 2015 Published: Aug 01, 1980 0 comments
Recently, we've been asking a representative sample of Stereophile subscribers for suggestions as to how the magazine could be improved. We got 'em, in droves. And the one thing that led every list of suggestions we received was: "Publish more often!" Second in importance was: "Do more reports on affordable components, and let's have more suggestions for cheap ways of improving existing systems."
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J. Gordon Holt Posted: Feb 17, 2015 Published: Aug 01, 1984 6 comments
Keith Johnson is the man responsible for the records issued by Reference Recordings, from Professor Johnson's Astounding Sound Show through Tafelmusik—not to mention upcoming releases of Your Friendly Neighborhood Big Band and Respighi's Church Windows. As is frequently the case, Johnson's astounding recordings result from his intimate (molecular-level) knowledge of the process with which he deals and his ingenious adaptations to squeeze the most out of available (and not so available) technology. He is also one of the few critics of digital recording who has actually used a digital recorder, who has run tests to specifically identify digital's problems, and who would welcome a digital format that works as perfectly as the claims would have us believe the current system works.—Larry Archibald
J. Gordon Holt Posted: Nov 19, 2014 Published: Jun 01, 1981 29 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 7 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.

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