In the summer of 2011, Stereophile's long-time editor in chief, John Atkinson, was invited by the Technical Council of the Audio Engineering Society to give the Richard C. Heyser Memorial Lecture at the 131st Audio Engineering Society Convention in New York, October 21, 2011.
The cover is cracked. It is time to rip it off, look directly at the inner workings, and begin to fix things for ourselves.Matthew B. Crawford, Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work
In an e-mail exchange with Stephen Mejias about why the mere mention of cassette decks on www.stereophile.com can so easily inflame our readers (and John Atkinson), I began to develop the idea that the brains of audiophiles and music lovers are governed by three complementary needs, or desires, that define who we are. I joked to SM that these desires, which apparently shift over time, constitute the Holy Trinity of Audiophiledom. They are, respectively, the love, desire, and need for:
There was a time, very recently in terms of human history, when high fidelity promised to free the music lover from the constraints of the concert hall and the local repertoire, allowing him to choose at his whim any orchestra in the world playing any work he desired under the baton of any conductor he preferred. "All the pleasure of concert-hall listening, in the comfort of your home," was the way one display advertisement painted this musical utopia which, only 20 years ago, seemed right around the corner.
In the four years since our last readership survey, Stereophile's circulation has grown by one third, from 45,000 to over 60,000 (footnote 1). We thought it time, therefore, to commission new numbers, from specialists Mediamark Research Inc. (footnote 2). Table 1 shows the demographic breakdown of the magazine's readers. While the launch of CD did bring more women into the audiophile fold almost 10 years ago, the proportion of Stereophile's female readers has not changed since 1988, at just over 1% (footnote 3). At one of the panel sessions at the 1992 High End Hi-Fi Show in Los Angeles, a man in the audience asked why high-end audio was so testosterone-bound when women were just as interested in music as men? The answers given by some of the many women at the show ranged from the fact that women only earn 47 cents on the dollar compared with men to conjecture that women are turned off by the hobby's tweak aspect. Certainly dealer Andrew Singer felt last October (footnote 4) that the high-end industry is hobbling itself by ignoring half the US's population.
The drive home from Montreal and the Salon Son & Image show is smooth and uneventful. The snow kindly stops just as John Atkinson and I climb into his Land Cruiser, the woman at Customs lets us into the US with little fanfare, and, there isn't much to set the heart racing. Every fifty or so miles, the highway's long dividing guardrail is punctuated by some enormous brown birda once majestic body that owned the sky is now slung awkwardly and pitifully over cold steel. It's sad that something so beautiful and strong can die so quietly. But quiet abounds out here. The sky seems to move nearly as fast as we do, clouds cling to tall mountains, and winds tug at the Cruiser's tires.
A psychological theory (footnote 1) that I've always been fond of is the one that proposes the perceptual/personality dimension of Sharpening vs Leveling. As defined by the early Gestalt psychologists, Sharpening is an exaggeration of differences, Leveling a minimization of differences. In visual-perception research on this topic, when test subjects were presented with an asymmetrical figure, some later recalled it in ways that exaggerated the figure's asymmetry (Sharpeners), while others minimized or eliminated it (Levelers).
Much has been made of the influence that Linn, Naim, and Rega have had on our ideas about music-system hierarchies: Before they and a handful of other British audio manufacturers kicked off the debate in the 1970s, the conventional wisdom worldwide was that the loudspeaker was more important than the record player, amplifier, or any other link in the domestic audio chain, and thus deserved to be the object of significantly greater care and attention, not to mention investment of cash. But the Brit-fi approach was different, and ostensibly better reasoned: Because musical information that's distorted or dropped entirely by a record player, a CD player, or any other source can't be made right by any other component in the system, it is the source that must be considered the most important component of all, and to which the majority of funds should be allocated.
Paul Gowan's letter in the October 1989 Stereophile hinted that, whether or not audiophiles enjoy music, it should be true that the emotional experience we derive from music is what really matters. There, barefaced, lies the problem: who are "we"? A well-known Latin epigram affirms that in matters of taste there is no point in discussion. And a Greek epigram (coined in fact by Max Beerbohm in his Oxford novel Zuleika Dobson) suggests that "for people who like that kind of thing, that is the kind of thing they like."
At the end of August, we watched as the number of registered users in our online forums quickly ticked past the 10,000 mark. Ten thousand registered users! While it might prove interesting to learn just how that number breaks down into men and women, old and young, subjectivists and objectivists, or any of several other demographic and philosophical divides, that would only obscure the point: In our online forums, there are over 10,000 members who are eager to share their enthusiasm for music and hi-fi. What a beautiful thing!
Because loudspeakers interact with the acoustics of the room in which they are used, optimizing their positions within that room pays major dividends. Inexpensive speakers, optimally set up, may well outperform more expensive models just plonked down willy-nilly.
In the 1970s, a small black-and-white ad sometimes ran in the pages of Playboy magazine. The ad pictured an attractive young woman with lots of disheveled hair and a crooked grin. There was little else to the ad other than the headline, which the reader would assume was being spoken by the model: "It takes more than Martinis to build an image, Mister!"
It was a simple little thing that turned into so much more. Michael Lavorgna started it. Out of the blue and as sudden as spring, he sent an e-mail to me and speaker designer John DeVore: "Let's plan a trip to the Princeton Record Exchange!" And, just in case 60,000 beautiful LPs wouldn't be enough of a lure, Michael put a cherry on top: "The Triumph Brewing Company is right next door!"
A few nights ago, I listened to mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson's recording of J.S. Bach's great solo cantata, "Ich habe genug" (It is enough), BWV 82 (Nonesuch 79692-2). Hunt Lieberson was one of those rare mezzos, like Janet Baker and Kathleen Ferrier before her, whose voice conveyed an innately spiritual sense of connection with something greater than the individual self. Especially when she sang softly, she was able to imbue her tone with a hallowed reverence that is easier to feel than describe in words. To the extent that anyone can communicate the "tender mercies" and sacred intimacies of life, love, and spirit, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson proved herself a master.