I sometimes do crazy things to experience live music. In my late teens I met a woman—a friend of a friend of my girlfriend—who was a flautist attending the Mannes School of Music in New York City. She was a classic New Yorker, from a classic New York family. Though apparently demure and retiring, she had fearlessly ridden the city subways since childhood, taking the Broadway line at any hour of day or night (her stop was Dyckman Street, above 200th). All of her parents' money and energy, such as it was, had gone into their daughter's musical career, and I was so inspired by this level of focus and devotion that I hitchhiked from Boston to New York and back in order to attend her first concert, a performance of the two Mozart flute concerti. My presence was remarked upon as the act of a true friend, but I was the beneficiary: It was a great concert, and a good start to a life of experiencing the "call" of live music.
Editor's Note: In 1985 and 1986, an argumentative thread ran through Stereophile's pages, discussing the benefits or lack of double-blind testing methods in audio component reviewing, triggered by J. Gordon Holt's review of the ABX Comparator. As this debate is still raging nearly 15 years later, we present here the entire discussion that bounced back and forth between the magazine's "Letters" section and features articles. It was kicked off by a letter from C.J. Huss that appeared in Vol.8 No.5.—John Atkinson
It's not often that you get a chance to have extensive discussions with the horse's mouth, but we recently had that opportunity. Since July of this year there has been extensive discussion in the audio community, particularly the high-end segment, of Larry Greenhill's article on speaker cable listening tests in the August, 1983 issue of Stereo Review (footnote 1). From recent talks with author Greenhill we've learned that the most interesting story was not in Stereo Review; instead it can be found in the varying reactions from different quarters, and what they say about the high-end industry in general.
Most readers of Stereophile are in it to read about great products—things that make the hobby and art of home sound reproduction exciting. In this respect, reviewers aren't too different—we love sound reproduction and music in general, and products that help bring this to life are the cat's meow. Reviewers that can't respond with this kind of excitement don't have a place writing for this magazine.
John Ötvös, the father of Waveform Research Inc. and The Waveform Loudspeaker, hesitates not at inviting ultracritical examination: "The Waveform is the most accurate, the best, forward-firing loudspeaker in the world." Period. Reviewers, of course, welcome such statements, and I'll be examining that one, but I'll also try to answer the inherent reviewing question of whether the Waveform is a good place for you to park $9800 on your way to "the highest of high-end sound" (that was our slogan for the first Santa Monica High End Hi-Fi Show).
Thiel Audio, headed up by Jim Thiel (President and chief designer) and Kathy Gornik (Marketing Director), sets itself apart from other speaker manufacturers not only by making what I feel to be almost uniformly excellent products, but also by serving as a kind of hallmark for the good dealer: Although not all good dealers sell Thiel, just about every Thiel dealer is a good one. This comes about because, in spite of just about uniformly positive reviews and excellent customer relations, Thiel (primarily in the person of Ms. Gornik) has insisted on limited distribution through retailers they know will give their product a good demonstration. There are a few other such companies performing this hallmark function, though only Mark Levinson Audio Systems readily comes to mind. Most other successful companies prefer as wide a geographical distribution as possible, in spite of the occasional necessary compromises in dealer quality.
Frankly it's a bit nutty for me to be doing this review. First, as Publisher of this esteemed journal, my primary duties involve financial and personnel management, as well as a good bit of public relations; I don't need and am not required to perform the exacting tedium of product reviews. Second, Jim Thiel and Kathy Gornik of Thiel are friends of mine. So what, you ask? Well, if this were going to be a uniformly positive review, I would therefore be ruled out as the reviewer; if it's to be wholly or partially negative, it will surely put a strain on one of my best audio friendships.
John Atkinson Opens
I've said it before and I'll say it again: a would-be loudspeaker designer shouldn't even start to think about the possibility of maybe designing a full-range, multi-way loudspeaker until he (and they do all appear to be men) has cut his teeth on a small two-way design. There is still as much art as science in designing a successful loudspeaker, even with all the computer-aided this and Thiele-and-Small that, that even a two-way design requires a designer either to be possessed of a monster talent or of the willingness to undergo months, even years, of tedious and repetitive work—or of both. For a would-be speaker engineer to start his career with a wide dynamic-range, multi-way design, intended to cover the entire musical spectrum from infra-bass to ultra-treble, seems to me to be a perfect case of an admittedly well-intentioned fool rushing in where any sufficiently self-critical angel would fear to tread.
An acquaintance in the world of CD distribution recently gave me an astonishing statistic: that the average classical title sells fewer than 2000 copies worldwide in its first year of release; which in turn means that many titles sell only about 500 copies! Given that the cost of producing a classical orchestral album can include up to $100,000 in union-mandated musician fees, such minimal sales guarantee financial disaster.