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Steve Guttenberg Posted: Apr 22, 2014 Published: May 01, 2014 19 comments
Here's what I've learned in my 35 years in the High End, first as a hi-fi salesman and then as a full-time reviewer and blogger: No hi-fi, no matter how expensive or exalted, will ever deliver the holy grail. While there have been considerable advances over the years, I can cite two 50+-year-old loudspeakers—Quad ESL electrostatics and Klipsch's big horns—whose transparency and dynamic range, respectively, blow away those of many contemporary high-end speakers. The very best of today's speakers, electronics, and source components don't zero in on a single perfected sound indistinguishable from the experience of being in the same room as the musicians—no, every one of them sounds different from all the rest. I want to experience as many of those flavors as I can.
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Steve Guttenberg Posted: Mar 15, 2010 0 comments
I may have had 4000 LPs and a perfectly wonderful Linn LP12 turntable, but I could go for weeks on end without listening to a single LP. But I still thought of myself as one of the vinyl faithful, even as I rationalized my digital-centric listening tendencies. I loved analog in theory—I just couldn't bring myself to listen to it all that much.
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Steve Guttenberg Posted: Aug 28, 2013 Published: Sep 01, 2013 33 comments
No one ever had to pay for recorded music—it was always "free" on the radio—and 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.
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Steve Guttenberg Posted: Oct 29, 2002 Published: Oct 30, 2002 0 comments
We all know that women generally have better hearing than men and enjoy music at least as much as men do, but women are conspicuously absent from every segment of the high-end audio scene. The vast majority of high-end companies are owned by men, and any head count of female designers, retailers, reviewers, or consumers will yield a pitifully small number. High-end audio is a man's, man's, man's world.
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Steve Guttenberg Posted: Jun 23, 2014 Published: Jul 01, 2014 20 comments
Record-business profits peaked 20 years ago, just before Napster and other file-sharing sites turned their world upside down. There have been occasional surges, but the future of the Compact Disc looks bleak, and while income from downloaded files is still climbing, the shift of profitability from à la carte music sales to unlimited streaming on demand seems inevitable. The realignment is already underway—the vast majority of today's music listeners, young and old, haven't bought a CD, file, or LP in years. It pains me to admit it, but after hearing, at the 2014 Midem music exhibition, a presentation by Marc Geiger, of William Morris Endeavors, I was convinced that music-streaming companies are poised to reboot the industry. If Geiger's predictions are accurate, the music business will be more profitable than ever, and swell to $100 billion in 20 years or less (see www.youtube.com/watch?v=bcNsAR_FM5M&feature=share).
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Steve Guttenberg Posted: Mar 01, 2012 6 comments
There's an old Woody Allen bit about his mother running the family's food through a "deflavorizing machine" a couple of times, just to make sure dinner was completely tasteless. Well, that's what a lot of contemporary music sounds like to me. Booker T. Jones's recent album The Road from Memphis has some great tunes, but the sound of the album pales in comparison with his seriously funky work with Booker T. & the MG's in the 1960s. It's not just that the new CD is maximally compressed and processed to a fare-thee-well—it's a totally lifeless recording. But this isn't just another analog vs digital diatribe. The problems have little to do with the recording format; it's the way recordings are now made. Too many are assembled out of bits and pieces of sound to create technically perfect, Auto-Tuned, Pro Tooled music. It's not that great music can't be made that way, but it's sure as hell less likely to get my mojo workin'.
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Steve Guttenberg Posted: Apr 21, 2016 Published: May 01, 2016 41 comments
I was in a strange mood last January when I posted this on Facebook: "Do speaker designers strive for accuracy, or for a 'sound' they think potential buyers want?" I doubted that any designer with two working ears would even attempt to design speakers that merely measured well—there must be at least some subjectivity in their process. I also assumed that few designers would go on record about where they stand on the accuracy question, so I was thrilled when Elac Americas' speaker designer, Andrew Jones, responded...
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Steve Guttenberg Posted: Aug 16, 2016 11 comments
A recording engineer's choices of microphones to record singers, guitars, horns, bass, drums—or an entire orchestra—are absolutely crucial. Those very subjective choices are, in large part, what separate the best recordings from the also-rans. When I contacted some of the best engineers in the business to talk about mikes, I got an earful. I was told that mikes have a more profound impact on reproduced sound than does any other link in the recording chain. Yes, the acoustic of the recording venue also plays a huge role, and post-session mixing and mastering can of course improve or ruin the sound—but the choice of mikes is absolutely crucial.
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Steve Guttenberg Posted: Sep 22, 2015 Published: Oct 01, 2015 38 comments
I began working as a salesman of high-end audio gear in 1978. I was 29, and, as I recall, a healthy percentage of my customers were about my age. Most of the top high-end designers and entrepreneurs, too, were young: John Curl, Dan D'Agostino, Jon Dahlquist, Ray Kimber, Mark Levinson, Bill Low, Mike Moffat, Nelson Pass, Peter Snell, Bob Stuart, Jim Thiel, Ivor Tiefenbrun, A.J. van den Hul, Richard Vandersteen, Harry Weisfeld, David Wilson. The fact is, high-end audio's Golden Age—the late 1970s to the mid-1980s—was largely fueled by the under-40 set, and most high-end journalists were fellow baby boomers. Now we're all oldsters, with just a smattering of under-fortysomethings. That's about to change.
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Steve Guttenberg Posted: Mar 16, 2015 Published: Apr 01, 2015 61 comments
I've known a lot of folks with impressive LP and CD collections who were perfectly content with the sound of the crappiest of hi-fis. This diverse group has included recording engineers, musicians, and owners of record stores. Loving music isn't the same thing as caring about the sound of music, and maybe, in some alternate universe, those folks would-have-been, could-have-been audiophiles. But in this universe, they didn't, and I'm not sure why.

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