It's been 30 years since I began work on my very first equipment report, of the Goldbug Brier moving-coil phono cartridge, for Hi-Fi News & Record Review. That review appeared in the British magazine's May 1983 issue; I have lost track of how many equipment reviews I've written since then, but my review of the Vandersteen Treo loudspeaker in this issue is at least my 500th.
"When you read...that an electronic recording has 'excellent' sound it does not mean you can use that record as a system evaluation tool," wrote J. Gordon Holt in October's "As We See It." Yet, if you are a regular reader of Stereophile, you will be aware that the magazine's equipment reviewers do make use of a considerable number and variety of recordings, including many which would appear to be totally electronic, to reach value judgments about hi-fi components.
The first night of CES saw a memorial reception held in honor of loudspeaker designer Jim Thiel, who passed away last September. A succession of high-end audio's greatest offered thoughts and reflections on a talented, well-respected, and universally liked man whom everyone agreed was taken from us too soon. Shown in my photo is erstwhile Stereophile publisher Larry Archibald, whose comments were deeply felt and moving. I paid my own tribute to Jim in my November 2009 "As We See It" essay, which I reprised in my closing day's speech at THE Show, discussed above by Jason Serinus..
Stuck out here in the desert depths of the Southwest, we look forward to visits from out-of-towners. So when David Wilson, one-time audio reviewer but now full-time high-end manufacturer, called to say he was going to be in Santa Fe, there was a flurry of activity. David had agreed to an interview, so I started going through back issues of The Absolute Sound and Stereophile for background. Vol.6 No.2 of Stereophile from 1983, with its front-cover photograph of David and Sheryl Lee Wilson with their WAMM speaker system, seemed a good place to start—except that nothing inside the magazine corresponded to the cover picture. It was the next issue that had featured Larry Archibald's write-up on the WAMM, and once I opened its pages, I got trapped into reading the entire issue.
More than 20 years ago, when the turntable was considered a perfectly neutral component in the playback chain, Ivor Tiefenbrun single-handedly demonstrated to the world that the turntable was not only an important part of a hi-fi system, but perhaps the most important part. That radical idea was the basis for the legendary Linn Sondek LP12 turntable, the product that launched Linn, and which is still in production 22 years later.
It was eight years ago that I first met Aalt Jouk van den Hul. I was visiting Ortofon in Denmark, and, with a group of hi-fi journalists from all over Europe, was traveling by bus to visit the cartridge-production facility in the far south of that country. Bus journeys are not my ideal way of passing time; naturally I gravitated to the rear of the bus, where bottles of Tuborg were making their presence felt. One journalist, however—a pixieish fellow hailing from The Low Countries—resisted the blandishments of the opened bottles. Producing a sheath of black-and-white glossies from his briefcase, he announced that he had just developed the ultimate stylus profile!
Bookshelf loudspeaker. The phrase may be common usage, but I really dislike describing small speakers as "bookshelf" models. Place a pair of high-performance minis on a bookshelf against the wall and you destroy much of the sound quality for which you've paid. Yet place the same speakers on good stands well away from room boundaries, and while it could be argued that their footprint is no smaller than a conventional tower speaker, with the best designs you'll get true high-end sound, particularly regarding the accuracy of midrange reproduction and the stability of stereo imaging.
Of the many speakers I have reviewed over the years, the one I now regret the most having had to return to the manufacturer was the mbl 111B. No other tweeter has so efforlessly floated high-frequency sounds into my listening room like the German manufacturer's unique, omnidirectional "Radialstrahler" design. At RMAF, mbl was demming the larger 101E speaker, which Michael Fremer reviewed in October 2004. The sounds of Brian Bromberg's solo double bass on "Come Together" and Nils Lofgren's Ovation guitar on his Live Acoustic CD, played on mbl's new digital gear, were to die for.
One of the things endured by engineers and journalists involved in the design and discussion of high-end components is the seemingly endless attacks from those who, for whatever reason, feel that there is something unhealthy, even vaguely immoral, in the whole idea of wanting to listen to music with as high a quality as possible. The Listening Studio's Clark Johnsen reminded me recently of a letter from Daniel Shanefield that I published in the January 1984 issue of Hi-Fi News & Record Review that illustrates the whole genre: "It is utterly useless to write an amplifier review based on listening tests. If there were anything other than mere frequency response variation, it might be interesting...most hi-fi magazines will...forswear attempts to review amplifiers for their 'inherent sounds.' There are still plenty of interesting things to talk about in reviewing amplifiers, such as features, power, cost effectiveness, beauty, etc." (Of course, Daniel Shanefield is not quite as authoritative a published amplifier reviewer as, say, J. Gordon Holt or Harry Pearson of The Abso!ute Sound.)
I recently came across a 1998 report, "Explaining the Computer Productivity Paradox," by Kevin Stiroh and Robert H. McGuckin III, that discussed the apparent fact that the widespread use of computers has not resulted in any significant increase in worker productivity. This is indeed a paradox, as my experience in the magazine business has left me with the opposite impression. We all do more, with less, than at any earlier time.