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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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Steve Guttenberg Posted: Dec 22, 2014 Published: Jan 01, 2015 12 comments
We all have secrets, and it's about time I came clean with one of mine: I enjoy recorded music more than concerts.

I know, that's a sacrilege—as a lifelong music lover, I'm supposed to relish the live event, with all of the energy and connection between musicians and audience that can happen only when they're all breathing the same air. That may be true for you, but not for me. I've harbored the guilt for years: When I take the plunge and attend a concert, I rarely enjoy the experience enough to justify the effort and expense.

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Steve Guttenberg Posted: Oct 27, 2014 Published: Nov 01, 2014 27 comments
Classical and jazz notwithstanding, an awful lot of new music is highly compressed, processed, and harsh, and it's about time we got used to it. Musicians, producers, and engineers are, in large part, on board with the sound, and any suggestion of making less-compressed recordings, with a wider dynamic range, is met with confused stares, or worse. One superstar producer didn't take kindly to my suggestion that he make two mixes for his new project: the standard compressed one, and another, less-crushed version. That didn't fly; he said there could be only one, the mix approved by him and the band, and that to them, a less-compressed mix wouldn't sound better. This producer is an audiophile, but he's not the least bit interested in making music for audiophiles. Harshness, it seems, isn't just a byproduct of compression; it's an integral part of the sound of today's music.
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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
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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: 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: May 29, 2013 Published: Jun 01, 2013 21 comments
I have a hunch that the overwhelming majority of Stereophile readers have pretty decent hi-fis, but they probably listen to a lot more music in their cars, or through computer speakers, or on the go with headphones. I'm in that last group, and log more hours listening to Jerry Harvey's astonishing JH13 Freqphase custom-molded in-ear 'phones than to my Magnepan MG3.7 speakers—but music moves me more through the 3.7s.
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Steve Guttenberg Posted: Sep 25, 2012 Published: Oct 01, 2012 52 comments
Before 1982, when the Compact Disc arrived, I didn't love LPs. Analog was already very old tech, and while every trick in the book had been applied to turntables and LPs, they still wowed & fluttered at 33 1/3 revolutions per minute. Vinyl's deficiencies were legion: warped LPs were more common than truly flat ones; surface noise, clicks, and pops sang along with the tune; LPs rarely had perfectly centered spindle holes; inner-groove distortions popped up at inopportune moments; and each time an LP is played, its sound quality degrades, if only ever so slightly. The LP format? Imperfect sound forever.
Steve Guttenberg Posted: May 03, 2012 0 comments
Photo: Aiyana Elliott

Even when Loudon Wainwright III (left in photo with Ramblin' Jack Elliot) was a young man he was writing autobiographical songs, and his old themes of family, sex, and death resonate more deeply on his new record, Older Than My Old Man Now. He usually performs solo, armed with just an acoustic guitar or a banjo, but most of his recordings present more heavily produced versions of LWIII's music. When I chatted with LWIII in late April I wanted to explore that dichotomy and how those transformations take place.


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