Everyone knows music is a good thing. More than merely good, it appears to meet some kind of human need, because every race in every land has a musical tradition going back to before recorded or recounted history. Some of their music may not seem like music to our unsophisticated ears, but as soon as someone discovered that two sticks of different sizes produced different pitches when struck on a venerated ancestor's skull, he advanced beyond mere rhythm to what must be considered music. (Two sticks would, presumably, play binary music: the first precursor of digital sound.) In fact, were there no music at all today, humankind would probably find it necessary to invent it on the spot, along with a mythology relating how it was created on the eighth day, after ingrown toenails.
1987 will mark Stereophile's 25th year of continuous (if initially sometimes sporadic) publication. And while we haven't yet decided what we're going to do in celebration, the first issue of 1987 does seem to be as good a time as any to contrast the state of the audio art when we began publication with what is routinely possible today.
Some time ago in these pages, Anthony H. Cordesman observed rather ungraciously that the whole line of Hafler electronics "could do with reworking." This was interpreted by many readersincluding the good people at the David Hafler Companyas meaning that AHC felt the entire Hafler line to be mediocre. In fact, he does not. (He had given a Hafler product a positive review a few issues previously.) Tony's comment, however, did express a sentiment that most of us at Stereophile have shared for some time: a feeling that Hafler products had slipped from the position of sonic preeminence which they enjoyed during the 1960s and '70s to one of mere excellence in a field where only preeminence is acclaimed.
Most audiophiles know Mobile Fidelity as the record company with the philosophy of resurrecting old, important, recorded performances and re-releasing them with (hopefully) the kind of sound they should have had in the first place. Few audiophiles are aware that Mobile Fidelity is also the name of a (different) recording company which collects sound effects in four channels for motion picture and television post-production.
Jim Walker, flute, Mike Garson, piano
Reference Recordings CD RR-18CD.
DEBUSSY: Quartet in g
RAVEL: Quartet in F
The Cleveland Quartet
What do you listen to when you've heard Reference Recordings' Symphonie Fantastique, Telarc's 1812 Overture, and Sheffield's Firebird, the last of your audiophile guests have gone home, and tomorrow's a workday but you're too hyped up to go to bed?
Both are from record companies whose reputations were built on sonic blockbusters, but the subjects of this review are about as true to expectation as Mr. T flouncing about with a limp wrist.
Reflections is a program of short works for flute and piano. It's quiet, restful, and, in an age when it seems that nothing is worth listening to unless it's high-powered or "significant," this laidback program is a delightful change of pace.
The Question of Bass: J. Gordon Holt A few issues back, in Vol.9 No.3, I used "As We See It" to clarify what Stereophile writers have in mind when they use the term "transparency" in equipment reports. This time, I'll do the same thing for the performance parameters of bass reproduction.
BERLIOZ: Symphonie Fantastique
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Massimo Fraccia
RACHMANINOV: Piano Concerto No.2 in c
Earl Wild, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Jascha Horenstein
Chesky? Massimo Fraccia? Is this a put-on?
No, it's not. Chesky is a new record company which, at a time when everyone is predicting the imminent demise of the LP, has just launched its first two LPs and is threatening to follow them with more.
David Chesky is a young composer/musician who, despite some impressive credentials in the classical music world, remains singularly unrenowned. But he is also a musical reactionary after my own heart, who feels that all the best performances of the so-called Romantic repertoire were done years ago and will probably never be equalled. But rather than just bitch about this in record reviews, he is doing something about it, by releasing some of those early, possibly definitive performances on the best-sounding recordings he knows how to produce.
One of the oldest names in US audio, Altec Lansing was building speakers for theaters and recording studios long before the introduction of the microgroove LP in 1948 (which date many see as marking the inception of high fidelity). Started in 1931 under the name All-Technical Services ~Corp., the firm later purchased another audio firm called Lansing Engineering, and merged the names. Altec's Model 604, one of the first true coaxial speakers, was adopted for home use by many early hi-fi buffs and, several permutations later, is still widely used for monitoring in disc-cutting rooms.
According to a recent newsletter sent to its regular contributors, our "competition"—The Absolute Sound—sees "controversy and confrontation" as the core of its editorial policy. By contrast, Stereophile sees as its modus schtickus an unflagging devotion to, and pursuit of, truth, reason, all of the eternal verities (including some you never heard of), and the intelligent exchange of informed ideas. In honor of all of the above-mentioned precepts (as well as some I didn't mention), this issue of Stereophile is largely devoted to the confrontation between knowledgeable writers for whom the widely proclaimed perfection of the Compact Disc remains a controversial issue.
The Sound-Lab electrostatic loudspeakers are legendary. Many serious audiophiles have heard of them, and rumors of their existence abound in audio circles. But, like gnomes, UFOs, and poltergeists, Sound-Lab loudspeakers are sufficiently hard to find that it is sometimes difficult to prove to skeptics that they exist at all. Well, I can now report that they do. As proof of this contention, I can point to the two which are actually occupying solid, tangible space in my listening room at this very moment. I have even taken a photo of them, which will be published along with this report if they leave any sort of an image on the film emulsion. (Many such apparitions do not!)