Stereophile is devoted to getting the best sound from a home audio system. But as I have written before, audiophiles don't have access to an absolute sound, only to what has been captured in the pits or grooves of their discs, which is itself the result of a creative process. The playing back and the making of recordings are therefore two sides of the same coin. This is why I get actively involved in recording projects and why I publish articles about those projects, the most recent of which appears on p.50. "Project K622" describes the making of a new recording of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto (work number 622 in the Köchel catalog of Mozart's compositions, hence the article's title), which is being released both on hybrid SACD and on 180gm vinyl. (You can buy both from our secure "Recordings" page.)
"One of the worst-kept secrets in audio engineering is that what we hear does not always correlate with what we measure." So wrote the late Richard Heyser 30 years ago, as quoted in Time Delay Spectrometry, a 1987 anthology of his writings (footnote 1). What do we hear? Music heard live consists of a sound pressure that changes according to the logical demands of two things that have no physical reality: the way in which music is structured in time and pitch, and how that structure is ordered by the composer/musician. Heyser, one of the most perceptive audio engineers I've had the privilege to meet, repeatedly emphasized in his essays and papers that the reproduction of music is a multidimensional event.
At last January's Consumer Electronics Show, one of the more musically satisfying rooms I visited in Las Vegas' Alexis Park Hotel was hosted by Canadian magazine Inner Ear Report. I had visited the room ostensibly to take a look at the Audiophile APS AC regeneration system, but I also wanted to give a listen to the Gershman Acoustics Opera Sauvage speakers that I had agreed to review for Stereophile—not just the speakers in the abstract, but the very samples that, after CES, were going to make the trek to my Brooklyn listening room.
"Commoditization leads to the death of a specialty industry!" Hearing this at what I'd anticipated would be a sleep-inducing seminar on marketing, I pricked up my ears. The speaker was management guru Tom Peters, author of the best-selling In Search of Excellence and The Pursuit of WOW!. "Once your product is commoditized, all that is left to compete on is price," Peters continued, as I frantically scrawled down his comments, "and a small company will always lose to the big guns on price!"
The upbeat is the most magic moment in classical music making. Before the conductor brings down his baton for the downbeat, anything and everything are possible in the musical journey that is about to begin. And the upbeat to Mozart's sublime Clarinet Concerto that conductor Robert Bailey was about to give in London's Henry Wood Hall last November gave me an extra frisson—as producer of the recording sessions, I would have to pronounce instant judgment on everything I was about to hear.
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.
When I first started buying records at the end of the 1950s, I had this vision of the typical recording engineer: A sound wizard wearing a white lab coat rather than a cloak festooned with Zodiacal symbols. He (it was always a "he," of course) would spare no effort, no expense to create a disc (LPs and 45s were all we had) that offered the highest possible sound quality. At that time I also believed that Elvis going into the Army meant the end of rock'n'roll, that my teachers knew everything, that politicians were honest, that socialism was the best form of government, and that talent and hard work were all you needed to be a success. Those ideas crashed and burned as I grew up, of course, but other than the long-discarded white coats, each new record I bought strengthened rather than weakened my image of the recording engineer.
"Desperation is the Mother of Invention." Isn't that how the proverb goes? Certainly it applied ten years ago in the case of the Philips engineers working on the development of the Compact Disc system. Given a specification that had included a 14-bit data word length, they had duly developed a 14-bit DAC chip, the TDA1540, only then to be informed that the CD standard decided upon after Sony joined forces with the Dutch company would involve 16-bit data words. (Thank goodness!)
Nicholas Negroponte, Professor of Media Technology at MIT's Media Lab, is somewhat of a hero of mine, not the least because in his 1995 book Being Digital (Alfred A. Knopf), he mentioned specialty magazines as being a paradigm (of a sort) for the information-rich future. The role of a magazine such as Stereophile is to act as an intelligent (we hope) filter applied to the breadth and depth of human activity. Those who define themselves by their interest in the publication's specialty can therefore go to just one source to find everything of relevance.